30. Gambler’s Den (8)
“S-serves him right!” Kelvin cried out in excitement. “This is what happens when you provoke me! Hahahaha! This is my castle! Mess with me and I’ll kill you all!”
Ellin stared at the collapsed Tom, who was bleeding from his head. He did not show the slightest movement and it seemed as if he wasn’t so much as breathing. Ellin hung her head, thinking he had died.
“It doesn’t really… matter. Not like we knew each other for that long.” She clenched her teeth. “But… still. It’s annoying. I’m pissed off! Pissed off I say…!”
Humans were too feeble, dying easily in countless ways: of short lifespan, of illness, dying as a result of crime, as a result of fighting among themselves. It was the natural order of things, because that was just the way of humans; this was a world ruled by them.
‘But… but…! This isn’t right! How can you let that traitor take your life away so easily?’
Ellin’s body trembled hard.
“He was the third person. Someone who didn’t take fright to me being a demon, even though he’s just a human. Someone who talked with me—laughed with me.”
The monk, Ellie, and now even this apprentice Holy Knight. All those who treated her with warmth were gone, each and every one of them. It was as if she was an existence that brought misfortune, as if—like human rumors said—doppelgangers devoured the fate of those they met.
“… I’ll kill you.” Her eyes grew cold. “I’ll kill you.” Her face twisted viciously. “I’ll kill you all!”
She bared her fangs and pounced toward Kelvin. The mercenaries responded by taking out their weapons and stepping forward, and the regular soldiers took formation, raising their countless spears.
“Protect L-lord Kelvin!”
“D-don’t be scared of the demon!”
Ellin proceeded to butcher the lot of them with her nails; the mercenaries standing at the front were killed, ripped to bits and pieces like rags. Scared by the scene, Kelvin screamed out an order.
“S-shoot your arrows!”
“B-but our troops…!”
“Do you intend on everyone dying?! It’s a matter of eliminating a vile demon! They’ll think it an honor as well!”
The soldiers in the rear pulled on their bowstrings and fired; arrows cut through the air and pierced Ellin’s body, as well as the other soldiers’.
“… It hurts.”
‘But I can bear it. Not like it’s the first time I’ve felt pain like this.!’
Ellin glared at Kelvin with reddened eyes.
“Eek! Stop her! Stop her…!”
Kelvin hastily ran away upon meeting her eyes, and Ellin chased after him. The soldiers pointed their spears towards Ellin in order to stop her, and a score of blades pierced her body. She suffered spear wounds all over, her skin becoming torn.
Tears gathered at the corner of Ellin’s bloodshot eyes.
“Didn’t you hear me say… move?!”
Her nails smashed apart the spears and sent the soldiers flying. Ellin destroyed the formation of soldiers and forced her way toward Kelvin, who had already disappeared from the arena. She chased after him, and the soldiers after her. The Fortress of Money was already in a state of pandemonium, with spectators screaming as they fled, and the nobles shaking from head to toe while cowering.
The soldiers remaining in the arena were at a loss of what to do as they pointed in the direction Ellin had gone.
“Shouldn’t w-we follow as well?”
“Are you mad? You saw that demon just now! She broke through a hundred-man pike formation! How do you intend on facing a monster like that? It’ll work out somehow since there’s the Holy Knight, Sir Rahon!”
“Then what about us?”
The gazes of the soldiers turned to the collapsed Tom, Halsem who was next to him, and the slaves.
“Since the order was to kill them… then we should kill them.”
As the soldiers approached the slaves, Halsem jumped with fright and shook Tom’s body.
“… B-Brother! What are you doing just dying like that! What are we to do now?!”
But no matter how much he was shaken, he did not move an inch. Halsem stared at Tom’s forehead, where a stream of dark-red blood was flowing. The sight of it caused Halsem’s eyes to turn red and he began to cry. It was just yesterday that they were laughing as they gambled together. While they did not share a very deep bond, he was still a friend who was free with his money, unbecoming of his status as a Holy Knight. Halsem was a surprisingly warm-hearted man, and so he could not help but feel sorrowful at the death of a friend like him. But, then again, he felt the most sorrow at his own despairing fate to come. The life he had spent doing nothing but gambling, treating every day as his last, was coming to an end in this manner.
“Damn you scumbags! Looks like I’ll also be going to your side soon, brother.” Halsem wiped his tears with the back of his hand. “Damn it, I should’ve just turned a new leaf in life like he told me. Ending up like this because I just had to have one more go today…! Damn it, damn it, da…”
Halsem shook his head, vision obscured by his tears, but then properly wiped his eyes as he sniffed.
“… Uh, uhh…?”
Halsem was not alone in his bewilderment; the slaves and soldiers who were also present hesitatingly stepped backward, eyes round as they stared at the dark-red liquid wetting the ground.
Dark-red blood continued to flow from Tom’s forehead. It soaked the ground and spread across the arena floor. For blood coming from a single person, there was just too much of it. Halsem fell on his bottom at the sight in a daze, and he looked at the ground with shaking eyes and a trembling body.
A snake rose out from the dark-red liquid that was still spreading and reared its head high. It tilted its head as it stared at Halsem, who looked back at it in disbelief.
‘Am I seeing things now that my time has come?! B-but the other people are seeing it too, not just me! What the hell?! What the…!’
The snake opened its jaws—formed out of thick liquid—and a black substance oozed out. The snake then flew right past Halsem’s face, at a speed akin to the magic bullet Kelvin had fired before.
Halsem reacted to the sudden noise with a stiff face, his neck turning like creaking, rusty iron, and there he saw the snake’s fangs dug into the throat of a soldier. Its body, elongated like a whip, squirmed for a moment before it retracted its fangs and pounced back.
“Ugh… arrrghh! Kaaaaagh!”
The soldier began acting strange after being bitten by the snake. His eyes rolled back into his head and all of the veins across his body began bulging. Over the span of a few seconds, his muscles expanded, his teeth grew longer, his nails turned sharper, and when the transformation finally came to an end alongside the sound of cracking bones, he turned to stare at his comrades with bloodshot eyes.
“O-oi. What’s the matter? Are you…”
And he attacked, biting at them.
Halsem looked in shock at the snake which was swimming around Tom within the blackish substance. The more it swam, the more the black substance gradually spread out. Halsem saw something jump out from the substance—crows. These creatures which came out after the snake shook off the dark-red liquid and took off into the air, flapping their wings. A ominous murder of crows was flying beneath the underground ceiling of the Fortress of Money. And…
Something else was starting to come out from within the black substance—undead. They were crawling out from the substance, struggling as if climbing out of the deep sea. Their eyes gleamed with a blue light and they exhaled blue breath despite having no life in their body.
“… Wh-what the?!”
“Don’t run! Kill them! It’ll be okay if you kill them while they’re still comin…”
One of the soldiers mustered the courage and charged forth, but when he was about to try and kill an undead that was crawling out of the blood, his torso was separated from his lower half, sent flying into the air. The soldier’s organs fell like hailstones, his blood like rain.
The skeleton that had struck with its sword moved its jaws and laughed eerily.
“It’s impossible! How are we supposed to fight that!”
The soldiers fled screaming, covered in the bloody mess of the bisected soldier.
The black substance gradually grew harder as it enveloped Tom’s body completely, until it formed a set of armor and set him up on his feet.
“Bro-… brother Holy Knight?”
Halsem muttered to himself blankly, mind paralyzed, unable to think of even running. The entity gazed at Halsem for a moment. Its golden eyes visible through the slit of its helm curved like the crescent moon, as if they were delighted. Then, it turned away, laughing hysterically.
[Wait for me. Kel—vin!]
That thick black substance spread like a river with every step he took, from which a countless plethora of undead was born.
He was a walking army.
The Fallen Monarch, Artarrk!
He moved in the direction in which Kelvin fled with heavy footsteps.
“There’s no way we can stop her!”
The soldiers who had chased after Ellin began to flee. Ellin, who was running along a narrow corridor, gradually slowed down to a quick walk, barely able to stay on her feet with staggering steps. Blood dripped onto the ground as Ellin shook her head. Her breathing rough and her bloodstained black hair waved in the air.
“It… really hurts. I don’t like this sort of bloody stench.”
She liked to fight, enjoyed it even. But she wanted nothing to do with a fight for vengeance due to a grudge. There wasn’t anything enjoyable in such a fight and, furthermore, taking the life of another in a battle fueled by rage was the worst; it was a hunt not for the sake of feeding oneself, but purely for the sake of killing. It was an act which even Karakul, the one who raised her, did not like.
‘But I have to do it.’
She looked at the end of the corridor with a cold gaze. Truly, she did not like a worthless fight like this, but she had to see it through. What else was she going to do with all this pent-up rage?
‘Kelvin, then the Pope, Salem Gottshuranche!’
She had sworn to kill these two no matter what happened. She clenched her teeth and squeezed out every ounce of strength left in her body. As she stepped forward, something was tossed into the hallway and rolled toward her.
“… A head?”
It was the head of the soldier that had run away earlier. As Ellin warily kept her gaze pointed toward the end of the hallway, glowing pieces of paper flew forth. These papers, scribbled with runes and powered by an unknown force, plastered the surrounding walls. At the same time, Ellin’s eyes grew wide as she fell to the ground; it felt as if something was pressing down upon her. Her entire body became bulky and even her mind turned hazy. A strange ringing sound screamed in her ears.
‘This is… a seal?!’
“My, my, to run away from a demon right before his eyes. That is truly the sight of a heretic in defiance of God! If you’ve seen a demon, God’s teachings say that you must put forth your life to kill it!”
Ellin forced her body up and glared at her opponent, who was walking leisurely toward her. His entire body was covered in plate armor, decorated with golden crosses of penitence. He was wearing a similarly styled helmet and carried a massive greatsword—in the shape of a cross—in his right hand and a holy text in his left. It was the Holy Knight, Rahon.
He watched as Ellin rose before opening the holy text in his hand and tearing out a page.
“Our Holy God, I shall receive Arrtark’s blessing and strike down the wicked…”
Runes began to form as he spoke his incantation. Once he finished they flew toward the walls, causing even more pressure to bear down upon Ellin’s entire body.
Ellin gritted her teeth as her body felt several dozens of times heavier. With gravity being several fold stronger, the wounds all over her body to leak large amounts of blood. Rahon, seeing Ellin in such a state, smiled beneath his helmet.
“To the heathens that have forsaken their faith in God, there shall be the blessing of Pope Salem Gatteschuranche!”
After he spoke those words, the runes floating around him became etched into his armor. He then rushed forth at an inhumanly fast pace, thrusting his cross-shaped greatsword toward Ellin’s heart.
“The sinister demons shall face the wrath of Lord Arrtak’s Iron Mace!!”
Ellin forced her body to move and thrust both her arms forward to defend herself. Her hands became as hard as shields, but the cross-shaped greatsword full of Holy Energy easily pierced her defense, as if it had ignored it altogether. Sparks flew as the cross-shaped greatsword smoothly went through both of her arms and stabbed directly into her chest. Ellin puked blood, dying the Holy Knight’s armor red.
“… Amazing. A mere demon managed to evade?”
The cross-shaped greatsword definitely pierced her chest, but he had been aiming for her heart, and Ellin managed to evade the fatal blow by moving her body ever so slightly. But now, she could no longer move as her chest was pierced.
“I don’t have a hobby of torturing women; if only you were a man~. Just die! Heretic!”
“Heh… Don’t lie. Would anyone believe you when you’re a pervert that slaps a woman for kicking you to the curb? Also, I’m not the one dying, but…” Blood spilled out of Ellin’s smiling lips. “You are, Mr. Homo.”
Ellin’s hair clumped together and turned sharp like a blade, flying straight toward Rahon. Rahon saw the blade, the eyes beneath his helmet narrowing.
“It’s a meaningless struggle.”
His entire body began to shine white, causing the rune pages attached to the nearby walls to shine even brighter. Ellin’s body became pressed even harder, forcing her to the floor. At the same time, the grotesque sound of the sword embedded into her chest tearing through leather and cleaving through her bones echoed in the corridor.
‘I can’t put any strength into my body!’
The instant she relaxed her body, the blade would completely cleave through her and sever her neck. Ellin’s hair ultimately remained in a frozen state.
“… This is fine in its own way.”
Rahon sounded pleased. He could definitely swing his blade and split her body in half, but he intentionally did not in order to laugh while staring at her pained expression.
“I don’t like women, but I suppose I could get into torturing demons like this. To think that watching demons in defiance of God being in pain could be such a pleasurable thing!”
“… Nothing but a perverted cultist.”
Rahon froze and lowered his head upon hearing her words. He heard something snap inside him. Rahon, who had been calm and leisurely, turned red underneath his helmet. His entire body trembled as he spat out words of rage into her face.
“… A cultist? You heretic-! How dare someone like you call me a heretic-?!”
Rahon pulled his blade out of her body. He raised it above his head and prepared to strike her neck.
“Die! Blame your foolish tongue!”
His blade sliced through Ellin’s neck. No, he had intended to slice through her neck, but the blade spat sparks and was fiercely repulsed.
Rahon barely managed to hold onto his blade as he turned to look at the object that had deflected his sword.
A long snake had lashed out like a whip and had deflected Rahon’s sword. The snake at the end of the hallway, with its long body that leaked a black liquid, swayed aggressively as it headed toward Rahon. Rahon had tried to cut the snake down, but the blade just spat out sparks once again and was deflected.
‘… What is this that’s stronger than steel?!’
He hurriedly moved his feet to retreat, leaving quite a distance between him and Ellin. Someone supported Ellin’s body as she collapsed with all of her strength leaving her body. Ellin turned back in surprise to see the figure who had embraced her. Rahon swallowed dryly to confirm the figure with his own eyes.
It was a figure overflowing with sovereignty, wearing a helmet in the shape of a lion’s skull with deer antlers protruding from the top. On his back was a cape of formless shadow held by a lion’s mane upon his shoulder. His entire body was covered in pitch black, seamless armor made of various shells and scales. Protruding from its back was a snake in the place of a tail. Arrtark lowered his head, his eyes shining brightly.
[You went too far, brat.]
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