Returning to two chapters per week. Thanks for your patience!
After hearing Lord Durash’s voice announcing the beginning of the demonic onslaught, Trisiagga grinned and tore into me with renewed vigor. At the same time, Sirth, who was now keeping track of my [Blood Tracker] bat in addition to the sigils and her Wind Spirits, received confirmation that the demonic horde underground was beginning to move out. With that news, the worst case scenario for our planned escape became reality.
I immediately sent my spiritual voice to Ged and Colonel Perta.
The demons are emerging from the mines! It’s time to begin your countermeasures!
We prepared for this possibility the previous night, while staying up well past Midnight building our plan of battle. Frankly, the colonels had considered it a near-certainty that it would happen. But the choices had been either heading directly eastward, directly past Cara Ita and closer to the mines, or heading north first, putting distance between ourselves and the demons but remaining in a position where those demons could cut our force off from Orestania.
The second option had seemed better at first blush, but quickly lost favor as the officers recognized that if we were cut off, then Orestania would have to supply not only the forces under Prince Ged but also the forces under General Karas holding our salient along Hamagaar’s north coast by sea. Lord Ragel, commanding the Royal Navy in the Northern Ocean, is an excellent admiral, but he can’t produce extra ships out of nothing. Given the unknown loyalties of the admirals in the Eastern Ocean during a developing civil war, getting additional ships was also uncertain.
Once Ged’s staff recognized our situation as a choice between letting both forces become trapped in an unsurvivable siege or placing as much of Ged’s force as possible between Orestania and the demon horde, the decision had become easy. If we did not get our army between the demons and the border, very few regiments would remain between those demons and Thuriben. All forces from the headquarters camp eastward had to head that direction, while those regiments farther west than us would head north to join Karas.
Even though the demons were now emerging when we were closest to them, we could now fight a rearguard action against them while pulling back to the border rather than becoming surrounded by them.
I couldn’t worry about it at the moment, though. I was in the midst of battling an asura.
Dueling sword against spear is tricky when both sides know what they are doing. I had tried using my edge against her spear shaft several times, in hopes of lopping the spearhead off, but this is by no means an easy task.
Of course, some people think that a sword could never get past the spear’s greater reach (not true), while others think that a spear’s wooden shaft would never stand up against a sword (also false).
In reality, getting past a thrusting spear is essentially the same move as getting past a thrusting sword. It is difficult, but a skilled swordsman can do it. But the skilled spearman has countermeasures against the skilled swordsman, so neither Trisiagga nor I were able to get the upper hand.
On the other side of the coin, when striking across the grain, wood is actually very strong against metal, even Durandal’s Svartalfar steel. That and weight are the reason that shields are usually made of the stuff. Plus, Trisiagga was fortifying her spear with demonic mana, in the same manner that I had Earth fortifying Durandal.
Durandal was beginning to suffer a bit from the demonic mana he was picking up every time we connected, so I pushed some of the [Purification] that I was circulating into his blade. The time our weapons spent touching wasn’t long enough for much of it to transfer into her spear, but there was probably a cumulative effect.
Even so, with the sheer density of mana inside it, I was not able to destroy her spear the way I had sliced through other weapons, so our battle continued.
Thanks to my other incarnations, my mind could be elsewhere while staying on my battle. Or to be more accurate, Sirth’s mind could do so. While monitoring the battle against Fenrisuelfr through her Windspirits, she sent me a thought.
– Princess, that big beast is surely getting smaller!
… many times, the magicians supporting Colonel Tieg’s regiment landed hits on the beast, and it seemed that the princess’s friend had acquired quite an impressive magic sword during the time since their duel in Cara Ita. ‘Course, she needed a replacement since the princess destroyed her old sword during the battle, but this was the first time we saw what sort of remarkable weapon she acquired.
Her favorite attack cast a trick similar to Durandal’s [Wind Scythe] attacks. She had used it in that previous fight, but it seemed this weapon could amplify it, because the attacks she was now launching were only a little less powerful than Durandal’s [Holy Rend]. She would fly in and deliver those between volleys from the magic company, and each time, she laid horrific wounds on the beast.
The magic company, also, gouged out a quantity of hunks of flesh and fur sufficient to kill a normal beast. But the beast kept fighting despite the injuries, and after I watched a while I realized why. The injuries were healing at a speed you could watch happening.
Aenëe dodged the beast’s maw to fly in close and strike at his neck. The deep gash that she laid open would have gushed out a geyser of blood from the big artery that runs that place on a mortal beast, but somehow, no blood flowed. Instead, even as she was backpedaling to avoid his counter attack, the seam began closing up.
But I saw it after the wizards fighting him delivered their next blow, destroying one of his forelegs. This time, the wound detached a significant fraction of his flesh, and my friends grew excited at the bounty of mana that came pouring out of the severed limb.
It was dissolving, I realized, and then I noticed that no hunks of wolf flesh littered the ground below. The meat and fur were boiling away as fast as beads of water on a hot pan.
The thoughts of that ancient sage sharing a skull with us explained what I was seeing.
– It’s all made of mana. This is what Her Highness calls a ‘magic beast’, but it is one which seems to have an exceedingly high ratio of mana to matter. Perhaps ninety-nine percent of its body is immaterial. That’s why the ground doesn’t shake like an earthquake when it moves. It probably only weighs a few tons at most.
I understood it then, as I watched my friends dashing in to try and catch as much of the evaporating mana as they could grab. When pieces came off, the beast could no longer keep them as part of its substance.
Excited, I sent my thoughts on it to the sage.
– Tell that girl to sever as much as possible! Forget simply wounding it; she needs to cut away as much as she can! Just keep lopping off the ears and tail if she has to!
The sage understood how to use that ‘spiritual voice’ thing. I didn’t. Otherwise, I woulda told the girl myself. Her Sage-ship did her best to imitate Her Highness’s manner and sent my message, and Aenëe immediately shifted her tactics. She called down to the wizards on the ground with the same news.
After their attacks changed, I began seeing exactly the result I expected. The wolf was truly shrinking. Every time it regained its shape, it had to borrow mana from the remainder. Exulting, I sent Her Highness a message.
– Princess, that big beast is surely getting smaller!
… I saw what Sirth meant in our short-term memory and with that, I knew that the defenders against the wolf could handle it without me. Sooner or later, they would be able to literally whittle it down to size.
Somehow, it seemed a pathetic end for this world’s Fenris Wolf. Although a God Beast wasn’t actually a divinity, just a divine creation, one of the many extreme creations of the old gods of the Primeval Age.
They were all supposed to be extinct, most wiped out by the Glacial Age, the survivors enslaved and used as weapons by the demons. How many more such creatures were still hidden somewhere, and why had they been kept stored away until now?
“Do you really think you can let your mind wander?” Trisiagga jeered, pulling me out of autopilot. She was right; just now I had been parrying by reflex. I didn’t have time to ponder Aenëe’s foe. I was in the middle of my own fight.
I let out a bright laugh. “Do you really have the time to chatter?”
I followed that repartee with a blast of [Purification] from my fan, forcing her to dodge back and once again ward it off with the demonic shield magic she had been using against it.
But this time, instead of following with a lunge at me with the spear, she released a weapon she had not shown until now, a sort of smoke bomb that burst out a cloud of brimstone fumes and demonic mana.
[Fortress of Gaia] blossomed around me before it could reach me, as my mind flashed through the options for my next move. In my fairy sense, I could see Trisiagga, attempting unsuccessfully to hide from me with her stealth, dashing away, in the direction of the Carael Mine entrances.
– Do you really need to continue playing with her, Your Highness? came Fan Li’s gentle, chiding voice.
I blinked and realized why she had said it. I had been holding back out of fear of letting Fenrisuelfr rampage uncontrolled, but it was clear now that Aenëe and the Royal Army could handle him. I didn’t need to avoid killing her anymore.
Increasing the [Purification] in my mana pathways to maximum, I dashed forward, chasing after her.
She was fast, almost as fast as me. I was nearly above the mines when I caught up to her. Below me, rivers of demonic soldiers were pouring from the mine entrances. But an unfamiliar presence was in the hills above those entrances, that seemed to be mortal, and very numerous.
Suddenly, Trisiagga was bursting out with manic laughter.
“It worked! I’ll admit, you nearly ruined it, but My Lord’s plan will work after all!” she jeered over her shoulder at me as she continued to flee. “Your king is dead, and your prince is about to die!”
I decided to ignore her words. She was only trying to distract me. It was only her or the demons below who could kill Ged, and neither were close enough to do it, so I also didn’t care what she had to say about Uncle Owen. I just needed to take this bitch out, then fly back and protect the prince. I let my fan dangle from its tether and held Durandal’s grip with both hands, in order to deliver a [Holy Smite].
At that moment, a colossal thunder broke out below us, as geysers of rock leapt into the sky from the mine entrances.
I was kicked upward by the shockwave, sent tumbling out of control though the air. An unimaginable amount of explosive magic had just gone off, on a scale more appropriate for volcanism than for mortal devices.
My head ringing, I fought to gain control, surprised that I had somehow kept hold of Durandal. It had been a damned good thing that I had held him in both hands at that moment.
I regained my bearings in time to watch the mountainside moving, sliding as one giant piece downhill, burying demons and entrances alike in a sea of dust and rubble.