Polymath Redux Annex
Chapter 63 – The only way out is through ‘death’
The Lord General, ‘Ilyich’ stood silently staring down death. Grasped by the daunting frigidity of the night’s cruel breeze, a dry shiver ran down his spine. ‘Fear’, or an emotion very similar to it. It was an oddly nostalgic sensation; one he had not felt since the times he had just been another no-named soldier on the front lines for the Empire.
He was a war general. Yet, as one who commanded such a prestigious title, he now stood unnerved. Repulsion trying to crawl out of his throat. He tried his best not to let those emotions reflect on his face, but he could anyone truly stay calm in this situation? Under his command- his responsibility- he had thrown away the lives of thirty people. A haunted midnight with the devil. He had to believe their deaths were justified by the fact that they discovered the existence of a truly terrifying monster. Better they lost 30 and prepared for the future than to have stayed blind and lost countless more due to their ignorance.
‘Tsk,’ still, the sight of these people shredded up like torn garbage was a truly repulsive one. Ilyich neither turned away nor made a sour face. With dignity and reverence for the dead he lightly pulled down the edge of his hood and offered a silent thought. As a ‘War General’ he had already sent countless soldiers to their deaths, this was no different. A nerve of steel was required for this post.
The Lord General locked eyes with the monster behind the massacre. Was it a cruel joke? What he saw wasn’t some impossibly huge dragon or demonic god, but a plain knight in shoddy, ill-maintained armour. The identity of this knight was a mystery; the only feature he could properly establish through the gaps of his visor were a pair of unique red eyes gleaming through. They were reasonably rare enough trait that could serve as a noteworthy starting point to a search once this was over. Ilyich furthered his observation with a few steps to the side, ‘his body type is too average to be a worthy point of reference. Nothing else to go by… perhaps his mannerism?’ The stance of the knight was not at all professional; if he had to be more specific, it was as though an actor was pretending to be a knight.
Another point of note was the fact the knight chose this look to go with. If the opponent was that strong then he could’ve easily made enough money to purchase higher value equipment. He didn’t, which meant that he was deliberately trying to keep a low profile. Perhaps, or rather most definitely, this meant that even the kingdom of Xagontetia did not know about this person’s power. They would’ve used it as leverage in the war a long time ago if that had been the case. Even the church specified nothing about this man.
“How about a deal?” the Lord General spoke up. It was a guaranteed impossibility to leave this situation alive should it come to a direct confrontation. However, a negotiation might be possible.
“A deal?” intrigued, his smothering killing intent lifted for the time being.
Ilyich nodded, “I say ‘deal’, but it would be more apt to call it an ‘establishment of goodwill’. The Baliazoural Empire is willing to cease all attempts to recover the package in exchange for your cooperation.”
The knight thought for a moment before asking for clarification, “if I were to refuse? There’s very little you guys can do to stop me. No matter what you try, it will just end in miserable failure.”
The Lord General let out a small chuckle. “Indeed, that seems likely. Which is why I called it an ‘establishment of goodwill’. The Empire is willing to sanction, even endorse, all your actions. We can also provide support if you wish for it. Going as far as stopping this entire war would not be out of questions should you agree.” While Ilyich’s proposal was far more blemished and overhyped, this was a system that the Empire currently adopted. Known as the ‘sanction of privateers’; while it wasn’t an official state of alliance, the Empire would grant various levels of sanctuary and support to corsairs and other such outlaws so long as they did not stand in direct conflict of the Empire’s interests. Doing this helped harass enemy forces, such as trade ships, transport cargo, etc, without losing a single soldier on the Empire’s end.
“Hmm,” the knight reacted positively with a curious sentiment. “Ending the war and having the confidence of an entire Empire behind me. It sounds like a good offer.”
It would be of benefit to us both, especially for you.”
“Right, although I must ask one thing.”
“You think I’d believe an errand-boy like you has the power to promise me something on that scale?”
Ilyich was at a loss for words. That he was here to retrieve a package was greatly overshadowed by the meeting of a godlike being. He had almost forgotten. “Ah, my apologies for not introducing myself sooner.” The Lord General lowered his hood to reveal his face. An aged yet sturdy face. Scars of battle that proved his story hidden behind his clothes only showing the tip at the base of his neck. Where he lacked for youthful vigour, he made up for with an aura of wisdom and professionalism. “I am the Lord General, Ilyich,” he bowed. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“The Lord General?!” it was the man behind the knight that spoke up. His eyes widened but soon calmed down, probably having realized the importance of the ‘package’. It was odd for someone of the Lord General’s post to come down as an ‘errand-boy’, but not at all unreasonable. “You’re the leader of the ‘Right Hand’?”
Yet, the knight did not show the same level of enthusiasm or acknowledgement. “Hm,” the knight nodded, “Lord General, is it? It certainly appears to be a prominent position. Guess I should’ve figured out from your high-class equipment you were someone important. I apologize for my doubting you.”
“I do not mind.”
“That said, as good as your offer is, I cannot accept.”
“… is that so? A shame,” Ilyich drew his sword from his waist. A feeble last attempt; he knew best himself that it was just the last resort. It was the same as the others’, an ornate sword with the metallic blade replaced by a jagged sanguine crystal; a ‘Magic Sword’. Since the offer was refused, there was no way out of this except through death. “At the very least, could you explain why you refused?” The sword pointed towards the knight.
The knight responded by raising three fingers.
“Three reasons. The first reason is simple: I don’t need an Empire behind me. Or rather, I think this ‘story’ might be more enjoyable for the Empire to continue playing the antagonistic role.”
“I see… and the second?”
The knight responded not verbally but with actions. He snapped his fingers audibly. As he did an unnatural swirl of a dark vortex opened beneath his feet. A corruptive influence of magical energy spread out and consumed the area, making it like a swamp- hard to move. Then Ilyich felt a knife sharp- blood lust aim straight for his heart. With his sheer determination he broke free from the bondage of oppression to move a few inches. He had managed to just avoid a fatal gust of black winds in the shape of dark blades. However, that was not enough in the end. The dark influences were spread all over. Evasion was impossible in this position.
A cold voice whispered into his ears. The gentle yet malicious whisper of a woman. “The second reason is because you dared to point your blade towards my master.” Following those words was a jab from his back. He felt an ice cold edge sink into his back and protrude out from his chest. Unimaginable pain climbed and spread through his body. He instantly fell to his knees. The black sword remained lodged through his body, mere inches away from his vulnerable heart.
He didn’t realize when, but the knight appeared before him and crouched to his level. “Listen carefully now,” spoke the knight as he touched the tip of the blade with his finger. He slowly moved the blade towards his heart. It ran through his flesh like a hot knife through butter. “The final reason may seem trivial to you, but it is the most important one. It is because the actions of your country have caused a great deal of distress to my friends. Don’t misunderstand, I won’t say your actions were wrong… just unfortunate it had to drag me into it.” The knight’s words drew the curtains for the Lord General’s life. His finger manipulated the black blade through his heart. There was no pain; it had been numbed long ago.
“…” blood filled Ilyich lungs and climbed out from his throat. “Guh…” blood gushed from his mouth and smeared across the knight’s helmet.
“It was a pity. Had we met under more favourable circumstances, I would’ve genuinely liked to hear some of your stories.”