124. Winners and Losers (11)
Oskal was about to run his blade through Tom’s neck when Pygni’s shout resounded across the battlefield.
“Oskal! Don’t kill the bastard!”
Oskal’s stopped his blade before it completely pierced Tom. Blood pooled on Tom’s neck against the tip of Oskal’s blade, and Oskal looked at Pygni in disbelief.
Pygni shut his mouth, surprised at himself. Why had he stopped Oskal from killing one of the Demon Lord’s Apostles? In truth, he didn’t have a reason, but his gut told him something was off.
‘He can’t die. But why not? What am I missing?’
Pygni turned the question over and over in his mind. All the incidents since the appearance of the Devil of Lania and all the people that were killed in those incidents, and the fact that the Devil of Lania only appeared once someone that qualified as ‘Hero-grade’ was killed.
Pygni looked at the near-dead man being crushed under Oskal. Tom had power exceeding that of a Hero. If it wasn’t common for someone like him to fight evenly with Oskal, then why did all the Hero-grade people die once the Devil of Lania appeared?
“The Devil of Lania didn’t gain power through the sacrifice of another.” Pygni muttered to himself, the truth dawning on him. “He gained power through self-sacrifice.”
At Pygni’s words, Tom froze. Oskal tilt his head in confusion.
“What are you talking about…?”
“He only obtains that power once he gets himself killed! You can’t kill him; capture him alive! Yes, make sure he doesn’t…” Pygni looked at Tom with a chilling gaze. “Completely break his arms and legs- No, tear off his limbs! We need to take him prisoner right now!”
Oskal looked down at Tom and prepared to follow through with Pygni’s orders.
“… Fine. Actually, there were a few things I’m curious about as well.”
Oskal pulled Tom’s bent arm up even higher. As his limb was bent further and further, it began to crack and his shoulder popped. Tom groaned from the pain.
“You, what’s your identity? Something about your power is abnormal.”
“Abnormal… I don’t want to hear something like that from you… Ungh… Before that, my arm…”
“Ah? No, no. That wasn’t what I wanted to ask at all! Your battle strategy, it is all too similar to someone else I know. No, it’s almost exactly like him: that’s what’s getting to me! Yes… It bothers me. That guy…”
‘Is long dead.’
Oskal narrowed his eyes and stared down at Tom with newfound interest.
‘He’s like Thoma. It isn’t just one or two things that are similar. The fact that he also wants vengeance on Pope Salem like he once did is strangely the same as well.’
Thoma’s sword skills, Thoma’s strategies, and even Thoma’s grudge all coincided with the Devil of Lania. What were the chances that all of these things would be the same?
“…Your face, I have to check it.”
Oskal reached down with the one arm he had left, planning to rip off the helmet covering Tom’s face.
“Stop this. You’ll regret it.”
Tom held his head to the ground and tried to keep Oskal from removing the helmet, but Oskal’s hand forcibly raised his head. As he gripped the helmet’s top with his meaty palm, it began to groan, as if it would break apart at any moment.
“…Are you trying to take off my helmet, or crush it?”
“Aah, I can’t really control my strength.” Oskal took off his helmet. “…Ah, well… This…is too much.”
As Oskal stared at the face that had been revealed, his eyes gradually grew wide. The voice, muffled as it was under the helmet, had sounded familiar. And now…he was looking at the spitting image of Thoma. Blonde hair, and deep, golden eyes. Oskal froze, speechless. Thoma, the leader of the Hero’s Party, the man who had given his all for the sake of humanity, was before his eyes.
‘Wh…at? This bastard… Why…? Why…?’
A face like Thoma’s…? Oskal couldn’t understand it. His mind turned white, and the strength drained from his body. And as this happened, Tom could sense the change in Oskal.
‘Now’s the chance.’
Even if Oskal was completely distracted, escaping while all of his limbs were restricted was too much for Tom in his current state. If that was the case, then…
‘… I really don’t want to. I…really, intensely hate to, but…’
Tom let out a cry. He grit his teeth and turned his head toward Karakul, who was standing in the distance.
Karakul was surprised by Tom’s voice. His expression had previously gone vacant at Tom’s defeat, but he regained his faculties at the sound of his master’s voice. Karakul turned to Tom. His golden eyes, brimming with conviction, trembled as he spoke.
It was a faint and trembling voice. This was the first Karakul had ever heard his master sound so feeble. It was also the first time he’d ever received such a request. Karakul knew what he had meant by ‘Please’.
‘…Sometimes I wonder if I let you get away with asking too much of me.’
Karakul sighed. After a moment, his eyes glared at Tom. Karakul drew in his breath and shouted to the Demons.
The Demons watching the fight regained their senses upon hearing Karakul’s voice. They now realized Tom had lost, and were feeling incredibly anxious. Now, all of them waited with baited breath to hear what Karakul had to say. Their attention was focused solely on him, on what he would order them to do. If he told them to retreat, they would flee, but if his orders were to charge, they would fight. Until their dying breath, they would fight! With such thoughts, the Demons gripped their weapons tightly.
Karakul turned to the army and spoke to all of the Demons present.
“Everyone…! Kill…the Apostle, Tom!”
Silence fell over the crowd. Everyone, Demon and human alike, looked at Karakul in confusion.
Pygni doubted his own ears. What was that Orc commanding the Demon Lord’s army… what kind of shit was he saying!?
Nasis, fidgeting upon the castle wall, called down to Karakul.
“Um, C-commander Karakul, what are you saying all of the sudden!”
Allen approached Karakul and grabbed his collar.
“Ey! Are you in your right mind!”
“…Through the orders of Her Highness, the Demon Lord, I have authority over you all, and everyone must follow my command.”
“Even still, that guy is an Apostle! Of course, Nasis, Hecaron, and I can’t say that we have no grudges, but he is still pledged to the Demon Lord…!”
“If it’s him…it is okay.”
Karakul spoke while glaring at Allen, then continued to shout at the Demon Lord’s army.
“Believe in me-! I shall take all the responsibility. As you have believed in me up to now, believe in me this time as well! Fellow comrades! For the Demon Kingdom, and for Her Highness, the Demon Lord, Kill–!” Karakul grabbed his weapon and glared at Tom, eyes filled with hostility. “The Apostle Tom-!”
The one with the authority over the army was Karakul, but even then none of them could understand how or why he would relay such an order.
The Demons hesitated, but Karakul walked ahead with his axe in hand. Seeing his example, the other Demons followed suit. Karakul had said that it was for the Demon Kingdom, the Demon Lord, and even for the sake of the Apostle Tom. If so, then there had to be a reason! They had always succeeded that way. They had believed in him thus far; they had to believe in him again.
The Demon’s turned to Tom, and their hesitation vanished. They put their strength in their weapons and moved their legs. They turned to Tom with bloodlust in their eyes. Seeing this, Pygni’s face paled.
“…Those crazy…!” He even forgot to curse properly and alerted his entire army. “Protect the Devil of Lania immediately!”
“…P-protect? The enemy commander?”
It was the Lomian Army’s turn to be confused. The enemy had tried to kill their own champion, and now they had to protect the enemy’s commander…? What was he saying?!
“If we are to win, the Devil of Lania has to be protected! Even if it costs all of our strength…! Even if it costs our lives…!” Pygni screamed with all his strength. “Protect the Devil of Lania-!”
“Kill the Apostle, Tom!”
The Demons roared, and the Lomian army gripped their weapons as well.
The Lomian army headed toward Tom and Oskal in confusion.
“Fire toward Apostle Tom!”
Ogre ballistae, Gnoll crossbows, and Goblin muskets took aim and fired. Bolts and condensed mana fell in droves, and the Lomian soldiers held up their shields to block as much as they could. The knights who surrounded Tom and Oskal grit their teeth and endured the heavy barrage.
“Stop the Ogres and Minotaurs-!”
“Don’t let them approach!”
The battle resumed even more fiercely than before. Over the life of a single person, everyone forward in desperation.
“Shit, we can’t advance any further!”
Karakul raised his axe and progressed step by step as he cut down knights. Blood covered his axe and dripped from its blade. His entire body was soon drenched in blood as he stepped over corpses. The swarming soldiers of Lome met him, throwing themselves at him to drive him back.
“These annoying bastards! Let the siege units know! Focus all of their firepower where Apostle Tom is!”
“I-is that really necessary?”
Skarni grew pale.
“It’s an order, Skarni.”
“U-understood. Don’t glare at a fellow Apostle like that!”
Skarni flew up in a panic toward where the Magic Cannons and the Goblins were stationed, outside the fortress.
“… What is this! A-are we really going to kill Apostle Tom!?”
“T-that is an order!”
The Goblins outside the City of Twilight groaned.
“I-it’s definitely an order, right!?”
“Commander Karakul himself shouted it to the entire army! He might have nothing but muscles in his brain, but he’s not someone that says bullshit!”
The goblins moved in accordance with Skarni’s words.
The Magic Cannons began to move and were aimed toward the sky above the City of Twilight.
“Target, the formation where the knights are gathered around Apostle Tom…! The coordinates are…!”
The goblins set the coordinates provided by Skarni and aimed the cannon.
The Goblins covered their ears as the cannons fired. Dozens of shots flew up into the sky, leaving behind a blazing trail of light.
The battlefield was loud with screams and shouts, as well as the clanging of weapons. Within that chaos, Oskal stared dumbly at Tom.
“You bastard, just who are you? Just why is your face the same as that bastard, Thoma’s?!”
Oskal grabbed his neck with enough pressure to crush it in an instant. Oskal did not recognize Tom as ‘Thoma’. Dozens of years had already passed, so how could there be someone who looked like the reincarnation of a younger Thoma? This had to be some trick! Oskal could not believe it!
Thoma saw Oskal struggling and smirked through the pain.
“W-what are you talking about…? Oskal, you said it yourself.”
Tom peeked at the sky. He could see clusters of blue light gathering in the air. They were shells from the Magic cannon and there was a significant number of them. That amount of fire power could surely kill him. However, Oskal would be able to block it if he noticed. He had to draw as much of Oskal’s attention as possible. There was only one thing he could do now To confuse him further.
“To not recognize your friend that you haven’t met in so long. That’s why I always said you were dim, Oskal.”
Oskal’s mouth hung agape at Tom’s words.
At that moment, he heard Pygni’s voice.
“Oskal…! Protect the Devil of Lania!”
Oskal regained his senses, and when he turned his eyes upwards, he saw the falling lights.
Oskal didn’t quite understand Pygni’s command and, rather than blocking the attack, he moved himself away, and as he did so, all that firepower fell around Tom. The formation that had surrounded him exploded, with chunks of soldiers scattering about.
Explosion after explosion after explosion pummelled the same spot.
With his defenders being blown away, the Demon Lord’s army now had the advantage. Bolts and bullets ripped through the cloud of dust that had risen over where Tom lay, enough to kill anything a hundred times over. Toms’ body was burned, blown up, and riddled with holes. His flesh was torn apart to such an extent that not even a single trace of his body remained.
The Demons and Karakul stopped, Karakul fidgeting with his axe regrettably.
‘…I at least wanted to send him out peacefully with my own hands, but… It ended like this. At least this battle…will be a victory for the Demon Lord.
The explosions ceased. Black smoke and ash rose into the air, and the smell of gunpowder was everywhere. The two formations couldn’t move with the area of the smoke at the center. The Lomian army looked toward the burnt space with pale faces.
“Crazy…! You monstrous bastards, you blew away your own commander!”
“Did they get rid of him because he might become a prisoner?”
“Does that make any sense? They’re not in their right minds!”
“They must have gone crazy after we drew them into a corner.”
“Your Majesty! What shall we do!?”
“This is a golden opportunity! Those bastards are a bit crazy, but they must have expended all of their strength! With Commander Oskal and our strength, it should be easy to neutralize that group of monsters! So…!”
The army of Lome, assured of their victorm, grabbed their weapons with renewed vigor.
“Give us the order to attack…!”
A cold sweat drenched Pygni. He felt a sudden urge to scream at the soldier who was talking without knowing anything. Pygni was well aware why the Demon Lord’s army was so desperate to kill the Devil of Lania. He had only suspected it before, but now there was no doubt. They, just now, were trying to guarantee their victory. Not by killing the Devil of Lania, but by summoning him.
“The entire army must…” In anticipation of Pygni’s words, the soldiers grabbed their weapons and prepared to charge. “Abandon your gear and flee! We must escape this place now!”
The eyes of the soldiers grew wide. Suddenly…
“Wait… What is that…?”
“Water…? It’s more like…a whole lake…then just water…”
In response to the soldiers’ words, Pygni and Oskal turned to where Tom had lain. As the smoke vanished, a sticky black liquid began to bubble and ooze out from that ground. It continued to pool and rise, overflowing until it nearly filled the fortress. The army of Lome and the Demons, unnerved by its appearance, slowly began to retreat. Karakul handed his battle axe to an Orc beside him and loosened his equipment, then he turned around, showing his back to the army of Lome.
“… Commander Karakul?”
“This is an order for the entire army. We are pulling out immediately.”
“What? What do you…?”
“Pulling out…? Does that mean that they were admitting defeat!”
“The battle is over. With this, it’s our victory.”
When Karakul headed out first toward the gate, the Demons falteringly retreated as well. They also didn’t have the confidence to look at the unnerving black liquid. It continued to spread until it was as wide as a lake.
Seeing the Demons show their backs and retreat, the chaos within the army of Lome grew louder.
“What is it now! Another magical weapon…?” Oskal shouted. “Is that it?”
Pygni gripped his forehead.
“… Oskal, immediately pull back our men!”
“… Pull them back…? To where? Just what is going on here!!”
“To where? Obviously we are returning to Lome. You want to know what’s going on? That is…the situation is unbelievable. The worst of the worst scenarios ended up happening.” Pygni groaned. “This war, it’s our loss.”
The lake continued to spread, and wherever the black liquid touched decayed.
A horrendous scream that felt like it would burst their eardrums rang out. Out from the liquid, hundreds of crows swarmed out. One by one, skeletons and undead wearing armor crawled out of the viscous liquid and the corpses around it sank in…and rose up again.
“What is this-!?”
The soldiers of Lome gasped and took hesitant steps back. At the center of the lake, the master of the fallen rose. His body spewed out the viscous liquid, and from within his lion skull helmet, his golden eyes glared at Pygni.
Majestic deer antlers, fur like a lion’s mane, and a semi-transparent cloak made of Magic Power. In his left hand he held a shield of ice while his right hand held a flaming spear. Arrtark. It was the appearance of Lome’s most feared enemy, the Devil of Lania.
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