Chapter 36: War’s Flame
By living in the cottage, Nisha had grown up relatively sheltered from human social interactions; curses were heard every now and then when someone had cut himself while cooking, or when a [Sapphire Cow] had stepped on a foot; but the constant amount of profanities coming from the General Blackport’s mouth came as a culture shock for her.
Neither Luthais nor the soldiers guarding the door seemed to be particularly disturbed by his crude manner of speech, they were probably used to it, having known the old soldier for a while.
“Would you excuse me now; since you are back, I am free again to bash a few heads on the walls myself, can’t wait to show those fuckers who’s in charge here.”
Picking up the mace leaning on the desk, the general nodded slightly at the newcomers before exiting the room, leaving behind a half-elf with a headache and three shocked girls.
Small vibrations were going across the building from time to time because of stones colliding with the impenetrable walls, the large rocks shaking the whole town at each impact.
What just happened? And why was he cursing so much?
Rubbing his temples, Luthais sat behind the massive table in the middle of the room, and started sorting out the reports scattered around.
“I am sorry, but with the Terus army attacking, I don’t have enough time to take care of you. Sergeant Rivers, I set you free from your duties for the time being, you are responsible for the safety of the people belonging to my house. Would you find them an empty room, please? I’ll survey these documents and then join the defense.”
He didn’t even look up from his papers, the imminent battle was already monopolizing all his concentration.
To avoid bothering him in this dangerous time, which could prove to be a fatal mistake, Nisha and the two sisters followed Sergeant Rivers out of the office, leaving behind the Marshall of the King’s first army to think of a way to deal with the King’s enemies.
“Feel free to call me Brandon, after all we have already braved a whole army together, no need for formalities anymore between us.”
“Alright… Brandon, what do we need to do now? Will the Terus army take over the city? What will happen?”
Speaking to the soldier as they walked down the stairs to the second floor, Lydia attempted to get more information out of the poor sergeant.
“No need to be worried, with Marshall Dharnas here, the attackers will never get to step in the city, he is after all renowned to be a genius strategist. I’m sure he’s thinking of a plan to hold [Blackquarry] until the reinforcements’ arrival, the local garrison hasn’t been replaced for quite some time now since the siege is at a standstill.”
Holding open a door for the women, Sergeant Rivers waited for them to enter before resuming his explanations.
A sweet scent played around Nisha’s sensitive nose when she entered, the place was decorated with several flowers in simple but charming vases, a rare commodity in times of war, the decor reminding her of a lobby.
“As for the things you can do … I would be best if you were to stay here; I have to watch over you, so I’ll be with you anyway. If the wall is breached we might have to fight our way out, but I’m confident there will be no need for that.
Do you have anything that could help us pass the time?”
Sitting down on one of the couches, the soldier tried his best to dispel their worries, hindered in this task by the obvious anxiousness on his own face.
“How about chess? Nisha, do you have your set with you?”
The mention of the game brought a smile to the dragon’s features, clearly she was fond of chess.
“Of course, it’s in the carriage, the pieces are very precious, I couldn’t leave them at the cottage. Wait, let me get it.”
Without giving Sergeant Rivers a chance to protest, Nisha slipped out of the room and pretended to rush outside to retrieve the set from the crates in the cart’s cargo space, then, she secretly took it out from her [Soul Space].
Cleaning up this space really had been long overdue. Now that everything is stacked neatly I can retrieve things much more easily.
Sitting on the carriage for a whole day had been a mind-numbing experience, and as the bored dragon had not much to do, she had attempted to meditate for a while. When she had looked inside her being and inspected her soul, she had reckoned the various mementos she had of Eldrin.
Taking something out of the special space didn’t require much mana or concentration, knowing what she was looking for was usually enough, but Nisha had stored so many different junk that she couldn’t even remember what exactly she had stored anymore.
To her surprise, she had been able to see the contents of her inner area while meditating by focusing her mind’s eye on the [Soul Space], which then appeared similar to a green meadow, a small river filled with sparkling blue water running through the seemingly endless fields of her consciousness.
Piles of ores and treasures had been resting on one side of a creek, completely mixed together.
On the other side of the stream had laid various keepsakes, the torn sky-blue robe her grandfather used to wear, an entire chess set he had carved out of [Ivory Quartz] for her, the gift from Bael half-submerged in the clear blue water, and small presents she had received from her siblings.
Her body in this mental plane was rather opaque, but she was able to see through her hands and they were unable to grasp anything.
Eventually Nisha figured out how to move things there, she had to use her mental fortitude to relocate the goods, a task that proved to be challenging at first, but turned easier as she got used to it.
The soldiers guarding the entrances watched her dash back inside, amused, a girl filled with glee and excitement had became a rare sight during the siege, most of the citizens had grown weary from the constant threat hovering on their heads.
Her happiness was communicative, gladly shared with the guards.
A small bead of sweat was dripping down Sergeant Rivers’ forehead, his gaze focused on the exquisite board in front of him. His stronghold was assaulted from all sides, his defense helplessly ripped down to pieces.
Glancing up from time to time, he saw the dragon girl seemingly bored out of her mind from playing against him.
He said he was good at chess, but he can’t see through my strategy. All he does is pursue a single offense or a single defense tactic, and not even skillfully at that.
At first Nisha had lent her chess set to Lydia and Annabelle who played from time to time as well, but they had declined when she had asked to play against the victor of their battles, so she had challenged Sergeant Rivers for a match instead.
“Brandon, it seems that you are going to lose again. Why are you so adamant on winning a game? I don’t think Anna can take on Nisha either, and she’s the best player among us.”
Though the sergeant had beaten Lydia who had won in the sisterly match, he was completely manipulated by the youngest girl.
“I don’t know how she’s doing it, but whenever I take one of her pieces, I end up in a worse position than I was, and whenever she takes one of mine, it opens another opportunity for her to invade my side of the board. How-”
Before he could finish his sentence, an explosion, much louder all the previous rumbles, shook the building, disturbing the game, and stopping the soldier in whatever he might have wanted to say.
Before the group could recover from the shock, a guard barged in the room, alarmed.
“Sergeant Rivers, another army has arrived from the north, it has bursted into the town by blowing up the gates with a massive fire aura blast. Hostile fighters are flooding in the city as we speak; the Whitehall priestess has asked for all available guards to join her while she rallies the reserve forces and the injured to repel the attack.”
A bloody wound decorated the soldier’s shoulder, dripping crimson blood on the floor from his uniform. The sergeant was torn between his duty to follow the order and his task to protect the girls, several candles had passed since he had talked to his commander, but his instructions were clear.
“Just go with him, Brandon. We have Nisha with us, we will just hide somewhere. This is the center of the town, it’s probably the safest place for the time being. By going out there, you are protecting us too.”
With a last reluctant look, the soldier left the room and readied his weapon to the upcoming battle with the invading enemies.
Nisha looked at her two sisters, worried about their safety and her own, the situation had turned chaotic.
“What do we do now? The north gate is destroyed and the Terus are storming in [Blackquarry]. Luthais should be near the south gate, defending it from the siege machines, meaning that there are fights over there as well.”
Footsteps passing in front of the room could be heard during Nisha’s question, various guards and guild personnel were scurrying around.
Annabelle and Lydia stayed silent for a moment, unsure on what to respond.
“I don’t really know much, but maybe we should get out of here for the moment. In hunts, I usually take out the enemy leader at the heart of the den first, so there are probably soldiers heading over here as we speak. We should leave.”
Explaining her reasoning, Nisha made a proposition for the course of action they should take.
“Sounds good, let’s get out of here. Fighting an army by myself is not something I want to try.”
Agreeing with her younger companion, Lydia gathered the belongings they had brought from their vehicle; Nisha placed the chess set in her [Soul Space] carelessly as no one was around to see the pieces vanish into thin air.
Exiting the building, the three girls discovered their carriage, left by the soldiers and the [Strider Deer], still equipped with its harness.
I smell a fire burning.
Smoke was rising from the horizon, the invaders must have had set houses on fire after plundering them.
The thought of someone’s home burning because of such selfish reasons made the runes and the inner flame in the dragon’s core boil, struggling to be allowed to wreak havoc on the trespassers that had angered their owner.
Suppressing her urges, Nisha mounted the carriage, unwilling to leave her grandfather’s remains behind to be damaged by the intruders.
Knowing the nature of the fire and seeing the densely-packed houses, she estimated that the blaze wouldn’t spread fast, only slowly claiming more and more buildings.
“We should seek a place to hide the carriage and then look for Luthais, he will be able to protect us.”
Annabelle’s input made sense, and the other two agreed; Nisha handing her the reins.
Leaving the guild’s area revealed to the innocents girls another side of the previously orderly plight, civilians were running around in the streets, panicked, desperately searching a safe place, the news that the enemy had penetrated the defenses of the city and that a fire had been set spreading too fast to be controlled among the frightened inhabitants.
Navigating through the sea of people fleeing from various dangers to throw themselves in the waiting arms of many others turned out to be quite complicated, no one cared about getting in the way of the carriage, thus delaying the women.
Luckily they soon discovered a sturdily built inn, the owner trying to prevent anyone from entering and damage or steal his belongings, a wooden pike with metal tips in his hand, the closed gate behind him.
“Sir, we need to find a place for our carriage. Can you open the gate of us?”
Annabelle went to greet the weary man, who was so anxious that his clothes were wet from sweat.
“No! Go away, I can’t shelter anyone besides my family and my guests!”
Stubbornly, he wanted them to go away, waving his improvised weapon to threaten the three seemingly harmless girls.
Looking at her two sisters, Annabelle whispered in a hushed tone.
“What now? He doesn’t want to let us in, but we can’t stay out here on the street when the soldiers are coming, we’re not guests anywhere either.”
Fed up with the inn owner’s selfishness, Nisha took something out of her [Soul Space] and threw it at the gate.
The man flinched, expecting an explosion and glanced at the object once it had fell to the ground with a metallic clank.
“Here, that should be enough to make us guests, right? Now open the gate!”
The frightened and hostile glint in the inn owner’s eyes changed to one of greed, although slightly suspicious, when he recognized the item she had gave him. He picked it up, biting into the gold coin to verify its authenticity.
The purity of the gold confirmed, an elated expression painted itself on his face.
“Of course, of course, guests are welcome in my abode anytime. As it happens, the price of a night is one gold coin, you can come in.”
Grandpa was right, gold rules the world.
Slightly astounded and disappointed to see that the situation had been resolved with a single scrap of metal, Nisha urged her older sisters to drive the carriage into the yard, as remaining on the street was dangerous, or so they had told her. Even the civilians had disappeared from sight by the time they came to an agreement.
The warning was soon legitimated, as a small squad of soldiers appeared at the other end of the road. They quickly noticed the carriage and started running in their direction, the open gate of the inn and the beautiful girls assuring a luxurious loot.
“Hurry up! I have to close the gate again.”
Rendered frantic by the approaching threat to his life, the man’s greed took over his survival instinct as he pressed them to enter.
Most likely he could close the door before the squad’s arrival if he were to leave the carriage outside, but he had seen one gold coin and there were bound to be more if he could shelter the wealthy ladies.
The hoarse war cries of the soldiers who had sped up at the sight of their prey escaping echoed in Nisha’s ears, the runes and the flame inside her that had just calmed down were boiling in excitation anew.
Battling still scared her, as she could get hurt, injured, or worse, have to hurt someone else without a good reason.
But behind her were her two sisters; after losing her grandfather, there was no way Nisha would allow her family circle to shrink again.
With an unwavering will, she called forth her flame, but it responded in a strange manner. Around her wrists appeared two deep crimson bracelets, both engraved with words in draconic runes: Wars Flame.
Drawing strength from her new equipments, the heat and excitement of the battle spread from the two items like a wave, Nisha’s hair started swaying lightly, as it would have in a breeze.
Taking out her two trusted [Taurith Short Swords], she waited for the warriors, a blood-thirsty grin on her face, Annabelle and Lydia unsheathing their own weapons behind her; the inn owner was frantically hiding next to the closed gate, hoping that the soldiers would go away after having their ways with the girls.