Azhure: Got nothing else to say, but the next Sub-Chapter might be shorter. Enjoy.
In the end, the rest of the bandits, of the front and back sides of the carriage, surrendered after Ronald and Joshua entered those sides respectively and seeing as there won’t be any reinforcements.
WHOOSH CRACKLE CRACKLE
“Argh!” Yet another bandit screamed as he was bathed in flames.
“Damn it!” Another bandit cursed. “Where are the other guys at? They should be here already!”
“They will not come.”
And they all went quiet, including the knights, as Ronald spoke for the first time. It was monotonous yet powerful enough that those behind the carriage can hear it too within the roar of the fire, judging by the fact that they too were silent.
“W-What do you mean?” But in the silence, one bandit managed to muster his courage to ask.
“Because it’s not just the two of us in the duke’s aid,” was Ronald’s simple reply.
And as if the world decided to make it worse for the bandits, the fiery circle wall around the battlefield finally came down, revealing their slain comrades of various deaths from slashes and arts outside the black circle, never having the chance to jump into the fire, and it was where Ronald and Joshua came from.
However, there was a feeling that those bandits were forgotten until now.
They immediately laid down their arms after Ronald announced that there are more ‘users’ like them to our aid, Allister noted as he stepped off the carriage through the door to his right opened by the coachman Liam followed by his daughter Irene.
The named spirits Neptune and Layla did not leave the carriage, however, with the former still sleeping and the latter simply refused to come out.
With the effect of the fire spirit art talisman, the flaming circle subsided, Allister took a quick glance around the knights rounding up surrendered bandits and disposing of the dead ones in the aftermath of the rather one-sided and brutal battle.
There are over a hundred of these bandits with over half of them defeated, Allister observed. They could have overwhelmed my knights had Ronald and Joshua not come.
And speaking of which, the duke came face to face with the figures in brown. Finally taking a good look at their attire, a form-fitting hooded robe that covered from head to below the knees so as to not impair movement and held together by a strap in the abdomen and a button in the neck – quite peculiar. Covering their entire faces was a rather dull-grey mask at first glance, though upon closer inspection it was actually a mask used in masquerade balls attached with the lower half of a motifless one from the nose to chin while the hood covered the forehead.
It is quite simple but not so pleasing to the eye, Allister honestly thought. I suppose it was created for the practicality and concealment of the wearer’s identity in mind while maintaining simplicity so it could be produced in large quantities.
“Someone is disliking the robe I made again…”
In Manegia, a certain vampire who designed a robe felt someone, somewhere in another world, was stabbing her pride as a fashion designer. She merely sighed in melancholy, knowing exactly why she refrained from revising one of her earliest designs for more than a century and possibly indefinitely.
The figures lowered their hoods and took off their masks, stowing them inside most likely hidden pockets under their robes, revealing who he expected: Ronald Bell and Joshua Ruze. The latter should already be very obvious with his insane height.
“Ah, so it is you! Mister Bell, mister Ruze.” Regardless, Allister needed to at least give courtesy to them hiding their faces. “Thank you for coming to our aid! We could have been killed if you did not arrive.”
“Yes,” Irene added with a small bow. “Thank you, mister Bell, mister Ruze.”
“Eh, no sweat.” Joshua shrugged, putting his hands behind his head.
“As he said, it’s nothing,” Ronald stated casually. “Just our job as C-,” he stopped, looking at the still alive bandits who might hear what they shouldn’t. “Just what we do,” he said instead.
“No need to be so humble,” Allister chuckled at the Court Wizard’s response, also noting not to say their terms and titles out loud. “But how did you find us so quickly? Have you been following us ever since we set out?”
But to his surprise, they… flustered. They sheepishly broke eye contact with him with their heads down as if they were children being confronted by their parents for doing something wrong.
“Um… Is something wrong?” Even Irene became nervous.
“Yeah…” Joshua was the first to speak up between the two. It was in a guilty tone and Allister had a feeling he will not like what he has to say. “About that, it’s a long story. You might wanna sit down.”
For the next few minutes, Ronald and Joshua alternated between themselves telling how they initially planned to eliminate the bandits around their traveling route instead of simply escorting the carriage in the shadows and fend off incoming bandits that came. However, it had turned for the worse as every bandit in his territory coordinated to attack the carriage together which was unexpected for them.
“We had to call in reinforcements to hunt down every last bandit, as we only brought enough of us for the bandits near your route.” Ronald continued. “However, it’s still not enough.”
“See these bandits who just attacked you all.” Joshua gestured around their surroundings, where dead bandits were being disposed of and the living arrested by the knights. “They’re the ones who got through. We got here quickly ’cause we were chasing them.”
“I see…” Allister nodded in understanding.
“By the greater spirits…” Irene could only mutter in horror hearing it.
It was a scary notion, that these hundred or so bandits were but a handful that Ronald and the… Court Wizards (spirits he stated it so casually at the beginning, what happened now?) had no choice but to let through, as they were too much for them to handle. Ronald’s colleagues, other Court Wizards Allister has yet to meet must be fighting them as they speak.
Is this how far prince Van is willing to eliminate me? Allister thought. These bandits were also very desperate too. Was there something that compelled them to do so?
“Yeah, we really should’ve planned for that,” Joshua uttered in a dejected tone.
“Now don’t be,” Oswald, the head knight, consoled. He had joined midway through the conversation as his part of the cleanup was finished. “No one would think that all the bandits stationed in the far reaches of lord Illyer’s domain would march to this location. The idea of it is simply absurd.”
“Yes, I would not even begin to think how they can get here in time,” Allister added. Looking at the Court Wizards, “yet, with your… observation methods, you saw that they can, or at the very least coordinate so that we would have to fend off multiple waves of bandits with the current wave buying time for the next.”
“Oh yeah,” Joshua uttered in realization. “They could also have been going for that, not that it changed anything.”
“Yes, even so,” Ronald said in a shameful tone. “We are supposed to have planned for that as well.”
The Court Wizards were seemingly dejecting themselves further and further with their shortcomings. It’s as if a single failure was the end of everything.
And honestly, it reminded Allister of himself.
“Curses!” In the Illyer war tent, Allister, in his prime, gritted his teeth as he slammed his fist to the table. “Many good soldiers fallen to an ambush!”
It was the first phase of the war with the Fichs empire and already even though the empire outnumbered Kirash by threefold they still resorted to an honorless surprise attack. It was only fortunate that Allister, being the commander of that battle, managed to retreat before casualties became too high.
“Do not beat yourself over it, son.” Patting Allister’s back, it was his father, the overall leader of the Kirash army. “Losses are inevitable in war. No one expects the Fichs to act cowardly when they have the advantage.”
“Yes,” Allister mooted. “But still, we, I should have at least kept an eye out for that.”
“Maybe you should,” his father said. “But even though you did not, this loss has not caused our defeat and the troops’ morale is still high – the war has only started after all. So cheer up, son, we will get them next time.”
Otherworldly powers or not, they are still young. Still idealistic in the end, Allister internally sighed. “You cannot plan for everything, mister Bell,” he then said. “There will always be the unaccounted. Even I as a general in the war encountered some elements I was unprepared for.”
Though some unprepared elements can be quite heartwrenching, he thought at the back of his mind as he recalled those memories.
“Besides,” Allister continued. “Your quick arrival had still saved all of us. My knights did not even suffer so much of a slight wound and I should thank you for that.”
“Indeed,” Oswald added. “We wouldn’t even survive in the first place if it weren’t for you two.”
“…Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Joshua sighed, darting his light-blue eyes off to the sky.
“If you say so,” Ronald relented.
“Good,” Allister smiled. “Now cheer up, young men. You have done a…”
“He has not taken a life before…”
Recalling that thought and discussion, Allister stopped himself from broaching what may be a sensitive subject to these young men when he had just uncursed them from their self-pity.
“Um,” Ronald muttered. “What were you going to say?”
“Ah! I mean, congratulations are in order,” Allister quickly responded which only served to confuse the two boys more. “Anyway,” he continued to change the subject. “You mentioned that there were more of you, correct?”
“Hm?” Ronald raised his eyebrow. “Yes, we do. They should be done with their end of the bandits, so you just need to send your knights to do any formalities that you usually do.”
“I see,” Allister nodded. “I will keep that in mind.” …Now I have nothing else to discuss, he thought. And considering his unnatural pause was fresh in their minds, they will no doubt inquire him about it.
“Um, if I may?” And as if she read his mind, Irene entered the conversation.
“Sure,” Ronald instantly responded. “No one’s stopping you.”
“Thank you, mister Bell.” Irene smiled curtly. “You said that you were fighting the bandits hiding throughout my father’s land, correct?”
“Yes,” Ronald nodded. “Why?”
“Then you must have been-”
“Eek! What’s happening now!”
Suddenly, a bright red light erupted from where the Illyers and Court Wizards stand, interrupting what Irene has to say.
Then, a cloud of smoke emerged from where the small explosion was set off. It rapidly expanded, enveloping the group in its black mist.
“It must be from a talisman!”
“Protect the duke!”
Only two sounds not from human nor spirit were heard in the midst of the panic and shuffling of armor.
But soon, the smoke slowly and quietly dispersed.
“Aah!” Allister yelped for the first thing he saw after the smoke vanished.
Two barrier spirit arts, emitting light of red and light blue manifested beside his flanks. Looking at the red barrier to his right, there was a dagger, a simple one unlike Ronald and Joshua’s, stuck in it.
Then, as if it could not hold any longer, both glowing constructs dissipated into tiny wisps of their respective color before vanishing from sight altogether. The dagger soundlessly fell to the grass, the soil dampening the sound.
“Phew,” Joshua sighed in relief, wiping off his non-existent sweat. “That was a close one.”
“Indeed,” Ronald added.
Hearing it, Allister quickly realized that these spirit arts, arts, came from them. “You two have saved me again,” he said to them. “You have my thanks again.”
“Eh, no problem.” Joshua shrugged.
“Yes,” Ronald added. “It’s-”
“Lady Irene!” Suddenly, a scream came from the carriage, it was the greater spirit candidate Layla prostrating in four limbs on the seat of the carriage with a desperate look. “Everyone! Where is she!?”
A bad feeling sunk into the depths of Allister’s soul. Turning around to the spot where his daughter stood, there was no one.
“…M-My daughter!” he screamed uncharacteristically. “She’s gone!”
For the first time in his life, Allister felt true horror at the bottom of his heart.