Chapter 22 – Expansion (3)
The sky’s cotton-like clouds seemed like they were set aflame by the setting sun’s penetrating rays. The near crimson sky extended to a great distance before it gradually turned to colors of violet and dark blue, with patches of unlit clouds at the end.
The clouds were considerably free of any indication that they were going to rain and instead hinted of good weather for the days ahead. While the trills and warbles of the birds could still be heard, they were diminishing and became quieter than it was a few minutes ago.
Scarlett’s eyes were slightly tinted by the sunset as she stood at Brendel’s side. She looked over to Mountain Graham’s northern direction; it extended towards Karanjar’s mountainous regions which wrapped around Firburh and continued eastward to the Dark Forest.
It was rumored that the mountains were the source of the land’s wealth with countless treasures buried beneath the ground. The silver mine in Trentheim was rumored to be just a small portion of what the mountains held, and even that alone was enough to supply Graudin with money to spend.
While the natives treated the tallest peak of the mountains as something holy and regal, it appeared like an enormous predator in her eyes. The jagged rocks that jutted out at the top caught the sun’s rays and glinted brightly, but the dense foliage from the trees that grew out at sharp angles seemed to prevent light from entering, and appeared like there were something mysterious lurking behind the shade.
The lumber mills in the forest were visible spots that stood out, and it seemed like there were few Subterrane Dwellers in them. But the truth could not be further away. These creatures dug the ground beneath it and created tunnels leading to exits all over the mountains. The small gaps in between boulders might lead into a network of tunnels.
It was impossible for an army to reach the mountain valleys without being detected by the Subterrane Dwellers’ strict guard.
She glanced back at Brendel. They had traveled a few hundred meters along the mountain after he told her about the plan, but once they reached near the enemies’ outpost, he stopped her from advancing. She initially thought that he was going to observe the situation, but he closed his eyes, sat down on the ground and started munching on some dry rations.
She waited till he finished eating before she hurriedly urged her young lord to move off, but he scratched his head unwillingly and told her to wait with a small smile. When she asked for the reason, he mumbled about some unclear excuses that she did not understand.
[This damned noble.]
The girl did not make any visible reactions, but the root of a nearby tree near her was cracked open as she stood on top of it.
[If you already decided on your plan to capture the ringleader or assassinate it, why aren’t you acting on it……]
She hated the feeling of wasting time and frowned deeply because of that. A stream of Subterrane Dwellers suddenly appeared from one of the tunnels, and her eyes went to them. They were the second batch of Subterrane Dwellers that appeared.
“The first army of Subterrane Dwellers we saw a while ago moved deeper into the forest without stopping at the outpost. Are they going to going to wait for this second army or march straight to the Hooved Grass Lumbermill? That first army has over a thousand of the damned creatures. If they are not waiting for the second batch, will our mercenaries be able to hold on until midnight?” She asked with suspicion.
“I have no idea, as for the mercenaries holding on……” Brendel’s answer was simple.
[How should I know? I’m not a genius. Knowing the Subterrane Dwellers’ habits doesn’t give me foresight into how they are going to act.]
“…… My lord, didn’t you say we are going to move before the sun sets?”
Brendel’s mouth dropped down with surprise and said: “Did I say something like that?”
“You, just did less than an hour ago……”
“Uhh,” Brendel interrupted her, “that’s because I saw you looked really annoyed, so I wanted you to relax.”
She whipped her head in his direction and bared her pearly white teeth at him.
“I’m sorry,” Brendel said with an apologetic smile.
She did not respond to his words, but she let it slide as he was still her lord. As a subordinate, she could not question her lord’s intentions, and even if she had questions, she could only put them in her heart.
Brendel would usually explain his thoughts and actions most of the time, but it seemed like he was a little strange today.
[…… It’s not that I don’t want to explain, but it’s something that I can’t tell you.]
He sighed inwardly and tapped the Loxar’s Market card in his mind and paid 2 Reputation. 6 Wealth immediately entered into his pool of resources. He had repeated this for three days and had his entire Wealth increased to 98 points. Although, this terrible exchange of resources made him tremble a little painfully.
“Even if we were to act now and search the tunnels, we wouldn’t be able to find their chieftain.” He considered for a while and said, “The Subterrane Dwellers have most likely dug through the entire mountain, and we wouldn’t be able to find him even if we search the whole year.”
“But we can’t afford to wait, right?” She grumbled.
“Don’t worry, since the enemies responded this quickly, it means they are confident of beating our Silence spell. Judging from their numbers, the chieftain that rules over them is a Witch Doctor. It will come out to fight against ‘our wizard’. ”
“When will that happen?”
“It depends on how cautious the enemies are. At the latest, it would be sometime after the moon is at its peak.”
“…… Can our men hold the enemy’s vanguard off for so long?”
“I trust Amandina, and I told her my plans earlier. The only thing that matters is whether the mercenaries are willing to stand with me. If they are unable to hold the place, they still have ways to preserve themselves and escape. In truth, there’s no real importance whether we hold the Hooved Grass Lumbermill or not. When we won today’s afternoon battle, our victory has already been decided.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hmm, look forward to it. My goal isn’t something as simple as winning a victory against the enemies.”
=========== Mercenaries’ POVs ============
The moon was up in the sky and unhindered by clouds.
The night scenery around the Hooved Grass Lumbermill had an air of serenity, but Jana detected an unusual scent in the air when she patrolled the fortified walls.
[It seems like the Subterrane Dwellers’ scouts are here.]
She subconsciously combed back her fringe and tidied her hair, which had been blown into slight disarray from the wind that was turning colder. She beckoned a few mercenaries below with her left hand and instructed them to investigate the forest.
Her actions naturally caught the attention of the other mercenaries. Cornelius quietly glanced at her before he turned his attention back to his men. They were digging a trench around the walls to prevent any sneak attacks from the ground below. Raban was also silent as he sent a hand signal to his men and had them to climb up the walls.
Amandina was secretly relieved at the mercenaries’ orderly and experienced responses. She took another brief look at the defenses in the lumber mill and climbed up the wall with the Elven twin sisters’ aid. She soon reached Jana’s position.
“Did you discover something?” Amandina asked.
Jana turned her head and was not surprised when she saw the noble young lady, but she looked away rudely before speaking: “There’s something in the forest, perhaps the Subterrane Dwellers, perhaps it’s just a beast. I have sent my men to check it out.”
“The creatures are already here? This quickly?” Amandina’s mind was shaken slightly, but it did not reach her expressions.
“I said ‘perhaps’,” Jana emphasized on the last word.
“But if it’s true?” Amandina inhaled lightly and calmed herself: “Does this mean the Subterrane Dwellers’ response is fast? Are we able to judge how good organized their army is?”
Even though she was knowledgeable from reading books, she realized that her experience was still lacking after she followed Brendel. She believed that she would learn much from the veteran mercenaries and thus lowered her attitude and asked humbly. Jana turned back and looked at her again, finding that the young lady was not as annoying for the first time.
[This little girl has a pretty good mental fortitude for her age—]
Jana had seen enough talented nobles, so she quickly accepted the new Amandina.
“There is little information on the battlefield that’s reliable. Things change all the time,” Jana shook her head, her crimson hair shimmering in the torches’ flames, “it could be possible that it’s a Subterrane Dweller that was left behind in order to check us, or perhaps they are the enemy’s scouts that have reached us. The former would mean that their battle discipline is very high, and if it’s possible I wouldn’t want to face this army; the latter would mean the enemy’s response and organization are exceptional, and the battles ahead would be challenging…… And the reason for that is their scouts. The lumber mills are supposed to an entire day’s journey from each other. For the scouts to reach this place so quickly, it would mean their physical attributes are astonishing, as well as their speed to gather their army.”
“Which possibility do you think it is?”
“Based on experience, I would think it’s the latter.”
“Experience, you say?”
“Miss Amandina, relying on experience is very important, especially when you are unable to confirm something. Instinct honed from experience is more reliable than your knowledge—” Jana answered, before loud clashes of weapons colliding each other suddenly filled the air. The mercenaries had encountered Subterrane Dwellers and were fighting them off. “But our lord is even more impressive–”
“What?” Amandina looked blankly at her.
“The enemy is fighting back instead of fleeing, so it means they are enemy scouts. If that’s the case, it would mean that the enemy’s main forces are nearby. Judging from the amount of time that the enemies’ main forces are going to take to reach here, the height of our battles will be at midnight, to even predict the time taken for the enemies to reach us, that boy…… Ah, excuse me, I mean our lord truly knows the enemies well.”
“That’s not all he predicted.” Amandina looked up at the moon as she said in a flat tone.