The Stampede — Part 3
“Oh, looks like Nell’s gone and done the thing.” I looked in the hero’s direction as I heard a massive explosion, only to see it rain blood. Literally. Disemboweled monsters, or rather the remains thereof, fell from the sky en masse and dyed what was left of the terrain with their vital fluids. Ewwww. Yeah, I’mma just look away. Iunno about you, but I’m not exactly what I’d call a fan of gore.
“That was loud,” said Enne, telepathically.
“Yeah. And totally awesome,” I said. “That’s just what you get when Nell and I combine forces.”
“Mhm. But it’d be even stronger if we combined forces instead.”
The sword stubbornly staked a claim at superiority. You know, now that I think about it, Enne really does like coming out on top in the end, doesn’t she? She’s almost kinda petty, in a way. I wonder who she got that from?
“Yeah, I’m sure it would,” I chuckled as I continued to weave my way through the stunned horde.
I didn’t bother defeating the enemies I passed by. That wasn’t my role, not today. I had already relinquished the protagonist’s crown and taken it upon myself to play nothing more than a supporting role.
While I wasn’t planning on standing out or showing off, I had no intention of kicking back and leaving Nell to handle the situation on her own. There was no reason to put her through any sort of unnecessary stress. I simply couldn’t stand the idea of seeing her suffer an injury as a result of my own stupidity. That was why I opted to dive deep into enemy lines.
Weakening the horde was, strategically, no different from weakening any other army. The most valid solution was, under any reasonable circumstance, to eliminate the enemy commander. An army without its command center was only as effective as an unruly mob.
Once I’d reached my destination, I undid my Stealth skill and looked towards the hulking titan that I’d marked as my objective.
“Hey big guy, how’s the weather up there?”
The monster to whom I had directed my greeting was not particularly surprised by my sudden advent. In fact, he had seemed to notice me long before I had revealed myself, as both his eyes had been trained on me for as long as mine had been trained on him. Further evidence of his awareness came in the form of a calm vocal response, a couple low notes strung together into a series of grunts. While I wasn’t able to parse his words into anything intelligible, I did at least understand that he had met my salutation in kind.
He was twice my size. Literally. Both his height and his width were double mine. His frame, which was covered from head to toe in large, bulky muscles, was only made all the more intimidating by the countless scars he sported. One of the two horns that protruded from the front of his skull looked to have been snapped in half, another injury likely acquired in battle. His weapon, a club as thick as a trunk, was about as long as I was tall. It was by no means well crafted. It looked like he had literally pulled a tree out of the ground and used whatever he had on hand to crudely carve it into its current shape. Getting hit by that looks like it’d hurt. Not that it actually would, but still. It totally seems like the kind of thing that could make a guy go splat.
Class: Ogre King
Analyze’s results confirmed what I had learned from both my map and my scouting efforts. He was their leader, as evidenced by both his level, which far outstripped any other’s, and his title, which blatantly declared him to be the king of the most powerful race present. Unlike goblins, which were only thought of as hazards, both ogres and orcs were considered menace-level threats. That said, the two species were by no means equal. Ogres were higher up the food chain and generally regarded as far more dangerous.
Hearing the ogre king’s voice brought the subordinates by his side back to reality. Goblins and orcs alike began squealing and screeching as they brandished their weapons and moved to engage the interloper. But they stopped before they could get in range. The gesture the king had performed, raising a fist such that it ran parallel to his head, had halted them in their tracks. And though they were far from being instilled with a sense of serenity, they did at least stop squawking. Wow. Now that’s what I call a leader. The grip he’s got on his men is tough as iron.
To most, his choice would have appeared unjustified. There would have been no better opportunity to swarm me and crush me beneath the weight of his horde. Had such a thing been possible. His army could do nothing to me. And he knew it, just as well as I did.
“Look man, I don’t know why you’re here or what you’re after. And frankly, I could care less. I mean, I get it, you’re probably doing this for some sort of a reason, and I’d wager it’s probably a pretty damned good one at that. But it doesn’t matter. This marching on the city thing? Yeah, that ain’t happening.” I didn’t know if the ogre was truly capable of understanding me, but I kept talking regardless. “No hard feelings, bro. Just think of this as a case of bad luck.”
I was met with a silent stare as I took a moment to pause for added effect.
“But enough talking. This is war, and we stand on different sides of the battlefield. I’m sure you already know exactly how all this works.”
I lifted Enne off my shoulder and pointed her blade at the monster’s nose.
He slowly closed his eyes and spent another moment in silence.
Suddenly, the aura about him began to warp. The moment his eyes shot open yet again was the moment he transformed from a ruler to a warrior. His lips, which had been sealed shut, twisted into a thrilled grin as he raised his club and readied himself for the fight to come. I suspected that this too served as an order, one that conveyed his will to his subordinates, as his men immediately backed off in order to create a ring wide enough to support a duel.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to do something like this.” I smiled as I recalled the many historical dramas that had featured situations not all that different from the one at hand. “And by the looks of it, I guess I wasn’t the only one after all.”
We showed our hands—
He raised his club overhead for a heavy, downwards strike, while I took up a stance with Enne to my side, blade primed and ready to cleave through his torso.
—And as he roared, we played them.
“Good evening. Might I borrow a moment of your time?” A well-dressed man tapped one of the men that stood by the city’s gate on the shoulder.
“Of cours—” The knight, one of Sengillia’s most accomplished commanders, turned around, only to panic in a manner reminiscent of a flustered child as he caught onto the speaker’s identity. “S-sir Raylow!? I-it is a great privilege to be in your presence, sir! T-to what do I owe the honour!?”
“I just so happened to be in town.” The retired warlord, who had rushed to the battlefield immediately upon leaving Governor Nigel’s manor, spoke as he gazed at the translucent bulwark that lay between the city’s outer wall and the approaching horde. “Is this one of the hero’s spells?”
“It is exactly that,” said the knight. “The woman we believe to be the hero, created it not long before the fight began. It is nigh impenetrable and has kept my men far out of harm’s way.”
As Raylow lowered his gaze from the wall and instead directed it through the gate. The spell’s caster immediately caught his attention. She was acting with all the might of a force of nature. Every monster that approached her was killed with a single, precise strike. She was, in all technicality, playing the role of a defender. Her goal was to protect the city and drive off its invaders. And yet, the way she shredded the enemy’s lines made it appear as if she was the aggressor.
“It seems that there was no need for me to be so worried after all,” muttered the governor. He paused for a moment before turning to face the knight once more. “I am not your commander, nor do I hold any sort of honorary position within Sengillia’s forces, so I know that it is rude of me to ask this of you, but might you provide me with a quick status report?”
“N-not at all sir!” replied the flustered knight. “It would be an honour to report directly to a man as skilled in the art of war as yourself!” He took a moment to gather his thoughts before continuing. “The hero has put a stop to the enemy’s advance.” His tone still carried with it a tinge of nervousness, but he had at least composed himself enough to remain clear and concise. “She obliterated the first wave with a powerful spell and is currently in the midst of challenging the second. Thanks to her efforts, we have suffered no casualties whatsoever.”
Raylow looked back up at the ramparts, where most of the soldiers stood. As they had been locked out of the battle, there was little they could do to contribute to the war effort but cheer. And cheer they did. Their voices were filled with fervour and excitement. They were enamoured. The old governor chuckled, then furrowed his brow as he realized that the man who should have been accompanying her was nowhere to be seen.
“Has she been alone this whole time?” asked Raylow. “I was under the impression she had a companion.”
“We did see someone else down there with her earlier, sir,” said the knight. “We were unable to determine whether this other individual happened to be a man or a woman. Nor were we able to estimate their age. However, the two certainly did interact, so I believe it is safe to assume that they were the companion you are referring to.” The commander raised a hand to his chin. “You bring up a good point though, sir. I have no idea where this companion of hers went, but I’m certain I saw them outside the barrier.”
Again, the governor furrowed his brows, this time, to lose himself in thought.
The demon lord had joined the battle. Of that, he was certain. There was no reason for a man capable of razing hell itself to run away from an army of low ranking monsters. That could only mean that he was intentionally keeping himself out of sight. Because he wanted to better the hero’s status by letting her take the spotlight.
Raylow had no idea as to the exact extent to which the demon lord had planned ahead. But he was confident in two things. The first was his conclusion. There simply wasn’t any other reasonable explanation for the situation at hand. The second was that the demon lord’s plan had worked. A sense of admiration could be seen in every soldier present. The defense of Sengillia was sure to become a topic that would be discussed in every bar they visited. There, it would spread to the bards, who would take it with them on their journeys. It would take no time at all for the whole realm to know of her might and valour.
“I almost can’t believe the balls on that man…” The governor brought a hand to the bridge of his nose as he sighed and pondered how boldly—and easily—the hero’s fiance had turned a worst-case situation into a high level publicity stunt.
“Sir Raylow, might you have any suggestions as to what our next move should be?” The commander brought the governor back to reality with a well-intended question. “The men are ready to move at your command.”
“I am fairly certain that I am not your commanding officer.” Raylow breathed a sigh as he turned his gaze back upon the battlefield. “The hero is clearly overwhelming the enemy’s forces, but the battlefield is an unpredictable place. You can never know how the tides might change.” He continued to speak in spite of his own protests. “That is why it would be in our best interest to prepare for any potential eventuality to come. We must be ready to rush to her aid if need be.” The ex-warlord smiled, provocatively. “She is strong. But I’m sure that you know as well as I do that no true warrior would ever leave a battle to be fought by a single woman. I don’t know if it’s possible for us to find a way through this wall, but let us at least try. Deploy a group of elites, one that can hold their own and prove to her that Sengillia’s soldiers are men of valour.”
“Right away sir,” said the commander with a chuckle. “I can’t back down from a challenge like that one. The warrior’s blood in me is already itching to prove to you, the hero, and the horde that Sengillia’s soldiers are as far from cowardly as can be!”
The knight saluted the old war hero before leaving to rally his men. His pace was brisk, filled with energy, vigour, and inspiration.
Seeing the excess enthusiasm radiate off the other man’s body led Raylow to frown, anxiously.
“Was that really the best choice…?” He pondered to himself as he gazed upon the girl fighting outside the city’s walls. He suspected that the answer was yes. It was important for the hero to demonstrate that she could work in a team. He felt that being amicable and working in a team would ultimately lead her to be more well-liked than if she were to stay a beacon of power whose kindness and humanity remained unknown. “I can only pray that all goes as planned.”