Scourge Fifty-Four - Insult
“I don’t know if I should be insulted or... or insulted,” I say. I know that my behaviour right now’s not the most mature, but come on! A princess should be allowed to gossip a little bit. Besides, I’m not talking bad about Bianca, I’m talking bad about what she’s said, and that’s a whole world of difference.
“I know,” Esme agrees with a serious nod. “That’s just silly. As if any of us would ever be part of a... a harem.”
“Yeah, that’ll never happen,” Felix says. Her voice is strangely flat. “Technically, I think it would be polyamory, not a harem.”
Esme huffs. She’s usually the one to point out little semantic things like that.
That could just be the air. We all just woke up in our little campsite to a morning fresh with dew and filled with cloudy skies. The grey pall above suggests that there might be some rain later. It certainly feels humid enough for it.
Felix is cooking up some breakfast with the last of our fresh rations. From here on out, it’ll be hardtack and whatever we can scrounge up or hunt. I’m not really looking forward to it.
On the other hand, we’re really close to Algecante.
There’s a flutter as one of the big birds comes down in the clearest part of the camp, wings flapping to bleed off speed. Bianca is sitting atop it, face flushed and smile barely concealed by her aristocratic training.
I think that now that she’s gotten past her fear, Bianca is really loving flight. Which I get. It’s exhilarating. “Did you see anything?” I ask.
Bianca slips off the side of the bird and adjusts her dress with dainty care. “Yes, I have,” she says. “The Templars have left their camp already, though it seems as though they’re not bringing everything with them. A number of soldiers have stayed behind, as has most of their train.”
“Huh,” I say. “Why’d they do that?”
“You don’t bring all of your supplies with you when you’re going to charge the enemy,” Esme says. “Those donkey-pulled wagons would just make everything more awkward for the Templars.”
Bianca nods. “That’s the other thing. We’re close to Algecante. Much closer than I imagined.” She points eastward, towards a line of hills. “Over the rise there’s a small strip of forest, then open plains and farmland all the way to Algecante. It’s at most a morning’s walk from here.”
“Oh,” I say. We did come to camp while it was late, but... “How did we miss an entire city?”
“I didn’t see any lights in the city,” Bianca says. “And it’s still a distance away, partially hidden by some cliffs and hills. I’m not surprised that we missed it.”
“That’s... not great news, actually,” I say. We now have a lot less time to prepare than I was expecting. I figured that I had one more day, at least, to build more monsters and summon them from the countryside. “How long do you think it’ll take the Templars to reach the city? Or... no, I guess they’ll stop and want to regroup before that.”
“That’s likely, yeah,” Esme says. “They’ll want to push in with a good formation. They have horses, so they can move fast, and Vigilance magic too.”
“Right,” I say. “Bianca, did you see any undead?”
“I might have?” Bianca says, she doesn’t sound too certain. “It’s hard to tell from so high up. There are things moving around the walls of the city, but I couldn’t spot anything closer.”
“We should have bought a spyglass,” I say. “I’m sure we could have found one somewhere.”
Esme shrugs. “Does it matter? We know there will be undead before we reach the walls, and if there aren’t, then that just makes it easier for us, right?”
“Maybe. Fighting in a city’s real different from fighting outside of one,” Felix says. “Especially since we’ll probably be fighting huge numbers of undead and also cultivators. It’s going to suck if we’re caught in narrow roads and stuff.”
I nod. My mantis-monsters will be pretty decent in some spots like that though, they should be able to climb or fly onto rooftops. “Let me get to work. I’ll add more wyverns to the monsters I’m making.” They’d be more manoeuvrable.
“I should point out, before you get to work, that they might know that something’s up with the local monsters. There are a lot of them mingling around this part of the forest. I could easily see them from above. They’re not making an effort to hide at all.”
There’s not much I can really do about that. Having the element of surprise would be nice, but they’ll see us coming across the open fields long before we reach the walls. The surprise will have to come from seeing Templars working with monsters. No one will expect that.
I get to work as soon as I’m done eating breakfast. The dark pool near our campsite isn’t huge, but it’s enough that I can summon a few more monsters.
Of course, summoning monsters is a lot easier to do when my mind is clear and not bothered by other, intrusive thoughts.
Last night’s discussion with Bianca is still bothering me, and I don’t know why. Obviously she’s totally wrong. My friends agree too. Well, Esme does. Felix didn’t seem to care but I guess she’s not much for gossip and the like.
Whatever. I put it out of my head and knuckle down. In the next hour or so, I make five more mantis monsters and manage to make a few elemental wolves too while splitting my attention. Making two monsters at a time is tricky though, it’s like rubbing my head and tummy at the same time but with my soul. It’s not practical.
With smaller monsters, like my little friends, it’s not too bad. If there’s a bit of a goof then it barely shows. On bigger monsters... “Oh, shoot,” I say as I look at the Anger-empowered wolf I’ve made. It’s on fire.
I blink, then tilt my head to inspect it better.
It’s not burning, it’s just on fire.
That’s not supposed to happen.
“Hey,” Esme says as she walks over. “We should be moving soon. Felix went up and she said that the Templars are nearly at the edge of the woods. If we’re going to join them, we’re going to have to move out sooner rather than later.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” I say. “What’s our final monster tally?”
“Not counting wild monsters that I haven’t seen yet,” Esme says as she pulls up a clipboard. Only Esme would pack one of those for what’s basically a camping trip. “We have thirty-nine mantises, seventeen wolves with various elemental abilities... eighteen counting that one. Twelve scorpions that can fling rocks or debris from range.”
“That’s not much of an overwhelming army,” I say.
“It’s something,” Esme says with a shrug. “We also have fourteen bear monsters, thirty-two wild wolf monsters, nine wyverns, we have a lot of giant bee monsters, I think we crossed a hive at some point so we have a lot of those. A few hundred smaller bird monsters, mostly owls and crows. Oh, and we have six fox monsters and... a pentagoose. I think it’s the same one we met the other day.”
I look up. “Wait, it’s here?”
“I think it followed us,” Esme says. “I, uh, didn’t bother it. It’s hanging out on the edge of where all the other monsters are.”
“Huh,” I say. “Well, that’s something.” I’d need to watch that one. It was probably just here because it sensed that we’d be up to some violent stuff later. Which was troubling.
Standing up, I brush off some dirt from my dress and sigh at the stains on the hem. I want to look somewhat presentable later, but there’s not much time for me to wash off properly. Bianca might be able to make a sort of shower with her Fear magic, but that would take too much time.
“Let’s head out,” I say.
“Alright,” Esme replies. She walks next to me, shoulder bumping mine as we head back to where the birds are roosting and where Felix and Bianca are talking about what sounds like nothing too important. “Are you ready to face the Templars again?”
“I think so. I hope we have enough monsters here to keep them from getting any dumb ideas while also being able to tackle the undead.”
“You don’t trust them?” Esme asks. I have the impression she doesn’t either.
“It’s... less that I don’t trust them, and more that I want to make sure they won't consider betraying our agreement. Like locking a door even if you trust the people around you.”
Esme nods. “I get it. We’ll keep you safe.”
I sniff. “How about you keep yourself safe? I can take care of myself, you know?”
“Of course you can,” Esme says. She smiles at me while I pout right back. “Now come on, let’s get this whole thing started.”