“Take a seat, take a seat. Alex was it? I don’t believe we’ve formally met before but as you know I am the current elder, Jason. Most people just call me elder or old man though.” Jason said that last part with a small smile on his wrinkled face.
The current elder has his position thanks to being one of the oldest members of town alive and for having a major role in the survival of the town over the course of his long life. When he passes on eventually the title will go to the next best-suited person as voted for by the council and the town members so that it is ensured to be someone that the general populace trusts and has faith in.
The reasoning for this is that the council, composed of three people voted in every 10 years, takes care of most of the day to day issues but anything big the elder gives his wisdom to help the decision making process along and is also in charge of mediating serious legal cases. The three council members and Jason work together to divvy up responsibilities and manage the town.
The elder position is held for as long as the elder wishes to however which is why it is only given to highly trusted members of the community. The previous elder does have quite a bit of sway in the choice of his replacement though.
In reality, though the old man spent most of his time tending to his garden and playing with his grandchildren whenever he can dodge the council long enough. Jason is an Asian American born here in town and can reliably trace his roots to some of the original settlers.
He has a bald head and a long white beard ending mid-chest. He enjoyed hand to hand combat in his youth and when he got old thought it would be funny to try and emulate the looks of stereotypical martial arts masters from the old stories. He had visible scars covering his face and arms and doubtlessly more hidden to the eye as he took part in every major battle this town has seen and does so now even at his advanced age of 72.
“So, Alex, those are some unique eyes you have. I am sure I would have met you before now if you had those since birth so I assume this also had something to do with your little vacation. Do you mind telling me what happened in the dungeon with Thomas when you attempted your awakening? You have been gone for nearly two full days at this point after all.” Jason asked as he raised an eyebrow in curiosity. Before answering Alex took another quick peek around the room, having never been in the elder's office before.
They were sitting on nice tall-backed wooden chairs with red pillows for the seat which was much more comfortable than most of the chairs available these days. It was a small room and between them was a wide heavy wood desk with countless drawers on the elder's side. Around the room were bookshelves covered in more books than Alex had ever seen. He guessed most of the books the town had recovered so far must be in here safely under Jason’s guard for when they are needed. The room had no windows and a single door to Alex’s back which was currently closed for privacy.
“Well let’s see, where to begin.” Alex was about to continue when the elder quickly cut in with a quick jab.
“May I suggest the beginning perhaps?” With a smirk on his face.
Alex grinned as well and continued. “Why thank you, old man, for the suggestion. I think I will do just that.”
Over the next few hours, Alex recounted everything that had happened to the elder without leaving out a single detail. Hiding things from him would only bite him in the ass later as the elder was likely the best person to help him figure this mess out. At first, the elder’s expression kept alternating between shocked, horrified, curious and so on before he realized that this roller coaster had a lot of ups and downs and remembered to control his expression.
“Well! That was quite the tale, my good young adventurer. Would you be so kind as to show me an example of this mana usage? I do not doubt the possibility after that announcement we got from the System, and your glowing eyes certainly lend to your story, but I do still find it hard to believe that after all this time mana can be freely manipulated by someone.” He paused here to give Alex a chance to say something.
“Of course sir, just give me one moment to meditate. As you are aware I have had very little time to practice or get used to this power and I am quite exhausted.” Alex responded tiredly and at a nod from the old man, he closed his eyes and focused.
Alex repeated what was quickly becoming a habit and drew upon the sea of mana within him. He willed it into his left hand, which he had lifted away from himself just in case, and had the mana form a thin barrier over his hand which was now glowing faintly blue. As Jason watched the mana broke off from Alex’s hand and floated above it before bursting into a small candle flame.
“Amazing…” The old man whispered under his breath too quiet for Alex to have heard. I'm getting too old for so many surprises in one day.’ He quietly lamented. ‘I have to stop being surprised by anything this boy does. He is surely going to continuing defying common sense at every turn.’ He refocused on Alex and said “Simply amazing my boy. You may cut the connection.”
Alex nodded and let the mana dissipate and his hand went back to normal. “You told me about the incident with the fire and water and then of your success both with the shadow creature and goblins. Do you have any ideas as to the rules of your power?” The elder asked Alex.
“No sir, I have not had the time. Now that I am finally back in town I plan to visit my family to let them know that I am safe and then visit my friend Rose to do the same. After that, I had hoped you might have some ideas for me while I try to experiment with this new power.” He briefly explained.
“KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!” Both Alex and Jason were startled and turned toward the door. Someone seemed to be knocking so hard it sounded as if they were going to break the door down. In fact, Alex thought he saw it starting to splinter in a few spots… “Come in! Come in! Don’t break my damn door down, you buffoon. If it’s that important just barge in next time.” The elder said in exasperation.
The door flew open and a young scout in his late teens stood there, out of breath and looking as if hell itself was chasing him. “Sir! Urgent report! The war horns we heard earlier were indeed not the end of things, unfortunately. Several of the senior scouts have all confirmed reports of spotting goblin scouts sneaking around the perimeter of town scouting out the edges.”
“The goblins never leave the forest or go close enough to the edge for guards at the town to notice, but our scouts, of course, are quite good at not being noticed. A few of them killed the goblins they had found as they deemed they could do so without the goblin alerting the rest of its kind.” The boy paused for a moment to catch his breath. He had run quite a distance to get here and had said his report so far in only a handful of breaths as he tried to get it out as fast as possible.
“Take your time son, it sounds like they aren’t banging on the walls yet at least.” The elder said to the young scout. “Here, come get a glass of water.” He said and poured him a glass from the pitcher that had been on the desk.
“Thank you, sir.” The scout responded and gratefully chugged the water. After two more glasses, he seemed sated and continued.
“So far we have encountered several dozen patrols but the opinion of the senior scouts was to leave the vast majority alone so that they don’t retaliate with a large force too quickly. A few of them not coming back is to be expected but most will report back fine. This way we have time to prepare defenses for the main forces.”
“Two of our most experienced men have departed in the direction of one of the horn signals from earlier in the day and should bring us plenty of information. Judging by the fact that Alex, who I presume is this boy, was chased into town by a scouting party before the horns went off, it seems safe to assume that they were looking for a human settlement actively. That concludes my report sir.” The scout finished his report there and waited for a response to bring back with him.
“Hmm.” The elder said as he stroked his beard and thought. “This level of scouting and planning is out of the ordinary for goblins and must be part of the intelligence boost that the System had mentioned. The party that chased Alex even used basic human language which implies they are no longer the simple-minded creatures they were previously and we need to be careful not to underestimate them.” The old man said as he thought about the best course of action. His eyes drifted to Alex briefly before he turned back to the scout and continued.
“Go back to the guard HQ and tell your superiors that a full mobilization is in effect until further notice.” The elder remembered something and pulled out a piece of paper and a scroll from somewhere in his desk. “Hand them this writ proving your words. You may go.” He said as he handed over the writ.
“Yes sir!” Responded the scout before promptly turning around and rushing out of the room to deliver the grim news.
“Excuse me, sir.” Began Alex when it remained just them in the room again. “I have never experienced a full mobilization in my lifetime that I can remember and might have skipped out on some of my classes to train with Rose.” He said a bit sheepishly.
“Follow me and we will walk and talk. I have one more task to complete at the moment and time is of the essence.” Responded the elder as he got up from his chair and began to exit the room.
Alex quickly got up and followed after him and they started to make their way out of the building. “So what does the full mobilization mean?” Alex asked again as they walked.
“It is our code for the worst case scenario and is only used when it is believed that the survival of the entire town is at stake. All members of the guards will stop patrolling inside the town and instead take up positions along the walls and patrolling both inside and outside of them.”
“They also don their rarely used plate armor as the situation is dire if this code is used. It's not practical for everyday use so they only train in it occasionally and use it for emergencies. In addition, our best guards are equipped with our stock of enchanted gear from the vaults.”
“Along with the guards the adventurers guild is conscripted and led by their leader and finally the militia and all combat capable personnel help defend the town. The only ones not fighting or on standby to fight are the people who can't, hence the name full mobilization.” The elder concluded grimly.
“If the goblins gained enough intelligence to speak and scout us intelligently then that is plenty of cause to be prepared for their main war band. It will be unlike any goblin attack we have repelled in the past and humanity has not survived this long by underestimating our foes.” As he finished saying this they had walked out of the house and now stood in the center of the backyard under a clear sky.
The elder lifted the scroll he had taken from his desk and carefully unfurled it. Alex peeked over his shoulder and audibly gasped at what he saw. The scroll was not one of the usual low-grade ones made by the inscribers in town but one of the rarer ones from the dungeon, and a high tier at that! He could tell by the look of the paper and writing and had no better way to describe it than majestic looking. The elder began to chant
“And I will shed my light over dark evil,
For the dark things cannot stand the light,
Show us the path within this darkness,
Unlike the flares that Alex had seen in the past however which would go up a few stories and light up a small area for a short amount of time this one was much brighter and shot up like a rocket!
Up and up it went higher and higher until finally it exploded shedding its red light over the entirety of the town and miles around even. The flare seemed to hold in the air for quite a long time as well. “How long will that last?” Alex asked in a breathy voice.
“It should last around an hour, plenty of time for everyone to see and anyone adventuring nearby.” Responded the elder calmly. “It may help our foes a bit as well but it is a necessary price to pay for our own people to organize as quickly as possible.”
As soon as the flare bloomed in the sky Alex could hear shouts of alarm and panic coming from every direction. People calling for their children to get inside, warriors scrambling to equip their gear and figure out who to report to and so on. The adults knew what the flare meant and what their roles were. For the first time in two decades, it was time for Pine Bluff to go to war.