Chapter 343: Chapter 104
The following day, the mages began the task of destroying the runes. Anette, Armin, Anton, and Maxi were charged with nullifying those within the main castle. The towering stone walls that rose along the mountainous slope were covered in fortification runes, half of which were impossible to decipher because of their sheer complexity.
Maxi breathed a deep sigh as she ran her fingers over one of the stone pillars flanking the castle entrance. Nearly all of the castle’s building materials seemed to be fortified with magic.
“I-It will take forever… to nullify all of them.”
“We need not nullify every one,” Kuahel Leon said curtly. “The castle will collapse once the main support pillars are compromised.”
The Temple Knight had trailed the mages, his subordinates in tow. Maxi, who had been gazing up at the high ceiling, gave him a disconcerted look.
“May 1 ask… why you are following us?”
Kuahel arched an eyebrow. “Is that forbidden?”
“N-No, but… does the supreme commander… not have more important matters to attend to?”
“I happen to have many competent aides,” the Temple Knight replied dryly. “What’s more, this task may be more dangerous than you think. During the nullification process, a rune may start acting up, or a hidden trap might be activated. As a precaution, it was decided that high priests capable of negating magic would accompany the mages.”
Maxi frowned. She doubted that anything untoward could happen from nullifying fortification runes. Nevertheless, when she recalled how she had nearly died from a golem attack during their time in the ruins, she found herself unable to refute his point.
With a sigh, she meekly kept walking. When they reached the hall at the center of the castle, Kuahel pointed to the rows of stone pillars along the perimeter and at the vaulted stone ceiling.
“The runes on these pillars are the ones you need to work on. How long will it take?”
“Every stone appears to have a spell on it,” Anton said after carefully inspecting one of the intricate carvings. “It will take us at least half a day for all of them.”
“Understood. Then, please make haste.”
Soon, the mages split up to begin their task. Maxi bent a knee by the entrance of the left transept to carefully inspect a pillar. Though this particular rune did not appear difficult to neutralize, the sum of them would take some time.
Placing her hand on the pillar, she used her mana to unravel the rune’s power from the top. When she was certain that it could support the ceiling even without the spell, she moved along the wall and rapidly began nullifying the others.
Finally, Maxi reached the end of the room. When she straightened and turned around, Anette and Armin were still working on the other side while Anton was nowhere to be seen. He must have moved on to another part of the castle, Maxi reasoned. She retraced her steps to where Kuahel was leaning against a wall.
“I have finished this side,” she said cautiously. “Where should 1 work next?”
The Temple Knight’s eyes slowly surveyed the dim corridor before he motioned toward the entrance. “This should do for the hall. Let us head out.”
“Remaining inside any longer is dangerous. We cannot disregard the risk of the castle caving in now that the runes are undone. You may continue the task outside.”
The group filed out of the castle and began working on the runes inscribed on the castle facade. By the middle of the afternoon, Maxi was thoroughly spent. Negating runes for such an extended period used up more mana than she had expected.
Exhausted, she slumped onto a cold stone step. Kuahel Leon was close behind, shadowing her like a prison guard.
“Have you run out of mana already?” he said irritably.
“M-Mana concentration is low around these parts!” Maxi cried, glaring at him.
Kuahel looked at Anette and Anton, then back to Maxi. “The other two appear to be fine.”
Maxi’s face flushed. As a member of the Umri tribe and a senior mage of Urd respectively, Anette and Anton’s ability to store immense amounts of mana was exceptional even among those of the Mage Tower. It was only natural that an ordinary mage such as Maxi would not be able to compete in that regard.
Still, knowing how pathetic it would sound, she could only mumble sullenly, “They are the unusual ones.”
“I did not mean it as a rebuke. I was merely surprised. After watching you work tirelessly during the war, I had assumed your magical ability robust.”
“U-Unfortunately… I can only describe my mana stores as ordinary. As for my efforts during the war… 1 was merely doing everything in my power to keep going.”
Her voice grew somber as the memories of the strenuous few weeks flashed in her mind. She was taking in the desolate city when she suddenly noticed the Temple Knight looking at her as a curious cat would.
Puzzled, Maxi frowned. “Why… are you looking at me like that?”
His eyes widened ever so slightly at her question. The Temple Knight cocked his head and rubbed his face as if to scrub away his emotions. “How was 1 looking at you, exactly?”
“Like you were… observing an unusual creature.”
At her peeved tone, his expression snapped back to its usual impassiveness. “I apologize if I’ve offended you. I shall strive not to wear my thoughts so plainly next time.”
Maxi glared at the man incredulously before letting out a sigh. She was too tired to even argue with him.
Before long, Anton and Anette joined her on the stairs, and the trio returned to camp to rest. Just as the sun began to dip below the horizon, the group that had gone to the outskirts of the city returned to the square. 𝚋𝚎ｄｎｏ𝚟𝚎ｌ.ｎ𝚎𝚝
Maxi was dining on watery bean porridge in front of the campfire by then. She lit up when she spotted Riftan, whom she had not glimpsed all day since starting work on the runes at dawn. Setting down her bowl, she ran over to him.
Riftan’s long strides halted, and he turned his head. As his penetrating eyes parsed over her, Maxi reflexively went to fix her hair. To her dismay, her fingers were no match for the matted tangles in her curls.
She pulled her hood over her head as she drew closer. “Where are you coming from? I-I did not see you the entire day.”
“Leading a search of the mountains. I’ve been combing rocks all day because that damned woman is bent on finding an orichalcum vein,” Riftan grumbled, his eyes flickering over his shoulder.
Maxi followed his gaze, and her face fell when she saw Princess Agnes leading the Royal Knights of Wedon across the square. Another woman had been with her husband all day, yet here Maxi was, unable to glimpse his face even once. Her blood boiled at the thought.
“A-And?” she said with a stiff smile. “Were you able to find one?”
“It was a waste of time.” He entrusted Talon to a squire behind him and began kneading his nape, looking thoroughly wearied. “Though 1 suppose it’s for the best since that would only have led to more disputes.”
“I-lf that is your opinion… why bother searching for it?”
As if sensing her disgruntlement, his eyes focused back on her. Maxi strove to appear calm. To her relief, he seemed oblivious to her petty jealousy.
“I went so I could patrol the area for hidden monster lairs as well,” he said flatly. “I’ve been meaning to search the vicinity anyway, though nothing came of that either.”
He paused to study her closely. “More importantly, how was your day? 1 heard that the search of the city was halted so the mages could start nullifying the runes. Is the work not difficult?”
“N-Not at all. The task went more smoothly than expected, so I think we will be able to finish by the morrow.”
“I’ll assign Rovar as your escort from the morning, so let him accompany you.”
Maxi frowned. She was already vaguely aware that at any given moment, at least three or four Remdragon Knights watched her. She did not see why Ulyseon, who was sixth in rank in the order, should be added to the list.
“That won’t be necessary,” she said with mock sternness. “We have the Temple Knights escorting us wherever we go… and we even had Sir Kuahel accompany us today.”
Riftan, who had been striding toward the Remdragon Knights’ barracks, stopped in his tracks. He narrowed his eyes and asked in an ominous voice, “The Holy Sword escorted you?”
“N-Not only me. He was escorting the mages working at the main castle, protecting us in case anything—”
“You are telling me that the commander of the Temple Knights took such a task upon himself?” Folding his arms, Riftan leaned forward menacingly. “I seem to find you in his company a lot. And he seems to have taken an interest in you.”
Flustered, Maxi blurted, “N-Nonsense! The man merely finds me amusing—”
She stopped herself. Did he have the right to question her like this after having spent the day with Princess Agnes? What was more, Kuahel Leon was a clergyman.
Suppressing the defiance rearing inside her, Maxi said with feigned gentleness, “Perhaps… he was taking pity and being considerate… because my husband has been neglecting me.”
Riftan’s face hardened.. “Neglecting you? Is that an accusation?”