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Gods, my head hurts!

 

I roll onto my side, only to roll back again when my body tells me that it didn't help. Turning once more, I cringe when the skin of my arm touches something freezing. The sudden cold sends a biting sensation through my muscles, breaking my mind out of its haze. With my head clear, images of me raising my hands to activate my spell run through my mind.

 

The blanket wrapped around part of my body suddenly becomes more confining than comforting when I remember what the bandits said they would do to me. I go to activate Mana Skin for protection but stop when I feel my mana pool relatively empty.

 

With Mana Skin out of commission, I switch to Sense Mana and scan my surroundings for any bandit survivors.

 

I’m still in the clearing the bandits attacked me in. The blanket I was resting on is next to a small fire, and my pack is nearby with my sword resting up against it. With no bandits within sight and Sense Mana telling me no one is hiding nearby, I start to calm down again.

 

Did I set up camp before I passed out? The last thing I remember is feeling the shockwave tearing through my first layer of Mana Skin and the blanket of fire that enveloped my remaining shield afterwards.

 

Reliving the moment in my head, I’m surprised my plan worked. I reinforced Mana Skin until its mana expenditure would be higher than it was worth. Then I used almost every remaining bit of my mana to overcharge my flame spell. The plan was to reabsorb mana from Mana Skin slowly so that I wouldn't pass out from mana exhaustion, but with my fuzzy memory, I don't think it worked as I wanted it to.

 

I glance around the camp one more time. Even if I managed to stay awake, it should've been impossible for me to set up a campsite afterwards.

 

I don't have time to ponder further what happened because someone just entered my mana sense range. Fumbling over my exhausted limbs, I reach for my sword. I draw my blade in time to hear a familiar voice coming from the tree line, “Finally awake, huh.”

 

“What the hell are you doing here?!” I exclaim. I slowly re-sheath my sword and place it back up against my pack.

 

Reel’s eyes widen in confusion for a moment before his face returns to his usual casual expression. “I was sent to watch over you on your way home. I found you in that crater over there.” He points to the spot I activated my spell. The area around the crater is a muddy mess devoid of any snow.

 

“You were tailing me? Then where were you when I was surrounded by those…!?” I remember the bandit leader’s sickening grin and how I killed all of them. I wrap my arms around my body and dry-heave. I can’t be sick to my stomach because I haven’t eaten anything in over a day and a half.

 

Reel's shoes make crunching noises in the snow as he approaches me, but I stay doubled over remembering how I cut a man's head off. "Water?" I look up to see Reel offering me a waterskin. I take the offered waterskin and start chugging its contents, missing Reel mumbling something about explaining again off to my side.

 

After I drink every drop of water, I hand the empty waterskin back to Reel, who explains why he wasn’t there to help me. “After you left the city, you ran too fast for me to catch up to you. Hearing the loud noise, I burned through my Stamina pool and arrived soon after the explosion. I fished you out of the crater after I realized you somehow survived.”

 

“You set up the campsite?" I don't know why I asked such a stupid question, but I don't want our conversation to stop for some reason. The second blanket wrapped around me makes sense now; Reel must have given me his.

 

Unlike the usual snarky Reel, he doesn’t comment on my superfluous question; instead, he motions to the crater. “I just finished cleaning up your handiwork. Everything was a mess after your spell, but I have all the remains buried in the woods.” It didn’t even occur to me that there should be remains scattered across the clearing.

 

I feel the need to thank Reel but being reminded of what I did has me hang my head again.

 

“Don’t tell me you feel bad for those pieces of shit.” Reel’s statement makes me look up at him. “You know what they were going to do to you, right? They would have killed you after each of them had their way with you, the same thing they’ve done to no doubt countless others. Do you honestly believe any of them deserve your guilt?" Reels powerful eyes bore into mine, demanding an answer.

 

“I don’t feel bad,” I stammer out. “That’s the problem. I should feel some guilt after killing eleven people, but I don’t.” I glance down at my hands. “What does that say about me? After I told Mr. Grey everything I did, it only took me a minute to decide to kill them all.”

 

"So, you feel bad about killing, not who you killed?" Reel questions me from above.

 

I nod my head.

 

"That's fine," Reel explains with a straight tone. I look back up at him. "Every warrior justifies killing in their own way. Taking a life is a fact many in our world have to face. It’s the excuses we give ourselves that decide if we’re heroes or monsters. If you don’t feel bad about the men you killed, you honestly believed they deserved to die.”

 

“What gives me the right to choose?” I solemnly question Reel.

 

“Who better to choose?” Reel grins at me. “They wanted your life. They chose to attack, to take the most precious thing you own. You had all the right in the world to judge them, to defend yourself. You don't want to kill, that's a noble stance, and you have the right to follow it. But chances are you’ll have to kill other people in the future, and you can only hope your conscience is as clear as it is now. Always remember to do what you feel is right.”

 

I’m astounded by Reel’s speech.

 

“Also,” Reel continues. “As long as you feel bad after killing a person, you’ll know you aren’t truly a monster.” He reassures me.

 

“What’s your reason for killing?” I can’t help but ask Reel.

 

His passive face warps into the same look he had after I used Sense Soul on him when we first met. “I don’t need a reason; I am a monster.”

 

My instincts tell me to run, but I hold his monstrous gaze until his passive expression returns. He looks slightly disappointed by my lack of a reaction.

 

Reel turns on his feet and starts walking back to the tree line. "I'm checking the perimeter one more time. Eat something, and we'll pack up and go when I return." He says without looking back at me.

 

“Thank you,” I call out before he enters the trees.

 

Reel stops walking for a moment. "I don't need your thanks," he responds before stepping into the forest. The wind blows from his direction, bringing Reel's faint voice, “You don’t need to thank me twice.”

 

When did I ever thank Reel? Was I really passed out when he found me? I don’t think he would tell me after he just tried to push me away.

 

Reel called himself a monster, but I don't think Silver Herd would tolerate a wild beast amongst their ranks. Whatever his reason for killing is, it's his decision, just like I decided to kill rather than roll over and die. I'll mourn the act of killing, but I refuse to lose sleep over the bandits who tried to rape and murder me.

 

I slowly stand up, pulling Reel’s blanket closer around me. I'm wearing a jacket, but I'm used to having Mana Skin regulate the temperature around me. Grabbing my dried rations from my bag, I huddle closer to the small fire.

 

My entire body feels sore and stiff, refusing to move correctly. I guess that's what happens when you survive an explosion at point-blank range.

 

While nibbling on some jerky, I look up at the sky. The sun looks like it moved back across the sky, meaning it has been at least a day since I fought the bandits. Reel said he just finished cleaning up, so I guess I was out for 16 hours or so.

 

Reel said he’d be back soon, and there's one more important thing I need to check before he returns. I pull up my status page.

 

LV: 64 Experience: 85,416/ 550,734

Health: 2,049.33/2,090

Stamina: 611.82/1,403

Mana: 271.08/1,010

Vitality: 209.00

Endurance: 80.17

Strength: 132.00

Dexterity: 125.00

Senses: 60.64

Mind: 62.83

Magic: 101.07

Clarity: 75.79

Status Points: 10

Skills:

Tier 1:

Meditation (LV78), Running (LV74), Blacksmithing (LV67), Axe Skills (LV55), Hammer Skills (LV55), Cleaning (LV51), Mining (LV48), Chanting (LV48), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV41), Cooking (LV38), Dagger Skills (LV31), Wood Carving (LV31), Acting (LV31), Sword Skills (LV28), Sewing (LV24), Pugilist Skills (LV4), Spear Skills (LV2)

Tier 2:

Sense Mana (LV78), Double Step (LV61), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV46), Hammer Arts (LV40), Axe Arts (LV36), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV30), Lower Price (LV20), Increase Price (LV17), Dagger Arts (LV12), Sword Arts (LV11), Steady Hands (LV10), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV1),

Tier 3:

Expel Mana (LV60), Mana Manipulation (LV55), Precise Strike (LV37), Double Strike (LV35), Weighted Strike (LV27), Flash Step (LV19), Contract (LV5)

Tier 4:

Mana Skin (LV51), Inject Mana (LV50), Mental Resistance (LV48), Extract Mana (LV28), Magic Blacksmithing (LV20), Empowered Spell (LV7)

Tier 5:

Sense Soul (LV33)

 

Increased Skill Levels

Running (LV74) 3,700exp

Chanting (LV48) 2,400exp

Trading (LV40-41) 4,050exp

Acting (LV31) 1,550exp

Sword Skills (LV27-28) 2,750exp

Double Step (LV61) 6,100exp

Lower Price (LV18-20) 5,700exp

Sword Arts (LV11) 1,100exp

Mana Manipulation (LV55) 8,250exp

Weighted Strike (LV27) 4,050exp

Flash Step (LV19) 2,850exp

Contract (LV3-5) 1,800exp

Inject Mana (LV50) 12,500exp

Mana Skin (LV50-51) 25,250exp

Mental Resistance (LV48) 12,000exp

Empowered Spell (LV3-7) 6,250exp

 

Skill Experience: 100,300exp

Crafting Experience: 743exp

Fighting Experience: 68,891exp

 

Total experience Gained: 169,934exp

 

I ignore the fact I leveled up and focus on my fighting experience. Killing eleven men, and almost dying in the process, only gave me 68,891 experience. Is that how cheap life is in this world?

 

Breathing out a sad sigh, I distribute my status points to help with my recovery. I put three points into Vitality, three points into Strength, three points into Dexterity, and one point into Magic. The vibrant wisps of energy explode from my soul and nourish my tired body.

 

Even if I only put a single point into Magic, it's enough to mend a significant amount of damage to my mana network. If I use short bursts of Extract Mana to pull in ambient mana, I can further increase my mana recovery time. Hopefully, by the time I make it back to the village, my mana pool will be almost full, and the damage from the mana exhaustion will be almost fully healed. But until then, I shouldn’t use any of my spells or Mana Skin.

 

Feeling my body and mana network recovering faster, I can better look at my skills that leveled yesterday without worrying about the rest of the trip home.

 

Trading, Lower Price, and Contract all gained multiple levels after I made a deal with Mr. Grey. Running and Double Step leveled up after my running for hours on end yesterday. The rest of my skills leveled after the fight.

 

“Did you level?” I hear from across the clearing. Looking over, I watch Reel walk towards me.

 

Usually, his question would earn him a sarcastic comment, but I feel generous towards the man after pulling me out of the flaming crater. “I made it to level 64.”

 

Reel looks surprised I answered him and probably even more so that I gave him an exact number. He rubs the back of his head, “I wasn’t expecting you to answer, did the explosion scramble your brain?” He teases.

 

“Maybe?” I smile at him, making him more uncomfortable. “Thanks again for rescuing me.”

 

Reel pauses mid-step and narrows his eyes at me. "Stop thanking me already; I was too late to help anyways. Are you ready to go?" He tries to change the subject.

 

“Give me a minute,” I ask.

 

My pack is still roughly in one piece, but I need to retie the straps I cut. I pick up my blanket from the ground and shake it out before stashing it away.

 

Reel takes off a small pack and stretches out his hand towards me. Unwrapping myself, I fold his blanket and give it back to him. “Thanks for letting me use it,” I tell him.

 

Reel growls in annoyance, snaps the blanket out of my hand, and then proceeds to stuff it into his pack. It's surprising how light he can travel; besides the gear, he's wearing, he only has the blanket and a single waterskin tied to his pack.

 

Next, I pick up my sword and examine it. My sword was caught up in the blast, but thanks to its mana nature and the scabbard being made out of fire-resistant materials, they both only have a few nicks. Reattaching my sword to my hip only takes a second, but I can't find my dagger anywhere. “Hey, Reel. Do you know where my dagger is?”

 

Reel shakes his head, no. "It's in a scrap pile hidden in the woods. It was too mangled after the explosion to be salvaged." Damn, that sucks. Reel notices my disappointed look, "Something special about it?"

 

“It was the first thing master made for me. The knife has been with me for years now.” I sigh with disappointment.

 

“I’ll have Kervin pick up the scrap pile when he heads this way again and bring it to you,” Reel offers.

 

“Thanks,” I tell him as I swing the heavy straps to my pack over my shoulders.

 

“Whatever,” Reel whines again. I’m starting to notice Reel can’t take a compliment; he’s either been pissing everybody off or staying silent so much that I didn’t notice it before. I don’t think anyone has had a single conversation with the man that wasn’t an argument during our entire trip to Drey.

 

We start walking across the clearing towards my village, and I decide to test my theory. "I never realized what a helpful person you are," I say, walking next to him.

 

If looks could kill, I'd be dead right now. Reel increases his speed and vaults over the fallen tree blocking the path, leaving me behind. “Hey! I can’t move that well right now!” I shout over the tree.

 

In a flash, Reel is back on top of the tree trunk, offering me a hand up. I take his hand and jump. Between my leg strength and Reel's Strength stat, I quickly make it on top of the tree and over to the other side. I give Reel a big, goofy smile.

 

“What?” He challenges.

 

“I could’ve walked around, but thanks for helping me anyways.”

 

Reel’s face muscles slack into a disbelieving grimace before he charges off in a huff.

 

Oh, this is too good!

 


 

“Can’t you move any faster?” Reel exclaims from a little ways in front of me.

 

"No, but thank you for matching my speed," I respond, trying really hard not to laugh.

 

“AAAAAHHHHH!” Reel howls like an enraged animal.

 

Ever since we left the clearing this morning, every jab, joke, or insensitive statement Reel's thrown at me, I've somehow turned it around into a compliment towards him.

 

And he hates it!

 

“You howl so beautifully; you know that?” I say in a singsong voice before bursting into hysterical laughter.

 

Reel skids to a stop and turns to me, brandishing one of his enchanted daggers. "One more word, and I'll cut your tongue out!"

 

I just jog past him, continuing to laugh.

 

The two of us run a little longer before the sun starts to vanish behind the trees, and we decide to make camp for the night.

 

Reel takes the first chance he can get to leave and gather firewood. I use my hands to dig out a fire pit in the snow. Using the rocks nearby, I make a platform for the firewood; that way, the water won't touch the burning timbers if the snow melts.

 

Reel makes it back with an armful of wood. I sort out which timber pieces are best for starting the fire and which will burn through the night.

 

Turns out lighting a fire without magic is more challenging than I remember but having superhuman strength more than makes up for the loss. You can twist a stick pretty fast when you have over 100 in your Strength and Dexterity stats.

 

Now we just need something to talk about over the fire. I know, "Hey, Reel. You were amazing today, how do you…"

 

Before I can continue, Reel flicks his wrist, and one of his daggers is embedded an inch from my leg. "I liked you better before you blew yourself up.”

 

"You know I'm just messing with you. Can't you take a joke?" I admonish him. Leaning to my side, I easily pull his dagger out of the ground. His blade has a mana gem in it, meaning as long as it's charged, the enchantment is active, so I can see its runic structure without using up any of my mana.

 

Just like my mana obscuring necklace, the runes inside Reel's dagger are beautifully intricate, so much so I’m sure the runes are top tier 3 or maybe even tier 4.

 

“Stop analyzing my dagger and hand it back.” Reel complains.

 

"If you like it so much, you shouldn't throw it away, finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers.”

 

"What?" Reel looks at me, confused.

 

"It means I'm missing a dagger, and this one happened to fall into my lap, or next to it technically." I playfully stick out my tongue.

 

“Funny, at least you aren’t complimenting me with every word.” He holds out his hand.

 

I carefully hand him back the dagger, unsure what it’s enchanted with. “Sorry for messing with you all day. After dealing with you on the way to Drey, I was happy to learn your weakness finally." I poke fun at him. "But seriously, what's your deal? It was mostly a bunch of small compliments; why would that make you uncomfortable?"

 

"People don't usually compliment me when I'm working unless I make it quick." Reel flashes me a smile while showily flipping his dagger around.

 

“Does that mean people are just jobs to you?” I ask.

 

Reel flips his dagger through the air, catching it before he shrugs at me. "Don't take it personally; I'm the same with Kervin and his lot. I need to be able to follow any orders the boss gives me, and I can't let friendships get in the way of that."

 

"Like what Mr. Grey said about silencing Kervin?" Reel chooses not to answer my question, so I ask another. "Is that why you can’t even have a friendly conversation with me, for the same reason?”

 

“It’s unlikely we’ll ever be in that kind of situation.” Reel gracefully sheaths his dagger.

 

“Are you saying that because I’m valuable, or because soon I’ll be stronger than you?” I tease.

 

Reel gives me a confident smirk. “A bit of advice, don’t underestimate people like me. Levels don’t help when your opponent doesn’t play fair.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I tell him.

 

An awkward silence falls on us, and we pass the time staring at the fire.

 

“Hey, Reel?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You report everything to your boss, right?” I question.

 

“The important things, yes. Certain things he doesn’t need to know.” Reel truthfully answers, not that it’s much of a secret anymore.

 

"Then, that means you're going to tell him about yesterday?" I hesitantly ask.

 

“Yes,” he immediately responds.

 

“Even the part about how you weren’t there?” This time he doesn’t answer. His hesitation is the opening I need, “I have a proposition for you.” I offer.

 

Reel looks at me critically. “Nothing bad,” I try to decrease his skepticism.

 

“And what is it you’re suggesting?” Reel questions me.

 

“I want you to downplay the danger I was in.”

 

Reel seems unsure of my request. “Why would you want that, and what’s in it for me?”

 

"There are two reasons why I don't want your boss to know how close I was to meeting the goddess of death. The first is my image." Reel raises an eyebrow at me. "I'm sure you've mentioned to your boss my level and some of my skills. Having him think I'm stronger than I am will keep him off of my back."

 

“And the second reason?” Reel folds his arms.

 

"I don't want him to worry." Reel's eyes widen when he realizes what I mean. "If word gets out that I almost died going back to my village from the closest city, I’m sure he’ll assign more people to shadow me. And gods help me if my mother hears about it, she’ll never let me leave the village again.”

 

"All of those reasons sound great for Silver Herd. We can better watch you, and you'll be confined to the village, and it won't be by our hand.” Reel chuckles at my problems.

 

"Good for Silver Herd, not you," my response stops him from laughing. “How much trouble will you be in when your boss finds out you almost let me die?” Reel's eyes widen slightly; now, he's properly listening to me. "You underplay what happened to me, and I'll keep it a secret you almost let me die. That way, neither of us get in trouble."

 

Reel turns his head away from me, so I can't see his expression. “I’ll think about it,” his voice cuts through the silent air.

 

I pick up a stick and poke at the fire. Sending a quick glance up, I notice Reel still hasn't turned back to face me. "Hey, Reel," I try to get his attention, but he doesn't look at me. "I have something to ask about you saving me yesterday.”

 

"For the last time, I don't need your thanks,” He snaps at me, finally turning his head in my direction.

 

“I wasn’t going to thank you again,” I flatly tell him. “I was wondering how much of my fight did you see?”

 

Reel’s expression doesn’t give anything away. “I told you. I arrived after the explosion and pulled you out of the crater.”

 

“Then why haven’t you asked me any questions?”

 

“Because I know you wouldn’t tell me anything.” Reel candidly answers my question.

 

He looks sincere, but I know Reel better than that. "That wouldn't stop you from trying. You wouldn't leave me alone the entire trip to Drey, even though I ignored almost every one of your questions. The only thing I can think of is that you arrived earlier than you said. I'm curious, was I conscious when you pulled me out of the crater?"

 

“Would knowing change anything?” Reel asks me.

 

“I guess it wouldn’t,” I lower my head, casting my gaze back into the fire.

 

“Does that mean you won’t ask me?”

 

"I won't because I know you wouldn’t tell me anything.” Answering the same way he did, I look up and give Reel a smirk.

 

Reel's lips curl up into a light smile. We both share a quick laugh about our situation. Both of us are trying to get information out of the other. Both of us are trying to survive in a game played by bigger people.

 

Reel stops laughing first. “You want the first or second watch?”

 

“I’ll take the first. I think I might have slept a little too much last night.”

 

"Alright," Reel nods his head in understanding before tightly wrapping his blanket around his body. As soon as he lays on the ground, his eyes close, and his breathing evens out.

 

He fell asleep fast; I wonder how long he’s been up for? I’m sure he stayed up all night to watch over me, meaning it’s been at least two days since he last slept. I wonder if he’s still paying attention to his surroundings; if I reached for his enchanted dagger, would he wake up?

 

I set aside the idea of robbing the sleeping assassin for later and try to make myself comfortable.

 

I'm surprised how much my opinion of Reel has changed today. Despite me bugging him throughout the day, he never retaliated. Sure, Reel threatened me multiple times, but that was just for show. If he wanted me to leave him alone, he would've brought up the men I killed.

 

I can't say we are friends now, but I think there is a new sense of respect between the two of us.

 

It sucks now I know he isn’t all that bad of a guy.

 

I used to hate him on principle, which made avoiding his questions easier.

 

I need to be careful; no matter how my opinion of Reel changes, I need to remember, it's his job to gather information about me and report it to his boss. I send a sidelong glance at Reel’s prone form. I don't know what Reel learned about me, but I hope to use the information he gathered to mislead his boss rather than report my fight's grim details.

 

Reel wouldn’t be able to escape punishment if he reports the situation exactly as it happened. No matter how annoying Reel can be, I’d prefer the devil in front of me to the one hidden in the shadows.

 

I finally manage to get into a good position and enter a meditative state. While absorbing small amounts of mana, I keep a close eye on the woods around us. I'll make sure nothing bothers Reel while he's asleep just like he did for me.

 


 

General Emily Pitz Point of View:

 

"The daily report, Cristopher," I ask my steward while staring out the keep's window. In the distance, I see Scholl's campfires flickering into existence as the sun gives way to the night.

 

“I’m sad to report more conflicting reports, general.”

 

“How so?” I question him.

 

“Scholl’s forces have pulled back their forward line, yet they continue to launch siege spells even though they can’t reach our walls. They send raiding parties when our supplies arrive but retreat before any real damage is done. Scholl isn’t known for long engagements, and yet they’re digging themselves in and building fortifications along their ranks. It’s almost like they’ve given up and are only putting up token appearances.” Cristopher reports the troubling news.

 

“Have they received any reinforcements?” I ask.

 

“Our scouting teams report regular supply trains arriving at their camp but no new soldiers.”

 

“No one wearing a feathered hat?”

 

Cristopher shivers, “Thankfully not. The commander who took over Scholl’s forces after you slew his predecessor has been seen directing troops and appears to still be in charge despite losing most of his forces to your last skill.”

 

“Any word on our reinforcements?”

 

“We received word from the capital that multiple forces are being sent to reinforce us. The closest will be here in three weeks.” Cristopher happily reports.

 

“And my specialty arrows?” I ask.

 

"Your order was sent to the Stone-Kin, and we received word that it was accepted, but we haven't received a reply when they might be finished." Damn, that's terrible news. I don't let Cristopher see my agitated face. It doesn't mean anything if the order is accepted; if they didn't quote us a delivery date, it means they haven't started, or they're having trouble with the materials.

 

“Regarding your other order, we received a letter from the owner of Silver Herd, Giovanni Turrini, that it should be here in under two weeks.” Cristopher’s news brings a slight smile back to my face. “Furthermore, the items we purchased from the merchant Kervin, deemed good enough to enchant, are nearing completion. Squad leaders have been notified to report anyone they think competent enough to wield an enchanted weapon.”

 

“Good,” I respond. “And the special arrows we received?”

 

“Divided amongst our best archers,” Cristopher reassures me.

 

“They know not to use them, correct?” I send a stern look at Cristopher.

 

"Yes, general," Cristopher nods in reassurance. "They're aware of your orders to save them for the next big battle. Everything is moving smoothly, general.”

 

“And that’s the problem,” Cristopher understands what I mean. Everything has been going too efficiently as of late. We've repelled every one of Scholl's offenses and have decimated their numbers, and yet they haven't retreated. They even started using tactics they aren’t known for.

 

Scholl's forces are meant to move as one, being spearheaded by high-leveled army members. Even after I killed most of their high leveled warriors and commanders, they still tried to take the fort using the same formation.

 

Scholl should’ve retreated through the canyon the day after I slaughtered so many of their forces. The only reason they would have stayed is if they came up with another plan, one that we haven’t seen before.

 

Three weeks, I tell myself.

 

In three weeks, reinforcements will arrive, and Scholl will have no choice but to retreat; we just need to hang on until then.

 


 

????? Point of View:

 

Gods, I love the smell of the battlefield!

 

The charged atmosphere is positively pulsing with waves of mana!

 

It makes me want to charge the fort right now!

 

It takes everything I have to restrain myself; I can’t have my existence here being revealed yet. That surprise will come later.

 

I stroke my grey beard, careful of the feathers I have adorning my facial hair. I had to take them out while traveling with the supplies, but I can proudly display them in my tent.

 

I hear the tent flap open and get a fresh whiff of the battlefield. "How are the plans proceeding, Tellis?" I don't bother looking at the intruder; only one person is allowed inside my tent. And I want to meet the assassin who can kill me.

 

“Everything is proceeding as instructed, Master Pacore. When reinforcements arrive, we’ll be ready to take the fort within a day.”

 

"Does everyone still believe you're in charge?" I ask while stroking my beautiful beard.

 

"A few people were asking questions, but I took care of them. No one knows you're here." I look over at the kneeling man, and he quickly casts his eyes down, avoiding my gaze.

 

“Impressive; it's nice to see your dedication to the cause remains, despite your failings." Tellis gulps loud enough I can clearly hear it. "Continue as you have, and I'll see to you getting a promotion."

 

“Really!?” Tellis’ face is equal parts disbelief and excitement. “But the men I lost?”

 

“Irrelevant,” I exclaim. “Little was known about General Pitz when you took command. She’s known for hunting magical beasts, and you couldn't anticipate her skills. Despite watching your former general die at her hands, you were the only commander who volunteered to take over his position, knowing quite well you probably would fail. Why do that?" I ask the still kneeling man.

 

It takes him a moment to collect himself enough to answer me. "Someone had to take charge; Scholl cannot lose this war," he loudly claims.

 

“And that is why I’ll see you have a promotion. War has a great tendency to bring out the hidden talent in people. Stand up." Tellis immediately hops to his feet. "Continue the preparations. In two weeks, the fort will be ours."

 

"By your will, Master Pacore the Deathless.” Tellis salutes me and leaves my tent.

 

Subordinates love to use my title but rarely understand what it means. I’ve earned my title after a century of battle. The Goddess Ebeon has tried to claim my soul countless times, but I've walked away stronger each time I’ve avoided death.

 

I hope General Pitz doesn't disappoint me. It would be a shame if I came all the way here, and I don't get to see the color of my own blood; it's been so long since I've seen it last.

 

I wonder if it’s still red?

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A note from kosnik4

5,400 words.

 

The first chapter of the new year!

 

Hope you all enjoyed it, and as always, stay safe.


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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