The sky looked dark and grey and occasionally, some snow could be seen drifting downwards gently to the white, empty plains against the whistling wind that blew past it.
27 Silver ranked and above family knights and fighters lined up neatly into three rows in front of Lorist, each donned in chainmail and a leather cloak with one pole in each of their hands and skis strapped to their boots. After tens of days of slipping and falling at the Maplewoods Bastide, the people present had finally managed to grasp the basics of skiing.
Lorist checked each and every one of the equipment they carried as well as their skis. Everyone of them knew that leaving the warmth of the bastide during such a harsh winter was a big risk. However, they had no choice. For the sake of the 300000 citizens who would be spending their winter at the Felicitas Settlement so that they don't get threatened by the passing of the magical beast wave, these 27 fighters all volunteered to follow Lorist along towards the settlement.
Josk, Belnick, Els, Yuriy, Patt, Jim, Pete, Pajik and 5 other Silver ranked family knights as well as 12 other Silver ranked fighters from the family forces joined in. Lined at the back most were Fiercetiger Loze and Pesha.
Loze looked at Lorist with a mischievous look happily while Pesha was slightly embarrassed and looked to the ground without daring to meet Lorist's gaze.
Lorist was completely speechless.
Only the heavens knew why those two fell for each other and started sticking around. No wonder when Lorist said he wanted to return to the bastide, Loze insisted on following no matter what. He even said that he wanted to view the beautiful scenery of the bastide and handed all his responsibilities of managing the heavy-armored cavalry to his second-in-command, Knight Waxima.
When they arrived at the bastide, Loze disappeared almost instantly, causing Lorist to be so busy that he didn't have enough time to visit his son for the first two days. When he finally got some free time, he noticed that Loze had vanished and had everyone else search for him together. In the end, the rest realized that Loze was busy getting close and intimate with Pesha that he didn't leave the bedroom for days, completely unaware that everyone outside was frantically searching for him.
Lorist guessed that they probably met and kicked it off when the female garrison unit led by Pesha helped out with managing the magical beast corpses. No wonder Lorist felt something was off when Loze said he wanted to follow him to the bastide to spend winter there. After all, what scenery is there to see at the bastide during winter? In actuality, the only scenery he wanted to relish was that of Pesha lying on the bed...
Lorist himself wasn't too fond of Pesha. In terms of status, she was the fiancee of Lorist's late elder brother and he was obliged to treat her with respect. However, the memories Lorist inherited when he was transmigrated didn't contain any familial love for Pesha. Instead, Lorist only remembered being bullied by her during his childhood. Additionally, when Lorist first returned to the dominion to inherit the position of the family head, he had quite a few unpleasant encounters with her, causing him to have an impression that she was a proud person who didn't know what was good for herself and did whatever she pleased.
Nevertheless, it did not change the fact that she was a beauty. Not only did she have a head of beautiful red hair, her figure was also rather admirable and she also had a pleasant-looking face. However, Lorist wasn't the type to fall head over heels to just any beauty he met. He had his own unique sense of aesthetics. For instance, he graced Charade with the beautiful granddaughter of Engelich, Molise. It was only natural that he would stray even further away from a prideful beauty like Pesha.
The types of women Lorist preferred were the cute, meek ones like his own maidservant Irina and intelligent ones like Telesti. That's why when Lorist heard that Pesha had gotten shacked up with Loze, he let out a breath of relief instead as there would be one less matter to worry about within the dominion.
If this didn't happen however, Pesha could still be considered the betrothed of Lorist's late brother and Lorist had to treat her with some degree of respect because of that. This was why he didn't punish her despite the number of times he had crossed Lorist. Now that she and Loze had gotten together, she only had two choices: either she marries Loze or she remains as a normal family knight. There was no way she could retain her status as the fiancee of Lorist's departed brother, Abelyde.
Lorist patted on Loze's shoulders twice without saying anything else before heading back to the front.
"Jim, Pete, Wilson, Manjez."
Jim, Pete and two other Silver ranked fighters stepped forward.
"The four of you will head to the Firmrock Castle straight away. The safety of the 300000 plus citizens within the whole of Felicitas Settlement depends on whether you are able to make it there in time. You absolutely have to deliver news of the magical beast wave's approach so that Knight Charade and Knight Potterfang can send out soldiers to defend the villages and towns before the beasts arrive. I will be counting on all of you," Lorist said before he saluted the four in the fashion of a knight.
"Please be assured, milord. We will definitely deliver news to Firmrock Castle as soon as possible," said the four in unison as they saluted back.
Even on horseback, the fastest one could travel from the Maplewoods Bastide to the Firmrock Castle was within six to seven hours with the distance being somewhere around 50 kilometers. Given that it was winter and the paths were bound to be filled with snow, coupled with the fact that they had to travel on foot with skis in the rather dim winter sunlight, there was a good chance that they would lose their way. However, despite the risks involved, the four didn't hesitate one bit to go on their mission.
"Loze, Pesha, Pajik..."
The three of them stepped forward.
"You three will bring five other Silver ranked fighters to the seventh sector where Wildnorth Town is. What you have to pay attention to is the three new villages set up near the east of the sector. That is the place which is most probable to be subject to an attack by the magical beasts. I'll be counting on you," Lorist said.
Loze thumped on his chest and said, "Please be assured, milord. With me, Fiercetiger Loze, over there, the villagers will be completely fine."
Lorist nodded and looked at the rest before he said, "The others will leave with me. First, we will head to the central town in the sixth sector before heading to the eastmost village."
"Milord..." Irina called out. With Lorist's and her son hugged in her chest, she bowed deeply to Lorist before saying, "I wish you a swift journey, milord. Please be safe."
"Locke... You must take care of yourself," Telesti said.
Lorist waved goodbye to the two of them before he said, "Put on your skis! Let's depart!"
The wind howled incessantly as it seemed to be unleashing one ephemeral blade after another.
Even if one wore a thick scarf and a mask that covered one's face almost completely, one could still feel the chill on one's skin. One's eyes would also feel a slight sting looking at the endlessly white scenery.
Lorist pointed towards a tall mound which was covered completely in snow and was prepared to bring his men up there to check for any activity in the area nearby.
"Awooooooooo..." Chilling howls could be heard as tens of green winter wolves each the size of a young cow climbed to the peak of the mound from the other side.
Sol, Lorist thought. He didn't think that the carnivorous magical beasts that stalked the herbivorous magical beasts had long chosen that mound as their spot for waiting out any potential prey. Lorist's gang had no choice but to evade them for now.
With a wave of his hand, the skis he wore swerved in another direction and he traveled towards the forest near the mound to avoid being ambushed by those winter wolves so that their journey would not be obstructed. He understood that given that they had already encountered a pack of winter wolves, it was obvious that the rest of the magical beasts were also not far away within the area. It seems that they had to take a detour to circle around the beasts so that they could make their way around them to continue their journey.
Even if humans do not antagonize the wolves, it was in their nature to attack humans. While Lorist did try to avoid the wolf pack, they ended up surrounded by roughly 20 winter wolves that laid in waiting within the forests followed by the thirty plus more that came down from the mound. They easily rushed down the mound with their light steps. While their bodies were no doubt huge, they had a peculiar rhythm to them as they rushed downwards with their paws not even sinking down an inch into the snowy ground. It was obvious that they were used to traveling in such conditions.
Lorist pulled his mask down and said softly, "Joe, I'll leave the front to you. Yuriy, Patt, give me your javelins. Belnick, continue heading forwards."
Josk swerved his skis and stopped in his tracks before he removed the green longbow hung on his back. After he took his aim, one green arrow after another streaked past the trees within the forests, causing tens of other wolves to sink lifeless onto the snowy ground.
Belnick pressed his ski poles hard on the ground and propelled himself forward, promoting three wolves to leap into the air in Belnick's direction. Josk fired his last arrow which pierced the head of one of the wolves, sending it flying away lifelessly. However, the other two wolves were blocked by Belnick's body and couldn't be aimed by Josk.
Belnick himself didn't panic and passed his right ski pole to his left hand and drew his sword with his right. With a gold flash of light, the two leaping wolves were cut into pieces, staining the pure white ground red with blood.
The howls coming from the direction of the mound intensified as the wolves coming from that direction quickly neared Lorist and the two others who were only standing still.
When the first wolf at the front of the group was within 40 meters of Lorist's group, Lorist made his move and tossed out one javelin after another, causing pained howls to ring out among the group of incoming wolves.
All 34 javelins found themselves in 34 winter wolves with the last javelin pinning the last wolf down only seven meters away from the three.
The howling continued upon the mound. However, it wasn't as spirited as before as the low-pitched whine sounded as if the wolves were mourning for their fallen comrades.
Carrying the two javelin quivers onto his back, Lorist told Patt and Yuriy, "Let's go."
"Won't the rest of the wolves pursue us?" Patt asked.
Yuriy responded, "They won't. Magical wolves are rather intelligent beasts. Given that the wolves that camped within the forests and the ones that came later from the mound are all dead, the rest on top of the mound will realize that we far outstrip them in terms of might. They realize that if they decide to continue their pursuit, it would no doubt end with their deaths. Based on the mourn-like cries you heard just now, you can already tell that they won't continue to chase us. Otherwise, they would bark in quick succession instead to indicate for the other wolves to take action faster so that us, their prey, don't escape."
As Yuriy was born in the Khawistan Khanate into a herding family, he was really familiar with the temperament of wolves. While the one he had more interaction with was magical wolves that lived on the plains instead of northlander winter wolves, their basic instincts and vocal responses were roughly the same and there wasn't much difference in that regard.
Lorist himself didn't expect that after taking that detour around the mound, he would need another two days to arrive at the central town of the sixth sector. That was because the magical beast wave had dispersed into various smaller groups that spread all over the place to graze for algae underneath the snow, causing Lorist's group to have to tread carefully.
When Lorist and the others eliminated a lone Gold-striped Snow Panther on a high cliff and looked into the distance, the sight they were greeted with was no longer the seemingly-infinite stretches of snow-covered land but rather one of magical beasts scattered all over the land, grazing.
The Silver ranked knight who defended the central town of the sixth sector was called Nors and he was an old acquaintance of Josk. Originally, he was the garrison captain that served Josk's adopted father, Baron Omador, and he had been injured rather badly and imprisoned by Count Cobry within the laborer camp along with his family members. He was rescued when Lorist and Josk snuck into the main camp of Geldos City with the disguise of messengers for an ambush. Having witnessed the death of Count Cobry, Nors brought his family with him along the northbound journey and was promoted to a family knight for his achievement at Nadegas City while serving the convoy.
In actuality, Nors was greatly surprised by Lorist who had brought his men to travel in the harsh snowy weather to the town to bring news of the danger. Upon hearing about the magical beasts, he quickly looked for a map of the sixth sector detailing the layout of the town and villages.
"Milord, since the east of this place is a mountainous area, we only set up four villages there. If the magical beasts will really begin feasting from there, it will take them a few days to cross the mountainous terrain, so we still have enough time to notify the four villages..." Before Nors was able to finish his sentence, a loud warning horn signal could be heard from the town walls not too far away.
One member of the garrison rushed into the room hurriedly and exclaimed, "Mi-milord... The magical beasts... They're here..."
Lorist breathed an annoyed sigh and thought that the four villages were finished.
This time, the feeling he got from seeing the magical beast wave was completely different from the first time he witnessed it from the Maplewoods Bastide. Over there, he was standing at the top of the castle whereas the walls of this central town was merely 7 meters high and built mostly out of mud bricks. As he looked towards the magical beasts approaching the central town gradually, he could hear the chattering coming from the terrified garrison soldiers nearby.
"We must think of a way to strengthen these walls!" Lorist exclaimed.
"However, milord... The cold winter makes it exceedingly hard for us to dig to get more mud. Also, we don't have any more materials we can use to strengthen the walls," Nors said as he looked towards the incoming beasts with a look of despair on his face.
Lorist desperately looked around him and noticed that there was a wooden house not far away which had icicles forming downward from the side of the roof.
"Use water! Spray water onto the walls. Mobilize everyone within the village to splash water on the walls so that ice can form to strengthen it. That way, the magical beasts won't be able to do anything to it," Lorist ordered urgently.
The rest of the people were energized as they thought that the plan was rather sound. Hope for their survival was revitalized.
There was a total of 13000 plus people within the town. Apart from the elderly and the children, the two companies of family soldiers and one company of garrison soldiers as well as 6000 young men and women which were fit enough to help out all worked together to carry buckets filled with water to the walls where they would be trickled down carefully from the top.
"Brother Beck, Joe, Yuriy and Els, the four of you should head towards the 8 remaining villages within the sixth sector to notify them about this method before heading to the fifth sector's central town and villages. Have them all mobilize their citizens to strengthen the walls with water and encase the towns and villages within walls of ice. That's the only way we have to ensure the safety of the citizens," Lorist instructed.
"What about you, milord?"
"I will stay here as I cannot leave. The moment of my departure would cause their morale to fall," Lorist replied in a soft voice.
"Then I won't be leaving as well and will be staying by milord's side," Josk said.
"Locke, I'm the leader of the guard division. How can I leave you, the head of the family, here?" Els interjected.
"Then, I'll stay as well..."
"Cut the crap. We must grasp whatever time we have to notify the other villages to make their urgent preparations. It's enough to have Joe, Els and Patt with me here. The rest of you will group up and have Brother Beck as first-in-command and Yuriy as second-in-command. You shall discuss among yourselves how you would go about notifying the rest of the villages and towns. Don't forget, right now, only you guys are able to travel around with skis to traverse the snowy lands. Whether we will be able to notify the rest will depend on you. Hurry, leave before the magical beasts surround this town completely! Make sure to stick together at all times on the way and pay attention to your own safety. I'll be counting on you all!" Lorist said as he made a respectful salute to his subordinates.
Belnick, Yuriy and the rest of the members from the Maplewoods Bastide stood ramrod straight and saluted Lorist solemnly while saying in unison, "Milord, take care..."