Azhure: Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. About the implication I said in the last part, I decided to have it be a written scene than just being told in this author’s notes. And because this part is getting too long, I decided to make it in part four.
Azhure: That said, the implication is teased a bit at the end of this part. Anyway, college is about to start again, and enjoy.
“Hey, Jack. How come the girls don’t wanna take my candy?” Mitch whined while stuffing his mouth with porridge. Just as suddenly, his spoon seemed to be stuck in his mouth before spitting it out. “…Wait. I’m not being a creepy stranger luring kids with it, am I!?”
“It’s the most stereotypical stranger thing you just did,” a different guard, a young woman who wielded a magic staff, confidently stated. “So yes, you are being a creep, creep.”
“You’re not helping me here, Lisa!” Mitch cried.
“Settle down, Mitch,” Jack calmly said as he ate his meal. “You really should have known that already from the PSAs we’ve watched as kids.”
“I don’t wanna hear it from you, mister I-got-this-job-way-before-my-two-friends-did!” Mitch pointed at Jack accusingly with his spoon which didn’t have any porridge left on it, fortunately. “I just thought the kids will like the candies, okay!? The government told us to do the exact opposite of what their own PSA says!”
“Well, candies are supposed to be a luxury exclusive to nobles. In fact, we sell those candies to them,” Jack explained. “The girls would hesitate if you offered them one, not to mention it is suspicious at best.”
“Yes,” Zack agreed. “Although it is a nice gesture, the giving of candies to enslaved children is something the government needs to reconsider for obvious reasons, however minuscule chance ‘that’ could happen – they seem to forget they’re not ‘everyday’ items outside. Furthermore, there’s still count Hamburg to watch out for.”
“Bah! Whatever! It’s not like ‘that’ is gonna happen in our lifetime!” Mitch gave up. He would’ve thrown his hands up but that would have launched his porridge to the air. “Besides, once we cross the Great River, we’ll be outta Hamburg Steak’s hair in no time!”
The guards and merchants around the campfire at some distance to the caravan snickered at the spear guard’s remark with a few groaning while rolling their eyes. This does not stop some of the guards from keeping an eye out as Fia noticed.
These people really are strange, Fia narrowed her eyes as her sharp ears caught all of the conversations – many underestimate how great an elf’s hearing was. But this makes them even stranger.
This new information suggested that the Blue Doves worked for a ‘government’ meaning a kingdom that regarded luxury items like candies as ‘common,’ interested in slaves while treating them decently in their transport which they took their security very seriously? What was this kingdom trying to gain? What was this client who wanted Fia trying to gain? It was a conspiracy at best, but Fia can’t do anything about it being a slave.
I hope nothing worse is going to happen to us. To me… Fia thought as she ate her meal. Her melancholic thoughts did not escape Chloe’s sixth sense because of being together for a short, yet long time.
Contrary to what the spear guard suggested with what he whined earlier, she and Chloe did take the candy. Actually, at least all the child slaves took one. Fia was pleasantly surprised to find it very soft to chew.
Also, what were these ‘pee-essays’ the guards were talking about and this government was being hypocritical of?
“Ugh…” Chloe groaned. Her ears were slackened and her tail was lowered.
“There, there,” Fia caressed the catgirl’s back. “You’ll be alright.”
It wasn’t uncommon for slaves to catch diseases. Being cramped in a relatively small cage with people, including yourself, who never had the chance to clean themselves and asking for no sickness was too much with the several cold cases Fia caught. Even though this cage was more spacious, it did not render the threat null.
After the Blue Doves merchants finished their afternoon lunch, they traveled to a port town where they crossed the Great River that separated Erdale into two halves via a ship owned by the Blue Doves. That was where Chloe got sick despite crossing the channel for only a short time. Having a scrawny stature certainly didn’t help.
That was a few days ago. Also, at this point, Fia doesn’t know where the merchants were going. All she knew was they were going south, where the Forest of Demons was at the end – not that these merchants were going there, it’s most likely one of the empire’s vassal kingdoms north from it.
“Here you go, miss Fia,” Lisa, the mage guard with a magic staff, steered her horse closer to the cage and handed a glass jar filled with liquid along with a wooden spoon into the cage. “Just one spoonful for miss Chloe as usual.”
“Okay,” Fia nodded as she received the jar and spoon.
And as if they knew this would happen, the Blue Doves provided the catgirl medicine for her illness. It was a very effective drug too as Chloe gradually coughed less violently with each dose. Fia’s hands were still shaking holding this expensive jar as the first time the mage guard Lisa handed it over.
“It wouldn’t do if you catch a disease,” Zack stated. “Nor having it spread to where we’re going.”
“Yeah! Our bosses ain’t gonna like it if we let the little miss stay like that,” Mitch stated.
“Ow!” Mitch cried.
“Mitch! You’re not supposed to say that in front of them!” Lisa hissed into his ear, something Fia still caught with hers. “You could get yourself fired!”
“Just hand it over to Lisa afterwards,” Zack continued. “She’ll give it back for another dose periodically.”
Of course, Fia wouldn’t be trusted to hold the medicine herself, but even then it was already too much. She doesn’t even need to see the other slaves’ expressions to know how they feel the treatment the Blue Doves gave them thus far.
Whoever is in charge of the Blue Doves must have a really interesting agenda they’re trying to accomplish, Fia internally mused as she pulled out the spoon formerly filled with a rather colorful medicine from Chloe’s mouth. And does the ‘you’ refer to all of us or me for the client?
KETOPLAK KETOPLAK KETOPLAK KETOPLAK
Before Fia could give the jar and spoon back to the mage guard, she could hear sounds of galloping that were getting louder and louder.
“What’s that sound!?” Lisa yelped in alarm, pulling her horse away from the cage.
“It’s a cavalry!” Jack looked back and exclaimed. “A large one coming in right behind us!”
“Stop the caravan,” Zack commanded, lifting his hand in a stopping motion. “We can’t outrun them. We’ll have to meet them head-on.”
With that, everyone tensed up. While the slaves were softly murmuring amongst themselves, all the guards were reaffirming their formation, realigning their horses to block the caravan as much as possible while drawing out their respective weapons. The merchants stopped their wagons, horses neighing at the sudden pulls, putting the caravan to a halt.
As if the merchants were right, they found themselves surrounded as the cavalry split into two and encircled them. They bore no crests, but their equipment and horses suggested they weren’t simple bandits.
“I see you have halted at our presence, merchants,” the leader of this cavalry, noted by his shinier armor, spoke in a haughty tone. “A wise choice.”
Zack, facing the cavalry leader, showed a hardened face. “What do you want, sir?” he narrowed his eyes as he asked.
“I’ll keep this simple. Give us the elf slave and we’ll cause you no further trouble,” the cavalry leader declared, eyeing on Fia being at the edge of the cage with Chloe.
Ah. So that’s it, Fia mused. Despite the lack of identification, it was clear who sent this cavalry. Admittedly, she was impressed with count Hamburg’s determination to get her, one would think he would give up after she was at the other side of the Great River. At any rate, it looked like she will be taken away by the count’s men as the Blue Doves, Zack Smith, certainly wouldn’t risk their lives to-
“Ugh, the count can’t be that horny, can he!?” Mitch scowled, rolling his eyes.
…Did he just? Fia widened her eyes. A sentiment shared with the other slaves and the cavalry. The latter clearly outnumbered the Blue Doves guards, and Mitch blatantly antagonized them.
“Shut your tongue, knave!” the cavalry leader snapped. He pulled his sword and pointed at Mitch who was guarding the front carriage at Fia’s column. “Do not insult count Hamburg if you know what’s good for you!” he growled, not even bothering to hide who sent them despite having no crests.
“Whoa, he even decked them with Magic Ores!” Mitch whistled. “Man, Hamburg Steak’s loins must be on fire!”
Magic Ore. Crystalized mana of Erdale buried deep beneath the earth. It’s a prized mineral that after being refined not only powered various magic tools but also allowed magic-less people to use magic by putting them on weapons like the one on the cavalry leader’s sword’s guard. For people who were gifted with magic, these ores can further enhance their power such as the ore on Lisa’s staff.
It was this ore that allowed the empire to become so powerful, and its nobility to be powerful mages (which count Hamburg should also be one despite his looks), as it has a monopoly of half of Erdale’s Magic Ore mines and was hungry for more. However, mining the ore was not easy and required heavy labor which was why the empire raided Rosa and many other villages and towns for slaves.
All of them seem to have these accursed ores, Fia observed the cavalry with gritted teeth – the empire’s greed for these ores was what caused Rosa village’s destruction in the first place.
An elf such herself can sense concentrations of mana such as Magic Ores – the few magic spells Fia knew can’t help her escape, unfortunately, as she had just stopped growing before being enslaved and hadn’t had the chance to learn more in addition to the ‘conditioning’ she shuddered to remember that forced her to not even think of escaping with or without magic in the first place – and she felt all of count Hamburg’s men having one.
With how expensive Magic Ores were due to its extraction, on top of the pay for skilled artisans to refine them, be it for enhancing or performing magic spells, to their highest quality, only the aristocracy can afford to supply these men with their own Magic Ore on their weapons – this was true back in Elvarn as well. The cavalry leader even had one on his breastplate, boosting his armor’s defense!
This put the Blue Doves at an extreme disadvantage. As far as Fia can sense, only Lisa and another mage guard possessed Magic Ores on their staves, and those were of low quality in terms of capacity and output in comparison to the cavalry’s Magic Ores with their limited funds.
It didn’t help the empire also restricted access of Magic Ore to its common folk, especially non-imperials; even Rosa village had a few, albeit crude, Magic Ores to light it up at night, a luxury only imperial nobles enjoy or so Fia had heard. All of the above were only known to Fia from the limited lessons the elders of Rosa village taught her and her attentive ears being inside a cage for years.
Case in point, the cavalrymen can easily decimate the guards with a few magic spells shot from their weapons, and yet despite it, Mitch was not intimidated in the slightest. Instead, he fueled the fire even more and the other guards and merchants did nothing to stop him either! It was both scary and confusing to Fia and the slaves.
“Tch! Such insolence!” The cavalry leader clicked his tongue before turning to Zack. “Trader, tell this brat’s superior to discipline him! Now, hand over the slave at once and I’ll ignore this transgression!” he demanded. Quite the discipline he has himself to not just cut Mitch then and there.
Fia looked to the merchant… no, slave trader right now and found him sporting an impassive face. Wait, his eyes are moving left and right. Is he looking at the scene? she observed. And is his hand giving a signal?
After a brief pause, Zack answered, “The Blue Doves implores to transport all races, free or not, in our hands to their destination. While miss Fia’s transportation has a higher priority at the behest of our client, all of them are just as important.” Fia noticed he dug his hand into his vest. “So no, we will not hand over anyone to you.”
I… While all the slaves was equally stunned by Zack’s declaration, Fia was of a different kind of reaction. By all means, she found acceptance in her position, so she should feel indifferent if the Blue Doves gave her up to count Hamburg. However, the feeling she has now was… hope.
Why do I feel hopeful, that Zack and everyone will bring me to this client? Is it because of how they treated me, treated us? Is it because they allowed me to stay with Chloe a bit longer? Fia contemplated as she also realized she has been clinging to Chloe so much the catgirl nudged her. Why do I feel like I look forward to seeing this client who was to be my master?
Before Fia could wonder any further, reality was still ongoing. “Hoo!?” the cavalry leader ticked with an angry smirk. A vein popped in his forehead. “So-”
“Fire!” Zack shouted.
As they were prepared to catch the cavalry off guard, all the guards and even the merchants pulled out a strange contraption from where they pocketed their hands beforehand. Some of the guards even ditched their weapons in favor of it.
The contraption itself at first glance doesn’t seem dangerous. It was small, smaller than a dagger, and from its grip wasn’t a blade but a long metal tube attached sideways to it. However, what Fia had noticed was that they were brimming with mana, particularly in the area near the grip which was bulkier. How did I never sense them before!? Fia widened her eyes.
Regardless of the other party’s confusion, the merchants and guards quickly aimed the end of the tubes onto the cavalry and pulled the lever on the grip.
Fia had only but a moment to see the sight of the cavalry leader falling from his horse after taking a bolt of magic released from the end of Zack’s contraption’s tube straight into his forehead uncovered by his helmet.
BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG
Then, the rest of the cavalry met the same fate as the Blue Doves shot the smallest projectiles of magic she has ever seen at such speed she could barely keep track of. They were so loud and bright Fia could barely hear or see the cries of the cavalry being shot down.
“Aah!” Chloe screamed as she dug herself into Fia’s chest, frightened by the ensuing chaos. Fia wrapped her arms around the little girl and closed her eyes. No doubt the other slaves were cowering until this was over.
BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG BZANG
What kind of magic is this!? the elf inwardly screamed. Not even the imperial soldiers who raided her village unleased small yet destructive spells such as that. What are those contraptions they used to unleash it!?
Their design was unlike anything she has seen before. They have the relative size of wands, but they were L-shaped instead of being straight and their magic circles were at their grips instead of their tips. Their Magic Cores must be small enough to fit inside them and yet they were able to unleash such powerful spells although the size of the spells was within expectation. Most importantly, their Magic Ores don’t seem to run out of mana for their size despite the Blue Doves firing their spells repeatedly.
They were absolutely foreign to the young elf. She couldn’t discern how such objects were even created in this world. It was as if they were… Forbidden Artifacts!? she concluded.
Fia remembered one story she heard from the elders of her village. During the Great War over four centuries ago, before she was even born, beings not from Erdale, not from the deities, came to the world. They were mostly human, surprisingly, while the rest were races that were both familiar and foreign.
They called themselves ‘Soul Weavers’ for they wielded the power of the elements within their souls, or so the name would suggest. In actuality, each Soul Weaver only controlled one element, but they do so to a degree of mastery and beyond. One of the elders had sworn he had seen one of them, who had the head of a bird, healed themself with flames, it was surreal sight according to the elder.
That said, the elders also told her to be wary of any possible descendants of them after they were gone and for a good reason. When they came to the world, they brought with them their own war when Erdale was having its.
They were split into factions of their element, fighting each other for reasons only they would know, and dragged the people of Erdale into its conflict, even granting them the same power they have through means they won’t share outside their circle. I wonder how many of our brethren joined them, willingly or otherwise? Fia wondered, she knew the chance to wield magic would be enticing to elves who were unlucky to be without it. The elders don’t seem to like talking about it.
The opposite held true as one elemental faction would offer their service to a kingdom, be it for recruits or anything to an advantage over another faction. This amplified the destruction of the Great War as Soul Weavers in one kingdom would raze cities to the ground while another would encase them in eternal permafrost.
However, it wasn’t just their mastery of elemental magic that made them dangerous, but the Forbidden Artifacts they brought with them to Erdale. The elders were hushed about them, either they don’t know much or they don’t want to talk about them. Whatever it was, they were items that were absolutely foreign to Erdale and although they weren’t as destructive as the Soul Weavers’ elemental magic, anyone can use them. It was clear what they would do in the Great War.
“Hold your fire!” Zack commanded and the firing stopped.
After the Great War was over and the Soul Weavers abruptly left Erdale, bringing every Erdalian Soul Weaver with them, the Forbidden Artifacts left behind were given their name and were mostly destroyed from the face of the world with no records as the deities declared them heretical or another reason Fia scarcely remembered.
That said, it wasn’t forbidden to be inspired by them. And really, it was the only thing Fia could make of these contraptions the Blue Doves used to destroy the cavalry. The elders claimed the Holy Erdal Empire was especially inspired by the Forbidden Artifacts, but do so subtly that Fia couldn’t know which magic tool or weapon was inspired by them. These contraptions, on the other hand, were rather blatant in that regard.
“Hii…!” Chloe shrieked, seeing the aftermath of the battle.
Without so much of a fight, the mighty cavalry were all decimated by a bunch of merchants and caravan guards. Fia herself held her stomach seeing the cavalrymen riddled with holes that busted through their armor. There was still white smoke rising from these holes where the magic bolts hit them.
“Man!” Mitch was the first to speak. “I thought he’d slice my throat after calling their lord Hamburg Steak!” he stretched his arms holding two of the contraptions one on each hand.
“Don’t put it lightly, Mitch!” Lisa snapped, pocketing the contraption she held with two hands. “You, sir, could have got yourself killed!”
They are quite… casual about this, Fia thought. They seemed to have done this a couple of times before. Whether that thought was bad or not remained to be seen.
“Yeah, yeah,” Mitch waved it off as he got down his horse to pick up his spear. “But, urk!” he cringed at the sight of the dead bodies. “It’s totally uncomfortable if you see it for real.”
“Yeah,” Lisa nodded, feeling a bit queasy herself. “No amount of preparation can help us with this.”
But not these two, Fia noted.
“You guys will get used to it,” Jack said as he got down from his horse. “Now help us clean the bodies.”
“You heard him, the sooner we clear this place out the sooner we leave,” Zack added as he too stepped down from the wagon carrying the cage. “Get to everyone, we have no time to waste.”
Fia has nothing more to say, internally, comforting Chloe who was spooked, to say the least, by the one-sided battle as she watched the Blue Doves picking up the fallen cavalrymen and leaving them at the side of the road with their horses that didn’t run thanks to their training.
Once again, they only looted their Magic Ore weapons and the cavalry leader, the part of his armor that contained the ore, and nothing else which was strange in its own right as one would normally strip the fallen bare not just the Magic Ores they seem to be only interested in as they did take the time to pry off the cavalry leader’s breastplate for it.
From the treatment of slaves to this, these were strange days indeed.