THE HORSES HOOVES CLOPPED as they galloped across the towns of Bronnan. Viktor felt free once again while mounting on the back of the said animal. It was his one and only hobby when he was still a Styrkean prince. Horseback riding and jousting felt as natural as breathing to him.
Viktor rode his horse beside the princess carriage with Brighid Callahan, the general of the Mercurian army. Her carefree attitude reminds him of Amund, his best friend and leader of his knights. He was mentioned in some history books related to Styrkeis, but none of them stated what became of him after The Battle of Sigurd.
”Have you thought about my offer yet?
” The blonde woman on his right asked. Brighid had been pestering him about enlisting in the military for the past two days after he fought one of her men in the barracks.
”Fennar was right about one thing, you know? You
e better off in the army with your talents. Replace him for me, would you? ”
He had thought about it yesterday and he wasn quite sure what to do. For a former king to be reduced to the likes of a Mercurian soldier, its not much of a pleasant thought — but what difference does it make to being Lilla Henburs apprentice? All she did was mix herbs, liquids, and other ingredients and do several odd requests for royals and people from the palace. Soldiers fight battles which Viktor trained for in his entire childhood. It would make sense if he accepted Callahans offer, but he had already made his decision.
”I appreciate the offer, maam, but Im afraid I will have to refuse, ” he politely answered. Viktor wanted to go back to the remains of Styrkeis and possibly discover what happened to his subjects. Joining the Mercurian military would mean tying himself to Mercurius. He would have to follow their orders and risk his life for these people. Theres no reason for him to enlist; he doesn have any real attachment to this country, let alone a purpose to fight for it.
”Thats a shame then. I guess well just have to demote Fennar for the trouble he caused. ” It took a minute before her follow-up question, probably thinking about why he refused. ”Was it because of Lady Henbur? ”
”I beg your pardon? ”
”Did you refuse because of the lady? ”
Viktor couldn give her the real reason why he rejected her offer. It didn really involve Lilla but he supposed she was a part of it as well. The alchemist did give him the idea to find a new purpose after everything in his past life suddenly disappeared. ”Im kind of indebted to her. ”
”Is that so? ” Brighid had a curious grin on her face, but she did not ask about it any further.
Speaking of Lilla, the alchemist had been acting weird ever since Viktor discovered her inability to shoot when it matters. He couldn blame her after seeing her reaction that night. It seemed to have something to do with her past and he doesn intend to dig deeper into it.
The buildings of Kramor town came into view. Viktor gazed around the town as they trotted across the main street. All of the doors and windows are shut and none of the residents dared to wander outside. He could, however, hear the faint cries of some children who, he presumed, had lost a family member. Soon, they stopped in front of the temple, away from the residential area.
General Callahan nudged her horse to the front and greeted the captain in charge of the soldiers stationed in the town. Viktor could barely hear anything from the distance and muffled voices but he had a fair idea what they were talking about. He only managed to hear the words increasing numbers and from the mines.
Princess Kristen and Lilla stepped down from the carriage just when Brighid and the captain came to greet them. He bowed at the both of them before speaking, ”Your Highness, milady, it is an honor to have the both of you aiding us in this operation. Your company arrived just in time as our forces in Montargo, Cataron, and Groden are losing control against the waves of Thirios coming from the mines. We deeply request reinforcement to these areas as soon as possible, maam. ”
”General, divide our troops into three squadrons and immediately disperse to the said locations. ” The princess then turned to the captain. ”Contact the marquesses and earls of Bronnan. I want them to be present in todays meeting. ” Finally, she faced Lilla, her stern expression softening mildly. ”Lady Henbur, I will leave you in charge of both the containment of the disease and extermination of the Thirios while Im gone. Report to me when you see the need to. ”
Viktor never thought the royal family trusted Lilla and her position as the Royal Alchemist to that degree. He had no idea how much power she held in the empire.
Kristen climbed onto the carriage again, but not without another word. ”For now, I will be taking my leave to meet Duke Tellus on behalf of the empress and bring more people to assist us. As my trusted subjects, I am confident that you will be able to accomplish the tasks Ive given you. I wish you all good luck. ”
Everyone, including Viktor, saluted before she took off. The princess carriage turned to the left path from the temple, where he could barely make out the small castle on the horizon.
”Ugh, there goes Kristen again giving me the big responsibilities. ” He heard the alchemist muttering under her breath beside him.
”Anyone would be glad to have your position, ” Viktor retorted with the same volume.
”Hmm? I doubt that. ” She sneered, clearing her throat before approaching the general and the captain. ”General, Id like you to retrieve a live Thirios if you had the chance. Examining its body might help in creating a faster way to exterminate them early on. ”
”Why not let Viktor join us? Im sure hed know what materials youll need, milady. It would also be more efficient than bringing a live subject back, ” General Callahan suggested, glancing at Viktor with a cheeky grin. From the looks of it, she badly wanted to see him in action again.
If he thought about it, her idea did seem to be the better option — except he knew nothing about dissecting these creatures. Aside from his lack of knowledge, Viktor did not have any weapon either ever since his spear broke at Callisto.
Lilla stared at her for a while, raising her chin due to their height difference, as though to consider her suggestion. She grabbed his arm and tugged it, gesturing him to come with her. ”Ill only be handing the materials hell need, General. ”
”Take your time, milady. ”
The alchemist pulled him towards the wagon where her large trunk was placed along with the soldiers armor and weapons. She had a frown on her face as she grabbed an empty glass cylinder, putting it inside a leather bag exactly its size. ”Do you want to do this? ”
”I would be lying to say it doesn pique my interest. ”
Lilla sighed in defeat. ”They would be suspecting us if you didn go after your display of strength the other night. I assume you have knowledge of fighting them already since you have… ”
”Yes, yes, I do. ” Viktor did not want to be reminded of his two months in Erebus realm. Although, there was really nothing to remember except the foul air, the rotten taste of the Thirios meat, and the constant fear for his dear life. It was either he forced his taste buds to resist it or he dies of starvation. A man desperate for survival doesn have much choice in that situation.
”I know you are forced to be my apprentice but you
e also the only person I can trust to do this task. ” She drew a hunting knife out of her trunk, unsheathing it to check the blades sharpness before giving it to Viktor. ”Use that to cut their cocoons roots, youll know once you see them. The reason I need a live sample was that Thirios carcasses only stay for a few hours before they turn to dust. The time won be enough to examine its organs. ”
”The general did not know about that? ”
She chuckled as if the idea of them knowing about it is absurd. ”What would they know about alchemy? They are skilled at killing the Thirios, Id give them that, but knowing the importance of having a live subject? Don make me laugh. ”
Viktor wondered what could have caused Lilla to not trust the soldiers. ”Why are you relying on me? Does it not worry you that I might escape? ”
She tilted her head to the right. ”Escape? To where? ”
He winced. It annoyed him how blunt Lilla can be at times but she wasn wrong. This was his reality now and he had nowhere to call home anymore.
”To Nadia? To the ruins of your castle? What do you expect to find there? The people have long forgotten your reign, Your Majes— ”
”Stop calling me that. You know more than I do, Im no longer who I used to be. ” He was very aware of his situation, but it would also take a while to get used to it. Lilla was right; it would be foolish for him to escape without knowing how much the world had changed. He needed to be prepared.
”You done moping around? ” Lilla had another weapon in her hand which she tossed toward him after ensuring she had his attention. It was a gladius with a purple-tinted blade. ”I suppose you haven actually wielded an Aitherite weapon before? ”
”No, ” he answered while rotating the short sword, watching the light reflect on its surface. Viktor preferred spears rather than the weapon currently in his hand, though it isn that bad for the only available one.
Aitherite is a cursed rock. Wielding this is heresy, Viktor. He suddenly remembered an old memory involving his father.
You can rest peacefully now, old man.
Riding on the back of his horse once again, Viktor departed Kramor together with Captain Rassiers group to Montargo town. This time they wore gas masks to protect their noses against the miasma coming from the mines.
Soon, Viktor heard the distant gunshots mixed with the roaring currents of the Arvernus river. It wasn too long before he saw the battle on the bridge to Montargo; soldiers stood behind the spiked barricades while waves of Thirios attempted to break through their formation.
”Make haste! ” The captain ordered, nudging his horse to run faster.
Viktor followed their tempo until he saw a large black centipede charging toward the barricade at an alarming speed. He instructed his horse to move quicker than everyone else as his eyes searched through the weapons of the soldiers. He caught sight of the lieutenants spear, swiftly drawing his short sword to cut the strap attaching it to the mans back, and grabbing the weapon before it fell to the ground.
”What are you— Hey! ”
Gaining more speed, Viktor passed the captain while ignoring his commands. His gaze was focused on the Thirios and the Thirios alone. It was a few meters away from the soldier and barricades, but they were all occupied by the other shadow beasts and waves of Sporos.
”Fall back! ” He heard their leader scream as the large centipede already broke through the first row of their barricades. Their ammunition wasn enough to take the monster down. Bullets didn seem to penetrate its armor-like skin.
Viktor inhaled through his gas mask, gathering his strength. He raised the spear above his head while waiting for the right moment.
The monster sent the barricades flying, hitting some soldiers who ran a bit slower than the rest. It towered over them and let out an otherworldly scream.
Thirios blood rained above them after a long sharp object pierced the inside of the centipedes mouth. The soldiers watched the gruesome scene while Viktor sprang from the back of his horse and dangled onto the centipedes mouth, swinging his body upwards to stand on its head. He buried the spear deeper into its mouth, creating an even bigger fountain of black liquid.
”Retreat, quick! ” He shouted to the soldiers who were watching him while rubbing off the black blood on his forehead.
”Oi, behind you! ” Viktor spun to see a humungous black worm creeping behind him. He whirled the spear in his hand and was about to slice the creature into pieces when another figure appeared from his right.
Bam! A large hammer squashed the Thirios to the ground with one strike.
e welcome, ” a deep voice spoke as a short muscular person carried the blunt weapon on his shoulder. Like Viktor, this man didn wear a soldiers uniform; he was probably a concerned civilian who decided to help.
He slashed a row of Sporos approaching them with the spear.
”Why are you here? You
e not a soldier. ”
”So are you. ” The shorter man swung his hammer to a smaller centipede-looking Thirios and sent it flying to the other monsters.
”Support those two! Soldiers, fire! ” Bullets were shot from behind them, hitting the slower monsters. Viktor and the civilian brought down the nimbler Thirios which managed to dodge the volley of bullets. Shortly, the number of shadow monsters on the bridge decreased rapidly. It wouldn be too long till they get to the ruins of Montargo.
e not a Mercurian. Whats your name? ” The man shouted through the noise of the gunshots.
”Viktor In— no, Viktor Unfrid, ” he retorted. ”And you? Ive never seen anyone with a physique like yours. ”
”Im surprised you couldn tell. ” He dropped his hammer again to stretch his shoulder. ”The names Dimitry, a dwarf. ”