Chapter 1015 End of the Line Part 1
"Don't act that surprised, I'm not deaf nor dumb. After Kulah, you were distressed about something, yet you refused to talk about it with me and spent a lot of time with Phloria." Friya said to Quylla.
"Not to mention all the times you two abruptly change topic the moment I get close and after that, you have guilty looks on your faces. Quylla never had secrets for me before Kulah, so it wasn't hard to understand what happened.
"Lith is the only person we all know whose secrets we have kept hidden from our parents and even from each other."
"Lith is right when he says that we spend too much time together." Quylla sighed. "You read me like a book, Friya. All you said it's true, but it's not up to me to share such things with you, just like you didn't tell me what really happened in Zantia."
"You noticed?" Friya was flabbergasted. She had always thought that Protector's secret was safe with her.
"Of course I did. By the way, the feeling of envy is mutual. People consider me a genius, yet my greatest achievement is always being the weak link in our chain. Sure, I learn quickly and my magic is powerful, but when push comes to shove, I'm either a burden or a first aid kit.
"You two, instead, not only are considered the best in your respective fields of work, but you can also hold your ground under any circumstance. Even in Laruel, I was the only one left behind. Morok was right, I might be young, but I'm as strong as an old fossil."
At that point, the cheery mood had turned sour. Just like Quylla couldn't deny Friya's words, her sisters had no way to sugarcoat the fact that Quylla was indeed weak. Whenever they moved, their first priority was always to keep her safe.
They resumed walking in silence, going deeper underground until it was time to go back to the camp for dinner. They were tired from the exploration and sad from the revelation that their bond of trust was flawed because of a certain someone.
'I could confront Lith about the events of Kulah, but I don't want to force him to open up. He already has deep-rooted trust issues and I don't want to ruin our friendship.
'I swear that if even Kamila knows what the heck is going on I'm the last to know, I'm going to kick his ass.' Friya thought while opening a dimensional door back to their tent.
Phloria listened to her subordinates' reports and Friya did the same. While she waited for their return, Quylla prepared dinner.
'I really like cooking. It's very similar to magic in its need for attention to the details and mixing the various ingredients while keeping them balanced.' She thought.
The soldiers had nothing to report while the Prospectors were fairly optimist. They had yet to find anything, but very rarely crystal veins ran so close to the surface and even if they did, it was likely that the undead had cleared them first to fool passers-by.
The members of the Crystal Shield, however, didn't bear good news. They had seen the two Captains use their personal amulets too often for it to be normal. On top of that, both Kortus and Lotta spent most of their time inside their respective tents, where Friya's men couldn't follow them.
Phloria shared all the information with Berion. The General wasn't pleased about fellow members of the army being put under surveillance, but he couldn't dismiss her worries nonetheless.
"I'll have their backgrounds checked again and extend the investigation to their families as well." Berion said.
"This is not just about external enemies, Sir." Phloria said. "We both know that Velan Deirus has many allies. Any accident that happens here could be easily pinned to the undead.
"After what happened to the Nuragor household, he needs a win to tip the scale again. That's why I didn't want to come here."
"I know, yet I wouldn't have recalled you if I had another choice." Yet Berion was only telling a half-truth.
The army was indeed understaffed, but he had chosen her because the mission seemed foolproof and crystal veins would look great on her resume. Her brilliant response to the undead's attack had made the situation even better.
Finding a crystal mine was already quite a feat, but snatching one from the public enemy number one was exactly the kind of achievement that could put Phloria's career back on track.
"Keep me posted and don't hesitate to come directly to me in case you need backup. General Berion out."
Upon returning to their tent, Friya and Phloria found Quylla talking with Tlea Ormann. The chief Royal Prospector was giving her best pitch to make Quylla switch careers.
"Don't worry about arrays. I can teach you myself and with your talent, I doubt it will take long to bring you up to speed." Tlea said.
After she was done, Quylla promised she would think about it and gave everyone a plate of beef stew with vegetables. The hot broth took off their bones the chill that spending the day inside the dark and damp caves had left while also keeping warm the other ingredients.
"Delicious. If I wasn't already married, I would propose to you. You are a great Healer, Prospector, and now even cook. Is there even something you're not good at?" Tlea cleaned her plate and asked for seconds.
"Fighting." Quylla sighed.
"Welcome to the club. You can be a junior member at best." Tlea replied. "At least yesterday you contributed, whereas most members of my unit just wet themselves and cried for their moms, me included."
"Seriously?" Friya blurted out, realizing how rude her question was the moment it came out of her mouth.
"Yep." Tlea nodded without a shred of shame. "You'll find no hero among Royal Prospectors. Don't get me wrong, we got plenty of nice people with a good heart, it's just that when danger appears, bathroom calls.
"We are braver than those mages who spend their whole lives cooped up in their labs or courts, but we are no warrior material. On the other hand, our mortality rate is the lowest in the army and our life expectancy is the longest."
After a bit of chit-chat exchanging tricks about how to spot crystals that would serve the Ernas during their exploration, and after all the three of them had silently agreed, Phloria asked:
"Tlea, have you ever worked before with either Captain Kortus or Lotta?"
"I've been in this business long enough to know almost everyone." Tlea replied. "Forgive my rudeness, but I don't like talking behind the back of my colleagues and I doubt you're asking because you fancy them."
"I don't want to dig up dirt on them. I just want to know if I can rely on them. There's only so much their personal files can tell me and you don't ask the barkeep if their beer is good." Phloria said.
"Point taken." Tlea thought for a while, pondering how close she had come to death due to Kortus's incompetence and if she could afford to entrust her life to Lotta.
"Kortus is as stubborn as a mule but less smart. He never got past Captain despite being active on the field because he got as many losses as victories."