9 Imperial Army makes its move 2

After the incident with the hunters, Mago and his men had started to rapidly advance. They were still trying to hastily cover up some of their tracks but it was quite crude when compared to before. After being spotted Mago had further split up the company into five squads each consisting of forty men. Mago was leading his squad towards the city-like settlement, while the other squads were responsible for scouting the villages that were left and checking the route that the Imperial army was planning on taking to advance.

He had ordered all the squads to immediately retreat and report back to the army with their findings after they have completed their mission. He just hoped all of them would get out of here alive, even though it would be unlikely. The tribes would be on full alert after discovering the dead hunters.

Two days passed by and Mago's squad reached the outskirts of the city-like settlement. There were crass wooden walls that surrounded the city, and atop of them were hundreds of tribesmen patrolling. This made him frown. He couldn't see inside the city and would be spotted by the guards if he tried to climb up the surrounding trees and peek from the top of one of them.

"Spread out guys. See who is leaving and entering the city and try to identify which tribe they belong to. I want to know if there are any members of the other tribes present. We will gather back here when night falls and share our findings.", Mago ordered.

The forty men nodded in unison and started to slowly spread around, covering the city from all sides.

Mago himself decided to try and sneak into the city. He had to know how many troops were inside there and if other tribes were present. But in order to do that, he would need a disguise. Looking around, Mago spotted a path that seemed quite frequented considering the number of fresh footprints he could see and decided to lie in ambush a bit further ahead from the city, to not alert the guards.

After an hour or so, Mago could hear someone whistling while walking towards him from the path. It was a lone young tribesman with some snakes and other critters slung over his shoulder. He looked quite content and happy with himself.

'And target found'. Mago smirked.

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Xarkleth was happily humming and whistling while walking towards his home which was located in the Beast tribe's grand city, T'cammen. He had caught a lot of animals and was sure that his sweetheart Atlacilla would be impressed.

Atlacilla was one of the prettiest tribeswomen within the city and had plenty of suitors and rarely had the time to pay Xarkleth o any of her many suitors any attention, barely knowing of their existence. Recently she had been getting quite close to a couple of shaman apprentices called Xallivo and Cerkith. This had made Xarkleth extremely worried. The shamans were the most respected ones within the tribes, and even the elders of the tribe had to be courteous towards them.

But today she had told him, and another couple of dozen young tribesmen that were gathered around her as well, that she would allow the one who brought her the biggest tribute of freshly hunted animals, to court her. In his delusion that this was somehow a chance directed at him, Xarkleth had been overjoyed and instantly rushed towards the depths of the jungle to hunt down all the animals he could possibly get his hands on.

Now returning from a successful hunt, he was already picturing the love of his life throwing herself into his arms. Suddenly Xarkleth saw a shadow dashing towards him from the corner of his eye and started to turn around, but suddenly his world went completely dark.

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Mago was happily walking towards the city of the Beast tribe. The good young samaritan he had earlier ran into and so kindly relieved of his possessions had given Mago everything he needed. The man had some of the tribe's traditional paints with him that allowed Mago to copy the markings that were drawn on the young man and with the animals that the man had brought with him, Mago could now easily escape any suspicions that the guards might have towards his reason for visiting. The tribes didn't have any currency and actively traded with animal furs or other valuable parts that you could take from them as well as some herbs and weapons.

The only thing that bothered Mago was the clothing. It was just so revealing. He had what resembled a leather skirt wrapped around his waist, and it barely reached his knees. The tunic that he got was sleeveless and had no buttons or strings that could be used to tie it close, so his entire upper body from the front was almost bare. It was also quite tight-fitting considering that Mago was a lot bigger than the man he had just knocked unconscious.

Walking towards the structure that resembled a wooden gate, Mago heard the two guards that were guarding the gate muttering.

"Another young man that hopes to win Atlacilla's hearth. It's just futile. Cerkith and Xallivo both hunted down a tiger each and are sure to win this competition.", sighed the first guards with a sad voice.

"I know. None of the other youngsters stand a chance. It pains me to see so many of them confidently arriving one after another. In the end, they will just end up heartbroken.", lamented the second guard.

Mago naturally didn't know what they had just said. While he knew some basic tribal words such as "man" and "hunt", he didn't get the overall meaning of what the guards had muttered. So he just assumed that they were talking about him returning from hunting and brightly smiled at the two guards and nodded. This earned a look full of pity from the guards, and they tried to say some encouraging words to him.

"Don't worry boy, there is plenty of fish in the sea.", said the first guards trying to sound cheering.

"Exactly, keep your head held high.", agreed the second guard.

Mago just nodded again walked into the city.

'Is it just me or did it look like those two guards pitied me?', Mago wondered. After pondering for a while, he just shrugged and figured he was just overthinking things.

'Now where should I try to find out if there are other tribes within the city.' Mago thought to himself. Glancing around, he could see different kinds of huts and wooden buildings that were probably the homes and shops of the tribe. Walking around the busy streets of the city, he spotted an establishment that seemed like a tavern and walked in.

Inside there were dozens of young men loudly yelling to each other and a single woman standing there, surrounded by them. Mago just glanced at the commotion and ignored them. Unluckily for him, the young woman noticed him the moment he walked in and her eyes instantly brightened.

Atlacilla had never seen such a handsome man in the city before. Her eyes were instantly glued to Mago, tracing over his tall, muscular build. Furthermore, while looking at the man's muscles that seemed to be brimming with power, she had a hard time stopping herself from drooling.

'Ah future husband, finally we meet.' she thought to herself while staring at the emerald-eyed man.

Meanwhile, within the capital of the Empire, inside the mansion of the Barca family, Elise suddenly sneezed and had a foreboding feeling. 'That brute must be up to no good.' she huffed.

Atlacilla saw the animals strung over Mago's back. While the result was not as good as a tiger, it was still quite a decent haul, and considering the looks of the man, she decided to give him some slack.

The surrounding men had noticed that the target of their attention had been absentmindedly staring at something for a while now and curiously followed her line of sight. When their eyes fell upon the newcomer that had just entered, their faces immediately darkened and the commotion died out.

Realizing that it had suddenly become deadly silent, Mago looked up from his table where he had just sat down. All the young men inside were staring at him, their faces filled with hostility.

'What the hell? I didn't do anything?' thought Mago while being completely baffled. Then he noticed that the woman that had earlier been surrounded by the men was slowly making her way over to him.

Instantly figuring out that the woman was the cause of his troubles made Mago curse at his bad luck.

'How the hell am I supposed to react if she tries talking to me? Am I just supposed to smile and nod along like an idiot?' Mago silently thought and prayed that the woman would not come to talk to him. But as it often happens in these situations, his prayers were left unanswered and the woman came over and smiled at him beautifully and said something that he couldn't understand. While feeling troubled, Mago was trying to figure out what to do and finally decided to just nod and smile, like an idiot. This made the woman beam, and she grabbed his arm and dragged him outside.

Meanwhile, all the men within the tavern were glaring at Mago with a murderous look while gritting their teeth. They all wished they could trade places with the ox of a man that their goddess was holding hands with.

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