After a meal and some rest, some students, like Christian and Blavi, began meditating to recover their magic. Others, however, fell asleep. Everyone was exhausted and sleep deprived, but clearly students like Christian and Blavi had become some of the best for a reason.
There were many ways to understand a person, but self introduction was the least effective one. Anfey was an observant man, and he preferred observing the students in silence. Now, although he could not say he completely understood them, he could at least form a conclusive personality description for each and every one of them. Christian was stately and considerate, polite and accepting of criticism and of opposing opinions. Zubin was forbearing; silence was his protective shield. It was likely that Zubin was the most brilliant of everyone, including in his social skills. Sante was headstrong and not afraid of challenges and fights. Yesterday Anfey told him to take care of Phillip, if he arrived, and Sante had agreed without objection. It was clear that he was extremely confident. Blavi was impulsive, but at the same time cautious. Every time he became too stressed, he would show the more violent side of his personality. Riska was slightly careless, and was the weakest among the four leaders. Both Zubin and Sante were better fit for their jobs, but Anfey needed people he could trust.
Niya, who was sitting alone in the corner, finally began eating again. She glanced towards Anfey, but every time Anfey looked her way, she would look the other way.
Anfey knew that his slap had harmed Niya’s self esteem, but he did not regret it. He had said everything that needed to be said, and now he needed Niya to understand his words herself.
"Alright, everyone," Anfey called. "The sun is high. Let’s go."
Everyone answered his call and stood up. Those meditating opened their eyes as well. Only deep meditation could restore their magic, but there was no time for deep meditation right now.
"Zubin," Anfey instructed, "use water magic. We need some water." When they were in Lagan City, Anfey had thought about the water problem and had bought some waterskins. Then he remembered that he was travelling with mages, which meant they would have no trouble with water. He had even laughed at himself for it.
Zubin waved his hand, and a small stream appeared on the ground. The students all gathered around, drinking from it and washing their faces. Niya pushed through the group and reached for the water. Under the morning sun, the red mark on her face was clear for all to see. A few people stared at her and didn’t look away until Anfey coughed as a warning.
"Anfey," Christian whispered. "Let us rest a bit more. We can use levitation after we are done recovering. Walking through such a dense forest will tire all of us out."
Anfey trusted Christian. Christian knew what should be done in each situation, and every time he had an idea, he would consult with Anfey first instead of openly arguing with him.
"All we need to do is go over that hill," Anfey said. "We will head down the valley and rest at noon. Everyone should be recovered by nightfall. We will start again then."
"Alright," Christian said, nodding. He knew what Anfey was worried about. If the Lagan City Guards were fast enough, those from the Sacred City should have reached Forest Clarm by now. If they were levitating above the forest, they could be easily spotted by higher level mages. Walking among the trees was the safest bet.
Forest Clarm was bright and sunny, but thousands of miles away, Zuba City was under heavy grey clouds. Ellisen Empire’s Storm Legion and Dark Moon Magic Legion were camped right outside the city. Three legions from Maho Empire defended it, and they had seven to ten times the number of troops that Ellisen Empire had. Maho Empire was using a defensive strategy, since the Dark Moon Magic Legion was one of the best in the world and had never lost a battle. Its commander, Newyoheim, was an archmage who was considered to be even more powerful than Saul.
There was a reason people tended to think of Newyoheim as the more powerful one. Saul was a kind and amiable man who rarely clashed with anyone, let along having clashes that ended with fatalities. Newyoheim, however, could not tolerate any mistreatment. He had killed two archmages and a master swordsman. Ernest was someone who challenged others to further his skills. Newyoheim challenged to kill.
Normally, a man with his personality was not fit to lead an entire legion. However, he had an outstanding helper: Sarick. Sarick was no more than a junior magister, but his skill in commanding the army was exceptional. He had saved the empire’s armies from losing numerous times, and had led the army to major victories. With those two in charge, the Dark Moon Magic Legion had become one of the most fearsome armies in the world.
It was not just the commanders, either. The core of the Legion was made up of two archmages, more than thirty magisters, and more than two hundred senior mages. Maho Empire, unless it brought together all the mages from all of its legions, could not dream of competing against them. But what was a legion without mages?
In addition, Dark Moon Magic Legion had a long history. Newyoheim came to fame early in life, and achieved archmage status when he was only in his early thirties. His oldest student was only a year younger than he. Now that he was in his sixties, his connections and power over the legion were not something to joke about. Within the legion, half of the core mages were either his students or his student’s students. Whenever something urgent arose, all the mages were willing to die for him. A normal legion would not have this level of dedication.
So, even though Saul was in the city and had the advantage in troop numbers, Maho Empire’s army could only rely on the magical shield to protect the city.
To the south of Zuba City center was a small, strangely-built building. The building was tall and straight, its bricks embedded with shining rocks that would reveal to be magical crystals. On top of the building was a small white orb, which glowed softly. This was the Tower of Mages, which supported the magical shield over Zuba City. Despite the city’s magic ban, a shadow flew into the sky and towards the tower. Before it entered the tower’s self-defense spell, it landed and began jogging to its door.
The guards saluted the prince of Maho Empire, Granden.
"Urgent business," the prince said. "Take me to Master Saul immediately."
"A moment, my lord," the head guard, an intermediate swordmaster, said. He hurried into the tower, and a moment later the door opened. "Please, my lord. Master Saul awaits."
Granden nodded and hurried inside. He stepped into the transportation portal in the middle of the tower.
"My lord, what happened?" Saul asked. He was already waiting for the prince on the other side of the portal.
Granden looked at the mages at work in the room and glanced at Saul.
Saul nodded and led the prince into another room. He soundproofed the room before turning back to Granden. "My lord, please."
"Father sent me a message. He has already been assassinated."
"What?" Saul’s eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"Master, be at ease. Father sent a message telling me he was assassinated," Granden explained.
"You mean, the emperor is safe?"
"Yes," Granden nodded. "Father told us to get ready to retreat. Seven days hence."
"But why retreat? You mean…"
"Father said that he would go to great lengths to eliminate the Dark Moon Magic Legion," Granden said slowly. "Ellisen Empire must have learned about what happened to father by now. It was no secret that Wester and I do not get along. Now Wester is on the throne, he is in control of the empire, but I still hold the military. I have to retreat with my armies in order to fight Wester. No one would suspect anything."
"Baery is already leading his Roaring Dead Legion and two other legions northward. As long as we can lead the Dark Moon Magic Legion past the Yagor Mountain Range, Baery will be able to cut off their retreat. Father was determined to eliminate Dark Moon Magic Legion, no matter the cost."
"I understand," Saul said after a few moments of silence. Although he was not the brightest with military affairs, and Granden had offered only a brief explanation, he was still able to sort through the plan. "His Grace is wise," he said.
The plan sounded easy, but was in fact very difficult to execute. First, Yolanthe needed to recall the Roaring Dead Legion and order it to travel to the north without anyone noticing. Then, he needed to pick the perfect time to fake his own death, making sure that Ellisen Empire’s rulers would believe he had died. Saul and Yolanthe had been friends for years, and he knew that Yolanthe was brilliant but cautious. If Yolanthe had already executed the plan, Saul knew the man had already learned everything that needed to be learned about the situation. Otherwise, he would never leave so much of his territory for the taking.
"But, Master Saul," Granden said hesitantly. "There were some...mishaps."