It was a day like any other in the lizardmen village.
Three weeks had passed now since the horrible encounter that Rocko had with the antiheroes, and things were starting to calm down.
Rocko was well aware that a threat lurked in his backyard, and that at any moment they could easily barge into the village, destroying anything and everything.
However, they had not done so.
Rocko came to the conclusion that there were a number of possibilities for the reason behind this.
The first, and the one which he hoped to be the case, was that Arlo was successful in incorporating himself as their subordinate, and had managed to quell their anger, preventing them from attacking the lizardmen village.
If this was not the case, there were a few other possibilities.
The antiheroes were beings who were ultimately powerful, so much so that any form of resistance was futile.
It was entirely possible that they were allowing them to live in a false peace, only to show up and crumble the hopes of the lizardmen to be able to keep their current way of life.
The other possibility was simply that the antiheroes had lost interest in the lizardmen due to their relative weakness, or that they were too busy dealing with other matters to pay attention to an insignificant village. While Rocko doubted that there existed a foe out there to match the power of the antiheroes, it was still a possibility.
'They could show up on our doorstep at any time, and demand that we incorporate ourselves into their nation... if that happens, then we will have no choice but to submit. I would like to allow my people to continue to live in blissful ignorance, but rumors of the antiheroes have already been spread throughout the town. The people are becoming restless, and filled with terror. They need a figure to cling to, but I fear that I cannot become that figure. With Arlo gone, more and more are giving in to fear. There have even been a number of suicides recently.... how shameful. For us, a warrior race, to be killing ourselves out of fear.'
However, he was the one who had decided to allow the knowledge of the antiheroes to be made public.
This was because he wanted to be prepared, in the case that they showed up here.
If the lizardmen had kept their warrior pride, and decided to fight against the antiheroes should they barge into their village, it could mean annihilation for the entire people.
Which was why Rocko allowed the people to be filled with terror, and why Arlo had agreed to become the scapegoat for injuring Pilir.
Pilir was locked up in his home, just as Tora was, and he refused to come out.
The pains he suffered at the hands of the antiheroes were excruciating, and he had lost all sense of himself.
His arms were twisted in such a way that they were unusable, and even if he could use them, the psychological torment still remained.
Pilir would never again fight as a warrior.
'Perhaps not just Pilir, but all the warriors in this village...'
Was their any point to fighting as a warrior, if there existed a group so powerful that the tide of battle would completely favor whoever they sided with?
The war with the birdmen and lizardmen had ended in an instant after both sides realized how insignificant their squabble was, after witnessing the power of the antiheroes.
'Even I still have nightmares about the terrors of that spirit girl.... her endless amount of magical energy.... the pressure we were put under that day....'
Rocko shuddered just remembering it.
He had to do what he could for now, for his people.... but how long would it take before they decided that the lizardmen were next on the list of priorities?
Were the antiheroes still angry about the injury suffered by one of their people, and a young slime girl at that? Or had all been forgotten through the passage of time, and the efforts of Arlo?
Rocko did not know.
He bore the greatest burden of the lizardmen, however his people too were taking on a great burden.
Suddenly, as Rocko was considering these things from the chief's quarters, Igard, his minister, knocked on the door and called out to him.
"Rocko, something seems to be going on at the gates of the city. I think you should come take a look at this."
Rocko thrust himself up from his seat.
"Is it the antiheroes!?! Have they finally come to take their revenge!?!"
"No, it's not them.... it's a group of fishmen, who came from the Northeast. There are also some humans with them, though I'm not quite sure why. They claim that their village was attacked and that they require our assistance in order to take back the city...."
Rocko opened the door, with a furious glare on his face.
"What was that? They expect us to assist them at a time like this? How do we know it wasn't the antiheroes themselves who attacked!?! What if, by assisting them, we end up running right into a trap set by the antiheroes, and they take that as a formal declaration that we are their enemies as a result?! It's too risky. We cannot allow them into the village."
"But Rocko, I think you should at least speak with them. What if we're missing some crucial information? We shouldn't just send them away like that..."
Rocko held his forehead in consideration.
"Perhaps you are right. I suppose the fear is getting to me. Sometimes I just want to crawl up into a hole and never come out. And I'm supposed to be a leader? Haha... alright. I will step up, and perform my duty as a leader. Take me to them."
Igard lightly smiled at seeing that Rocko seemed to be returning to his old self, the leader he once was before their visit to the slime village.
"Then, let's go."
Caspus was somewhat at a loss for how things had went thus far. Right now, he sat in his own tent in the encampment which had been set up by the legion after the fishmen had retreated.
For the most part, things were going according to plan.... but they were going too well.
Many of the mercenaries had died in the initial attack, as he had intended.
The women and children had been driven out from the village, and rallied into a trap so that they couldn't escape- as intended.
The critical position- the cave which contained an underwater passageway that led into the underground city of the fishmen- had been taken easily by Caspus and his troops, as intended.
Many of the fishmen had also been taken out with the mercenaries, as intended.
But the way in which it happened was not intended.
The fishmen exceeded the strength of the average man by many times, and it took many people to defeat even a single opponent. On top of this, some fishmen had unique abilities which only further served to increase their strength.
However, due to some raw strokes of luck... or whatever it happened to be, many fishmen had died due to natural disasters.
This left a bad taste in Caspus' mouth.
If those natural disasters had not occurred, would his legion be standing here virtually unharmed, having taken the most advantageous position?
It was likely that the fishmen would have been able to defeat not only the entire mercenary unit, but also significantly weaken the legion had he not been so lucky.
To further his own luck, the one who led the fishmen seemed to have no tactics or strategy.
He left the most critical position wide open for Caspus to take over.
He didn't even bother to evacuate the civilians in the village.
'Or perhaps his strategy was to allow me to think that I took over this position, while he had an entire unit ready to take down anyone I send into the underwater cave. Maybe the civilians and that unit of 1000 fishmen were sacrifices, to make me think that I have completely defeated the fishmen.... only for them to spring out from the depths!'
It was entirely possible that an entire army of fishmen awaited him just beyond the cavern.
Right now, Caspus had sent a unit of 1000 men to search around for an alternate entrance to the underground cave system where the fishman village was located.
The remaining 9000 were waiting by the entrance, standing guard in case any fishmen came out to attack from behind, while also remaining vigilant to any attacks from the front.
However, after most of the fishmen had been killed off due to natural disasters, the ones who remained retreated.
'Have we won this battle already? No, it's best not to assume that. I'm sure these fishmen still have something up their sleeves. Even if they didn't expect those natural disasters to hit, surely they wouldn't be dumb enough to deploy their entire force in a single location.'
The remaining 500 mercenaries were now making their way to the encampment which had been set up near the critical position.
'I suppose if there are no incidents by tonight, we should finish off the job.'
A Colonel shouted out to Caspus from outside his tent.
"Legion Commander Caspus, this is Colonel Algerth! Permission to enter?"
A man with a blonde beard and short cut hair entered the tent. He wore the typical spartan armor, his made of silver, and had a helmet with a purple mane in his hand, with a shortsword strapped to his waist.
"What was it that you called me to your tent for, Sir?", he asked while genuflecting.
Caspus sat up in his seat, and lifted up his welders mask, so that his face was showing through the mesh.
"I wish for you to take your unit, and attack the mercenaries in their sleep tonight. Catch them by surprise to minimize casualties due to any resistance, and attack all at once."
"As you wish, Sir. However, is there really a need to do this? Could we not simply send them off on some mission to die, with an extra reward as a motivation?"
"That would still allow for the chance of some escaping or surviving. This way, we can account for every last one of them."
"I see...as you wish."
The man pumped his heart with his fist in a salute, and left the tent.
Caspus then felt something.
Was it his imagination?
He felt as if he was being watched.
Caspus exited his own tent after searching it thoroughly to ensure that no spies were present, and looked around, however there were no people nearby. His tent was isolated far from any others, and so he was able to hold such meetings in secret.
'I suppose it was nothing. Well, even if someone found out, there isn't much they would be able to do.'
Inside the underground sector of the fishmen village, life went on as if nothing had happened.
Mothers and children continued to work as usual, knowing that their husbands and fathers were out fighting to protect the village.
The elders waited patiently in the palace, sitting around in their respective seats with their arms folded while stroking their beards.
It was awkward, but there was nothing more they could do but wait.
"I think that Kota was far too rash with his treatment of those servants of the Determined.", the manatee said.
"I think it was them who were too bold. To show such disrespect towards the chief is an offense punishable by death, even by an outsider. No, especially because they were outsiders.", a dolphin argued.
"But they were offering us advice and assistance, and we simply rejected them! Even if they were rude, they clearly had the upper hand, and Kota didn't recognize that!"
"Is that treason I hear? You had better keep your mouth shut, or you may be removed from the council of elders."
The manatee shut his mouth and furred his brow.
Currently, they had no idea what the situation was like outside.
Many of the strongest warriors of the fishmen were killed in the recent tournament, and it could be argued that they were at their weakest state.
Even so, they wouldn't lose so easily to humans who were on average 2 tiers lower in strength than the fishmen. Typically, it would take around 25 humans to kill a single fishman soldier.
'Perhaps Kota will be able to pull this off, even without relying on strategy...'
The elders continued to sit in awkward silence, awaiting any form of news.
However, none came.
The clock ticked.
Time flowed forward.
Yet no news came.
They didn't know what this could mean.
The humans had not yet invaded the village, which was good news, however Kota had not yet returned with news of a victory.
'Perhaps the fight is being drawn out?'
The elders could do nothing more than wait in eager anticipation.
Ploritan led the group of around 80 including himself, the fishmen who followed him, and the four mercenaries who had agreed to work with him due to their trust in the antiheroes.
Just how did humans come around to trust the antiheroes?
Were the antiheroes not the ones meant to lead the monsters, and plunge the entire world into chaos?
Even monsters who wished to stay on top would resist their rule, so how much more would the humans resist it? It should be the case that they were the natural enemies of humans, yet here they were- supporting them like this.
Perhaps they were the humans who were on the bottom of the totem pole, who wished to see a great change in the world?
Or perhaps the antiheroes had instead brainwashed them?
Either way, he was willing to work with them, as they respected the antiheroes and wished to play a role in whatever incomprehensible plans they had come up with.
The group had been walking for a while now, and many of the fishmen were tired from being so far away from the water. However, they had to trudge on, even under these conditions.
"We will stop at the next lake or stream we can find to take a break. Please bear with it until then.", Ploritan ordered.
Ploritan understood just how tired everyone was, but they had to tread forward.
They couldn't just allow themselves to stop. Their women and children were trapped in the underground city, with an entire legion of humans preventing them from exiting.
It was a situation which required them to sacrifice.
"Are you humans doing alright?"
"Ah, don't worry. We're perfectly fine.", Lance replied. "It isn't much, but please have this."
Lance handed three clear potions to Ploritan.
"These are supplemental rations, devised by a doctor I know. They may look like a drink, but they actually contain the nutrients of multiple meals within each one. Please give them to the ones who seem the most exhausted."
Ploritan took the potions with gratitude, and distributed them out to the fishmen who seemed to be the weakest.
Lance then went around to the wounded ones, and started applying the healing potions to their wounds, just a few drops per person. They only healed the wounds slightly, but at least gave the ones who were excessively injured some relief.
"Thank you. You've really assisted our unit here.", Ploritan said with gratitude.
"Think nothing of it. This is my job as an alchemist, to produce potions to assist my allies."
Ploritan smiled and the group continued walking.
After a few hours, they reached the lizardmen village, which they could see far off in the distance. Its wooden walls were not excessively tall, but they were impressive nonetheless for a civilization of monsters.
'The monsters really are like humans... they have cities, civilizations... cultures... occupations...', Charlotte thought.
'But even so, if I kill a person, it is for a purpose.... it is because I want to serve my role, and assist the antiheroes in their goals!'
Charlotte was unsure what the actual goals of the antiheroes were, but she knew that they were not evil.
Regardless of what the legends said, she trusted her own experiences with them over some old story.
She could tell.
They were not bad people. No matter what they said or did, she could feel without a doubt that they were good people, who cared for others- but perhaps were a bit reluctant to admit it.
Even if they did bad things, it was probably either for the greater good, or because the people they did those things to deserved it in the first place. This was clear based off their treatment of Charlotte and her allies.
If the antiheroes were truly bad people, Charlotte and her comrades would already have been either dead or terrorized beyond comprehension, like those others in the resistance.
The group of fishmen approached the closed gates of the lizardmen village, where a few guards were posted.
Ploritan stood forward to represent the group.
"Excuse me, I am Ploritan, the acting chief of the fishmen village. I need to speak with your chief. We have been attacked, and this unit is all that remains. We implore assistance and shelter, as if the lizardmen do not assist us, it is very likely that this village will be targeted next."
The guards looked at Ploritan with suspicion and surprise, however one who was standing on top of the wall responded back.
"I will make sure the message is passed onto our chief, and we will see what he says.... however, with the recent events and the arrival of the antiheroes in the monster realm, do not expect much. Our village is under much strain as well right now."
The guard ran off to inform his leader.
'So these people too have seen the antiheroes? Then they must know of how powerful they are.... or perhaps they do not. After all, Kota was not able to recognize their hidden strength. Even I wasn't able to tell until I saw that spirit girl perform that spell in front of my very eyes...'
Many of the fishmen sat down on the grass while waiting. Lance and his group too sat around in a circle, recalling the events until this point.
"What do you think the antiheroes will do from this point out?", Pierre asked.
"This is just a guess, but I think they will stay out of matters for a while, and simply watch how they progress.", Melody responded. "After all, they aren't the type to waste effort when there is no reason to."
"You seem to understand them a lot better than we do, Melody.", Charlotte commented.
"Well.... I suppose I can sense that they are similar to me."
"What's that supposed to mean?", Lance questioned.
"You've always been so serious, Melody. Lighten up a bit!"
Melody lightly smiled at seeing that Lance and Charlotte were back to their usual selves.
They were clearly distraught when they recognized that they were killing people, but right now... there was a light in their eyes, as if they were ready to fight.
It was almost like seeing two innocent children grow up right in front of her.
While she was sitting with her comrades, waiting, memories of her past began to flood into her mind.
A dreadful and perverted face, staring at her with lust.
The spray of blood.
The itching sensation which ticked away, eating at her brain.
The sound of thunder, and the splattering of mud as she ran barefoot through the streets in a downpour.