Under the Oak Tree

Chapter 413 - 174
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413 Chapter 174

"Well, yes, but with Sektor already back..." Dean trailed off, then continued with a sigh, "I reckon we'll be enlisted into the campaign. Not that we mind. We came prepared for such a possibility when we left Nornui, but...I confess I was hoping for good news."

Maxi looked at the twins. As if discomfited by the curious crowd, the Umri boys were nervously glancing about with their hats pulled low.

Instead of waiting by the gate for Anette and Sidina to enter the city as she would have liked, Maxi took the boys away from the congested roadside. "How many mages..did the Tower dispatch in total?"

"Fifty-five, including fourteen senior mages from Urd," Alec replied as he hurried along. "And we're expecting an additional twenty-four senior mages to join us from the various regions of the continent."

Maxi turned to him in surprise. While lesser mages, with their limited arsenal of spells, were not difficult to find, there were less than two hundred senior mages capable of powerful magic in all of the Seven Kingdoms. It was rare for the Mage Tower to dispatch almost eighty of them for a single cause. Furthermore, the Tower had allowed so many from Urd to leave the island despite their knowledge of forbidden spells.

"I had thought...the elders were indifferent to anything outside the island," Maxi mumbled in bewilderment. π“΅π’Šπ’ƒπ™§π™šπ’‚π“­.𝓬𝙀𝙒

"That's true for the vast majority of those born on the island. The senior mages refused to join the expedition to the Pamela Plateau when Master Calto agreed to cooperate with the church, and that's why the Tower had to hastily confer magehoods to bolster numbers," Alec explained. "But everyone changed their tune once they saw the documents sent by the expedition party. The Pamela Plateau records are historical treasures any mage would drool over. They all started insisting that the Tower had to obtain the rest of the records. That's when the elders started negotiations with the church."

"And that's why we're here," Dean cried, flinging his arms wide.

Maxi gaped at him. "Are you saying...the church agreed to hand over all the records in their possession if the Tower dispatched its senior mages?"

"That would have been great, but no.They also demanded a generous donation," Alec grumbled as he pointed to the wagons filling the roadside. "Who do you think paid for all that food? It wouldn't be a stretch to say the Mage Tower is funding this campaign."

Maxi was speechless as she stared at the wagons lining the street. The new pope might be far more cunning than she had given him credit for. Not only had he used Riftan to put out the sparks of war, but he had also come up with a way to save the church from financial ruin.

"Can we move this discussion indoors? It's bloody cold out here," Alec complained with a loud sneeze. π“π’Ύπ’·π˜³β„―π˜’π‘‘.𝑐ℴ𝓂

Maxi took them to an inn near the infirmary. As many still required their care, it was where most mages were staying. Inside, a few of them were enjoying a late lunch around a brazier. Maxi offered nods of acknowledgement as she led the Umri brothers to an empty spot.

Ruth, who was wolfing down a bowl of watery porridge while huddled beneath a blanket, stared at them in surprise. "An Umri?

It came out as almost a whisper, so no one around them seemed to catch it. Maxi jabbed him in the ribs as a warning, and he let out a cough. Once he recovered, he dragged them to a corner.

"How were you able to leave the island?"

"By ship. How else?" Alec replied sarcastically before eyeing Ruth's light gray hair and blue-gray eyes with curiosity. "And you're a Serbel. Are you the famous deserter?"

"I am no longer considered a deserter! I was granted an official pardon," Ruth said in exasperation. looking out the window with a stony face, he added, "It can't just be the two of you. The Tower must have dispatched mages to join the campaign. Who is leading them?"

"Master Calto."

Ruther gave a low groan. "So, the elders have finally decided to get rid of my uncle. The sickly old man is going to draw his last breath in a barren wasteland."

"What was that?!"

All eyes turn to the entrance at the shrill voice. Dressed in a thick woolen robe, Calto Serbel walked through the door with dozens of mages in tow. Though he was nowhere near Maxi's group, the elder 's sharp hearing had not missed his nephew's ill-boding words.

Calto stormed over to Ruth, his face contorted with anger, and pinched his ear. Ruth cried out in pain. Maxi, having grown used to the sight, turned away from them and ran to Anette and Sidina.

"Max!" cried Sidina, opening her arms wide to embrace her. "I'm so happy to see you safe. You've no idea how worried I was when I heard another war had started. It must have been terribly hard on you."

"It is true that we were terribly short on mages, but we managed."

Pulling slightly away from Sidina, Maxi carefully took in her friends. Though both of them looked tired from the long journey, they appeared to be in good health. Clearly they had been fortunate enough to avoid monsters on their way here.

"When we last parted, you both made it seem like you would never again set foot out of Nornui...What made you change your minds?"

Anette, who was shaking off the snow on her hat, pointed to her younger brothers and grumbled, "I had no choice after those two insisted on joining."

While Annette was visibly unhappy about the fact that her mischievous brothers had gotten her into this situation, Sidina was as lively as ever.

"I, on the other hand. gladly volunteered," Sidina said cheerfully. "I was worried about you. Plus, I wanted to see an actual dragonian with my own eyes."

"Dragonian?" Maxi asked in puzzlement.

"It's what we have started calling the mutant lizardmen created by the dark mages. It has a ring to it, don't you think? The mages of Sigrew came up with it," Sidina chimed.

Maxi regarded her friend grimly. "Was the Tower...able to learn anything about these monsters?"

"Only that they worship the dragon and possess greater intelligence and mana than humans. We also found out that there are likely around forty to fifty remaining."


Sidina shrugged off Maxi's shocked reaction. "We found documents recording the dragonian population's growth. If they are to be believed, we estimate there to be at least forty of them."

Maxi swallowed hard. Despite her numerous encounters with the unsettling creatures, she had presumed there were no more than 10. She felt a tingling in her spine. Not only did they have to face a dragon, but they were also going up against dozens of monsters so powerful they could summon undead in the thousands. The bleak news was enough to dampen all the relief she had felt at the reinforcements' arrival.

"I would like to see the supreme commander at once. Where can I find him?" Calto asked after regaining his usual dignity.

Rubbing his burning ear, Ruth turned around. "I shall lead you to him. Follow me."

Maxi was about to join them when she finally registered the faces of the weary mages in the middle of the inn. She knew she had to assign lodgings to them first.

With a small sign, she opened the back door. "This way, everyone."

She led her peers to an empty inn. Time flew by as she readied the rooms and prepared food for the group. Once they had settled in, Maxi went to the square and looked up at the darkening sky, now the color of ink. The frost-like snow continued its sporadic fall.

It suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen the sun in a while. Though the pale sunlight broke through the clouds at times, it had been so long since she had last seen the sun's amber rays. She still could not believe that a single creature was capable of bringing such immense change to the world simply by existing.

"My lady."

The voice broke Maxi out of her glum thoughts. She turned to find Elliott 's ever-serious face.

"There is to be an emergency meeting. Please have the mages in positions of authority gather at the Assembly Hall."

"H-Has something happened?"

"It is urgent, my lady. Please make haste," the knight replied stiffly before racing off toward the empty grounds.

Something bad had happened; Maxi was certain of it. She urgently convened the fifty-five mages, among which seven volunteered to attend the meeting as representatives.

When they reached the large, rectangular assembly hall, the commanders of the various kingdoms, including Riftan, the high priests, and Calto Serbel, were already waiting. The mages naturally moved to Calto's side, and Maxi took the seat beside Ruth.

Riftan was staring down at a message on the table, his expression wooden. He finally spoke when everyone was settled.

"Midna is once again under attack by an undead army."

Maxi took in a sharp breath.

After calmly glancing at the faces around him, Riftan continued, "The enemy has yet to take the city, but Midna will fall again if we do not send reinforcements as soon as possible."

"Midna is not the only city in danger," Sejuleu Aren said grimly, breaking his silence from his spot at the end of the room. "The other cities are in danger of being attacked as well. Since the monsters' goal is the complete revival of the dragon, they are doubtlessly trying to get rid of the barrier as we speak."

"That certainly puts us in a quandary," Princess Agnes, seated on Riftan's left, said as she irritably swept her hair aside. "Once the army departs for the Lexos Mountains, the cities will be left defenseless, and the monsters will surely strike again. However, we also cannot forget the dragon. The beast will only grow stronger the longer we ignore it."

"We have no choice but to divide the army," Riftan said firmly. "High-ranking knights and an elite unit of clerics capable of divine mage will form the campaign party. The mages will stay behind with the infantry to defend the cities and protect the Invoked Sanctuary from the monsters."

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