Spurring on my horse, I dodge the hero’s barrage of light missiles.
If I stop moving, I’ll get torched on the spot!
My opponent is the hero, the mortal enemy of the Demon Lord.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy—but I still gotta beat him.
Unfortunately for me, the hero’s attacks are relentless, as if they’re meant to crush my last dregs of hope.
He looks like a mild-mannered kid, yet he’s coming in for the kill without a second’s hesitation.
It’s hard to believe I can survive in the face of all that intensity.
How much hell has this kid been through to get this strong?
The hero fights like a magic knight, primarily using magic, but he also wields his sword like a master.
From the moment he blocked my attack from horseback with his sword, I knew he was physically stronger than I am.
But he seems to specialize in magic more.
If I stay too far away, I’ll become the perfect target for his magic.
If I keep close, though, he’s still got his sword.
He has no openings.
Usually, people have their own strengths and weaknesses.
I kinda suck at magic, while Huey from the Sixth is no good at close combat.
The whole point of a one-on-one battle is to figure out where the enemy excels and where they come up short, keep the fight on your own terms, and prevent the enemy from using their best weapons.
But the hero doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses at all.
His skill levels have all gotta be crazy high.
Normally, that’d be impossible, but this is the hero we’re talking about.
Guess that means he plays by his own special set of rules, huh?
You need tons of time to raise skill levels.
When you try to raise all of ’em at once, most people end up just being half-assed at a bunch of random things.
If you wanna get strong, you’re supposed to pick one and focus on it to raise its skill level.
Even among us commanders, the only person who’s got a wide balance of well-trained skills is Agner.
And he’s been fighting since the reign of the Demon Lord from two generations ago, y’know?
Being around so much longer than the rest of us, it’s no wonder he’s got more experience.
But Agner is pretty much the only exception to the rule.
It’d be ideal to raise all your skills to a high level evenly, but it sure ain’t practical.
But the hero is like that ideal come to life.
…Can I really win this?
No, I can’t wimp out now!
I’m gonna win! I have to!
With a flick of the reins, I change my horse’s course.
I’m better at close combat, especially when I rapidly string together powerful attacks.
Kogou from the Third has me beat for heaviest single attack, and Darad from the Fifth has more finesse than me for sure.
But when we actually spar, I’m the one who comes out on top.
In close combat without any magic, I’d wager I could hold my own even against Agner.
I know how strong the hero is from that first exchange, whether I want to or not.
But I won’t stand a chance of winning if I let that scare me.
Keeping my distance is just gonna get me killed by his magic.
My only chance of victory is to force a close-combat fight, where I excel the most.
With a roaring battle cry, I charge at the hero.
He readies his sword to meet me.
The fight is on!
And I’m gonna win!
I have to! No matter what!
“In tomorrow’s battle, the Seventh Army will have to be sacrificial pawns.”
Agner bluntly told me this yesterday.
He said my troops would act as bait to lure out the hero.
Fort Kusorion is particularly secure, even out of all the human forts.
There’s no way to bring it down by attacking it fair and square.
So our strategy was to draw out humanity’s strongest fighter, the hero, and destroy him to crush the humans’ fighting spirit.
It seemed like a risky move to me.
Would we really be able to lure out the hero by putting the entire Seventh Army at risk?
And even if we did manage that, would we be able to defeat him?
On top of that, if we were able to bring down the hero, would that be enough to destroy their will to fight?
Would this really be enough to bring down Fort Kusorion?
Agner’s plan seemed to be based on an awful lot of optimistic assumptions—to me, the whole thing sounded like a huge gamble.
There was no way I could risk the lives of all my soldiers on such a dubious strategy.
I told him so directly.
“I thought as much. But you’re going to have to do it anyway. Gamble or not, it’s the only chance we have for victory.”
Agner wore an uncharacteristically listless, self-deprecating smile.
“We’ve been put in a difficult position, you and me both.”
With that statement, Agner looked around.
At the time, we’d cleared out all the men, so no one else was there.
“Could I ask you to step out for a minute? Why, this is just a trifling chat between two men. We’re not going to make any foolish moves this late in the game.”
But for some reason, Agner spoke as if someone was standing right nearby listening in, and he addressed this invisible presence directly.
My Presence Perception skill didn’t pick anything up, but Agner seemed sure that someone else was there.
“Well, there’s no telling whether that worked or not…”
“Mr. Agner? What was that about?”
“Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing you could do anyway.”
I felt a chill.
It was like Agner was saying that someone was watching my every move, without my ever realizing.
Is something like that possible even for the Demon Lord?
Even now, I have a hard time believing she’s as untouchable as my older brother claims.
But in that moment, for the first time, I felt a certain indescribable fear.
“Even I can’t tell whether our observer really left or not. But I wasn’t going to say anything that would get us in trouble either way.”
Were we being watched by someone even Agner couldn’t detect?
Instinctively, I looked around, which made Agner chuckle drolly.
But of course I couldn’t sense anything, so I just turned back to Agner in puzzlement.
In response, Agner’s expression sobered, and he began to speak to me.
“Bloe, you might feel like you’re the only one who’s been put in a predicament, but you’d be dead wrong. It isn’t just you. It’s the entire demon race that’s in danger.”
Agner sounded exhausted as he spoke.
He always seemed so calm and grimly determined, so this was the first time I’d ever seen him in that kinda state.
“We demons only have two options left. Defeat the humans and survive or lose and be destroyed. That’s all it comes down to.”
“It’s not really that simple, is it?”
“No, I’m afraid it most certainly is.”
Win or lose.
Survive or perish.
All or nothing.
I can’t imagine our fate is anything so simple, but Agner insisted it was just that.
“The bigger the scale of a situation, the more complicated things get. But there are exceptions to every rule. This occasion is one such exception. Because the Demon Lord herself desires that simple outcome.”
The Demon Lord.
Just thinking about that woman makes me scowl.
Everything went off the rails when she showed up.
“Mr. Agner. Why do you serve such a—?”
“Don’t say another word.”
I don’t know why someone as powerful as Agner obeys the Demon Lord.
If he rebelled against her, maybe things would have been different.
Thinking about that, I started to say something bitter, but he cut me off.
“…We cannot win. Or rather, I could not win. I was unable to win against the Demon Lord. That’s your answer.”
Agner’s simple response left me stunned.
He couldn’t win.
I’d never heard Agner admit defeat before.
The implications of that are incredibly serious.
“I will not quietly accept our demise, of course. I have simply determined that this is the only course of action that remains open to us. We have no choice but to win.”
Agner judged that he couldn’t defeat the Demon Lord, so the only option left for the demon race’s survival was to defeat the humans.
I don’t want to accept it.
But I don’t have much of a choice.
Not if Agner’s the one saying so.
“We must win by any means necessary. Even if it is a gamble, it is one we will have to take. It’s not just the Seventh Army at stake. If we lose, every last demon is likely to be doomed.”
That’s why he needs the Seventh Army to lead the charge.
I could tell that he was determined on this front and nothing I could say would change his chosen strategy.
We have to win.
It’s not just the Seventh Army and me on the line.
The fate of the entire demon race rides on our victory.
The next morning—namely, this morning—I explained the gist of the strategy to the Seventh Army soldiers.
These men and women all participated in the would-be rebel army led by their previous commander, Warkis.
Since the rebellion was discovered, the Seventh Army has been treated poorly and resigned themselves to their current excruciating position.
Their supplies are given the lowest priority out of all the armies, they don’t have adequate equipment, and some days there’s not even enough food to go around.
And now, their orders are basically “go out there and die.”
There’s no way that doesn’t bother them.
“If you say so, Chief.”
The soldiers readily accepted their suicide mission.
“We’ve all but died once already. Since we’re living on borrowed time, we at least want to do something useful before we die.”
“It’s thanks to you that we’ve stayed alive this long, Chief. You saved our lives, so use them however you see fit.”
They’re acting like I’ve done so much for them, but it ain’t all that.
Most of these soldiers were incredibly faithful to Warkis.
Plenty of ’em were ready to grab their weapons and die trying to avenge him.
I calmed them down as best I could and punched their lights out when I had no other way to stop them.
Sometimes I went around begging for food, borrowing what I could so that my soldiers could eat, and even went hunting monsters myself when things got desperate.
But that’s about all I could do for them.
Hardly enough to merit giving me their lives.
I’m sure they realize that, too.
They’re fully aware they were allowed to live, but not forgiven.
All this means is that the time has finally come to pay the piper, so they’re ready to die here.
And all I can do is send them off to their deaths.
So if I don’t wanna let their final moments go to waste, I gotta make sure I don’t lose, so I can pay them back for trusting a shitty commander like me!
I strike at the hero with everything I have.
The momentum of my horse, the strength of my body, and most of all, the intensity of our feelings are all behind this blow.
I have to win!
But in spite of my immense resolve, the hero blocks my blow.
A part of me was hoping this attack might do it, but I knew it wasn’t gonna be that easy!
But since he blocked my first attack the same way, I wasn’t really expecting it to work.
I’m just getting started!
I swing down with my sword from atop my horse.
The hero raises his own sword to parry the heavy strike coming from above.
Our blades clash, and both get knocked away.
Since I have a height advantage, the balance of power is tipped in my favor for the moment.
A downward swing has the help of gravity, while the hero has to use that much more strength to raise his sword.
And yet, we’re still evenly matched.
That just goes to show that the hero’s stats are higher than mine.
But I won’t back down. I can’t.
Not physically, and not emotionally.
If I back down here, we all lose.
The momentum of my sword threatens to drag my body backward, but I forcibly resist.
I hear a crack from the arm that’s holding the sword in place, but I gnash my teeth and bear it, then swing down at the hero again.
The hero pulls his sword back, too, matching it against mine.
My blade clashes against the hero’s again.
I’m not done yet!
From there, I launch right into a barrage of attacks.
It’s just an artless onslaught of brute strength, technique be damned.
But in a proper sword fight, I’d probably be the one to lose.
I’ve gotta push through with sheer strength!
Our swords clash twice, then three times, but he isn’t giving in.
In fact, I’m the one who’s having trouble keeping up with the hero’s sword.
Each time our blades meet, slowly but surely, my sword gets a little slower.
If the duel keeps up like this, I’m in trouble.
Disaster is bearing down on me.
Then, with a shout, the hero strikes hard enough to knock my sword aside.
I swing it back too late and without enough strength.
The hero doesn’t miss that chance.
He raises his sword and levels it at me while I’m still recovering.
I don’t have enough time to get my own blade back into position.
Am I screwed?!
Suddenly, my horse flips around, shifting me over.
Behind me, I hear a loud, dull sound.
Losing my balance, I pitch forward off my horse.
I manage to safely roll across the ground two or three times, then spring back up to my feet with the momentum and spin around.
In front of me is my beloved horse, missing a back leg, collapsed on the ground.
I can guess right away what happened.
My dear companion protected me and willingly took the hero’s blow.
A horse’s legs are its lifeline. Losing even one of them is the same as accepting death.
Someone with high-level Healing Magic might be able to save my horse, but a glance at the vast amount of blood gushing from the wound tells me all too clearly that no healer would get here in time.
“…Sorry! And thank you!”
That’s all I can say before I turn back to the hero.
I raised that horse from the very moment his mother gave birth to him.
He’s my partner who’s been with me longer than any of the soldiers in the Seventh Army, or even my old comrades in the Fourth.
And he gave his life to protect me.
So I have to make sure his last act of loyalty wasn’t in vain.
Grieving will have to wait.
Right now, I need to focus on fighting the hero with everything I’ve got!
Bellowing, I charge toward the hero.
My exchange with my horse lasted only a few seconds.
The hero’s sword is still low after cutting down my horse.
I know that doesn’t mean he’s defenseless, though. After our fight so far, I’m well aware that he isn’t that easy an opponent.
The kid specializes in magic, yet he outclasses me in close combat, too.
But I can’t back down now!
The fate of the Seventh Army, of the demon race—it all rests on my shoulders!
For the Seventh Army soldiers who’ve already died in this battle and my beloved horse.
For the rebels who died before this fight, like Warkis, and the poor folks who tried to flee from the Demon Lord’s tyrannical rule, and those who lost their lives before they could even try to do so.
For everyone who was forced to attempt the impossible because of that awful Demon Lord and died in despair.
And that’s not all.
See, I know how hard guys like my brother and Agner were working before that Demon Lord appeared, wearing themselves down to the bone to try to help the demon race recover from its tattered state.
I grew up watching my older brother devote himself to civil service, barely even pausing to sleep.
And after all that effort, here we are.
I’m not gonna let my brother’s efforts be for nothing!
My brother, Agner, and then there’s…
In the back of my mind, I see White, always lurking behind that nasty Demon Lord.
I can’t lose, dammit. I just can’t!
I take a deep breath, then let it all out with another full-body attack.
The hero parries it easily, of course.
I’m not done yet!
Pulling back my sword, I change the angle and go in for another swing right away.
He blocks and blocks again. Must go on! Can’t stop!
I won’t let up until I’ve used every shred of strength in my body!
Next thing I know, I’m holding my breath, and half my vision has gone cloudy.
I’ve lost sight of everything but the hero, following his sword with my eyes.
<Proficiency has reached the required level.
Skill [Thought Acceleration LV 4] has become [Thought Acceleration LV 5].>
Skills work in mysterious ways; for some reason, they go up in real battle like this far more easily than during training.
Some say that the tension of being on the verge of death promotes growth, and it’s especially obvious when you’re fighting someone who’s stronger than you.
Sometimes, that growth can even turn the tides of the battle.
But thanks to my newly leveled-up Thought Acceleration skill, I can see the hero’s movements all too clearly.
It’s obvious he can tell how I’ll attack before I even begin!
The growth I just experienced only makes the difference in our abilities even clearer.
I’m frantically swinging my sword with nothing else in my mind or vision, but the hero can see through my every move. He’s just waiting for me to let my guard slip!
I can’t reach him!
Even after all this!
But I can’t lose!
How much do you think we sacrificed to get this far?!
And yet, and yet!
Though my insides have gone rigid with tension, my breath starts heaving again.
Gulps of the burned air of the battlefield come flooding in, scorching my lungs.
I feel my sword swings slowing, my movements dulling, my strength failing.
I’ve reached the limits of my exhaustion.
I push all that back down with sheer force of will and keep on attacking.
“That still won’t work.”
My sword gets knocked aside.
Unable to withstand the momentum, I stumble backward along with it.
Immediately, I’m met with a barrage of missiles made of light.
The hero’s Light Magic, I realize—just as the powerful attack barrels into me.
There was no time to dodge or block or even to think.
So this is how far apart the hero and I are in strength?!
I get blown backward, tumbling along the ground, and land on my hands and knees.
But this isn’t the end. It can’t be!
I use skills to heal my wounds.
But I can feel the strength draining from my body in the process.
My wounds are healed, but I barely have any stamina left to fight.
“You shouldn’t push yourself any further. Surely, by now you see how much stronger I am.”
Seems like the hero can tell what state I’m in, too.
“I haven’t lost yet, dammit! If I crawl home like this, I won’t be able to face my brother!”
Not just him.
I’d be failing the entire demon race!
“If you have siblings, isn’t that all the more reason to survive? Withdraw your troops. We won’t chase you down.”
…This damn bastard!
If it was that easy, there wouldn’t be a problem!
“We can’t withdraw, dammit!”
I stand up and charge again.
The rational part of my brain is screaming that I can’t win this battle.
I know that!
The hero is just too strong.
But still! I’ve gotta try and wear down at least a little of his magic and stamina!
Even if I can’t win, I’ve gotta believe wearing him down might make enough of a difference for Agner to beat him!
My sword gets batted aside easily, and another shot of light flies toward me.
It’s the same way I went down a minute ago.
But knowing that doesn’t mean I can do anything about it.
I hit the ground again.
I try to stand up again, but the hero drives his sword into the earth right before my eyes.
If it was just a little closer, it would’ve gone straight through my neck.
“Don’t stand up again.”
He’s not letting me move.
The hero’s words contained an obvious threat: If I try to get up, he’s going to cut me down.
“You’re not the only one with burdens to bear.”
Despite his youth, his words carry serious weight.
This should be obvious, but just as we’re fighting for the fate of the demon race, the hero is fighting for humanity.
He’s here carrying the same feelings and determination that I have.
If we both have equally strong emotions, then this outcome is purely the result of the difference in our strengths.
My feelings aren’t enough to change things if the enemy’s resolve is just as strong.
My fingers dig into the dirt.
I want to stand up, but I can’t.
Why can’t I be stronger?!
Strong enough to beat the hero!
To beat the Demon Lord!
“I don’t know what’s driving you to fight, of course. I’m sure you have reasons I can’t begin to understand. But if you demons insist on disrupting the peace with humanity, then I will fight with the determination to protect my kind.”
The hero’s hand grips his sword tightly.
“Why?” An edge of anger creeps into his voice. “Why did you have to start a war?! Why do you keep forcing us to fight?!”
At that, my own anger boils over.
It’s not like we’re fighting because we want to, either!
“Because if we don’t, we’re all gonna get killed!”
The hero looks surprised by my answer, gaping at me with an expression that doesn’t belong on the battlefield.
Somehow, that just pisses me off even more. My rage takes over, and I start shouting.
“It’s the Demon Lord! She says she’s gonna wipe us all out if we don’t fight the humans and win!”
“The Demon Lord?”
“Yeah, that’s right, dammit! Everything’s gone all wrong since she showed up! It’s not like we wanna fight, either, y’know! But if we don’t, we’ll all be killed! The demons will be done for! Damn it all! Why?! Why’s it gotta be like this?! To hell with it all!”
Forgetting about the sword at my throat, I pound my fist against the ground.
My vision blurs with tears.
It’s humiliating, but I’m sure I’m gonna die here anyway.
A guy oughtta be able to bawl his eyes out as much as he damn pleases in his final moments.
“…So if the Demon Lord was defeated, this war would end?”
“Hunh?! Yeah, if that were even possible!”
When I recklessly blurt out an answer to the hero’s question, he pulls his sword from the ground.
“Well, I guess I’ll go bring down the Demon Lord, then.”
I can’t help but stare dumbly at the hero in response to that casual declaration.
“If the Demon Lord is the cause of the war, then all I have to do is defeat her. Besides…” He pauses for a moment. “It’s the hero’s duty to defeat the Demon Lord, isn’t it?”
His tone is half-joking, but his eyes look serious.
The hero can say that so confidently only because he doesn’t know how strong the Demon Lord is.
…But is that really the case, though?
Truth is, I don’t really know how strong she is, either.
All I know is she’s gotta be way, way stronger than I am.
But the hero here is way stronger than I am, too.
…Does that mean he might be able to beat her?
’Cause if so…
Suddenly, the ground shakes.
A chill runs down my spine.
There’s something in the air, something more staggering than I’ve ever felt before, something strong enough that it might actually crush me.
“Wh-what the hell…?”
I can’t stop my body from shaking.
This…this can’t be real.
Even the hero widens his eyes and stares over my shoulder.
I don’t dare turn around.
But I know I don’t have any choice.
As I slowly look over my shoulder, I see the answer to my question.
It’s an unbelievably giant monster.
Its eight legs bear deep into the ground, and eight eyes leer down at us from far above.
I know what this is.
I’ve never seen one in person before, but everyone’s heard of this walking natural disaster. It’s the stuff of fairy tales and nightmares.
And its name is the queen taratect.
In terms of the danger rankings humans give to monsters, it’s a legendary-class monster, the sort of catastrophe that no amount of humans could ever hope to defeat.
How did something like that just appear out of nowhere?!
In spite of my confusion, the queen taratect is already moving.
It aims its mouth toward Fort Kusorion, and the world suddenly turns sideways.
At first, I can’t tell what just happened.
Or maybe I simply don’t want to.
Next thing I know, a whole chunk of Fort Kusorion is just…gone.
Along with all the Seventh Army soldiers who were attacking it.
A murmur of disbelief escapes my mouth.
I’m too confused to think straight.
But things are only getting faster.
The queen taratect starts moving forward.
It’s headed straight toward Fort Kusorion—or rather, what’s left of it.
But there are still plenty of humans left there.
Most of them are standing atop the ruined fort, staring at the queen taratect in shock just like me.
Suddenly, a voice shouts from close by, echoing across the hushed battlefield.
“I’ll buy some time! Run away!”
With that, the hero starts sprinting toward the queen taratect.
Is he stupid or something…?
It should be obvious at a glance that nobody’s gonna be able to beat that thing!
But he’s still fearlessly charging toward the giant monster, while all I can do is stare.
I’m so stunned that I haven’t even managed to get up.
Except someone is standing at my side.
I notice the feet first, then look up to see White, the Tenth Army Commander.
I barely know anything about her, her strength, or her abilities—aside from the fact that she’s deeply connected to the Demon Lord, of course.
But I do know one thing about her: she can use Space Magic.
The queen taratect’s sudden appearance…White’s Space Magic.
The two click together in my mind.
“Don’t tell me you summoned that thing?”
Shouting despite myself, I jump to my feet and move toward her.
Looking startled by my attitude, she leans away.
Space Magic requires a huge amount of skill points to acquire—enough that you’d have to give up on learning anything else.
Most Space Magic users don’t have any other high-level skills; they rarely have any other skills at all, for that matter.
In other words, Space Magic is probably White’s only specialty.
It’s not that I don’t know her other abilities; she simply doesn’t have any.
She’s probably no stronger in battle than the average person.
I’m guessing she was made a commander because Space Magic is so useful and valuable, but there’s no way she should be on such a dangerous battlefield.
Besides, White’s Tenth Army itself plays more of a supporting role.
I don’t know what they do or how they do it, but they’re probably the Demon Lord’s intelligence-gathering force.
White must use her Space Magic to send them to other areas to collect information.
The Tenth Army’s assignments and where they’ve been deployed for this part of the war haven’t been shared, which only further proves my theory: They only work behind the scenes.
So why is the commander of a noncombat unit here all alone?!
Oh, I’ll tell ya why!
Because she was forced to teleport that queen taratect here!
On the Demon Lord’s orders!
She’s gotta be out of her mind to send a powerless noncombatant like White to bring that beast here!
“You idiot! What if you die out here, huh?!”
White tilts her head at me, as if she has no clue what I’m talking about.
Her unconcerned attitude just makes me even angrier.
In order to teleport something, the caster has to have a hand on it.
In other words, White must’ve been touching the queen taratect.
You’re telling me she came so close to that thing?!
One wrong move and she would’ve been dead meat for sure.
A little lady this delicate could probably get blown into next week if that thing even moved a muscle!
“Why the hell didn’t you refuse such a dangerous mission?!”
Looking even more confused, White puts her hand to her forehead in a thinking pose.
There’s nothing to think about here!
You’re really gonna put your life on the line so easily just ’cause it’s for the Demon Lord?!
She’s always like this, dammit.
I got no idea what the relationship is between the two of them, but everything this girl does is for the Demon Lord’s sake.
That blasted Demon Lord…!
How the hell did White wind up working for the likes of her?!
And of her own free will!
I don’t get it, but I’m sure she wouldn’t say a word even if I complained about it.
I curse to vent my frustration before turning on my heel.
“You get outta here right now!”
Even that damn Demon Lord can’t control a nightmare like the queen taratect. It’s impossible.
She must’ve just used White to bring a wild queen taratect to the battlefield!
Which means it’s gonna attack anything in its path.
Sure, it destroyed a big chunk of Fort Kusorion, but it also blasted a bunch of my Seventh Army soldiers in the process.
This thing can’t tell the damn difference between an ally and an enemy.
I gotta gather up the surviving Seventh Army guys and get them outta here, stat.
…If it’s even possible, that is.
Am I really gonna be able to get away from that monster in one piece?
As I head to collect my soldiers, White calls out and stops me.
…I think that’s the first time I’ve heard her say my name.
“What is it?”
White reaches out her hand toward me.
No way… Does she want me to teleport away with her?
“…I appreciate the thought, but ’fraid I can’t do that.”
The woman I’ve got a thing for is offering me her hand.
But unfortunately, I can’t accept it.
“A commander can’t run away before his troops do, yeah?”
I’ve got a responsibility to lead my surviving soldiers.
“Go ahead without me. I’ll be right behind ya.”
With that, I break into a run without waiting to hear her answer.
There aren’t any enemies close by us, so I’m sure she can get away safely with Teleport.
I’ve gotta gather up my guys and get them outta here.
…I can’t die like this, dammit.
Losing to the hero’s one thing, but there’s no way I’m gonna let myself get stomped to death by a damn queen taratect!
I’ll make it back alive—I swear!
And then I’m gonna punch the Demon Lord’s lights out.
No matter what happens, I refuse to do as she says anymore.
I’ll show her what true resistance looks like.
Just like that hero who went barreling toward the queen taratect, knowing full well he can’t win!
First things first, though! I gotta survive and get outta here!
Steadying my resolve, I step forward to run toward the ruins of Fort Kusorion.
But then a strange sound from beside me stops me in my tracks.