"Idiot, what…" whispered Lumia, talking to the brother in her usual insolent tone.
"SHIT. What's what, SHIT. There here, the invasion has begun. Damn monsters…" Helial fell on his knees to the ground, swearing against everything that the heavens were unleashing against him. Was there a God that enjoyed seeing him suffer?
They both stayed silent for a while. Helial's fingers were trembling uncontrollably. They could not go to the city anymore. They would have to go around to avoid the Goblins, but the forests were swarming with those dirty monsters. The recon patrols were probably all over that area. Helial could not run any ricks in his conditions. A Goblin at level 35-40 could have defeated him easily.
Helial didn't have a deep understanding neither of maps nor military strategy. He had no idea where the army would go after conquering the city. He didn't know where there could be more patrols or where it would have been safer.
First, he stood up and then he fell back on his butt with a loud thud.
He sat, pondering the recent events and commenting out loud: "We can't keep going to the city. If we had already walked through the gates e could have got out from the other side and try to get to safety. Now it's impossible. There is a fucking horde of fucking Goblins between us and the city. We could go around the city and try to catch up with the fugitives, but that would not end well…"
"Why?" asked Lumia, curious to know her brother's line of reasoning. After all, she was a ten-year-old kid and even though she was quite bright for her age, she still didn't fully understand some of the dynamics.
"Why? Because the Goblins will go looking for the fugitives. It would already be difficult to escape from the city. Do you understand what we are risking being already in an area that's swarming with those monsters? We would be butchered…" muttered Helial. " I am no strategist and I don't know these lands well, but for how to get to the city, our only option is to take a longer route around the city. I know that to the East there is a mountain range that should be free of wild beasts. If go that way, we could cross the mountains and get to safety, but… I have no survival skills and I'm basically a cripple. If we got attacked by more than three wolves I couldn't be sure to protect you."
"Although," he continued, "staying here is out of the question. We just have to find a way to save ourselves."
Helial grabbed his own hands. He had no choice but to try and get stronger. In his conditions he wasn't just helpless, he was close to useless. He couldn't keep running.
Suddenly he had an idea.
"Lumia, come here and sit down in front of me", ordered Helial sternly.
"What's wrong?" asked the girl, almost intimidated by the harsh tone of her brother.
He always pampered her, he had never talked to her angrily or impolitely. He really loved her dearly. There was nothing he cherished more than that silver-haired little girl. But this time, he had used a tone of voice completely different from usual. Lumia was quite upset.
Lumia sat down in front of him. Helial was sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed, the palms of his hands resting on the knees. It looked almost like he was meditating. He abruptly opened his eyes and the deep blue of the night met the emerald green.
"Listen, you are the only thing I care about in this world. I won't let anyone hurt you, but I don't intend to treat you like a burden. I thought of a solution, but it is really dangerous. I need to know if you trust me", said Helial.
"I trust you", replied Lumia bluntly.
"Sorry, what?" asked Lumia, sure to have heard wrong.
"The mission we received has increased your experience too, right?" Helial smiled.
Lumia had been too worried about their safety, but now opened a window to check her Stats.
Primary Class None
Primary Affinity None
Primary Profession None
Physical Resilience: 5%
Stats points to be sorted out: 12
"Yes…" answered Lumia, who didn't know how Exp worked.
"When we are part of a group we share the same Missions and we both receive Exp, since we are on a similar level. If there isn't much difference between us, we both gain Exp from killing monsters in the mission. As far as single killings are concerned, on the other hand, I gain a lot more Exp that you, since I was the one to kill them, while you didn't participate in the fight", Helial explained to her.
Lumia nodded. It wasn't complicated.
"Risking our lives in the mountains is out of the question: there are too many wolves and we don't know the area. We wouldn't be able to get food once we ate all there is left in our inventories, and we both know that is not going to last long… But we know this area! We know where to hide. We can hide away in the woods we know and attack the Goblins. If there are no more than three, with only one archer, it shouldn't be a problem", a creepy light shone in Helial's eyes. In heart was bursting with a desire for redemption. He was fed up with being powerless.
While he was talking, he almost looked possessed. Lumia kept wondering how come he didn't look scared. Helial had always been a calm boy, not very lively. Since she could remember, Helial had always tried to not attract unnecessary attention and keep a low profile in the village. How could he have chance so much in just a couple of days?
What Lumia didn't know was that behind that serious and loving boy was hiding a bird of prey that had been caged for far too long, a monster that yearned for its freedom. Helial's greatest fear as not to die fighting, but to continue living like a coward. He couldn't take it anymore.
Lumia had never received a proper education in the village where her and Helial lived. Everything she knew, she had learned from her big brother and from the Master in the village.
"Lumia. Do you trust me? It doesn't matter what's troubling you. I'm asking you, do you trust me?" asked Helial, more serious than he'd ever been.
"Put all the Stat Points that you gained in Intelligence and Wisdom, every two points in Intelligence put one in Wisdom. This way your amount of Mana will increase. Next, you'll have to condense a Mana Seed. First of all, listen very closely, we'll try to develop a Breathing Technique that suits you. Now let's look for shelter. There is a cave half an hour from here, I saw it while we were walking. Let's go there, we'll be safe for the time being."
Lumia nodded without asking any questions and the set off, leaving behind the city and the columns of smoke that rose above it.
North of Floralivory, Outpost of Alabard
"Open the gates! That's the medallion of a Master of the Mana Congregation!" shouted the Commander from the top of the city walls. Everyone was on the lookout, they had gathered the local soldiers and received backups from the capital. If Floralivory City fell, the second place attacked would for sure be the outpost. Alabard was an important military post that could provide timely support in all cities in that area. If the Goblins wanted to conquer those lands, they first had to make sure to raze that outpost to the ground and kill everyone inside it.
A man around forty years old get off his horse. It was a young Master of the Mana Congregation. One needed to have extraordinary abilities to become one of the Masters of that powerhouse. but, despite being a Master of the Congregation and being forty years of age, he was still in the Second Phase.
"Sir, identification is compulsory, I need to report to my superiors", said a recruit, stepping forward. They had orders to check the identity of whoever entered the outpost, to avoid unpleasant surprises.
"Master Vidio. I had to escape to deal… um… with some very important business for the Congregation", muttered Vidio, clumsily trying to conceal the real reason that had brought him to the outpost. To tell the truth, he had run from Floralivory as fast as he could.
I couldn't really stay there and get my ass roasted. The Goblins arrived way earlier than foreseen. The must have already destroyed the city by now, he pondered.
Vidio had never been a fan of heroic deeds. Since he had arrived in Floralivory, he had spent more time running after women than training. For this reason, almost everyone that knew him thought that he was still blocked in the Second Phase because of his vices, despite all the talent that he had shown when young.
He glanced at the walls and the perimeter all round. Here he could feel really safe. The walls were over 600 feet high and around 20 feet deep. There were soldiers posted everywhere.
The outpost was at the foot of the mountain and the walls reached the steep mountain slope. It would be impossible the attack that place from all sides, so they mainly had to worry about frontal attacks. The Commander was no rookie, he was in the Late Grade of the Fourth Phase. The Fourth Phase… That man alone could have faced hundreds of people in the Second Phase. The gap between two adjacent Phases was huge, but the one between two distant Phases was unbridgeable.
The outpost overlooked a deserted, sandy wasteland. There were no living creatures for dozens of miles. Everything was a dull yellow-earth, even people looked soaked in that color. The soldiers had a stern look on their faces. They were fighters that had faced death over and over again and, aside some of the inexperienced rookies, none of them liked to joke about it.
They were also no fools. Many of them stared at Vidio with spite. They had understood right away the reason of the sudden arrival of the Master: he was running, fleeing the city. He hadn't put up a fight. Was there anything more despicable for a soldier?
A man completely enveloped in a dark red cloak, that in a more glorious past used to be crimson, approach Vidio. He was the Commander of the Outpost. He was a short, bulky man with icy eyes. He growled at the recruit to get out of the way and addressed Vidio: "Go and get a room, tomorrow you can leave for the Capital to go report the situation."
He offered no introduction and after blurting those few words in Vidio's face, he turned around and went back to the training grounds, where a few recruits were waiting for him. The Commander's name was Pausan. He was from a big island south-west of Floralivory.
Pausan was a strict, rigid man. Where he came from, rigor and military training were all that mattered. He used to be one of the best recruits in his time. His region had kept its independence for centuries, fighting hard for civil rights and self-determination. But since the arrival of the Mana Congregation, the Nation of Fiercelake had prevailed and broke the existing balance. With the Congregation, arrived the Immortals and his region didn't stand a chance. The choice was between bending the knee or dying.
Pausan's people were warriors. Who couldn't fight became an artisan and who wasn't an artisan was a slave. His society has a very clear and inflexible hierarchy. But over the years, many of the best warriors in history came from that region.
He Commander sighed; it was time to go back and train those recruits. The people in that Nation were weaklings and he couldn't do much about it. Now that Fiercelake had annexed Parsta, the military leaders of the islands had to serve those that for many years were their enemies. Pausan clenched his fists. In his heart he was still a Parstan and would never forget his origins.
The outpost needed to be ready for a Goblin attack. Being caught off-guard was out of the question, it was a matter of honor for Pausan and all his people. Besides, the Commander hated the Goblins' guts. Those monsters had killed his uncle during a military campaign, while he was trying to free the mountains from those undesired creatures.
Pausan looked in the distance, his gaze wandering the void, while he thought how to get back to those damned Goblins.
Lumia and Helial were travelling towards the city. It was already late afternoon. The red rays of sunshine crashed against columns of smoke in the distance. The pungent smell of charred wood reached even to where there were. There were still four or five miles to Floralivory City. Why all that smoke?