Our blades struck, the tangible power of our will combining to cause a thunderous roar. I jumped back again. My arm felt slightly numb. Comparatively, it was clear from just this single exchange that Lord Stebes was a better will user than me. The gap wasn’t as extreme as it was with Bala, but I still wouldn’t be able to handle him on my own in a one on one confrontation. He seemed to know this as well, as a smile formed on his lips.
“You would seriously risk this entire city, your people, and your life for some sort of petty revenge?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that this assessment didn’t sound right at all. “Wait… you… what have you been doing?”
Lord Stebes chuckled. “While you were busy focused on the North gate and the diplomatic gate, I brought my people into the keep to protect them. How does it feel? You have been fighting so hard to protect a city of ghosts. The waves of undead that flood through the city will only kill those that deserve death. The poor, the weak, political enemies, and those disloyal to my vision… no one of consequence will die tonight. Well, no one… except you.”
I stepped back and gritted my teeth. That was his play from the beginning. He wanted a cleansing where he would wipe out all of his enemies and the unsavory people of society. By allowing the beastkin’s undead army to flood through the city, he was cleaning it of all of the riffraff, and that included me.
“Do you really think you can get away with this? There will be witnesses.”
“I’m counting on it!” He leaped forward.
As he came for me, I looked around the alley again. Quickly calculating my chances, I went for a desperate maneuver. Using a trick Bala had shown me once, I kicked off the wall and attacked him from above.
Predictably, he struck back with a powerful blow, throwing me back. However, the manner I attacked left all that force lifting me up. I reached out and grabbed the corner of the rooftop and threw myself onto the building. Immediately, I began running across and leaping to another building nearby. I could hear him cursing from below. As for me, my eyes first went to the trail of the undead. They had yet to reach the opened gate.
Although Lord Stebes was protecting everyone he cared about, that still could mean thousands of people would die if the undead were allowed to run rampant through the streets. The families of the soldiers giving their lives on the North gate would not be saved. I started heading toward the gate again, but a feeling caused me to leap back again, avoiding another fireball. I recognized this feeling as some kind of mana instinct. I could feel the energy of the mana coming at me and could get out of the way before the fireball hit me. It had saved my life twice already.
It wasn’t Lord Stebes using mana. He must have had someone else casting the spells from hiding. If I wanted to close the gate, I’d have to take care of the magic user first. Before I could start running in the direction of the fire-handler, I felt will coming from behind. I turned and blocked Lord Stebes’ attack just in time. He hit my side and I ended up stumbling down onto the street. When I glanced up, I saw dozens of zombies coming my way. As far as the three elites who were holding them back, I didn’t know what happened to them. It stood to reason that they had been taken care of.
“Give up, devil, you never had a chance against me. This is my city. You’re out of your element.”
“Yeah…” I said, standing up. “I tend to do my best when I’m out of my element. Given this world, I’m always out of my element!”
I jumped the side of a wall and then leaped on to the roof, racing at Lord Stebes again. He still had the cocky expression of victory on his face. He was fighting me across the city like a lunatic. There was simply no way he could get away with this. It was an incredible risk anyway to allow a bunch of zombies to flood through the city. Even if he was certain he could repel them from the protective walls of his keep, fires could spread and half the city could be destroyed. Not to mention it would be far too sloppy of the beastkin to just…
My face began to whiten as I realized the truth. “You… cut a deal with them! What happened to the elves?”
“Elves? They simply aren’t ready enough for war. Not like the beastkin,” Lord Stebes let out a laugh. “Elves… Beastkin… what does it matter? The winning side is the side I’ll follow. I tried to incite the elves for war, but the beastkin were already two steps ahead of them. With our own princess leading the charge, how could I not have my heart swayed.”
“I suppose this is also for the greater good?”
Lord Stebes shrugged, “All of my decisions are just. By allowing the undead to sweep through this city, we will become the center point for the beastkin invasion. By killing you, I will gain the love and respect of the beastkin nation. They hate devils with a passion, and you being allowed to remain in a position of power was a great insult to their species.
“Your sister failed to do the job; she will face the consequences for her actions because of her irrational sense of familial ties. I will not make the same mistake. With your head on a pike, I will greet the invading force before the elves carve a single arrow. And… if they do seek to cause problems, we have two of the king’s daughters as diplomatic guests. Yes, I’m aware Bala is a woman. You see… that’s the thing, Prince David, you need to always be adaptable and always doubt everything.”
“There is just one problem…” I said, lifting my sword up once again.
“What is that?”
“You love the sound of your voice too much! Since you’ve told me everything, I’ll just stop you.”
Lord Stebes chuckled. “I speak so freely because you won’t be alive much longer. Consider it a… professional curtesy.”
The pair of us lunged at each other again, and again our swords danced. This time, he suddenly leaped back just as it felt like he was going to attack. I barely managed to dodge again before another fireball flew in my direction. At this point, the zombies had already finished the alleyway and were heading for the gate. In a few moments, they would break the containment I had carefully constructed. All I could do was grit my teeth and keep fighting.
Our swords came into contact, but I could make no leeway. In reality, I was barely holding on. He managed to cut me in three places, and I hadn’t gotten a single hit on him. With the magician out in the crowd, he could attack at any moment. I had to constantly be wary of both of them. Adding to that that Lord Stebes was a superior fighter, and I didn’t have a chance at all.
There was one piece of information he had not intended to slip to me though. It was something I only realized now. These zombies were not completely without control. If that was true, then there was no way that Lord Stebes would be able to keep them off the keep. That meant that there was someone still in the city controlling the undead. His control might have been weak, but if he could influence them to a certain extent. If I could find him, it was possible we could end this undead threat for good.
As I was busy fighting the Lord on the rooftops, the zombies made it closer and closer to the gate. Just as they reached it, there was a sudden explosion of fire. For the first time, Lord Stebes was caught off guard and I managed to strike him. It was a very shallow cut on the shoulder, but he glared at me hatefully all the same. It was probably a bigger cut on his ego than his body.
As for the fireball, it had been initiated by flour being tossed complete with a fire arrow. A moment later, the lieutenant jumped down and sealed the gate, just as a dozen undead struck it. They were shoveled along into the next alley, the disaster saved at the last second.
“Open that gate!” Lord Stebes bellowed, glaring down at the lieutenant.
It was only at this moment that he had realized that we were both on the rooftops. “My lord? Sir? Are you mad? If that gate was left open, half the city would have been destroyed.”
“It’s an order!” Lord Stebes snapped.
The lieutenant took a step back, clearly bewildered by the sudden orders he received that seemed to counter everything he believed. His hand landed on his sword hilt, a severe expression on his face. He shot a look back at Lord Stebes, the expression on his face tense and stubborn.
Before he could get out another word, a fireball slammed into him. He let out a scream as his body was enveloped in flames. The gate shuttered, but the thick iron crossbar was not something that could be destroyed so easily. Unfortunately, the lieutenant’s crisp body could only collapse, slumping forward against the bars.
“Damn it!” I cursed. “Your own men?”
“He was an insubordinate!” Lord Stebes shook his head. “I only need men that take orders!”
“You bastard!’ I cursed as I swung my sword down, striking him again.
We began a wild dance on the rooftops as the undead stumbled along below. My attacks moved faster and faster. I was recalling everything Bala had taught me and then taking it to the next level. I then remembered Baba and her talks of illusions. That was right, my most powerful attack was being able to trick my foe! I may not be a better swordsman then him, but if I could use an illusion at the right time….
Before that time came, my sword suddenly left my hand. With a particularly wicked attack, my blade went flying, I leaped back instinctively, but his gash still managed to get me dead center. A flew back down, landing on the edge of the rooftop, moaning creatures in the hundreds under me. In the end, I really wasn’t strong enough to defeat him. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
He was also smart enough to avoid my blood, so I didn’t even have the satisfaction of cursing him. Instead, I could only hold the wound on my stomach and moan. My noises were lost to the hundreds of monsters just under my head. Lord Stebes’ smile grew more confident as he walked over and put a hand on my chest. While he did that, I drew a rune in blood.
He looked down at the rune. “An illusion? Are you honestly going to try to trick me with an illusion now? There is nothing you can do. You already dead.”
“Yeah…” I said bitterly, blood bubbling up to my lips. “One of us is dead at least.”
Lord Stebes shook his head. “There is no illusion you can use to confuse me here. I will take your body and cut it up a hundred times. You won’t be able to fake your death with something clever. Well, whatever. Goodbye, Prince David. It is time for you to see your death!”
Lord Stebes didn’t give me another moment, instead, raising up his sword to plunge it down at my chest. I raised up my hand, not able to stop anything. However, his blade didn’t come down, as a second later steel erupted from his chest. I let out a little sigh.
The sword was pulled back out and Lord Stebes arms lost all strength, his blade falling down the side of the roof and then off into a crowd of zombies. He looked back to see Bala standing there, her sword bloody after just stabbing him in the back.
“Thank you for masking my approach with your illusion, Master,” Bala said simply, wiping her blade clean with a cloth and then sheathing it.
As for me, Bala didn’t give me a single hand to help stand. It was up to me to lift my head and roll over, painfully getting back up into a standing position.
“The fireball person?” I asked. “I noticed their mana stopped surging a bit ago.”
Bala shrugged. “I took care of it.”
“They were a beastkin?” I asked.
Bala cocked her head and then nodded. “Yes, a beastkin magician, how did you know?”
“We’ll call it a guess. The lack of creativity for one. They leaned very heavily on fireball. Beastkin aren’t known for elemental magic, so it seemed likely that was the only weaponized spell he knew. Secondly, the beastkin particularly wanted me dead. They’d never be happy if they didn’t have a hand in it personally. Plus, Lord Stebes would need a witness of his deeds. In the end, it just made sense the hidden magician was also the beastkin observer. Did he also have a magical device on him?”
Bala nodded, pulling a strange device from her back pocket and holding it up. “This will control the zombies?”
“Eh… let’s not touch it until Baba can glance at it. For the moment, we’ll stick with my plan. Is the West gate ready?”
Bala nodded. “Your man, Captain Moar, arrived. The other three men died in route, and Moar looked near death. He spoke of betrayal before passing out. He’s currently recovering. That was when I set my army to finishing your path, and then came here myself.”
I winced bitterly, nodding. I needed more soldier I could trust, not less. However, Captain Moar had done his duty and nearly died for me. I might make a proper captain of him yet.
“E-enough of this…” A weezing voice caused us to look to the side where Lord Stebes had fallen. “You… stabbed me in the back. Are you not a will user? Where is your honor? You’re as bad as the devil!”
Bala looked away. “You threatened my Master, I had to do what I had to do!”
The words truly did seem to get to her. Lord Stebes’ eyes shined. “You’re… just a coward. Both of you… cowards. I was willing to make the changes needed. I was doing… I was doing what is right.”
I casually walked over and recovered my sword, which hadn’t fallen off the roof as his sword had. Walking over to him with a limp and one arm over my gut, I pointed the blade at his neck. As soon as I did, fear and desperation appeared on his face.
“A-are you going to kill me?” Lord Stebes asked. “It’d be a bad decision. I know things. Many things. Things of value. If you killed me, there is no way you’ll make it out of the city alive!”
He truly did seem desperate, as his words came out half bribe and half threat. I hesitated for a moment, and then slowly sheathed my sword. His eyes brightened even more as he realized he wouldn’t be cut down.
“I will help you! I can be a great asset!”
“And you’d betray me the first chance you got.” I sighed. “Give me a reason not to kill you.”
“N-never… I’d never betray you! You can’t kill me! I’m an unarmed man. You stabbed me in the back to when this fight. Take me, prisoner, if you must, but you can’t kill me! You’re a prince! You are a prince of the human realm! You carry all of our honor! Are you not an honorable prince?”
The way he was talking caused my skin to feel itchy.
“No…” I said, shaking my head. “You were right the first time. I have no honor. No glory. No sense of pride. I will stab you in the back, and kill an unarmed man. Do you know why?”
“Because I’m a devil!”
I kicked Lord Stebes hard, and his body fell off the roof. He let out a scream of disbelief, but his eyes never left mine as he fell into the crowd of undead below. Immediately, dozens of zombies began to crowd around and start ripping at him. His screams continued for a solid minute before they were cut off. I watched without emotions as Lord Stebes was torn limb from limb and eaten. Only then, did I turn around and notice Bala watching me.
“Master… what shall we do now?”
I took in a breath and looked down at the path of undead that spread across the city and the outer wall. It’d take many many hours and a lot of work to cut them all down and kill them. Looking at the device in Bala’s hand, a new idea began to spring in my mind.
“The beastkin didn’t depend on an undead army to take out this city. This is just the first strike. Lord Stebes all but confirmed this. Once all our defenses are down, they still have a battalion they plan to send our way. Even if we defeat every last undead without a single loss, this city would fall quickly to a beastkin battalion in its current state.”
“The beastkin attack is still incoming?” Bala asked.
Looking down at the undead, I smirked. “They thought to use an army of undead to destabilize and leave us defenseless. How about we return the favor?”
“You wish… to go on the offensive?”
“They’ll never expect their own undead army to be turned back on them. If it fails here, they’ll have to put off the invasion.”
“Then, where are we heading, Master?”
“Isn’t the answer obvious?” I laughed. “It’s time we head to Perang.”