Book 6 Chapter 576

Hesitation

The portal grew brighter and brighter to the point that it made the night sky blinding to the eye.

But after that flash, a group of black-robed magi appeared from within and got into neat lines. Every one of them seemed nervous like they were on the battlefield for the first time.

However, that didn't mean they were afraid. They knew someone else was there to protect them: their principal, the young but powerful glacial empress.

They were all students of Second Magic Academy, elite ones at that. While it was a sudden attack to take back a crucial fort, it was merely a training exercise for the students. Unlike the beast-killing and survival exercises they took part in, this time was different. They had to face real people and their goal wasn't to just survive… It was to obliterate.

Since the start of the new semester, Annelotte suggested sending the students onto the battlefield. Quite a number of people objected to it, including Perelia, who usually sided with Annelotte.

She believed that Hocke was in a good position in the war. While magi had power enough to turn the tables around, students in training could only shift the battle slightly in their favor. The potential loss the empire would suffer was the loss of the students they spent so much money and resources to cultivate.

While she was a Stokian, she shifted her thoughts to align with the northerners' since her capture. She knew that she was someone from an enemy empire, so if she didn't give her best effort to fight Stok, she might come under doubt by the Hockians. She would have nowhere else to go then.

That was why she tried her best to factor in the empire's needs in the decisions made by the academy. She considered Stok as nothing but her enemy. Switching like that wasn't that tough a task for her, since she was an orphan anyway. Given how an orphan like Leguna didn't have any loyalty to the empire, one could only imagine how lowly an orphan who even betrayed Stok would regard the empire.

"The empire needs to cultivate actual powerful magi that can fight on the battlefield, not those that can turn fireball spells into flashy fireworks. Additionally, I'll be there to make sure no harm comes to them," Annelotte insisted.

After much argument among the members in the meeting, they eventually settled on making participation in that exercise voluntary and only available to students above the 5th stratum. Any lower and they wouldn't be of any use on the battlefield at all since they couldn't even use fireball spells.

And as compensation for participating in the dangerous exercise, the academy agreed to award credits for participation. Students would also receive a hundred gold coins on their way back.

Thanks to the motivation of money, most students 5th stratum and above decided to sign up.

The reason Annelotte insisted on such a plan was due to Alissanda's request. As Leguna's biggest ally, Annelotte had long been informed about the alliance between the two. To let the prince understand the worth of the bargaining chips Leguna had in hand, she took the initiative to seek him out about it and established the cooperative arrangement.

She handed him two large magic jewels, one being a conference stone so that Alissanda could inform her about an attack in advance for preparation, and the other a spatial stone.

Alissanda had expected something like that would happen when Lisana suggested the operation. He also understood how important Fort Kesta was to the war effort, so he approved the proposal and made his preparations to make sure it would be a complete success.

Annelotte wasn't too surprised at the sight of the chaotic battlefield. While the students were still reeling from the vertigo of having passed through the portal, she had completed a barrier to prevent her students from coming to harm.

"Since it's your first time witnessing such a scene, I'll protect you. But you only have yourselves to rely on in the future!" she said with a broadcast spell thanks to how loud the environment was, "For now, get into formation like we practised!"

Alissanda, seeing Annelotte and the rest arrive, didn't dally. He didn't even so much as greet her. When they sprung into action, he yelled, "Warriors of the empire! Get into defensive formation 17 and control the tower! As long as we can secure the gates, we will obtain victory! For the empire!"

"For the empire!" the knights of Goldeagle yelled. They understood every single word of his, by virtue of him being their leader for so many years. Defensive formation 17 didn't prioritize on having the soldiers at the front dealing much damage on the enemy. Its sole purpose was to get the soldiers to form a human wall to separate the enemy from their allies behind, who would be focusing exclusively on attacking.

Little would the knights expect that the allies they were defending would be more than 20 magi! While they were youngsters who hadn't actually tasted war yet, they were still magi. Even magi of the lowest stratum had something normal humans didn't: magic.

When the orange glow came from behind the defensive formation, the knights' blood and fighting spirit were set ablaze. They were fireballs, each of which could obliterate seven to eight elite soldiers in one go.

There was once when they had to brave the barrage of the Stokian magi, but now, they were the ones harnessing the power of magic! They had their own militarized magi combat unit!

"For the empire!" a lone soldier yelled out of sheer exhilaration.

"For the empire!" the rest followed, before they let their impetus surge. They protected the shivering young magi who were dictating behind them.

They knew that the situation wasn't as ideal as they wanted it to be, given how fresh the magi were. However, they knew they symbolized a seed of hope and possibility. They were precious talents of the empire which they had to defend no matter what! They were true patriots! How else would they be willing to leave their homes and fight for years?

"Innie…" Annelotte didn't say much at the sight of some students who were shocked pale from the sheer brutality and gore. They could only conquer their fears when they were truly facing it without relying on anyone else.

Despite the shivering of the students, they continued to wave their hands and dictate away. They knew that if they wanted to grow stronger, they would have to be brave enough to make their stand now.

One student, however, was an exception. Innilis wasn't the oldest one among the lot, but she had always been the most mature one, both in terms of her magic mastery and problem-solving approach.

She stood out among the rest right now as well. Perhaps it was due to her having witnessed such bloody spectacles before since her youth. She didn't feel an ounce of fear from the brutality, though she seemed a little hesitant.

She looked up at Annelotte and asked, "Sis Annie, how… does killing people feel like?"

"I… I don't know either." She had taken her first life on Wayerliss's orders when she was around twelve. However, the one she killed had been a vile bandit who did all sorts of evils. Given her isolated upbringing, her heart was also closed off to many emotions.

All she felt back then was the feeling of dictating a fireball spell. The waning of life didn't affect her at all. It was only long after that she came to realize how terrifying her coolness towards the act of killing and taking lives truly was. Fortunately, she managed to adjust her state of mind in time without turning completely cold like ice.

Now, Innilis would be faced with her own choice. Killing was the point of no return. Her world would change entirely after her first attempt, and nobody knew whether it would be a good or bad shift.

She was now hesitating for that exact reason.

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