The Second Route
It's one of our grueling training days, where I suffer in agony after every session as my muscles ache, and my hips refused to bend, the familiar young messenger in the horse dismounts in our presence in urgency.
“Generals!” he exclaims, “I have an urgent report of a sighting!”
My blood boils in angst. Did the Ugibiris Army actually have the audacity to continue? No, perhaps they found a way, or a flank and will now lay siege on this kingdom? I have failed. I’m in trouble. I’m dead for sure.
“Tell us,” Tina commands him.
“A convoy composing of a carriage pulled by two horses with 15 spearmen surrounding it and several camels with cargo loaded on them are approaching the city gates, but with no perceived hostility, I’m sorry if this message proved to be a distraction to your duties,” he ends his report with a bow.
“No, not at all,” Tina replies, “I requested personally to have all sightings be immediately reported because we are still uncertain how much time Ugibiris Army will be stalled.
“I understood,” the messenger bows humbly. “Oh, and General,” he faces me, “glad to see you well!”
“Thank you for that,” I respond.
“I shall take my leave then. Please excuse me,” The messenger rode his horse as it gracefully cadences.
I forgot to ask him his name.
“Let’s postpone this training for now,” Tina says as she takes her wooden sword and mine to a maid who is attending to us.
“We have to check the convoy.”
“But he said they didn’t pose a threat.”
“Stop making excuses. Also, a convoy with camels isn’t common.”
“That’s true, but all the more we don’t have to go, do we?”
“General, why are you trying to neglect your duties?”
“Kori-san, I’m tired right now. My back and arms ache. I feel like collapsing onto a bed.”
“That’s just you being lazy,” Tina pulls me by my aching arm as its flesh stretches.
“Let’s go!” Tina says as she beckons me to her horse.
I ride the horse behind Tina, as she is the one driving the horse. Before Tina commands the horse to move, she wears her white helmet. I reflexively wrap my arms around her waist as the horse moves.
“W—what are you doing?” Tina exclaims.
“I am wrapping my arm around so that I won’t fall.”
“Y—you don’t have to do that! What are you, a scaredy-cat?”
“No, I’m actually being careful here.”
“We won’t go that fast,” Tina forces my hands away from her, “no need to touch me.”
“O—okay, if that’s what you say.”
We stop and dismount at a sidewalk of a wide, dusty street, and I observe the people going about their business, buying and trading on the stalls or the small buildings nearby. Children playing on the street, occasionally avoiding the carriages and wagons driven by horses as they pass. People carrying various baskets and large wooden boxes, not crates though.
“Look!” Tina points to the main entrance of the kingdom’s walls. The same gate where Ex-General Pareyo once did his triumphant entry. A glorious entry followed by a silent death the same night. My hair rises as I think about it. “It’s the convoy!” Tina exclaims, and the people suddenly freeze in place, unmoving, as if my power of slowing down time manifested on its own.
But this wasn’t caused by my power. I sense fear, resent, and scorn in the air being emitted by the onlookers. And the onlookers were all of the people in the immediate area, the stall and shop owners, the buyers, the children, or families passing by, heck, maybe even some criminals though I haven’t seen any suspicious-looking persons.
I curiously look at the oversized carriage as it passes by the street. Its purple curtains are drawn. The design is extravagantly covered with golden patterns, and the horses’ gaits too. I would go blind just directly looking at them as the sun reflects upon them. The camels follow up behind and have cargos of wooden crates just as reported. But what the report didn’t mention is that how the camels are suffering from the overload. The spearmen accompany and lead the camels pulling on the camel's leather leashes as they walk with their spears as staffs as to not offend anyone with them.
I look at Tina, and her expression is no different from the commoners. Why are they having such grim expressions on their faces? It has a mix of scorn, indignancy, and most importantly, fear. “Who is that guy?” I ask Tina in a low voice.
“It’s Thezac Majiko. He is a merchant-mayor of Carith and also a friend of Pareyo’s.”
“Merchant-mayor?” I stifle my surprise, “and he has a last name. So, is he a nobleman?”
“Yes, he attained it as he reached noble status.”
“So, people with noble status, like you, can have last names?”
“Simply, yes, but there are more conditions to that.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter right now,” the convoy passes by from the block we are on as it heads for the mountain castle’s walls, and the people resume their movements. “I’m more concerned about who he is. He seems to leave a terrible impression on you,” I whisper to her.
“Well, he is Pareyo’s old friend, and bad company corrupts good character, but they were bad people from the start anyways. So maybe it’s better to say, ‘people of the same aura flock together.’”
“That’s a bit different from the saying that I learned,” I reply, “but I want to see him for myself.”
“Let’s go back to the castle for he is headed there.”
We arrive at the castle, and I spot the oversized carriage parked nearby. The doors open welcomingly, but a stench that makes its way out of the door makes me cough, but I suppress it. We enter the large space that welcomes the doors, and I look to my left where the musty scent is coming from. The man whom I assume is the one inside the oversized carriage seats on a sofa, and Lina standing beside to attend to the man according to her maid duties.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the Queen has urgent matters to attend to,” Lina bows down in front of the man.
“Oh?” Suddenly, the man reaches Lina’s head with his strong left arm and forces it down to her head unto his groin, “then entertain me for a bit, you lowlife.”
Lina struggles to keep her head away from the man with both of her arms, but the man’s arm is far stronger than hers. “P—please, I don’t want to do this!”
“But what else of reunion can this be? It is a pleasant surprise that you have returned to my service. Is it because you missed me? Aha, you will never be able to forget my touch.”
“S—sir!” Lina screams.
I grit my teeth and clench my fists. So, this is why the people acted this way. I understand it all. I detest him so much that my head shakes on its own as it burns hot in anger. To control my emotions, I close my eyes and shout, “Stop!”
I open my eyes as I finish shouting the single word and see the man paying his attention to me and releases the poor maid. He patronizes me with his stupid eyes, “And who are you?”
Tina approaches the man in front of me, but the man stays comfortably seated. “What are you doing here!?” she shouts and her voice echoes in the entire hall.
“Am I not allowed to stay in my own home?” the man replies indignantly.
“And what right do you have to call this your own home!?” Tina retorts.
“Well, as a brother of Pareyo, of course,” he scoffs, “I have this home in our shared possession.”
“Unfortunately, if you haven’t understood, the Queen who bought the land, and ordered and paid for the construction of this castle has the only right of this place you call ‘home!’” Tina retorts.
“Right, right, with the blood of the workers, the abuse of power, robbed the technology of your sisters, and blamed the failures of it on the Aura users!” The man starts to laugh crazily, and we had to wait for him to calm down before Tina continues her argument.
“And those are false accusations! And none of those prove your right to this castle!”
He clicks his tongue, “You can deny it all you want! But you can never protect the Queen just by that!”
I step in between the unwanted guest and Tina, but I now have composed myself and readied my voice to be as kind as possible. I pull Lina behind me as she takes my shadow of protection because the man is a dangerous being. “Nice to meet you,” I slightly bow my head but not too much to feed his ego, “my name is Bari Deliruu, the First General of the Sister Army.”
“Oh? First General?” he cackles as his spit spreads to the air. “And an odd name to top it all off! It’s impressive that you have a last name, but it’s probably a worthless name from a worthless land. I bet your homeland is a desolate wasteland!”
I flinch at those words. You never insult my country.
The man continues, “and this isn’t the name I expected to hear,” the man faces Tina with an impatient face, “where is General Pareyo?”
“He has been defeated and killed at his last battle against the Ugibiris Army,” Tina nonchalantly replies.
“Lies! My reports say he has returned here safely and quite recently, and he has won that particular battle. What did you do to him?” he raises his voice.
“Oh, we did nothing of the sort you are thinking. He simply was a failure of a general, and we had to cover for his failure using those reports,” Tina gibes.
“Don’t say that about my friend!” he grabs Tina by her neck, “And most importantly, don’t you dare lie to me!”
Tina chokes and fails to utter the words I am about to say, “Hands off her, you bastard!” Tina somehow is able to yell that despite being choked midair.
The man tosses Tina aside, and she falls to the floor, unhurt. I curse him in my mind, “Who do you think you are? Throwing people as if they were toys!?”
Then the man grips the hilt of his sword with his left hand and howls at me, “And who exactly you are calling a bastard!? You lowlife! Don’t you know who I am!? I am Thezac Majiko, the Mayor of Carith City! And you had better apologize before I take your pitiful life!” he spits to the ground.
“Your conduct doesn’t approve you as a mayor,” I click my tongue three times, “and if it is, then your Carith City isn’t as great as you claim it to be. Compared to this very kingdom, I would call your city a steaming pile of trash!”
“Ohohoho! Do you compare this lowly kingdom to my great city? Hmph, such is the noble duty of the First General, but are you even worthy of the title? Look at you, unfit for any kind of physical combat, let alone magic. First, you have to eat your words!”
Suddenly, everything around me decelerates, and my body becomes heavy and difficult to move. I look at Tina whose mouth is wide agape seemingly shouting something, but I cannot hear it for she is almost frozen in time. I look at the Thezac whose face is tense in anger and frustration. My eyes fall onto his left hand which has now drawn his sword. I notice distortion at the tip of the man’s sword, and my instinct tells me that if I don’t avoid it, I would get killed. Following the instinct, I move slightly to the right calmly, and time accelerates again.
Thezac looks at me with wide eyes and his jaw drops in astonishment, “W—what? How did you avoid my Wind Blade?”
“Such is what makes me a First General. Now I shall vomit the words I have eaten to your pride’s face!” I reply.
“Of course, this First General is far better than your friend. If he was compared to him, your friend would be trash, a lowlife as you call it!” Tina taunts.
“Impossible! Not even Pareyo could see through that!”
Way too honest, man, way too honest.
“Tricks get old, old man. Do you think Deliruu here can’t see your right hand drawing spells?” Tina sneers.
“W—what? There is no way you saw that!” he exclaims.
No, I actually didn't notice that until my power activated.
Majiko scoffs, “Do you think that that move is how I determine who is worthy? I have a far stronger move that I have used against Pareyo, and you had better shut your puny mouth, you lowlifes!” Thezac retorts.
“Right, right, now you have nothing to do,” I show Thezac the way out, “please kindly leave the castle.”
“And why would I do that?”
“I’m worried your pride will be even more broken.”
“Y—you! I won’t! As I said this is my castle! And I will kill you with your head chopped off and blood dripping to the floor! You had better watch your back, pretend general!”
“Fine, I will permit you to stay,” I smirk as I make a plan in mind, “but only for a night.”
“And who permits who? No, I permit you to stay here for one night!”
“You know you threatened a general to certain death, and I have two witnesses to testify for it. It would be bad for your reputation if that gets out. And don’t think of trying to kill Lina and Tina. I am way stronger than you.”
“Fine, but don’t think I lost to you! And as a matter of fact, I am way stronger than you! I haven’t shown my full power!” Thezac retreats from the lobby hall and heads to a solitary place in the castle.
“I got him legally trapped now. Let’s see what you’ll do, amateur,” I scoff.