Book 3, Chapter 91 - Perplexed

War raged in the volcanic valleys for three whole hours. Bullets, bombs and arrows filled the air. Elysian warships and Dark Atom vessels pummeled one another. Within the clouds of dust, a normal man couldn’t see farther than five meters in front of his nose.

A sharp shriek rose through the air, and suddenly the ground exploded in all directions. Dozens of craters appeared.

Drake emerged from the airborne debris, covered from head to toe. “How many men do we have in reserve?”

He was screaming at the top of his lungs but the sounds of battle still threatened to drown him out.

Hammont was about to respond when he was struck by five or six bullets. They struck his helmet and breastplate, casting sparks every which way. But elysian-made armor was incredibly strong. The impacts sent him to the floor but he was otherwise fine. Rearranging his helmet, he cried out. “Lieutenant General! Everyone’s on the field, the only soldiers left are those here – less than a thousand men.”

“Everyone retreat to the mouth of the valley!” Drake wasn’t going to hesitate any longer. “Cloudhawk! I need your help.”

All thirty thousand border troops were in the thick of battle, and withdrawal might already be too late. But a thousand people in this situation weren’t going to make any sort of difference. It was best to try to fall back, and leave only a token force as a deterrent.

It was clear as day. They were entrenched, and in for a long losing battle. Drake finally decided to heed Cloudhawk’s advice. At the very least they would have a breath to consider their next move, but it was a decision that was starkly different than his superiors. The soldiers of Skycloud were known to fight to the death, until the last soldier took his final breath.

Drake felt their lives were too precious to throw away, an exceedingly rare quality in an officer. After all, a commander who kept his men alive was a good commander. They were the sorts of leaders who rose to become the backbone of a society.

“Fatty, squad, I’m getting you out of here.”

Not long after Cloudhawk gave the order to retreat, the air hummed with a sound like rumbling thunder.

Even through the choking smoke it was easy to see; dozens of resplendent beams of light streaking overhead. An auspicious omen that roared like divine judgment, as suddenly the skies filled with enormous warships – reinforcements!

A great cry of joy sprang up among the elysians.

Were someone to have a high vantage or sufficiently keen vision, they would note that the arriving troops were arrayed in three divisions. They were the Talons of God, Hell’s Army, and the Guard Corps.

The first two were special forces. Small in numbers, but incredibly deadly on the field.

The last one was a more standard army like the border forces. Although they weren’t quite as large an outfit, they still numbered ten thousand strong. The fight they were joining was white-hot, and neither side had a clear advantage over the other. Any unforeseen change could turn the tide, much less the sudden arrival of three new divisions.

“Just in time!” Panting raggedly, Aegir Polaris cleaved a Dark Atom officer in half. He had recovered enough from the surprise attack by the demon to rejoin the fight, though he was considerably weakened. The Knights of Splendor were engaged with the crimson priests, while Frost and his demonhunters were keeping the demon occupied. “The death of these blasphemers is at hand!”

As though in response a large man bearing a minigun charged out from the fog. He swept his gun through the general’s forces. Of course this wicked wasteland technology was nothing before the might of elysian steel. The bullets bounced off Aegir’s armor like raindrops on a metal roof. The grizzles commander didn’t even move except to cover less shielded areas of his body.

Whoosh!

A large sword was buried in the attacker’s chest.

Brontes pulled his sword free from the gunner. He and the remaining soldiers tightened their protective circle around the general. The press of Dark Atom enemies had put them all on the back foot, but now that reinforcements had arrived there was a chance they could fight their way out.

There was no time to rejoice. Another group was emerging through the smoke.

Among them was a man with a spectral blue sword suspended above his head.

Brontes’ eyes went wide. He shouted to the others. “Wolfblade! It’s their leader, kill him!”

Several officers recently back on their feet were slain instantly as Wolfblade’s demonic sword ran them through. It kept on, heading right for General Aegir.

The Dark Atom leader had been caught off guard by Frost’s surprise attack, and it had left him wounded. However, Wolfblade was by no means weak. Frost’s attack had been hasty – too rushed to land a fatal blow. Frost’s arrival and the sudden addition of outsider forces changed the godslayer’s plans, for he had wanted to wear Aegir down through attrition. Now he had to grasp at any opportunity that presented itself.

“General, be careful!”

Brontes threw aside his sword, snatched up a pair of shields and then put himself between Aegir and the sword. The sword struck the crossed shields – shields hard enough to easily deflect high caliber bullets – and they shattered into dust. The leader of the vanguard forces was thrown violently to the ground, spitting up a mouthful of blood. Meanwhile, Wolfblade’s sword had run out of power and returned to hover above his head.

Not good! The godslayer’s stamina was quickly running out, and elysian vanguard soldiers were closing in.

The Dark Atom assault didn’t let up. Suicide soldiers on either side of Wolfblade shook the field with berserker roars and threw themselves at the embattled but stubborn enemy.

Aegir watched them come. He opened his mouth to mobilize a counteroffensive, but all that out was a trickle of blood.

His silver mask destroyed, Brontes’ face was covered in wounds. He knew their situation, and regardless of the danger shouted his orders. “Protect the general at all costs! Protect the general for the glory of Skycloud and the border army!”

“Skycloud, forever!”

The vanguard had only a handful of men left, and they were spent. How could they repel the Dark Atom’s final, desperate attack on their own? Reflected in their eyes were the twisted, insane faces of the suicide soldiers as they neared.

One after the other, these tired but driven soldiers threw their own bodies between the bombers and their general. They sacrificed themselves to prevent the rebels from getting to their leaders.

Plumes of fire and smoke appeared. Explosions shook the battlefield as suicide vests detonated, their sound conveying crazed souls to the afterlife.

Aegir’s snow-white hair was stained with blood. A sad and bitter sense of heroism assailed him as he watched these brave men choose death. Witness these soldiers he commanded – these were the defenders of Skycloud. True soldiers of god. If these were to be his final moments, there was nothing to mourn.

If there was one regret, it was only that his sword had not cut down more heathens!

Brontes and his soldiers were on the verge of breaking.

Aegir raised his broken sword. He had prepared himself for the moment of his death long ago. He was ready to throw himself at the Dark Atom and greet his demise. But before he was given the chance, a shadow fell over him. A figure descended from above like an eagle, sweeping through the enemy forces. Where the shadow passed, the heads of Dark Atom soldiers flew off their shoulders.

The general’s defender was a middle-aged man in elysian armor with the insignia of the Talons of God. His hands moved too quickly to see what weapon he used to cut down his foes.

It was the commander of the Talons, Roc!

Roc was no typical soldier. He was also the last lauded member of the Polaris family, so while Aegir Polaris protected Skycloud along the border, Roc and his special forces protected Skycloud from within. Rarely did they meet face to face, but they held one another in high regard.

Skycloud had three primary special forces. The first was the secretive Court of Shadows, and the second was the largely unknown Hell’s Army. The Talons of God were a group directly under the auspices of the Polaris family, and its leadership were called Wardens.

While Roc raced through the crowd, an enormous shield fell down from the sky. 

Aegir was encased in half a circle of solid metal. Despite how close the suicide soldiers where when they detonated, their explosions didn’t touch the officer.

Amid the roar of explosions rose a triumphant scream.

The earth shook as an armored man hit the ground like a thousand ton metal beast. The enemies all around were crushed beneath him, and the shock wave from his impact scrambled the innards of those nearby. Of course no ordinary soldier was this strong. This was another commander, come to take his toll on the rebels.

One was a Warden of the Talons of God. Another, Exemplar of the Guard Corps.

By comparison, these men were somewhat weaker than Aegir in a fight. However, like the general they were also heroes of Skycloud, with long careers in leadership. With two divisions in tow, they had come in the nick of time to turn the tide of battle.

Countless warships descended from above.

Soldiers tumbled from their decks to join the fight.

Wolfblade reacted, but too late. In an instant he was surrounded by elysian soldiers, everywhere he looked. Three figures had crept up behind before he even knew they were there.

One was a beautiful woman with her long hair fluttering in the breeze. The second was hidden beneath a suit of malleable yet thick armor. Their third companion was a big man with a face crisscrossed by hideous scars.

The three titans of Hell’s Valley!

“I bet you had no idea what you were in for.” Roc stared at the oft-heard but rarely seen Dark Atom commander with cold eyes. “Today is the day you’ve got nowhere else to run.”

True. Where could he turn?

Wolfblade was spent. The suicide soldiers that were with him were all gone. What else was left to him, to battle such a group of elysian heroes? Any one of them could take his life!

Aegir himself was surprised at how quickly they’d arrived. “Roc, stop wasting time and kill this sinner. Finish it!”

The three giants of the valley fixed Wolfblade with hard, angry eyes. Natessa’s ethereal whip of air was fully formed in her grip. Power sizzled through Dumont’s armor. All of the potential within Ekchard’s body was ready, poised for the instant he needed it. All three of them were like taught bowstrings. They were just waiting for the finger to release.

At last, Wolfblade was at the end of his tether. His face did not betray fear, however. Instead there was a rather queer expression on his face.

Regret. Yes, regret. Not that fate had conspired to lead him to this point. No – it was the regret of a merchant who didn’t get the deal he wanted.

“Well, I couldn’t catch the big fish, but a decent haul of shrimp is just as well.” Wolfblade's lips slowly curled into a grin. He slowly reached into his robes and extracted something that looked like a small remote. “It’s time we all achieved Nirvana.”

What was he thinking? It didn’t matter, he couldn’t be allowed to continue!

These soldiers were men of talent and experience. There was no way they were going to allow Wolfblade to drag on a costly and wretched situation. Whatever this thing was he pulled out, under no circumstance could he be allowed to activate it. Between their overwhelming numbers, strength, and the close proximity to their target, they were confident they could do at least that.

There were no words, no orders. 

Three valley giants and three elysian war heroes – six warriors moving in using with an unstated understanding. They converged on Wolfblade. Fast… too fast for him to press any sort of button. But the rebel leader didn’t even try. He just smiled a small, condescending smile.

General Aegir sensed something was amiss. Years of experience had taught him to trust his intuition. The smile on his face and the look in his eye was not the kind you saw on a man backed into a corner. It was the look of a hunter ready to pull the snare. A look of satisfaction.

Why?

What was he missing?

His body and mind operated separately. Inwardly he wracked his brain for an answer, but his body gathered up all the potential of his cells and brought it to bear. No matter what, Wolfblade had to die. Even if he died with him.

A sword shot out from within Roc’s sleeve like a silver serpent. 

The Guard Corps commander charged headlong with his shield held high.

Nor did Aegir hesitate. He poured every bit of strength he had left into his broken sword.

In this key instant, as Aegir bore down on their enemy, his eyes were drawn to the three figures behind Wolfblade. When his eyes met theirs, in that moment he felt like someone poured a bucket of ice water over his head.

Why didn’t it feel like he was looking at allies? 

Instead what he saw in their eyes was the cold light of betrayal.

Finally he understood.

“Careful!”

Natessa’s ten-meter long whip wrapped around Aegir’s throat and pulled.

As the skull soared into the air, the expression on its face was frozen in rage. Before it reached the ground Dumont charged ahead like a comet, smashing into the Guard commander. The large man’s shield was blasted to pieces and he was knocked back several meters. What was left of him didn’t look human at all.

Eckard soared through the air to meet Roc.

His attack was slowest, giving the Warden enough time to react. He wrenched himself to the side, but Eckard still hacked his arm from the socket[1]. Roc endured the intense pain long enough for another blade to leap from his right sleeve. Knocking the instructor’s weapon away, he kicked the man back down onto the ground.

“You actually… but why?!”

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RWX's Thoughts

Has Hell's Army turned traitor?!