A military unit was currently holed up in a small, dark and dank basement. The 22 Legionnaires and 9 conscripted adventurers that made up this unit stood in relative silence, either seated atop old barrels and crates or leaning against the wall. They were hardly optimal resting positions, but none of those people were particularly tired, nor were they willing to sit on the underground chamber’s cold and muddy floor. The only source of light in the room was the magical lamp hanging from the low ceiling, which casted dark shadows over their joyless faces.
However, their sorry state of mind could not be wholly attributed to the depressing environment. Not only were they at war, but were technically right in the middle of a battlefield, hiding in a corner like a bunch of rats. They also had no real choice in the matter, as they had an unconscious VIP in their care, a commanding officer whose whereabouts were currently unknown and a Comm-crystal that was currently nothing more than a shiny bauble.
“C’mon, you piece of junk! Work!”
Not that it stopped the elven Warrior called Syme from trying to activate it. As the recently-appointed second-in-command, he had the responsibility of handling communications with Republic headquarters. Therefore, the fact he had been completely unable to get through to them and report the unit’s status was really trying his patience.
“Give it a rest, Syme,” groaned one of his soldiers, a female elven Witch called Kaleera. “I already told you that’s not going to-”
“Oh, I think it connected!” exclaimed the elven soldier.
One could hardly blame the man for feeling optimistic, as the dimly glowing cube did indeed show a magical reaction to his repeated attempts at connecting to its paired item.
However, said reaction came in the form of a grating white noise, somewhere between a scrawl and a screech. The magic item also attempted to construct a holographic image of the other party, but the result was a garbled mess of blue lines and shapes that didn’t even look like a person. This didn’t last long, as the cube suddenly went completely inert, even going so far as to lose its blue glow and turn a dull, lifeless gray.
“Oh, shit! Did it just break?!”
Syme gave the thing a few worried taps and was instantly relieved to see it regain its soft, pale blue glow.
“Will you stop messing with that thing, already!?” shout-whispered Kaleera. “You’re going to break it for real!”
“Well what else am I supposed to do?!”
“How about you just sit there and wait like the Dec told you to!?”
Indeed, the unit’s standing orders were to hold their position and remain in cover until told otherwise. However, of the three people who could do so, none of them were available. Primus Underwood couldn’t be reached, Decanus Morgana had run off to assist the Sandman with some urgent plan and Hilda was still in a comatose state from her bout with the enemy VIP. And of those three authority figures, the one that was currently worrying Syme the most was the second one - the ‘Dec’ herself.
“I really shouldn’t have left her alone with that guy,” complained one of the adventurers. “He’s way too shady!”
“No offense, Mikey, but you’re a conscripted human Rogue,” spat out one of the Legionnaires. “That doesn’t make you entirely reputable, either!”
“That so? Wait, is that why you put off on healing me when I got caught up in that explosion earlier?!”
“Your bumbling set off one of our own landmines! You’re lucky you got off with just a scratch!”
“A scratch?! My femoral artery was severed! I would’ve bled out on the spot if you put off treating it any longer than you did! You almost let me die!”
“Maybe I should have!”
“Alright that’s enough, both of you!” shouted Syme.
The two men kept glaring at each other in quiet anger, neither particularly willing to admit fault. This sort of interpersonal friction was one of the main problems with forcing adventurers and soldiers to work together. Their differing perspectives inevitably led to small conflicts of opinion that had a bad habit of exploding into ugly disputes when tensions ran high. It was something the Warrior named Syme understood very well.
Which was probably why the Decanus had given him the difficult task of keeping this unit from collapsing from within in her absence.
“So what if Mikey misjudged the explosive radius of a device he’d only been told about?! Him remotely setting it off was what knocked that enemy Wizard out of the air, wasn’t it?!”
He did this by first shouting at the elven Priest.
“And is it really such a big problem that Holt was too busy keeping the others alive to heal you on the spot?! Your life is hardly the only one in danger out there!”
His next set of scathing remarks were aimed towards the human Rogue.
“Do you want the Dec to come back and find us pointlessly arguing over things we can’t change?! None of us are here because we particularly want to, but we’re all in this together!”
Finally, he addressed both of them at once, causing them to cast their gazes downward in shame. It wasn’t just them, either, as the others in the room distinctly felt the significance of those words.
“... I’m sorry I held a grudge over that, it was my own fault I got blown up,” admitted Mikey in a quiet voice. “Thanks… for saving me.”
“Don’t mention it. And I’m sorry for calling you a two-timing short-ear behind your back,” replied the Priest. “You’ve shown you deserve better than that.”
“Thanks, Holt. That means a lot to me.”
“From now on I’ll only say it to your face.”
A small bout of laughter passed over the 30-odd men and women at Mikey’s expense. With the volatile situation seemingly disarmed, Syme sat back down on his metal bucket and continued fiddling with the Comm-crystal.
“It won’t work, Syme,” came Kaleera’s tired voice from the side. “It’s gonna take a lot more than a little speech to get a signal past a demonic Overlord.”
“Yeah, but - How can we be sure he’s still out there?!”
A distant tremor knocked a small cloud of dust from the wooden boards overhead while also causing the magical lamp to rattle lightly in its fixture. The Witch shot the Warrior a look that said ‘Need I say more?’ to which he replied by rolling his eyes in a ‘Okay, fine!’ sort of way and finally stopped messing with the Comm-crystal.
“How does one stop one of these demonic Overlords anyway?” asked Mikey.
“You don’t,” replied Kaleera. “You run and hide until they run out of juice.”
“Then what in the blazes is the Sandman planning to do? And why did he need the Dec’s help to do it?!”
“But you’re a Witch! If you don’t know how to stop a fucking demon, then who does?!”
“I don’t know, Mikey! My specialty is conjuration and magical bombardment! I haven’t dabbled in demonology like that guy, so give me a break!”
“... Sorry. It’s just, I can’t trust that guy at all! Just looking at him gives me the heebie-jeebies!”
“The what-now?” she asked with a raise of an eyebrow.
“Heebie-jeebies. Means he’s creepy, unsettling,” explained Mikey.
“I think that’s the whole point of his getup,” chimed in someone else. “The sunshine and flowers look really doesn’t fit the whole reclusive demon master thing he has going.”
“That seems rather detrimental though, doesn’t it?”
“Not necessarily. Recognizability is an important aspect of being an adventurer. Or a mercenary, for that matter. All the top guys have their own signature look, y’know?”
“I guess, but-”
The irrelevant conversation was abruptly interrupted by yet another quake.
“... Syme, are you sure you don’t want me to go out there and find the Dec?”
“You really should give it up, Mikey,” said the Warrior in question. “The Dec’s a lot more capable than she looks, yeah? If she thought she could handle whatever’s going on out there, then all we have to do is trust her judgement.”
“Besides, what would you do even if you found her?” asked someone else in a teasing manner.
“I’d get her back down here where it’s safe and sound!”
“What if she doesn’t wanna come back?”
“Then I’d drag her along even if she’s kicking and screaming!”
“No offense, ya two-timing short-ear,” said Holt, “but something tells me you’d just get your eyes clawed out if you tried that.”
“That’s only if you’re lucky,” claimed someone else. “The Dec pulled a knife on the last guy that tried to get too grabby with her back at the Fort.”
“Oh, c’mon! That’s just a rumor, right? There’s no way a sweet girl like the her would do something like that!”
“Uh, huh. Need I remind you how that ‘sweet girl’ took out the enemy Priest outside the old butcher’s shop?”
The mental image of Keira drilling a hole through an Imperial soldier’s groin with a Power Shot flashed in the men’s minds. They weren’t going to complain she eliminated the enemy healer, but the fact she did it with a smirk on her face was more than a little scary. Not to mention that, while noteworthy, it was hardly her first nutshot, nor was it her last.
“... Okay yeah, fair point,” admitted Mikey. “She’d be much cuter without that bad habit of hers.”
“Three guesses who she picked it up from?”
The men in the group threw Fizzy a sideways glance. The golem that was currently performing basic maintenance on her charge pack stopped when she felt their gazes and looked up at them with a confused expression.
“What? … What?! Is there something on my face?”
“The lads are just uneasy how you always seem to go for the dick,” clarified Kaleera.
“Oh. Well it’s hardly my fault you meatbags have a universal, easy-to-reach weak point like that.”
“Gnn…” came a groan from the ground. “Always go… for the cock…”
“See? Hilda gets it,” declared Fizzy triumphantly before returning to her tinkering.
The dwarven Berserker’s delirious sleep-talk was hardly a reliable source of information, however, as the last time the group heard her voice she was muttering something about ‘those tricksy pink leprechauns.’ Not that anyone present even knew who or what a ‘leprechaun’ was supposed to be, but they sincerely doubted it was supposed to be pink. Still, the fact that she showed brain activity was a sign she’d probably get better.
Though perhaps not necessarily saner.
“Why are you so insistent about going after the Dec anyway?” asked someone in the group. “Are you sweet on her or something?”
“... Might be,” admitted Mikey. “I was just thinking… Wouldn’t mind running off with her somewhere. Settle down, have some kids, y’know?”
“Hah! Not if I get her first!”
“Really, Barry? Aren’t you already married with two sons?” asked the man sitting next to him.
“So? Who says I can’t have myself more than one wife?!”
“Oh, I don’t know, how about the law. Or society in general? Not to mention common sense and moral decency.”
“Come off it, Carl! Look me in the eye and tell me you haven’t thought about having those dusky thighs wrapped around your head!”
“What?! Of course I haven’t! … Well, not until just now, I mean.”
“Yea boiiii! Not too bad a thought, is it?”
“... Not the worst thing ever, no.”
“Gotta admit, I wouldn’t mind that either,” chimed in someone else.
“Gee, I wonder what the Dec will think if she knew you boys were admiring her thighs so much.”
“Way to be a buzzkill, Kaleera.”
“Guys, dusky thighs aside,” said Mikey, “aren’t those tremors getting louder?”
“Come to think of it, they kind of are,” admitted Syme.
“Not louder. Closer.”
Fizzy’s correction caused a heavy silence to descend upon the room, disturbed only by the soft clatter of the golem packing up her field repair kit and strapping her electric charge pack to her back. A few moments later, the group heard a muffled, otherworldly roar followed by yet another earth-shaking impact, gently reminding them that there was a giant murder-happy demon out there.
*Don Don Don*
A loud knock on the basement’s slanted double-doors sent the entire unit on high alert, prompting them to quickly rise to their feet and prepare their weapons and magic. The exit to the outside was then opened with an audible creak, allowing some daylight to fall down the steep staircase and brighten up the dungeon-like atmosphere.
“It’s Keira, stand down!” came an all too familiar voice.
The catgirl in question slowly descended the steps with her arms in the air. Her unit first saw her mud-stained combat boots, then her gray leather trousers and mithril rapier hanging from her waist, followed by the lighter gray tunic draped over her chainmail shirt. However, it wasn’t until they saw her tanned face, yellow eyes and fiery crimson hair that they finally felt relief wash over them. A few exclamations of ‘Dec!’ and ‘Ma’am!’ rose up from the ranks as they formed around her in a semi-circle.
“Alright, calm down you lot!” she ordered while doing a quick headcount. “Syme - anything happen while I was absent?”
“No, ma’am!” The elf threw a sideways glance towards Holt and Mikey. “Nothing at all. We’re all present and accounted for, and the VIP’s still out of it.”
“Any word from headquarters?”
“No, ma’am. Comm-crystal can’t get through to them.”
“Magical interference, ma’am. Likely due to the Overlord’s presence,” added Kaleera.
“... I see. In that case gather your gear and your courage! We’re evacuating this place and seeking shelter elsewhere!”
“We’re going to ignore the Primus’s orders?”
“Situation’s changed, Holt. Those Overlords have been steadily making their way towards us for the last 5 or so minutes. A mere basement won’t be enough to save us if we get caught up in that fight!”
“Oh, right, there’s actually two of them out there. Long story short, Mr S returned the Empire’s favor and called a second one out to distract the first one.”
The dire news washed over the ignorant squad who had no idea what to make of it. To most of them, something like ‘demonic Overlords’ were things they had only heard about in passing, if at all. Their inability to determine whether the Sandman’s actions were a good or bad thing was plainly visible on their faces, prompting Keira to clarify the situation.
“Bottom line is, Mr S’s plan worked, and the two of them are too busy fighting each other to bother with the likes us.”
Those reassuring words prompted a small round of cheers, which was cut short by yet another earth-rattling aftershock.
“But we’re not out of it yet!” shouted Keira. “They’re wrecking everything in their path, so we need to move before they get here and we get caught up in it!”
“What is it, Mikey?”
“You said they’re headed towards us?”
“Yeah. The big white one is slowly being overpowered by the big scary one, who seems to be making his way in this general direction.”
“Okay, but why this way specifically?!”
A thunderous bellow poured in through the open doors to the basement.
“... I haven’t the slightest idea.”
Fizzy was obviously not buying that bare-faced lie. She had no idea when, why or how Boxxy had managed to piss off, of all things, a demonic Overlord and still lived to tell the tale, but couldn’t bring it up within earshot of the others. She momentarily felt envious of those three demons’ telepathic communication with their master, and she too yearned for an extremely convenient way to talk to her Goddess’s chosen Hero. Unfortunately for Fizzy, it was a link she’d never be able to have due to her species, as golems were completely and wholly immune to any and all magic that affected the mind, regardless of whether its effects were beneficial or detrimental.
Therefore, the most she could do for the moment was keep quiet and just assume that something typically nonsensical had happened between Boxxy and that mega-demon sometime in the past.
“However,” continued Keira, “this place is most definitely in that thing’s path, so we’re abandoning it, so get off your asses and move out! Now!”
As if struck by lightning, the troops immediately formed a line and followed their Decanus out of the basement with Hilda in tow. The dwarf’s adamantite armor, however, had to be left behind. It made her much heavier than she appeared at first glance, to the point where it took three of the group’s strongest members to get her into the basement in the first place. They have since had time to strip her, wrap her in blankets and fasten her to a makeshift stretcher, so the way up those steps was considerably easier than the way down. A few of them couldn’t help but want to bring her gear along separately, but Keira ordered them to leave it. Even if it was powerful and expensive equipment, it was just much too cumbersome to lug it around and would slow them down. Meaning the reason it was left behind was definitely out of concern for their safety, and not because a greedy monster-in-disguise wanted to come back for it later and add it to its collection.
Once outside and back into the street, the troops were greeted with an extremely surreal environment. To begin with, the thick stormclouds overhead now had numerous gaps and clear patches in them. Those were certainly no natural formations, no matter how one looked at them, but at the very least the rain had stopped falling.
Looking out over the low rooftops to the north, they could clearly see the two Overlords mentioned by Keira still going at it. One was a winged, fire-wreathed demon straight out of a nightmare, while the other was a half-human half-spider thing that was almost too white to look at. A gigantic pillar of ice suddenly rose from the ground between them, hitting the winged demon in the chin. The proxy uppercut sent shards of ice and plumes of flames flying out in every direction, knocking the flame-skull-headed demon down on his ass with a massive crash.
“You can do it, uncle! Just hit her right in the pussy!”
The boisterously vulgar female voice coming from one of the nearby rooftops once again sent the troop on their guard. At least until they realized that it belonged to a certain four-armed, red-skinned demon that was technically on their side. They had been formally introduced to Kora, Xera and Drea when they set out on the mission to try and entrap the enemy Psionic, so they already knew she was one of the Sandman’s familiars.
However, the details regarding her supposed uncle, why she was cheering in the first place or whether that Overlord actually had a pussy would have to remain a mystery for the moment.
“Excuse me, miss Arms!” yelled Keira.
The fiend looked down at the catgirl with a vicious sneer. Her glare alone caused a few of the more skittish conscripts to audibly swallow their saliva.
“We’re ready to leave, now!”
“Oh, man! And it was just getting really good, too! Fuuuuuuck!”
Kora leapt down to the ground without even trying to hide her disappointment.
“Yo!” she greeted the gathered soldiers with a wave of her left hands. “Boss ordered us to babysit you lot, so you’d better be grateful!”
“What’s going on here, Dec?” asked Syme. “And what does she mean by ‘us?’”
“Mr S was seriously injured as a result of the summoning ritual and can’t escort us personally,” explained Keira, “so he lent us two of his familiars for our protection in his stead. However, I would appreciate it if miss Snack could stop playing games and take this matter seriously.”
“Oh? But I am taking it seriously, honey,” said Kaleera with an arrogant smirk.
“Wait, what am I doing over there?!” asked the other Kaleera in shock.
She was hardly the only one caught unawares, as all the soldiers unwittingly took a few steps away from the intruder in their midst.
“Huhuhuhu,” giggled the impostor in a smug tone. “You retards didn’t even notice when an extra person snuck into your group! You mortals are way too easy!”
“Miss Snack, please stop unnerving my men,” said Keira with a tired expression. “They’re on edge enough as it is!”
“I’ll have you know I’m merely masking my presence in case an enemy finds us, that way I might be able to catch them by surprise. I’m not using this form just to screw with people, you silly kitty.”
“Uh-huh. But you’re still doing this mostly to fuck with them, aren’t you?”
The succubus didn’t answer with words, but merely stuck her tongue out through her smiling lips in a teasing manner.
“Look, just- Quit it, okay?! Mr S said you have to listen to everything I say, didn’t he?!”
The disguised demoness’s playful attitude quickly disappeared as the playful face she was wearing turned sour.
“Okay, fine,” she said in a cold voice.
In the next instant, her facial features started changing while her Republic magic user’s uniform filled out in all the right spots. She had transformed into a shape that looked more like a human version of her true self, rather than the green-haired Witch she had copied to pull off her prank. Kaleera was visibly relieved by that, although she also felt a certain amount of envy. Seeing her flat, almost non-existent chest swell out to a pair of massive mammaries in a matter of seconds did not help her self-esteem in the slightest. The men in the group had watched that particular part of the transformation with great interest as well, albeit for completely different reasons.
“Better?” asked the succubus in her own voice.
“Much,” confirmed Keira with a nod. “Now, let’s get a move on! We need to get out of the range of those demons’ rampage!”
“Yes, Ma’am!” replied the troops in unison.
As they began making their way through the ruined city, they quickly realized what exactly the Decanus had meant by getting ‘out of range,’ as the collateral damage caused by those two Overlords was far-reaching indeed. Ice shards, ripped up trees, half-molten rocks and bits of random buildings were sent flying in every direction by their calamitous clashes, bombarding an area of almost 200 meters around them with all manner of debris. Thankfully none of them landed anywhere near the unit as they were skulking from building to building, but having potentially lethal debris flying overhead was not exactly a calming factor. Neither was the devious succubus in their midst, but knowing that their Decanus had a firm grasp on her leash helped ease them somewhat.
Kora’s assistance, on the other hand, was much better received. After all, if a fiend was going to attack someone, they were far more likely to smash them in the face right away rather than try to gain their trust only to stab them in the back later. Not to mention that having someone as plainly powerful as her supporting them was extremely reassuring. Seeing her plough through blocked streets and collapsed houses made her physical strength abundantly clear, even if she was hardly what one would call ‘subtle.’ She also kept stealing glances at the ongoing Overlord fight in the background, but she was hardly the only one in the group to do so. Whether it be curiosity, wariness or fear, all of the soldiers and adventurers couldn’t help but gawk at the spectacular fight every now and then.
A fight that was just about to reach its climax.
“AAAAAAAARGH!” rolled in Nagnamor’s booming scream.
Liusolra had at some point managed to rip off or destroy the skull-adorned cuisses that protected her opponent’s legs, allowing the arachnid half of her avatar to stick its mandibles deep into his furry thigh. The upper half, on the other hand, had turned into a sort of amorphous blob that was wrapped around his arms and weapon, restraining their movements while snuffing out his protective flames.
“Ha-ha!” she laughed mockingly. “I’ve, like, got you now, loser!”
In the next instant, the Archfiend felt much of the magic permeating his body being actively drained by Liusolra’s fangs. With his strength rapidly fading, Nagnamor could not break out of her hold. Not only that, but given the rate at which that glutton was practically drinking him up from the inside, it would not be long before his body gave out and he would be sent back to the Beyond. The match was over, no matter how one looked at it. All things considered, though, the Archfiend still ended up having a lot of fun throwing down against a truly worthy opponent. Even if Liusolra only fought by proxy, she was still a worthy opponent.
“Aaaaaah, that’s the stuff!” she cooed in delight. “You, like, taste so good that I literally cannot even!”
However, there was no way Nagnamor would allow himself to suffer defeat gracefully. All fiends were sore losers by default, and being an Archfiend and an Overlord on top of that only meant he was the sorest loser of them all. And the one person- the one thing that he did not want to lose to at any cost was that insufferable little bug. Therefore, he decided that if he was going to go down, then he would do so with a bang.
“YOU WANT MY MANA SO BAD?!” he bellowed with a seething rage. “FINE THEN! TAKE IT! TAKE IT ALLLLL!”
“Wait, what are you-?!”
“LIBERO FACILISIS LIGULA, IN ELEMENTUM PULVINAR MI TINCIDUNT VESTIBULUM!”
Nagnamor suddenly began chanting, his un-words causing the very world to tremble and quake. Seemingly realizing what was going on, Liusolra redoubled her efforts to finish him off as fast as she could. She slashed at him with blades of ice and ran him through with icicles the size of towers, but the Archfiend’s vitality was first-class, even among the demonic Overlords. Even in his wounded and weakened state, it would be frankly impossible for the Stalker Queen to deplete his life force before before he finished his incantation.
Even if she was unrivaled among her peers when it came to using magic to bog down and ensnare her opponents, she lacked the purely offensive capabilities of Nagnamor himself.
“PORTTITOR INTERDUM DICTUM EGET LACUS! ORCI VARIUS NATOQUE PENATIBUS ET MAGNIS DIS PARTURIENT MONTES, MAURIS URNA SAPIEN ALIQUAM!”
Nagnamor’s black flames spewed out of from around his neck and skull, breaking through Liusolra’s brood. They rose high into the air, forming an extremely ominous pillar of black fire that seemed to extend past the clouds.
“NEQUE AT PLACERAT BLANDIT! NAGNAMOR UTRICIA PRAESENTUM!”
“Hey, no fair!” exclaimed Liusolra in a frustrated panic. “I’m not, like, done yet!”
“YEAH, WELL, LIKE, FUCK YOU!” he yelled back in a mocking tone, then uttered the word of power to finish off his incantation.
In the next instant, Nagnamor self-destructed, releasing a wave of unimaginable heat that turned his surroundings into a flat, lifeless landscape. Everything within a hundred meters of the Overlord, Liusolra included, was vitrified. The surrounding half a kilometer or so became a black desert filled with nothing but ash. The city beyond that as well as parts of the Rainy Woodlands were all set ablaze by an unquenchable inferno that threatened to envelop the entire forest. What clouds remained overhead were now completely gone, allowing the afternoon sun to shine down onto the newly-created wasteland unabated.
This was the power of Armageddon - one of the Four Great Apocalypse Magics. Much like the Ice Age unleashed by Liusolra on the town of Bootlick, it was a Spell that only an Overlord could use. It was their final trump card and also the biggest part of what made them such a huge threat to civilizations caught in their wake. But even among the Four, Armageddon was the one that boasted the strongest destructive power. Enough to not only annihilate another Overlord in one hit, but also put an abrupt end to the battle for New Whitehall. Which, much like the duel between Liusolra and Nagnamor, had ended without a definite winner. In fact, looking at the heavy losses incurred on both sides as well as the state of what was left of the city, even calling it a draw would be incredibly optimistic.
On that day, both the Republic and the Empire had lost magnificently.
Clash of Fate has been invoked!
The Hero of the Hammer will now face the Hero of Chaos on the field of battle!
May destiny smile upon the victor!
And yet, that long day was far from being over.