“Boss, Eirinn’s only...” Leguna tried to find an excuse. Leguna was scared shitless during his first mission to hunt the crimsonblood bear as well, but he was fine now, right?
Kurdak waved his argument away.
“It’s not the same, Ley.”
“You’re a shadow dancer and fighting is in your nature. It’s not for Eirinn,” Kurdak said as he glanced at the shivering girl, “She’s not suited for the battlefield. Gore and death is hell for her.”
Leguna had no further retorts. Kurdak was right. Eirinn was not suited for this. She was gentle and kind. She couldn’t even imagine Killing and hurting others. Leguna, for all the influence he had on her, could not force her to do something so violently against her nature.
But he couldn’t just send her back to Melindor like this. If she was abandoned so quickly after such a shock, it might break her completely. Leguna had noticed her considerable change since she gained her powers. She had become much more active and jovial, she had stopped hiding in a corner all the time. She could now finally help others, could Leguna shove her wishes aside?
He wasn’t willing to send her back. Eirinn had been timid and pitiful enough for all her life. He didn’t want to hurt her any more. But if she wanted to tag along again, this would no doubt happen again and next time Vera might not come away so lightly.
“...Let’s discuss it when we go back. I need some time to think,” Leguna finally said.
Kurdak wasn’t in a rush either. They did plan to stay for quite a while, so it’d be better to think it through as Leguna understood how serious the impact of this would be.
Eirinn finally came to again a while later. Seeing Leguna pulling the arrows out of Vera, she hurriedly breathed a miracle.
“I’m really sorry... I... I was useless again...” she muttered weakly.
“It’s not your fault,” Vera murmured through clenched teeth, “You’ve always been kind; doing something like this is probably too much for you, right? Ley?”
“But...” Eirinn began, tears rolling down her cheeks, “I don’t want to see anything like that again... This place is terrifying...”
When he heard that, Leguna finally made his decision. Eirinn would never get used to this. She had to go back. He wasn’t going to tell her that right now, of course.
“It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. Let’s heal Sis Vera then head back. We can talk about this later.”
The Tyro Mountains were located in the middle of Chino. The mountain range stretched from the west coast to somewhere in the middle. It was the natural border between the two empires. Stok ruled over everything south of the mountain range, and Hock everything north of it.
The mountain range limited the possible places for the two empires to fight one another. The only place where armies could be properly used, was to the east. The fights there were proper battles, not the small skirmishes that happened on the mountain passes or small valleys elsewhere.
That didn’t mean, however, that either side could afford to relax its guard in the mountains. The passes and valleys may not let an army pass through easily, but contingents big enough to cause serious trouble could still slip through if one’s guard was lax.
Kesta Canyon was one of the bigger passages through the mountain range. It was in the western edge of the mountain range, about 300 meters wide. It saw frequent skirmishes between the two empires.
For now the only fortress in the canyon belonged to Hocke. But, due to the pressure the empire was under in the east, the fortress was currently under-manned. As a result the detachment was forced to focus on guerilla tactics rather than glorious confrontations.
The relative calm that let reign had brought Kurdak and company there. They were an elite party, but they were only four, only three of which were of any actual use on the battlefield. They were the only contestants who’d come this way, everyone else had gone east.
“Identify yourself or I will shoot!” an archer called from the battlements above the gate.
Kurdak took out his badge and activated its enchanted. The imperial insignia, an eagle with widespread wings, glimmered in the air above the metal.
“Why do we have to show it all the time? They should know our faces by now,” Leguna complained.
“Regulations. Don’t complain about everything,” Kurdak said as slapped Leguna’s back.
Their welcome was indifferent. Most of the people there were soldiers, the only others were their family and travelling peddlers.
A few soldiers introduced themselves and offered the four a room each for lodging. Larwin’s words were true, their badges did indeed ensure decent treatment.
With the lodging came meals. The group could go to the canteen and ask for a meal at any time. Of course, it was not like a tavern or an inn, they could not pick and choose what they wanted. They could just ask for something and had to eat whatever they got.
“I didn’t think we’d get such good steak here,” Vera nodded, satisfied.
The black pepper steak was medium, its texture perfect.
“Hehe, that’s because we’re powerful,” Kurdak boasted, “Didn’t you see the look on their faces when we dropped the 30 badges? Hahaha, no matter what, I’m an expert others look up to!”
“Tch, you only just got into the high order, yet you’re acting like you’re the galestorm swordsaint or something,” Vera snapped.
“I dealt with half the enemies,” Kurdak retorted, his mouth filled with sausage, “You must acknowledge my contributions.”
Eirinn’s expression darkened at his words. She had turned into a statue at the worst possible moment. She still shivered every time she recalled the scene.
“I’m really sorry, I...”
“Medic! Where’s the medic? He’s been bitten! Medic!” a soldier cried, bursting into the canteen with his comrade.
“Here,” answered a cold-looking, middle-aged woman.
She inspected the wound quickly.
“Get me my kit!” she shouted at the sentries by the door.
“A medic, huh?” Leguna muttered.
Medics were the military equivalent of priests -- who were mostly civilians -- minus the gods’ blessings and Breath. They healed others the secular way, with herbs, ointments, and physical treatment. They were less effective than priests, but since they didn’t need any blessings or the ability to Breathe, they could be trained in batches, perfect for the military.
Hocke’s military did have a few priests as well, but they served mostly high-ranking officials behind the front lines. Medics saved the most lives, and consequently had the biggest actual impact on the war.
“It’s Flower’s Kiss...” the middle-aged woman said, “I can do nothing...”
“How, Madam Nancy? You’re the best medic we have!” the soldier cried.
“I’m sorry, there’s really nothing I can do,” Nancy said, shirking her shoulders, “Flower’s Kiss needs a specific antidote. I don’t have it, nor does the storeroom or any of the peddlers.”
The soldier froze.
“How... how? I carried him all the way back. Look, he’s even still breathing! It can’t be impossible to save him! He’s still breathing!”
“I’m really sorry.”
Nancy had saved countless lives, but seeing a young man’s life ebb away never got easy.
She used to be a priestess, but when she realized that she could rely on herbs and techniques instead of divine power, she fell in love with it. As such, she studied medicine with fervor to the point that her faith in her god faded away, causing her divine powers to wither as well.
She was now a magnificent medic. She would be willing to bet she could treat the injured just as good as a high-order priest if she had the necessary supplies. According to the empire’s regulations, each fort should have a mid-order priest on station, but Fort Kesta had none because of Nancy’s presence.
It was no problem in most cases, but this time, it made a difference. Without supplies, Nancy couldn’t treat anything even if her techniques were far superior.
Just as everyone was about to give up hope, a fearful yet clear voice called out.
“Umm... Can I have a go?”
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