40. Facing the Demon Lord (9)
The Hero Ludin’s face was filled with thrill and exhilaration. The Orcs had finally come out from their turtle shell! They were fighting, slaughtering the soldiers while forcing their way through the Human’s defensive lines.
No matter how one looked at it, the Hero’s Alliance outnumbered the orcs to an overwhelming degree. Yet, despite the Orcs immense superiority, Ludin’s expression was still full of confidence. Aris was shocked at how assured he looked.
“Aris! I succeeded! My strategy worked! Haha! Right! I’m not stupid! Look at that, the magnificent sight of the Demons falling into my trap…!”
Aris’s face grew pale, while the Holy Knights nearby who heard him were filled with uncertainty, their helmets hiding their stiff expressions.
Not only the slaves, their own soldiers were being slaughtered mercilessly. Yet, the Hero was celebrating the massacre before him, as if it was all part of his plan?!
“Look, there! That city of the Demons and that fortress are now empty! I’m sure they’ve already used up all their war potential! If I… If I eliminate all these Orcs…!”
Madness glinted in Ludin’s eyes.
The Orcs’ large, sturdy axes split the soldiers in two, akin to chopping wood. They used their shields to block the spears pointed at them, allowing them to penetrate the wall of pike-men and ravage the Human soldiers. Heads burst and flesh filled the air as the Orcs swung their axes with precision and ferocity.
“Kill them all! Don’t show any mercy to these bastards! This is the game they started! There’s no need for honor or courtesy for those who underestimate the Demon Kingdom! Don’t let any escape. If they run away, kill them!”
Karakul’s command flew across the battlefield like a tornado, lifting the morale of the Orcs sky-high.
Ludin’s face fell as he watched the battle drag on, and he stepped back unconsciously. He gulped at the Orcs’ madness. “…There are a lot of them, as expected.”
“A lot…?” Aris wondered aloud about his words.
Ludin spoke again in a trembling voice, as if asking for Aris’s agreement.
“There are many Orcs! So many of them! We won’t win if things keeps going like this! Even if the Holy Knights, the Priests, and I join the fight, it still is impossible! There’s no way we can kill the Demon Lord while going against those things! We need to cut down their number!”
Ludin turned to the Holy Knight next to him. “Aim large-scale Magic Artillery at that Orc army right this instant!”
The Holy Knights and Aris flinched at his command.
“That… What does that mean?”
A Holy Knight asked again, hoping to clarify his command. The slaves were tools and livestock they could easily replace, so it wouldn’t be a problem if they died. However, the soldiers currently engaging the Orcs were all hand-picked from each kingdom and, at the same time, were freemen. He wanted to fire Magic Artillery at those soldiers?
“Just do as I say! The Orcs are dangerous! We won’t be able to kill the Demon Lord if something doesn’t change! It’s impossible to penetrate their lines, even for me!”
“But still, we can’t do that! Our soldiers are there…!”
Ludin glared at the grumbling Holy Knight.
“These are the words of a Hero that was chosen by God. Should I make a report to the Holy Kingdom that there’s a Holy Knight disobeying an order?”
The Holy Knight stared back wordlessly.
“Fire right now.”
The Holy Knight stepped back while gritting his teeth. Aris, who understood Ludin’s order, held his shoulder and shook it to snap him out of this madness.
“Ludin! You can’t be serious, right? Right? Countermand that order right now! Our soldiers are going to die!”
The corner of Ludin’s lips twitched and he forced a smile.
“They’re all going to die anyway! So… it would be better for them to die with some honor by helping us!”
“Lu-Ludin… you… changed.”
“Changed? What are you talking about? Aris! I didn’t change! Haha! Everything is perfect. The Orcs are already using up their strength, and now their numbers will be reduced by the Magic Artillery! Stupid bastards…! This is our strategy!”
Aris shook her head at the Ludin before her. This wasn’t the man she knew.
It had been a slow change leading up to this. There was a time when he had been a person with a strong sense of justice. He was considered dependable and courageous when he was first chosen as a Hero. But, his disposition turned darker somewhere along the way.
He may be superhuman physically, but mentally, he was nowhere near the mark. Their soldiers were dying because of his own faults and delusions. The fear of punishment by the Holy Kingdom had finally pushed him into a corner, so much so that he lost even the ability to make sound judgments.
“The Magic Artillery! Load it!”
After being loaded, the muzzle of the Magic Artillery was aimed toward the sky.
Some of the soldiers, who were gradually losing ground while trying to hold back the Orcs, sensed the Alliance’s incoming barrage.
“Fire!” Ludin ordered.
Magic bullets were launched into the night sky like shooting stars.
The mana crystals within them burst in the sky, putting on a light show akin to fireworks. In any other case it would have been considered a beautiful sight, but this light only served as a premonition of death for those on the battlefield below..
“Oy… this is a joke, right?”
Not just the soldiers, even the Orcs were taken aback by this insane attack. Both sides stopped fighting and looked up at the magic bullets that were falling from the sky.
Although the magic bullets were deadly, they had one major flaw. Since the mana within them was condensed, the bullets were rather light, so the speed of their descent was quite slow due to air resistance. In a wide, open place, it was entirely possible to avoid them. However, with the Human and Orc lines crowded together, it was impossible to dodge the impending barrage.
Karakul froze. He never expected that Ludin would carry out such a reckless act, especially when his soldiers were also in the mix.
The magic bullets landed in the midst of the battlefield.
The miserable screams of Humans and Orcs mixed together without any distinction of friend or foe. Suffering a continuous bombardment, the combatants could only helplessly perish and be blown apart. Many were all unable to avoid their doom. At this moment, they cast their races and differences aside, scampering away to save their lives.
“…They won’t help! Maybe they could block a small magic gun, but those things are used for sieges. Shields would be shattered instantly!”
The battlefield was burning, the scorched earth a testament to the cruelty of the attack. Dense, black fog filled the entire area due to the explosions, so much so that it was hard to even tell who was who.
A moment later, the rain of annihilation finally came to an end.
The field was charred black, and still burning, with black smog rising up into the night sky. The Orcs that had survived stood up while wincing.
“As… as expected… humans are out of their minds.”
The Orcs looked around with disbelief in their eyes.
“Euaaaaaak! My arms!”
“…Am, am I… dying? Me? Ha… what the? These… holes on my body…”
The surviving Human soldiers fell into panic and begged for someone to save them; many were injured or dying. The Orcs couldn’t even think of killing them after seeing them in such a pitiful state. There were also many Orc corpses interspersed among the Human ones. Seeing so many of their brethren slaughtered, their rage-filled gazes turned to the Holy Knights that approaching from afar.
“…It’s now. It’s time to show our power!”
Ludin spurred his horse with a smile on his face. He looked at the Orcs from the top of a hill, his expression filled with the certainty of victory.
The Orcs couldn’t recover their senses right away as a loud ringing resounded in their ears; they shook their heads and faltered. Dizzily standing up was the best they could do. Now out of their previously frenzied state, many felt exhaustion and pain come in torrents, overwhelming them.
The Holy Knights started to advance once more after the Hero’s command. They, who rode horses, held long lances in their hands.
“Catch the Orcs with one fell swoop! Priests, assist them…!”
Karakul stood up and brushed off the soot and dirt caking his body. His green skin was charred, with fragments of spear-blades embedded in it, which he proceeded to pull out and toss aside.
It was clear that there were survivors among the Human soldiers, but the Holy Knights were still preparing to charge in on horseback. This meant that it didn’t matter whether their soldiers got trampled and died. Seeing as they had fired on their own soldiers earlier, Karakul felt that perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised.
“Hero, because of you, I’ve learned various things about Humans!”
First, humans had no regard for their colleagues. Second, they never hesitated if they believed an action would bring them victory. Those two things were all hard for Kurakul to understand. But, the latter was also a moral lesson he needed to comprehend for dealing with Humans in the future.
“Right! Bring it on! Bring it on!” Karakul yelled jeeringly. “I will rip your throats out and slaughter you all!”
The Orcs that were able to fight gathered around Karakul, ready to launch a counterattack.
“Fight! Show those honorless beasts what it means to stop foot on the battlefield!”
The Orcs released a battle cry, emptying their lungs. They lifted their weapons and rushed forward to meet the charging cavalry.
“…Things are getting dangerous.”
Tom, who was watching the situation from afar, frowned.
Karakul’s counterattack was indeed fairly risky. Still, even he didn’t know the Hero’s Alliance would use such a stupid and irrational strategy. They had never stooped so low when he was Hero. What he had witnessed was a tactic that’s sole purpose was winning, with any sacrifices being considered acceptable if they led to victory.
“I should help.”
The ground, however, shook the moment Tom was about to move. He looked toward the area of the battlefield the Humans were advancing from, but black smoke blocked his view. Still, even without being able to see it, he knew what was coming.
The Human soldiers that had both survived the barrage and were able to move tried to escape the battlefield by running back toward their camp. Those that couldn’t move resorted to begging their compatriots for help, though many were simply ignored.
“Let’s… let’s run away! Even if we become slaves for it, it doesn’t matter! Are we to give up our lives and die in this absurd war?!”
As the staggering group of soldiers passed through the black smoke, the ground began to rumble. Before they had the chance to react, fully armored cavalry suddenly appeared before them, piercing through the smog.
The soldiers’ eyes grew wide, surprise the last thing etched on their faces before they were trampled by horses. The regular troops were gradually reduced to minced meat. It was no longer possible to distinguish individual corpses from one another. Not even their heads remained intact, instead shattering like watermelons under the horses’ hooves. It was a gruesome sight, to say the least.
“Cavalry, full speed-!”
They were speeding up, their lances pointing ahead. The spear-blades shone with a blue light.
“Die! Wicked Demons-!”
“Blessings of Artarrk-!”
“In the name of Pope Salem Gottshuranche, run away like the beasts you are-!”
The Holy Knights let out a roar filled with fighting spirit.
Crushed under their horses’ hooves and impaled by their long lances, the Holy Knights were confident that such a scene would play out as soon as they reached the Orcs. But, just as they were nearing their targets…
Huge Ogres appeared out of the black fog.
The Ogres, with their massive builds, jumped over the Orcs and swung their maces and war-hammers with all their might. Unable to bear their enormous strength, the Holy Knights and their horses flew through the air, crashing into the ground with sickening thuds.
Their bone armor and large weapons already weighed a ton, yet their movements were anything but slow. Instead, the Ogres nimbly destroyed the Holy Knights’ flying wedge formation. The cavalry split to avoid the huge rock-like Ogres, completely giving up on any thought of attacking the Orcs.
Karakul looked to his side with a shocked face. One of the 12 Apostles, the Ogre Kuman, approached him.
“…Even though it’s late, from now on, the Ogre’s will join in on the battle.”
“Wait! Then what about the Demon Lord’s Guard…?”
Kuman pointed behind him with his thick finger.
Karakul’s eyes followed his direction and grew wide as saucers.
Wearing a red helmet which was custom made so that both of her goat horns could stick out, and armor in the form of a red dress, in which she could move around comfortably, the Demon Lord Lily was coming, riding a unicorn. Ellin rode next to her on another unicorn, making sure to stay close by.
Karakul’s eye muscles twitched. The Demon Lord had appeared in the middle of the battlefield? This was unthinkable! Even the Hero hasn’t appeared before them yet, let alone any Human rulers.
“What on earth were you thinking….! Kuman! You bastard, you came here even though you’re Her Highness’s guard?!”
The moment Karakul scolded him, Kuman frowned “I only obeyed the Demon Lord’s order. I’m merely a servant, while she is the Demon Lord. I’m also an Apostle. I don’t need to listen to what another Apostle is telling me to do.”
Karakul then turned to glare at her. Lily flinched and shrunk back, but Ellin spurred her horse and rode in front of Lily to protect her.
“It’s the Demon Lord’s order. An apostle must not scold Her Highness, although you can give advice.”
Ellin spoke calmly, which was rather unusual for her. Karakul was also not in a position to tell Lily off. Besides, he was thankful more than anything deep in his heart. If the battle had continued as it had been, countless Orcs would have lost their lives.
With the Ogres joining them, the Orcs’ fighting spirit rose once more.
“Ogres have arrived! We’re already at our limit!”
“Priests, support the Holy Knights!”
The Priests in the back lines raised their staffs and chanted their spells. Soon, the bodies of the Holy Knights were surrounded by a warm light, helping them regain their physical strength and calm their minds.
The Holy Knights didn’t retreat due to the arrival of reinforcements, though they knew they stood little chance. With the addition of dozens of Ogres, the outcome of this battle was already decided.
There was no way the cavalry, having lost the power of their initial charge, could defeat Demons who specialized in close combat.
“…It is not over yet.”
The Hero Ludin’s eyes lit up as he lifted his Holy Sword and jumped up off his horse. As he swung, his sword began emitting a brilliant light.
The moment the flash of radiance struck a group of Ogres and the Orcs, their bodies burst apart and broke into pieces.
The Demons looked at Ludin in shock. However, Ludin was unable to notice this, as his attention was already fixed on something else. Amongst the Orcs and the Ogres, a bit further from him, a woman stood out.
She rode a unicorn, a mythical creature which only appeared in fairy tales.
With her beautiful silver hair swaying out from under her helmet, she looked at Ludin with a confused expression. Ludin gritted his teeth while looking at her. A demi-human with two goat horns, tanned skin, and silver hair!
‘That is the Demon Lord!’
She looked exactly like what Bludifer had described. There were more Orcs and Ogres left, but it didn’t matter. Because here… was the Demon Lord. It would be a victory as long as she died.
“…I’m going to kill her.”
Karakul’s eyes enlarged after reading his mouth from afar. He rushed to shout at those around him.
“…It’s the Hero. Stop him right now! Protect Her Highness the Demon Lord!”
The Orcs and Ogres were and rushed to block Ludin’s way. They lifted their weapons and swung them at him, but Ludin avoided those attacks with inhuman speed. Cutting down the Orcs and rolling in between the Ogres’ legs, he charged toward Lily.
“Human! I will protect the Demon Lord!”
Kuman lifted up his mace. Tendons were wriggling like snakes under the Ogre’s muscles; Kuman had the greatest physical strength among the demi-humans.
The massive and agile mace swung down at Ludin.
“Do you really believe that something like a wicked Demon could stop me?”
Ludin blocked Kuman’s mace with his Holy Sword.
The ground beneath Ludin’s feet caved in, and the air pressure from the attack turned into a violent gale. Even though blood was flowing from the corner of Ludin’s mouth, he had withstood Kuman’s attack.
Karakul made a move while glaring at the immobile Ludin. He approached the Hero from the side, mace in hand, but was unable to land a single blow. Beams of light flew at both he and Kuman like meteors, stopping them in their tracks.
Aris had chanted a spell while pointing her staff at Kuman and Karakul from afar. More spheres of blue light, composed of mana, were forming around her..
Kuman’s body was rocked by explosions, and his colossal frame staggered while being forced back. Meanwhile, Karakul was sent flying by the force of Aris’s magic.
The moment Kuman let out a loud shriek as he lost his balance, Ludin saw his chance. He cut Kuman’s side with his Holy Sword. The iron armor and thick leather vest were cut apart like tofu, and his blood gushed out like a fountain. Kuman’s body collapsed to the ground.
“Mr. Kuman! Captain Karakul!”
Ellin fell into panic as the two Apostles hit the dirt in tandem. She quickly looked at the unicorn Lily was riding.
“Run away! Protect Ms. Lily!”
The unicorn nodded as if it understood Ellin’s words, turned, and sprinted quickly to the fortress.
“Wait…! What about Ellin…?!”
The unicorn didn’t even listen to Lily’s shout.
Ellin glared at Ludin. He looked back at her and saw through what she was in an instant.
“Human? No, this demonic power! You’re a Doppelganger, huh! A filthy Demon that impersonates Humans! Scram!”
Ludin launched forward and grabbed Ellin’s head, slamming it into the ground. He then stomped on her fragile body with as much force as he could muster.
Ellin stretched out her hand and tried to grab Ludin. At the very least, she had to grab that bastard’s ankle.
But she missed. He was too fast
Ellin’s eyes watched Ludin’s back. He was heading in the same direction as Lily. She had to stop him. She had to… but she couldn’t move her body.
Someone like her, that was Apostle in name only, couldn’t even hold the Hero back for longer than a second. She hated her incompetent self for that.
‘Ms. Lily…! Escape… hurry…!’
Ellin gritted her teeth. She might have to witness someone precious die in front of her eyes, again. Like the monk, Ellie, or the apprentice Holy Knight.
Even with Ellin’s desperate scream-like shout, Ludin’s figure quickly disappeared. His feet cut across the battlefield as he nimbly made his way through the few Orcs that still blocked his way. He quickly caught up and overtook the unicorn’s pace, which had a speed many times faster than a regular horse.
‘At last, this tiring war is over! I’m going to become a real Hero!’
Ludin ran up with his reddened eyes, his Holy Sword covered with a white current. It was such a sacred light that it illuminated his surroundings even in the dark of night. This was a sharp blade filled with holy power, able to cut down every enemy he’d ever faced.
Lily, who was riding on the unicorn, looked over her shoulder; she felt a chill travel down her spine. A shining sword was all that filled her eyes.
She let out a sound of disbelief.
Karakul, who was still trying to recover from Aris’s magic attack, could only watch the Hero Ludin get closer and closer to Lily. Kuman also forced himself to stand up, while Ellin made an expression as if she was screaming.
They were Apostles with the duty to protect the Demon Lord. But now, there was no way to save her.
The Hero Ludin wore a cruel smile on his face.
“…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have blocked my junior’s way.”
Ludin’s sword was repelled.
— Ω —