Chapter 34: Patron Journey; Cultist Camps (P3)
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“We’ve got to stay alert, cautious. These guys could be sinister in any number of ways.” I warn Anselm as I shut the door behind the servant who’d come by with dinner. There were so many of these servants I stopped bothering to take their names as I’d see another face moments later.

“I don’t doubt that,” He grumbles as he lifts his platter of corn off of the tray, stingily floating off to a corner, “But whatever sinister plan they may or may not have in store for us, at the moment, they are exactly what we need.”

“We may need them but they need us more. If I could walk in here unimpeded by the Cultists, I think I could stroll right back out the same way. However, they can’t risk it.”

“I’d say that’s something you should remind them of.” He starts with a mouthful of corn. I set myself on the bed with my platter of meats and listen. “You have every right to walk out of here, you’re a Mage, maybe not a good one but you’re still a Mage. You aren’t here on someone’s bidding either so you hold all the pieces when dealing with them. You could leave and call for help, for a price of course, you could also stay here like we are and prepare to fight off the Cultists. All I’m saying is you have a lot of options to choose from with these guys so shunning their invitation to dinner.”

I sigh and roll my eyes at him. The servant that brought the food was originally a messenger carrying an invitation to wine and dine in some fancy room with the Mayor and discuss whatever. Anselm excitedly voted to go but yeah…no.

“I don’t want to let my guard down around any other magic users, especially ones from this Kingdom.”

“And why is that?” Anselm asks.

“Because the Mages of this Kingdom enslaved an entire race with magic!” I yell. I huff and calm myself. “You saw that elf with the soldiers, you saw Elsa. I don’t want to end up like that, frankly, I don’t want to see anyone like that.”

“It’s come to Elsa again huh. You do know you’re never going to see her, again right? You should get over this crush.”

“Ugh! I don’t have a crush, and this is not about Elsa, at least not her specifically. This is about what the Mages of this Kingdom are capable of. If she must, that Leriva woman could capture and enslave me to her bidding.” I protest.

Anselm scoffs and wags a half-eaten corn cob at me, “Your paranoia is unfounded for once. Do you really believe such powerful magic would lay be in the hands of just any Mage? If so, then why didn’t Perlman, a B-rank Mage fight you directly instead of capturing you and enslaving you to his will? Why don’t Mages just enslave everyone hm?”

“Well, that’s because…” I blink and realize he’s right. My paranoia is misplaced.

“Exactly.” He sees the dumbfounded look on my face and spreads his smug grin even wider, “What would you do without me?” he sighs.

I tear off a piece of my meat and chuck it into my mouth as calm and peace of mind settles over me. “Nothing to worry about. I’m the one with all the power here.”

Not for the first time the feeling of having an up over people who would, under normal circumstances be far off posh and supremely powerful in comparison, overwhelms me.

A smile graces itself on my face as I accept my position, “What do you have in mind Anselm?” I ask. He always seems to have some nice idea when it comes to things like this, perhaps it is because he’s a local of the world, I’m unsure but it’s coming in very useful right now.

He grins at me, “Well, I’ve got more than a few tinkering ideas to offer to the general goal of becoming a nation as you said it.”

“Go on.”

“The Mayor here literally owns this village, the place is named after her House, I don’t know who is at the Head of the House but it would serve a power mongering, upcoming nobleman and Mage like yourself to have allies. Anyone belonging to a House old enough to have settlements named after them is bound to have interesting and useful connections.”

“I suggest you put on your manly wiles, go to that dinner and seduce her with everything in your arsenal, especially your prowess as a Mage, which she desperately needs right now.”

“You’re right.” I concede, “I’m not going to be doing any of the seduction or whatever, but you’ve got the right idea, I should present myself, exult my importance to her. But perhaps tomorrow, going down to dinner after rejecting her invitation won’t make me look any good.”

Anselm seem disappointed but shrugs, munching on his pile of cobs not saying a word. I look forward to implementing all this tomorrow, but I anticipated slaying a cultist even more.

I wonder what powers Lotar will bestow on me when I do.

***

The net day yet another unfamiliar face greeted me at the door with an invitation to have breakfast with the Mayor. With my earlier conversation with Anselm it’d be unproductive to decline, plus, I was hungry.

I summoned Anselm once more, but only to inform him that, well, I couldn’t have him come along. They believe he is a living being and I intend to keep up the deception. However, my Spirit Summon skill only had so much time to it, even with Anselm not floating or using up the mana, and I predict breakfast with the Mayor will run long.

I get dressed and follow the servant who’d been patiently waiting outside the door down the hall, away from what I assume must be rows of rooms reserved for guests like myself. In the opposite direction of the stairs and the exit, we come upon a trio of large rooms, immediately evident by the wide doors that lead into them.

The servant directs me to the one in the centre, the obvious one with two young scrubs guarding its sides. I mutter a thank you and walk into the room.

Like every other room in the building, it is bejewelled and adorned with art, soft red carpets and a regal atmosphere that is intensified by the woman standing in the middle of it.

The Mayor, dressed in a flowing silky blue gown is not alone. Standing before her are thorough, hard-worn looking men all with brow furrowed. My presence in the room is immediately felt so I don’t get to eavesdrop on any of the undoubtedly disturbing news that was being passed.

The Mayor turns around, her tender face is scrunched up just as her subordinates are, however that all vanishes as she lays eyes on me. She summons a charming smile form her purse of deceit and greets.

“Ah! Good morning Mage Asher, glad you came. I wasn’t entirely sure you would given you passed on my invitation to dinner last night.”

As I walk up to her her men troop out with speed. I ignore it and place my focus on her less than subtle question.

“My apologies, Mayor, my journey here was more tiring than realized and your hospitality and wonderful bed was simply too much of a joy to leave at that moment.”  It isn’t a lie. I really did enjoy the bed.

“I shall take your absence as a compliment then. Now, shall we?” she beckons me to take a sit at the long dining table with her.

Instinctually, I leave the head of the table to her, out of deference to her position here and instead take a seat adjacent to it. Her smile widens though, as she does the same, straying away from the head of the table and taking a seat right in front of me. She says nothing of this so neither do I.

All settled in she claps her hands and servants once again spring up from corners and pop into the room with trays in hand. In an instant the table is set, complete with two and three pronged utensils, serviettes, wine glasses and cups.

When the tray is set and opened, my nostrils are assaulted with a flood of sweet-smelling scents of food I’ve never seen nor tasted before. In the recesses of my mind I wonder if I should simply abandon Lotar and this dangerous questing for power in favour of becoming a gourmet. There’s an entirely new world of food for my taste buds to sample after all.

“Please, help yourself.” The Mayor says, catching the look of delight on my face.

Inwardly, I curse myself for the slip up but recover. “Thank you, I will. I’m sort of a food enthusiast mind you, my experiences travelling have demanded I appreciate sustenance wherever I find it.” I grin as I pick up a fork. Accept a weakness and it can’t be used against you.

“I can only imagine.” She nods politely, “We have a lot to discuss, I hope you don’t mind us talking over breakfast, the topic is sour and could ruin a meal even for an enthusiast like yourself.”

I quirk a brow at this. Is she referring to what she was discussing with her men earlier?

“I don’t mind. I have a hard stomach.” I punctuate this by biting down on an odd shaped tuber, chewing vigorously and sending it to the abyss.

“Well then I’ll just cut to the chase.” She crosses her fingers over her face as she speaks, her eyes narrowing, “The scouts returned from their assignment last night. They returned with gruesome news. The cultists camps are not fortified in anyway, however, they have increased in numbers, almost double from our last count and now we can’t even dream of mounting a surprise attack, they are endlessly on watch, there is no getting past them.”

“They’ve doubled their numbers in all camps?” I ask.

She nods grimly, picking at her food with a knife.

“How many are they now?”

“In each camp? Well they aren’t round figures all around but the average? Thirty in each camp. That’s a hundred and fifty rounded up.” She sighs. “The numbers I had in mind was half this, I don’t think we’ll be very successful in our attack, Mage Asher.”

That was appetite killing news. I’m not sure how to respond, I felt awfully awkward too because if I ate then that meant I didn’t share her pessimism, which I absolutely did. Still, I had faith.

“Perhaps there is a way.”

She looks up at me, the doubt read on her face like a book.

“For whatever reason the cultists refused to reveal themselves to me when I travelled. I’d like to test if that was simply to trap me in this wonderful village of yours or if they are simply too weak to attack me or maybe there is something even beyond in their machinations.”

“You want to leave.” She spits it out bluntly, her glare steaming.

My lips twitch in a smirk. “Not before we try at least one assault on their camp. If we fail then I leave and return with the Following in tow, ready to relief you this silent siege.”

She scoffs, “The Following? Here? I doubt it.”

“You think they won’t come to your aid? You are a venerable Mayor of a village and a Mage, why wouldn’t they?”

She flashes me a smile that just says there’s a tiring and lengthy explanation as to why, “They might, but I don’t count on it.”

I breathe, “If not them then I’ll enlist some knights, buy some mercenary company.” Earlier on I would question if these types existed in this world at all but after that unfortunate encounter with those bandits and the fort, I’m sure they do.

“How generous of you to offer me hope.” She nearly sneers. “How am I sure you won’t just leave and not come back at all?”

“I’m sitting here, aren’t I? If I wished to abandon you I would’ve by now. But I have stake in the destruction of the Cult.” I clear my plate and wash my delicious meal down with a gulp of fruity grape wine. “However, if I am journeying outward only to return, you will of course have to reimburse my efforts.”

Now she’d had it. She slams her fists down on the table, the plates and utensils clatter in protest, “Reimburse you for what exactly? Being able to walk out of a village? I could do the very same if I wished.”

“Yes, you could, but then the Cultists could be waiting for exactly that to happen, they will descend in force, a hundred and fifty strong and destroy your little play city with your play guards. Everyone will be lost.”

There’s quiet for a moment. I let it be, I let her digest those words, play out all her pointless options until she comes to the realization that I am her saviour in all of this.

“And what guarantee do I have that you will do as you say? You’re a stranger, we do not know of you nor your origins. How do I know for certain, that you won’t leave my people for dead?”

“You don’t, but what other choice do you have but to trust me?”

She grits her teeth, her fists clenched tightly as she glares at me. Surely, she didn’t ever imagine this was how breakfast would go.

6