The earth trembled as the enormous ram approached. The air quivered with the roars of a dragon. Both announced the arrival of powers beyond human comprehension, monsters that hailed from the ancient era of heroes. From one side, Megrez's ultimate golem, created at the peak of his power, laid in wait. On the other, a familiar of the Black-winged Overlord rapidly approached. Tension overtook the battlefield as the beasts summed each other up. Yet, Gants and his allies could only stare in a mixture of fright and awe as all hell broke loose.
A war cry. That alone brewed violent winds across the border, sweeping up clouds of ash and dust. Although Megrez held fast during this exchange, drops of sweat glistened on his forehead. He knew—that he was long past his prime. And that if Levia, the masterpiece he had forged at the peak of his power, fell, he would not be able to replace her. More importantly, he could not face Aries alone in his weakened state, and Suvell would surely perish.
If possible, Megrez wanted to refrain from using Levia, as she was the sole reason why Suvell's enemies could never be too careful. To put simply, Levia's defeat would mean the kingdom's downfall. The elven hero would need to find a way to win the war without losing Suvell's guardian deity.
At his word, Levia sprung at her opponent, digging her fangs into Aries' body. Considering Levia's elemental advantage, a frontal assault would surely give him an edge, or so he thought.
However, Aries' unyielding expression remained unchanged. It would seem that his heavy woolen coat shielded him from any significant harm.
Aries bit back at the dragon's abdomen in retaliation. Unsurprisingly, the physical attack did little to harm the liquid construct, and the two beasts sprung apart after the short exchange. Then, they continued to glare at each other from a distance.
Aries bleated in frustration, his eyes glinting with insanity. With a shake of his head, the ram's colorful wool burst into a crimson flame, which sent waves of heat rolling off his body.
[Mesaltim]. That was the name of the flames engulfing Aries' being. It was a skill once bestowed by the black-winged overlord, and sent a continuous stream of damage to those who came in contact. It was also a precious memento of his liege, one he used sparingly against only the most worthy of opponents.
Megrez, at which the flames were directed, winced in recognition.
"…this is going to be difficult."
The Elven hero erected a barrier at a moment's notice, shielding the soldiers and nation from harm. Without it, the heat waves alone would have incinerated anyone of inadequate level. On the other hand, it left Megrez vulnerable and unable to move.
Releasing the barrier would burn his companions to a crisp. It took the elf all his concentration to maintain his protection, else a stray heat wave could set fire to the nation. He had no choice but to stay grounded where he was.
As the gigantic beasts' blows connected, the earth shifted, raging winds swept the battlefield, and the air shimmered under the intense pressure. Each movement sent fissures through the ground, and small hills were flattened upon impact.
As the two continued to trade blows, the battle began tipping in Levia's favor. The dragon's incredible compatibility with her opponent began to show. Rather, this was the sole reason why Levia could bridge the 300 level gap between the combatants.
As if on queue, Levia's next attack sent Aries flying in a large arc into the ground. Again, the earth split and shook. However, this time around, Aries was by no means unfazed. The exhaustion was taking its toll, and his body was suffering the consequences.
"Y-you can do it! You can do it Lord Megrez!"
"Victory! Victory will be ours!"
"Long live the Wisdom King! Glory to the Guardian Deity!"
The warriors raised cheers of joy, oblivious of their dire predicament. Right there, right then, they were the ones backed against a wall. They didn't see Megrez furl his brow, barely keeping from cursing aloud.
Shit… the very water that that makes up Levia's body is evaporating! I can't heal Levia the way things are going!
Alchemists can repair their creations for as long as their mana pools hold out. However, as Levia's very body vaporized, Megrez was at a loss for words. There was simply nothing there to heal! What's more, magically conjured water couldn't replace Levia's lost biomass. Elements born from mana would inevitably dissipate, returning to the environment once they had served their purpose.
Although the beasts looked evenly matched, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Suvell's last line of defense stood on the brink of collapse. Even if Levia managed to grasp victory, the weakened dragon would not live to see another battle. Nevertheless, Megrez had no choice but to rely on the rapidly shrinking dragon.
Forgive me… Levia!
As he plead forgiveness from his greatest masterpiece, Megrez gave Levia what would most likely be his final order—to attack.
Would Aries collapse, or would Levia dissipate before then? The odds were against him, and the elven hero had laid his last cards down. Megrez's heart sunk in despair.
"What do you think of the performance, Lord Ruphas?"
"Strictly from appearance, Levia has an upper hand. However…"
I began to explain my own outlook to Dina. Currently, Levia holds the upper hand in their bout. The dragon's elemental advantage sets her attacks worlds apart from what it would have been otherwise. Although I’m unable to see Level 800 Aries' HP and SP, the ram was visibly battered and bruised. What's more, Levia's consistent flurry of blows kept Aries from healing properly. At this rate, the water golem should emerge victorious. However…
【Guardian Deity Levia】
Level 500Race: Artificial Life-form
"However, Aries will claim victory in the end."
The dragon's maximum HP was rapidly shrinking. Aries—that swindling bastard—had not only anticipated this showdown, but also what would come after. By weakening Levia, he would lose the battle, but win the war. Despite the manic glow of his eyes, Aries' actions were surprisingly rational.
"I see… that would mean…"
"Yeah. Aries never intended to win in the first place. In attempt to lure Levia from the safety of Suvell's walls, he had gathered enough forces to seem like a final stand."
I thought something was off. Even if the average quality of monsters had dropped over two centuries, this was absurd.
But Aries' fight had said it all. Those were disposable troops—bait that served to lure his prey out of their hidey hole. And Levia had happily bit on to it. Aries had judged Levia too powerful to defeat in one fell swoop, and this little scheme was his solution.
"Aries had planned this retreat, and Megrez is in no condition to recklessly pursue him."
"… but there's more to it. Megrez is also afraid that Aries has more monsters at his beck and call. And if in fact he does, the elf's feet will have to stay planted."
"Aries is quite a sly one, isn't he?"
"My Lord Ruphas was the one who taught him military tactics after all."
It was time I entered the show. With the soldiers' unwavering attention on the stage, I can't reveal myself as Ruphas to Aries. Doing so would also pitt Levia against me. However, I should be more than enough to push back a battered Aries.
"It's time Dina. Hold on tight."
"Time? You can't mean we're flying down there, do you?"
"What else could I mean?"
As soon the words left my lips, the "vehicle" lurched towards the ground. Telekinesis and gravity shot us like a cannonball towards our destination. In other words, at Aries' head.
Ignoring the screaming woman clinging to my waist, I sent a flying kick at Aries' head. I was no stranger to empty-handed combat. Every movement, every tense of muscle was reinforced by 200 combined levels of the Grappler and Champion classes. Passive skills made every limb a deadly weapon in my arsenal, and every swing a deadly encounter.
That’s why I invoked [Blunt Edge], a warrior skill that prevented the opponent's HP from dropping to zero. Funny thing is, the skill can be applied to weapons without blades, or even no weapon at all.
Aries noticed me a second too late. A heavy kick sunk into his face, and the enormous ram was sent tumbling through the air. The sheep plunged through one mountain, then another, leaving smoldering craters in his wake. When he finally came to a stop a kilometer away, Aries' battered body slackened in exhaustion.
Which was when I noticed Megrez's dropped jaw, his eyes darting between Aries and my hooded figure in disbelief.
"That was a close one, Wisdom King. Perhaps this passing peddler will lend you a hand."
"D-Dina and Saphur, right?"
"Oh, if it isn't Gants. I'm glad you're alright."
"Though Lady Dina doesn't look so alright…"
Relief washed over me as Gants emerged unharmed. Although shallow wounds riddled his shoulder and foot, those would heal with time. On the other hand, Megrez eyed me with suspicion, which is, of course, the natural reaction. Caution would be advised when dealing with a being capable of striking down a Heavenly Star. However, clearing those doubts would have to wait. I planned to reveal myself to Megrez, but not before we escaped the prying eyes of his countrymen.
"That power… What in the world…?"
"This is not the time, revered Wisdom King. We are being watched, and I have my own… reasons. Understand that you will get your answer later."
"That tone… and that voice… No, it can't be… that can't…"
Megrez was always a sharp one. That said, my condescending tone also gave me away. The arrogance was difficult to suppress, and I decided that it wasn't worth the effort.
I kicked lightly off the ground, leaving Megrez alone to sort out his thoughts. With the help of a Strider skill, [Void-step], I traveled the kilometer to Aries in an instant.
"Who… the fuck… are you…?" Aries sputtered.
Oh, so it talks. I'm guessing all that crazy bleating was in the heat of the moment? Either way, the ram was a sight to see. The brilliant woolen coat and the sheer size of the beast could take any mortal's breath away. It was difficult to believe that Aries' full height barely reached my waist when we first met.
"That," I answered, "is a question I cannot answer at the time. There are plenty of elves serving in that army, and we wouldn't want any rumors spreading, would we? Moving on, I have a single [Order] for you."
"…get out of my wa—"
I invoked [Coercion]. It wasn't enough to render Aries immobile, but it would give the ram a hint to my true persona. Even if he wasn't the brightest tool in the shed, he would at least realize I wasn't an opponent he could defeat in his tattered condition.
"—Guh! Thi-this pressure! No… That's not… Who the hell are you!?"
"This is not the time, nor place. But know that I can give you the answer you're hoping for."
The manic glow gradually faded from the ram's eyes. It would seem the gears in his head had finally clicked into place. With a half-suspicious, half-hopeful expression, Aries dragged himself to his feet. The ram slowly turned his back to me, and trod his way back towards the mountain. From time to time, the magical beast turned his head to steal another glance at my direction and smile shyly, just like the old Aries would.
Hm? The old Aries? Well, whatever.
【Some Useless Information】
Familiars played a game of following the leader behind their tamers in the game. Even within cities, familiars stayed faithful to their masters' sides. In terms of this new world of Midgard, Ruphas used to stroll the city streets, a hundred meter ram constantly looming over her shoulder. I wonder what number that did for the overlord's reputation?