The Second Route
“For the celebration to end like this,” Tina shouts as all five of us ride on horseback, “it’s absurd!”
Tina leads the horsemen back to Sitierra in a rush. Lina and Rina ride a horse together, and I and Risho ride on another. It shames me to say this but, Risho is the one driving the horse.
“I should have listened to Tina,” I mutter, “I should have stayed in the capital.
Finally, after a day of traveling non-stop, we reach the city gates. The horsemen, Tina, and I rush to the castle whilst the others stop by Sitierra’s Mercenary Guild.
The door to the throne room slams open, and I and Tina run up and kneel to the Queen, “We have arrived in your urgency, Your Majesty,” Tina says without a hint of exhaustion while I in comparison isn’t able to make a sound out of my mouth.
Queen Amina stands up from the throne, “Generals, let us talk over there,” the Queen walks up to a desk with a huge map on it, “The recon team arrived yesterday morning to report a sighting of the enemy one thousand miles away. As so you know, we are faced with a sizable army, and we are far outnumbered,” the Queen’s expression darkens, “according to my wisdom, I don’t think we have a chance of winning a battle against them.”
A silence of thought falls upon us, and I inspect the map and try to understand it. “I will leave you two experts on what to do,” the Queen leaves with her head bowed.
“I’m sorry, Tina, I should have listened to you,” I bow to her.
“No, no, you don’t have to apologize. I should be the one to apologize. I should not have been so heartless to delay the rescue.”
“But what you said has come true. The attack was only a decoy.”
“But the fact still remains. You saved Lunis. Didn’t you say that people’s lives were more important than a mere military strategy?”
“I don’t think I said anything like that.”
“But you did show importance to the citizen’s lives. You made me realize that. I am thankful.”
I sigh, “Thank you… for understanding me and allowing my selfishness. I’m sorry again.”
“Ha… gosh, we won’t get anywhere when we keep apologizing to each other!”
I awkwardly laugh, “Y—yeah, you are right.”
“Let’s just call it even, shall we?”
I nod in agreement, and we pay our attention to the large, hand-drawn map that spanned the entire table. It is surprisingly well-detailed for an old-fashioned map. Countless scouts are probably sent out to gather this invaluable information. I’m grateful for them.
The enemy is marked directly east of the Kingdom of Sitierra on the map. That mark lands on something labeled as the ‘Desert of the Fox.’ According to the map, the desert’s length stretches one thousand miles from the Kingdom of Sitierra to the East without any obstructions or covers for protection. There are scattered oases, but they are nowhere near our frontlines. An almost endless wasteland without any cover or protection to our advantage. This means the army cannot go onto the offensive.
But a landform catches my attention, “Tina, what is this?” I run my finger across the ragged drawing on the map.
Tina looks to where I am pointing and answers, “This is a ravine.”
“And it stretches…” I follow the said ravine and discover that it stretches across the width of the desert, “for five hundred miles!”
I look at it in awe and turn my eyes to the mark where the enemy supposedly was, “Wait, they are still quite far from the ravine even by now, aren’t they?”
“Yes, but our army wouldn’t be able to meet them by the ravine to delay them,” Tina says.
“It’s simple! Let’s gather the horsemen and meet them at this ravine while you prepare the soldiers back in the castle,” I say in excitement.
“Ah, I haven’t told you about the ravine itself, haven’t I?” Tina asks in a low tone.
“Well, what could this ravine do?”
“This is a death ravine. It is called the ‘Sand of The Dead.’ Those who died in the desert rise from the ravine made out of entirely of sand and devours anyone who comes near it. It has remained like that for eight hundred years, and no one was able to determine and defeat the numerous hordes or their leader which might be controlling all this,” Tina takes a thoughtful expression, “but for the Ugibiris Army to dare cross the ravine is a mind-boggling thought.”
“Perhaps, they defeated it?”
“That’s impossible,” Tina says.
“But that should delay them anyway, right?”
“It won’t be enough to mobilize the army. We have men scattered here,” Tina points to two towns on the map, “here, and here, and many others, but these are the most advantageous points. If we could occupy them defend, it would give us a chance, but they are under Ugibiris, and we cannot risk exposing our flanks for we are not sure if they have another battalion coming for them.”
“So, there is nothing we can do except accept it?”
Tina sighs, “Yeah.”
“Did our kingdom venture to explore the ravine in the past?”
“We never did. It was too dangerous,” she replies.
“Then, how can you be certain that the ravine is dangerous?”
“In the past, before this kingdom was formed, there was a bigger kingdom which Sitierra consisted of before. It included Carith City too. That great kingdom ventured out to expand to the East but was impeded by that ravine. It is a well-known fact that that ravine is dangerous, and Ugibiris acknowledged that as well. If they didn’t, they should have attacked us a long time ago.”
“Then, why now? Surely they know something.”
“If they are approaching now, then it must be another distraction to get to our flanks.”
“But the ravine is five hundred miles across. It would have taken them a long time to go around that.”
“It’s better to be safe than being sorry.”
“So, the only choice is to defend?”
Tina slowly nods, “Yes.”
Moments pass as we sit by the table with the map in silence. Although Tina suspects that this may be another tactic to put our forces in the wrong place, I decide to assume that this isn’t another decoy. This is because I believed that they wouldn’t make a decoy for another decoy. Instead, this is the real thing.
I try to think of any possible way to defend, to attack, to delay, the enemy, but nothing comes up until Tina mutters something I can hear, “If only we had a Magician that can teleport or fly through the air…”
“Wait, Magician?” I rack my brains for someone who can teleport, and I remember Lina claiming that she used a teleportation spell and accidentally summoned me into this world, but she also said that she hasn’t mastered the spell. That’s why she made the mistake of teleporting me here instead.
So, I try to remember for one who can fly, and I remember Izumi, the Air Magician. She might be able to help. My face brightens, “That’s it!” I exclaim, “that Air Magician!” I hurriedly start my way to the guild.
“Huh? Hey! Wait! I’ll come with you!” Tina shouts as I rush to the mercenary guild.
I slam the door open and shout, “Yamade-san! Yamade-san…” I kneel to the ground succumbing to the exhaustion from running. I think I ran too fast.
“Are you okay? Did something happen? Did you run?” Risho helps me stand up.
“Where is Izumi?” I ask.
“Izumi? She is just behind the reception over there,” Risho points, “wait, what makes you suddenly want to talk to her?”
“I have a favor to ask,” I stand from my seat, but Risho quickly pulls me down causing me to stay kneeling.
“Asking a favor to Izumi is ridiculous,” Risho says sternly.
“But I will just ask if she can—”
“Her demands are unbearable and unfair, trust me,” Risho shakes my arm, “you will regret it. Take it from someone who has been tricked by her.”
“But—” I sigh and pull myself away from Risho, “Just watch me,” I say with a wink. I walk over to the desk and call out to Izumi, “Izumi, are you there?”
A white helmet pops up from below the desk, “Who are you calling Izumi!?”
“Isn’t that your name?” Oh no, she is so annoying.
“You shall only address me as master.”
“I refuse.” Why would I call you that?
“You dare refuse!?” Izumi points at me, “Aren’t you the weak boy whom Risho introduced to me?”
“Yes, my name is Bari Deliruu, if you remember.” But who are you calling a weak boy?
“Hmph, why would I remember such an insignificant person?”
But you just referenced me as the one who was introduced by your friend though…
“General Deliruu!” Tina finally catches up through the door and stands beside me, “why’d you leave me so suddenly?”
“General!?” Izumi, although with her helmet covering her face, I can sense shock in her stature.
I clear my throat, “I have a favor to ask of you,” I lean a bit forward.
“A—any favor I shall grant to you, General, but the price shall depend on what kind of favor it is,” the white helmet peers closer to me, “Please tell, want the favor would be? And you shall sell your soul…” Izumi trails off.
I decide to lower myself to her level so I can gain her appreciation, “Master, I have heard you are an Air Ace Magi—”
“Ehem! No, The Air Ace Magician,” Izumi interrupts.
Why, isn’t she so demanding, especially toward someone of importance? “Sorry for my rudeness. Yes,” I raise both of my hands in the air in a proclamatory way, “The Air Ace Magician.” I’ll have to put up with this for now if I want her favor to grow toward me.
It is highly crucial to get on the good side of the other party to succeed in many business deals. I have learned this through years of experience as a business owner. I must make her believe that this deal cannot be ignored and miss and that she will be getting the most from the deal to make her feel that she won over me.
“What you have heard is true,” Izumi says in the background while I speak.
Tina nudges me and whispers into my ear, “What is happening?”
“Could you please stay quiet for me?” I whisper back to her and continue negotiating with the unreasonable child, “since you, Master, are The Air Ace Magician,” I make my tone of voice in a much more pleasing way, “there is something only you can do. An offer only for you, and only you can accept!” Take this, my basic ‘Business Bait!’
“Oh?” Izumi peers in closer to hear more of my sweet words.
“This offer is of great importance to the kingdom and would give great pleasure to the Queen if someone were to accomplish it!”
“The Queen herself!?” Izumi squeals at the words, “please, tell me the offer!”
“And even after all that,” I clear my throat and place one hand on my chest, and raise the other, “you will earn great riches from it!”
“Riches!?” Izumi jumps in joy, “Tell me the offer already!”
Nice, she took the bait. “This offer has a time limit. You only have a day to decide. The offer is that, to take several spells that would make one human travel across a great expanse of land through the air. To transport one from a place to a far place. This offer is only too simple for you, isn’t it?”
Izumi’s body expression shrinks back, “I—I don’t think I can do that…”
Now I shall unleash my basic, ‘Business Hook!’ This tactic requires me to show my disappointment to the other party for not being able to meet my expectations as they have advertised. Using this, I poke on their pride until they give in and be forced to do the project!
“Oh, how The Great Air Ace Magician unable to do such a simple task! What a shame! Although I have heard that you are The Great Air Ace Magician can do this task of this magnitude! But they were all false! I’m disappointed! To think that you had an exaggerated reputation—”
“Shut up! My reputation is solid! But I am not going to accept your petty offer. Do you think I only want riches? You can’t pull me in so easily!”
“Oh!” I quickly scroll down the list of my scripts to what to do in this kind of situation, “to think that The Great Air Ace Magician would refuse to bestow her services, even for the Queen, just in exchange for mere riches! Shame be to you! Thou hast brought doom and embarrassment in the name of the Queen! The Queen would have given you something more than riches, honor, and glory! It was a mistake that I came down to you to request such a favor.”
“Wait! Wait! F—fine! I can do it!” Izumi shouts and I look at her face and notice tears forming, “I—if it’s for the Queen, I shall take your offer!”
She was so easy to persuade, and that wasn’t even half my negotiating prowess. I expected a bit of resistance, and I was right, but I had to resort to using the Queen in this situation. I’m sorry, Amina. I’ll find a way to pay for this. I face myself properly toward Izumi, “I shall thank you for making such an offer! Many thanks from me and the Queen! Great gratitude from the Kingdom!” I bow myself.
“S—sir! No need to bow! I have volunteered myself!” Izumi straightens me up, “I shall take your offer with no expected reward.”
Now it’s time to reel it in. I’d have to confirm her good-heartedness. “Oh! How kind of you, master! To push away such a gift! Are you certain you wouldn’t want some compensation?”
Izumi hesitates, “N—no! There is no need for that!”
Perfect, now I don’t have to pay anything, “I shall thank you again!” I bow myself to her concluding my three-part secret technique at its basic power, the ‘Business Fishing!’
“And so that’s what happened,” I say to our group which is composed of Risho, Tina, Lina, and Rina, at the table.
“What!? You managed to bargain with Izumi!?” Risho yells.
“Shhh, she might hear that and change her mind!” I say to Risho.
“Oh, sure, sure. Sorry,” Risho lowers her voice.
“To think that such a general would have such a deceptive tongue,” Tina mumbles.
“Could you stop with that?” I say angrily, “you wouldn’t stop saying that all day!” Then the girls laugh, except for Rina who looks unimpressed as ever. I continue speaking, “Now that since we have solved how to make our way to get there,” I look at Tina, “let’s get our men.”
“Men? Or did you mean women?” Tina asks.
My face spells confusion, “What do you mean?”
Tina and I arrive at the entrance of a cave in the mountain where the castle is built. The opening of the cave is behind and below the castle obscuring it from the view from the gates from the mountain.
We enter the cave, and I unavoidably gasp at how tall the ceiling of this cave is. It must be physically impossible for this cave to not collapse. If I were to estimate, its ceiling is half of the height of the mountain itself. I look down after I finish admiring the cave’s ceiling and see thousands of women with armor training. My jaws drop, “T—this is…” The aesthetically pleasing hanging lamps and torches enable me to see all of the knights training, “the Sister Army?”
“Yes, exactly!” Tina says proudly. “They are our best soldiers in the kingdom,” she boasts.
“I don’t see any Twilight Army soldiers around here,” I squint my eyes to confirm, “where are they?”
“They are in the regular barracks in the kingdom. The Sister Army is separated from them since they are the ones with special Magical abilities with the sword.”
“Right, there are two Magic arts, one purely for making the elements, and one for the sword,” I remark.
“Yes, but not exactly,” Tina answers.
“But you said, we are lacking in me— soldiers, why not gather all the regular soldiers?”
“With an Air Ace Magician on our side, I think my Sister Army, with a few soldiers, can delay the advance of the enemy’s entire army,” Tina puffs up her chest confidently.
I slightly nod to agree and we walk into the cave together, but a knight guard blocks me from entering, “You are restricted from entering here.”
I flinch backward as I look at the knight’s intimidating figure. She is a woman with large guns— muscles— muscles of guns— guns of muscles. It shames me more so than it intimidates me. I cower while I hold my pitiful arms.
“Ah, no, he is with me,” Tina pulls me to her, “and he is the First General.”
“First General!?” the knight staggers backward in fear, “G—general Pareyo?”
“No, of course not! Haven’t you heard? The General Pareyo has left, and this is your new First General,” Tina states.
“Oh,” the knight bows, “I haven’t been informed. Please forgive me for my rudeness, generals. I shall accept any punishment you may enforce upon me!”
“Ah, wait, no— no need for that,” I laugh nervously. This might awaken something in me.
“Now, now, take us to the briefing area and call for the commander,” Tina orders.
“Yes, ma’am, General, and sir!” the knight salutes and promptly leads in the direction farther from the cave’s opening. The scenery didn’t grow dark as it is lit up by numerous torches on wooden poles. We pass by numerous tents which are the camps of the Sister Army. I can hear several grunts from those who train, and some who are idling as they ate with their comrades, laughing and giggling to one another. At the end of the day, they were still girls. It seems that women only hold special Magical sword abilities thus forming this unique army.
There is a large tree at the far end of this cave. It is huge that its height could be compared to a skyscraper. The tree almost extended to the top of the ceiling. Its branches were so huge that it stoops down gracefully. Some even reaching the ground. Through the myriad of thick leaves is a barely visible treehouse.
“We are going there?” I ask.
“That is our briefing room,” Tina responds.
Tina and I climb the stairs spiraling the wide trunk of the tree. Its stairs have a gentle climb which made the journey much longer but much less tiring. The closer we get to the top of the tree, the bigger the treehouse gets.
“This is larger than what I expected,” I say to Tina. Well, not that I expected the office to be a treehouse on a towering tree inside a large cave inside a mountain. Not in my wildest dreams.
“It’s only appropriate for a military’s meeting room,” Tina says.
“How appropriate is this, exactly? This is literally the size of a ballroom!”
“Did your country build structures that small?”
“Eh, maybe,” I shrug. But no, I don’t think so.