29. Gambler’s Den (7)
She appeared considerably disconcerted and full of dissatisfaction at the moment. She had initially believed him to be just like his kin, but he was different from what she had expected, which caused her to feel troubled.
Tom did not answer her question but went on to chatter about something else instead while massaging his face.
“Ow… boy, those mercenaries sure are rough. Beating me ruthlessly just because I slightly teased that fellow called Kelvin? Ha! Seems like Holy Knights nowadays have lost their discipline! Back in my day, he would have been punished on the spot as a heretic! Just why on earth has that great Holy Kingdom fallen out of order like this…?”
He muttered to himself for a while, but then suddenly started chuckling, apparently having thought of something amusing.
“Ah, must be due to the capital Lania falling, huh?”
“… I asked, what’s with you!”
Ellin huffed with anger at being ignored, prompting Tom to glance at her.
“Nothing to say, really. Didn’t I introduce myself already? I’m but an apprentice Holy Knight.”
“A Holy Knight that sits still at the sight of a demon? Normally, you’d draw your sword and laugh darkly, saying, ‘I’ll drink your blood!’, yes?!”
“Where in the world would you find a Holy Knight like that?”
“Most of the ones I’ve met until now were like that, though?”
Upon deeper thought, Tom realized that there were quite a few people who would spout nonsense, like that having armor covered in the blood of demons on the battlefield would “Grant you blessings from above.” Additionally, seeing as this rumor was mainly perpetuated by the Holy Knights, the existence of such fanatical members that drank the blood of demons could not be denied.
“Haha, I’m a bit of a hopeless Holy Knight, you see. While I may have no faith, would God become enraged by me striking up friendship with a demon?”
“Are you really a Holy Knight? Have no faith, you say! And demons are descendants of a vile devil! Though, of course, it’s a story made up by humans… In any case, of course, God would be angry, if the God you lot speak of does exist!”
“What does it matter whether you are the descendant of a devil or not? We can converse like this for starters, without harming each other. Isn’t it fine to judge good or evil afterward?”
Ellin threw him a question in apparent surprise.
“But humans judge by outward appearances, don’t they?”
“Yes, they do. I’m the same, after all.”
“Huuh? You approached me even though you judge by looks? I’m a demon, you know.”
“But you have the appearance of a person. Besides, the one who approached first wasn’t me, but you.”
“…It can’t be that you knew I’m a demon from the start?”
Tom merely laughed instead of replying.
‘Goodness! Then this Holy Knight, he knew I was a demon right from the start? Is that the reason why he ran when he first saw me…?’
“Uh… normally, demons are like the one over there!”
Tom shifted his gaze to the arena visible through the iron bars; terrified human slaves were rushing at an ogre with weapons in hand, while the ogre retaliated by crushing them underfoot, catching, and biting at them. It bellowed in a rampage, indiscriminately slaughtering the humans.
Tom remarked at the spectacle.
“That scene truly does give the impression that demons are vile beings, but that ogre there, it has lost its rationality from being too agitated. The wild noise of the audience, the wounds on its body, the smell of blood, and the sight of armed slaves in front must be why it’s fighting despite itself. It’s the basic instinct to survive in all intelligent beings.”
“…You understand so much about demons?”
Ellin stared at the ogre. Although she was a demon herself, she did not know very much about the characteristics of ogres.
“Yes, I’m currently studying them due to a certain circumstance. Well, I myself thought of demons as utterly evil things in the past, just like others. Atrocious devils, greedy and driven by desire, willing to kill humans for the sake of their own urges! But my way of thinking changed after meeting a certain child.”
“Child? You met the offspring of a demon?”
“That child was not vile as people describe demons to be, but had a soul too clean and bright, almost dazzling the onlookers. The way she worried for others was rather cute. To think such a well behaved and kind child…”
Tom recalled how Ellin was in the past: brusque and constantly wearing a cold expression, but quiet and well behaved at the same time. He firmly believed she would grow up to become a quiet lady brimming with elegance, yet contrary to what should have been, the girl was roving about gambling in a casino for the sake of revenge.
He turned to face Ellin, clutching at his forehead.
“…Turned into a hellion.”
Ellin tilted her head, a question mark on her face.
“H-hey now, brother Holy Knight. Uh, It’s best not to go too close to a demon.”
Ellin turned her gaze, and Halsem let out an eek at meeting her eyes as he retreated in haste, which triggered the mischievousness in her. She spread out both hands and cried out.
“Graaah~! I’ll eat you~!”
Halsem immediately fell on his bottom and crawled away to escape, the sight of which Ellin seemed to find amusing. She held her belly and laughed out loud.
“…How was she taught while growing up, really.”
Tom felt resentment towards Karakul for the first time ever.
“Oi! Slaves! Get ready!”
Mercenaries entered the waiting room and chucked cheap weapons onto the ground. Among them were worn swords, broken maces, bloodstained shields, and bows with loose strings. The mercenaries then spoke to the slaves in a sneering tone.
“Time to struggle for freedom, fools!”
The cell was opened, and the slaves were forced into the connected arena like herding a flock of sheep. The victorious ogre, which was already there, turned its head. It was a 4m tall humanoid monster covered in muscles like steel. It’s veins stood out—akin to snakes—squirming through its thick hide, which matched its imposing size. It had a long neck like that of a turtle and a pair of horns on its head, and it puffed steam from between its sharp teeth.
The moment new humans entered the arena, the ogre slammed its club on the ground and bellowed.
The human slaves dropped to the ground in fright, startled out of their wits.
“Eek! It’s a demon!”
“How are we to face a devil like that?!”
The slaves searched their surroundings in order to escape, but there was no place to run; iron bars blocked every direction. Seeing as the huge ogre could not break out of these bars either, the humans would not be able to escape their doom.
“Ogre! Kill them!”
“Show us the humans’ tenacity! Slaves!”
The ogre roared as if reacting to the cheers of the crowd, its breathing speeding up. The worked up ogre rolled its eyes to stare at the human slaves.
“…Hicc! Brother Holy Knight! You’re a strong one, aren’t you? The Holy Knights are supposed to be mighty warriors who oppose demons!”
“…Most hold an illusion about Holy Knights, even though it’s false. Countryside apprentice knights from the borders are just common knights that serve God. They aren’t very strong.”
Tom pushed at Halsem, who clung to him.
“Huuh~? It’s pretty excited. Daring to bare its fangs against me?”
Ellin’s fingers turned into blades, and the nearby slaves and Halsem, who was holding onto Tom, let out loud screams, like a pig that was placed under the butcher’s knife.
Tom asked her, “Are you going to fight?”
“Even though you’re both demons?”
“It’s trying to kill us first. Would you stay still if a killer wanted to murder you on the street? Would you just be going ‘Ah, please kill me nicely!’ just because you’re both humans?”
“…You have a point.”
“Regardless of the circumstances, if it’s going to be hostile… I’ll kill it, even if it is pitiful.”
“True, the sense of values belonging to a demon differs from those of a human. Although you’re the same… No, you’re not even the same race, I think? While it is indeed a demon, it’s not a doppelganger, after all.”
Kelvin was also among the spectators, sitting in the VIP seats with the best view. He was watching the arena with wide-open eyes, or to be accurate, watching Tom as he muttered to himself.
“Die. Die, I say. Die!”
He wanted to see it happen with his own two eyes, feeling that he would be able to sleep well and comfortably only if that Holy Knight, who knew of the sin he had committed 30 years ago, died.
The ogre in the arena was enraged from having spilled blood as it ran toward the slaves. It swang its massive club at the slaves who scattered everywhere while screaming at the top of their lungs. Despite their attempts, they were still struck by the swift-moving club, in contrast to the ogre’s big size. Sent flying like dolls, they crashed into the ceiling and fell, the sound of crushed bones ringing in the arena. The sight of that carnage caused Ellin to flinch.
“Oof… That must hurt.”
“Brother Holy Knight! Do something! Mhm! I want to live!”
“Then struggle, why don’t you? Instead of grabbing onto me!” Tom responded to Halsem’s plea by pushing him away and raising his sword, a rusty piece of metal given to him by the mercenaries. “…A sword like this would normally break before even cutting through that thick hide, yes?”
Tom glanced at Ellin, who cowed at the sight of the slaves killed by the ogre’s monstrous strength. There were ogre guardsmen everywhere in the Demon Kingdom, but they were mild in nature, unlike their vicious appearances, which she found cute after looking at them for a long while. How popular they were, so well-liked that they were the best mascots after slimes. Only, the ogre in front of Ellin was running amok in a rage; the madness she was witnessing, the likes of which she had yet to experience, made her lose her courage.
Ellin was startled at the look Tom gave her, forcing strength into her voice.
“Pitiful though it may be… I’m the only one that can take it down. Mister Holy Knight! You just watch carefully. I’ll show you right now what an amazing demon I…”
At that moment, a figure could be seen flying to her side at such a tremendous speed that it was practically instantaneous. By the time she turned around in surprise, what entered her vision was the sight of Tom flying in midair and rotating in a circle. He gazed at the broken blade of his worn-out sword before shifting his eyes to the hilt. It was not possible to cut through the ogre’s thick hide since the strength of the blade would not hold up. However, the handle was quite clean.
He coldly looked down at the ogre as he rotated and struck the ogre’s forehead with the pommel of his sword. A loud thonk rang throughout the arena, and at the same time, the ogre’s head became embedded in the ground, its legs rising into the air. The view left Ellin, Halsem, the surviving slaves, and even Kelvin, who was watching along with the gamblers in the spectator seats, gaping at Tom in astonishment.
The ogre’s massive body completely flipped over after staying in the air for a bit and fell flat to the ground again, causing the entire arena to vibrate as if an earthquake was coming; the ogre’s eyes were rolled into the back of its head, with its tongue was hanging out of its mouth. It appeared to be unconscious and completely incapable of further battle.
Ellin dazedly murmured to herself, looking at Tom.
An instant later, cheers burst from the surrounding. Regardless of whether the gamblers lost or won money, they went wild with excitement at how the ogre was defeated in one strike.
Ellin was no less excited than they were. She prided herself on being rather capable, yet even she, with her reflexes and senses unique to demons, could not properly see his movements.
“What the hell?! That mister might actually be a big shot…!”
“…Wow, wow, wow! Brother Holy Knight! You’re amazing! Incredible! Are all Holy Knights like that?!”
Halsem yelled in wonder, even forgetting his situation of having become a slave, but Tom ignored his reaction, turned his wrist, and checked if his limbs were moving fine.
‘Is my body in the condition I had back in my hero days?’
His current form, which was not the manifestation of Artarrk, was in the best possible state. If he had to guess, his power should be near that of when he had slain the old Demon Lord.
‘…The movements this youthful body can make sure are good.’
It had been a long time since he had worked out like this, mainly because he had remained in the holy palace of Lania for 30 years, so he found it slightly unfamiliar.
“… Ki-kill him.”
The mercenaries in the VIP seats looked at Kelvin, who was biting his fingers with toothless gums. So much blood was dripping from his mouth that it could not be determined if it was from his gums or finger as he glared murderously at Tom with bloodshot eyes.
“Kill him! Kill him, I say! Right this instant!”
“B-but normally, freedom is granted upon facing a demon and surviving… More than anything, nobles are in the audience as well. Here…”
“Or will you die instead?”
The mercenaries shook their heads at Kelvin’s cold gaze.
“N-no! How-however, the man even took down an ogr—”
“Then use the soldiers in the fief! Why don’t you use those good-for-nothings?!”
“U-understood! O-oi! Get your gear!”
The mercenaries rushed about while Kelvin kept glaring at Tom, as if his gaze could kill him. Although there was a deep dent in the head of the ogre, it was still barely alive and breathing, apparently thanks to its thick hide.
“…It’s still alive.”
Ellin gently brushed the ogre’s skin.
“It’ll probably wake up in 10 to 20 minutes.”
“You mean, you went easy?”
Tom smiled leisurely instead of giving a reply.
“Everybody, stay still!”
Ellin and Tom turned their gaze toward the gate. Mercenaries had entered the arena, armed with swords, axes, maces, and shields, standing with nervous looks on their faces. Aside from them, well-equipped regular soldiers had also made an appearance in the spectator seats and inside the arena.
The soldiers wearing light armor over their military uniforms raised their long spears as they surrounded Tom, Ellin, and the other slaves, while the archer units up at the spectator seats nocked their bows in unison. At that moment, Kelvin walked out from among them. Apparently having faith in the soldiers, he was standing there with shaking legs, holding the magic gun he had bought from the merchant.
“Amazing. Amazing indeed! You do seem worthy of being acquainted with the previous Hero, is that it?”
Ellin looked with surprise towards Tom at that comment.
‘Previous hero?’ Ellin tilted her head. ‘Come to think of it, just how many Heroes are there?!’
There were hundreds of Heroes who had set out to subjugate the Demon Lord alone. There was no way Ellin could know about each and every one of them.
“It’s no use, no matter how much you try to take revenge for what happened back then! I’m going to live! Live, no matter what! I’ll never die until I touch all the gold there is in the world! So you’re the one who’s going to di—”
Kelvin’s eyes grew as large as saucers—Tom’s face was right before him.
Kelvin stared in turn at the circle of mercenaries and at Tom, while the latter kept his eyes on him. He could not see his face, but only the glints of his eyes. Under his stare, all sounds faded into the background, and the surroundings grew dark for him. Those golden glints, fixed on his eyes, spoke to him.
Kelvin could hardly breathe.
[Run, run, and run!]
Kelvin stepped backward.
[Try and escape from the fate of death, struggling to fulfill the wish you spoke of! Run like it’s a game of hide and seek, flounder in despair as you fall in your depravity.]
He tripped over his own feet.
[Await your judgment as you fall, and fall.]
The eyes in the darkness gazed down at the unsightly figure of Kelvin, as if observing an insect.
[When I catch you in your flight, I shall let you relish your very last moments in a swamp of what you so desire!]
Kelvin raised the magic gun in his hand, but the golden eyes only grew wider as they gazed at the weapon with curiosity. As the eyes took in the unfamiliar-looking item, the trigger of the gun was pulled, and the sound of gunfire rang out.
The world of darkness vanished within an instant, and the sight of soldiers standing overcome with shock could finally be seen. Even as Kelvin rasped for breath with the relief of returning to his original world, he looked about him with a confused face at the atmosphere that had turned strangely quiet. Then he looked at none other than the individual who had collapsed in front of him.
Kelvin gazed at the magic gun in his hand; smoke was coming out from the muzzle. The magic bullet he had shot out of reflex had accurately penetrated Tom’s forehead by coincidence.
“…H-he’s dead? Dead?! Haha! I, I killed him!”
— Ω —