“My thoughts exactly. No matter the answer, I’m ready to bet we’re not going to like it.” The Baroness nodded while showing Lith a map of the Kusha Route that went from Zantia to Jambel.
The Kusha Route extended for hundreds of kilometers, passing through the biggest human settlements in the area and connecting them to the nearest Gates. It allowed the local merchants to move and sell their goods with the rest of the Kingdom.
It was enough for a single city along the route to fall to leave thousands of people without the means to contact the authorities. The Baroness had marked with red dots all the sites were caravans had disappeared and had associated each spot with the date they had been reported missing.
“That’s a lot of ground to cover.” Lith was familiar with the area and by cross-referencing the Baroness’ map with his own stored inside Soluspedia, he noticed that a couple of mana geysers were relatively close to the sites of interest.
“No one expects you to do everything on your own. You’ve been summoned to Zantia because someone else will take care of Jambel’s side.” Mergrave said. “The vampires have been spotted here.”
She pointed at the most recent red spot, located near the Snake Tongue mountain range that ran alongside the first part of the Kusha Route.
“I doubt that the undead are behind all the attacks, but this report worries me to no end. No matter if they are building a Warp device, a nest, or whatever. The Snake Tongue offers them hundreds of possible hiding spots and the perfect location to launch a surprise attack on our city.
“With no Gates nor powerful mages, it would only take a couple of weeks to overrun the region and no one would notice. I requested for you because, among the three Rangers patrolling the Kellar region, you’re said to be an excellent tracker.”
Lith nodded, even though reality was quite different. His tracking skills were mediocre, but between Life Vision, Solus’s mana sense, and the Mirror Hall located on the first floor of his tower, it took a very capable Warden to hide anything from him.
“I’d better leave immediately, before the trail goes cold. Did it rain during the days after the assault?” Lith asked.
“No. I’ve left a detail to protect the scene, to make sure that you’d find it exactly as we did.”
Lith inwardly cursed, knowing that clumsy guards were likely to step over the few traces left, but he thanked the Baroness nonetheless. She was doing everything in her power to help him, even offering to provide him supplies.
“Ranger Verhen, is it true that you’re engaged?” The Baroness asked while he was rummaging through her stock of rare metals.
“I beg your pardon?” His shocked expression told her everything she wanted to know.
“I knew they were just baseless rumors. A young, promising Great Mage such as yourself involved with a spinster, and a mere civil servant at that.” The Baroness meddling with his private life annoyed Lith, but it was the spite in her voice that made him want to pull her guts out of her mouth.
“I like to think that during your service, you’ve established a connection with the people of the north and with Zantia in particular. After your discharge, your presence would bring order to these lawless lands.” The Baroness said with a warm voice.
“If you ever need a place to stay, consider my city as your own. Maybe, once the mission is over, you could stop here to rest a bit. I have a daughter your age that has begged me to be introduced to you ever since you were still a student of the academy.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ll probably have to leave as soon as the crisis is resolved. Also, I don’t discuss personal matters while on duty. We’ll talk about this again when I don’t represent the Kingdom anymore and I’m back to be a free citizen.” Lith said.
‘Free to raze your entire household to the ground. If I bother to remember about your existence until then, of course.’ He mentally added.
‘Don’t be so hard on her.’ Solus thought.
‘She’s been rude to Kamila, but the Baroness is only doing what she thinks is in both her own and your best interest. Remember that no matter the country you live in, talent can only get you so far before you hit the glass ceiling that only politics can break through.’
‘Yeah, and that’s why I’m quitting the army and joining the Awakened Beasts’ side. There are too many strings attached.’
Lith took from the Baroness’ stockroom everything he thought might be needed for his mission or his personal labs before leaving. During the day, the use of dimensional magic was allowed so Lith was able to Warp outside Zantia and then fly toward his destination at breakneck speed.
‘Normally, it would take me a while to find my way, but this time I just need to follow the road.’
‘Do you really think we’ll find a Gate construction site or a barrack for a mass invasion?’ Solus asked.
‘No. A dimensional tunnel that size would require one or more powerful mages who have free access to the light element, which vampires lack. It would make sense if they had kidnapped mages instead of robbing caravans.
‘A barrack, instead, would require a constant supply of prey in its proximity and the reports indicate no pattern in the disappearance. I blatantly lied to the Baroness to feed her fears, get as many merits as I can from my mission, and don’t waste time with niceties.
‘My educated guess is that a group of refugees is building a vampire nest to survive summer.’ Lith thought.
‘If that’s the case, then how could they be so stupid to let a witness survive? Even under a feeding frenzy, they should’ve known that being discovered would make things much harder for them. As the Baroness said, you’re quite popular.’ Solus pondered.
‘Good question. Either they are a bunch of morons or luring me here is part of their plan.’ Lith accessed his map stored inside Soluspedia and checked the distance of the nearest mana geyser from the site of the attack.
‘Close enough to serve as an observation point while I mind my own business. The tracks are bound to be dead cold. I’m visiting the caravan wreck just to show off and let those poor guards think that they have done more than wasting their time.’ He thought.
It took him less than an hour to arrive at his destination, where he found that the caravan had been moved off the road to not hinder the passage of travelers and goods.
The Kusha Route skirted the Snake Tongue mountain range. The mountains provided the travelers with precious shade and water during summer, shelter from spring’s and fall’s rainstorms, and forced the road to be closed during winter.
There were four soldiers and a sergeant keeping guard, or better, goofing around since there wasn’t much to do during the day. Their horses roamed around grazing at the grass.
‘So much for preserving the scene of the crime. Even if tracking spell really existed, by now every usable clue would have been destroyed.’ Lith landed and offered his hand to the sergeant before starting his investigation.