Coming up with a new technique to dim or hide the soul connection was simple, since William had a good intuition for such things. As for knowing it worked, it wasn’t something that could be tested by going to ask the Demon King. However, upon the assumption that the connection was of a similar type as he had with Chris, William could safely say it worked. William tried to make it feel like he was moving to a distant place and fading in that manner, instead of the connection being cut off. That would be less suspicious.
The problem then became explaining the technique to Chris. He took longer to learn things… but he never had to sleep, which helped mitigate that problem. Eventually, William felt his connection to Chris fade out, and with it the connection to the Demon King. Just to be safe, William used the technique as well, even though it probably wasn’t necessary.
It was a shame the technique worked in both directions. William spent his time working on another technique where he could still feel the Demon King- or Chris. The development of this technique was much slower, and possibly impossible. Still, William had free time… if not all that much time total. He hadn’t gone out on any missions for months, only participating in training to keep up the coordination of the company. Occasionally, he would be asked to check on the location of the Demon King. The answer was usually “far to the north” but sometimes it was “northwest” or “northeast”.
The army leaders still kept an eye out for troop movements, since they weren’t foolish. The Demon King was the only threat they faced- beyond the dangers of the individual demons themselves, other demon lords sometimes took to the battlefield.
William heard of many battles. Some were victories, some losses, and some were indeterminate and felt no better than a loss. There were attacks at Qinshan and some of the port cities in Eclea. Fortunately, none of the attacks were successful in capturing the ports, but there were still damages. Elsewhere, some incursions had been made on the territory of Liaoyang and Eclea. The mountains didn’t entirely split the continent, there were some breaks in them. Ostana just happened to have a small enough break that they built a fortress to cover the whole pass, but Liaoyang and Eclea weren’t so lucky. Of course they didn’t leave the areas undefended, but the demons overcame them. In Liaoyang, that meant that they had to carefully watch for raiding parties and further incursion. In Eclea, they had a way to detect the movements of the demons, so even though they had a foothold, the demons couldn’t proceed any further. It still kept those in Eclea on their toes, even though there wouldn’t exactly be any surprise attacks.
Finally, the Demon King made a move. He was approaching the northern border of Ostana, with an army of course. The scouts had all the information, and William was only useful for confirming that he was indeed moving with the army. The human forces in the area or that could easily reach it were more than adequate to face off against the army the Demon King had with him. Though it wasn’t guaranteed the Demon King would continue moving on his current trajectory, word was sent to the various forces to convene at a certain point.
That included William’s company. William was glad to be moving out. Although being in a large battle was never something he really wanted… it was going to happen sooner or later. If it happened later, he thought he might not be around. He might last another year, or more… but he certainly wouldn’t enjoy it. On the other hand, he could die at almost any time if his health took an unexpected turn for the worse.
Though they were riding out for what could be a climactic battle… William knew that it was possible the battle would not happen. Even if it did happen, William’s company would be held in reserve until it was clear the actually could reach the Demon King… and have a chance to defeat him. It was possible one side or the other would disengage before such a point.
North of Ostana, past the mountains, there was a desolate wasteland. Though it was called such, there was still life… if only the most unpleasant kinds of things. The main plant life were squat, thorned bushes, and the shrivelled berries they carried were poisonous. There weren’t many things deserving to be called animals… instead, various monsters inhabited the area. Fortunately, they stayed away from the army, and thus the soldiers were safe as long as they did not stray far from the camp at night. Though they were warned… there were always a few new recruits who wouldn’t listen to the veterans… and it was almost certain that one or two would disappear into the night.
In the morning, everyone had to check their boots for snakes, or scorpions, or sometimes spiders. Though they were small, they could be incredibly dangerous. There were wards set up to keep such creatures out of the camp, but it was less effective at the distant edges, and wasn’t completely guaranteed anyway. When they set up camp, there were usually some in the area already, hidden in holes or under rocks. Fortunately, they had little interest in killing humans… but they were easily shocked if someone tried to put on a boot with them in it.
There were also stinging and biting insects, and William was glad that he could use ki to keep them away. The knights likewise had tough skin… but some of the regular soldiers and support troops had a very unpleasant time. This included the wizards as well, those who didn’t have any mobile wards. As for using magic to actively dissuade such insects, there were various levels of success… and failure.
Finally, word from the scouts came that they were close. This particular group of scouts had a “message token” as they were now called, one of the discs from Eclea. That meant they didn’t have to return to the main body of the army to report, which was a significant advantage. The human army set up headquarters on the area that most passed for a hill, where they had at least some slight terrain advantage. Meanwhile, the demons did the same a distance away. Everyone was nervous with anticipation of what might happen… and William even more so.
William could feel the Demon King. Not through Chris’ connection, but just through his ki senses. He was like a massive beacon of power. William hadn’t seen anyone at the level equating to the fifth major breakthrough… but the Demon King was at the sixth, and not just barely past the threshold. Combined with his strong soul, William could feel him from a great distance away. He could tell how much stronger the soul was than a regular human’s, and began to doubt whether the plan could actually succeed. Fortunately, William was not alone… because he felt that even if the Demon King just let him attack freely, he would fail by himself. Somehow, Chris sensed William’s trepidation. After getting his attention, he scrawled in the dry dirt. “Come on! I smashed that guy’s head in by myself once! You’re strong, so with the two of us we can definitely get him! Oh, and the rest of the people here, I guess.”
Chris didn’t repeat that the Demon King had been very weak when he had killed him… but the message still made William smile. “Yeah. We’ll get him.” William tried not to think about what would happen after that. He would be gone… but at least the memory of him would live on, plus a few letters.