Chapter 13 – The calm before the storm
The refugees kept moving to the east after they exited the mountain valley. The group formed a long serpentine shape when the path got narrower, progressing slower because they did not lit up torches and traveled in the dark. Even though the stars and moon offered a certain degree of brightness, they were hindered by the fir trees. Shadows seemed to dart about when the refugees marched through, and they shivered with trepidation.
Under Brendel’s orders, Freya had separated the refugees into different sections, with two guards maintaining order at every section. Freya told them what they needed to do so that they would not impede the progress, while Brendel told them what would happen if they failed to follow orders, and with this coaxing and threatening approach, they managed to achieve a balance to maintain speed and order.
The veterans Mano and Leto were not too worried about their movements as noises were easily muffled because of the thick forest, becoming nothing more than a whisper within a short distance. The reason for this was because of the strong wind that caused the fir trees to rustle constantly and loudly.
Brendel strained his ears to listen to the wind while he led the horse forward on foot. There seemed to be all sorts of noises in it: There was the rustling of Fir trees, groups of birds singing together, but there seemed to be some strange music and whispers in them, as if they were speaking another language.
Aouine’s southern region described this whispers as the witches trying to bewitch travelers as there were many who did not return after traveling to this part of the forest.
Brendel did not believe in them, but now that he had experienced it, he felt there was indeed a certain air of mystery.
The other mercenaries also led their horses on foot as they wanted to reserve the horses’ stamina to prepare for the upcoming battle. Even though these specially bred war horses’ stamina were approximately twenty percent better than a normal horse, the cavalry riders did not want to ride on them to maintain their charging prowess.
They had advanced to the east for approximately five kilometers, and was considered to have left the Silver Sparrow Mountain’s area.
[This area should be considered the area of the Hunting Deer forest… Only seasonal hunters would appear here.]
Brendel had already sent out the gargoyle to survey the west and southern area, while the other scouts have returned from their various assignments.
After a few minutes later, the scouts came up to Brendel with pale faces.
The scouts have discovered the entire region ahead was filled with skeletons, even before they reached their designated locations.
[They must have received a shock… It’s not pleasant at all to listen to a sea of skeletons walk on the hard ground.]
Brendel soothed them and allowed them to rest, while turning to the other riders and explained their weakness, so that they would be ready to fight when the time comes.
He send out another scout in the the northwest.
Brendel knew what Madara’s formation was after listening to the scouts’ reports. They were laid carefully in order to be flexible in their movements, and their scouts controlled a large area where they were mobile enough to aid both the front and rear army.
These Madara’s leaders were the true reason why the Dark Lords were able to pull off their strategies and formations.
[Fortunately this formation has a fatal weakness. As long as they lose the support of the Shades, the necromancers will reorganize their army, and the space between each squadron will become huge. There’s an additional weakness to it if the enemy leader is weak enough, with the classic scenario where they can only command a small fraction of the army at a single time…. That will be advantageous for us, but at the same time, I need to be careful of Medes’s army. If he’s the one leading, that additional weakness will not be there.]
There were not many ways to discover a shade’s presence.
But Brendel ‘knew’ of a way.
Mano kept looking down at the white deer as he led a group of volunteer militia. Brendel had told him that the beautiful white deer would be able to show them where the terrifying shades were.
Mano was irritated. He hated this mysterious act of Brendel talking like a mysterious wizard, and he would rather have a proper battle. They were ahead of the refugees by nearly a kilometer, but the white deer still did not act like what Brendel had said it would do.
Just when he wanted to curse and grumble, the white deer suddenly turned its head into another direction and pawed at the ground with a distressed expression.
Mano immediately drew out his saber and commanded everyone to go over to the direction where the white deer indicated.
There was nothing strange about that area with fir trees, but when they started to surround that area, they saw a translucent white humanoid figure.
[M-marsha above! This is the shade!?]
Everyone’s feet stopped when they saw that white figure, but it shrieked loudly and rushed straight at them. The scream made their blood curdle, while the forest suddenly went into deep silence.
Mano had never fought such a bizarre battle in his life. The Shade’s face seemed to show his friends’ face who had died in battle, but he quickly shook his head and ignored it. Brendel had warned him about this; these illusions were not real.
Mano did not dare to suspect Brendel any longer; the scene in front of him was just madness.
Mano gripped his saber tightly and swung at the Shade. The blade went past the body and immediately developed a layer of ice. Mano cursed inwardly as he did not feel the impact.
Spirits were in between the reality and the ethereal, and physical attacks had a fifty percent chance to fail.
Mano was unable to pull off an evasive maneuver as the Shade went for his head. He immediately turned his upper body sideways, and the Shade’s fingernails pass through his shoulder.
The veteran soldier immediately felt an intense chill piercing at his bone, and he lost all sensation to it.
“Attack, attack now, you worthless bastards!” He roared at the frightened militia. They finally woke up from their stupor and raised their long spears and attacked the Shade.
Three spears went through the shadow-like creature, but the other two spears managed to impale the creature and lift it up. It screamed loudly. Mano then jumped high up and tried to cleave the shade into two. It screamed loudly and disappeared when the saber cut through its neck to the lower torso.
Everyone finally relaxed, and a few even of them felt weak in their knees and just sat onto the ground, and no one had the mood to talk about what had happened.
Brendel watched the scene from far away.
[As expected of an Iron-ranked fighter, he’s more than enough to take care of these intermediate ranked undead. His commanding abilities are also good, it’s fortunate that I have these veteran mercenaries, otherwise trying to care of these Shades might be a problem.]
He suddenly turned his head back to Freya.
[Although this Soul Statue is a common thing, the one who discovered that the White Deer has the ability to actually discover the undead was Freya… Did I just plagiarize her idea? Uhh, in any case, once we start clearing out all these Shades, the necromancers will eventually discover that a number of their Shades did not report back… If they stop moving for one or two hours, we can do a lot.]
Brendel’s surveyed the ground through the gargoyle’s eyes, and he finally spotted a group of skeleton riders passing through the forest. He was not sure if he had missed other groups of skeletons, but he was certain that it was one of the vanguard groups. He commanded the gargoyle to sweep the place again, and after three minutes, he spotted another group of riders.
The gargoyle then went deeper into the mountain region, and he spotted a large group of skeleton infantry.
[Just like I thought. They gathered up. Approximately two mid-sized companies of skeleton soldiers—]
Brendel found two more companies as the Brendel flew through the valley. Even though he could not see which leader it belonged to, he did not think that they would be easy to deal with.
[This is just the beginning of an even bigger army. It shouldn’t be the ‘Pale Knight’ Ebdon or Vesa in the rear, probably Direndall or Ladios. Two generals under Tarkus, with the army split into five divisions. They have around ten thousand undead stretched across twenty thirty kilometers, and they are moving in the night just like I thought… The timing is bad. We need to move quickly.]
Even though Brendel still wanted to survey even further and see what unit was ahead, the gargoyle had already reached its maximum flying area. He had once lied to Marden and Bretton that it surveyed the entire Bucce region, but that was not the case.
It was 1.05 AM.
Taron reported that the scouts surveying the north western area had returned, and the elite forces had appeared in the River of Sharp Rocks.
The mercenaries’ faces were grim when the news spread. They had kept a sliver of hope in their hearts, but the worst outcome had happened.
The refugees were surrounded.
For one moment they thought of breaking through the north before the undead completely surrounded them, but the mercenaries looked at Brendel and Freya, then at the refugees, and they thought it was impossible to do so. Everyone was at a loss for words.
Freya grabbed her reins anxiously and cast her eyes at Brendel subconsciously, but he did not seemed to notice the atmosphere of the mercenaries at all. He merely looked at the pocket watch once, then got up onto his horse.
He pulled out his sword and said: “Listen up, everyone—”
The youth’s voice was strong and clear.
“There are two companies of undead in the south-west direction, their distance up to two to three kilometers away. Somewhere further beyond that area is another company of undead. Along the way are two to four scouting groups of skeleton riders. We need to eliminate two of these scouting parties and attack one of the companies to create an opening.
Then we’re going to go to the rear of Medes’s army just like we planned. We have two hours to complete all of this, after which we will be playing hide and seek with the undead army.” Brendel raised his sword and rode around the mercenaries, suddenly showing signs of condescension.
“Why, is everyone afraid?”
No reply came back, as everyone was stunned as he suddenly came up with information that the scouts did not bring back, and some wondered if he was lying through his teeth.
Yet, contrary to everyone’s expectations, with most of them experiencing it first hand, the things that happened so far had coincided with everything that he had said. As they looked at him, they saw that very same figure who led them charging downwards on that high ground to vanquish the group of skeleton riders.
It was as if his sword pointed to a miraculous road of victory, and no matter how hard or difficult it was, he was going to lead through that road.
Brendel looked at them without moving his eyes away without saying anything.
[Déjà vu… I led a similar charge with my allies back then in the game as well…]
One of his party members even said that he was best suited as a vanguard leader, as he had never swayed from the things he decided upon.
Every mercenary got onto their horses, and drew out their weapons at the same time.
TL: Urgh. It’s a god damn cliffhanger.