Rows and rows of Elves waited in formation on the grassy plains below the eastern world tree. The bulk of this force was the green and blue keepers, of which, Swind was the leader of a ten-man squadron.
This was an incredible feat. Even Elven keepers, whether High Elves or Wood Elves, struggled to gain their own squadrons. Some of the more jealous people would claim that Swind had only gained this privilege and honour due to his close relationship with the Nine-tails, but many others would disagree.
The woman who instated him, Sal'ta, a Wood Elf who was a council elder as well as the grand general of all the green keepers, had actually personally dismissed fourteen green keepers who had insisted that Swind was unfit to lead and should never be allowed to direct anyone on the principle of him being an outsider.
Sal'ta was a firm believer in equality. Most Elves were on the fence about outsiders except for Humans which they almost unanimously detested.
Sal'ta had seen Swind's outstanding performance in the few missions he had been given that involved hunting. She had also listened with great interest as Swind's team leader sung his praises. It was so bad, in fact, that Sal'ta had to witness Swind collecting herbs herself to understand what all of the fuss was about.
Needless to say, Sal'ta was stunned to see how amazing Swind was at effectively leading his team members without actually leading them. He was always there to assist his external team leader, Falgoth, whenever he screwed something up.
Falgoth was the worst green keeper with no prospects to ever be promoted to blue keeper status, but in the past four months, he had outperformed his peers to the point that the possibility of elevating his status actually seemed somewhat reasonable now. All of this was thanks to Swind's indirect help.
It was due to all of this, that Sal'ta saw fit to give Swind such an important role in this coming battle. Of course, there were hundreds of ten-man squadron leaders, but Swind was the sole one that caught Sal'ta's eye.
Of course, Breena Redtail - Swind's internal leader, was also worthy of attention. However, she possessed the opposite of Swind: No leading potential, but immense personal strength. She had been assigned as a helper to a purple squadron despite her green keeper status.
Fep looked at Swind and laughed quietly. "This is quite frightening, isn't it?" he said as he glanced at the large mass of black that was slowing approaching from the horizon on the western side of the world tree, just above the forest.
Swind turned to look at Fep and gave him a strange look. "Why is-ss it frightening, Mr Fep?"
A bit flustered by Swind nonchalant and relaxed attitude, Fep fumbled with his words. "W-Well, we might all die today..."
Swind cocked his head and gave Fep another odd look. "Isn't that the case every day of your life, Mr Fep?"
"I don't quite follow..." Fep was regretting striking up a conversation with his scaley friend this time. Usually, Swind was far more entertaining to talk to.
With his brass arm, Swind scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I have ss-seen a being ss-so incredibly powerful, that it would not ss-surprise me if he possessed the might required to destroy this-ss entire world." Images of Clicker flashed through Swind's head momentarily.
He tried his best to smile at the blue-skinned man. "Regardless-ss of that being, in a place like Altros-ss, death lies-ss around every corner. You could get a dagger to the throat in your ss-sleep, wake up only to find a magical curse cast upon you, be caught up in an extermination force, or maybe even wind up defending a ss-sacred tree against an Ancient Dragon."
All of Swind's ten-man squadron, as well as several other ones, were intently listening to Swind's words. "However, Mr Fep, you must always-ss remember that each day that you have yet to meet your end, is-ss another day that you are alive. It ss-sounds-ss ss-silly, I know, but by believing in this-ss, I find it impossible to not be happy and proud that I am where I am. Why treat today like the end, when any other day could just as-ss easily be the end as-ss well? I do not wish to become a paranoid old bag of ss-scales-ss one day, ss-so I live every day with a positive outlook on life."
Swind patted Fep on the shoulder. "Be happy that we can win, not anxious-ss that we might lose."
"Your optimism... Is as inspiring as always, Swind," Fep sighed in defeat.
Swind rudded his head. "Is-ss it?"
All of the gathered soldiers agreed with Fep. Swind had apparently accidentally boosted everyone's morale.
Lone, who was standing on a barrier blade that Sophie had created for him, crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his foot onto the transparent surface of the barrier impatiently.
Great Elder Lipsilk, who was hovering next to him, found himself being absolutely intrigued by the floating orb that seemed to possess a will of its own. No matter how hard he tried to touch it, the blasted thing wouldn't let him. The orb just quickly moved to the other side of Lone, out of Lipsilk's reach.
"Lone, what on Altros is that thing? It is absolutely fascinating!" Lipsilk couldn't understand why such an ordinary looking object could orbit Lone so effortlessly without the use of any spells or special techniques, not to mention the sentience it appeared to have.
Lone just waved his hand dismissively. He knew that Lipsilk, a Fairy who was also an XXX-ranker, would be able to see through his shoddy illusion on the Divine Soul Prison with next-to-no effort. "Just ignore it for now. Treat it like a ball that returns no matter how hard I throw it."
"Pardon?" Lipsilk tossed Lone a curious look.
Lone decided the simple show what he meant. He raised his hand to the orb. It quickly rushed to his palm as if it desperately wanted attention from its master, however, before it could place itself in Lone's hand, he flicked his fingers as hard as he could onto the orb, sending it rocketing through the air. A mere split-second later, and it was back, happily orbiting Lone.
With a heavy sigh, Lone said, "See? It's just a toy right now."
"Right now?" Ele'hunda, who was on the other side of Lone, asked.
Lone smirked. "You'll see when that scaley bastard shows himself."
"Is that so?" Ele'hunda ran his fingers through his beard thoughtfully.
"I look forward to that," Lipsilk said before his expression hardened. "Well, I just felt four massive mana signatures appear about two-thousand meters away."
"So the generals are here, huh?" Lone muttered.
"It would appear so," Ele'hunda said. "We'll leave you here then, Lone. Good luck against Ythmagobla. Our survival is resting on your shoulders."
"Likewise," Lone replied with a nod of his head.
Lone watched the two XXX-rankers fly off, so he contacted Sophie. 'You can release the barrier now. Also, be careful. Your job is maybe the most dangerous one. Immediately step into the void and send me a message, and I'll unsummon you straight away if you're in serious danger.'
'Mmm. I know, I won't take any risks. You too, be careful, Lone.' The worry in Sophie's voice filled Lone's heart with warmth.
'I will. I love you,' Lone said as a farewell.
'I love you too, Lone,' Sophie replied.
After that short exchange, the barrier beneath Lone's feet disappeared and he softly landed on the ground. Concealing himself in a simple Illusionary Dome, Lone focused his mind and began meditating. He would not participate until Ythmagobla appeared.
'I really hope I'm wrong, but if I'm not, then he'll be in for a big surprise, that ugly old fucker...' Lone thought to himself as images of Clicker flashed through his mind.
Sophie felt like she was suffocating once she saw the four generals of Ythmagobla.
One was a small Dragon of some sort. It seemed like the weakest of the bunch. Another looked no different from your normal Human, but Sophie could identify him as a Vampire without needing to use Clicker's ability solely on his pale skin and visible fangs.
The other two were the ones making Sophie so frightened. The Succubus, in particular. She seemed to be the strongest of the four. The other general was just a moving blob of green matter. Sophie didn't know what it was, but everywhere it moved, the things around it died and withered away.
Sophie's job was very simple, but at the same time, incredibly dangerous and complex. Lipsilk and Ele'hunda would serve as a distraction for the generals. Once their attention had been drawn, Sophie would teleport everyone away to designated battle zones.
The last thing they could allow, was all four of the generals sticking together and crushing Lipsilk and Ele'hunda.
It was risky, no, incredibly risky. Not only did the plan hinge on Sophie's success, but it also required Lone's companions to be able to slay, or at least keep occupied, two of the generals.
Immediately upon seeing Lipsilk and Ele'hunda, Van, the Monarch Vampire, frowned. "You, Fairy, how are you still alive? I was under the impression that we'd only be crushing one fellow XXX-ranker today."
Lipsilk just grinned. "I wonder? I want to make a joke and say that I woke up feeling fine and dandy, but to be honest, that overgrown lizard's curse wasn't that big of a deal in the first place."
The Emperor Slime thrashing about dangerously.
The Succubus spoke to sooth it. "Don't get so worked up, Benka. He's lying. My bet is that the stupid Radiance Dragon healed him somehow."
Ele'hunda noticed that Itchy, the Unhcegila, was a bit distracted. He didn't know why, but he chose to seize that opportunity. Launching himself like a missile, he punched Itchy right in the face, making her fly through the air and land several hundred meters away.
Lipsilk took that as his signal to start his assault as well. Raising his hands, several magic circles appeared in front of his tiny body. Beams of pure light started to cascade down on the other three generals without pause.
'I have to do it now!' Sophie said to herself.
Sophie teleported to the Vampire and grabbed him by the arm, surprising him. A fraction of a second later, he was a few miles away. Sophie had improved immensely with her Teleportation skill recently, so this was the new limit of that skill with a single use.
Within the same second, she teleported back to the others and grabbed Ele'hunda. The two disappeared before only Sophie returned. This time, she grabbed Benka, the green mass of goo.
When she reappeared, her left hand was missing. Sophie had been forced to cut it off since it immediately corroded upon contact with the slime and the corrosion was quickly spreading to her arm.
Her face was filled with pain, but she didn't stop. She made for the still confused Itchy and put her remaining hand on the Unhcegila's tail.
Once they had disappeared, the Succubus looked very confused and very amused. "How interesting. I didn't know that teleportation to that degree was possible without enchantments, rituals or grand sacrifices. Who is that girl?"
Lipsilk smiled faintly. "The fiancée of the most dangerous and mysterious man alive, to my understanding."
The Succubus licked her lips seductively. "Mind telling me where to find this man? I do love a little bit of... naughtiness."
"I'm afraid he already has a date. In fact, you know the person in question. Big, ugly, purple, very smokey, Ancient but without a hint of wisdom. Ring any bells?" Lipsilk's voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"Funny. Well then, little Fairy, shall we dance? I doubt you'll let me go and slaughter that girl before I kill you, now will you?" The Succubus asked as she gently stroked her chin.
Lipsilk sighed. "To be honest, I'd rather we kept talking, but you're not stupid enough to let me buy enough time for my companions to kill your companions, now are you?"
Shaking her head, the Succubus laughed. "I'm afraid not."
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