Feeling the heat of the Alivai sun on his face, Gladis slowly regained his consciousness.
A foul-smelling odor was permeating through the air, forcing him to gag and lurch up from his slumber. Yet, “Ugh?!” Like a lothan war elephant was on top of his whole body, his limbs refused to move at the behest of his thoughts.
‘W-what happened?’ He quickly questioned in frightened panic as a sharp pain slowly began taking form throughout his uncompliant body.
Trying again to push himself up, “Ug-!” Instead of numbness, an intense jolt of pain ruptured throughout his body, forcing him to clench his teeth painfully.
“Ha… haa… hah…” Taking in slow careful breaths to dull his agony, he eventually mustered up what little remained of his strength and painfully willed opened his eyes.
Panting frantically in confusion, the blurriness of rest quickly faded away as his awareness and vision returned. And without any thoughts of moving himself again, he slowly took to scanning his surroundings with his eyes, trying to figure out what had occurred.
As luck would have it, his unsteady gaze soon locked onto a figure in the distance. A man, kneeling atop a small protrusion of elevated ground.
Clad in armor as dark as night, a tattered blood-red cape was flapping energetically behind the figure.
Even at a distance, he could see that the armored man was grasping a beam of light in his right hand, while a cloud of dark miasma continued to ooze from a hilt that was protruding from the ground beside the man.
‘No!’ His hair immediately stood up on end as he forced his eyes to look away from the mountain of knights, mercenaries, and soldiers around the demon.
A cold chill had already crept into his skin as he recalled who the armored one was, and even his mind had turned blank and was crying out in fear.
“It- it can’t be…” For what felt like an eternity, he held his breath and laid frozen as the terrified thoughts continued to resound within his mind. Yet nothing happened.
“He… is he…”
Upon a more careful observation, there were no longer any motions or signs of life coming from the armored entity. Even the monster’s once dreadful white hair had lost all its luster, and were now outshined by a number of metallic glints coming from the entity’s body.
Reveling in the knowledge of his safety, he settled his gaze onto the monster that had manifested such fear within himself once more, and, ‘Rhultal…’ The name came easily to him.
Taking a deep breath, he slowly drew more breaths as sharp pain shot throughout his body and fogged memories of why he was there returned to him.
All he knew, was that the man had been the Lord of Andarg, a province within the Honos continent of which they were currently on.
That seven years ago, while under the rule of the Gulsian Empire, the man had suddenly declared his independence. Unable to withstand the humiliation, the ruling monarch had ordered his armies to take back the province of Andarg and get rid of the man, Rhultal, but none succeeded.
From their feud, in only seven short years, the Lord of Andarg had quickly overwhelmed the vast Gulsian Empire, even mercilessly cutting down all those who would stand in his way along with the Imperial family.
Gladis looked down at himself.
The reason why he was even in such a condition, was because he had been a part of the expedition force sent by the church of Hianl along with a congregation of armies, put together through the secret alliance between the Seven Continental Empires and Kingdoms.
The three Kingdoms of: Alsus, Kolot, and Ruess.
The four Empires of: Valelin, Gulsian, Quiln, and Throbbo.
The seven absolute powers, spanning across the seven continents of Lovis.
Formed a year prior to the overthrowing of the Gulsian Empire, their purpose had been to defeat the Lord of Andarg before he could overtake the Honos continent and move on to challenge other lands.
Unfortunately, before they could even gather up their soldiers and form a cohesive army, the Gulsian Empire had already fallen.
Yet having brought together a combined force of over a hundred thousand strong, instead of retreating or allying with the new ruler for fear of his continued conquest, the Alliance had declared war on Honos. Slaughtering everyone and everything in their path, while making their way to the capital.
It was only two days ago that they came upon the gates of Veratoraliz, Honos’ seat of power. It was also then, that the nightmare around him began.
He himself was the commander of a mercenary band called “The Red Swords”. Named for their blood-soaked weapons and their savagery in battle, usually resulting in their members coming out fully covered in blood from head to toe.
Yet, even with his reputation and abilities, he had not been able to believe what he was seeing during that battle.
“Augh…” A shiver ran up his spine and Gladis hastily fought to still his breaths.
More pain assaulted his body at the action and looking down at himself, though he could not move, his body was trembling involuntarily as the memories of what had taken place surged into his mind. ‘No… Ku- Ugh!’ He cried out again in silence, tightly shutting his eyes in defiance of the pain and the memories.
Yet, once again, he was standing there amidst the warriors of his mercenary band and their Alliance of a hundred thousand.
Upon their arrival to Veratoraliz they had been expecting a standing army of at least fifty thousand peasants waiting to challenge them, but all that had come out of the gates to face their forces, was a lone man.
‘No. S-stop.’ He begged as his mind recalled the demon’s exhausted and half dead visage.
Dark sunken eyes like they had seen all the deaths in the world, or enough for a thousand lifetimes. Disheveled and long silver hair that went down to the beast’s shoulders, making him appear older than he really was, while at the same time hiding the uninteresting face adorned by a sharp nose and strong cheekbones beneath. While exuding a calm and unyielding appearance at the time, the man’s overall feel and look had been like that of one longing for death.
The man’s legs, sturdy and resolute, were almost dragging as he walked out the gates of Veratoraliz.
His body, from shoulder to toe was covered in a jet-black armor of which no light could penetrate. And like staring into an eternal abyss, even the sun had been unable to gleam a single reflection.
Behind the man, a ragged red cape had flown gently around his armor as if it were alive. Filled with holes and tears along the sides and bottoms, the unnatural cape might have been a cloak at one point or another.
On the man’s left waist, a shabby scabbard measuring an arm’s length and nary two fingers width with an intricate hilt and pommel was clearly visible. On his right hip, too short to be a sword, a dagger’s dark hilt had displayed itself openly.
The man had walked haggardly toward their army, stopping only a good hundred or so paces from those in the front.
Yet as those in vanguard tried to ascertain the man’s identity via shouts and commands, a sudden gust had rushed toward them, sweeping through the army.
At the time, he himself had been uncertain as to what was happening, but thinking back on it now, it had definitely been a surge of bloodlust. One, powerful enough to envelope the whole of their forces.
And because of that single gust of wind, all those in the front had fallen back in fear, while others lost their nerves.
“Guah-aK!” A sharp pain ripped through his chest and Gladis grunted, unable to remove the terrifying memory from his mind. “Kaaaguu-!” He whimpered as the sudden flash of light that had separated hundreds of heads from bodies quickly seared his eyes again, fighting to stay within his mind.
None of them had noticed when the man made his move or even when he drew his blade, yet that had been the moment that started everything.
Those in the front who engaged as the battle began had failed to understand what was happening, and while unable to understand what they saw in front of them, hundreds upon thousands of them were being wiped out by a single man.
‘S-stop! Don’t fight him!’ Gladis screamed as regretful tears attempted to make their ways through his clenched eyes. ‘Stop!’ He begged the apparitions around him as the light from the demon’s sword flickered through more men.
Appearing to be a regular hilt, every time the demon swung his sword, flashes of light could be seen reverberating silently throughout everyone. And with each attack, as if the blade could extend, even soldiers behind those who had been slashed writhed in pain and collapsed.
Like lightning, the lone assailant had effortlessly carved through their front lines and moved inward toward the body of the army.
Yet, in fear of friendly fire, their archers and mages could do nothing but watch in horror as the events unfolded.
As if alive, his red cape had fluttered happily in the air while the man, even in his heavy-looking armor, darted about the battlefield with lightning speed. Charging between packs of soldiers and jumping towards new targets like he was flying. Other times, the demon would disappear altogether, only to reappear amidst streams of blood and screams.
Every slash of the demon’s sword felled ten upon hundreds of soldiers, while attacks at him were avoided by a hair’s breadth, or simply failed to inflict any damage to the abyss-like armor.
War hounds had even been utilized, yet just like the soldiers, were unable to do anything due to the speed the demon was moving at. Just the bloodlust emitted was enough to quell and make any hounds with a sense of self-preservation flee as fast as possible. Their war elephants on the other hand, had ended up killing soldiers while stampeding away from the monster that was devouring lives.
His own mercenary company had been stationed in the middle of the army, and from there, he had seen it all. It was something that he had never encountered before in all his career as a mercenary.
He had signed his band up for the expedition believing it to be a simple matter. A simple task to subjugate a rogue mage lord and his supporters who were sowing dissent within Honos.
Yet, the one they had fought was no rogue mage, nor could he be classified as one.
Unwilling to open his eyes, screams entered his ears from every direction as the endless battle continued to play out within his mind.
Shouting and chaos had echoed through the field as people ran for their lives. Those in the vanguard and overwhelmed by fear, ran toward the back hoping to escape, while weak-minded soldiers’ broke ranks, making it harder for everyone to defend against the impending doom.
He watched as the knights, keeping to their oaths and upholding their honor, dove in to help combat the monster that was unleashing its wrath.
‘Noo!!’ And he screamed powerlessly as the resolution to uphold his own reputation as leader of “The Red Swords”, compelled him to order his men into battle.
Everything had become a blur by then. Unable to do anything but dodge the incoming attacks while making his way to the monster in black, all he could remember was his arms, body, and legs getting sliced and nicked by forces unknown to him, along with it getting harder and more impossible to avoid anything the closer he got.
His savagery had even tuned itself on with the anticipation for battle as he near the target, and without regards for his own safety, he had lunged, going for an overhead slash in a frantic attempt of desperation. Vaguely recalling the lack of impact as the top half of his sword was sliced away, the next thing he knew, he was falling on his face with all the strength sucked out of his body.
Unable to get up, all he had been able to do at the time was turn himself around, only to catch another burst of white. The blinding flash had seared his eyes and by the time his vision had returned, everyone who was running or standing near the demon had been severed in half.
The last thing he could remember, was the incoming force of the knights and cavalry before he was trample and blacked out.
Fighting to calm down amidst the recollection, “Ha…. Haaa… hahaha…” A generous beat began drumming up from within his chest, rejoicing at the pain. He was still alive. He had somehow endured through it all and came out one of the victors.
Yet, as he laid there on the ground and contemplated his luck, the sound of bodies being dragged and people chattering eventually entered his ears.
‘Survivors?!’ The word quickly took hold of his thoughts and hope instantly began swelling up from within himself. Seeing his salvation at hand, “H-he… helfp!” Gladis managed a weak scraping howl, hoping that those moving about would hear his cry. “H-help!”
To his relief, reluctant footsteps eventually edged closer and closer to his proximity. Unfortunately, as soon as the figures came into view, his expression of hope instantly degraded into one of anger and dismay.
Neither a part of the church or soldiers of the alliance, standing over him were bandits who had come to loot the battlefield.
“We’ve got a live one!”
A stout man with an uneven gait and mismatched clothing shouted before proceeding to limp right up next to his head.
“Big brother, can we still take his things?” From behind the man, a younger, dirty and unwashed man questioned with curious excitement.
‘This can’t be! NOT LIKE THIS!’ He could not help but shout the words hysterically in his mind.
“Hmmm, why not.” The stout mand replied and knelt down. Taking a hold of his arm, the man lifted it up as if trying to ascertain something.
And, “Gughrr!” Gladis clenched his teeth in agony.
“Not like he’s going to be needin’em anymore.” Dropping his hand back onto the ground, the bandit stood up and turned to his younger partner, “I’ll give you the honor of putting him out of his misery.”
“Hehe. Yes, big brother.” The younger man grinned. Stepping toward him, the ragged and dirt stained man slowly pulled out a curved saber.
Seeing the glee in his looter’s eyes, he could see that there was only one way it was going to end. “Ha-wha-t happ-ened… to… to the… army…” Gladis painfully mustered what little strength he had into one last action.
“Will you look at that. He can still talk!” The elder of the two spoke in astonishment and quickly halted the other.
With no way to defend himself, “Please…” He begged, returning as much of a willful look as he could.
“Well, you certainly have spirit, I’ll give you that. But what good is such knowledge to a dying man?”
“Arm-… *cough!* GUHH!… Ga… please… Haaa… ar… army…” He repeated.
“I guess as a form of goodbye and gratitude for your patronage, I might as wel-”
“Why? He’s going to die anyways.” The younger of the two interrupted.
“Quiet now. What did I tell you about manners?”
“You told me nothing, but to do as you say.”
With a grin on his face, “Good. Now be quiet.” The stout man quickly replied.
As it turned out, the bandits had been following the army ever since the alliance landed on Honos. Seeing such a force, they had instinctively known that they would be able to make money by scavenging whatever is left behind in the wake of the Army.
With their instincts proving true, many had already looted to their heart’s content while following the slaughter of villages and towns along the way to the capital. But while others retreated with their hauls back to the mountains and forests, many had understood the possibilities of what’s to come and chosen to follow the army until their final destination.
During the chaotic battle, they had been hiding in the woods and away from retreating soldiers, watching the whole thing unfold.
It was said that by the time the mercenaries and the knights engaged the demon, two fifths of their forces, foot soldiers, war hounds, elephants, and the vanguards had already been decimated.
Another fifth, consisting of archers, support mages, and siege arbalesters had been useless due to the fact that if they had engaged, they would have done more damage to allies than to the lone enemy.
The remaining two fifths making up of the knights, heavy cavalry, paladins, and mercenaries, had also engaged then, seeing their irrevocable losses.
Yet, that had been when the demon revealed his true abilities.
The bandits had seen the second flash of light that he too bore witness to, yet what he had missed, was the horror that had occurred afterwards. The desperate clash for survival.
It was an unbelievable tale of black smoke that ruthlessly covered and weaved through the battlefield. Of a giant hand, blowing away those in the front like paper with every slash of the monster’s dagger.
That while the ones at the front were unaware, the bandits and those in the back could clearly see what appeared to be a giant shadow looming right behind the demon.
And that every time he swung his dagger, the giant’s incorporeal fist would swing in the same direction, mimicking the demon. “Like watching a god tearing away the wings of insignificant insects.” As the gimp had put it.
The man also clearly stated that the battle had lasted all throughout the night and into the following morning.
That as their forces were being cut down, the priests, magicians, and archers eventually began to harass the demon while trying to help those on the verge of death. And instead of fighting the front, their enemy had turned toward those in the rear, decimating the whole rear guard.
Whether through sheer luck, strategic planning, or exhaustion, using those same tactics, their remaining forces were able to slowly whittle down the demon as his fatigue continued to escalate due to the ceaseless fighting. Culminating in someone managing to break through the demon’s armor and another even slicing through his sword hand at a certain point during the battle.
Eventually, the knights were able to pierce the demon’s legs with spears, slowing him down. A third spear through his lower back fully destroyed his mobility, but had not stopped the demon, resulting in the mountain of corpses.
That even immobilized, the dark one had fought to the point where no one dared to approach him.
Reduced to a measly few hundred of their most steadfast soldiers, the remaining paladins, seeing their inevitable ends, had invoked the Tri-Form Secret skill of Thullga, the God of Sacrifice. Melding their lives together, they had sacrificed themselves to pierce three blades into the demon before morning, sealing his strength and sapping away his life.
Lastly, the knights and mercenaries who had not fled during the battle and survived had been so exhausted, that when the bandits came out to loot, none were able to put up any resistances in the ensuing massacre.
“And that’s what happened to the remainder of the army. He, he, he… my condolences.” A wide grin marked itself joyfully upon the man’s face.
“Big brother, are you done? I want to test out this sword.”
“Yes, yes, go ahead.”
Seeing the younger man bringing up a sword and raising it over his head, Gladis quietly resigned himself to his fate. He had been unconscious for too long and his body refused to heed his commands. There was nothing more that could be done, and no one who could help him.