Prologue: The First Betrayal
He heard a deafening noise tumble down from the skies.
Merciless, all-encompassing, and impartial.
Of course, noise was an everyday occurrence on the battlefield—the surging bellows and jeers were a given, as were the sounds of explosions and steel clashing on steel. Nor was there any shortage of the echoes of death lapping at the soldiers’ heels. In fact, on the battlefield some said these elements came together almost like a symphony for them. Some even experienced a boost in morale.
However…even the old-timers had noises that would strike fear in their hearts.
Despite being heard on the battlefield, it was a noise that betrayed the word “battle.”
It was the sound of the overwhelming obliteration of the opponent…of absolute destruction.
Completely disregarding all human emotion—a sound of annihilation so one-sided that it couldn’t be called a battle. There wasn’t a single soldier that would feel honor in being electrocuted by lightning or smothered by an avalanche, and this was much the same— an unrewarding death making them no better than livestock.
That was the sound now cascading into wizard Simon Scania’s eardrums.
He was among the gloomy mountains.
Literally between two mountains, enveloped in dusk.
To his left and right there were very few signs of vegetation; mostly rocks. There were close to no animals, and the wind was sparse…truthfully, the air was so thick with silence that it was almost as if time had frozen, along with the setting of the sun.
Looking upward, he saw a number of black dots clustered together in the sky, swathed in flickering flame like the sun during a solar eclipse, growing larger and larger in his vision as they headed toward him. All while emitting a roar that signified impending massacre.
Each one of them on their own were lethal in the most literal sense: the harbingers of death known as “Strikers.”
The military-grade large-scale destruction spell, “Hard Rain.”
Though it had an intimidating name, when you got right down to it the crux of its power was simple “gravity.” It wasn’t like fire or lightning; it was merely objects falling to the ground.
Matter fell from the sky to the ground. It was a concept even a child could grasp.
A natural phenomenon, and yet…one that depending on the mass, distance, and quantity of the falling object, brought the potential for cataclysmic destruction. If dropped from a high enough distance, even a pebble could reach the lethal speed of a fired arrow in mere moments. Each one of these Strikers was heavy enough to where they couldn’t be lifted by just one person, and there were as many of them as falling raindrops. It was evident, then, that the oncoming attack was powerful enough to eradicate an entire town or village with ease.
Yes. The purpose of this magical attack was to wipe out the enemy base.
To begin with, the offensive military-purpose magic “Hard Rain” required time and effort to prepare.
What’s more, covering this entire area required a minimum of ten wizards, as well as a magical device and energy source with capable enough output.
Material created ahead of time with magic first diffused through the air—this was done either by using magic to spray it upwards into the sky or air-dropping it from high-altitude air vessels—and when the diffusion reached a suitable enough radius, the real magical event would commence.
High above the sky, above the clouds even, a crafted magical core expanded its own area of effect, revolving around at an incredible velocity. The material was swallowed up, condensed, and grew to tens of thousands, no, millions—no, billions of times its original size.
It was almost exactly like water vapor condensing in the air, growing, and becoming rain.
Yet the end product of this magic was nothing as harmless as rain droplets.
The Strikers became teardrop-shaped from the air resistance amassed during the fall. Like falling rain there were too many of them to count—not to mention each of them were burning, blazing red. The force of the impact upon the ground would be akin to that of a hammer being slammed down.
It was a simple phenomenon in of itself.
Simple, and unavoidable.
Disrupting the magic was impossible, since its area of effect was so high up in the air, and by the time those under fire noticed the Strikers the magic was already complete anyway. There was no way to interrupt the magic itself.
The only thing they could do at this point was create a large enough defensive magic spell to resist the attack.
The Strikers were solid, heavy, and massive—not to mention on fire. Their velocity would only increase the closer they got to the ground—all the combat experts in the area could raise their swords and shields with pride, and it would all be futile. Their beloved weapons would end up destroyed, and they themselves would merely be blown away by the series of shockwaves.
Even with magic, an individual’s capabilities were limited.
In the face of “Hard Rain”—in the face of a magical attack powerful enough that it required a large Gundo, a high-output magic source, and the cooperation of multiple wizards, an individual’s most cunning skills and techniques were utterly useless. Any half-assed defensive magic would just blow them away, barrier and user alike.
Yes. It was hopeless.
Now having been exposed to this level of large-scale destruction magic, there was nothing waiting for him but death—that’s what anyone would say. Therefore, even a seasoned war veteran such as himself wore an expression of despair. He stood there stock-still, fully aware of his powerlessness, as the incessant sound of “Hard Rain” continued to pour into his ears.
The wizard Simon Scania screamed.
No matter what, he would not give up.
No way. He didn’t want to die.
There were still plenty of things he needed to do.
There were still plenty of things he wanted to do.
And above all—he had a woman to get back to.
Like hell…I’m going to die here!
Raising his favored Gundo high, Simon quelled the fear and confusion clouding his consciousness and began constructing a magic sequence.
If there was one saving grace, it was the fact that “Hard Rain” was magic of the large-scale variety.
For magic to work, ultimately it needed to be activated through a single wizard’s will. Though large-scale magic required the skills of multiple wizards, in the end only one could determine and control the magic’s tendency. It was the same principle as manning a boat: while many make the ship move, in the end it’s the captain’s duty to unify and manage them all.
Because of that, the power of a large-scale magic attack was somewhat erratic.
A single human consciousness could only take so much, and an area-of-effect spell’s power could not be evenly distributed. So if he constructed the strongest defense spell he had, perhaps Simon alone might just be able to survive.
Only Simon, however.
Simon activated the magic successfully.
The chant complete, a blue halfway-transparent barrier began to expand from the center of the Gundo.
“Hard Shell” was the strongest defensive spell he knew. Its area of effect was small and he couldn’t move during the expansion, but it would hold up against a magic attack meant for a single person. It was true that this was a large-scale destruction spell, but if the spell wasn’t entirely focused on him then maybe—
Simon clung to his Gundo.
Fundamentally one needed the will of a wizard to activate a magic spell, but it was much like laying a triggered explosive: the details and maintaining status quo were up to the Gundo itself. Simon could now do nothing but entrust his fate to the gods.
For now, “Hard Shell” seemed to be holding up.
As the barrier was struck, ripples formed on its surface, warping the exterior. The barrier itself distorted noticeably, but it didn’t break and continued doing its duty.
He caught sight of one of his comrades right next to him.
Through the somewhat transparent defensive barrier, he could make out another situation.
His fellow troops, belonging to the same unit, were yelling something. He couldn’t hear what they were saying over the “Hard Rain,” though. The ripples running through the surface of the barrier also made it difficult to try and read their lips.
One of the troops extended his hand toward Simon, as if asking to be saved.
There was a break in the ripples—and as if by some miracle, Simon was able to make out the words coming from his mouth.
Simon. Save me.
That comrade suffered a direct hit from a striker and vanished.
There was no time for mangled flesh and blood to scatter everywhere. It happened in a single instant—the massive teardrop utterly flattened the soldier as it slammed into the ground.
Only the end of a severed wrist twirled through the air.
It smacked into the surface of Simon’s deployed barrier, making a trail of red down the barrier’s surface as it slid down.
In addition, his other comrades were shouting something.
Of course, those words didn’t reach Simon’s ears.
However, he could guess what they were saying. It was probably the same as the first one, “save me.” Or perhaps, even “traitor.”
Simon’s magic could only protect one person.
Even then, his chances of survival were slim. He had squeezed the area of effect down to the minimum range in order to increase the barrier’s defenses to its maximum. He might be able to increase the radius of the barrier slightly if he temporarily dissolved the current one, allowing for perhaps one or two more people…but there was a likely chance that that would only end up causing everyone’s death, including his own. It was practically a miracle that he’d been able to activate the magic successfully in the first place.
He had no choice but to abandon them.
He would do whatever he could to raise his chances of survival even the slightest amount, and that meant watching every single one of his comrades die.
“…This is how it has to be,” Simon moaned.
He wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular. Just as he couldn’t hear them, his comrades most likely couldn’t hear his voice either. So this was probably just him speaking to himself.
“It couldn’t be helped. It couldn’t be helped. My hands were tied. There’s nothing else I could’ve done!”
He would’ve liked to have saved them if it’d been possible.
He was a wizard who couldn’t fight in close-quarters combat on the battlefield, and yet he had gotten this far. He owed that to the swordsmen and soldiers that fought in his place. He knew that all too well. They had saved his bacon too many times to count.
And yet, despite all that there was absolutely no way he could dispel “Hard Shell.”
That would most probably lead to his own death as well.
There was no point to being a hero if it lead to death.
It was better for one person to survive than no one at all. One alive instead of everyone dead. That was logic anyone could understand.
There was no helping it. The situation was futile.
Inside the “Hard Shell,” Simon held his head in his hands. He turned a blind eye and deaf ear to everything around him.
The falling hammers of death. His dying comrades.
He could no longer endure them.
He’d already done what he could. Now all that was left was to pray for his own survival.
There was one other thing he needed to do.
He needed to kill the one who betrayed them.
As aforementioned, “Hard Rain” was a spell used to attack the enemy’s base. It was magic that took time and effort to cast—you couldn’t just activate it immediately. Because the material needed to diffuse beforehand, you also couldn’t change the location of the attack at the last minute.
In other words—they hadn’t used commando units like Simon’s unit.
So how were they able to accurately pinpoint the time and location for this attack?
Coincidence? Certainly not.
There were no other buildings or anything around here. There’d be no point to targeting this place otherwise.
Which meant the enemy had known that at this time, on this day, in this very mountain valley, Simon’s unit would be passing through. Simon’s unit was a commando unit, meaning their trade was secrecy and the element of surprise. The only ones who should have known their plans were their close associates.
Someone had supplied information to the enemy—a traitor.
A superior officer, perhaps? Or maybe a comrade who suffered an injury and had to be removed from the plan? Or a family member, lover, or close friend? Someone had definitely abused their position to sell them out to the enemy.
The traitor would kill the traitor.
For his allies who were already dead and dying, he would bear the cross of murder.
Curled up in the fetal position inside the barrier, Simon made a vow.
“I swear I’ll kill you!”
He’d abandoned his comrades—ignored his wailing, screaming, cursing comrades and protected only himself.
Now Simon’s hatred for the traitor was the only thing igniting his will to live.