123. Winners and Losers (10)
Tom noticed Oskal’s approach and retreated. Undead took his place and blocked the man’s path. They raised their shields and pointed their spears at him, before charging right at him.
“Small fries can get out!”
The undead exploded under Oskal’s muscular fist; it took him mere seconds to destroy them all. As he landed, Oskal dug his feet into the ground and redirected himself toward Tom, swinging his blade as he flew through the air once more.
Seeing no alternative, Tom drew the Holy Sword and met Oskal’s blade. With a resounding boom, the surrounding area exploded. Demons and knights alike were blasted away, leaving the area around the two empty.
Oskal glanced at his blade. The ground behind him had cracked from the force of their attacks, an attack which should have severed Tom in two; even at a near miss, Tom’s body would be torn to shreds. And yet.
Oskal let out a groan. Tom had redirected Oskal’s short sword and stabbed him in the chest with his Holy Sword. He felt a stinging sensation, and then blood began to seep from the wound. He hadn’t anticipated his opponent meeting him with an equally bold charge.
“…You monster; as expected. You’ve still found room to amass more power?”
The Holy Sword was sticking out of Oskal’s chest, but his left hand kept the sword from going any deeper than it already was, his fingers wrapped around the blade itself.
“Brilliant! If I let my guard down a bit, I might have died in a single blow!” Oskal’s gaze grew cold. “However, purposely missing my heart? Are you trying to go easy on me, you impudent fool-!?”
“Aah, I have no intention of going easy on you,” Tom sneered. “My body would be torn to shreds if I hadn’t been careful, and I will have to decline the prospect of dying. I only sought to restrain you.”
Tom’s other hand whipped out the Holy Scripture and several pages flew out, attaching themselves to the ground around Oskal. A powerful pressure began to swell and press down upon him, and chains of light shot from the glowing pages to restrain him.
“What is this…!”
Tom began to yank his sword out of Oskal. The blade glowed with a white light, showing that a great amount of Holy Power was building up within. Oskal’s hand and chest burned, but rather than cauterizing the wound, the heat seemed to somehow make his blood flow out faster. Oskal tried to hold onto the blade, but the increased gravity and chains wrapping around his body were sapping his strength. Finally, as blood pured down the blade and over his leather glove, the sword slipped from his grip.
“Don’t look down on me, Devil of Lania!”
In that instant, Oskal’s muscles flexed and grew in size. The gravitational force that pressed down on his body was suddenly rebuffed, the air around shook with shockwaves. Even the chains shattered and turned to dust.
Tom retreated, having retrieved his sword. Oskal’s blade crashed down right where Tom had just been standing before, causing the ground to warp and split violently. Oskal glared at Tom, his expression twisted in a mixture of wrath and glee.
‘…This bastard, he’s strong at close-quarter combat? Is he really a mage? I heard that he was a Necromancer, but…’ Oskal smiled. ‘He’s powerful enough that he wouldn’t fall to a decent Hero. I really shouldn’t be enjoying this, but it’s getting interesting!’
He wasn’t just strong. He had the guts and to use openings in Oskal’s own attacks to land blows, even in the face of certain death if even one of Oskal’s blows were to land. This was proof of his proficiency.
“… I’m getting excited after so long! I heard the Devil of Lania was a necromancer, but…”
Oskal twitched, his eyes burning with fighting spirit. He crushed what few chains remained underfoot, causing them to disintegrate into particles of light.
“I finally found someone I can properly fight with.”
Tom began to sweat under the weight of Oskal’s fearsome pressure.
“… I would rather avoid you, honestly.”
Oskal was once a friend, and now he was powerful enough to make Tom feel cautious. Seeing Oskal get so much stronger since their time in the Hero’s party left Tom with a bad taste in his mouth, because now he was certain that his only option was to go all out.
‘I really want to run away, but now that it’s already gotten to this point…’
“I have to go all the way.”
Tom tossed the Holy Scripture onto the ground and held his Holy Sword in both hands, lowering his posture. The Scripture itself was a distraction against an opponent like Oskal; it would be much better to win against him through pure sword skills. If he succeeded, Oskal, whose pride was known far and wide across the continent, would accept his defeat and fall back.
Oskal looked at Tom and relaxed his shoulders.
‘But this is the Devil of Lania? He had a surprising amount of strength, but it wasn’t to the point that Holffmann would have gotten killed. Could it be that he still hasn’t met the requirement to show his true strength?’
‘And if he’s already this strong without showing his true power…how much stronger can he actually become?’
Oskal shivered with anticipation. He wanted to test out the Devil’s true power—the power that killed Archbishop Holffmann—and see for himself how long he could last.
‘No, if I tested out something like that, His Highness would get mad.’
If the Devil of Lania managed to use his true strength, the Lomian army would be decimated, and he himself would lose his own life. There was also a high chance that Pygni would be captured by the enemy. He had to avoid at least that much for the sake of his country. So, now, while the enemy could not unleash his true strength…! He had to seize the opportunity and kill him!
Oskal lowered his stance, channeling his energy to put more strength in the hand that wielded his blade. He confronted Tom as his handle began to groan beneath the strength of his grip. What was left as they rushed each other were mere after images.
Oskal gave a battle cry, straining the muscles in his arms and thighs. His short sword slammed into the ground. Tom evaded the strike, pivoting his entire body, and swung.
The ground exploded and debris pelted Tom, but the blade connected and severed Oskal’s arm, sending blood spraying out of the wound. Both swung once more, both blades tearing at their opponent in order to take the other’s life in a single swing. It was down to Oskal’s strength against Tom’s dexterity. Their surroundings were filled with the sounds of explosions and deep gashes continued to form in the ground as their afterimages flickered in and out of view. The air was filled with sparks every time their blades clashed, and the ground was soaked with their blood and sweat. Finally, just as Tom thought he landed a decisive blow, Oskal’s thick skin and muscles deflected the blade of the Holy Sword.
Oskal’s eyes followed Tom’s every movement like a predator, but after seeing that he had suddenly appeared beside him, he frowned.
‘… I can’t chase him.’
Regardless, the pair didn’t hesitate as they ceaselessly threw their bodies at each other, each hoping to land a critical blow.
“… Dear god.”
Their battle swallowed up all other sounds on the battlefield. The Demons and soldiers of Lome that had been so fiercely fighting each other were now standing back and watching the two in awe. Tom and Oskal had stolen the attention of everyone on the battlefield.
“What…!? That person was this strong!? I had my doubts when they said he hunted Vladiferr with Worlf…”
Though she hovered in the sky, Skarni’s trembled at the sight before her.
Below the wall, Nasus turned to Allen and Hecaron.
“Such power… Did we start a rebellion against a monster like that? ”
Allen and Hecaron averted their eyes. They too only now realized just how powerful Tom truly was.
Karakul also spoke with surprise as he held up his hand to have his men stand back.
“It is also the first time experiencing him fighting for real myself.”
On the side of Lome, the human response was practically the same as the Demons’.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen the captain fight for real,” one knight said with a whistle.
“But what is that guy?” another responded. “ A Hero? No, something more…?”
Pygni spoke his admiration in response to the knights’ words as well.
“This is truly a fight between monsters. To think the Devil of Lania was this strong! Is he this much of a beast even without showing his true strength?”
“Your majesty, what will you do?”
Pygni looked over at the knight, then turned his gaze over to the Demon formation. Just like his men, they had stopped fighting. With everyone’s attention diverted by the fearsome battle before them, both sides also took this as a chance to reform their lines and tend to their wounded.
‘It will be a meaningless victory if our losses are too high.’
Pygni turned to the knight.
“Pull back the men. Treat the wounded.”
Pygni observed the battle. In a matter of minutes, this war had morphed into a single, one-on-one duel. That was more apt. A situation in which ‘victory’ would be decided when one of the two was left standing.
“Fast! He’s too fast! My attacks aren’t working!”
Oskal grit his teeth as he shouted, but Tom bit his tongue to keep from cursing him.
Tom’s body was in tatters. Fragments of rock flying at lightning speed continued to pummel him, and blood loss was building. He managed to heal himself with Holy Power, but that too took its toll. Moving faster than Oskal was wearing down his stamina, and he could feel his body growing heavier. Every bead of sweat and drop of blood that rolled down his body felt like a weight dragging him down.
‘My…head is feeling numb.’
His legs began to buckle, but he forcibly gripped his blade. His Holy Sword targeted Oskal’s face.
Oskal tilted his head, and the blade just barely cut him from his forehead to his chin.
Oskal grabbed Tom’s blade with his hand.
Though his fingers were nearly cut off, Oskal barely managed to stop the Holy Sword.
Oskal smiled as he pushed Tom and threw him to the ground. He then kicked the Holy Sword, sending it deep into the earth. Even its hilt was neatly fully submerged, making it difficult to pull out.
The Demons collectively held their breath. Oskal had Tom pinned to the ground. The sound of the bones in Tom’s arm being crushed could be heard throughout the battlefield. As his spine buckled beneath Oskal’s pressure, Tom screamed.
Tom let out a groan and grit his teeth. Oskal raised his short sword and aimed his blade toward Tom’s neck.
“It’s over. It was a good battle, Devil of Lania. For the victory of the Kingdom of Lome….! Die-!”
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