I looked up as a loud roar blanketed the sky. Out of a portal came a freaking dragon! A demonized one at that! That had to be the Mage Demon’s doing.
As the demon dragon dropped to the ground with a deafening boom, we turned back to go engage it. With all of us here, there wouldn’t be any problem taking it out quickly. Most of us had become much stronger than the last time we encountered one.
However, our blood ran cold as more screeching continued to sound above us. Our hearts sank as several more of them spilled out of the portal in the sky, jumping to different locations around the capital. Some glided past our advancing troops and parked themselves behind the lines, trapping us in the city.
We scrambled to position ourselves between the dragons and the soldiers, as normal people didn’t have the ability to fight off a standard one, much less one empowered by darkness. Cornelius bit her lip in frustration as she realized what this meant.
“This is a ploy to lure us in and split us up. And we can’t help but deal with it.”
Lau looked around, checking to make sure none had landed near Yi Long and Chrys.
“If we protect Claude, then others die. That’s what you mean, right?”
With every passing moment, the dragons barreled through the city, spewing fire and trampling on others. We needed to act fast; otherwise, casualties would pile up. I made a decision.
“Go. That demon is targeting me. I just know it.” I looked at the others and gave them a nod. “The city is on fire, and Lady Kaguya’s prophecy is coming true before our eyes. It seems like this part I have no choice but to face.”
Chrys walked up to me, the other key person of the prophecy spoken a while back.
“Together, they shall walk into the flames of disaster, undaunted by catastrophe.”
I nodded as she recounted those words that were ingrained into our hearts by now.
“You ready? For the piggy ride of a lifetime?”
“Mhmm.” Chrys looked fearless despite the flames engulfing the buildings around us.
“If all else fails, then I can at least stall for time until you guys wrap up on your end.” I beamed a look of confidence.
“Very well, then.” Cornelius put her faith in us, quickly turning to shout orders to those around her.
Seeing that we had steeled our determination, the others split off and led small units of soldiers and knights towards the dragons – Lau towards one, Pietro to another, and Cornelius and Yi Long tag-teaming one.
It wasn’t long before I heard their battle cries, accompanied by the sound of raging earth, crackling ice and the thud of a dragon crashing after being flipped.
Though Eryn and Saki hadn’t faced a demonized dragon, I felt like the two girls could handle them just fine. And Ludmila was still zooming around to offer her support. I just needed faith in all of them.
‘Oh, and Roderick too, I guess. Can’t have my best customer get offed before he tastes my ultimate dish of spiciness.’ Hopefully, his training with Pietro paid off. It sounded like he finally got his wish.
I kneeled down and got into position. After Chrys comfortably attached herself to my back, I took off running towards the castle. If we were alone, there was no doubt in my mind that the Mage Demon would come looking for us. It was only a matter of when.
The heat of the flames around us was stifling, which made running ever more taxing, but I had to push on regardless. At least, we both were wearing clothing that had Bifrost Dragon scales, which kept our bodies cool. Fireballs occasionally sailed by, but with Chrys on my back, I could safely focus on my destination. A few of them swerved around us and caught more things aflame.
I did my best to ignore the sights that I was once familiar with being turned to char and ash. Chrys planted her face against my hair, also trying to avoid seeing anything. Perhaps, the crackling flames of a place turning to ruins triggered her traumatic memories.
Personally, I was desperate to get away from the blazing heat and thick patches of smoke. Surely, the demon was watching us from above, eyeing for the right moment to swoop in. And that moment came as soon as we felt the air become cooler, out of the range of the dragon’s fire.
“It’s here,” Chrys whispered against my head, having felt the tell-tale signature of the demon.
‘She’ had appeared where the flames had not reached yet, close to the castle’s front gates. The sight of her blue hair, messily hanging down like normal. The confident gaze behind the pair of glasses adorning her face. The way she wielded her magic gun and portal gun like always. They matched very much the girl I knew as Katsys, save for the grin that curled from her mouth.
“Demon! Let Katsys go! Please!” I knew saying that would yield me nothing. Yet, I was compelled to ask anyway.
“Surely, that is not all you have to say.” The Mage Demon gave me a shrug. “Your lovely princess has been waiting so long for you to claim her. And now, I offer you the chance, but with the sharpness of your knife.”
“Screw that! I just have to attack your core and be done with it!” After all, the demon would perish without it. Even this one, as powerful as it might be, couldn’t avoid that fact.
However, a sweet smile simply appeared on her face.
“That is, if you can find it. How sure are you that it isn’t here?” A hand was placed over her heart.
“Or maybe here?” The hand traced down to her mana gate, close to her navel.
Of course, the demon teased me, suggesting that the core was located in her vital spots, places that would spell certain death for Katsys, even if I were lucky enough to strike the core. I felt a tug on my hair.
“Claude… the core, it keeps moving,” Chrys said in a muted voice.
I got a sudden chill as the elf girl managed to sense its exact location, only to find out that it could move it around the victim’s body at will. No wonder it was so confident. The Mage Demon knew that I couldn’t see where to strike without the aid of others. That meant that no matter where I cut, it would only kill the host, while the core remained safely out of reach. It wouldn’t give me any option other than that.
Seeing me pause and hesitate to move, its next words confirmed just that.
“That girl, she can detect mana, can’t she? At least, that is the perception that the Princess has of her.”
Immediately, the Mage Demon lifted the magic gun up and fired an ice bolt straight at us. It whizzed around and passed harmlessly by us.
“I had to see it to believe it. An Electi of Luck possessing such an ability. Interesting.”
Somehow, this demon seemed to have access to the memories of its host, which would make it difficult to fight. I couldn’t rely on the tricks that I had gained in Sanshiro because it probably knew all about them.
‘Crap, what do I do now?’ I struggled to think of a way to buy some time until I had a way to deal with it, or the others showed up.
“Tell me. Why her? Wouldn’t it have been more useful if you just possessed me when you had me in your grasp?”
The Mage Demon eyed me for a moment before answering.
“Electi and their masters cannot be possessed by another, so it seems. Their cores would clash.”
‘Hey, that actually worked. Is it the type of boss that loves dramatic soliloquies? If so, this is virtually the only time that I would appreciate something like this,’ I thought, not actually expecting a real answer. Certainly, not one that played out like a final boss speech.
“But enough of that. First, I should get rid of that eyesore that is hanging onto you. Somehow, her core is too pure! Not a speck of miasma to be seen!”
I had spoken too soon.
The Mage Demon started rapidly firing the gun at us, littering the surroundings with Ice magic. Any moment to catch my breath was short-lived as I ducked and weaved while advancing. I had to do something, anything to get the demon out of her. Focusing hard on her every movement, I studied how I could disable her long enough to rip the demon out.
Spears of ice stabbed into the ground around us, creating slick pools around where they landed. Knowing that a direct attack couldn’t hit us, the combined minds of Katsys and the demon would undoubtedly find some way to counter it. Doing my best not to slip on the icy ground, I continued moving forward, hoping to get close enough to disable her mana gate with a strike. However, I had paid too much attention to where ‘I’ would mess up and not to how Chrys’ luck could possess a loophole.
When I felt a hand reach out and push me, that was how I knew that I had made a costly oversight. I turned my head only to see a hand coming out of a portal, which I had ran straight into. That hand was connected to the other portal located next to the demon. Chrys’ luck did not save me from colliding into a hand that simply happened to be there, devoid of the intent to attack. Chrys could still be caught if someone merely reached out to her using a neutral gesture. Katsys had apparently picked up on that during the normal games of chase that they played in Sanshiro.
As a result, I fell right on top of a stray ice spear that stuck to the ground. With Chrys still on my back and in the most danger, I literally flung her off me. With no time to collect mana to form a barrier, I felt an icy cold stab into my side. Not a good start to a battle.
Luckily, the ice spear snapped from my weight, but not before it had lodged several inches into my side. More than anything, the numbing cold sent waves of pain as my nerves felt like they were shooting electricity straight to my brain. I clawed the ground, writhing from the injury.
The form of Katsys popped out from the portal and scooped up Chrys with ease.
“That’s it? That’s all it took to take down the one who killed my previous body? What a farce! Even if you didn’t desire to harm your lovely princess, to think that you would make such a simple mistake in battle.”
The demon was not amused. In its eyes, my kindness made me weak. It dulled my blade, and in order to shake me free from it, others would have to pay the price. But the being didn’t see me as a kind human, but rather, a demon candidate that should abandon my false sense of naivete to embrace the power I potentially held.
The magic gun was aimed point blank at Chrys. With her head up against the barrel, there was no way her Luck could override that. Quickly, I shrugged off the pain and kicked off the ground, my arm reaching out to take a swipe at them.
However, I watched as the magic gun swung to meet it. With little mana behind the blow, my knife was harmlessly batted away. With another swing, the gun whipped me in the face, sending me back to the ground with a thud.
“Pathetic. If you refuse to demonize in response to this, then I simply have no choice. This girl will be the first sacrifice. And then, I’ll have some fun killing the others. I haven’t ‘quite’ enjoyed playing around with this body. I wonder how long it will last? Oh, already losing consciousness? But it would be no fun if you weren’t there to see…”
My eyes started to glaze over as I continued to lose blood from my injury. With no solution available to save Katsys, my efforts had grown shallow. My mind became muddled on what to do. And that made me slow to react and respond properly.
When under such stress, I found myself liable to make mistakes. I relied on my friends. I trusted them to save me. In return, I did my best to return the favor.
However, now I was staring at one such dear friend who had become an enemy, not of her own will but possessed by another. I felt like I had no right to determine her fate. I brazenly said that I would do something, but in the end, my plan had been rather half-hearted.
Cut the demon out of her? Even if no one else could think of anything better, it was still a pretty shoddy idea.
There was no other person to blame than myself, as I had been its target all along. If it had taken anyone else but her, would I feel so conflicted at this moment? If I had given up against its provocations earlier, would Katsys have had to go through this?
The darkness crept into my vision as I laid there helplessly reaching out. The demon smiled as it waved a hand to call upon the miasma that I could no longer fight off. Even with all the training that I did, the enemies that I faced, and the victories that were claimed, none of those had prepared me for the weakness that was within my own heart.
Pushing myself forward because of the prophecy, I was fearful of my destiny, having seen what lay ahead. Despite putting on a brave front, I didn’t want to use my abilities anymore, for fear of the darkness. In my mind, I called out to someone, not expecting any answer.
‘Why was I summoned again? Didn’t I do enough damage in the last world?’
“Really? You’re going to ask ‘me’ that?”
All of a sudden, a face stared right at me. The face mirrored my own but was upside down. Bolting upright in shock, I gawked at a person that looked much like myself, but this one was clad in armor.