Chapter 24:

A Reason to Fight

Chained Regalia

… Annule asfes asfes-es norin-al yosen!” As his chant finally came to a close after nearly five minutes of uninterrupted recitation, he shut his eyes. For the next few seconds, he mumbled to himself, before wrenching them back open with dramatic flair. “18 total. 4 in the side barn, 3 hiding in the grain stalks a short distance to the northeast, and the remaining 11 in the main farmhouse. All humanoid. They’re packed denser than we predicted.”

His intense gaze, which felt somehow amplified by the glasses he wore, laid bare the severity of the situation, yet his voice remained calm and steady, as if to convey that he was wholly unfazed by it all.

His eyes shot towards me for a moment, narrowing as they did so, before snapping back to the buildings in the distance. He kept doing that; he clearly had something against me, but I had no idea what I could’ve done to offend him.

“Amazin’ as always, my boy,” Cliffe complimented Mason, his Chain, presumably for the impressive spell he’d cast. Everyone else gave approving nods as if to agree—including me, but mostly because I didn’t want to make him any more annoyed at me.

“Your memorization capabilities truly amaze me every time,” Ollania, the tall woman with short hair, added. “It’s unfortunate that you’re stuck with Cliffe. You deserve better.”

“‘ey now, don’t be inflatin’ the boy’s ego too much,” Cliffe replied, not even attempting to defend himself. He fiddled with his goatee as he spoke, a habit I’d seen from him several times in the mere half hour since we’d met.

“Hmpf.” Mason let out a grunt, though it was unclear which response had prompted it, or what exactly he intended to convey with it.

From what I’d gathered, Mason was something of a magic prodigy. He’d only been summoned as a Chain two or three years ago, but in that time, he’d achieved skill and knowledge rivalling that of a lifelong magic scholar.

The spell he’d just cast—a long-range detection spell—was apparently one that no one else here was capable of, despite how useful it was. A single minor error at any point in the execution of a spell prevented it from working, and for a spell as long and complex as that one, it was simply out-of-reach for most people to ever dream of using. It wasn’t just his repertoire, either; he could apparently amplify the effects of his magic to a degree that eclipsed anything the rest of us could manage.

“In that case, the original plan should work.” Alwey had been thinking about the information Mason had gleaned, and after mulling it over, arrived at that conclusion. “Her highness and her highness’ Chain will handle the four in the side barn, while the rest will focus on the main building and the stragglers outside. Selina, Ollania, Allie, and I will serve as the ambush outside the farmhouse, while Cliffe will watch for the advance of the three hiding outside and eliminate them as they are drawn in by the commotion. Mason will provide magical support as necessary from the backlines.”

Almost everyone was quick to agree with Alwey’s final outline, but Mason seemed unimpressed.

“I still find it unnecessary for Miss Lucia and her Chain to participate. He’s far too inexperienced, and it’ll just place both of them in harm’s way. I can easily cover the four in the barn myself; this operation does not require eight people.”

Alwey seemed like he wanted to counter, but hesitated. He was once a royal guardsman, after all; he probably hated the idea of Lucia fighting in any capacity, even if her stubbornness had led him to reluctantly allow it. And that didn’t even take into account any personal feelings he might have on the matter, either.

Lucia looked ready to snap at Mason, but it was actually Ollania who spoke first in my defense, despite us having just met. “If he’s inexperienced, that’s all the more reason to let him fight. He needs to get that experience, one way or another.”

Mason sighed. “I know that. But just look at him. He’s terrified. He’ll get himself killed.”

“I already offered him an opportunity to withdraw.” Lucia finally worked her way into the conversation. “He told me he would fight. Honor that courage, will you?”

Mason looked at me again, as if seeking confirmation. My voice was weaker than I would’ve liked, but I managed to reply. “Th-that’s right. I don’t know if you have something against me or what, but I’m doing this…”

He continued to silently stare at me for a few seconds, then let out another long sigh. “Fine. But you’d better not get yourself killed.”

I really couldn’t tell if he was genuinely concerned or if he just hated me for some reason, but he didn’t elaborate further. Admittedly, even if he wanted to, we didn’t have the time to keep talking.

The very last rays of sunlight were rapidly vanishing, which meant it was time. We soon split and moved to get into our positions. In the corner of my vision, I could see Mason remove his glasses and de-manifest them, like he had done when we’d first met.

Come to think of it, why’d he even do that the first time? He recreated them again not long after. Was he just trying to look cool? That egotistical bastard…

Much of my annoyance was derived from the fact that he actually did look cool while doing it.

* * *

Lishkarn were nocturnal creatures. They didn’t sleep, but they still chose to take shelter in the daytime and prowl once darkness arrived. While they were physically strong, they weren’t very intelligent, which meant that, in a one-on-one fight, it only took someone with mediocre technique to overcome their brute strength with skill or strategy.

That was why they traveled in packs, and why they typically only prowled at night: that way, they could ambush and overwhelm their prey in an unfair fight.

Our plan to strike just as night fell, then, might seem counterintuitive, but it was actually carefully calculated. Since they didn’t actually sleep, they weren’t inherently any weaker during the day; instead, they would spend hour after hour lying in wait to pounce on any would-be attackers encroaching on their shelter. This meant that entering either the farmhouse or the barn would be walking straight into a deathtrap.

That left two options, then. First, we could use magic to destroy the buildings from the outside, forcing them out into the open. Considering this was a family’s home, however, we obviously wanted to avoid doing that. They’d already been driven away and nearly killed from these things, so destroying their house on top of that would be needlessly cruel.

Our second option, then, was to use their own strategy against them: when night descended, as they went to leave their shelter, we would ambush them.

Despite the lack of sunlight, I could still see a fair distance ahead of me—the product of a night vision spell that guy had cast on me. Part of me stubbornly wished I’d refused him and braved the darkness out of spite, but I knew that would’ve been stupid of me.

As much as he ticked me off, though, everything he’d ultimately said about me was right.

Thump. A dull sound rang out from the barn, and my breath caught in my throat. Something had finally moved.

It’s beginning.

I held out my right hand, and a shimmering blade blinked into existence from within my grip.

There was a sudden crash sound behind me and, on instinct, I flipped around to look at the house, fifty or so meters away. The front door had burst open, and out stumbled a single decaying corpse.

In perfect sync, two blades skewed its flesh in unison—the identical lances of Alwey and Selina—as a circular disk lodged itself, completely vertically, into its chest, flung with intense ferocity from a small, innocuous thrower—the Chain and apparent chakram user, Allie.

And that single event, resolved in mere milliseconds, was the signal for everything to erupt.

“Layn!” A cry rang out from behind me, and I had to snap my attention away from the other group. Prompted by the sudden disturbance outside, the sounds of movement intensified from within the barn.

Suddenly, the door shot open, and three soulless puppets surged outwards with speed unbecoming of their frail stature. They held simple farm tools as weapons, but from just one encounter with them in the past, I knew not to underestimate their strength no matter how fragile or ill-equipped they appeared.

“Split!” Her instruction was vague, but I managed to discern what she had in mind. I kicked off the ground and ran to the left, since I was already closer to that side, while Lucia sped off to the right. One peeled off towards her, but the other two had set their sights on me.

Lucia was still a better fighter than I was by a long shot, so this wasn’t exactly optimal, but…

“Believe in yourself every once a while, alright?”

I sharply sucked in a breath to steel myself and planted my feet as sturdily as I could. I gripped the pommel of my sword with my other hand and crouched into a defensive stance.

I’m scared. I’m so scared, but…

I stood my ground against the encroaching onslaught.

… I promised I wouldn’t leave her side!

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