“Don’t forget about me!” Jiro leapt in from another direction.
With the demonification taking over Lau, it was difficult for anyone to dive into the fierce battle without getting in the way of his assault, anyone but Jiro that is. Moving in sync with Lau, no communication was needed between them. Jiro was well familiar with Lau’s movements, allowing him to predict how he would attack. Weaving between these attacks, Jiro added those of his own to force the ‘Mage’ into submission.
However, even with the combined strikes of Jiro and Lau, the ‘Mage’ didn’t seem to be going down easily. A few light blows made it through his defenses, but that hardly did any damage to the demon.
Jiro needed a power boost. He needed more mana from the surrounding area. He had no choice but to steal it.
“Brother! No, don’t use that technique! Not for this occasion!” Neiya screamed out at him. By this point, the other warriors had started regaining consciousness, but they had no idea how to join the fray.
Ignoring his sister’s pleas, Jiro focused on his surroundings, especially that of the raging Lau. This was a technique that siphoned mana from nearby objects. While it couldn’t be used on the ‘Mage’ since his defenses were up, Jiro could draw mana from the other warriors and from Lau who was in too much of a frenzy to resist. However, taking up that energy would also mean that he would be poisoning himself with the miasma that was laced in his friend.
If the miasma was thin enough or if the mana extracted was small enough, the effect on the caster’s body could be minimized. In this case, he required a lot from Lau to power his next move enough to make a definitive impact, which was a pricey gamble on his part. But if he didn’t slay the demon soon, then there would be no way to bring Lau back from the point of no return, as well as committing himself down the same path.
Risking it all, Jiro sucked up all the mana he could. As the poisoned mana entered his body, he felt a sudden sickness come upon him as it conflicted with his own. He ignored it and continued to siphon. There was so much in his surroundings that he wasn’t sure how much he could hold, but he had to fill himself to the very limit. The sickening sensation grew worse, tampering with the core deep within himself. He cleared his mind and tried to focus through the murkiness that was slowly enveloping his senses.
As soon as the flow stopped, he knew that he had drawn all he could. All of this had taken less than a minute to charge up. Dashing over to kick Lau in the side, his familiar was launched several meters away. Without missing a beat, Jiro expended all of his collected mana, sending it into the sky as he called forth his ultimate attack.
“HEAVEN’S FALL GOD HAND!!!”
Like he had summoned some otherworldly being, the clouds in the sky parted as a large hand of mana seemingly broke through the sky and slammed into the ground where the ‘Mage’ stood. An invisible force smashed the demon against the ground as it caved in with the shape of a handprint. Everything in its path was flattened into the earth as if God himself had chosen to bring his hand down in righteousness.
As the deafening rumble subsided, Jiro collapsed to a kneel, his body spent. The sickening feeling that he had earlier was creeping more and more through him. He would have to purge himself before it got too bad. However, a faint voice that rose from the crushed earth made his blood run cold.
“Such…a strong…attack. Worth experimenting…also.”
Slowly, a form rose from the epicenter of the attack, its body disfigured to the point that it barely held itself up, but nonetheless, that did not stop it from moving forward. The ‘Mage’ could still move. He could still talk. Even after Jiro’s final attack.
Jiro couldn’t believe his eyes. He had no more strength to even stand up as the mangled form of the ‘Mage’ slithered right up to him. Even as decrepit fingers sunk into Jiro’s chest and caused his whole body to spasm, he couldn’t move away. Expending all of his mana had effectively paralyzed him.
Jiro could feel himself changing. He could feel himself falling into the darkness. The sickening touch of the demon’s miasma invaded his core and brought out all of his inner feelings. Around him, an intense purple light rose from his body, soaring to the heavens.
Feelings of self-hatred for his weak body, traces of disgust at his fellow warriors for looking down on his school and its beliefs, emotions of jealousy towards Lau for finding love before him – the thoughts that he boxed inside and never let out latched onto the miasma and quickly brought about a change within himself.
‘I see. So that’s the true me. How disheartening. To think I would put on airs and talk about saving Lau.’
Forget about helping Lau, he couldn’t even help himself anymore. He had always been told that those with darkness in their hearts would become demons. No amount of mastery in the arts would shield him from that.
“OUTTA THE WAY!!!” A thunderous cry echoed, bringing Jiro back from the edge of consciousness. The purple light around him started to die down.
Lau swung his fist and tore through a section of the demon’s side, blowing him away. However, the demon just started to regenerate his body since the strike had not damaged his core. The ‘Mage’ had turned away just in time to avoid a fatal strike.
“Lau! You’re back?” Jiro managed to spit out.
“For the moment, your kick knocked some sense back into me. But I’m going to lose it again at this rate. You?”
“It might be already too late for me. Haha…” Jiro choked back a laugh. He had progressed much farther already than Lau had. The ears on his head already become pointy, a sign of no return. His body felt cold, and the skin on the back of his hands had turned ghastly. It was a surprise how much one’s hidden emotional state would impact the transformation speed. “I cannot hold out any longer. Do your duty. End it before you become even more burdened.”
Lau, of course, knew what Jiro was asking him to do, but he didn’t want to believe his ears. His ‘duty’ meant to kill the demonized person in front of him. Jiro had admitted that there was no saving him at this point, but Lau refused to believe it. He rejected the notion that his master and partner could succumb so easily when he had endured for so long.
However, he had no time to react as Jiro’s form suddenly pounced at him, a mana strike clearly aimed at his head. On his other side, the demon was getting ready to cast another spell. There was no way that Lau could fight on both fronts.
However, he didn’t have to.
Suddenly, a sword stabbed into Jiro’s chest from behind. On the other end was Zhao Lei Dao, the young head of the Fearless Soul Style. Time slowed to a crawl as Lau watched the light in Jiro’s eyes fade into darkness. Jiro had been slain right as the demonification had started to kick in, but before his core had fully converted. It was certainly the sensible solution to this situation, but that didn’t stop Lau from mourning this outcome.
With a shout of rage, Lau lamented his slain master. He fully expected that this latest death would tip him over the edge, and so did the ‘Mage,’ who leered at them in victory.
But it didn’t.
The darkness that leaked from him mysteriously subsided. The miasma that threatened to spew out just moments ago showed no sign of going on a rampage. Rather, it simply dissipated like it had lost what had fueled it. Everyone stared in awe as Lau fully returned to his senses. Most of all, the demon had been the most bewildered.
Lau took this opportunity to strike. Using his full abilities, he charged forward and launched his best mana strike at the ‘Mage’. The attack tore through the demon’s mana shield, demonstrating that his abilities had been retained despite the demonification being stopped.
The blow ripped apart the demon’s body and exposed his purple core, which cracked slightly from the blow. Feeling cornered, the ‘Mage’ made some distance.
“Tsk. There is no point risking myself to fight against you. I’ve lost interest now that the darkness has disappeared. A pity.” The ‘Mage’ cast some wind magic which instantly blew his tattered form away from the battle site.
Lau’s final blow had driven the ‘Mage’ away for the moment, but at the cost of his master. He walked over to his fallen friend’s body, which had already started growing cold. The sisters approached, weeping for their fallen brother.
Though the demon had been driven away, there was no master of the Kinkou school to defend it from the spite of the other schools. As many of the leaders had witnessed the partial demonification of both Jiro and Lau, they moved to expel them from the alliance. The charge was headed by none other than Zhao Lei Dao, head of the largest school.
“Both master and summon were on the brink of demonification! We can’t allow them to jeopardize the country any longer!” Zhao pleaded to Seiya, the ruling lord.
“The two of them saved us and drove the demon away! What more could you ask?! The Kinkou master even gave up his life in the end!” An opposing party argued.
“We cannot rely on the dangers of those with demonic powers to save us. If I hadn’t slain him, the craftiest mana user in the country would’ve been our next opponent! We must hone our own abilities instead, not make use of trickery and dangerous schemes!”
With Neiya filling in for the head of the Kinkou school, her protests were largely ignored. The men held no respect for someone who was not a demon slayer herself. As such, the men’s opinions slowly gathered around the leader of the Zhao school. The ruling body had no choice but to remove the Kinkou school from active duty.
In a strange twist of fortune, the demon attacks suddenly stopped after the latest battle, and the ‘Mage’ no longer appeared in Sanshiro. Therefore, they no longer required help from Lau anymore. The other schools continued to train their men more rigorously while the Kinkou school went into obscurity. After all, most of their students had either died or run away. No one wanted to join a school that was no longer supported by the country.
However, Lau continued to train himself, all the while wondering why the miasma had suddenly cleared from him. Why hadn’t it disappeared sooner, when he could’ve stopped the ‘Mage’ from demonizing his master? Why was he left with this strength, now that peace had returned to his family? He became leery of the power that he now wielded, wondering if there would be a day the darkness would come back for him.
All he could do was continue to hone himself, in case the demon ever returned to threaten his family once again. Lau looked over at his new wife, Kanade. Though the country forbade him from having children for fear of his contaminated mana being transferred to progeny, that didn’t stop him from marrying her. He would continue to protect what was left of his family with all the ability he had.
That was the least he could do for his deceased master.
After hearing the story of Lau’s past, I started to understand Sanshiro’s fear of demons. The people had been ravaged by demon attacks, which they had not forgotten even after decades of peace.
“Then, Narika ending up in Sistina, that was…”
“Yes, we had heard of demon attacks occurring in a nearby country from traders. The country chose to ignore it since it did not happen in Sanshiro, but we had not forgiven what he did to our brother Jiro,” Neiya replied solemnly.
“With Neiya technically as the new head of the school and Lau being closely watched, Narika volunteered to investigate. She specialized in mana detection and camouflage, so she had the best chance to slip into another country undetected,” Kanade added.
I looked over to Katsys. The ‘Mage’ demon in Lau’s past coincided with the events leading up to the appearance of Chancellor Willingham. We had been suspicious of the man’s plans, but the possibility of him being a demon that created other demons made us break out in a cold sweat.
“And nothing was done? What happened afterward?” It seemed strange that Narika had stayed in Sistina and even ended up with a different name.
“That is…many things happened…in the end, our country decided to turn a blind eye to it. As a family that had lost its standing in the country, we couldn’t go against that decision. In frustration, Narika left, along with that swordsman she had brought along.”
Hmm? A swordsman? Was it Pietro? Guess, it would be easier to ask them when I eventually got home. However, now was not the time to dig into another’s past.
Over the months, we had heard tidbits of the events that were occurring in Sistina, including some skirmishes that called for a revolution, but I had no idea how demonification fit into all of this. The only thing that seemed to line up was how Stark Mad had turned into a demon. However, none had appeared after that, so it wasn’t clear if the events were connected at all. We’d just have to continue gathering more information before jumping back into danger. Since the demon specialized in magic attacks like the Chancellor, we still had Eryn and Cornelius on our side who were skilled in magic. Moreover, what did Saki think about all of this? Was she on his side, or had she been somehow brainwashed? There were just too many questions to sort out for the moment.
“Anyway, that’s not something for us to deal with for the time being. Let’s protect those in front of us.” Katsys stroked Chrys’s hair.
“Yeah, let’s see what we can learn in the meantime.” I nodded. “So, how about it? Do you want to stay with us from now on?” I smiled at the bewildered elf girl.
With a reserved smile, she buried her head into my side. Did that make her little sister #2 now?