∼ Day 208 ∼
When the dust settled, the aftermath of the battle became clear.
Death and destruction were evident in any direction you looked, and the evidence of my fight against the Lord of Impetus was only a fraction of the overall destruction caused to the surroundings.
But exactly as I had hoped, the enemy forces simply fell over dead when their leader was no longer in the game, leaving the casualties on both my and the halfling's sides considerably less than they would've otherwise been if we had to clean up the rest of the warriors.
Still, the halfling woman and her forces were in no good shape regardless. Standing with barely a tenth of her battered and beaten warriors remaining and herself in an equally bad condition, there wasn't the slightest worry in my mind that she'd be able to put up any effort if I were to end her right here and now.
I needn't but thought before my forces regrouped themselves, the injuries they had all sustained already gone as they had never been, the only thing remaining being fatigue.
Locking eyes with the halfling who I could practically feel staring holes in my back, I saw a mixture of emotions on her face. Confusion, worry, pain, and even the look of resigned acceptance.
I scrutinized her, seeing if she'd try anything despite what her face told me.
She was by no means beautiful but she instead radiated a palpable charm that had me almost instinctively wanting to guard her as if she was some cute little sister of mine. That was only a feeling however as her charisma failed utterly to manipulate my mind while the flame of my will was burning hot inside me.
I got to my feet and approached the short woman, units aplenty in ranks behind me and some already hidden within the shadows.
A long moment went by as we simply stared at each other, the implications of the situation very clear. The next few seconds would be entirely dependant on what I decided to do next, and she knew it.
"I have a proposition if you'd like," I said in common monster tongue, hoping that despite her being an Enlightened, she'd at least understand as much.
To my satisfaction, her reply was without hitch.
"Me still being alive says as much," She sighed, her common tongue as good as if she was born with it but with a certain unidentifiable accent to her voice.
Then again, even though that beastkin and her had spoken in some unknown language called 'Heraish' from what Codex gathered, it wasn't entirely surprising that someone with obvious dealings with the monster society had the ability to at least communicate with the opposition.
"Then I will get straight to the point," I said, glad that I needed no explanation for my actions. "From my speculations since the start of the trials, there are only a total of four participants pitted against each other. Unless you possess different information, I believe you understand exactly what I want."
"If that was truly so, what would happen when it would be just us two left standing?" She asked.
"I believe that is a worry only for when that times finally do come," I answered, giving her a look that showed she had no better option.
She just nodded, her shoulders slumping in an expression of defeat.
"I-I think we are the only four lords in this instance of a the 1st-stage," She affirmed. "Before you, I've only made contact with two other Lords. To be honest, I had at first thought it was the arachnid attacking when I saw the darkness obscuring the surroundings moment before you attacked Borsch."
That made my brows raise in surprise, realization striking me that the brueltar lord who had a history with the halfling was truly no coincidence at all.
Maeve, the halfling, saw my surprise and she easily came to a conclusion.
"You know the spider?" She asked.
I just sighed.
"Yeah... at least I think so," I said, rubbing the temples of my head with exasperation.
It was not some great history that I shared with Asethh K'or, the Lord of Gloom, at least not compared Maeve Wander's and Borsch Cragmar's considerable animosity of course. But looking back, he was the only person I had some semblance of history with.
At least... the only one still alive.
"Where's his settlement?" I asked.
"I don't know," She answered with the shake of her head. "They just attacked us a few days ago but quickly retreated the moment they realized that their mind-ailing magics were ineffective against us. I can only point in a general direction, and I know for a fact that the arachnid race has a tendency to burrow underground, building their cities deep within tunnels."
"I thought so. It would seem that our starting settlements have all been placed with some regard to our races. And as for the stock-up spider, Asethh's magic is only good for disabling his enemies and letting his abilities slowly seep away their strength while they would be defenseless to save themselves," I explained.
I was not afraid of Asethh, but I was extremely reluctant purely for the reason that I'd rather cut off my own ears then listen to another minute of his non-sensical arrogance-fueled drivel.
"Well then, let's get moving." I sighed wearily.
"W-what? Now?" The halfling stuttered, baffled.
"He might already know of the situation here, and I do not want to give him any more time to prepare himself if he does," I explained simply.
"But my forces are battered and beaten, even you lost some units," She said. "Should we at least not recover to full strength?"
"No," I said sternly. "I know his magics, his abilities, and his tricks."
"If we get him right now, he'll stand no chance," I steadied her with my gaze. "I will not lose to him again."
She blushed slightly under the intensity of my glare, but I paid it no mind.
"B-but-" She hesitated.
"I wasn't asking," I said simply.
That made her stiffened, the realization of her situation coming crashing back, evident by her lips as they pressed into a thin line.
Flying low through the mountain range with my captain at my side and a vexed halfling in my arms, we scanned the ground for any sign of the large critters.
Maeve had been all but happy when I swooped her into my arms and set to fly, her discontent in full display for the first half-hour of our flight where she let me know how exactly ungentlemanlike I was behaving.
I was of course just ignoring the diminutive woman, who just ended up settling into a firm scowl, the only sounds breaking the silence between us being by the wind whipping by us.
That at least until she decided to speak up once again, this time much less angry, however.
"So... what exactly are you? When I first saw you brawl it out with Borsch, I had thought you to be some elf who somehow found himself in the possession of Shadow Magic,"
I thought briefly about just dropping her right then and there. I mean, halflings couldn't fly, right?
But I restrained myself.
"But just what in the celestials above is a strigoi?" She asked, genuine curiosity stealing her face from her previous vexation. "And how come you're just a 4th-tier, how is even possible that you wield that much power. Your race is obviously rare and powerful, but there is no way that they're are innately that powerful - so what exactly is your secret?"
"That would be of no consequence to you," I said, not meeting her eyes as I tried my best to ignore her.
"Like the abyss, it is," She cursed.
"It is not, exactly for the reason that I say it isn't," I retorted. "So shut your trap."
"Are you some kind of vampire?" She asked me, completely ignoring what I just said by simply posing another question. "I mean, with this whole Sanguine Lord title and Blood Magic thing going, that'd be my guess."
It was a little odd tone-shift from how I gathered her character and personality, to begin with, but as my senses stirred to the faint traces of magic about us, I directed my attention towards it.
There was indeed something, incredibly well-hidden and masterfully controlled. But it didn't get past my senses, and I quickly discovered the faint tendrils of magic planting small seeds at the periphery of my mind. Now it became much clearer why she suddenly acted as she did.
"I mean, you could've almost passed off as a dark elf, but they're both an enlightened race and long extinct. So no, that wouldn't have made sense." She continued to prattle on.
I didn't let on that I knew exactly what she was trying to do, however. I just let her think that she had set up some trap for me because this was an opportunity.
Just sighing heavily, I took the chance to sate my curiosity of the enlightened world outside the wastelands with questions of my own, letting her believe all the while that she had set a trap for me.
This continued onwards for almost an entire day, with myself, the captain, and the rest of the remaining officers acting as three different scouting parties searching.
But just as I had been about to stop and revise my efforts, our persistence bore fruit.
We found the creepy crawlers, and I had a grievance to be settled.
This time, I would not be the one to lose.