Saki blinked in surprise as she felt a sudden dread in the air. It had not come from her own heart which was nervously pounding in anticipation of a battle’s start, but from the normally easy-going chef standing beside her.
A low growl emitted from him, and his eyes suddenly flickered with a purplish hue. A look of anguish and bitterness traced his face, one that she had never seen before. Claude was not a man who was easily angered. He laughed things off. He got annoyed by others’ teasing. But certainly, there was hardly an occasion in which such a murderous look clouded his expression.
This sudden change caused her to tremble and take a step back. Her eyes cast downward, noticing that the knife in his hand trembled with fury. As she tried to ask him what was wrong, a burst of mana exploded from his eyes. Sand was kicked up as Claude raced forward, leaving a purple streak where his head was.
“Wait, stop!” she futilely cried. Her words fell on deaf ears.
Like they had been shot in the leg, Koujiro and Saki were left stunned and frozen to the ground as Claude dove forward alone at the white golems.
It took nearly two seconds from them to respond properly, realizing that they had to protect the man. However, Claude already had a good ten-meter lead, and the golems were quickly converging upon him. Surely, he wasn’t going to face all of them alone, was he?
“This is bad! I know he can break things, but he’s going to be surrounded!” Koujiro yelled out the obvious.
Gritting her teeth, Saki bolted forward in sync with Koujiro, hoping to make it in time to smash any golem that dared to strike the person she swore to protect. Even a single blow would deal significant damage to him, so she needed to send them flying first..
Yet, before their attacks reached him, the mana along the chef’s knife had grown to a giant size, much bigger than a sword and more than she had ever seen him do. With a swing of the arm, the mana blade passed through three white golems that were almost on top of him. The knife lingered midair afterward, the end of a mighty swing filled with intimidation.
In the next moment, the top halves of the golems fell to the ground separated from their bodies. Koujiro stared in amazement at how Claude had easily cleaved what he had struggled to dent himself. Even with his impressive attack stat, he found it difficult to overwhelm a defense parameter that was nearly as high.
On the other hand, Saki’s eyes were drawn to the mana coating the knife hanging in the air. Or rather, the fact that whiffs of darkness streaked through his normal aura. There was no doubt in her mind. Miasma was flowing from his core right now, triggered somehow by the enemies in front of him.
Before she had time to think about her next action, Claude leapt instinctively toward the next batch of golems, slicing through them with a single vicious strike. There was no attempt to guard himself, nor did he seem aware of how dangerously close the fatal strikes approached him. As if he became possessed, the only thought that ran through his mind seemed to be where to swing next.
“Claude, stop! Please, pull back! You can’t let it control you!”
As she experienced the same darkness, Saki could tell that he was approaching a dangerous cliff. She had to stop him at any cost!
Despite that, she hesitated. ‘What could she do? What could someone as weak-willed as herself do?’
“Oi, Saki! What in the name of the eight million Kami is going on?! You know something, don’t you?” Koujiro bellowed at her, knocking her from her rut of self-doubt.
Though her response was weak and timid, Koujiro’s interruption had been just enough to get her to act. She would think about things later. For the moment, it seemed like his growing darkness was more dangerous than being hit by the golems. First of all, they needed to reduce the numbers. Maybe then, he would stop using his power and calm down.
Koujiro followed suit as the two of them smashed and cut down the golems surrounding Claude, albeit at a slower pace. With Claude’s mana projection attracting their focus, the two remaining fighters could freely pound their distracted enemies. Hardly the plan that they originally created, but it worked, nonetheless.
Within minutes, the shattered pieces of golem bodies littered the beach. Several tens of them had streamed out of the forest, with hardly any end in sight.
“How many more are there?!”
“Uhhhh, I remember counting… nearly a hundred last time… chasing me, but I… only had the time to cut down ten… or so before giving up and running!” Koujiro yelled intermittently in response to Saki’s desperate inquiry. There was barely any time to speak as they diverted most of their attention to swiftly cutting down those around them.
Several minutes later, the horde of golems began to thin out. More time had passed than Saki was comfortable with. By now, the ominous feeling of miasma had grown to be twice that it previously was.
One part of her compelled her hands to keep swinging through her fatigue, to stop Claude’s rampage even a moment sooner. Another part of her was afraid that the enemies were tapering off. She had no idea how to handle a friend demonizing.
However, the end did come. And with that, Claude turned to face them. Among the miasma flickering around his body, the glow of his eye skill pierced their vision.
That sight turned Saki’s blood to ice. She dropped her mallets and stumbled forward hesitantly, wondering if that was how others saw her before.
More than anything, she had been afraid of herself. It was one thing to be told that she had been partially demonized. She had no memories of her battle with the others. As she was wallowing in a sense of hopelessness, her physical body was hurting her allies. Her strikes had slain the Queen’s younger brother, a sin that she found unbelievable that the Queen forgave. Even if they didn’t blame her, she blamed herself for having such a weak heart.
And now, the person that pulled her out of all that was facing the same ordeal himself. If she ran away now, there would be no forgiving herself. If she turned away, there would be no point in her regaining her humanity. No one else knew what Claude felt. No one else felt the darkness.
Ignoring the innate fear and disgust welling in her stomach, she slowly marched up to the center of that miasma. Despite knowing the kind-hearted man behind all of that, her body trembled down to her toes. Her nerves fired in nervous anticipation of how Claude would act.
But she knew. Even if he skewered her right there, she wouldn’t blame him. He had approached her with the same resolve. He had knocked her back to reality with no regard for his own life. She would do the same.
Her hand curled into a fist as she watched him move forward also, but before she could release a restrained punch, the knife in the chef’s hand dropped and clattered to the ground. With his eye skill extinguished, he stumbled forward, so Saki instead pulled his falling body into an embrace.
Her own action surprised her. After experiencing such crimes done to her in the past world, she had been naturally disgusted by men. She felt repulsed by their touch, and her fearsome power had been flaunted as an excuse to drive them away.
But now, all she could think of was how warm Claude’s body felt. It was a strange feeling as the miasma that flowed from his body produced a stark contrast of sensations.
“Are they gone? Did I kill them all?” she heard him whisper into her ear.
Though she wasn’t sure if that was truly the last of them, she answered “Yes” regardless.
“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. Those ‘things’ destroyed my home.”
Saki’s eyes widened. Now, she understood the trigger. It was even more shocking how much he was holding himself together despite it. Just how much willpower did he have?
As soon as she thought that, she felt Claude tense up and his grip on her tighten. A strong pulse of miasma leaked out from him, causing his body to spasm for a few moments.
“Dammit. What a time for it to flare up. Should’ve brought Chrys if I’d known.”
The little elven girl had been a remedy for the miasma inside of them. Her song had divine properties that naturally repelled the darkness. Not having her come along had been an oversight.
“W-We have to get you back. Can you hold on for a few days?” Saki shakily asked. There was no way of knowing if Claude could keep calm during the journey back, or whether the ship’s crew would even accept the risks of him possibly going berserk.
Watching all of this, Koujiro finally approached the two of them.
“So, this is miasma… the signature of a demon.” He eyed them curiously before waving his sword cautiously between them.
Saki panicked at once, thinking that Koujiro had decided to turn his blade on them. The bluish glow emitting from it seemed to shine menacingly at her.
“Wait! He’s not-“
Claude’s hand suddenly tugged on Saki before she could object. She looked down in wonder as to why he was stopping her. But his eyes gave her a strong look, different from one who was losing to the darkness.
“Strangely, that blue glow makes me feel better,” he assured her. Somehow, she had failed to notice that the miasma was starting to recede.
“This is a holy sword, passed down from who knows when. All I know is that one of Macali’s kings in the past claimed it from this very island. That’s why this place is called the Divine Isles.” Koujiro eyed them both and sighed, relieved that Claude was returning somewhat to normal.
“And here, I thought you’d be the first one to swing that thing and yell ‘EX-CALIBUUUUUR’ or something.”
“Ah, you’re right. Why haven’t I done that?!” Koujiro waved the shining sword in the air, theatrically swinging it down with a fake expression of fury.
Saki was relieved as well. If Claude had the strength to make a dumb joke like that, then he was likely back to himself. She could finally breathe normally again.
“Oi, can you explain what the freak happened to you? That wasn’t just some strange powerup. You’re messing with some nasty stuff.” Koujiro suddenly turned serious. “We should move onward and talk, just in case there are more of them waiting to take revenge for what we did.” He pointed to the remains scattered about.
As they moved through the forest, Claude explained what he had learned from the Demon about the nature of Electi and demonification. Thankfully, no other golems appeared in the meantime. It was like the island had sent its entire defenses the moment it felt intruders.
After a while, Koujiro nodded in understanding.
“Well shit, that’s quite the freaking backstory about us heroes. Falling into darkness, huh? Guess that’s what these must be for…”
Koujiro pulled out a few charms from one of his pockets. Although they appeared to be a simple slab on a string, they emitted a slight bluish aura similar to his sword.
“These are Divine Charms of the Goddess. I’ve been holding onto them since they are said to ward off demons due to the infusion of holy power.”
He handed them to Saki and Claude, beckoning them to wear one.
“This might keep whatever darkness at bay. Consider them gifts for going on an adventure with me.”
Saki fingered the slab that now dangled below her throat. She could feel a calming sensation from it. It was hard to believe that such a small trinket would keep them safe, but she would take any form of reassurance.
Perhaps, Koujiro was not that bad of a person after all…
“That charm looks simply ‘divine’ on you, my fair maiden.” He gave her a lecherous wink.
On second thought, he would make a fine target for melon splitting.