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Chapter 40 | The Horde

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The next morning, Dustin received reports of freelancers standing by across the river. Their weaponry would take care of any monster attempting to ford the deep river. Looking out in the clearing beyond the wall would be the battlefield. They cleared the trees to half a mile out to the defined tree line years ago in case an attack came. It was standard practice.

Commander Dustin had his men dig trenches for the monsters to fall into and place fencing and spikes to delay the monsters’ advance. The monsters in the Elven Forest were fearsome but they all bled the same. Combating a horde of monsters was a common event north of the Nortsek Mountains due to the vast forests and concentrated populations in cities. In the south, there were more plains and farms, not very good areas for monsters to spawn.

Yesterday, a ray of white light shocked everyone in Riverside, his men on the wall in particular. From the banisters, they had a better vantage point than most of Riverside and they swore they saw hell approaching. After the meteor blast, flashes of light in the sky were considered a bad omen in the eyes of the townsfolk. Everyone cowered in fear when they saw another flash of light in the sky over the Elven Forest But this time, it was a flare. That could only mean one thing.

Commander Dustin took a rifle from his lieutenant used its sights to spot who fired the flare. He saw a caravan with a dozen horses and a stagecoach heading towards Riverside with the monster horde at their tail. The men in the back of the stagecoach were firing their rifles to keep the fast-approaching canine monsters at bay.

“Damn it all,” Commander Dustin cursed under his breath. “Lieutenant Charles, send your men outside and open the gates. We need to cover their retreat!”

“Yes, sir!” Charles answered his commander and went on his way down the wall to the courtyard where his elite platoon was ready.

Dustin looked on as he saw the horde emerge from the tree line and darken the ground as they made their way forward. They were monstrosities. Many were burnt and beyond recognition from the meteorite and ran as if it was a wave of unholy raw flesh. They were darkness incarnate which wanted nothing more than to destroy and absorb everything into their collective evil.

“Fire!” Commander Dustin ordered. “Cover the caravan and blast those freaks of nature out of existence!”

All the cannons fired simultaneously and their empty casings shot out of the ejection port. They fired freezing shells and flew accurately to their destinations behind the caravan and blasted the monsters as they became encased in crystal. Dozens of shells rained behind the caravan and created a wall of crystal.

The leader of the caravan had his sword in hand as he rode with great speed on his horse. He came to the wooden spikes lining the road and tore through all of them with a single spell and a single swing with his sword. The spikes were cut a great distance away and made a path for them to the gates. To Dustin’s surprise, they were taking the stagecoach with them. They also created temporary magical barriers to get the wagon over the trenches by riding over them.

The gun and cannon fire were relentless and kept the monsters near the edge of the clearing. The caravan reached the gate. After the stagecoach entered, Charles’ men ran back in and closed the gates.

***

Jeromy and his remaining men crossed through Riverside’s gates and was in safe territory at last. He dismounted his horse and looked at his tired soldiers. They weren’t mere mercenaries in his eyes. They were loyal soldiers no matter what the elves or Empire said. Many died while defending their ideals for Seuteria. They all acted professionally with the highest competency and honor.

He grasped his side and found that his wound had opened. Selina came to his side immediately to support him.

“Jeromy! Are you alright?” She cried. It was usual for her to show so much emotion and concern for him. It blessed his heart to have someone like that in his life. He thought this as the pain coursed through him. “We made it. We made back because of you.”

“Captain, you saved us!” One of his men said.

“Thank you for believing in us!” Said another. It was a nice sentiment but Patrick and many more weren’t with them. He did what needed to be done.

Jeromy stayed silent and down casted as he leaned on Selina’s shoulder. “We need to get you to the hospital,” she said.

“Hold on, Selina,” Jeromy spoke weakly as he stood under his own strength and sensed the approach of a certain someone.

“What the hell was that?!” Commander Dustin jumped down from the banister of the wall down fifty meters. He stomped towards Jeromy in a rage as the sounds of guns and cannon shots continued to fill everyone’s ears. The scene looked strange because Dustin was younger and a few inches shorter than Jeromy.

“Please, now isn’t the time for this,” Jeromy pleaded.

“You’re putting my men and Riverside in danger. I say now is as good of a time as any to explain your actions!”

“Dustin, please! Many perished and are wounded. I’m really banged up too. Their families would want to know what happened too. But not right now,” Jeromy said as calmly as he could. He understood how Dustin saw the situation but he had to take care of his comrades first. He was still their captain.

Dustin stared at Jeromy aggressively but swallowed those feelings. “This isn’t over!”

With that, Commander Dustin went back up the wall to command his garrison.

“Sister!” Yuli appeared and ran towards her sister, Selina, with a couple of gatekeepers chasing her.

“Yuli?” Selina presented a strong face in front of her caring younger sister but something was clearly wrong. Yuli understood it very well and gave her a comforting hug. Selina couldn’t refuse her so she hugged her back. Both sisters cried in each other’s arms.

“I am glad you are safe,” Yuli said in a muffled voice, shedding large droplets.

“Yuli…” Jeromy called for her.

“Sir Jeromy…” Yuli said weakly. She was worried for him.

“We need to get everyone to the hospital.”

The group went into town with the cannons still resonating in the air. The townsfolk were hiding in their homes. Everyone in the north knew what to do in this kind of situation and they all barricaded themselves. The hospital was in the New District by the Sohao river. Jeromy could see the damage the meteorite’s air burst had on the structures. Many ornaments and aesthetics were blown off and most of the glass windows were missing, replaced by improvised wooden shutters.

Considering the amount of damage, the citizens of Riverside did a good job with repairs in just twelve hours.

The freelancers were crossing the river to join the battle, doing so against Commander Dustin’s orders. Jeromy did cause a lot of trouble on top of everything. This might give him even more reason to be enraged when they inevitably meet again.

They arrived at the two-story hospital, a converted inn. The nurses inside was frightened by the amount of blood they saw. Jeromy and Selina pulled the stagecoach into the stables which connect to the back entrance to the hospital. Inside the stagecoach was stuffed with the dying, ten in total.

All of them had some sort of injury but those in the stagecoach needed immediate help. All the nurses and the two doctors who worked here helped set up a triage in the backyard. Jeromy needed to see to his injury so he left Yuli and Selina alone with the stagecoach.

“Jeromy is very hurt. I have never seen him like that. Sister, what happened in the forest?” Yuli asked.

Selina smiled as best as she could and rubbed her little sister’s head tenderly, “I cannot tell you for your own safety. But we did lose a lot of people. So, now Yuli, this is important. I need you to call Aunt Elise over here right away.”

Yuli nodded with a determined face. She wanted to help. Elise soon came to the hospital’s stable with Yuli in tow.

“Oh, Selina dear. What has happened to you?” Elise said with pain in her heart. She could read Selina’s emotions and it was crying out.

“We can discuss it later,” Selina avoided her gaze returned to her normal stoic expression. “Aunt Elise, I need you to look after someone for the time being.”

“Who would that be?” Elise asked, confused.

Selina hopped into the stagecoach and opened the trapdoor to a false bottom. There was a young elven boy hiding there covered in hay. He had holding a spell gem to get past any caster without detecting his aura. He appeared to be in commoner clothing and had green eyes and short black hair. He sat up.

“Where is Nerea? Selina?” The boy spoke in this sweet voice and was tearing up.

“She is not here at the moment but she should come back soon, okay?” Selina reassured.

“Okay…”

“Aunt Elise. Yuli. This is the second prince of the Grethenian Kingdom, Lue Quin.”

***

In order to fight the horde of monsters, Alisha had to shift to her real body back at her dungeon. She wasn’t able to use her mana pool while in another body. Her surrogate bodies couldn’t do much so they were as weak as a normal human. It was risky to get out of the dungeon but she wanted to be helpful. Everyone should be preoccupied with fighting the horde to notice her from miles away.

Jun rustled in his sleep and was woken up with a nudge of her hand.

“Jun? Were you okay by yourself?” Alisha asked sweetly.

He barked happily and leaped into her arms. She giggled as he was licking her face.

“It’s good to see you~”

The new body she prepared should have no ill effects. Alisha placed Jun’s soul gem near the nape. Once Jun’s soul was incorporated into the body, she took out the empty soul gem as a precaution against the Network’s bad influence. Everything seemed fine now. Using Jun’s old body eliminated any issues with compatibility and identity.

This method was good but she couldn’t use this on herself because she didn’t have her original body with her and it wasn’t like she would want it even if she did. What Jack told her yesterday interested her greatly. The leader of the Phoenix, Nolan, created a method for implanting soul gems into child vessels. As the children grew, the compatibility and identity issues went away. She had to study this more in detail after this attack was defeated.

Although she found her solution to her identity issues, it also revealed a troubling fact. Jack wasn’t affected by the dark aura of the Network when he was a monster because he was reincarnated. The reincarnated shouldn’t be affected by the dark aura whether they were monster or human. She wanted to blame the Network or her feeding urges or her identity issues for Black coming to being but it wasn’t. After a long period of denial, she had to accept that Black was part of her.

The vindictive anger she felt was all her.

Alisha prepared a meal for her revived friend, a large venison steak with potatoes. After which, she took Jun outside and continued her surveillance of the situation with company. Jun’s fluffiness was incomparable.

She looked through the scope of the snipe rifle. If Alisha casted a spell for light refraction in front of the scope, she could increase vision of the sights to around three miles. This was the distance to the open field beyond the town walls and the stage for the upcoming battle.

Alisha made sure her sniping position was out-of-the-way so that the shots won’t come from the direction of her dungeon. She wanted to help with the Riverside defense but the hunt for her made it impossible to offer it to the people. She would do what she could from here.

The production of these rifles had been a huge boost for her offense abilities. She thanked Guide a bunch for this. The problem with the guns in this world was that they weren’t very sophisticated. All they had were revolvers and lever rifles, a bit abysmal if you asked a reincarnated.

Automatic rifles were only used by low-level casters and sniper rifles were made redundant because of spells increasing the range and accuracy of normal rifles. When she was wondering in the forest at the beginning, she shot a deer with her bow from a mile away. But when working with this distance, it made working with sniper rifles worth it.

“Alisha!” Reinold was here and called to her from her position in the trees. Seeing Guide’s light orb with him, she could she how he found her. She laid her rifle down between the branches and jumped down with Jun in hand.

“Hello Reinold! What brings you here?” Alisha asked with a smile.

“Good morning, Alisha.”

“Good morning? What are you here for, Reinold? I had thought you would be with the town militia preparing.”

“I came here to check up on you. Commander Dustin didn’t want help from my family, including me. I guess he was afraid of the optics if the town or the Association got involved with the defense,” he shouted up to her. The town militia were mostly just there to guard in case the wall fell. If the wall did fall, it would be the end of Riverside. However, if Dustin and his men were to repel the attack, they’d receive all the credit.

“That’s irresponsible of him. You’d think with a monster horde that any increase in man-power fighting the horde was important.”

“Well, the wall cannons will kill most of them. They’re important for crowd-control. Having more men than you need in this type of situation is bad.”

“I see. Then I appreciate you for your concern.”

“No problem. What are you doing now?”

“I thought I could help with the defense,” Alisha said with confidence as she puffed out her chest to look tougher.

“All the way out here?”

“Yes, I built a sniper rifle for such an occasion.”

“All the way out here?” He asked again.

“I have the range.”

“I don’t think there’s a sniper rifle I know of that can shoot further than two miles.”

Like the one that shot me? She thought, reliving being shot through the chest by Gale’s men.

“Here,” Alisha raised her hand and casted a simple telekinetic spell to lift her homemade rifle and bring it down to show Reinold. She jumped down to him. “While that is true, casting can compensate the distance.”

“You’ve been practicing your casting,” he said and looked almost proud of her development.

“Yes, I’ve done a lot of training in my dungeon. Although I can only cast passive spells infused in mana gems.” Reinold took a look at Alisha’s rifle and was stunned by the quality and smoothness of its surface. “This is infused with several magic resistances and acceleration spells. I incorporated many techniques from Earth to make the metal alloy and to improve the range.”

“This is amazing, Alisha,” Reinold said, earnestly.

“Thanks. But I suppose the people in my old world had seen better. I just tried to copy what was already done.”

“I heard Earth was relatively peaceful. Were you enlisted in an army?”

“No, I wasn’t. Earth doesn’t have monsters but there are still wars and plenty of violence. I lived a poor area in my city. It wasn’t pleasant growing up in such a place,” Alisha said and found herself opening up more than usual to Reinold, or even to Yuli.

“I’m just a bit concerned. What happened in your old life to make you so adaptable in this one? It makes me sad,” Reinold said so in melancholy. He began to pat her head. Alisha blushed hard and became flustered as she brushed off his hand.

“W—What are you doing?!” She stammered. Reinold developed a smile and then a chuckle.

“I’m simply giving you my praise for your excellent work,” he said.

Alisha was flustered and snatched her rifle from his hand before regaining her composure. “Thank you for saying so.” It was too embarrassing for her to look at Reinold properly right now.

“Madam. Reinold. The horde is approaching the Riverside perimeter,” Guide announced.

The horde has finally arrived and earlier than expected. At Riverside, the town bell sounded once again as the after effect of the meteor strike was coming in the form of thousands of monsters of the Elven Forest. The elves took great care in maintaining the ecosystem but that also meant monster dens and dungeons were allowed to develop and spawn high-level monsters. This was not going to be an easy battle.

“Alisha, do you have another of this rifle?” Reinold asked.

“You want to help?”

“Yes, I thought you could use some and I don’t particular care for Commander Dustin.”

Alisha smiled widely at him. “Alright. You can have this one.”

She handed her own rifle to him and took out another one with her Expanded Space. Reinold accepted it as if he was given a present. He looked so enthusiastic despite the dire situation.

Reinold looked towards Riverside and found a strange excitement about the impeding danger. Was it wrong for him to be enjoying this? Was he enjoying this too much?

Up in the sky, over the Elven Forest across the river, a flare went up and exploded. It showered the people of Riverside with bright light. Reinold spotted the flare and knew it could only mean one thing.

“They’re back,” He said. “We need to get into position to help them.”

Alisha looked through her scope and saw a convoy of only a few horses and stagecoach running up the road to the gates. This was the expedition Elise and Yuli told her about. “Alright!”

***

The cannons kept at firing continuously for over an hour. The shells exploded and released the spell gems they contained. The fire activated the spells and the wide area it affects killed nearly all the monsters within it in one shot. However, there was a limit to how long they could keep this up. These shells were expensive relative to their demand and usage. There was no way they could keep this rate of fire for more than a few hours. Commander Dustin knew this.

At this point, it was only a matter of time before the monsters with range attacks become a threat to the wall. They had no choice now but to rely on the obstacles they prepared and use their rifles to thin the herd. A volley of shells was fired every now and then to disrupt the crowd and keep the monsters apart.

The freelancers were getting into the fray now. Dustin had no choice but to allow it. He even saw some sniper shots from across the river. The horde of monsters were getting too close to the walls. His men were beginning to show anxiety in their eyes so Dustin grabbed a rifle himself.

“Everyone! Keep up your fire!” He shouted so that all his men head what he said across the wall. He used a spell to amplify his voice. Dustin began shooting his freezing spells to kill the approaching monsters and to also create more obstacles. His actions inspired his men in the face of overwhelming odds.

***

Alisha and Reinold were firing their rifles into the horde. Because of her storage abilities, there was no need to be conservative with their ammo. After a long while, the worst of the horde seemed to have been vanquished. Thanks to the Imperial garrison and the freelancers, the monsters were now only trickling in.

“It was good there wasn’t a Dungeon Master leading them. Riverside might’ve been evacuated if there was a big monster,” Reinold commented.

More often than not, when a town is being attacked, there would be a Dungeon Master leading them and they could create huge monsters, maybe even dragons. However, this time was a case of monsters being displaced by the ‘orbital strike’ so the strong stayed in the forest while the weaker ones were pushed out.

Also, the absurd number of cannons on the wall and shells were also a factor. The large number they had was unusual for a small town like Riverside, according to Reinold’s past experience. Riverside was a strategic location for the Association but not so much for the Empire. They had other crossings to elven territory. Of course, this was why anti-imperial sentiment was particularly high in this town.

“I should go back to help with the cleanup,” he said. Reinold got up and was about to climb down the tree when Alisha stopped him.

“Wait, Reinold. There’s something happening. Adjust five degrees right.”

Reinold got back up the branch and saw what Alisha mentioned through the rifle’s scope.

“Zombies?” He asked.

“No,” Alisha said as she further adjusted the objective of the lens with her spell. There was a huge herd of undead coming and the garrison on the wall began to intensify their shelling around the area they were coming out of the tree line.

Along with the deceased of humans, many undead monsters—with or without flesh—were walking towards the wall. The freezing and explosive shells weren’t very effective. They weren’t relying on their biological functions to move. They were driven by pure magic and they would only stop if their crystals were destroyed.

Dozens of holy magic shells rained on the herd of undead and some explosive rounds for good measure. However, they just kept coming. The ground was quickly overtaken as the army of the dead approached ever so slowly to the Riverside wall.

“Damn. We’re not going to make it,” Reinold cursed as he fired round after round trying to thin the undead. This must’ve been the undead created from the meteorite. There was too many. The freelancers were having trouble.

Alisha turned her sights back and saw the zombie humans still streaming into the open field. Some distance from the tree line were a group of these zombies and a few that didn’t look quite right.

“There are people out there,” Alisha said. “They’re disguising themselves to blend in with the herd.”

“What?!” Reinold looked flabbergasted as he frantically tried to locate the people Alisha saw with his scope.

“I said they were disguised. You wouldn’t know because of your human sight.” Alisha took a new set of bullets from her slime storage, “I’m going to shoot a barrier spell at them. This should shield them from the shells in time for Commander Dustin to realize what’s happening.”

“Shoot a barrier spell? What are you trying to do?” Usually, when using a defensive spell, the caster would cast it around them to create a wall. Shooting the spell gem towards the people you want to protect wasn’t an applicable action. Reinold then had an epiphany. “…That would be impossible… unless you release the spell precisely in front of them.”

“Yes, I can then have the barrier track the movement of the humans to make sure they’re covered.”

“But how can you know when to release the spell?”

“Simple math. The time it takes for the bullet to reach over there is about one point nine six three five four seconds so if I’m off by my calculation by a fraction of a second, I’ll fail.”

There was no second attempt because of the amount of mana necessary for a barrier spell. In contrast to a shield spell, a barrier spell was usually cast in a group and was external magic.

“Velocity minus the deceleration while adjusting for the standard deviation of the bullet drop and the force of the wind. Easy.”

Reinold rarely ever saw someone cast a spell like this before where such precise formulation was needed. This was mostly restricted to the academics. When in battle, where every second mattered, spells were usually casted haphazardly or from established formulations. To calculate such a spell in mid-battle, he could see Alisha become more than a caster, but a mage.

Alisha fired her gem bullet and it went exactly where she wanted. The gem bullet burst open just short of the group to release the barrier spell just in time before another volley of shells hit.

It worked and the people were unharmed.

Commander Dustin saw the barrier deflecting a few shells in mid-air and realized who was out there. He sent a group a squadron of soldiers on horse-back to retrieve them. Some of the freelancers by the river also saw what happened and they took the initiative to go into the middle of the battlefield and help. Among the freelancers foolishly running into the line of fire were the so-called heroes Alan and Lycus.

Dustin had his men concentrate their holy magic shells to explode above the forest to thin out the herd of undead. Being assisted by the imperial garrison and freelancers, the refugees were quickly brought into the walls.

The battle was won.

***

Bodies of the monster horde littered the ground with some of them still twitching. Alan’s broad sword sliced their heads off easily. The day after the battle, the crystal structures dissipated and bodies within them as well. They returned to pure mana in the wind while the rest were slowly dissolving, giving rise to a rancid smell.

The cleanup crew had to scale the craters, trenches, and obstructions to place the flame charges. They couldn’t let this many bodies erode on their own near Riverside, the mana concentration could increase and spawn monsters in populated areas. The only viable solution was to burn the lot and hope the storm would pass quickly. It was better than the alternative of the fright and flight it could cause the townsfolk.

The fact the Hero of Riverside assisted in the defense and now was in the clean-up crew was a message that they were in safe hands. As everyone else was laying down their flame spell gems, Alan spotted something unusual near the tree line.

Although ripped apart by a blast, Alan recognized the corpse as a humanoid monster. It was rare but not that uncommon in the Elven Forest. He didn’t have a clear reason why but he felt compelled to inspect this monster more closely. He carved into the chest of the monster and saw a dodecahedron crystal. This was a Dungeon Master.

When the cleanup crew returned, Dustin initiated the decontamination. He fired his rifle into a pyre filled with corpses and the flames turned blue. The blue flame triggered the flame spells from the gems laid across the field and ignited the ground until it was covered in blue flame which began cleansing and dissolving what remained. All except for a Dungeon Master crystal in Alan’s pocket.

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