Chapter 20: The Man With the Evil Heart

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Lein stood upon the sands, feeling the blistering heat on his back. It didn’t bother him – of course it didn’t. It wouldn’t bother the Great Power of the planet.

He was now in the land of Altermin, the alkite nation that the note he’d found claimed Cinna would flee to. The place he now stood in was a desert, just like much of the land in the southern part of Aphage – but regardless, alkites still managed to thrive in the south, mostly due to having evolved in the desert regions and thus already being prepared for them. That didn’t matter right now, though. What mattered was whether Cinna would come here.

Fortunately, he’d managed to get here quickly (and by that, he meant he’d gone to Melthar and asked for a teleport). So, if the note was being truthful and Cinna was going to arrive here, he’d be there to catch her. And if it wasn’t true, and Cinna was never going to come – which was what he suspected would happen – well, in that case, he wouldn’t have lost anything, either. Therefore, it was best to just wait here for now.

Of course, his ability to sense demons wouldn’t let him find Cinna by itself, even if she did arrive. Fortunately, the note had been rather specific, and had stated the exact location Cinna would go to – and so, Lein was hidden near it right now, overlooking the place where Cinna would purportedly retreat to.

That sort of specificity made Lein even more confident that the note was just misdirection, or perhaps a trap. But he didn’t care. If he had a chance, even a tiny chance, to take out what was possibly the greatest threat to… well… life, he would take it. If the price for taking that chance was being humiliated and made to look like a fool, or something even worse, then he’d pay it gladly. Because no matter what, Cinna could not be allowed to carry out her plans undisturbed.

Of course, he was likely wasting his time. But it was time he was willing to waste if it gave him even one shot at Cinna.

Still, he was surprised when, just a few minutes later, he saw the timor he’d been looking for.

Cinna passed by near his hiding place, a contingent of Cultists with her. Lein took a second look just to make sure, but there was no mistaking it. It was her walking through the desert, exactly where the note had said she would be.

That was… odd. There was no way she’d really be that incautious.

But that didn’t matter. If she was here, then this was the time to strike.

Although, Lein did have one concern. It was about the location where all of this was taking place. Or, more specifically… it was about that “evil god” the Cult of the Burning Eye worshipped. The Archdemon.

But… no. They weren’t close enough to that place for it to be an issue. Lein would simply leap out now, kill all the Cultists, and capture Cinna.

Still, this place couldn’t be a coincidence. Which meant he needed to do it quickly, before they got the chance to do whatever it is they planned to do.

Lein waved his hand, and spikes of rock erupted out of the ground, skewering three of the Cultists instantly. The rest turned towards him in an instant, flinching back, and Cinna retreated away. One of them grabbed something tightly, some sort of torch. Lein didn’t know what it was, but some instinct told him not to let the Cultist light it, so he sent a stone flying at the Cultist’s head with enough force to penetrate his brain.

The torch fell from the Cultist’s dead hands, and Lein ran out from his hiding spot. While his legs possessed great strength, it wasn’t enough to let him travel significantly faster – but in this situation, even a small boost was a good thing. He leapt, rushing towards the Cultists as another one of them hastily picked up the fallen torch. With a twist of his body, he punched straight through that Cultist’s head, only for another of them to grab the torch once again. That Cultist passed it to Cinna, and Lein rushed to rip it out of her hand…

But with her other hand, she pointed her open palm at the torch, and a flame sprouted forth.

Of course, Lein had already known that the leader of the Cult of the Burning Eye was a mage. Even if he hadn’t known, something like that could almost be considered common sense. But that wasn’t what worried him.

No matter how he looked at it, the torch seemed like a normal torch. So what was this ominous feeling he got from it, like something critical and irreversible had just occurred…? And why had they been so anxious to light it…?

Before Lein could come to an answer, something caught him and sent him flying.

It was wind, presumably conjured by a mage. But… this wasn’t just wind. It was enormous, almost like a tornado, and there was nothing Lein could do to resist as it blew him away. He made a strand of rock from the earth rise and wrap around his leg like a tentacle, but even that was simply torn to shreds as the wind continued to blow, roaring in his ears and forcing his eyes shut and taking him to who knew where.

No, actually… Lein had a pretty good idea where he was being taken.

No normal mage could have possibly created anything even close to this wind. Even the archmages, even the great archmage Cain Nihil, could not possibly do something like this. There was only one person – no, perhaps calling him a “person” wasn’t quite right – who Lein knew that could do something like this.

It didn’t make any sense, though. That man should not have been able to affect him here…

Never mind. That didn’t matter. If that man was indeed behind it, there wasn’t time to think about how it was happening. All Lein could do was stop his motion by any means necessary.

At his command, a spike of rock shot from the ground. It pierced his stomach, causing his eyes to bulge and his back to arch as he bit back a cry of pain and spat blood from his mouth. But that didn’t matter. He was a Great Power – he could regenerate any injury that wasn’t immediately fatal. What mattered was that the spike had, at least for now, stopped him.

And then the wind intensified, somehow going past its already ridiculous speed, and tore the spike in half and sent both Lein and the spike’s remains flying once more. Sending him right towards the place he could not find himself in. The one place he had to avoid. But there was nothing he could do anymore, not in time to stop it.

Lein felt it when he passed the magical barrier.

This was what he’d been afraid of. The most ancient magical construct that still existed in this world, and by far the most powerful of any such construct in history. A barrier, erected in a remote place in one of the great deserts of Altermin, that had only one function – to keep one, specific creature contained within. And that creature…

The wind carried him some more before finally letting up and dropping Lein unceremoniously on the ground. There was nothing to be seen around him but the desert sands. It seemed like the Cultists had fled and left the barrier already.

Of course, that was easy for them. But Lein knew that escape would be impossible. The only reason he hadn’t been pulled even closer was because the thing that lived here wanted to mock him, to make him come to it. If he tried to leave, it would just make itself known in an instant and confront him. So for now, he decided he’d humor it.

He took a deep breath. This was a confrontation he’d avoided for a long time, because it was one of the few things that truly had a good chance to kill him. If he got unlucky, he would die here, and every living thing throughout the land would lose one of their three protectors (and the only one of them who actually did anything). Whereas if he got lucky, one of the greatest threats to the existence of society as everyone knew it would be eliminated.

But there was no avoiding it anymore. Not now.

In a few moments, though he hadn’t planned on it, he would meet the thing in the center of this sealed area. They would match power and skill, and whoever won, their duel would change the world.

Well then… it was time to meet the Archdemon.

Lein walked onwards.

For a while, the landscape remained normal. Simple, rolling dunes, like in any desert on Aphage, with nothing to represent the threat that loomed within the confines of this space. But Lein wasn’t fooled. He knew what lived inside, and just because the land didn’t look threatening didn’t mean there was nothing to fear.

But after a while, even the small comfort of the normal landscape disappeared. The sand gave way to red soil and grey stone, the gentle slopes and hills rising higher and higher until they towered higher than great manors. That gave Lein pause, but still, he walked onwards. As he walked further along, the land was still all made of that red soil and that grey stone, making it look like Lein had accidentally stepped into Aead somewhere along the way. More than likely, it had been created to produce that impression from the start.

And finally, amidst the red, Lein came to one rising hill that towered even above all the rest. His eyes went to its peak. There, standing on the tallest point of this land, stood a long-haired man, the king of this desolate kingdom.

The man looked down at Lein with bright orange eyes, his gaze coldly satisfied. He wore nothing but a long robe and a circlet upon his head – both tattered, both worn, the robe having long since lost its color and been torn off just below the knees and the elbows. Yet even still, they retained an air of regality – the robe, in particular, had somehow managed to retain its fine patterns and decorations even after all the wear and tear it had gone through. The man’s hands held no weapon – but still, the confidence with which he carried himself and the cold gaze in his eyes conveyed a clear message. He was dangerous beyond measure.

Lein knew just how true that was.

“So here you are, “evil god,”” he said. “I did not expect we would meet again, and certainly not like this. But if an opportunity is presented to me, Archdemon, I will take it. I will kill you here.”

The Archdemon simply sneered in response, his stance not shifting even a bit as he stood upon the peak. “I see you have not lost your confidence, Lein,” he said, his voice like that of a shark circling around its prey. “No, it was always merely stubbornness, was it not? You have seen this land, now. So tell me – what do you think of it?”

Lein narrowed his eyes. It seemed to be a stupid question, but it held a deeper meaning beneath it, one Lein could see instantly. Once upon a time, the Archdemon had been a Great Power too, and that conferred with it many powers – but they were limited in scope, and in particular, the Archdemon’s set of powers had not included anything that would allow him to create such a landscape. Which left only one possibility.

“You created this land with magic?” Lein said, barely concealed disbelief in his voice. Of course, all of a Great Power’s powers were a form of magic, but Lein was talking about something else. He was talking about the sort of magic that any human, any alkite, any deira and any demon could learn – a sort of magic that a Great Power could also learn and use. But that magic, while undoubtedly useful, had many limitations. It would not have been possible to create this sort of land using merely that.

But the Archdemon simply spread his arms and smiled, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “But of course,” he said, his arrogant voice carrying unnaturally on the wind.

Lein’s eyes widened.

Magic – the sort of magic not inherent to Great Powers, the sort anyone could use – had, at its base, one rule. Creating anything, no matter what it was, was simply a matter of putting together its properties one by one and then using enough power to bring it into being. This meant that anything but the most simple of things were nearly impossible to create – even creating simple stone would require one to be able to keep nearly all of its properties in mind while casting the spell and pouring in the power. That required immense concentration and training, even just to create a bit of it in highly controlled conditions. So if what the Archdemon was saying was true – if he truly had created this entire land with magic – then that meant…

“By that expression on your face, I know what question you’re about to ask,” the Archdemon sneered. “But really, is it that hard to figure out? I’ve been trapped here for centuries, Lein. All that time, I had nothing to do but practice my magic. Did you really think something like that wouldn’t pay off?” In demonstration, the Archdemon opened the palm of his right hand and, in a matter of seconds, conjured a beautiful, ornate sword out of thin air.

Lein stared up at the blade, trying to comprehend the absurdity he’d just witnessed. The weapon was an elegant thing – its blade made of stainless steel, the handle gilded and decorated with jewels. To create something like that with magic, the Archdemon wouldn’t just have to keep track of all the properties of a sword as a whole – he’d have to do the same for the properties of every single material that were to go into it, and maintain that level of focus while pouring out the magical energy and forming it into an incredibly precise shape. And he’d done it in seconds, with seemingly no difficulty whatsoever.

To tell the truth, Lein now realized he should’ve expected the Archdemon’s skills to improve in the time he’d been sealed here – but even then, this sort of improvement was something else. The Archdemon’s skill at magic had always been far ahead of any mortal, but… this was on another level entirely.

“Oh, and one more thing,” the Archdemon said. “You’re wondering how I attacked you when you were outside the barrier, right? Well, I won’t deny one thing – it was a damn good barrier. But even something like that can’t hold up perfectly forever. Over time, it’ll decay, whatever it is. Don’t worry, I still can’t get out. But my magic… well, now that’s a different story.”

He smiled. “But that’s enough showing off, I think. I’d love to show you more of what I can do now, Lein, but I don’t trust you not to pull something sneaky while I’m distracted. So…” With an overhand pitch, he threw the sword straight at Lein. “Have at you!”

The Great Power gritted his teeth. Fortunately, he’d at least had the foresight to heal his wound from before while he was coming to the Archdemon, so he didn’t have a handicap in this fight – but it still wouldn’t be easy.

Well, if the Archdemon was willing to show off, Lein supposed he could indulge in it as well.

A spike of rock came from the earth, shattering the sword easily. “Impressive, Archdemon,” Lein said calmly. “But so what? You should know that things like that are useless against me. Your skill could be put to great use by any mortal mage… but in a simple battle like this, it will be useless unless you have the power to back it up.”

The Archdemon smirked. “Really, now? Go on, Lein. Keep up that confidence. We’ll see how long it lasts.” And with those words, he leapt from the hill, his jump propelled by a blast of force from underneath his feet. Another gust of wind broke his fall as he landed in front of Lein, and at some point during that trick, he’d conjured a spear in his right hand. That, at least, was expected – back before he’d been trapped, the Archdemon’s preferred weapon had always been a spear, so Lein wasn’t surprised to see him use one now.

With a ferocious grin, the Archdemon charged.

Of course, Lein could’ve stopped him easily with another spike of rock. But he knew it wouldn’t be that easy. The Archdemon had once been a Great Power himself, after all, and he’d be able to heal any wounds that weren’t immediately fatal just as well as they could.

No – that wasn’t quite true. It wasn’t that the Archdemon “had been” a Great Power once. Rather, he still was one. The fact that he had fallen from grace a long time ago didn’t change that fact.

In any case, Lein couldn’t be so wasteful with his energy. Even Great Powers could get exhausted from overuse of their powers, and in a battle like this, that could decide everything. So instead of using his powers to stop the Archdemon’s charge, Lein took his dagger from his hip and batted the spear away.

But the Archdemon didn’t stop. He didn’t even slow down, even as the spear sailed past its target. In that instant, looking into his enemy’s bestial smile, Lein realized he’d planned this all along.

The Archdemon’s hand shot forth, bringing with it a torrent of fire. But Lein had realized the truth of the Archdemon’s plan just a moment too soon for it to work, and before the fire could scorch him, a thin wall of stone shot up from the ground, catching the flow of flames and scattering it into the air.

Lein leapt back. What he’d said before about the Archdemon’s magic had certainly been true – his skill was useless without the sheer power to back it up. But what Lein hadn’t mentioned was that he suspected the Archdemon actually did have that level of sheer power, and would be able to use his magic to deadly effect if he was allowed. Which meant there was only one safe option left for Lein – kill the enemy before he could bring his full power to bear.

A spike of rock shot from the earth, aiming to skewer the Archdemon. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would give Lein a crucial instant in which to act.

But the Archdemon simply leapt backwards, dodging the spike moments before it came up. “You thought that would work?” he chided. “You’ve seen what my skill is now. When I’ve had that much time to practice magic, did you really think I wouldn’t be able to sense it whenever you decided to try something?”

His words were true, Lein knew, and that sort of power would make him a deadly opponent. But those words would be his downfall. If nothing else, the Archdemon was arrogant. He would always talk as he fought, tell his opponents exactly why they stood no chance – and, in the process, he would tell them exactly how to defeat him. This was no different. The Archdemon’s bragging had told Lein that he would be able to dodge anything he tried by sensing the flow of magical energy before it was activated – so Lein simply had to use an attack that couldn’t be dodged that way.

Before the Archdemon tried something else, Lein’s palm slammed into the ground, and the earth began to shake.

For a moment, the Archdemon stumbled. But as Lein looked up, he saw a cushion of wind gather beneath him, and gently, he was lifted off the ground by his own power, rendering the minor earthquake Lein had just caused completely meaningless.

Lein had suspected something like that would happen, though, which was why he’d only put a small amount of energy into that quake. It had still been worth trying, but it wasn’t unexpected that the Archdemon had managed to evade it. With a quick mental command, the earthquake stopped before it could drain too much power from Lein.

However, he still had a trick up his sleeve.

At a gesture from his hand, his attack was executed. For just a moment, Lein could see the Archdemon raise an eyebrow, a questioning smile on his face – and then, a strand of rock shot out from the ground like a tentacle, lunging towards the Archdemon and wrapping itself around the his leg with crushing force. The tentacle dragged him back down to the earth, smashing him into the ground.

“Wh-?!” the Archdemon exclaimed in shock.

Lein, of course, wasn’t going to explain what he’d just done, though he was sure the Archdemon would figure it out soon anyways. It had been a rather simple trick, really. The Archdemon could sense magical energy, but that was all he could sense. He had no way to tell how it would be used. Therefore, when Lein’s magical energy flew to a point in the earth away from the Archdemon, he’d been confused for a moment, wondering why Lein would strike at a point other than his location – and not realizing that just because Lein’s magical energy was gathered in a particular area, that didn’t mean that area was where he was actually planning to strike. That area would only have to be where the strike began – where it ended was up to how Lein used his magic, not where he initially positioned it. In this case, he’d made the tentacle of rock go to the side after emerging from the ground, allowing it to hit the Archdemon even though the attack hadn’t begun at his location.

But the Archdemon gritted his teeth and, with a hiss of anger, cut through the stone tentacle with a wave of fire.

At that, Lein’s eyes widened again. Magic didn’t bestow anything it created with any supernatural properties – once something was created by magic, it was simply that thing. Which meant fire wouldn’t be able to cut through stone like that… unless the Archdemon had been able to make it hot enough that it had simply melted the stone as it passed through it.

So, not only was his skill on another level entirely, the same was true of his power supply. If this creature were to be unleashed upon the world… Lein dreaded to think what would happen.

That couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Lein leapt forward, using the immense strength in his legs to propel himself as far as he could in a single bound. He didn’t quite land next to the Archdemon, but he landed close enough that running the rest of the way only took around a second. Still, it was too late. By that time, the Archdemon had already gotten the remains of the stone tentacle off himself and was ready for combat once more.

The Archdemon’s hand thrust forward.

In that moment, Lein’s mind was clear. He couldn’t compete with this monster in a duel of magic. Even if he were to use his domain as a Great Power to its fullest extent, he would still lose. His manipulation of earth, at its full power, was still stronger than the Archdemon’s magic, but it couldn’t come close to matching the enemy in versatility, not to mention that the enemy could predict it. There was no victory to be gained from trying to use such a plan.

Which meant a different method had to be used.

There was one thing, one very important thing, that Lein noticed about the Archdemon in that moment. No matter how powerful or how skillful he was, he still thought like a normal mage. For instance, right now, he was waiting to extend his arm fully before unleashing his spell – that way, the magical energy would have the shortest distance to travel before he could turn it into whatever he was planning to use.

But that style came with its vulnerabilities, too.

Before the Archdemon’s hand could extend fully, Lein’s own arm shot out with the speed of raging lightning. The Archdemon’s eyes widened in shock, but there was still time for him to unleash his spell, to strike at Lein in the middle of his attack – but for whatever reason, he didn’t. Lein didn’t know why, but he wasn’t going to question it.

The Great Power’s fist, all his great might behind it, struck the Archdemon in the side of his head. And… it met unexpected resistance.

His eyes widened. That was why the Archdemon hadn’t attacked. Because, at the last moment, he’d changed the spell – turned it into a barrier of wind to stop Lein’s punch.

But what a shame it was. The Archdemon’s defense was leagues above what any other mage in all of history could’ve possibly put up even if given hours to cast the spell. And yet it wouldn’t help him.

For just a moment, the both of them froze, a cocky smirk on the Archdemon’s face. And an instant later, Lein’s fist pierced the barrier of wind, and an expression of sudden shock and fear appeared on the Archdemon’s face for just an instant before the blow struck him.

It did not matter what the opponent was. It did not matter what sort of magical defenses there were in the way. In simple close combat, nothing could stop Lein.

Yet he’d underestimated the barrier, too. It hadn’t stopped his punch, but it had sapped it of much of its energy. If the attack had gone as Lein had intended it to, it would’ve shattered the Archdemon’s skull, destroyed his brain, and ended the battle right there – but as it was, he was merely blown away, sent flying across the ground by the impact.

Lein groaned in disappointment. That wouldn’t do anything. Nothing less than a decisively fatal blow could possibly work on the Archdemon. Anything else would simply be regenerated in instants.

And, just as Lein had predicted, so it happened. The Archdemon started standing up as soon as he hit the ground, his injury already gone. Still, this was good. Now, Lein had an opening. It was a tiny one, one that would only last a moment – but it still could make all the difference.

The earth shot out from underneath Lein’s feet, the force launching him forwards. He stuck his foot out, aiming to strike right at the Archdemon’s head once more. But before he made it, the Archdemon extended a hand towards him, and a strike of force threw him back. He landed on the ground and quickly rolled to his feet, but by that time, the opening was gone. The Archdemon was ready to fight once more.

It was clear now that simple extreme offense wouldn’t work against the Archdemon. Of course it wouldn’t – it couldn’t when he could counter any such attack with a wave of his hand. Which meant that Lein had to change his strategy once more.

He changed his thinking.

Until now, he’d been trying to strike at the Archdemon before he could bring up his magic to defend himself. But it was obvious that that wouldn’t work. Which meant Lein didn’t need to strike faster than the Archdemon could guard – he just had to nullify whatever method of defense the Archdemon used.

That seemed impossible, at first glance. To nullify the defense of someone with that much power and skill in magic? It seemed like an absurd idea. But with a little bit of thinking… it was possible.

Once more, Lein rushed at the opponent.

But this time, it seemed the Archdemon wasn’t simply willing to wait for him.

“Hmph,” he grunted, his voice condescending. He extended his arm. “I tire of this.”

And fire burst from the ground in front of Lein.

There was too much of it, and it was too close to him, and it came too fast. There was no hope of defense. It wasn’t that a wall of earth couldn’t stop it – Lein just didn’t have the time to put one up. After all, unlike his enemy, he couldn’t sense magic before it was activated. And so, there was nothing to do.

Lein saw that the instant the fire came out of the ground. But still, he tried. He backpedalled desperately, trying to change directions and get away from the huge burst of flames.

Of course, it was useless. The fire caught him, and he screamed as it seared his skin and charred his flesh. His clothes caught on fire, and their heat burned him further. His hair was burnt from his head in an instant, and he could feel himself starting to melt. The fireball was all-consuming – he couldn’t see past it, couldn’t hear anything else. It was all just fire.

But.

Lein was a Great Power. Someone who had lived for millennia. Simple pain would not stop him.

He stepped back, getting just far enough away, and quickly raised a wall of earth in front of him. Perhaps he couldn’t nullify the attack entirely – but that didn’t mean he couldn’t minimize its effect.

With a deep breath, Lein took a moment to think, hidden behind his wall. He wanted to heal this. Every instinct in his body screamed at him to heal his injuries, to stop the pain he was feeling. But pain alone wouldn’t stop him, and even for a Great Power, healing something like this would take a lot of energy. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just leave it as it was, at least for now?

No, no. Lein shook his head. He couldn’t fight like this. Even if he could bear the pain, his body simply wouldn’t be able to fight at anywhere near full capacity when it was half-melted like this. He needed to heal this.

A wave of energy passed over his body, and it returned to normal in an instant, and Lein breathed a sigh of relief.

And then, from the other side of the wall, the Archdemon’s sneering voice came. “Not bad. But you fool… did you really think that would be enough?”

Lein still couldn’t sense magical energy, of course. But he didn’t need to. The Archdemon’s words told him everything he needed to know.

A pillar of earth rose from the ground, lifting Lein into the air as another fireball erupted from the ground on Lein’s side of the wall. But all it found was the stone at the base of the pillar, stone that even it could not quite burn.

Now.

Lein leapt from the pillar, lunging at the Archdemon with his fist pulled back for a punch. The Archdemon looked up at him, and raised his hand, and unleashed a blast of wind-

-and it met a wall of earth as it suddenly rose from the ground.

And at the same instant, a second pillar of rock shot up, propelling Lein into the air once more. He sailed over his own wall, his trajectory perfectly calculated so he would end up right where he needed to be. His fist was still pulled back as he flew upwards, and as he descended in an arc, the Archdemon could do nothing but look upwards in shock, too surprised and too unprepared to cast a spell. Desperately, he raised his arms over his head and crouched down, moments before Lein’s fist struck him.

The Great Power saw it almost like it was in slow motion. The Archdemon’s bones buckled under the blow, his arms breaking and shattering under the pressure. Lein’s fist travelled downwards, only slightly slowed by the boneless cushions the Archdemon’s arms had become, smashing down on the enemy’s head.

It was slightly less than a perfect blow. It would take slightly more than an instant for the Archdemon’s brain to be splattered.

Against this foe, however, “slightly more than an instant” was far too much time.

Even though his arms were broken and useless, they were still attached to his body, and as long as they were, his hands could still be used to cast magic. The moment before Lein’s fist pierced the Archdemon’s brain, a wave of force burst forth, throwing Lein away with desperate strength.

He landed on his feet, watching the Archdemon as he stood up from the ground, his arms falling limply to his sides. The Archdemon’s expression was a mixture of anger, hatred, disgust, relief, and… fear.

But Lein wasn’t done yet. Two discs of rock flew forth from the ground.

Stone wasn’t sharp, not naturally. But truly, all “sharpness” was was how thin an object’s edge was. Any material could be made as sharp as the finest blade, in theory – it was simply that, for most people, it was impossible in practice. But the Great Power of the planet wasn’t like most people. For him, making stone as sharp as a sword was easy.

The twin discs rose at lightning speeds, their razor edges cleanly severing the Archdemon’s shattered arms from his shoulders.

A Great Power could easily heal from a hole in their stomach, or from parts of their flesh melting. That was simple. But losing a limb? That was different. That wasn’t just restoring part of something that was damaged – that was creating an entire part of one’s body anew. Even for a Great Power, it wasn’t easy.

And as long as the Archdemon didn’t have his arms, he couldn’t use magic.

Lein charged.

The Archdemon would be able to regenerate his arms soon enough, he was sure. All it would take was a single moment. Which meant that this was his only opportunity, this was his one chance. Now, in this instant, he would be able to land a finishing blow and end the threat that had lurked in the background of the universe for centuries! All it would take was a single punch…!

And the Archdemon gritted his teeth, and his eyes narrowed, and something happened. And Lein stopped.

It wasn’t of his own will. It was like there was… something holding him in place, like there was something not letting him move any further.

No. It wasn’t just a something. Lein knew exactly what it was.

“Hah,” the Archdemon laughed mirthlessly. “Not bad, Lein. I didn’t expect you to do so well. But you made a mistake. I’d decided to practice my magic, to use that as my main tool in battle – but it seems you forgot that that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my actual powers. I’m still a Great Power, after all.”

Yes. Of course. The Archdemon’s powers as a Great Power would still exist. It was obvious, now that he’d pointed it out.

And the Archdemon’s domain had been… power. More specifically, power over others.

Lein tried to shake it off. Now that he was aware of it, he could feel it – the spell over his mind, the spell that stopped him from doing anything. He threw his will against it, felt the metaphorical wall buckle. But it wouldn’t be enough. That one attempt to shatter the spell had told him everything. He could break out of it, given time. It wouldn’t even take long. But he didn’t have time, not now. He had to free himself, now…!

“I know this won’t hold you for long, Lein,” the Archdemon said with a smirk, walking towards him. He stopped for a moment, concentrating, and two arms simply formed from magical energy, connecting perfectly to his shoulders. “But I won’t need long. It’ll only take a moment to pluck your life out.”

He tried to move. Because he couldn’t let this happen. He couldn’t die, not when it meant leaving the world at the mercy of this man.

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t move, no matter how he tried.

“So, how’s my old kingdom?” the Archdemon asked. “What have those fools who’d overthrown me done with the place? Actually… never mind.” A spear appeared in the Archdemon’s hand once more, and he grinned. “I don’t want to know. In either case, I’ll be back soon enough. Then I’ll find out for myself. If they’ve ruined Aead, I must say, I will be quite upset… though I can’t say I’ll be particularly happy either way.”

Once more, the Archdemon smirked. “Goodbye, Lein. I’ve always hated you.”

The spear lunged at Lein’s face.

He could see his death, there, in that point. He was a Great Power. But that wouldn’t help him if his brain was pierced. He would simply die instantly before he could possibly regenerate the wound.

And he couldn’t die. Not here.

“Shut up,” Lein spat. In an instant, the spell broke, shattering like a shoddy chain. Lein’s fist shot at the Archdemon’s face like a dragon’s maw. There was only one thing on Lein’s mind – kill the enemy before he killed him.

But it wasn’t enough.

The Archdemon stepped to the side, a surprised frown on his face, and simply continued the thrust as Lein’s fist sailed past him.

And that was the end.

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