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Chapter: 171


Gremlins, beasts, and my own warriors are all infected and slaughtered the same by the plague of parasitic vines that Loekan has summoned into his own city. He can’t be considered wholly responsible for the white flames that infect alongside it.

It’s like catching chlamydia and syphilis in the one dirtying of the bedsheets, except far more deadly and resulting in your flaming corpse moving of its own accord to go out and infect others.

The combination of my super napalm, and Loekan’s botanical zombie-army parasite, is flooding through the city and there’s only so much anyone can do to stop it. The burning undead don’t care about battlelines, they don’t care whether it’s beasts, gremlins, or my own people, they infect and spread to more victims regardless.

I’d been hoping that maybe the white flames would kill the infected, but while my own soldiers die only after burning for a few minutes, the vines that infest the corpses are protected from the fire by the very flesh that they’re buried within.

Maybe… just maybe… treaties like the Geneva Protocol had a good fucking reason to be drafted and signed.

I doubt Loekan would’ve been willing to sit at the table anyway, but I’m going to have to consider issues like this a little more in the future.

The flaming enchanted forest, that’s now releasing parasitic vines, has spread itself all around the cavern. From the city to the forest, it has spread tendrils out into the lord’s colony as well. The only place that might be free of it, is in the water.

Like where I float now. Safe, from the very violence that I’ve instigated.

As the marionette zombies kill anything around them, they spread their vines into their victims, and let the white flames carry across too. In moments after their arrival, they’ve tripled their number, by infecting the unprepared victims that were standing nearby.

The city that I’d been burning down in my arrogance, is now set alight again, twice as bright, as now Loekan joins in.

Yet, we still can’t find him.

Lakesh battles against the undead and the trees that spawned them, using the same tactics as he used on the trees before. He cages them in blood, and cuts them down, throwing the flames out over to the other side of the city wall where no one can stumble over them.

An axeman bisects one of the vine zombies, but it’s not enough to stop the flaming undead. Pulled along by the vines inside, the parts crawl and kick towards their next victims, spreading to more hosts. Mages and soldiers fight with everything they have, but it’s not until the corpses are destroyed to the last bone, that they finally stop moving.

The plague of fire and undead spreads out through the city, an explosion rocks the debris field where Vii and her team left the mage to die by the white flames they spread over him. His massive form, covered in roles of thick fat, turns into crackling even as he stands there over the burning ruins that were meant to be his grave.

The roar he lets out is just another promise of violence in this already suffering city. His eyes turn towards where Eshya and Vii fight, struggling to defend against the few flaming infected near them. The mage doesn’t say a word, continuing to roar as he charges over the cobblestone towards my lovers.

My attention slides away from Eshya and Vii as they repel the few flaming enemies that spawned near them, I look instead towards Lakesh in his valiant war against the infected. The forces that he concentrated together for the purpose of an assault against the gremlins, now run about within the defences putting out fires and weeding out the vines trying to spread.

As my less experienced soldiers panic, my blood-loving lizards don’t even hesitate, holding the formation together and supporting each other as they try to keep the flaming enemy at bay long enough for the mages, riflemen, and the more powerful warriors to deal with them.

In under a minute, order has been reformed and most of the infected have been locked down, but even so, more of my people were killed in that one minute than the rest of the battle so far. Worse, it’s still not over.

The lines of retreat into the forest have been blocked by the infection that’s spreading through the beasts, Lakesh has managed to have the gates closed, but that’s only locking our people in with the monsters already inside.

The gremlin army that was once setting itself up to be a threat, turns on itself, the vines and the fire consuming them faster than any other groups.

The order the gremlin army once had is now but a distant dream as they scatter and run from those infected with the fire and vines. Those who run into Lakesh’s walls, die quickly, but the marionettes that follow aren’t as easily subdued.

The rifles and machine guns fire, but even as the annihilation magic tears them apart, they keep moving on, leaving behind their legs, while the fallen hands crawl closer with every twitch of the fingers.

Any corpses they come across they spread their vines through, the corpses twitch with new life, soon to join the undead army.

I can’t hear his words, but I can see as Lakesh orders the soldiers to prepare for a retreat. The soldiers ready themselves to run, while still firing their guns, or bows, or magic. When the flaming zombies reach the damaged walls, the soldiers retreat for the city’s larger defences instead.

The stone walls surrounding the city are large, wide, and covered in all sorts of enchantments, but I’m not sure if they were made to defend from an enemy already inside the gates. Regardless, there’s little other choice and Lakesh leads the effort to bring every last soldier into the walls with him. Our own dead he brings too, there’s no point in giving the enemy more puppets to play with.

Our soldiers climb into the towers by the gates, every last man squeezing into the twin structures and closing the reinforced doors behind them.

The undead, with no target in sight any longer, turn towards the flesh and bodies scattered over the streets. Mostly gremlins and beasts. The corpses that are nearly whole are infected with both flames and vines, but even the more scattered flesh is gathered.

The flesh, whether the fronds of a carnivorous plant, or the toes of a dead gremlin, is all consumed by the vine ridden corpses. When the infected consume too much for their bodies to handle, they swell up in size before the vines inside burst out, forming longer limbs that wind themselves up like muscle tissue.

White flames spread to the vines, and they quickly start to whither, a hollow screech escapes them, like the sound of nails on a chalk board. Unfortunately, they still don’t die, more desperately hunting for more food instead. Some even go so far as to cannibalise the lesser infected beside them.

One of these greater infected charges into a group of gremlins, tearing into them and covering itself in the corpses as smaller tendrils hold the muscle and bone in place. It adds to itself, growing larger for every piece of flesh and bone that it finds, inspired to move faster and faster as the fire burns it’s true body.

"You two sure made a mess of this place." The message flows in from Warren of all people. The enemy elite who ran away before this war started. "I hope you don’t mind me poaching some of the city’s fodder reserves. I know some of these fellows and they really don’t deserve whatever the hell this is that you’ve brought to town."

"What?"

"I’m taking a bunch of the gremlins with me and leaving. Don’t stop me. That’s all I’m asking." He replies. "Or at least give me warning if you plan to do something, I must say, you really have quite the glow up there. You aren’t planning to collapse this entire cavern are you?"

"Where are you?" I ask. "The largest mass of gremlins is stuck between the port and the tower we collapsed the last time I saw you. Go get them if you want them."

"Thanks for the advice, but why do you think it is that they’re gathering there? I might not have brought a parasitic beast to use as a city destroying weapon, but I still planned ahead."

As he says as much, a large ship breaches the surface of the lake, coming to a stop on one of the large stone piers. Warren walks right off the top deck of the ship as it’s still dripping with water, heading towards the city and the mass of gremlins trying to escape it.

"I’d offer your armies a spot onboard, but I don’t think I brought enough ships to spare any space." As he replies, a dozen more ships rise from under the surface of the water, small crews of aquatic creatures working on them.

I ignore him, turning to more important matters. If attacking me was ever a part of his plans, then this mess that Loekan and I have made certainly put an end to it. There’s too much going on, and his little rescue arks don’t seem to have much more than a skeleton crew, and certainly nothing like an assault force.

I will have to reflect on this however, both that I didn’t have a plan to retreat over the water, and that I didn’t anticipate an assault from that direction. If he’d come here to destroy my army, his surprise attack would’ve succeeded.

Eshya, Vii, Rare, Shen, and the others have hidden in one of the towers, much like Lakesh’s army, but the door here isn’t nearly as solid, and the enraged mage is getting closer.

"Are you sure you’re alright?" Eshya says, hugging Vii tightly.

"I… of course not." She replies in a whisper. "It still hurts, and everything feels wrong. I can still feel the fire burning me and… and…"

"I’ve got you." Eshya says, holding her tighter. "I’ll protect you."

Rare has settled on top of Shen’s snake’s head, and is taking a little nap, while the remaining warriors gather together and discuss team formations. They stand by the wooden door, waiting for something to smash through it.

Outside the flaming, vine infected corpses, still wander about. Thankfully they can’t tell that there’s people hiding inside, but a few are pounding on doors and walls. As soon as the mage shows up to blast the door down, they’re going to be inundated with undead.

I glance through the eyes of my many scouts, seeing the vast network of underground tunnels as they chase hints looking for the shadow that Loekan hides within, but they still can’t find the bastard.

I don’t know if Eshya, Vii, and the others have the strength to take the mage down, but I… I have to trust them. I can’t break now.

The magic stirring in my heart is the only chance we have at beating Loekan. If I use it now, I’ll be able to stop so much of the slaughter, I could stop the mage in his tracks, but Loekan would follow up with something unavoidable. He’d kill me and then everyone else after.

Red made sure to beat that point into my skull, but still my heart rages with the turbulent magic that wants to be released. To unmake these awful things that are killing my people, that threaten my lovers.

My attention drifts back to Nel, as a fiery corpse rushes at her. She throws enchanted knives that spread a mass of annihilation out through the undead body, but it’s not enough to stop it. It reaches out a hand for her, the white flames dancing along it’s fingertips, trying to cross the shrinking distance between them.

A shield smashes the infected gremlin aside, before a group of soldiers circle the body and lash out with dozens of strikes without ever lowering their shields. In only a few seconds, the corpse has been diced to the point where no length of vine in the body can connect one bone to another.

"Did the fires spread to you?" The nearest solider asks Nel, as he watches for more threats.

"No, I’m fine." Nel says, but I can see her shaking hands as she grips another set of knives.

"Gather with the others in the Lord’s study." The soldier orders, grouping up with the others and forming a shield wall as they sweep through the tunnels.

Fire and vines had the chance to spread here too. A tree broke in through the floor, shattering the lines of shields that held the horde back. Now they’re tyring to stop it’s spread.

The soldiers here aren’t anything to look down upon, and even more importantly they’re at their most powerful when grouped up like this in tunnels. More fiery, flesh puppets charge at their line, but they’re quickly disabled, then carefully minced by the soldiers sharp blades.

Nel shakes her head, and turns to rush back towards the Lord’s study. She comes across others on her way, people who scattered when the first signs of white fire spread to the markets where they’d been gathered. Each person is armed, but the knives and clubs aren’t the most useful weapons for all that the hands wielding them are firm in their grip.

Everyone who’d been gathered in the main hall has been squeezed into this smaller room, and the few storage rooms behind it. I see from more perspectives than Nel’s, so I was already aware that most have made it, but to see Nel sink in relief softens and pains my wounded heart.

"Everything will be okay." She promises to herself as well as to me.

If anything spreads to this room…

No, I can’t think that. It’ll be fine.

My senses gather and spread as I embrace the ‘Eyes of an Empire’ to the greatest extent yet. My consciousness spreads through to those who I’ve tagged, and then on through the connections they’ve made. These thin strings of mana that tie us together change as I demand more from them, an instinct that comes from the most anxious part of my soul.

In the burning city of stone, the gremlins race towards the ships gathered to rescue them, while the greater undead hound them for their flesh.

Beetle tends to her eggs, while Roach marches below, ready to face the fiery, vine infested corpses that have crawled into their home. He has no defences against the white fire, but he doesn’t look back.

Giant holds the doors of his house closed, while watching the bordered-up windows get slowly torn apart by the glowing white forms of the dead gremlins and beasts that have come to get them. His eyes meet those of a young, grey-skinned gremlin, as she clutches a small knife, terrified, but ready to fight before she dies.

Red and her warriors fight through tides of powerful monsters, while avoiding the dancing flames that want to infect them. They push towards Eshya and Vii, but as skilfully as they fight, the tide of fire and flesh still slows them.

Nel rubs shoulders with the other desperate survivors, hidden away in the Lord’s study. There’s not room for even one more person, but when another does come, they squeeze themselves even further to welcome them. Soldiers stand guard at the door and hold their shields up high as more of the flaming corpses try to break through.

Eshya, and Vii, and their entire entourage stand atop the wall as the raging mage runs towards them from the city streets below. The vine infected beasts try to attack him, but a few casually cast magics send them flying away.

He ignores them, roaring in rage as he glares up at Vii and Eshya. His eyes bubble in their sockets as the melting fats drip down his face.

"We’ll be fine." Eshya says, her eyes turning nervously towards Vii as she draws her sword. "We’ll win this, and every fight to come after."

Her sword hand shakes as mage casts the first spell at them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Skills & Stats

~Mana Form:

Current mana density: 52,798 units

~Mana distribution:

Defence: 0/100%

Offense: 0/100%

Mana sense: 0/100%

Recovery: 0/100%

Gluttony: 0/100%

Misc.: 0/100%

Efficiency: 0/100%

~Favourited Skills:

-Tag and Film

-Trapping

-Mana surge movement

-Annihilation defence

-Annihilation flame burst

-Annihilation net

-Eyes of an Empire

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

//Author Note

More chapters available

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