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“Well,” Phillia remarks. “That’s inconvenient.”
The four of us lie prone at a canyon’s ridge near the ravine where the portal is located. At least a hundred demons in gold-trimmed black plate armor are encamped around the portal, while a few dozen patrol the perimeter or scout from higher ground.
“And they are royal guard, too,” Phillia continues. “Kira’thaz must have known we would come here if his plan failed. How should we handle this, Commander?”
“You are to wait here with Eron while Knel and I eliminate them,” Xanenax instructs.
“What?” I demand. “You can’t just kill them all just to get me to a portal.”
“You underestimate your significance, Eron,” Xanenax replies. “If Kira’thaz captures you and is able to cultivate your powers fully, you will kill that many a thousand times over. And not just soldiers, but innocents. These demons are fulfilling their duty, and there is no dishonor in that. Their only dishonor is that they are fighting for someone they don’t truly believe in, or that they are too scared or stupid to recognize Kira’thaz for the deceiver he is.”
“I’m sure Kira’thaz believes in what he’s fighting for,” Phillia quips.
“Kira’thaz cannot see beyond himself, and in doing so blinds himself to reality. He is an idiot and a coward.”
Phillia looks at him, perplexed. “Be sure to tell him that when we fight him.”
“You mean when we kill him,” Knel growls as she begins moving to better position herself for attack.
“Stay here,” Xanenax tells me and then follows behind Knel.
Knel slowed down her run to a creep as she neared the closest guard from behind a bend in the canyon wall. She focused her mind and bent the light around her so that her appearance became distorted, though not completely invisible. Doing so required intense concentration, and she already felt perspiration begin to bead on her skin. She then stalked slowly toward the guard.
He will notice the distortion if I get too close, but immediate movement will break my concentration, she reasoned. Then, she drew out a throwing dagger from beneath her cloak and snapped her fingers to draw the guard’s attention.
Only a dozen yards away, the guard spun around, peering into the shadows made by the harsh sun. He stepped forward once and then turned to call out.
Knel threw the blade straight into the demon’s exposed neck, between its breastplate and helmet. The demon’s cry came out as a wet gurgle as he fell. Knel ran in and caught his corpse before his armor could make enough sound to alert the others before laying the body down. Then, she moved to the edge of the ridge the guard had been watching, directly above the camp where soldiers waited, hidden from the surrounding patrols. She opened her mind slightly to communicate telepathically with Xanenax. There are no obstructions to hide behind. We have to hit them hard and fast.
Ready when you are.
Knel took a deep breath and then crept toward the ledge. Below her, four demons sat together playing bone-dice. The entire camp had grown lackadaisical, and only a few patrolled the perimeter and all of them looked bored.
Kira’thaz should have sent fresh troops every few hours. And of course, the coward won’t do any of his own dirty work.
Calming her mind, Knel took the anger she felt and tapped into it. She remembered how her skin crawled when Kira’thaz looked at her, how every syllable he uttered filled her with rage, and her hatred of how readily he manipulated those around him. She grasped the anger that flowed through her and channeled it through her weapons, and they began glowing red with heat. Then, silently, she dived over the edge onto the gambling demons below.
Her magick-imbued weapons cut cleanly into the first two demons’ chainmail beneath their plate armor as she stabbed through both of their necks when she landed on top of them. Their companions moved to grab their weapons, but their heads rolled off their shoulders before either one of them was armed.
As soon as Knel stood, the other demons in the camp began shouting and drawing their weapons before rushing toward her.
Xanenax leapt down from the opposite side of the canyon, landing on top of a royal guard and skewering her. Those around where he had landed turned immediately to face him and hesitated. Xanenax took the opportunity to calmly drive his blade into the nearest one’s skull through the demon’s helmet visor and then rushed the next royal guard to slit his throat. Then, he began fighting with abandon, fluidly crushing, slashing, stabbing, and slaying one demon after the next. As Xanenax blade danced through a dozen enemies in a matter of seconds, Knel was almost too distracted by the subtle intricacies of his movements to notice the first demon who rushed her.
Knel parried the guard’s halberd downward to the side, exposing his neck for her to slide her katana down through his torso. She then blocked another guard’s sword and withdrew her katana, decapitating him in the same movement.
All across the camp, the guards were in disarray, unsure as to which deadly adversary they should coordinate against.
These poor fools, Knel thought grimly to herself as she ran toward the nearest guard to cut him down. The demon faltered for only a moment before roaring. An energetic charge quickly manifested on the end of his halberd and shot toward Knel. Ducking down to the side, Knel dived toward him, turning her body and sidestepping to avoid the polearm and then moved to cut his throat. The demon grabbed the scimitar as it came near him, and he used it to pull Knel to him as he opened his maw to bite her neck. Knel tilted her head to the side as she stabbed her katana up into the demon’s skull, shutting his jaw so hard, his upper fangs pierced the bottom of his mouth. Then dozens of guards coordinated together and began attacking simultaneously.