Book 6, Chapter 85 - Breaking the Enchantment

Hammont Seacrest was commander of the Drake Corps and a general of Skycloud’s army.

But by comparison to many, his foundation was weak. Hammont rose from the bottom, without help from a rich family or noble connections. In terms of strength he was below average when juxtaposed with other commanders, which was why he was not leading the main ground force.

That made it all the more unthinkable when this portly, weak man openly flouted the Commander-General’s orders. In the middle of combat he was evacuating conscripted citizens despite the risk to Skycloud’s defenses. This heedless act could almost be called rebellion.

With Drake Corps’ twenty thousand troops in tow, there was no avoiding conflict with other army units. To soldiers, orders were like edicts from the gods. Resistance was expected.

Yet many of the soldiers paid Hammont and his men no mind. They turned a blind eye as though it were none of their business. They stood idly by while Hammont’s men guided the civilians away from the front and into the tunnels beneath the city. The soldiers grappled with conflicting emotions.

Soldiers were soldiers. They fought as protectors of the realm and its people, risking their lives. Wasn’t their role to stand for the people who couldn’t defend themselves? Forcing the citizens to pick up weapons caused them to question this fact. Where was their dignity? What was their purpose? Maybe Hammont was only doing what they wish they could. They admired his courage.

He was the only one who could defy the Commander-General.

With no family name to protect and most of his soldiers grassroots warriors like himself, the consequences for his actions were fairly limited. He could follow his ideals without concern. Of course they all knew that openly sewing strife would garner the attention of the upper crust, and sooner or later consequences would come.

There was a sudden blast from overhead. A figure crashed into the center of the group at the speed of sound.

He struck with such force that the ground buckled beneath his feet leaving him standing in a crater. People around him were thrown away like pieces of discarded paper. Standing amid the cloud of dust and debris, Ash’s face was cold as his namesake, eyes fixed on Hammont Seacrest standing straight ahead.

A long street separated the two men, clogged with several hundred soldiers. They were crouched with weapons in hand, wondering what to do.

Ash looked them over as though they were insects. “I was kind enough to lift you up, and you chose to betray me. Why?”

As he spoke a terrifying pressure hung over the crowd. It was like some fierce and mighty beast loomed over them.

The soldiers shifted on unsteady feet, laden with fear and uncertainty. Involuntarily they shuffled away from the man, for even the dimmest man knew when he was inferior. Understanding strength and weakness was built in to everyone, survival relied on it. Everything in them was screaming to run, that this man was unbeatable. Escape. Escape!

Hammont slowly removed his glimmering helmet. His tousled, sweat-soaked hair fell about an ordinary face. He’d abandoned fear, so with a steady hand he flung the helm aside. It hit the ground with a metallic knell and rolled away.

“You gave it. Take it back. I do what I want now.”

“So you want to die. I can help you.”

Hammont was fully aware of how terrible this man was, but he did not cower. Nearby soldiers looked at each other speechlessly. Many once belonged to the expeditionary force, some even knew Hammont personally. They decided to stand by his side.

“Protect the General!”

More than a dozen officers had followed Hammont in defiance of Ash’s orders. Now they doubled down, placing themselves between their commanding officer and the Commander-General. As more bore witness to the scene they could hardly believe what they saw. 

The rebels all knew what would become of them. Winning wasn’t possible. Survival was hopeless. They made their decision anyway.

“We must protect the commander!”

Resolve hardened their expressions. Soldiers gripped their weapons tight and pointed them at the Praelius warrior.

Ash regarded the traitors as they rushed at him from all sides, like a horde of apes. As the seconds ticked by his face darkened. It was unthinkable that this unassuming fat man would command such loyalty! He took a single step forward – nothing special, yet the ground trembled.

In the next instant, the ground erupted like it’d been struck by a missile.

The street fractured, bulging upward as cracks spread through every inch. Even nearby buildings shattered like they were made of glass.

Ash rocketed forward. A fearless officer tried to meet him with a well-executed Spearhead maneuver, but his sword left no mark. On the contrary, it broke apart.

Ash grabbed the officer and threw him aside. The doomed man crashed through a dozen soldiers before slamming into a nearby tower. The upper half of his body was entirely ruined.

A hail of crossbow bolts ensued. Ash paid them no mind. With his black spear lashing out like an angry dragon, he thrust through another group of soldiers. He burst passed their bodies and continued the onslaught. Wherever he appeared bodies fell, unable to stop him. When he stopped to catch his bearings, the Commander-General saw that Hammont had fled. He’d turned tail and escaped when Ash began his attack.

He scowled. Hammont was supposed to be tough, he thought. In the end he was nothing but a coward.

His thunderous voice rose, commanding the rest of the ground forces to surround Drake’s Corps. Ash would deal with Hammont personally. But as he turned to pursue the general more of his men threw themselves at him.

Why?!

The warrior mutilated the first of them, killing him in an instant.

His confusion deepened. Why would these men throw their lives away? What were they holding on to? What were they pursuing? Did they not understand that not one among them was a match for this single Praelius warrior?

Ash was too fast for Hammont to get far. The General knew he was living on borrowed time. But that was the point – that’s why he’d captured Ash’s attention. It was the fastest way to end this war…

Hammont still didn’t understand why Arcturus had shown such trust and faith in Cloudhawk before his death. But he believed in the Governor, so he would give everything he could to see the man’s will done. He would help Cloudhawk because he was convinced it would help Skycloud.

He was just a nobody…

This was all he could do.

As for his men, they all trusted him. It was a constant surprise to him that someone so insignificant would be followed by so many. It was because they shared the same ideals. Together they hoped to do something big.

Looking over his shoulder, he saw his friends being mowed down. Each death cry was like a dagger to the heart, but he knew that sacrifice was necessary. He fully expected his life to be among them.

His escape lasted less than fifteen minutes. A silhouette crashed into the ground before him, cutting off passage. An officer who had been running with him shoved Hammont to the side just in time to block the encroaching attack. He was blasted to pieces. Hammont felt his hot blood splatter across his face.

Ash’s callous gaze was fixed on the fat man. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Hammont reached for his sword, but before he could draw it halfway he felt something hot and sharp dig into his body. It felt like a white-hot fire iron in his gut. His sword fell back into its sheath while Hammont was thrown back, slamming into a nearby wall. It was indented from the impact.

Ash’s spear was buried in the fat man’s body. Hammont was powerless.

The Commander-General approached after throwing his weapon. He reached forth to pull the spear free when suddenly the piercing note of an alarm caught his attention. He looked up in time to see the enchantment protecting the city begin to flicker. It looked like a bubble about to burst.

Ash’s expression turned murderously cold. His eyes slid back to Hammont. “You...”

Blood trickled down the General’s face. It turned his wry smile gruesome. “Bingo. We were cover, our real aim was to bring down the enchantment.”

“Filthy traitor!”

Ash ripped his spear free and aimed for a killing blow. But a sudden feeling of danger gripped him and from a sudden void he saw a black rod maybe three feet long appear. It struck his weapon so hard the spear warped. Ash was flung away, crashing through four houses before coming to rest.

What staggering power… !

He… Ash looked through the shattered walls at the one who attacked him. A young man appeared from a ripple in space. The interference in Skycloud’s enchantment was all he needed to find a way in.

The Commander-General saw the protective boundary continue to weaken. It wouldn’t be long before it failed completely. Skycloud would lose its most important defense!

He wanted to run but Cloudhawk wouldn’t allow it. A blade of crackling lightning burst to life and struck. Ruin’s power obliterated half the block, cutting off Ash’s escape.

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