"You’re certain that Shansa is making a move towards Maho?" a hoarse voice asked.
The clamor came to a halt. Everyone was talking about the rumors they had heard, but some rumors were more important than others, and the war was definitely on everyone’s mind.
"My sources are a hundred percent correct," another voice replied loudly.
"You’re joking. There is no way Shansa can take Maho’s Blackania City. How many times have they tried, but to no avail?"
"That’s why you can’t be a general, you idiot."
"Well enlighten me, then."
"Shansa didn’t attack Blackania. They went through the Broken Valley."
"The Broken Valley? But that belongs to the mercenaries…"
"Money, money," the man said, holding up two fingers. "Two hundred thousand gold pieces. Enough to buy anything. More than enough to buy a path."
The other man sighed. "It’s too bad. Old Yolanthe was a good man. Too bad he died so young."
"If Yolanthe was still alive, Shansa would never invade Maho."
"Even if Yolanthe was still alive, Shansa would still make their move. Ellisen Empire is already closing in on Maho. You know what this means? They are splitting Maho. Heed my words. Things are going to change."
"This may be the end of Maho."
"You’re right. Maho’s Granden couldn’t hold against the Ellisen armies, and even their archmage Saul was defeated and injured by Newyoheim."
"If Maho Empire falls, surely Ellisen and Shansa would become much stronger. Say, do you think they will threaten our Country of Mercenaries?"
"Are you thick? Did you forget what the relationship between Glory mercenary and Ellisen was? And now Shansa and Tiger of Tawau mercenary will be united through marriage… No, neither will touch us."
"Really? There will be a marriage?"
"Do you not believe me? Shansa’s princess is coming to this very city in a few days."
While those men were speaking, Christian’s expression grew grimmer and grimmer. His hands trembled and couldn’t hold his ale cup still. Anfey maintained a straight face. He took the cup from Christian and set it down on the table.
"Wait until we’re alone," Anfey said.
Then the mercenaries changed the topic from the war to their own futures. They were not affiliated with Maho Empire, and did not worry about the empire’s impending doom.
The bar became clamorous again. Seeing that they had gathered all the information they could, Anfey and Christian quietly slipped out of the bar.
Before they had gone into the bar, Christian had talked about the bright moon. Now, however, he could not spare the moon a single thought.
Niya had let the little unicorn out. For it, everything was new and exciting. For something living in the Magic Beast Forest, things like a bed and cups were a novelty. The little unicorn was overjoyed and was bouncing around in the room. Niya watched it play and was laughing hysterically.
Just when she was the happiest, Anfey and Christian came into the room. Anfey’s face didn’t betray much, but Christian looked solemn. Niya was no longer the innocent little girl after everything they had gone through. "What happened? Did you guys go out for information? Did you…" she asked, shocked.
"Nothing. Just some news about Shansa. Niya, can you leave the room for a second? We need to talk," Anfey said before Christian could tell Niya anything. He couldn’t let Christian talk. They weren’t sure if Saul was really injured, but if Niya found out, she surely would try to go find him.
"Can’t I listen?"
"We will tell you once we are done," Anfey said, smiling.
Seeing that he was smiling, Niya felt more at ease. She nodded and said, "Alright. Tell me everything afterwards."
"Of course," Anfey promised her. "Niya, can you tell Blavi, Riska, Zubin, and Sante to come and talk to me?"
After a few minutes, the four of them gathered in the room. Christian repeated to them everything they had heard in a hushed voice. Everyone was stunned, and the room was dead silent. Fate had played a strange trick on them. Had they stayed in Forest Clarm, they could have avoided this. Phillip may be irrational and ruthless, but he would not have continued his hunt when his nation was falling apart.
They had decided to leave Forest Clarm to avoid their biggest threat and to train the inexperienced mages. Anfey didn’t realize by leaving they might as well have walked into their doom.
"What you guys think we should do?" Anfey asked.
"Anfey, I don’t want to stay here any longer. I want to go back." Christian said, determined.
Anfey sighed. Christian had never talked to him this way before. In the past, Christian had always left room for discussion, and if he insisted, Christian would listen to him. He knew that would not be the case now. It wouldn’t matter what he says, Christian would not change his mind.
"What do you guys think?"
"I want to go back, Anfey," Riska said, his voice serious. "Maho needs us."
"And you?" Anfey asked, looking at Sante and Zubin.
"Whatever you say," Zubin replied quietly.
The conversation had seemed simple, but Anfey knew it was not. Christian and Blavi were his friends and his assistants. Zubin and Sante would be his trusted workers. They were two completely different cases.
"I don’t oppose returning, but what can we do? Two junior magisters, a few senior mages, what do you think we can do?"
"We can’t do much, but still better than staying here and doing nothing," Christian said.
"Who says we can’t help by being here?"
"What can we do here, then?"
"A lot of things. Didn’t they say Shansa’s princess is coming here?"
"You’re saying we are going to kill the princess?" Blavi asked.
"But marriage is only a way of doing things. We kill one princess, and they will send another. Will that work?" Christian asked.
"Of course," Anfey said. "One day you’ll understand. Staying here is more important than killing a thousand man on the battlefield."
Christian stared at him in silence, then asked, "Anfey, what can we do?"
"Let’s find the Mercenary Kingdom and the Broken Valley’s maps first. We need to get to know Glory mercenary as well. They are the Tiger of Tawau’s friends and enemy. Since Ellisen and Glory mercenary became connected through marriage, they had been helping Ellisen. They must have a lot of say after learning Shansa and Tiger of Tawau’s deal. We can also kill some of the people in Glory mercenary and take their badges. It would help our cause in the long term." Anfey stopped to gather his thoughts before continuing, "In Blackwater, we are nothing. We need Vonmerge. Suzanna said he was a man of the world, so hopefully she is right. Let Vonmerge deal with Tiger of Tawau. If the princess really is coming, they must be busy. There must be some rumors out there."
The group glanced at one another, and Blavi spoke first, "I think he’s right. Going back means going into the army. What can we do? There are a thousand others like us. We can contribute more by staying here."
"Alright, let’s stay here for now," Christian said. Clearly he still wanted to return, and had only agreed to stay because he trusted Anfey.
"The first thing we need to do," Anfey said slowly, "is to decide if this place is safe or not."