Sistina’s army was camped out a short distance from the City of Lodz and in the middle of preparations to advance when a strange clamor erupted in the distance. The noise of footsteps rushing around to get ready all halted as the sound of gunfire filtered from the city walls.
‘An enemy attack?’ many of them thought, wondering how that could be since the advance team had already cleared out the area. Some of them progressed forward to penetrate the capital further north.
Regardless, the noise meant trouble, so they armed themselves and got ready to move out. By the time they arrived at the city borders, they noticed that something was amiss.
A giant hole had been blown through one side like something large had crashed through it. The sight of utter wreckage beyond the hole spoke of some magic spell or skill that demolished everything in its wake. However, no one could feel the residual mana that was required to invoke such large-scale destruction. Even the least acute of senses would have been tipped off to such a thing.
As they continued to stare, intermittent sounds of objects crashing echoed in the distance, warning them that whatever caused the scene before them was still on a rampage. Quickly, they split up into teams to circle around the area.
A young man in full body armor advanced forward, only his face uncovered. With a scruffy beard which hadn’t been shaved since he left the capital and eyes that looked sharply around, he was only one of many that scoured the area.
Lockley, a mid-ranking member of the Royal Guard, nervously gripped his sword as he guided a group of fifty soldiers straight through the city, following the path of destruction. Bodies of the dead were scattered everywhere, both the cityfolk and their own soldiers. Checking a few of the bodies, it appeared that their allies had been ambushed by the gunfire that they heard earlier. Judging from the guns near the citizens’ bodies and the blood on the weapons of their allies, a conflict between them was obvious.
However, that didn’t explain at all why the buildings had been turned into heaps of debris. In some places, the structures had been half destroyed, with the remaining part of it untouched.
As Lockley picked through some random debris, he noted how clean the pieces looked. Normally, a magic spell would mar the wood with burns from Fire magic, or soil the surface in the case of Earth or Ice magic. Even Wind magic would leave jagged ends and rough surfaces upon wooden boards. But as he picked up a large beam, the sight of perfectly-cut wood that barely had any other dents seemed out of place.
There was no skill that he was aware of that would demolish a building so neatly. Even the technique of the famous Pythogoras Tromaine could not yield such immaculate results.
As Lockley moved further ahead, another sight struck his attention. More dead bodies were littered around, a large gathering of them near the city square. However, what made them stand out was the resulting condition that they had been left in.
These corpses had not simply been slain by a single attack. They had fallen into a pile of indistinguishable flesh and bones. Truly a gruesome sight indeed. Lockley would have turned away immediately if he hadn’t noticed that even the bones had been severed cleanly without snapping. The curiosity of that one point kept him from looking away as he pushed the flesh around with his foot to get a better understanding.
What remained of a citizen of Lodz looked like he had been hacked up into little sections, like a set of sharp blades had cleanly sliced his body into cubes of meat and sinew. Lockley recoiled. There was no one that he could think of with such skill with a sword.
His foot banged into some metal, and he looked back, seeing the corpse of a fallen soldier in a similar state. A metal plate slid off and clattered on the ground. It appeared to come from the man’s armor, which had also been sliced cleanly.
Now, Lockley’s teeth were starting to chatter. Whatever befell these victims was indiscriminately attacking both sides. The same blades that sliced through their bodies had no doubt did the same to the buildings also.
“This is far too much for a man wielding a sword to deal with,” Lockley commented to himself as he decided that it was time to head back and report what he saw. Backup was needed for whatever was out there.
Suddenly, the noise of crashing grew louder and closer. Lockley quickly alerted his men, having them hold their place and wait to see what was coming. Seconds passed by as the noise weaved back and forth in the distance. Buildings suddenly toppled over before their eyes.
Lockley could hear his men gulp as they waited to see what popped out.
Suddenly, a large man in a cloak landed right in between their group. His attire was ripped in several places and large gashes that stained his clothing red with blood were hidden underneath them. Furthermore, he was missing his right arm, a bleeding stump where it should have been. Without a moment of hesitation, the man leapt onto a low building and continued jumping up to higher ground.
Before Lockley’s men could react, another form landed in the same place as the man before. However, a purple haze that gave off the chills of a demonic aura shrouded the him. Or at least, it looked like a normal man within.
With a wave of his hand as he landed, purple streaks flew out like a gust of wind blowing from his body. Before the wind reached him, Lockley instinctively ducked behind a low wall, something telling him that he shouldn’t touch it. After it passed by, Lockley peeked his head over, finally seeing who was hiding behind that hazy shroud.
“Th-That’s the Chancellor!”
The chef uniform that he wore was unmistakable. However, even that was difficult to see within the murky aura. As he stepped forward to call out to him, Sir Evers leapt away, following the cloaked man from before without so much as acknowledging anyone else.
But as his foot left the ground, the area around him suddenly fell apart to Lockley’s surprise.
His men, who were in Sir Evers’ vicinity, fell apart into pieces, dead like the corpses that he discovered before. The buildings where the wind hit caved upon itself. Lockley looked back at the wall he hid behind, seeing that it too had crumbled into pieces.
Everything in the circular area around Sir Evers, with a radius of about 10 meters, had been completely destroyed. Cut down into little pieces, like ingredients on a chopping board.
Lockley let out a nervous shriek as this all registered. He had just witnessed the scythe of Death indiscriminately cleaving everything in its path. The only feeling that left him was utter fear as he dashed away at top speed, determined to make as much distance from that noise as possible.
He had to find someone, anyone to report the situation to.
Raganoff leapt across the rooftops, furiously dashing away from the demonic being that he had awoken not long ago. He cursed under his breath as his teasing had seemingly created a situation so dire that he regretted doing it in the first place.
He had hoped to goad the Chancellor into a fun knife fight, but he had not expected him to demonize and turn into a destructive force. As a result, he had become heavily injured simply by trying to evade his enemy.
Fortunately, his level was high enough to endure the first attack without being turned into chunks like his companions had. However, his body still became riddled with deep cuts as a result. As he held up a knife to defend against the next attack, he watched as the purple wind collided forcefully against it. Though he slashed forward to block the next blow, he nearly screamed in surprise as the metal blade crumbled before his eyes before his fingers also dropped from his hand. The rest of his right arm peeled back, and bit by bit, split off before falling to the ground.
With no way to attack Claude without being shredded by the aura he emitted, Raganoff took off running. However, he soon noticed that Claude had given chase after him.
Leaping from structure to structure, Raganoff hoped to weave in between the buildings to get Claude off his tail. But to his surprise, Claude didn’t go around the buildings, but rather, he went right through them.
Using that purple wind that blew around him, Claude sliced through everything in his way. Raganoff let out a grunt of surprise as he saw the man crash through walls easily. It was like he had weakened them into a stack of loose bricks that his enemy simply barreled through.
After seeing this, Raganoff realized that the demonizing Claude could likely topple anything in his path like a house of cards.
Raganoff had another idea. This time, he swerved over to the source of many loud noises. As he dashed into the path of many people engaged in combat, he skirted around the skirmish between the cityfolk and the soldiers of Sistina. Many of those who were left in this city were the remaining members of the Dark Hand, tasked with leading this ambush. They were people who could only fight using shady means, but that made this plan perfect for them.
“All Hands! Fire behind me at the enemy!” Raganoff yelled to his subordinates.
He smiled as bullets flew past him, aimed at the dangerous person tailing close behind. With his agility, he easily dodge the incoming shots with ease.
‘That should slow him down!’ Raganoff thought, believing that the extremely powerful guns that Lamps Magellan had provided everyone would work. And if it didn’t, the others could be bait to cover Raganoff’s approach for a sneak attack. He felt no real attachment to his subordinates, so he didn’t hesitate to use them however.
Pausing behind the safety of a line of gunmen, Raganoff watched the form of Claude continue to barrel forward, seemingly oblivious to the bullets. Just as they were about to hit, the wind blew around him. The bullets that hung in the air exploded into little metallic puffs, completely ineffective against the rampaging man.
Raganoff immediately dashed away in a panic, leaving Claude to lash out at the bodies that had frozen in fear of the maelstrom before them that swallowed their attacks like nothing. Like the buildings that had crumbled to the ground, so too did the people that were in his way, regardless of which side they were on.
He raced past the line of Sistina soldiers as well, hoping that Claude would pause before his allies, but several cries of death that followed instantly perished that thought.
Raganoff felt a shiver run down his back as this was too much of a contrast compared to the sappy, weak person that he believed Claude to be. Rage had seemingly demonized him into a being that no longer cared about anything but taking revenge on Raganoff.
And after nearly half an hour of trying to evade the man, the City of Lodz had turned into a broken patch of ruins. Some buildings looked like a giant tunnel had carved through the middle, while others had toppled over due to a loss of structural support.
People that had been fighting all over the city were now either dead or fleeing in fear of the two of them. A rumor of a ‘Grim Reaper’ that killed everything had reached their ears by now. Only Raganoff was left to fend off against this threat. For he was responsible for creating such a monster.
As exhaustion built up in his legs, he could feel the very tip of the purple wind howling at his back, tearing into the flesh and reigniting his will to run just a bit faster.
But there was no way he could keep this up. His mind was running out of ideas, save for one. Raganoff gave one final push toward the hideout that he had in this city. As he reached the location, he dove through the glass window with a crash, ignoring the minimal damage that it would inflict upon his already heavily injuries. Time was what he needed to counterattack.
Eyeing one of the side rooms, he picked up a small Rire Stone from one of the tables and chucked it inside. Ignoring the surprised members of the Dark Hand who were guarding the place, he ran to the other side and crashed into another window to escape.
The Fire Stone exploded soon after, catching aflame anything that was inside. That room held a significant stash of flammables and explosives, enough to blow up a good section of the city.
Given that Claude made the shortest route toward Raganoff continuously, he would end up right in the explosion’s path. As Raganoff quickly made distance from his trap, a deafening boom sounded behind him before a shockwave knocked his entire body into the air.
Crashing face first into the dirt, Raganoff reached up to dust off his face with his left hand. He looked back with a grin, thinking that the timing couldn’t have been better. Even someone that could cut anything wouldn’t be able to avoid a surprise bombing right next to him.
But then, Raganoff’s smile dropped, and his eyes widened in fear. He knew right away that he was doomed.
Among the flames, the entire building had turned into a shower of debris that was now raining back onto the area. But then, a purple wind erupted, blowing it all back. Large fragments of entire buildings crashing down upon him did nothing as they were batted away and exploded into dust before reaching Claude’s body. Even the flames that ravaged the area stopped dead around him.
Raganoff shuffled backwards in fear. There was nothing that he could do now. His options were completely spent. As his back hit against the outer wall of Lodz, he took it as a sign that he had nowhere left to go.
He watched in despair as the purple wind approached him. Inside of the haze that surrounded Claude, the man’s eyes seemed to be engulfed with a purple fire. Before he could let out a panicked scream, Raganoff saw the stroke of a tiny blade, the weapon that he had looked down upon. Held by the man he called weak.
In that final moment, he regretted how helpless he felt against such power. His path of strength had been built up by death under an unseen hand. But true strength struck mercilessly, without the need to hide or implement trickery. Much like what was before him. Claude had concealed his true power under kindness.
As the section of wall behind him crumbled, the slabs of rock from it became his grave. But even if the tons of debris were removed, no one would ever notice that a body had been there. The chunks of flesh and bone were pureed under the weight of it all.
Like shadows forcefully brought into the light of destruction, all traces of the Dark Hand disappeared on that day. No one was left to follow the man who sacrificed everyone to pursue strength for himself.