The Binding Cycle of Life and Death — Part 3
Editor(s): Joker, Speedphoenix
“Reporting in, sir. The undead abominations have been destroyed!”
“A new hostile has been spotted in the capital! We’ve got a visual… it’s an undead dragon! Our allied Demon Lord and his subordinates have engaged!”
“We’ve lost sight of the enemy troops. They’ve withdrawn and gone into hiding!”
“Another report, sir. More undead have been showing up on the battlefield. They’re not the artificial abominations that we’ve been seeing so far. Everything within a set distance of the dragon is being raised, and their numbers are skyrocketing at an alarming rate!”
“The assault squad responsible for attacking Gallia has withdrawn and is awaiting further orders!”
A stern frown surfaced on Phynar’s face as he listened to all the incoming reports.
“So this is what they were planning…”
He sighed as he looked upon the massive undead beast. His hunch had been spot on. There really was a reason that the Rogardians had behaved the way they did. Their scheme had finally come to light, its product in full view, even from the monarch’s position.
He didn’t know why they had waited so long to deploy the drake, but given the timing with which they retreated, he was fairly certain that raising the undead monstrosity had been their goal all along.
“Well? What do you two think?”
He looked at the two standing beside him, one the queen of the elves, and the other a wisened old sheep-horned demon.
“There is no mistaking their intentions. They wish to set the beast upon our armies and lay waste to our people. The undead are drawn to the living, and so too will it be drawn to us. That is the reason for their timely retreat,” said Napholahz. “We see that their behaviour demonstrates a lack of control, but We cannot conclude if that is for the better or worse.”
“The magical force it gives off is striking, terrifying,” said Eldegaria. “If we were to attack it, even with full force, we would lose at least half our army. We’re quite fortunate to have that demon lord on our side.”
“Our only choices are to run or to fight,” muttered the demon realm’s king. “And it seems that neither is especially favourable.”
Many worried gazes turned to the demon king and awaited his next instructions. Unlike the battlefield, which was still roaring with noise, HQ remained silent, eerily silent, as the man closed his eyes and contemplated his choices.
After a repose, he reopened his eyes and issued his orders.
“Let’s have each of our armies elect a commanding officer. Have them gather their elites and put together a temporary special forces unit made up of elites. We’ll have these units press the attack on Gallia. All the other men will be in charge of dealing with all of the undead that are being raised. Have the artillery unit split itself into two halves. One will be joining the airship corps while the other is to stay on the ground and deal with the undead. Speaking of which, General Gordon, I have a teensy little request for you.”
“What can I do for you, King Phynar?”
An old soldier responded. He was the sort of man that had clearly been through a thousand battles, with an eye missing and his face covered in scars.
He was the general in charge of all the human forces, appointed by King Allysia, who had refrained from joining the front lines in favour of managing their logistics.
“I’ll be leaving you in charge of commanding the army, as I am well aware that you humans excel at remaining organised and level headed. You may retreat or press the attack on the capital at your discretion.”
“I will gladly accept this duty,” said Gordon.
“Will you be joining Us on the battlefield, Phynar?”
Napholahz’ question was met with a nod.
“I can’t just sit around while Yuki’s out there doing his best for us. I’m planning to rendezvous with the airship corps and board with the artillery unit so that I can give more detailed instructions from above. It’s not exactly what I had originally planned, but that is simply how things go sometimes.”
The demon king recalled several of the plans that he had set into motion upon learning of the enemy’s heavy reliance on the undead. Even with the dragon on the loose, victory was still well within grasp.
“This war ends tonight.”
“Advance! Stop him in his tracks!”
A unit made of artificially created undead advanced in time with the emperor’s command.
Their target was the four-winged demon, the one that forced a cry of pain from the Hadean Helldrake. He was still fighting yet, darting through the air as he leveraged his speed and power to attack the undead dragon. It was almost like he was teasing it, making a sport of hitting it as he danced around its attacks.
Though he was capable of mauling helldrake’s corpse, the demon’s offense was not the mightiest on the field. That title belonged yet to the dragon, who remained capable of obliterating an entire army with just a single spell.
It was not yet at full force, given the manner in which it had been activated, but that would not be an issue for long. Soon, it would regain its might and shake the rust in its bones.
And so long as the demon was eliminated, it would be unstoppable.
He had the undead gather to assault him all at once. But just as he issued the command, he realized he was in danger. Because the book that he always kept on his person suddenly opened, all by itself.
His protectors responded immediately to his call, shielding him from the spells and arrows that had suddenly flown at him from a blind spot.
The individual attacks were weak and unable to get past his defenses, but the undead were not let off so easily. They were knocked out of the sky as soon as they took to it. Crashlanding, they all fell still.
“I see that you have returned in one piece,” said a cold, bitter voice. “Then our chief… must have passed.”
“It’s always one thing after another!” The emperor clicked his tongue.
The surprise attack had come from a group of fiends, among which was Delvis, Gojim’s adjutant and confidant.
“This is what you were doing while we were out spilling our blood and fighting our foes? Summoning abominations? A disgraceful betrayal. I would be seething, normally, but for now I will refrain,” spat Delvis. “The chief had traded his life to buy us the time we needed to prepare ourselves for a confrontation with the undead. We will not let his sacrifice be in vain.”
The fiends’ arrows had been laced with sacred water, a special type of concentrated holy water capable of serving as a perfect counter to the undead swarm, no matter how altered.
Each bottle of sacred water was expensive as an elixir, but they had manufactured a significant number of them regardless. Delvis was unaware if Gojim had anticipated the emperor’s moves, or if he had prepared them as a fallback if their undead went out of control, but whatever the case, the decision had proven itself a godsend.
“Do you take me for a fool? The first to attack was that chief of yours! If he took the hand I extended him, then he would not have died. He would have been able to see this continent united and at peace!”
“I do not know if what you say is true, but I can say this.” Delvis looked the emperor in the eye. “We both knew that we would eventually be at each other’s throats.”
“Idiots, the lot of you. You have no idea what you’re saying, and you are so incompetent that you were unable to save your own chief. Men, kill them!”
And so, a messy battle ensued. The two groups engaged, even though they were supposed to have been allies. There was no logic to fuel the violence, only spite; both parties had only taken up arms because they despised the other.
Blade clashed against blade and spell was traded for spell.
Until a sword was pressed to Draggodt’s neck.
“Okay humans, that’s enough. Set down your weapons.”
“What? You! But we killed you!”
It was the Silent Assassin. Lunogill had used the chaos to slip past the emperor’s guards.
“How!? We crushed your heart!”
“Well, I suppose I shouldn’t leave you in the dark,” chuckled the death dealer. “You see, demon bodies are a lot tougher than human ones. Oh, and I might have used a forbidden technique or two.”
“Your Imperial Majesty!”
“Now now now, calm down. I believe I told you to set down your weapons?” said Lunogill, as he inched his blade forward.
After shooting Lunogill a glance sharp enough to kill and clenching his teeth hard enough to draw blood, the imperial guard’s captain ordered his men to throw away their weapons.
The fiends sprang into action immediately, violently incapacitating them as soon as they were disarmed.
“Your timing was too perfect,” scoffed Draggot. “I knew it, you were working with each other behind the scenes.”
“Not quite. We’re still enemies,” said Lunogill. “But it just so happens that the fiends hate you more than they hate us, so we decided to put our heads together, just this once.”
“I don’t think it needs much of an explanation,” spat Delvis. “We’d much rather be with enemies that have always treated us as such than false allies.”
“Well, you heard the man,” chuckled Lunogill. “Now where was I? Oh, right, the forbidden technique. You see, it just so happens that I happen to be aware of a method to split my soul into pieces to avoid death, if need be. There’s only about a thirty percent chance of it actually working and you’ll be left with only half your lifespan and it even takes away all your magic for the rest of your life, even if it does work, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.”
“It robs you of your magic? So that is why you didn’t show up on my map.”
The labyrinth’s map, the reason that Draggodt had managed to avoid all previous surprises, worked by picking up on an individual’s magical signature, which was to say that it could not pick up on individuals that sported no mana whatsoever.
“Ah, that’s right. You’re a demon lord. In that case, I’ll be confiscating your book,” said Lunogill. Most demon lords had either books or stone tablets with which they used the dungeon’s powers. “I won’t be letting you interfere with him while he fights the monstrosity you’ve created.” The assassin shot a glance in Yuki’s direction. “It’s a real shame you lost to a regular soldier like me, instead of a champion like him.”
After retrieving the tome strapped to Draggodt’s shoulder, Lunogill hit him in the back of the neck with the hilt of his blade and knocked him out. Once the emperor was on the ground, the assassin retrieved a set of ropes seemingly out of nowhere and bound him to ensure that he wouldn’t be able to move, even if he regained consciousness.
Hoisting the unconscious monarch over his shoulder, the assassin shot Delvis a sidelong glance.
“You should leave. Your chief sent our king a secret message earlier. I don’t know it’s contents, but you should leave, whatever they may be. That thing won’t be able to discern friend from foe.”
“Tell your king… tell him that if our chief has passed, we will surrender.”
And with that brief exchange, both parties departed, not another word between them.