The next morning, Liri walked out of her bedroom with tired eyes and a lazy pace in her walk. Every step she took sent shivers up her slightly sore legs.
In the guildhall, everyone else basically mirrored her. Tired, sleepy Hunters were walking around like the skeletons Liri had faced before. However, Liri noticed that Lise was not among them. The door to the training grounds was open, so Liri walked through thinking maybe Lise was outside.
And she was, standing ahead of her, Lise was exercising alongside Casira, lifting rocks by the ropes attached to them.
"Come on, just a little more!"
"F-Fifteen!" Lise nearly collasped, letting the rocks fall as Casira quickly picked her up into a hug.
"You did it!"
"I-I did? I did!"
They cheered, laughing and grinning with excitement. Liri scratched the back of her head, tempted to turn and find something to do.
"Liri? Oh, hey! You're up!" Lise quickly jogged over to her, stopping the Gen in her tracks.
"Yeah, I didn't see you, I was wondering where you were."
"I, well," Lise looked away with a wry smile on her face. "I wanted to see if I could do any like, last minute improvements."
"Yeah, I get you." Liri replied. So, she wasn't the only one looking for even the most minimal chance of survival.
"Casira was," Lise turned to find that the warrior had gone somewhere else. "Oh, well, yeah she was giving me some 'coaching' I think she called it."
"Good, good." Liri nodded awkwardly.
Lise gave a small smile as she tugged Liri by her sleeve.
"Come on, let's get something to eat."
The next few hours flew by in a blur. Everyone was either overly excited or showing no emotion at all. Although Liri tried to keep her mind on the training she'd need to do for Arelia's Grace, she was sure she felt the pressure the most out of all of them.
At one point, she sat next to Lise on a bench just staring up at the sky. The grey sheet of mist was still there from yesterday.
So, what else can I do besides training with Aleah? She wondered while Lise hummed some tune next to her. Hearing the girl made Liri turn to her, and at then, something came to her mind.
"Do you have any spellbooks?" Liri asked. Lise tilted her head, blinking as she contemplated an answer.
"Why? You haven't asked about this before."
"I didn't really have a reason to. But, with the attack coming, I need to be as prepared as possible."
"Hm... Maybe back home I still have some. But, my dad used to sell them away after I was done with them."
"Can we go check?"
"Sure, let's go."
Just like that they started walking towards the housing district. On the way, they encountered many different groups of guards and civilians, being herded into tents and buildings, where they'd presumably stay till after everything passed. If the city survived at all, of course.
Before long they were standing outside a quaint, two-story wooden home.
"They should be in my room, if there are still any left." Lise noted. The pair walked inside, quickly striding over to where Liri had spent a night several weeks ago.
Lise walked toward the drawers near her bed. She started scanning through different compartments, until eventually, a surge of white emerged from one.
"Wait," Liri said as Lise continued, "in that one."
"Here?" Lise searched more carefully, until she muttered "oh" and pulled out the source of the light."
"So, I did have one?" Lise asked herself, swiping her hand over the cover.
"What is it?" Liri walked over to the book.
"It's called Wonders of Light." Lise snickered. "Sounds boring. No wonder I never studied it."
However, when Liri's eyes fell on it, she saw something different.
Spell: Light Shield - 10 Seconds
Applies a shield made of Divine Light to you or a target, that vastly increases defensive properties
Costs 20 Mana (Requires 20 INT)
Dammit, I only have 15 INT, Liri lamented while Lise started to go through a few pages.
"Hm, this is kind of basic stuff, but I guess it could be entertaining. Hey, do you know how Light spells work?" Lise asked.
"Uh, no." Liri shook her head.
"It's said that Light spells are powered by the Five themselves. That all Light sorceries are a blessing, gifted to us as a reward for our worship. Other people have different interpretations though, some people think there's nothing divine at all about these spells. You know, there's a lot I could teach you about these things. I spent most of my childhood reading through..."
Liri's eyes widened. As Lise continued, a message appeared over Lise's head.
1 INT Per 1 Hour
1 EXP Per 1 Hour
(These numbers may vary from one person to another!)
"W-What happened?" Lise asked, shaking out of her trance-like speech.
"Uh, nothing. Actually, yeah, could you teach me some more? Like, a lot more?" Liri asked.
"I'm really curious." Lise arched an eyebrow.
"Okay, sure. Well, basically the way all magic starts is..."
Four Hours Later
"Just one more hour, please!" Liri pleaded as Lise stomped out of her room.
"I AM TIRED!" Lise bit back.
"Okay, okay, I get it but seriously, one more hour!" She grabbed on to one of Lise's arms lightly. The shorter girl noticed the act, but kept walking.
"Ugh, I don't get it, you've never taken an interest in my studies. The one time I tried to tell you about school, back when we were on the road to fight the dragon, you yawned!"
"T-That was, it was nighttime! It's still daytime right now!"
"Barely!" Lise made a move to keep going, but Liri stood in front of her.
The Gen reached up, placing her hands on Lise's shoulders, something that finally made her stop. Her eyes were wide as she looked up at Liri who was desperately trying to get the last hour for the spell down.
"Lise, please, please, I need this, okay?" The shorter girl's eyes glimmered as they looked back at the Gen.
With a huff, she took a step back.
"O-Okay, okay, okay, okay! Fine! Let's go back to my room then." The last part was almost whispered but Liri was too excited to care.
One Painful Hour Later
I got it!
Liri grinned as she checked her stats.
Stamina: 110/ 110
"My throat hurts from talking for so long." Lise apathetically let Liri know as the two of them sat on her bed.
"Bring over the book for a moment." Liri urged.
"I want to, uh, try something."
"... Okay, sure, whatever." Lise passed the book along to her. Liri grabbed it and held it up, across from her chest.
Almost too quickly to see, the book disappeared, transforming into strings of light that entered through Liri's hands. Lise's eyes bulged out of her skull as she shrieked and threw herself back.
"Oh," Liri said, remembering that Lise was there. "Sorry."
"You burned it!"
"Uh, no, sorry... I... I think it's a Gen thing." Liri shrugged.
"It's a Gen thing to burn books?"
"No, I, like, absorbed it or something. That book had a spell in it. I know it now. Look, watch this."
Liri took a step back, breathing in and aiming her hands at Lise. The shorter girl nervously anticipated what Liri would do.
Suddenly, an ethereal, clear, light enveloped Lise. It wrapped itself around her, forming a sheet of transparent white. Lise gasped and Liri grinned.
"You should be a little tougher because of that." She walked up and lightly flicked Lise's wrist.
"I barely felt that." Lise noted.
As Lise joined in Liri's grinning, the Gen felt a soothing wave pass over her. Amidst all the nervous anticipation, there was a small sense of security.
After tonight's training, between this and the sword, I should have a few more tools at my disposal. I can protect myself. And.... She looked up at Lise who was still gazing in awe at the light around her. And protect her too.
That night, all the Hunters gathered around the center of the guildhall.
Several higher ranked Hunters, marked by silver leaf necklaces, stood in front of a seated crowd. Liri was among them, keeping her eyes on the Hunters who spoke in front of her. Some of the other Hunters were hunched over, apathetically awaiting the coming battle. Some were trying to appear relaxed, literally laid back save for the twitching of their hands.
All of it happened in unison with the sounds of soldiers marching outside, where they'd soon be.
Just an hour ago, a scout informed the capital of a group of hooded men, walking toward the city. Right now, it was 11pm. According to the scout, the men would arrive in four to six hours.
The battle was happening tonight.
All Liri could do was hope for the best, an outcome her body did not believe would happen if her bouncing leg was any indication.
She turned and found Lise rocking back and forth beside her. Without a word, she reached over and grabbed the girl's hand. She didn't even know what she was doing, but Lise squeezed back with no hesitation, her movement easing a little.
"Remember, most of our advice is based on the limited descriptions we've received from Liri. As much as we'd like to say that this is all tried and true, we're going off assumptions." Hunter Cordin, a young man with barely a hair on his body, said, his voice just slightly shaky. Even the experienced Hunters were having trouble keeping it together.
"Yeah, just assume everything we say is gonna turn out three times worse." Tagaki added from the side. Nodding at Cordin to continue.
"First, as far as we can tell, they seem to be some sort of cousins to wolves. By that logic, they will attack in skirmishes, and in groups. They'll, most likely then, look for targets to single out and gang up on. Stay together, huddled up and you should avoid their attention. Second, we placed some poison traps along the walls."
"Basically, tripwires that drop bombs of poisonous mist. If you happen to be near one, just look to try to get an enemy to trip over it, and run." Another Huntress added.
"Liri also informed us that these creatures may possess some sort of illusion magic." Cordin continued.
"That's where I come in." Tanaki said from beside Tagaki. The two sisters stood close to each other. "Before we head out tonight, I would have you all drink from these flasks." She pointed at two large vases behind her. "They will give you an immunity to illusion spells, just for tonight."
"According to Liri, these things are powerless at range. If you're an archer, you can walk back any time they get close, keep some space between the both of you, but be careful, they are deceptively quick."
"Fighting a beast," Hunter Havet said, "you must understand that they will attack in predictable patterns. The way you win is catching them off guard. Aim for their eyes, their noses, their legs. Anything that incapacitates them."
"Last but not least," Tagaki chimed in, "your lives matter far more to me than the soldiers. Do not hesitate to use them as shields or bait, should the need arise. I want as many of you to make it out as possible. If any of us survive at all."
Liri was just about to add the same thing in her mind.
"Alright," Tagaki continued, "drink from the flasks and go get ready. When the church bells ring, you are to report at the northern gate. Dismissed."
Many of the Hunter's stood and quickly went to drink. Liri exhaled first, standing up and basically pulling Lise to join them.
After that, they all went to the guild's armory.
All sorts of different weapons that Liri had never seen before were hung up on walls and displayed on racks. Liri scanned through some.
A pair of spiked gloves, a shortsword with a dagger at the end of its hilt, a staff with specialized handles. Every weapon Liri scanned through was worse than what she already had, or she didn't meet the requirements for them.
Lise was shaking next to Liri.
"You should probably get something." Liri quietly told her. "Even if you're just going to be healing people, it would be nice to know you can defend yourself."
Lise chuckled at that, but walked up to some of the smaller weapons.
"Uh, I guess I could take this?" Lise grabbed hold of a short sword.
"That's fine." Casira, who Liri hadn't noticed standing next to her, said. "That weapon is pretty simple to use. Just poke at whoever walks up to you, okay?"
"Y-Yeah." Lise replied as Liri arched an eyebrow.
The DEX requirement for the weapon was 10, which Liri knew to be higher than Lise's own attribute. She hadn't seen what happened when someone tried to use a weapon they didn't meet the requirements for, but if Casira's attitude when consoling Lise was similar to her own thoughts, the both of them hoped Lise wouldn't have to use it.
Hunter Cordin walked up to a double-bladed staff.
"Don't think about it so much people," he called out to the younger members, "go with your gut on this."
"Haven't had to fight personally in ages." Tagaki muttered as she strode up to the front of the room. There, she grabbed a large staff-like weapon with a curved blade at the end.
"It's a glaive." Casira noted. "That's a warrior's weapon."
"Sure, when used by a brainless musclehead, maybe. No offense. When I use it though, it's my dance partner." Tagaki smirked, walking away.
Tanaki went ahead next.
"Us mages," she spoke to Lise, "need to keep our arms safe. They're literally our lives. So, not many weapons are better for the job than these."
She grabbed the strangest of all the weapons there. A gauntlet that transformed into a balloon-like set of blades, shaped like a ball and joining at the top. Slipping her left hand into it, Tagaki smiled.
"This is my take on a southern weapon called a pata. I just got a bit fancy with it."
The rest of the Hunters, all except the archers and Yava who had ranged weapons already set up by the gates, made their selections.
It was 12am before Liri could even register. She nearly ran out of the guild with Lise behind her, trying to get to the alley to train with Aleah.
The princess was waiting for her there, as she and Lise knelt down, coughing from the jog they'd made.
"You are here." It was almost a question that Aleah asked.
"Yeah, one more night." Liri stated, getting her breath back.
"One more night." Aleah smiled. Liri couldn't help but think the smile looked somewhat sad. "In more way than one."
Liri arched an eyebrow, but Aleah didn't expand on that.
"Well, let us get down to it."
"Wait," Liri raised her hands. "What's happening at the palace? Is everything going alright?"
"Oh, yes. Do not worry. It did give me more trouble to slip out this time than it had on previous nights, but do not worry. Tonight will be... Eventful. Focus on that. Now, let us begin."
So, Liri did what she'd been doing this whole time. She prepared. Every lunge, every strike she threw she tried to make as precise as possible, imagining that she was facing a beast instead of Aleah.
As the hours went on, so too did her DEX scale, but her anxiety did as well along with it.
Lise wasn't yawning this time, she was rocking back and forth as she had been earlier, holding onto her sheathed blade for dear life.
At one point, marching soldiers noticed them and told them to get where the civilians were, but Liri told them they were with the Hunter's Guild, getting ready for the fight and the soldiers nodded, moving along. Some of them looked like they wished they had thought of that.
Finally, with the last hour done, Liri's DEX reached 30.
And with that, the church bells rang.