Leguna slumped into his chair weakly. The fear that the truth brought him came like a bomb. His heart was beating so hard it was about to explode. He now finally understood what Wayerliss had been doing. When he came to assassinate them around a month ago, he wasn't trying to take their gifts for himself. He was going to return them to Nidhogg! Since Wayerliss wasn't confident he could wipe out Eiron by himself, he decided to help Nidhogg further his goals. The price was he and Moonshadow would serve Nidhogg for good. He also had to take back Nidhogg's power for him!
Now, the crimsonflame fiend, Saron, was dead and the two aspect essences within his body had returned to their former owner. The only one that remained was Annelotte's ice aspect gifts! Nidhogg had always wanted to get his power back!
That was why Eiron ignored the planar laws and risked punishment to save himself and Annelotte. If Nidhogg had been able to get his power back, he would be a terrifying extraneous lifeform that even the planar laws wouldn't be able to handle!
Now wonder Wayerliss denied him when Leguna said his gifts were his own power. He even hinted that the power was stolen from somebody else! He couldn't be too sure where his gift came from, but at the very least, Annelotte's was most probably transplanted into her following Nidhogg's death!
That made her top of the list of Nidhogg's people to hunt down. If he really wanted to protect her, running would do no good. Leguna would have to face the invincible myth-realm magus that terrorized the continent years ago!
"Feeling afraid now?" Myr softly asked without a hint of blaming him. He of all people knew how powerful Nidhogg was.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't." He looked up at him with a pained smile.
"If you're afraid, it's best to leave Annie soon. That way, you might be able to live through this," Myr said sincerely without a hint of mockery, "Ley, you're a good child. While Annie might have a hard time coming for her, I'm sure she would be a little happier knowing that she wouldn't be a burden to you."
Leguna didn't say a word. He merely shook his head.
Myr seemed quite confused by it.
"Grandmaster, you misunderstand me. I admit that I'm afraid of dying. However, I fear losing Annie even more. I fear not having enough power to protect her. I have lost and disappointed her before, but I definitely won't let that happen again. I'll never let her leave me again, ever!"
While he sounded really resolute, he was still just as lost after leaving the court magi association.
[Teacher, what should I do?] he asked Gahrona.
[Get more powerful.] Her answers had been rather short and curt lately.
[Are you willing to help me?]
[Of course. I'll always be on your side.]
In the coming two months, Leguna left all the work in the bureau to Xeno. Apart from participating in crucial meetings and showing up there from time to time, he trained like a madman. He didn't even meet the three girls living in the academy often and only sent enough agents to look after them.
Nobody could tell how the future would develop. Right now, both Leguna and Hocke were preparing for the worst of possible worlds to tackle the disaster.
However, all of Hocke, Leguna included, realized that they were far too naive two months later.
The corpse wave didn't continue moving northward after conquering all of the south. According to the scouts at the front, the corpses seemed to be moving according to a unified will. They were gathering nonstop in one location and weren't in a rush to fight the soldiers of Hocke. It had begun around a month ago. The corpse 'wave' was now an endless corpse ocean. Ever since then, people no longer described the disaster as a wave. Instead, they called it the Tide of Death.
In the following month, all the troops of Hocke suffered a blow so fierce like never before. Even after the empire made their best preparations and took control of all strategic terrain, they were facing a tidal wave of corpses comprised of a fourth of the whole southern empire's population. Even after the independence of the Hocke Empire, Stok still had tens of millions of subjects. Among them, a fourth had turned into moving corpses. Even the strongest of armies wouldn't be able to face off against undead that numbered hundred or thousandfold more than them, not even mentioning the fact that each fallen warrior added one more corpse to their number.
The empire's soldiers fell one after another to the relentless attacks and were forced to retreat. In a short month, more than half of the hundreds of thousands of Hockian soldiers that were about to conquer the millennium capital had been wiped out. All seven to eight divisions of the empire were obliterated and the number of commanding officers that survived numbered far and few in between. In that short a span of time, all of Hocke, nay, all of Chino fell into despair and terror.
"We should ask Lance for reinforcements. This disaster isn't something we can handle!" a fat tax minister yelled in the palace's meeting room.
"That won't work!" Andro yelled, "We've been at odds with the Federation of Nine Cities for so many years. If not for the Central Seas that separates the continents, we would've gone to war with those uncivilized humans already! And now, you want us to ask them for help? Moonshadow aside, it's a miracle they haven't stabbed us in the back already!"
"Moonshadow might not necessarily help us," Leguna added, "Chairman Wayerliss disappeared a few months ago. Arikos had tried to put that matter under wraps for a long time, but lately, the mercenary association and Eye of Arcana, as well as the federation, have begun to take note. It seems like the four factions in Lance are going to start fighting again. Moonshadow will be busy covering for itself."
"Then what else can we do?" The tax minister was at the brink of crying. "Why don't we just all escape to Lance? Chino has been cursed and nobody can live here any longer!"
"Shut up, you coward!" the usually meek Andro bellowed, "Is this something a man of the north should say? Do you understand what you were suggesting? Abandoning the subjects that put their trust in you and giving up on the continent you lived decades in? Are you going to kneel and lick the boots of Starfall's mayor all for the sake of taking another breath? You are a disgrace to us northerners!"
"You want to stay here and die? Only by living can we hold onto other things! Staying here will only have us die in vain!"
"Shut up, you coward!" Andro flung his teacup towards the tax minister. "Serving in the same administration as you is a mark of shame to me! I don't want to hear you speak again!"
"That's enough." Larwin slammed the table, a departure from his usual calm self. He glanced at the tax minister contemptuously and waved.
Two guards entered the room and dragged the screaming coward out. Andro calmed himself and breathed heavily, before kneeling to Larwin. "Your Imperial Majesty! This is our homeland, our nation! We can't abandon it just like that!"
"What other ways do we have?" Larwin sighed.
"None…" The light in Andro's eyes dimmed, but he still turned to look at Larwin resolutely. "But the whole of House Petrazte is willing to give anything up to fight the enemy so long as we're alive."
"Alright, Andro. We all know of your determination." Larwin lifted him up. He knew Andro wasn't just putting up a show. From his own intelligence unit, he was informed that Andro had sent his house's private army to the frontlines in the south. Even his son, Kanjiras, is among them. If not for his old age, Andro would've participated in the battle himself. Larwin knew that he was loyal through-and-through, but he didn't expect that the meek old fellow would have that fierce a side.
When Larwin reseated Andro, he looked at the rest. "What about you? Is there any other way?"
"House Rolin shall perish or survive along with the empire," Alfreid said without hesitating. While he sounded calm, it was clear to everyone that his loyalty did not pale to Andro's in comparison.
"I'll also serve the empire with all I have," Leguna said, standing up. In terms of loyalty to the empire, he definitely couldn't compete with the former two. However, he now shared an enemy with the empire: the Tide of Death and Nidhogg, the mastermind. For Annelotte's sake, he had to side with the empire.
The other ministers in the room stood up one after another and declared they would stay till the end. Everyone looked at Alissanda through a magic screen. It seemed that his view on the matter was key to it all.
"Long time ago, General Manhattan told me that the army is merely a sword of the empire. It doesn't have thoughts of its own," the prince began, "And now, I shall carry out my task as field marshal. The army shall unconditionally obey the decision of the empire's high council and emperor. This sword is pointed where the emperor looks! We have always been the sharpest sword and strongest wall of the empire!"
"For the empire!" Larwin yelled.
"For the empire!"Previous Chapter Next Chapter