"Did you capture the two magi from Siklos? Was the fire to the east your doing?" Claude asked.
"We didn't capture them. They're dead," Kleit revealed, "The two magi weren't from Siklos. They turned out to be nobles of Shiks! They went to Siklos to study and travelled the continent in the name of seeking resources for Siklos. They came here because we keep a closer guard on our produce."
Shiks? Weren't they a northern superpower? Why could their nobles learn magic and even be sent to Siklos?
"Why did you think they were from Siklos?"
"They thought they were quite something after learning magic and kept on acting arrogantly and cursing us as black iron peasants. They started a fight in a tavern with its owner, during which time they used a spell. We immediately suspected Siklos, so we deployed.
"We're troubled with how we should report this though. Rogue magi or not, they're Shiksian nobles. If only they had allowed us to capture them instead of using wide-area combat spells and forcing us to shoot them. Quite a few of us are injured as well."
"Are they seriously injured? Did the five thugs really lead you to them?"
"The two idiots paraded themselves around. They only started hiding after they discovered us on their tail. They snuck into Whitewood and hid somewhere in the east of the town. They were planning to wait us out. The young one's loins got the better of him and he hooked up with a wench. That in and of itself would not have been enough to betray his identity, but, being a noble, he had to look the part when he did, and that made him stand out like an exploding volcano.
"Those thugs were the girl's pimps, and they decided he didn't need all the money he clearly had. They tried to rob him, but when he cast a couple spells, they quickly turned into his dogs and arranged a blackmarket sale with contacts in the mines.
"They still wanted all his money, though, so they decided to poison him during the deal and rob him naked. They needed more money for that kind of poison, however, and you were their ticket to riches."
"A truly divine coincidence, wouldn't you say? You caught our attention thanks to your interest in whiteroot powder, and the thugs' interest for your money, which connected us and them. When they led us to the magi, we tried to evacuate the civvies first, but the magi discovered us mid-evacuation and a fight broke out when they refused to surrender.
"At one point they tried to threaten us to stand down using their nobility, but we weren't going to have any of it. If you're going to cast spells in our territory, you're going to die for it.
"As they were hiding inside the building, we weren't able to get a clear shot even though we had it surrounded. None of us was their match in terms of spells alone. They were really crafty as well, knowing to avoid the doors and windows. Instead, they used spells to destroy the walls between two buildings and moved to the next one after another. Had it not been for our leader's preparation earlier, they would've escaped."
He then shook his head with a bitter smile. "They caused two buildings to topple. Three floors of one of them had been destroyed and up to sixty civilians were wrapped up in it. Thankfully, we got to them early and none of them has died as of yet. A few of my comrades got hurt during the pursuit and the old one was killed by the line of shooters our leader prepared beforehand. The young one also died after a chaotic firefight with us. We didn't get a single one alive and will still have to deal with Shiks later..."
"Are they really Shiksian nobles? Can't they be imposters?" Claude asked.
"It's true. When we checked their possessions, we found that their identifications were real. The only evidence against their favour is their experience studying magic on Siklos and the magic items they carry. However, it's still far from enough. Our kingdom will still have to provide a satisfactory resolution to this matter since their nobility was the real deal."
"Isn't magic banned across the continent? Why are Shiksian nobles allowed to learn it?"
Kleit laughed mockingly. "Their kingdom is different from ours. They are located at the north of the continent near Siklos and have always had ties with the magi there. It's considered cultured of the people there to learn magic and Siklos' support is the reason their kingdom became the most powerful one on Freia. Naturally, all that is done behind the scenes. On the surface, Shiks has denounced magic and their so-called pejorative is to keep the magi on Siklos from ever coming back into power.
"Aueras is a small country compared to Shiks. Unless we can unite the Eastern Freia, we won't be able to stand equal to them. So far, Shiks is a beast we can't afford to rouse. The only thing we can be thankful for is that our kingdoms are separated by two other nations.
"These two magi are Shiksian nobles and killing civilians in a tavern would cost them nothing more than some money. Shiks have always been quite lenient on the crimes their ruling class commits and let them off with a fine or two. Our kingdom's laws are completely different. In the eyes of the law, nobles, dignitarians and peasants are treated the same. They will have to be tried and punished all the same.
"Due to our radically different views, our kingdoms haven't always gotten along. It's said that during the Tricolour War around six decades ago, the Shiksian nobles were quite opinionated on their distaste for Stellin IX's ascension to the throne as they believed that he wasn't in line to succeed it. They refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of his crown and caused our kingdoms to have bad relations for nearly a decade."
Those were national secrets that Claude hadn't heard of before. However, he did understand why Kleit looked so troubled. "In other words, you're worried that these two dead magi nobles will prompt Shiks to give our kingdom trouble and worsen our already sour relationship?
"What does that have to do with the Watch though? You were only doing your duty. It's not your department that has to deal with diplomacy with Shiks. You also mentioned that they also crossed two other nation's borders. I believe that at worst, words will be thrown around. You also mentioned that we are two nations away from their borders. Even if they want to go to war, we'll see if the other two nations allow Shiksian troops to pass through them. What's there to worry about?"
Kleit looked at Claude with contempt. "You're from a rural corner of the kingdom, so it's no surprise that you haven't heard about the news spreading in the streets of the royal capital. Did you know that His Majesty sent two waves of ambassadors to Shiks during the early part of last year? It is the royal agenda to get on Shiks' good side because they get along far better with Nasri than we do!
"Even though our borders aren't linked and they won't deploy their troops to march against us, Shiks can provide large amounts of funding and military supplies to Nasri. Do you know how big a change that will be for our struggle against the five allied anti-Aueran nations in the east? The two waves of ambassadors sent within the span of three months were tasked to get Shiks to remain neutral and not involve themselves in our eastern conflict. Do you understand now?"
"I do," Claude admitted sincerely, "You really blundered badly this time and caused our kingdom much trouble. We still don't know if we can placate Shiks. If they turn against our kingdom, it'd definitely be your fault. But it has nothing to do with me. All I have to do is to watch you getting punished from the sidelines."
"You..." Kleit almost spat blood from anger. Claude had thrown salt on where it hurts the most. Kleit was just looking for someone to chat with because he felt troubled, only to be aggravated even further. Even though he wanted to confide in him with something, there wasn't a point anymore. The child was right; it had nothing to do with him. Chatting with him about national policy was only him asking for trouble.
Within that short moment, Kleit ran out of things to say. "Then, I shall take my leave." He then marched off crestfallenly.
Seeing Kleit leave, Claude ordered a cup of ale and slowly enjoyed it. Even though Kleit talked a lot, he didn't reveal the slightest bit of what Claude would be concerned with. All he told him was that two Shiksian noble magi were killed. He didn't reveal the magi's ranks, their true aim for coming to Whitewood and the destructive wide-area combat spells they used to hurt so many. He only mentioned the magic items they carried in a passing manner too.
Claude didn't really care for the geopolitical situation of the continent, since he wasn't in a position to influence it. The complications resulting from the death of the two Shiksian nobles weren't his concern. He was but a mere new recruit with whom that had nothing to do.
The news about the ambassadors Stellin X sent to Shiks on the other hand allowed him to be certain that a large-scale war would break out with the kingdom's allied enemies. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a point for the kingdom to ask Shiks to remain neutral.
Darn... What a bad time to be enlisted... Looks like I won't be able to avoid going on the battlefield, Claude lamented.
Two days later, he arrived at Kafreizit and made his way to the base on Fokby Hill in the city of Gourneygada.