“Salvos! Salvos, where are you going?!”
Edithe screamed as loud as she could, but the Demon girl flew away from the walls, happily landing on a nearby hill instead of the crenellations. The red-haired woman clicked her tongue. She had to stop Salvos. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t good.
She could sense the powerful magic, even amidst the fighting and battle. It drew Salvos to it. And Edithe was determined to stop it. Even if it meant that she had to leave the walls—
Salvos winked out of existence.
There was a flicker. Edithe blinked. And her friend was gone.
The red-haired woman couldn’t help but stare. She didn’t know what happened. One moment, Salvos was there, the next, she was gone. Edithe grew worried. If something bad happened… but she couldn’t focus on that.
An army of monsters bore down on Vamont. Salvos staved off their approach with her efforts. But at some point during her attack, she must have gotten confused. She started attacking their flank, even as the vanguard pressed onward to the city.
Now, they were here. Edithe bit her lower lip as she saw the first of the Gatho Mammoths charging for the gates. They were followed by leaping [Rancor Mites] and hopping Saeves. The red-haired woman pointed her staff at them, focusing her [Storm of Ice and Fire] to allay their approach. The lower leveled monsters fell by the dozens as the flames and frost gathered in a sphere. A Gatho Mammoth fell, and so did another.
But the third one reached the gates. It slammed the metal bars open just as Edithe’s magic brought it down. She cursed internally as even more monsters poured through the gates. She had to concentrate all her magic on the broken gates. But something drew her attention.
A terrible pain set over. Edithe clasped her head as the [Mages] around her collapsed, bleeding from the mouth and screaming. She glanced up at the Mindreapers. A dozen of them hovered over her side of the wall. [Archers] and [Mages] struggled to loose their projectiles at them, but were quickly brought to their knees by the powerful mind magic.
Edithe turned her [Storm of Ice and Fire] towards them, but only one was caught within it. The others scattered around, still blaring their mind magic. The Mindreaper fell quickly as Edithe narrowed her eyes. Fine, if you want to play it like that—
Six Mindreapers circled over Edithe. They coordinated with each other— Mindreapers were known to be intelligent monsters. But that was their mistake. They blasted her with their mind magic at the same time, and she grinned.
All at once, they were engulfed in flames. A powerful fire that could not be dodged. It was a replica of what they struck her with. It wasn’t exactly as strong as the magic they used against her, but it was enough to bring them all down.
Edithe hurriedly uncorked a healing potion and took a large gulp from it. She didn’t have the highest [Vitality]. And while that assault didn't come close to killing her, she needed to be at full health for the battle. There were tens of thousands of monsters out there. If she even let her guard down once, she could die.
And, unfortunately for Edithe, she did let her guard down. Just briefly with a single sip.
She glanced back up just in time to see a Gatho Mammoth ramming into the crenellations. The stone crumbled over as the red-haired woman was sent tumbling through the air. The walls of the city fell, and the evacuating city was left vulnerable to the encroaching horde.
[Hellprince - Lvl. 151]
The world around me vanished. It was like I was sucked into a darkness. The very same void which held me before I was born. Everything was gone, even if I could still feel the earth and grass beneath my feet. I saw none of it.
I shook my head, creating a Nebular Kusarigama. I couldn’t hesitate now. Only one thing was clear— the magic permeating the air was powerful. I was completely outmatched. I had to be on guard, ready for anything.
I glanced over at the shadows around me, hearing their whispers, threatening to lash out at any moment. I calmed myself, taking a deep breath.
“Lily said you were Level 138.”
It was a simple statement. I waited for any kind of a response. One came from my left.
“Lily? Ah, the Fairy who lived. So, you were one of those two rats she helped escape that night.”
I spun around and released a cone of flames in that direction, burning everything that could’ve possibly been hiding the darkness. It lit up the void. I saw flashes— flickers of a tree being burned. The grass was engulfed in my blue flames. But Belzu didn’t scream. He only chuckled.
“Did you think my illusions are limited to your sight alone? No. I can alter all your senses: what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste, and what you feel. It is but a simple trick to fool a mind, no matter the level of the individual.”
His words came in scattered voices. Fragments broke in from below me followed by questions from my right. There was no way for me to discern where Belzu was. I narrowed my eyes.
“How are you Level 151 now?”
“You, yourself, were not an Archdemon, were you? Tell me, [Changeling]— are you a [Changeling]?”
Belzu sounded satisfied. At least he was using my name and not calling me other things like girl or fool, as others kept doing.
“Do you truly believe you are the only one who levels? The only one who pursues a higher power?”
He spoke as something shot out of the shadows. A boulder came sailing at me. I leapt to the side as it shattered on the earth. I stumbled back, snapping my gaze around me. This time, a tree tumbled my way. I raised my Nebular Kusarigama, slashing in half, only for it to vanish without feeling.
I blinked, and was struck from behind. I rolled on the ground and turned back, seeing Belzu disappear into the darkness.
“I have labored long and hard to reach the Mortal Realm of my own capacity. Now that I am here, I shall not remain idle. I have amassed my army, I have evolved beyond a mere Archdemon, and I shall prepare for his arrival.”
The world around me warped. The ground returned, but it was a pale white. Hills and hillocks rose up, towering over me, creating a familiar sight. The sky turned red, and Belzu buzzed overhead.
I leapt up after him, flapping my wings as rapidly closed the distance. Belzu grinned. And I slammed straight into a wall. I tumbled through the air as the world around me rolled, turning itself over.
Now, I stood on the crimson sky, and straightened.
“I serve no King. Only myself.”
The ground below me shot up, but I didn’t flinch. It was an illusion. It faded through me like it was nothing. According to Lily, Belzu could cast illusion magic and curses. As far as I was concerned, no curses allowed anyone to cast earth magic.
“Ah, you lack a summoning collar. I should have noticed it before.”
I walked through the false attack unharmed. It was as if an entire chunk of the red sky fell out, displaced, trying to strike the ground.
“I am Salvos. I have companions. I have friends. But I will do what I want, never what others tell me to do. If I ever listen to something someone else says, it’s only because I wanted to do it myself.”
“Such a simple reasoning. So, you do not serve Regnorex then?”
I shook my head.
“I do not serve the Demon King. Nor do I serve the Devil.”
“Then you are like the Beast.”
Suddenly, the world around me shifted. It was like I was being carried through the Netherworld, seeing the rapidly changing landscape. The mountainous terrain dipped into a massive crater, and a creature rested dormant in the center. Around it lay the corpses of thousands of Demons. Infant Demons, Lesser Demons, Greater Demons, and even Archdemons.
[Fiends], [Succubi], [Incubi], [Hellbeasts], [Legions], [Gadarenes], [Changelings], [Cambions]. Nothing was spared from this creature. It bore the body of a wolf without fur. Its legs were clawed, that of a bear. And from its neck were the heads of many serpents.
Belzu’s voice echoed as it cracked an eye open.
“An untamed creature, obedient only to your fickle desires.”
“I am not fickle—”
The Beast roared. It turned its thirteen heads my way and unhinged their crooked jaws. A black light shone within its mouths, before releasing a dark beam of terrifying energy at me.
It was supposed to be an illusion. I knew it was an illusion. But an intense pain gripped me. It made me curl up into a ball as a seering hit overcame me.
“W-what is this…?”
“There are more things than you can understand. More things than you know. Perhaps, if you have never interfered with my business, you could have lived. Alas, you shall die today.”
I screamed as the pain grew worse and worse. I tried to get up. I tried to move. It was too much pain. I knew this feeling— it was the magic of the undead. It was a curse.
I writhed and cried while it drained me of my health and mana. Trapped in a bubble of Belzu’s powerful curse. The level discrepancy between us was clear. He tricked me, toyed with me, and now he was going to kill me. Even with my protections— my artifacts and Skills— it was… it was…
My eyes widened, even through the pain. My Pendant of Greater Protection still covered my body. My Ring of Lesser Curse Protection didn’t flash its usual light. Even my [Title Skill: General Curse Resistance] didn’t activate.
The realization settled in, and I knew what this was. It was an illusion. Belzu had trapped me in an illusion of pain. He made me believe I was truly being cursed, once I figured out I didn’t have to avoid his false attacks. This pain wouldn’t kill me. It didn’t even hurt me. It was just a sensation I felt on my skin.
I closed my eyes, immersing myself away from whatever sights Bezlu would conjure up. I had no reason to see what he showed me. It was never real in the first place. The pain was still there, but the less I focused on it, the more it receded.
I couldn’t rely on my senses. Not my five senses, anyway. There were other things I could trust. My instincts and my magic.
[Spatial Sight]. [Passive - A Hunter’s Sense].
The world opened up around me, even as I ground my teeth in pain. I saw the world through a sphere of space magic. The Skill had leveled since I first used it, and now I could see up to twenty feet in any direction. And I saw no one around me.
There were trees. I sensed the dirt and rock. I was standing on an incline, at the edge of a hill. Powerful magic muddled even my [Spatial Sight], but I could pick out that it was a different thread of mana, one responsible for the illusion.
Next, I focused on my other Skill. It was almost instinctual. It told me when I was being watched with malicious intent, and it let me know if I was in grave danger. Not always, but often enough that I trusted it. And now, it only told me one thing:
Belzu isn’t here.
I wasn’t in danger. Nothing around me threatened to kill me. The voices I kept hearing— what Belzu was saying— was nothing but an illusion. This entire time, I had been speaking to… myself.
I spread my wings wide open and took off into the sky. I kept going, even through the intense pain, past the web of illusion magic, until I was hundreds of feet in the air. I broke free from the illusion and the pain, before finally opening my eyes.
“Where am I?”
I glanced down, seeing a dark cloud covering the entire hill Belzu had led me to. In it, I sensed his magic, but didn’t see him anywhere nearby. I cast my gaze towards the city— towards the army of monsters surrounding it— and I saw the insect-like figure.
Belzu hadn’t been wasting his time with me. He was in Vamont. And his army circled the entire city, cutting off any escape.
With a deep breath, I burst into action, rapidly returning to the city, in search of my companions.