"It’s not my fault," Riska said hurriedly. He looked shocked. Judging from the magic surges, he knew someone had used a forbidden spell. However, this was the first time he learned that a forbidden spell could disrupt other elements and cause his Eyes of the Sky to disappear.
On the battlefield, the forbidden spell had already taken effect. What was surprising was that the forbidden spell did not unleash blinding lights or deafening sounds. There was only a small halo that hung over Annunciata’s head.
Annunciata screamed in agony. She didn’t use any amplifying magic, but her scream could be heard for miles. She moved around, trying to get away from the light halo. However, no matter what she did, the halo followed her persistently.
Suddenly, thick, black smoke obscured Annunciata’s figure. People could not see Annunciata, but they could see the small halo, hanging in midair. The black smoke streaked through the air as Annunciata escaped.
Clearly, the halo was still following her, because her scream could still be heard.
"The necromancers have lost," Riska said. He could not see the battlefield, but the scream told him what had unfolded.
Anfey narrowed his eyes, and Suzanna reached for her sword. Riska looked like he did not feel anything was wrong, and kept on talking. "Did you hear that?" he asked. "By the mercy of gods, the Priests of Light have arrived! Thank god Black Eleven spread the news."
"Who’s Black Eleven?" a deep voice asked.
Riska frowned and summoned an earth wall, then a magic shield appeared around his body. He floated through the air and was about to use a lightning spell when he realized neither Anfey nor Suzanna were moving. Riska hesitated, but did not use the lightning spell.
"Don’t worry," the voice said. "I mean no harm."
A man in his seventies stood by an old tree, looking at the trio, grinning. He looked like a normal old man. His clothing and his appearance were common, and did not seem threatening. However, Anfey still felt strange. He could see the old man, but he could not feel him. It was as if the old man was a part of the forest.
"Who are you?" Anfey asked. He was very respectful towards the old man, because the man was able to approach him without alarming him. That proved how powerful the old man must be.
"Bruzuryano," the old man said. "Who is this Black Eleven you speak of?"
"His real name is Armin," Anfey said. "Black Eleven is just a nickname."
"That’s an interesting choice for a nickname, don’t you think?" Bruzuryano said with a smile. He looked at Anfey and said, "Let me guess. You must be Anfey."
"You must be an acquaintance of Armin’s, then," Anfey said.
"And this young lady must be Suzanna."
"Bruzuryano? Which Bruzuryano?" Suzanna asked. She did not treat the old man with the same respect Anfey did.
"Are there a lot of people with this name?" Bruzuryano asked.
"I never expected to run into you here, sir." Once she confirmed his identity, Suzanna replied respectfully.
"I’m old now, and there are very few things that interest me. I heard the commotion at Transverse Mountain, and I had to come and see for myself," Bruzuryano said. "Who knows if this will be the last time I will witness something like this?" Bruzuryano smiled and turned his gaze to Riska. "You must be Riska."
"Yes," Riska said. "Nice meeting you, sir."
"All good men," Bruzuryano said. "You are younger than most junior magisters." He turned to Suzanna and said, "And you, my dear. I think the world will see the rise of a new master swordsman in no time."
"I am nothing compared to you, sir," Suzanna said.
"Compared to me now? If you can beat me, then that means I have accomplished nothing in my seventy years in this world," Bruzuryano said.
"No, that is not what I meant," Suzanna explained, blushing.
"I can’t really understand you, child." Bruzuryano turned his gaze to Anfey and observed him carefully.
"Surely you don’t have to understand everyone, sir," Anfey said. He knew that Bruzuryano meant no harm to him and his companions, or else he would not engage Suzanna and Riska in conversation. He also knew that Bruzuryano must have been one of the most powerful men in the world at that moment.
Logically, men like Bruzuryano did not lack respect. In reality, being favored by a woman and being favored by a powerful man were two very similar things. One needed to be as interesting as possible to gain their attention. People like Suzanna and Riska would not catch the attention of a powerful man. Anfey didn't want to try and befriend every powerful man he encountered, but he knew that it was better to leave a strong impression than to leave no impression at all.
"You are not wrong, child," Bruzuryano said with a laugh.
"Sir, are you here to fight the necromancers?" Riska asked. He wish he could see the old man in action, even if it meant there would be another group of necromancers.
"I just wanted to see what had happened. Hunting down those necromancers is Slanbrea’s job."
"Slanbrea?" Suzanna gasped. "The High Priest of Light? You are here with him? But…"
Anfey smiled and shook his head. Another powerful man? Plus Annunciata and Dardanibry, this was a gathering of the most powerful men and women of the world.
"But what?" Bruzuryano asked. He knew what Suzanna wanted to say, and was clearly toying with her.
"But you are an Arch Druid, sir. You and Slanbrea…" Suzanna hesitated.
"You mean Slanbrea is my arch rival?"
The Church of Light antagonizes all the other religions. Sometimes, the antagonism would lead to bloody battles. As a believer in the Goddess of Nature, Bruzuryano was not a likely associate of Slanbrea.
"Just rumors," Bruzuryano said. "We are too old for petty brawls now."
"It’s not just petty brawls, sir. You’re fighting for your honor!" Riska had always treated battles as something serious and sacred. Hearing Bruzuryano describing it as petty brawls, he felt he needed to correct him.
Bruzuryano stared at him and smiled. He looked as if he was reminiscing about something. Over the years, he had fought for many different causes. Now, he was too old, and none of it mattered.
Suzanna kicked Riska and told him to not correct Bruzuryano again. "It’s disrespectful," she said.
"Fighting is something for the youth," Bruzuryano said. "We are old now, and we know that not everything can be solved by violence. Do you know what I will do if I run into Annunciata?"
"The necromancer? Surely you will challenge her to a duel," Riska said.
"No. I will invite her to have a drink with me. If only she was still beautiful," Bruzuryano said, shaking his head. "This time, though, she has gone too far. She killed too many people. Even I am angry with her."
"Would you invite her to bed, if she was still beautiful?" Anfey thought, but kept his thought to himself. The few powerful men he had encountered before all had some notable traits. Saul was kind and generous; Ernest was serious and meticulous; Miorich was loyal and passionate. They were very different, but every one of them worthy of great respect. Bruzuryano clearly did not hold a grudge against the necromancers like most of the world. Bruzuryano did not finish his sentence, but Anfey thought his guess wasn’t far off.
"Was that necromancer beautiful?" Suzanna asked.
"She was stunning. In fact, she became a necromancer to preserve that very beauty.
She is in trouble this time, though," Bruzuryano said with a sigh. "Slanbrea’s Seal of the Gods will follow her. Perhaps for a few months, maybe half a year or longer. When that seal is gone, she will be as good as dead. Don’t make the Church your enemy. They may appear kind, but really, they are capable of cruelty beyond a common man’s imagination."