The First Strike
The two armies stood opposed, staring each other down from opposite sides of the Gallian bulwark. As per its name, the Race Agnostic Alliance had members of all different races lined up shoulder to shoulder, ready to entrust each other with their lives. On the other hand, the Human Demon Coalition was more than it advertised. Its army was peculiar, with many parts of it made up of monsters. Both sides remained at the ready; awaiting the spark that would set the battle into motion.
“Oh dear. I’ve heard the reports, but seeing it for myself gives a completely different impression,” said a somewhat awed Phynar as he looked over the scene. “And it seems that the monsters really are working in small groups. Each has a nice little wrangler with them too.”
Surveying the landscape, he concluded that there was one human in every group of ten or so monsters, likely because the various insects and beasts required a commander capable of relaying their orders. Further distinguishing the monster corps from the rest of the army was their position. Unlike all the divisions, they were in front of the walls, not behind them.
The king was well aware that the winged monsters would serve as a point of difficulty. The Alliance had its own aerial unit as well, courtesy of the winged demons among the group, but there were far fewer of them than there were airborne fighters on the enemy’s side. Though it was one of the battle’s key deciding factors, maintaining aerial supremacy was likely to prove difficult.
“What do you think, Eldegaria?” He spoke to the aging lady standing beside him after he finished running his eyes across the battlefield.
“It’s exactly as the demon lord said it would be,” she said, while sharpening her gaze. “The area between us is packed full of traps. The first ones are about twenty meters out from our current position.”
Most were hidden rather cleverly, but to the old sheep-horned demon, they were laid bare as a baby’s bottom. Using the ability to see magic, one of her clan’s defining traits, allowed Eldegaria to see the countless devices that lay beneath the soil. She wasn’t able to make out their precise functions, but she could tell that they were prone to triggering if approached. There were so many that she couldn’t help but sigh. She didn’t even want to think about having to deal with them.
“Is there any way for us to navigate between the traps?”
“Absolutely not. If we try charging at the enemy fortifications, we’ll be sure to lose a tenth of our men.” said the demon. “And it may also be worth noting that my projection was just slain.”
“How rude,” said Phynar with a frown. “Oh well, it can’t be helped. I already knew it would happen, but there’s nothing I can do about a silly old formality.”
The king had, for the sake of convention and convention alone, asked Eldegaria to use her magic to send a projection for the sake of a potential last minute war-evading negotiation.
“Our enemy has already announced their intention of engaging our forces on the battlefield. It was not a circumstance that would allow for the consideration of an ultimatum, Phynar. To send one to begin with was an act of disrespect,” said Napholahz.
“Yes, but I at least expected them to care about keeping up appearances… Oh well. I guess we’ll just have to make do,” said Phynar. “Is everyone already ready?”
“We need not any delay. Our troops are ready to march on Our command and the dwarves and beastkin have long grown tired of biding their time.”
“Okie dokie. Let’s get the voice amplification magic ready.”
One of Phynar’s subordinates cast a spell immediately upon receiving his orders. Phynar waited for it to fully activate, then took a deep breath and did something that most would have found out of character. He raised his voice and spoke with emphasis and power.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Alliance. It is time for this war of ours to begin. I have only one thing to say. Believe in the plan. Follow it through and our victory is assured.”
The army sprang to life. Soldiers of all shapes and sizes hoisted their weapons into the air and roared the battlecries as they stamped their feet against the ground in sync to shake the earth under the force of their might.
“Now, let’s begin with our first operation. Prepare the incense immediately!”
“Right away, sir!”
Soon after the order was given, several dark pillars of smoke began rising from the allied camp.
“What’s wrong, boy? You okay?”
The monster corps was the first to notice that something was off. The wranglers realized that the bugs and beasts that were meant to be under their control had started to act up. They were growling and screeching with all the aggression of wild beasts. At first, the glorified shepherds thought that it was because they were getting worked up after seeing their enemies, but soon realized there was more to it than that. Their behaviour was too far off. They were far beyond just excited. It was like they had outright gone feral. That too could have been easily dismissed if it were just one or two squads. But it wasn’t. The whole division was acting up.
A sweet scent entered their nostrils while they were desperately trying to calm the monsters down, one that, when combined with the sight of smoke coming from the enemy camp, led them to realize that they were under attack.
“Shit! Shit! Those alliance dogs have mixed something into the smoke!”
One of the first soldiers to shout relayed a perfectly accurate analysis. The alliance had burned a certain substance and blown it over with wind magic. It was one made by compounding a very specific amount of ingredients from an assortment of different plants, one that made monsters lose their ability to stay rational and drew out their inner ferocity. It was the Feral Reminder, an incense whose recipe was known only to the elves, discovered as a result of their monster-integrated lifestyle.
“Set the bait.”
Phynar issued an order once he was sure that the incense’s effects had fully taken hold. Commanders at all levels in the hierarchy echoed his commands across the camp to ensure that they would be heard. A part of the army took a few steps forward and unleashed a barrage of spells. It wasn’t a real attack, but one made up of flimsy incantations that contained no real power or investment. The coalition’s forces were fully aware that it wasn’t anything that could induce much harm, if any at all.
“Hold the monsters back! Don’t let them charge!”
But their forces were unwilling to comply.
Out of control, the agitated monsters responded the only way feral beasts knew how.
“W-wait, come back!”
“Stop! Now! Down!”
Any further attempts to restrain them proved meaningless. Every creature under imperial command launched itself with vigour in excess. They charged straight at the Alliance’s army.
Through the minefield crafted by their allies.
Thunderous roars echoed all over as huge pillars of flame rose into the sky. Rays of light, capable of disintegrating all they touched, flashed as they beamed to and fro. Many of the monsters were burned to ashes, blown to pieces, battered, and bloodied. But there were far more of them than there were traps. They continued to charge even as their allies fell to the fireballs and lightning strikes that erupted from beneath them. The fliers were free from the traps. But not from Phynar’s traps.
“Stop burning the incense. Get ready to intercept. This is where the battle truly begins!” shouted the king. “It’s do or die, men! Put your backs into it!”
“Sir! Yes sir!”
With morale at an all time high, the allied forces intercepted their foes and raised the curtain on the decisive battle.
Just as Phynar had planned.
“Excuse me, coming through.”
“Who the hell are you!?”
Though the soldiers the assassin encountered were dressed from head to toe in full plate armour, they each fell to a single slash. Blood spurted from the base of the necks, between their helmets and their bevors. For Lunogill, their killer, it was just another day on the job. He was practically waltzing through Gallia, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
His King and Master, Phynar, had assigned to him a single mission, a task that only he could fulfill. He was to use his space and sound-based spells to locate the enemy headquarters so that he could guide Yuki straight to them during his assault. And it was this task that prompted him to remain even after his men retreated. It would not have been proper of them as hosts to leave the mercenary to seek his own path. The demon lord’s task was already dangerous enough.
By any less diligent man’s standards, the job would have already been considered complete. Lunogill had found a heavily fortified, well guarded headquarters with messengers constantly running to and fro. The generals and commanders in charge of the Rogardian army were present, and there was even a fancily-dressed individual sitting on what appeared to be a temporary throne.
There weren’t any dead giveaways, but Lunogill was confident that while the generals were genuine, the emperor was certainly not. His position was far too close to the front line. That alone was enough to tip Lunogill, but it wasn’t his only justification. Like Phynar, the emperor was known for his brains. He was an excellent tactician that knew how to move his men. That was something that the assassin knew for a fact. The orders being given were those indicative of wisdom.
The man on the throne, on the other hand, was silent. He was simply sitting there, leaving the generals to make their own decisions without weighing in with his opinion. He wasn’t acting like the key decision maker Lunogill knew for certain he was. The man on the throne had to be fake. Killing him and all the commanders would put a minor dent in the true emperor’s plans, but their deaths would not stop the army.
That was why Lunogill evaded his pursuers, murdered any lookouts, and continued his reconnaissance, stopping only when a certain something happened to catch his eye. The wall to his right was off and taking a second glance led him to discover a hidden staircase leading down into the heart of the castle.
“A basement? That would certainly be a good place to think nasty thoughts.”
He spoke casually as he descended the staircase, but he kept his guard up throughout. Both of the guards had already dropped dead by the time he arrived at the door they were watching. It went without saying that it was locked, but that was no matter. Lunogill was able to physically invalidate the mechanism by bashing its latch with his sword.
Normally, such an act would have caused a great deal of noise, but a quick spell rendered it all null and void.
“Oh my. What do we have here?”
The entrance that Lunogill had accessed was one whose sole purpose was communication. It was located near the ceiling and provided him with an excellent vantage point of the massive laboratory beneath him. It lay about four stories underground and had both its walls and ceiling lined with massive pipes. Researchers could be seen just about everywhere, manipulating all sorts of different pieces of equipment.
One of the building’s corners served as a sort of storage facility and housed an incredible number of warped corpses, the sight of which led the assassin to recall the undead creatures that had attacked the elven village. He had, in all likelihood, discovered the plant at which they were being manufactured.
Enshrined in the facility’s centerpiece was a massive bone construct with various pipes hooked up to it. Seeing the researchers fiddle with it left him with a sense of malaise. It didn’t make any sense for them to be conducting an archeological experiment in the midst of a war. Not unless the skeletal creature could somehow be used as a weapon.
After a bit of sightseeing, the cutthroat concluded that what he had discovered was likely the enemy’s true headquarters. He got ready to move so that he could conduct a more detailed investigation, but was stopped before he could take another step.
As a sound mage, he was incredibly sensitive to noise, he had been able to catch the subtle whistling of an arrow, a sound that would likely have been unheard by any other given all the loud noises coming from the lab.
Trusting his instincts, he stepped to the side just in time to witness several short bolts whiz by. He immediately corrected his stance and dodged an enemy that had dropped down from the ceiling by the slightest of margins. He slit the man’s throat and made some extra space for himself by kicking him over the railing. Once that was done, he looked towards the archers with his blade held high.
And promptly gave up on assaulting them.
There were several individuals wearing nothing but black approaching from behind them. Even their faces were hidden behind masks – likely because they were in his line of work. He knew that he could win, given enough time, as there were only about a dozen of them, but he wasn’t willing to participate in an extended engagement so close to the enemy HQ. Retreating and returning at a later date was the better choice.
Knowing that, he cast a spell and warped himself to an anchor point he placed earlier in the day.
Only to have his arm ripped off by an explosion. The whole left side of his body was covered with burns and the stump that was once his arm was reduced to a bleeding pulp, but the assassin remained completely unphased. Though he had taken a blow that most would have found fatal, his mind was still clear. After making a note of his surroundings, he calmly took a few steps back while readying himself for another attack.
He knew that he had somehow been read. The enemy had deduced that he would withdraw to this exact location, and had likely come prepared. Continuing to fight was unwise to say the least.
“Hmmm? Interesting. You managed to evade a direct hit even though it nearly came from point blank. I can’t say I expected anything else from someone capable of finding the lab.”
Lunogill glanced at the foe that had awaited his retreat.
“Oh my. His Imperial Majesty himself? What a courteous reception. Thank you.”
He was dressed just like all of the other researchers. The only conspicuous part that made him stand out was the book he kept tucked under his arm. Men dressed in black, members of the imperial guard, stood at his side with their weapons at the ready. It was confirmation, confirmation the other “emperor” really had been just a fake.
Lunogill was disappointed. It didn’t seem like the situation would allow him to kill the emperor, even though the man had gone out of his way to expose his own neck. The mages standing near him had created a thick defense made up of several layers, one that not even a killer as skilled as The Silent Assassin could slip past. Not while also dealing with the imperial guard, at least.
The situation was looking grim; Lunogill knew that he had been driven into a corner, a very desperate corner.
“You see, intruder, it just so happens that I’m well aware of how difficult space magic is to handle,” said the emperor. “You can only teleport to two types of locations, ones you can see, and ones that you’ve preset as anchor points. Knowing that the amount of mana required grows exponentially with the amount of distance you’d like to travel allowed me to predict all of your potential escape routes and pinpoint this one as the most likely candidate. It wasn’t very difficult. We both know that you’d like to conserve as much of your mana as possible, given that you’re within your enemy’s domain.”
“Well then, it seems you really do know your space magic. You’ve clearly seen right through my plans,” admitted Lunogill.
“It’s not anything particularly impressive. I just so happen to possess the ability to see your exact location at all times,” said the emperor, matter-of-factly. “Oh, and I wouldn’t bother trying to run. I’ve already arranged for my men to box you in. There’s no escape, no matter what you try. Whether you believe me is up to you, however.”
“You’ve let me run free for quite some time for someone so capable of keeping tabs on me.”
“My apologies. You see, I happen to be the only one capable of discerning your precise location, and as you are rather powerful, I’m not able to appear before you whenever I wish. To that end, I’ve left you to your own devices so far. But now that I finally have the opportunity, I’d love to give you the warm Rogardian welcome you deserve.”
Though his words were effectively a death sentence, the imperial spoke in a completely unapologetic tone. His guards, which were mostly focused on remaining vigilant, had also started to slowly close the distance and box the assassin in.
“It seems that I’ve misread your capabilities.” Lunogill heaved a sigh. “That’s rather unfortunate. I suppose I have no choice but to clean up after myself the hard way.”
A ferocious grin upon his lips, the space mage began swinging his blade.