* * *
Lydon slowly raised his head. Jeriel, lying before him, was no longer shivering, and the flood of mana had subsided.
Confirming it, Lydon pulled the hand that covered his face away.
Even though he only spat out a short exclamation, the blood was welling up in his eyes. Every time he laughed, a thick stream of blood flowed down his chin, and drops of blood that seemed to flow at any moment filled his bloodshot eyes. Lydon succeeded in subduing Jeriel’s rampage, but he could not escape the backlash.
“Ahaha! It really hurts. That’s a lot of pain.”
Lydon’s head was spinning, and he felt as if he might lose consciousness at any moment, but his body was not. Rather, the flow of mana was more active than ever, burning through his body, uncontrollable and causing a bitter cold to swirl around him. It was powerful enough to crack the barrier he had put up.
Sharp icy spikes sprouted and shattered all over Lydon’s limbs, chest, and back, each time accompanied by the horrifying sensation of his mana vessel bursting. His smile cracked at the excessive pain. The upturned corners of his mouth twitched briefly, and his brow creased.
He’d stopped Jeriel’s mana rampage for Cadel’s sake, but at this rate, it was about to explode into something worse. Lydon caught his breath, carelessly wiping away the blood that was dripping from him. He was determined to stop the rampage by somehow capturing his mana.
But his plan was thwarted before it could be executed. An unexpected blow to the ice barrier.
There was no time to reinforce the barrier. An irritated gaze turned to the source of the shock, and from beyond the shattered barrier, an unwelcome visitor emerged.
“It’s your turn.”
Sellev. A vicious gleam flashed through her eyes as she spotted Lydon.
* * *
“Wake, wake up, Van…….”
Van’s eyes remained closed, unmoving at the trembling call. Cadel twisted out of Van’s body, the pain in his left arm excruciating. His fingers throbbed from the strain of bearing Van’s weight.
When Sellev charged with the unconscious Van, Cadel disarmed the fire barrier, knowing that if he hit the fire barrier with that momentum, Van wouldn’t be able to wake up forever.
Cadel chose Van over his own safety, and went flying through the air with a murderous shockwave. It was a ridiculous altitude. It was also a murderous speed, with the wind whipping past his ears. If Cadel hadn’t unfurled the wind barrier in time for his descent, they would have been blasted to death.
The two at the forefront were pushed all the way to the rear. Cadel tried to protect Van from the advancing monster army and knights.
“Van, open your eyes. Okay?”
Sellev’s [Black Grasp] was a near-instant death skill for all but the bloodiest tankers. Van Herdos was a berserker in the tanker position, so even if he was severely wounded, he wouldn’t die easily. If her attack had been directed at Lydon or Cadel, the outcome could have been much worse. But did that mean they should feel lucky that Van was hit? Of course not.
Cadel fumbled on Van’s abdomen, which was stained black as if it had a black hole. The wet, viscous liquid that touched his fingertips was clearly blood.
He felt sick to his stomach. Cadel bit his lip hard as if to swallow the nausea. He knew better than anyone that he shouldn’t break down here, but he couldn’t stop himself from shaking.
Cadel raised his free right arm and cradled Van’s head. He could hardly feel the warmth. A bead of sweat dripped from beneath the bowed head, wetting Van’s cheek.
“……You too, me too. It never ends here.”
To see the end of the story without losing a single subordinate. That was his determination in this new world.
Cadel straightened his crouched upper body and tucked his right arm under Van’s lower back. Somehow, he had to get Van out of the gate and to medical attention.
But with only one arm, his weak body was unable to pick up the unconscious Van. Gritting his teeth, Cadel tried to lift Van up, only to fall back down to the floor with him. His anger at his repeated failures was reaching a breaking point.
Sorin appeared. Cadel staggered to his feet as soon as he recognized his face. He tried to explain the situation calmly, but a voice of desperation escaped his lips.
“Sir Sorin, I need a healer at once. My subordinate has been attacked by the demon. I was trying to pull him out of the gate, but I injured my arm……. I can’t do it alone, I need your help.”
“I’ve already called the healers. They should be here in half an hour at the latest. Battalion Captain Dreyfe……. No, I’ll help with the transportation first.”
As Sorin approached the black sphere, his vision was blocked by the sudden overflow of demonic energy. After wandering for a long time, when the demonic energy finally lifted, the sphere was no longer in sight. Only the mercenary commander and his subordinate, who were thrown into the middle of the battlefield after being hit by an unknown attack, filled the field of vision.
Sorin quickly gathered up the fallen Van and strode across the battlefield. Cadel hurried after him. His entire body rattled, making it difficult for him to even set foot on the ground, but he picked up the pace as if he were fine.
The urgency of the situation, coupled with the wounding of a subordinate, had him so distracted that he didn’t even realize he had removed his hood, which he had stubbornly kept on for fear of being recognized.
Sorin squinted at Cadel’s face, which was clearly visible even as he ran. His beige hair, disheveled and tousled. A dark look of struggle over his clear face, lips pressed tightly together as if holding something back.
Among them, the only thing that caught Sorin’s eye was Cadel’s hazel eyes with a clear glow.
The mercenary commander had a fair complexion that was untarnished by the scars of battle. Once seen, he was hard to forget. So at least Sorin had never met him.
But for some reason, seeing that face gave him a strange feeling. The mercenary commander had a very similar aura to someone he knew. Sorin searched his memory, trying to recall the identity of that ‘someone’, but the battlefield would not allow even that brief respite.
“Sir Sorin! Stand back!”
In the short time he had been in search of Dreyfe, the gate was surrounded by the newly advanced Red Men. Cadel reflexively pushed past Sorin and stepped forward.
‘What the hell were they doing until these monsters got this close!’
He knew that the Knight Order did their best to slay the monsters. However, the number of monsters besieging the gate was large enough to negate their efforts. This was a result of the absence of magicians, not the inferiority of the Guardian Knight Order.
The Knight Order kept many of their magicians out of combat in favor of spatial travel magic. If they had been present, they could have cast large spells that could have wiped out a large army of marching monsters. That was their role in most battles. But there were far fewer magicians left to cast large spells, and that was the problem.
Unless they used special energy like Van’s ‘aura’, they couldn’t achieve mass slaughter with only the sword energy. Even then.
‘I’m in a hurry!’
Sellev’s order to break the gate had been given. The Red Men, who had been making their way toward the gate, now faced the gate’s walls and opened fire.
Their agility and strength quickly increased as their red muscles bulged ugly, and they scrambled up walls with cockroach-like speed, swinging their limbs like blades to break through the knights’ lines.
They didn’t flinch when mortally wounded. Even if a limb was torn off, they didn’t hesitate. If they had no arms, they fought with their legs, if they had no legs, they crawled, and if they lost all of their limbs, they set their teeth to bite their opponents. They were evils from hell. With the knights slain, the Red Men climbed the wall and smashed down the gate.
Cadel drew on his mana, blocking Sorin’s attempts to join the battle.
“I’ll take the gate, Sir Sorin, and you can take my subordinate outside. I’ll clear the way.”
“It must be hard with your current condition.”
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll show you where Sir Dreyfe is when you get back.”
“Do you know the location of Battalion Captain Dreyfe? And what is his condition?”
“I’ve put up a barrier, so he won’t get hurt in there. We’re running out of time, Sir Sorin. See an opening and run.”
Cadel looked at the mangled gateway. It would take a delicate magic spell to avoid the gate and the knights and hit the monsters alone.
‘I can’t go off the rails even a little bit.’
If the gate was broken, the tide of battle would spiral out of control, and if the knight was harmed, he would even gain the distrust of his allies on the harsh battlefield.
‘……I have no choice but to do it.’
Drawing on the mana of the wind. Taking a deep breath, Cadel eyed the Red Men near the gateway’s entrance and slowly curled his outstretched right hand.
The spell he deployed was [Wind Prison]. It was a familiar spell, but this time it was used differently.
Simultaneous casting had created dozens of [Wind Prisons]. These intangible prisons would consume the monster hordes in front of him, one by one.
Once inside the prisons, the Red Men rampaged, punching at the barrier that imprisoned them, and every time they did that, Cadel poured mana over the barrier to adjust its strength. The imprisoned monsters were lifted into the air, away from their allies. The members of the Guardian Knight Order were taken aback by the sudden containment of the monsters, but quickly regained their composure when they spotted their captain, Sorin, and the mercenary commander.
Cadel felt the mana drain from him like water as he restrained the Red Men, step by step. More than ever, a perfect balance of mana was needed. If the mana was lopsided, the prison would not withstand the monsters’ rampage and would crack.
His right arm shook from the exertion. Cold beads of sweat trickled down his nervous spine, and finally, Cadel had succeeded in clearing the entrance of all the creatures that had blocked it.
Cadel, barely able to speak, dismissed Sorin. Sorin checked out the army of monsters in the sky and ran straight for the gate.
Van, on his back, still showed no sign of returning to consciousness. Cadel stared nail-bitingly at Van’s broad back until they disappeared beyond the gateway, gathering the [Wind Prisons] into a single point in the air.
Just moving each prison consumed three times the normal amount of mana. It was all because of Red Men’s destructive power. They hit the prisons without getting tired, and each blow made the prisons vibrate heavily.
‘The longer I hold out, the worse off I am.’
He didn’t have to keep them bound for long. Cadel maintained the [Wind Prisons] and drew upon the mana of lightning, and a large amount of current began to condense on the sides of the prisons.
The electricity flashed and twisted erratically, then took the form of a giant spear. The glowing tip of the spear was aimed at the huddled Red Men.
That would be enough. Cadel carefully adjusted his mana, nervously waiting for the perfect timing.
At the same time as he released the [Wind Prisons], he activated the lightning spear he had loaded.
Mana like a literal bolt of lightning pierced through the falling Red Men’s bodies. The current skewered through all fifteen of them, glowing a bluish color, and in the blink of an eye, the spear of lightning plunged to the ground.
As Cadel withdrew all of his mana, the Red Men’s blackened, electrocuted corpses dripped down the drain. It was a magic spell made of the holy trinity of silent chanting, silent casting, and the simultaneous manifestation of two attributes.
The man who accomplished it was busy gasping for air, but the knights who witnessed the near-supernatural magic were all mesmerized. They had heard rumors that the commander of the Scarlet Scales Mercenary was a magician of monstrous skill, but they hadn’t expected anything like this.
Ignoring all the arrow-like stares, Cadel took a breath and focused on the system window in front of him.