26. Gambler’s Den (4)
Tom arrived at the inn Ellin spoke of.
“You’ll go to the casino tomorrow, right?! Don’t go by yourself, mister! ‘Cause I’ll steal everything you leave at this inn if you do!”
After her brazen declaration, Ellin left for her room. Tom watched her leave with a blank look. He walked into his own room a few moments later, where he organized his things and opened the window. There, he found a peculiar looking crow with golden eyes tilting its head, sitting on the window-sill and gazing up at him.
Tom wiped away the leftover mirth from his face and began to speak to the crow, emotionlessly.
“Damn! Do humans not have to sleep? We may be nocturnal, but this ain’t right! Let us close our eyes some, too!”
“Raise your shields!”
“Oi! First Division! You’re too slow! Lift up your shields already!”
“Bloody hell, what is that sound?! What’s exploding?!”
“They’re called magic bullet guns! A magic weapon made by humans!”
Dark clouds brewed over the battlefield. Holy Knights donned with shining plate armor advanced across the burning earth. They stood in line and raised one-meter long, iron cannons. The compressed mana within exploded as the runes activated along with the magic stones embedded in the handles, causing the cannons to fire. The wooden palisades set up like fangs in the dug-up ground shattered as the mana projectiles blasted through them. The exposed orcs who had been partially visible over the low fortifications either crouched down or raised their shields. The ones who chose to defend against the projectiles with their shields scowled.
“But it’s not to the extent of being dangerous… is it?”
“Oi! Third and Fourth Divisions! Get your asses over here!”
“What?! I can’t hear you! You need to be louder!”
The orcs bellowed at one another, but their voices struggled to be heard over the explosions of the human weapons.
Close to two hundred Holy Knights in a line drew a step closer, and while they discarded the used magic stones to the ground and reloaded their guns, another line of two hundred Holy Knights behind them raised their guns and fired. They gradually advanced in this manner while the orcs scrambled in order to stop them without being given the time to even aim their crossbows.
“Damn. Oi, are there no archers instead of crossbowmen?! Shoot towards the sky! It should be able to make a dent in those damned defense-enchanted armors, no?!”
“… You know it too; our archers are pathetic. It takes several years to learn how to properly wield bows… They’d do better if they charged in and swung them around like clubs.”
“Curses!! That’s why we’re called ignorant orcs!”
They were at the very front line of the Demon Kingdom, a significant distance from the Holy Kingdom. The newly dispatched Hero Alliance was making an attempt to invade their lands, so the orcs needed to fend them off.
“Are you telling me to wait until they come?”
The iron plated shield of an orc exploded with a boom and became bent.
“Wow, how heavy! It’s like the punch of a Baby Ogre!”
“Ahh, we can take a hit without dying if it’s at that level.”
“The problem is that it hurts! What happened to Captain Karakul?! Where’s the captain?!”
“… In the middle of a call.”
“Whaah? In this situation? With who? Her Demon Majesty?”
“Damn it. Oh shit! They’re coming closer! Everyone get ready!”
The orcs raised their swords, axes and maces, and their eyes turned red with excitement as the Holy Knights approached while firing their magic bullet guns.
“A little closer…!”
“Oi, wait a bit more! We can enjoy ourselves in a bit!”
“Fuck. Scaredy cats, you’re no better than walking meat. Why aren’t you getting over here already?! I’ll gobble you all up!”
“Hey now, what are you thinking? Do you really want to eat something like that? You’ll get a stomach ache I tell you.”
The orcs turned their heads to one another, conversing leisurely instead of being tense. As the Holy Knights entered into close proximity, one opened his mouth and bellowed.
“My warrior brethren—! Let us fight!”
Hearing this, the orcs cried out as one. “Charge—!”
The orcs raced over the palisades, shields in hand, using them to knock down the Holy Knights. They climbed atop them, and struck down with their axes. A Holy Knight could be seen sent flying by the swing of a mace, rolling across the ground, while another Holy Knight was impaled by a long spear and then tossed away.
“For the glory of God—!”
“Bring down the hammer of punishment to these vile demons in the name of His Holiness, Salem Gottshuranche—!”
“Glory be to Lord Artarrk—!”
Holy Knights on horses charged, aiming their lances. They held no hesitation despite many of their allies laying on the ground before them.
The orcs cried out orders at the sight of the incoming cavalry.
“Oi, pikes! Fifth Division! Pikes!”
Pikemen quickly ran over with their long, pointed weapons, but the Holy Knights that were collapsed on the ground grabbed their legs.
“What’s with this guy?! Let go I say!”
“All hail S-Salem Gottshuranche—!”
“All hail my ass! You’ll be crushed under those hooves too!”
The Holy Knight smiled despite the orc’s words, his eyes bloodshot as he gazed at the orc repeating the same line.
“All hail Gottshuranche! Glory be to His Holiness Salem—!”
The orc sent the Holy Knight flying with a punch to the face.
“This is why I hate Holy Knights! What the hell? So scary…! Are all humans like this?!”
“Argh! We’re late!”
Due to the delay of the pikemen, some Holy Knights were able to leap over the palisades.
“Damn, you can’t do it right even with all that training?!”
“Oi! They’re going over there, where Captain Karakul is!”
“Damn it! The captain’s spacing out at the front line again!”
The orcs rushed over to where a tent was set up. The Holy Knights ignored those floundering infantry, instead keeping their eyes on the open tent with an armored orc inside.
“That’s the captain!”
“Kill him! Full speed ahead—!”
The Holy Knights sped up, lifting their lances.
The captain of the orcs, Karakul, was inside the operations tent. A table with a strategic map drawn on it was placed before him, on top of which was a black crow. He was looking at it, murmuring something.
“Die! You vile demon—!”
A Holy Knight thrust his lance forward, the knight’s bellow causing a vein to pop on Karakul’s forehead.
“Who…” he turned his head, all too easily dodging the lance, and grasped the giant mace beside him that was over two meters in length, “… dares to interfere—?!”
And he immediately swung down, crushing both the Holy Knight and his horse.
The earth vibrated as dirt sprayed everywhere and the curtain of the tent flapped violently as if exposed to a typhoon, while the other Holy Knights that had been charging reined in their horses out of shock. The Holy Knight that had charged first no longer had a face or a body. All that remained beneath Karakul’s mace was a horrifying mess of minced meat and limbs twitching like those of an insect.
The terrified Holy Knights hastily turned their horses around.
“Who gave you permission to leave here?!”
But they too were caught and killed by the other orcs. The orcs stared at the first Holy Knight that had been crushed along with his horse.
“Looks like the captain’s mad for some reason?”
“… Strangely enough, he only gets touchy like that when he’s with that black crow.”
“Mm, you’re right. When we had a drinking party going on the other time, the Fourth Division made a senseless racket and ended up being made to roll in the dirt for the whole day.”
The orcs stealthily left the scene. The Holy Knights were fleeing, their morale apparently broken, but the orcs did not chase after them and instead began to reconstruct their encampment. Karakul let go of his mace planted in the ground and closed the curtain of the tent. He bowed his head toward the black crow.
“Apologies, master. It was noisy for a moment.”
The crow opened its mouth to ask, <What is the matter?>
“I took a moment to stop the invading humans.”
<You are having a hard time, I see.>
“That does not matter as it is all for you, master.”
The crow tilted its head.
Karakul reacted with a flinch at the name, and the corner of his fanged mouth went up; he had not expected the name of that child to be uttered from his master’s mouth. His master’s curiosity about her made Karakul feel joy in a corner of his heart, as he had never inquired after her and the Demon Lord until now. However… his master’s next words caused him to break out in a cold sweat.
<She is here.>
Karakul merely kept on blinking. He scratched his head unlike his usual self and struggled to understand what his master had said.
“… What do you mean… if I may ask?”
<She investigated Kelvin, and has come to Fief Golden.>
Karakul clutched at his forehead. He was Ellin’s mentor as well as her guardian. Tasked by his master to raise her, he had brought her up wholeheartedly as if she were his own daughter. As such, he was feeling great joy that Artarrk was curious about her. The girl, who was more or less a daughter to him, was growing up well under his master’s interest and care.
But the problem was that Artarrk wasn’t the only one protecting her; Karakul was looking after her as well, by Artarrk’s command. He had tried to prevent her from doing anything dangerous, but every time she slipped away from Karakul’s care, journeying over to the country of humans numerous times by herself.
Karakul hung his head before the crow.
“I am deeply ashamed! I will give her a good scolding later when I…!”
<No, it is fine. Since I am enjoying myself plenty, as well. It would be best not to mind it too much. She has grown a lot, too. Though I do not know the standard age of demons.>
“That is true, but…”
Karakul gazed at the crow with surprise.
<There is no need to worry about matters over here.>
“I do not worry. It would be foolish to, what with master being together with that child.”
The crow melted down, turning into black liquid before disappearing into smoke. Karakul clutched at his temples, the muscles of his eyes twitching.
The roaring of the battlefield that could be heard from the crow’s beak ceased, and Tom took a seat on his bed.
‘Has the hero alliance attacked again? Looks like they’re working hard.’
“In any case, I feel reluctant to keep her by my side.”
He planned on quickly finding Kelvin and parting ways with Ellin. Since her aim was also Kelvin, she was bound to give up and return to the Demon Kingdom if he made a move first. While he did feel concerned about leaving her alone, she was a demon as well as one of the Demon Kingdom’s 12 apostles, despite what she looked like.
‘Where is this fellow Kelvin? I can’t find hide nor hair of him.’
Tom turned his gaze to the side, where the crow with golden eyes was sitting on the window sill, looking at him.
“There is something I’d like for you to do.” The crow tilted its head. “Find that blasted old fogey, Kelvin.”
In a room that would prompt the word high-end to rise in one’s mind, containing high quality furniture, an excellently drawn portrait, expensive ornaments and jars, a wide bed with luxurious sheets. There in that room was one old man that looked to be in his late seventies, dripping with cold sweat as he writhed about on the bed, suffering a bad dream.
“I am sorry. Truly I am…”
He was apologizing to a certain man, saying he was truly sorry, but when he saw the gold tossed to him by a Holy Knight that appeared later, he lost those apologetic feelings in an instant.
“Gold! It’s gold! So much gold…! I don’t need to think about starving alone anymore! No more worries about taxes, or donations! I can live by myself, all by myself! I can enjoy everything to its fullest! Live a merry life till the day I die!”
But when Kelvin took hold of the bag of gold, somebody grabbed his hand, and Kelvin hurriedly lifted up his head, startled. He saw a person donning a pitch black armor and a helmet made of a lion’s skull, and the strange, glittering pair of golden eyes shining through them.
Kelvin’s hand rotted within an instant. His skin turned black as holes appeared in it, melting down to the extent of revealing bone.
He let out a terrified gasp and woke up from the dream, raising himself off the bed. He frantically scanned his surroundings, and felt relief upon realizing he was still in his bedroom. But it was then that his thumping heart seized up.
Kelvin clutched at his chest and immediately opened the cabinet next to his bed, taking out a packet of medicine and putting the contents inside his mouth. He forced himself to swallow and amidst the pain that caused fluids to leak from his mouth, nose, and eyes; he barely managed to settle down his heart.
“Ha… haah… haah… heh, heh! Damn, crazy bastard.” Kelvin shook his head, and several strands of his hair, receding from old age, fell forward. “Yes, crazy bastard. That priest was a crazy bastard!” Kelvin giggled to himself. “It wasn’t my fault. It was yours for getting fooled. Don’t resent me. Why are you torturing me in my dreams?!”
He gnawed on his fingers with his toothless gums. But then Kelvin turned to the side, where he could hear a tapping sound from the window.
“What is it?”
Kelvin supported himself with a cane and left the bedside to go to the window. His bedroom was located on the second floor. A crow, perched on the branch of a tree that reached his room, had been pecking at his window with its beak.
“A crow? Damn, how inauspicious…!”
Kelvin was about to ignore the bird when something caught his eye— it’s eyes. A peculiar pair that reflected gold in the night.
‘I never knew there could be such an unusual crow! Its eyes are golden?!’
He drew near the window.
“It could be a crow of fortune that brings gold, not one of ill-omen…! I have to catch it! And keep it in a cage!”
Kelvin opened the window, but the crow did not flee; it gazed at him with a tilted head.
“Yes, aren’t you a good boy? Stay still. Stay…”
Kelvin reached out a hand to the crow, which opened its beak and cawed, staring at him with its golden eyes.
Kelvin suddenly swung his cane, but the crow smartly dodged and flew away. He swayed on the spot before collapsing to the ground, his body shaking as he pointed at the empty space where the crow had been perched a moment ago. It wasn’t the crow speaking that had shocked him; it was because its voice had resembled ‘his’ voice all too much.
“It can’t be. No, he’s already dead. Haha! I must have imagined it because of the nightmare. Damn! Have I become old enough to die, now?” Kelvin wiped the cold sweat from his face, shaking his head. “Die? Ha! Right! He died! It wasn’t my fault! He didn’t die from my medicine! It must have been because of his illness! He was fated to die from the start! I eased his pain!”
‘Ha! It doesn’t matter if he died from the medicine anyway! He’s already dead and gone from the world already after all! There’s no one to resent me left in this world!’
“Hehehehihihih! What does it matter?! It’s all good if I live well… What does it matter how others end up?!”
He laughed to himself.
The casinos would continue to be in business, today and tomorrow, and those who played the games would become slaves to gambling, each and every one of them. They would lose their fortunes, their homes, and even their families. Yet, even so, they would become addicted to the activity, floundering until they lost themselves in the end.
Those who lost everything would become slaves, sacrificial lambs for the next gamble. They would become offerings for the fighting ring where slaves and demons brawled.
“Money, money, money!”
He had nothing but money now! He had lost his family, and even betrayed that precious customer who was like a son to him. All that remained to him now was money. That was the sole meaning to his life.
— Ω —