126. Winners and Losers (13)
Luis fidgeted with his dagger nervously. His head was bleeding, causing his vision to take on a shade of red. His eyes stung, and his surroundings looked blurred. He had concentrated as much of his focus as possible in order to keep himself from losing his consciousness.
The narrow hallway was teeming with enemies earlier. But now, only a single Goblin with a musket and a Treo were left standing. Countless Orc corpses littered the area, along with an unconscious Ogre who looked like he was important. The Treo was barely standing, on the brink of death from the fire covering his body.
Luis turned his gaze. Peter had also stuck his Holy Sword into the floor while panting, exhausted, and Aris was out of breath while holding off the Demons with her staff in hand. However, the Demons didn’t dare move carelessly. The reason was obvious. Currently, the dagger in Luis’s hand was held at the Demon Lord, Lily Golt’s, neck.
“…If anyone approaches, we’ll kill her without hesitation. Keep that in mind!”
Lily Golt saw the actions of the Hero’s party and bit her lower lip. It all happened due to a moment of carelessness. To think they would ambush her as she was escaping with the other Apostles.
‘If this keeps going, I’ll just be more harmful to others.’
She looked at the runes set around her. Lily couldn’t escape because the glowing blue runes prevented her from making any movements. It was sealing magic, intended to restrict an enemy.
‘This level of magic…!’
Lily Golt gathered her Magic Power, and cracks began to form upon the glowing runes. Luis, noticing this, immediately stabbed her with the dagger. However, Lily gritted her teeth and extended her hand, breaking the sealing magic and grabbing the dagger. Her soft flesh tore, and blood splashed on the floor. Still, Luis’s dagger was successfully blocked.
“…Just what kind of woman has this strength…!”
“I might be one of the weakest Demon Lords, but I’m still a Demon Lord. Did you think I wouldn’t be able to protect myself?”
Lily pushed back on the dagger held by Luis and gathered her Magic Power with her other hand. Seeing a spear form in her hand, Luis clenched his teeth.
He decisively gave up on the dagger and jumped back. An instant later, the spear slashed the air where he previously stood. Luis tried to aim his bow again, but a black shield made of Magic Power deflected the arrow.
Peter moved his body. He abandoned the Demons he was holding off and immediately ran toward Lily. With all his remaining might, he struck the Holy Sword against Lily’s shield.
Lily was pushed back. She tried to swing her spear, but Peter, who was more adept in battle, evaded it and swung his Holy Sword at herr. The Holy Sword and the spear collided, causing sparks to fly.
“Protect Her Highness!”
The Orc reinforcements tried to rush in at the command of the Treo, Nordin Wood, but Aris fired the mana gathered in her staff. A block of ice took shape in the hallway, sealing it completely.
“…Now’s the time! Grab the Demon Lord…!”
Aris collapsed onto the floor in exhaustion as Lily held up her shield to narrowly block Peter’s attack. With nothing else to worry about, Luis entered the fray as well. He fired arrows at her back, successfully hitting his target.
Lily’s white dress was soaked a glaring red, and she frowned in agony. Peter took the opportunity and slammed into her from the front to knock her over. He held his Holy Sword at her neck.
“…Shit, she’s pretty strong for a female Demon! However, this is the end. Just stay still. I’ll take your head if you move even a little.”
“Stand up slowly. You’ll be taken to the Kingdom of Lome…as a hostage.”
Peter raised her up with his Holy Sword still held at her neck, while Luis aimed another arrow toward her. The wall of ice shattered, allowing Nordin Wood, Kulbo, and the Orcs to enter.
“Stop where you are. Unless…you want the Demon Lord to be killed by the Hero like this.”
The Demons could only gnash their teeth in response.
<Your Majesty! Can you hear me!? You have to respond! The situation is dire…!>
Pygni frowned as he listened to the message delivered through the crystal. It was already too late. Even if the Demon Lord was captured, it was after the destruction of the army of Lome and the death of Oskal.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the Demon Lord would have no value to the Devil of Lania, who only wished to use the Demons for his revenge against the Holy Kingdom. Looking at it clearly, the Devil of Lania was already the center of the Demon Kingdom. Even if the Demon Lord was killed, he would simply be the next in line. Also, he might even act to destroy the Kingdom of Lome by using the Demon Lord’s capture as an excuse.
His thoughts churning, Pygni turned to the Devil of Lania, and his eyes grew wide.
Arrtark’s eyes were trembling as he glared at the crystal ball in Pygni’s hand. It was a fleeting moment of weakness, and there appeared to be no change to his burning golden eyes now. However, Pygni had already acknowledged that slight tremor as ‘agitation’.
‘He’s bothered? That Devil…?’
Pygni let out a stupid sound unconsciously, “…Ah?”
<We’ve caught the Demon Lord! We infiltrated the Demon Lord’s castle and captured the one called Lily Golt!>
Following Luis, Peter’s excited shout was also heard. When the loud voice rang out, the Devil of Lania, who had been standing still, finally moved. He left Oskal to be swallowed by the swamp of death as he neared Pygni, the Undead following his lead. All the Undead, leaving behind the soldiers of Lome, approached Pygni.
Seeing this, Pygni faltered back before instinctively shouting, “Stop moving! If you don’t, the Demon Lord shall die!”
In the next instant, all the undead, including the Devil of Lania, stopped in their tracks. Pygni’s lips curled into a smile.
“Hah… Haha… What is this… Just… what the…” Pygni watched the Devil of Lania while muttering to himself, “You weren’t loyal to the Demon Lord solely for your revenge against the Holy Kingdom, but you were truly…”
Pygni reflexively laughed. If that was the case, there was no need for any complicated plot. If he had simply acted according to his plan…then he could have won without so many sacrifices…!
‘I’m truly foolish! Foolish!’
However, this confirmed it. Victory…! He had managed to clinch victory that could overturn this unbelievable situation!
“Fall back immediately, Devil of Lania! Release me, my soldiers, and Oskal. Then…declare defeat!”
Pygni grew extremely nervous upon hearing the Devil of Lania finally speak. He marveled at his own courage to communicate with the devil as his back broke into a cold sweat.
‘Don’t fall back. If I give in now, I’ll die! However, if I can hold the Demon Lord hostage, I can live!’
“Yes! The life of the Demon Lord depends on my command!”
[What nonsense. For a mere Demon Lord…]
“A mere Demon Lord?”
A mere Demon Lord…what…nonsense!
Pygni forced a smile. The Devil of Lania had committed a grave mistake. Those conflicted eyes, the fact that he had left Oskal at the Demon Lord’s capture, and then approaching him had all betrayed his inner emotions. He had become that desperate and pathetic.
“Not merely a Demon Lord. It appears you hold the Demon Lord quite dear.”
“I see. Now it all makes sense! Why did you choose the Demon Kingdom for your revenge against the Holy Kingdom? You must truly hold that female Demon Lord’s life precious. Could it be… It might be all too ridiculous to even think this up, but I’ve heard that the current generation’s Demon Lord was the wisest yet the weakest of all Demon Lords. It was strange that she had managed to become Demon Lord in the first place The one who made her a Demon Lord…was it you?”
Arrtark kept quiet. Due to his silence, Pygni was gradually becoming extremely confident.
“Haha! I see, then I order you: Declare defeat, and immediately—”
Arrtark’s body vanished, and when it reappeared, he was already in front of Pygni. His hand gripped Pygni’s thick throat and raised his body into the air. Pygni’s neck was gradually turning black and beginning to rot.
[Do you think threats will work against me?]
It was a low, calm voice. Nonetheless, Pygni flailed his feet in the air as he shouted, “…Uwack… Hey, if I die…so does the Demon Lord!!”
[That is still yet to pass.]
“Then… I could kill her right now!”
Pygni lifted the crystal ball.
“Whether I speak or the moment the communication is cut—”
[Then I’ll tear out your tongue!]
Just as Arrtark’s hand entered Pygni’s mouth…
<Ey, over there!>
Luis’s voice sounded from the crystal ball.
<I don’t know the situation over there, but should I tell mine? I’m pressing my dagger against the Demon Lord’s neck. With a bit more pressure, her artery will be cut, and I could even cut out her spine. Even if she’s the Demon Lord, she’d probably die with that, right? More so for such a frail woman.>
<We have only one demand: Declare defeat. Right away.>
Strength left Arrtark’s hand. He placed Pygni’s flailing feet onto the ground and let out a deep sigh.
‘I-I almost died…! The timing was pretty good, though. Was that person called Luis? It’s good that he’s in the Hero’s party!’
Pygni believed he had managed to keep his life thanks to Luis.
[I thought I had won.]
Pygni raised his head as Arrtark scanned the surrounding soldiers. He could see the soldiers of Lome. They were all terrified, and their will to fight was already broken.
[I could crush everything with overwhelming strength, but I…lost?]
Pygni took a deep breath and calmed his mind before jumping to his feet and clumsily retreating. He then touched his rotting neck, a stinging pain rising from the spot. The Royal Knights quickly approached and poured whatever Holy Water they had over the wound.
Pygni barely managed to restore his smile and said, “Yes, it’s a defeat! Admit it!”
[Yes, I’ll admit what has to be admitted. The defeat of you all…]
“What… Ey! We have the Demon Lord in our hands…!”
At that time, a crow climbed onto Arrtark’s shoulder and opened its beak. Instead of cawing, an unfamiliar voice rang out from its mouth.
<Tom! Why aren’t you picking up? Is the message going through? This crow suddenly opened his eyes, but he’s not saying anything! What happened?>
“…What’s that? Is it…?”
Pygni frowned and stared at the crow. He heard something that got on his nerves.
<We got the prince! W-well, that’s a bit unnerving, but… Huh? Hello~! Is this working?! Say something!>
The words made Pygni freeze. When the word ‘prince’ came from the crow, a feeling of nervousness that he couldn’t understand loomed over him.
“W-what do you mean prince…?”
Arrtark’s eyes curved into a crescent moon.
[Hm? I wonder who…?]
With those playful words… Pygni lost all rationality, his authoritative expression crumbling. His eyes trembled with anxiety, and his body shook. In his agitation, he stumbled over while breaking away from the knights. He walked over to Arrtark, and then, his expression turned dark.
“You fucking bastard-!”
Pygni tried to jump at Arrtark, but the knights held him back.
“Let me go! This bastard, this bastard dared kidnap my son…! I-it’s a lie, isn’t it? Isn’t it…!”
Pygni tried to deny it. It was the Devil’s temptation. The devil must be trying to trick him.
At that moment, a completely different voice broke his delusions.
<Wow! Sis, your face changed? It’s incredible! How did you do it? Magic? It’s magic, right?!>
An innocent voice of a child stimulated Pygni’s ears. Arrtark looked at him with amusement as he opened his mouth.
[It’s not some fake. I’ve never met your son, so I couldn’t mimic something like his voice, but isn’t it so funny? You and I were thinking the same thing: kidnap someone we hold precious.]
“You cowardly fuck…! C-coward! You dare… My son!”
[Cowardly…? Funny. Think who’s truly a coward, Pygni. You captured this land’s ruler as a hostage before I laid my hands on your son. Hold nothing back for the sake of victory, isn’t it?]
[If the Demon Lord dies, then the prince, and you, will accompany her. I’ll also destroy the entire Kingdom of Lome while I’m at it. I’ll turn the city into a mass grave, and your people shall become undead! I’ll turn the earth into a polluted land where not even a sapling will grow!]
“You bitch! You rotten bastard! You garbage!”
Pygni hurled profanities at the top of his lungs. All the emotions that he had been holding back, all the resentment and rage, exploded. Seeing this, Arrtark’s eyes narrowed.
“Fucking die! You devil bastard! I’ll curse you, no matter what it takes! Even if I die…!”
[Pygni, I don’t think this is the time for you to be cursing at me…?]
Pygni shut his mouth.
[Choose wisely, Ruler of Lome, the invader who attacked the land of the Demons! There should be something beyond defeat for you!]
There was one thing that the Devil of Lania currently desired. The declaration of defeat from Lome, and perhaps…something more! That was…probably…
‘The pride of the Kingdom of Lome and…their submission…’
The Arrtark before his eyes was thinking of stomping on the pride of Lome, then to let his strength be known throughout the continent. He wanted petty and humiliating revenge for invading the Demon Kingdom, not a simple retreat!
“By my actions…can my soldiers, my people, my country…and…my son…be safe?”
— Ω —