Claude opened his heavy eyes to find himself in a familiar room. His whole body hurt, badly. It was as if he was bound tightly. He couldn't even move his fingers. He tried to speak... and realised he didn't have the strength. A face appeared in front of him. He couldn't tell whose it was. Then, a strong feeling of fatigue washed over him and he closed his eyes as he slipped back into the darkness.
He couldn't remember when he had regained consciousness. It felt as if he had returned to his past life and once more became the university graduate named Chen Xi. His memories from his past life flashed through his mind, from the time he got his job after graduation, went to a marriage meeting and fell in love, witnessed his marriage derail, joined his boss after the divorce and went frolicking around with the urban women in red-light districts. His peaceful and modern life felt like it had occurred yesterday, still fresh in ihs mind.
His memories were scrambled from that point on. He saw how badly he got along with his elder brother, recalled the lessons of his father, and his loving siblings. The part he had the deepest impression of was his military career. At one point, he returned to his days on the battlefield, marching in line towards the enemies or hiding in ambush for the enemy mounted scouts. He also found himself ordering his men to fire the cannons. They all flashed in front of him as if he was rewinding the film reel of his life.
The first thought that occurred to him when everything blacked out once more was whether he was dead. There was neither time nor sound in that space. He felt like he was floating in the air without any purpose or direction. Some time after, he saw a light finally poke out from the darkness. In the end, the light became a beam. He ran towards it and blended in with the bright light.
When he next opened his eyes, he saw that it was around morning based on the illumination in the room. He realised that he was in his familiar bedroom in Weyblon Manor. He was lying on the flower-engraved wooden bed with almost a century of history. However, his room had been slightly remodelled into a sick ward. Apart from the table at his windowsill, the other furniture had been moved away. The room seemed rather empty.
He felt discomfort in his throat and numbness in his tongue. Licking his lips, he was suddenly reminded of his thirst. He opened his mouth and let out a croak. He tried hard to turn his neck and immediately saw a pale face filled with joy.
"You're... you're awake, Claude..." The woman leapt to the bedside and stroked his face.
"K-kefnie... I... I need water..."
"Oh, water. I... I'll get it immediately."
She got up in a hurry and went to the desk by the window to fetch a silver kettle. Soon, she poured him some warm water, put it on the rack of the bed, and carefully helped him sit up. She lent him her soft shoulder to lean on and fed him the water slowly.
He drank most of it and the warmth filled his body with comfort. His mind began to clear.
"Do you want more?" she asked carefully.
He shook his head slowly and shut his eyes, lying in her embrace for a moment.
"I'm sorry for worrying you, Kefnie. Can you tell me how long it's been since I was hurt?"
She broke into tears and hugged him tightly.
"D-did you know w-when you were brought back... all bloody... we were all shocked. I... I even thought you had left me... our children... then Doctor Perunt rushed over and fed you a healing potion before treating your wounds. He said that if you wake up in half a month you can be saved. Thank the war god's grace you woke up after eleven days..."
He understood where the discomfort in his mouth came from. It was thanks to the concoction he was forced to drink. It was a concoction fed to unconscious soldiers to ensure their body would be able to absorb enough nutrients to sustain life. That way, they wouldn't die from lacking in crucial nutrients when they were out cold. He had tasted the concoction before and to say it tasted horrid was an understatement.
There were still mild pangs of pain from various parts of his body, and his chest also felt rather heavy. He felt a little like throwing up after drinking warm water. Kefnie, feeling his discomfort, immediately laid him back down. "Wait for a while. I'll call Anna here."
She dashed out of the room like the breeze, much to his resignation. He hadn't even gotten to ask how badly he had been injured. All he managed to see when he was held up was the towel that covered him. He could tell that his legs were fastened to splints and his chest was wrapped up like a mummy's, so he knew the wounds were far from light. At least, he didn't seem to be lacking any appendages, something for which he took comfort in.
Rushed footsteps sounded from outside and Angelina barged into the room. Seeing Claude looking at her with his own two eyes, she let her tears gush and fall towards the ground.
She slowly approached the bed and whispered, "Claude, are you awake?"
He struggled to move his lips and smiled.
"Yes, I'm conscious, thanks in no small part to the revolver you made. By the way... why am I healing at home instead of the infirmary in headquarters? Also, why are you here as my healer? Has the infirmary moved to the frontlines already?"
Angelina pretended to lower her head and hide her face as she wiped her tears off, but she showed Claude her real expression.
"Mother, Kefnie, and I requested to have you released to recover at home so we can care for you. Doctor Perunt is the healer responsible for you, since his skills in the craft are better than mine and can concoct more effective medicines. However, he's quite busy and can only visit you from time to time. Now that you're awake, I'll notify headquarters about it."
After that, she started giving him a physical check. She only breathed a sigh of relief after making sure that his wounds didn't show any signs of worsening. He was also informed about his injuries. Both his legs were broken and his back suffered heavy burns thanks to the Explosive Fireball. His right abdomen was also punctured and his left forearm suffered a cut. Coupled with the shock his innards sustained, it was quite lucky he didn't die just there.
He wanted to know how he managed to escape being roasted to death by the last spell used by the magus. Angelina told him that Gum had saved him. He was awakened by the second Fireball. Ignoring his injuries, he shot the magus dead with his revolver as he was trying to check whether Claude was still alive. Then, he gave the unconscious Claude a perfect-quality healing potion Angelina concocted and endured the pain to carry him onto the carriage and send him back to Weyblon Manor.
But why did he send Claude back all the way? Headquarters was just nearby the plaza, so wouldn't it be more appropriate to send him there? There wasn't a need to go so far.
Though he wanted to ask more, he felt really tired after going along with the check, so he soon fell back asleep.
When he reawakened, he felt really hungry. He opened his eyes only to see that it was nighttime. The candle in his bedroom was still lit and his movements alerted the caretaker on duty. Not long after, Angelina, Kefnie and his mother showed up. He only just found out that the caretaker was Myjack.
His wife fed him some herbal egg porridge. Though it tasted funny, it did give him some energy. He turned to Myjack and asked, "Why have you come? Isn't Tribe 131 supposed to work with the royal guard folk to take Port Vebator? It's a great opportunity for you to get merit."
"General, after we received word by carrier eagle about the attempt on your life, General Eiblont immediately ordered me to take Tribe 131 back to Lanu to protect you. Your safety is my priority now, not merit."
Myjack really knew how to talk him up. After forsaking the task of helping take the port, Myjack would have to waste a few years before he would be promoted to colonel. The war would end after the last siege, anyway, and without any more chances to gain merits, promotion would no longer be as easy.
"By the way, how is Gum doing?" he asked.
Angelina said, "He's doing a little bit better than you. He's recovering in the guest room downstairs. I'm his healer."
Claude felt relieved. It was the first assassination attempt he experienced and all the guards, including Gum and the coachman had suffered serious wounds. Fortunately, Claude, Gum and two heavily injured guards survived.
Kefnie left to accompany her two children to sleep. Then, it was his mother's turn to nag at him. After putting up with her, he drunk another bottle of healing potion with his sister's help and gradually fell back to sleep.
Morning the next day, he woke up to find that it was Bloweyk's turn to look after him. He finished another bowl of herbal egg porridge. His wife helped him clean up the waste he excreted and change the sheets. Bloweyk had come from headquarters with the chief of the infirmary, Doctor Perunt. After some cursory checks, visitors from headquarters arrived.
General Skri came in first with a sash holding up his left arm, followed by General Saljorak and General Bolonik.
"Why are you here? Shouldn't you be leading the two main tribes of 1st Monolith to aid General Aljess in battle?" he asked Bolonik.
However, he immediately noticed something amiss. Skri was injured and Bolonik was a picture of defeat. Saljorak seemed like he had aged more than ten years in a night. His face was sunken and his eyes were bloodshot.
"What happened?" What in the world could have made all three generals look so defeated?
"The deployment is called off, Claude. It's over for us," Bolonik said with a pained look.
Skri still kept his calm. "Let me do the explaining."
According to him, all other high-ranking officers that were going to attend the grand ceremony were also ambushed. The grey-robed magi were also responsible for that. They split up into two units, one to head towards Aljess and the other towards Claude. However, Claude managed to defeat those that came for him whereas the ones targeting Aljess succeeded.
Aljess died on the spot and Sevict, being just beside him, was heavily injured. Though, he was relatively luckier than Birkin. Even Bernard ended up heavily wounded. Apart from that, the field officers in the war theatre suffered heavy casualties. They had been congregated near Aljess and seven of them died, with nine crippled. Eight of the high-ranking officers of the royal guard folk were killed or hurt too.
Fortunately, Skri wasn't with Aljess at the time. Due to the sudden change in venue for the ceremony, he was busy dealing with the adjustments necessary for the venue change. When he heard the commotion and verified that Aljess and company came under a magi assassination attempt, he immediately sent his men to fight back.
But due to the preparation for the ceremony, all soldiers put their slow matches away. Even the men on guard duty didn't load their muskets up, so they weren't able to respond in time when the attack started. All that could be done was to use the soldiers as human shields to buy time as the magi attacked to let the other troops in the back load their muskets and light their slow matches.
Their initial attempts to stop the magi with bayonets and riding blades were useless. They weren't able to so much as put a scratch on them. The crowd there to witness the ceremony only added to the chaos and confusion. The assassination ended in a complete tragedy.
The sheer number of people hurt from the crowd's stampede numbered more than a thousand, and more than 300 soldiers were hurt or killed in the attempt to stop and capture the magi. Of the eleven magi that came to assassinate them, only five were shot dead in the end.
Claude spat out blood on the spot. Anyone that heard about such a staggering loss wouldn't be able to take the shock. Angelina cried out and Perunt immediately came to check. However, Claude only let him wipe the blood off and stopped him from putting him back to bed to rest.
He now understood why Bolonik and Saljorak looked so dejected. Bolonik had taken over a huge mess. He was the sole person available to take charge of headquarters. Apart from General Eiblont, who was at the frontlines, there was nobody else more apt for the post than Bolonik. Not to mention, he also suffered a great shock when he heard about what happened to his long-time friend, Sevict.
Saljorak, on the other hand, was a side casualty. He would be made the scapegoat for the assassination attempt. After all, he was the one in charge of local security and counterintelligence. Somebody would have to be held accountable for the death of a kingdom's general right before a grand ceremony. Even if it was Aljess' idea to change the venue at short notice, giving the assassins an opportunity to strike, he was all but dead and those left alive would have to bear the consequences of his actions.
The only way for Saljorak to come out of this unscathed would be to capture all the magi that came to assassinate them and interrogate them to find out who the mastermind was. However, it was beyond him. Saljorak's keepers weren't equipped to handle magi, and they would've long escaped after their successful assassination.