S 004: Pursuit

The waitress leans down – not enough to give me the view down her neckline I’d been hoping for, unfortunately – and refills my glass.

In lieu of thanks, I let out a short, ill-tempered grunt, then turn my gaze to the window again, thoroughly ignoring the attractive young woman in favor of looking at the city gates standing forbiddingly shut, down at the end of the street.

I went through those gates and entered Rayyan Fortress two days ago.

Once I was in, I shapeshifted again, for safety, into my current appearance, that of a grim old woman, who, after a little investigation, appeared not to have any friends nor even, for that matter, anyone she ever talked to. She also happened to frequently patronize this bar, with a very good view of the city gates. That suited my purposes just fine, so I killed her in her home and took her place.

As for the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of Ranger Juliet after she entered the fortress, the investigation is still ongoing. I hear the prime suspect is a werewolf, who may or may not have taken advantage of her weakened state to kill and eat her.

Terrible business. Just terrible.

What kind of world is this, that your friendly neighborhood werewolf suddenly reveals himself to be a cannibal?

Terrible…

Still, I’m glad I didn’t waste my time framing that werewolf. Even if it doesn’t pan out in the end and he manages to prove his innocence, I’ll have gained a few days of peace – and the guard still won’t be any closer to finding me.

If there is one problem, it’s that, at my age, shapeshifting so often isn’t very wise.

First was when I transformed right after killing Preston, then Juliet, and now this old woman.

All of that in the last two weeks…

The discomfort I feel is getting worse and worse.

My body is already complaining, telling me it needs to return to my default appearance.

And I couldn’t agree more.

Because this particular disguise is quite frustrating.

Indeed, everyone who knows her would immediately start showing suspicion if the taciturn old woman I’m supposed to be suddenly became more talkative, so I can’t even flirt with the bar’s pretty waitress. In fact, the pretty waitress probably hates the old woman who never even says ‘thank you’ when she gets a refill.

I hope this girl didn’t spit in my drink while I wasn’t looking, at least.

I wonder how she would react if I did actually start flirting with her while looking like that?

It might be funny…

But no. I’m a professional, and as a professional, no matter how pretty the woman in front of me, I can always give her the cold shoulder if it means getting the job done.

And right now, the job is to look at that gate and wait for my pursuers to come through – if pursuers there are, which I doubt.

By my judgment, Preston just isn’t someone all that important to the workings of Hardron Fortress. He’s got enough pull to bully a few shopkeepers, but in the end, he’s just in charge of a single district. Replacements will be lining up easily enough.

I would have been in trouble if I had remained in Hardron Fortress, since I did in fact murder a few people, but when they realize I already left, they should politely give up. The benefits of catching me just wouldn’t offset the costs the chase would involve. Indeed, they’ll no doubt discover that every one of my victims died by poison, and if they’ve got half a brain to share between them, they’ll realize that throwing more men against a poison user is the last thing you’d want to do. Since they don’t know the limits of my magic, they won’t needlessly sacrifice the lives of their men.

On the other hand, it also means that, if they do send people after me, those people will be tough customers, confident in their ability to deal with me.

But as I said, that’s unlikely.

I’d bet money that no one will come through that gate, and that I’m wasting my time by waiting here.

Actually, even if there are pursuers, they shouldn’t be able to enter Rayyan Fortress.

Because Rayyan Fortress is hostile to Hardron Fortress.

Even if they follow my trail up to here, they wouldn’t dare to cause trouble in this place, right?

Right.

So then, with all these arguments on my side, why am I even bothering to stand vigil in this bar?

That is because you can never be too careful.

I know Hardron has at least one tracker who can follow my trail, despite my own magical countermeasures. They’d have to grossly overestimate me for that guy to be called in, but you never know.

At the same time, I’ll use these days to prepare what I’ll need for the next step of my journey.

Rayyan Fortress was only ever a temporary stop, after all. Like Hardron Fortress, this place is too tightly controlled for an intruder like me to build a permanent home here.

In fact, just knowing that there might be hunters on my trail, no matter how low the probability, I’m almost tempted to leave right now and rush to Jodene Fortress as fast as I can. But I know that this is nothing more than a primitive, instinctual impulse – that of prey who knows a predator might be in the area – so I firmly suppress the idea.

If anyone actually is following after me, I’ll never make it to Jodene Fortress before they catch up to me.

Well, whatever.

Let’s just see how things will unfold.

The answer is, not well.

It’s almost funny, really.

I was pretty much wrong on everything.

Hardron did send a team after me. And that team did enter Rayyan Fortress, frankly and uprightly.

The guards at the gate were even polite to them.

…What the fuck is this?! Hello! You guys are supposed to be enemies! Why the fuck are you fucking dipshits being so fucking friendly with each other? You should draw your preferred weapons and start slaughtering everyone in sight!

Haaaa…

Damn it…

I take that back; it’s not funny at all.

There they are. Standing next to the gates, talking to some guy in armor with a giant colorful feather tacked to his helmet.

…Who is this supposed to be, then?

And what’s with that giant feather? It looks fucking ridiculous.

You should fucking die. And your fucking feather should fucking die, too.

…All right.

Calm down, calm down.

My pursuers number five. Three oni, a werewolf, and an ettin. They all look dangerous and competent, but I recognize neither the oni nor the ettin. The werewolf, on the other hand, I do. He is quite famous.

His name is Ralgrermn.

The best tracker in Hardron Fortress.

Of course.

Specifically the one person I didn’t want to see.

Not only is his name a fucking mouthful, but that cur’s magic is quite bothersome, too. I’m not sure what rune it is, exactly, but what’s certain is that he’s one of the few capable of following my trail, no matter how many times I shapeshift or how much qi I expend on my own concealment magic. He’s also a ridiculously powerful warrior. From what I hear, he should be at least 6th-rank. Maybe 7th. He’s probably just one step below Hardron himself.

Him against me, a pitiful 4th-rank warrior.

I don’t stand a chance in a stand-up fight.

Neither do I stand much of a chance in a not-so-stand-up fight. There could be as much as three whole ranks between us. That kind of gap isn’t easy to bridge. And werewolves have naturally strong and resilient bodies. Even if I could take him by surprise, enough so that he couldn’t react at all to my attack, I’m not sure I could deal any lethal damage. His muscles would naturally block my blade before it could reach anything too vital. I’d need to stab him through the eye or something like that – except he’s almost three meters tall, so I can’t reach that high.

Yes.

This is going to be trouble.

But what really galls me is that Rayyan Fortress’s soldiers are being so helpful to them.

I assume the man with the feathered helmet is an officer of the guard. They’re too far for me to hear what they’re saying, but it doesn’t seem like they’re arguing. Rather, Captain Feather is nodding repeatedly at what Ralgrermn is saying.

This is really going to be trouble.

I only decided to wait for my potential pursuers inside the fortress so that their movements would be limited by their need to avoid the guards, and because the qi radiating from so many people so close together would blur my trail and make it more difficult for any tracker to find me. Under those circumstances, I should have been able to slowly take my pursuers out of the picture one by one and go on to the next fortress with no one following in my footsteps.

But if the guards actually help them, if they can just search for me so openly, I find myself in the exact same situation as I would if I had stayed in Hardron Fortress. I’m back to square one, despite all my efforts.

…What did I miss?

Why do Hardron’s soldiers receive such a welcome in Rayyan Fortress? Why did Hardron send Ralgrermn himself after me? Is my crime so terrible that he needs to be involved?

I don’t get it.

What did I miss?

I look fondly upon my time on Caldera, now. There, I never worked without a proper information network. Whether it was assassinating someone or stealing someone’s identity, I had all the related intelligence long before the operation started – well, except for that last time, where I got caught and sent in the Planar Prison, of course.

Here, however, I feel like I’m moving blind. I thought I’d gotten an adequate grasp of the situation, but apparently, the scraps of knowledge I gleaned in the year I’ve been here are far from good enough. I suddenly have a whole new appreciation for the little mice that scurried around behind the scenes and compiled all those convenient dossiers on my next target, back in the day. I always took them for granted, but now that I’m on my own, I realize the amount of effort that must have gone into making those dossiers.

I sigh quietly.

Ralgrermn and Captain Feather have finished their discussion, and they’re moving up the street in my direction. Maybe they’re heading for the Lord’s castle?

As they pass beneath the second-floor window I’m peering through, one of the oni glances up and makes eye contact with me. I glare at her like the old shrew I’m supposed to be, but the oni doesn’t seem to be in the mood for a staring contest and looks away immediately.

I keep watching them, examining their equipment, their weapons, their gait, their postures, their gestures, trying to find any clue that might tell me what kind of fighting styles they prefer and what runes they possess and how best I could counteract their attacks and kill them all.

Ralgrermn, I already know. As for the others, the three oni, I think I could kill, if I paid the price. The ettin is more of a problem, however. An ettin’s natural brute strength is even greater than a werewolf’s, and they’re so massive that poison needs to be administered in large quantities to have any effect on them. I can produce quite a bit of poison, even with the limited amount of qi available to me as a 4th-rank warrior, but I obviously can’t get too close to him or he’ll rip me apart – I’m not arrogant enough to think I can beat an ettin in close combat – so the poison will probably need to be airborne. If we’re outside at the time and there is a bit of wind, the poison will dissipate fast, so I’ll need to increase the output and keep up the spell for longer, which means spending more qi. A lot more.

And, of course, he and his four comrades won’t stand still and let me do that unimpeded.

Troublesome.

Troublesome, troublesome, troublesome.

In any case, one thing is certain.

I can’t stay in this fortress any longer.

While my disguise is still effective, I’ll go purchase the last of the supplies I need. I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon preparing. Then, tonight, I’ll leave this place and cut through the wilderness to try and reach Jodene Fortress, despite all probabilities of abject failure.

Because I’d rather take my chance against the demons than against Ralgrermn and his little friends.

Of course, losing myself in the wilderness probably won’t prevent my pursuers from finding me, but I don’t see what else I could do. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, here. I can only hope I’ll find an advantageous battlefield before they can catch up to me.

Maybe some kind of poisonous swamp?

I suppose I’ve got no choice but to leave it up to my luck.

I stop gazing out the window and turn back to my drink. This time, I don’t need to put up an act for my bad mood to show on my face.

I wait a few minutes, enough for Captain Feather to lead Ralgrermn’s team away, then pay for the drinks and leave the bar.

Night.

I’m back in my default appearance – which is just about the only thing I feel good about, tonight – and walking between the trees, alert for any signs of movement around me.

Since I’ve somewhat abused my powers for the past few weeks, I most likely won’t be able to perform any comprehensive shapeshifting for a while, but small things, like reducing the heat my body gives off or changing my smell to that of earth and wood and grass, are still within my reach, so that should at least diminish the probability of me inadvertently catching a demon’s attention.

I’m also casting concealment magic as heavily as I can, in a probably futile attempt to make Ralgrermn’s task of finding me even a tad more difficult.

I’ll keep hurrying along for a few more hours, then I’ll try to find a safe place where I can sleep a bit.

It’s already been two days since I left Rayyan Fortress.

No sign of my pursuers.

Maybe they weren’t even there for me, and I panicked by myself for nothing?

Heh.

Right.

I’ve gone far beyond the range of any ranger patrol, now. I’d almost say I’m in unknown territory.

What worries me a little is that, since the maps I’ve obtained of the Planar Prison are quite sketchy, I might be off course by quite a few kilometers and not even notice it.

But in the end, I do know the general direction I’m supposed to be heading for. At the worst, I can just use the sun to direct myself, and eventually, I should hit upon a road that I’ll be able to follow to my destination.

Well, I probably won’t reach that far, but a woman can dream.

There were a few close shaves where I nearly stumbled upon herds of demons during the last two days, but overall, I’m quite satisfied with the progress I’ve made, especially over terrain as rough as this one – I’ve specifically gone through places where bringing a horse would be more of a detriment than an advantage, in consideration for my pursuers; that slowed me down a bit, but it should slow them down even more.

Still, the tension as I wait for my enemy to suddenly crash out of the bushes around me is almost palpable.

If I wasn’t someone who’s spent most of my life hidden among people who very much want to kill me and made polite conversation with them while they thought I was someone else, my nerves would probably have snapped already, and I’d be huddled in the corner of a dark cave, sobbing to myself.

But, as it is, this tension is something… familiar. Almost pleasant, really.

Almost makes me remember the good old days…

Like that time when I met the God Emperor’s daughter, Milla, during one of my missions. The mission itself was completely unrelated to her, but my superiors would probably have applauded if I’d taken that opportunity to kill such an important target, even if it jeopardized the rest of my work. But I never told anyone I’d seen her. Instead, we spent a few very pleasant nights in each other’s company – under my real face and name, no less – then went on our respective ways. It left a bitter taste in my mouth when I heard, a few years later, that she had since then gotten married to some random idiot noble.

Still, I’m glad no one ever found out about that particular episode, or the God Emperor would definitely have killed me on the spot when he captured me, instead of exiling me to this Planar Prison.

While I’m chuckling to myself in recollection, the forest I’m crossing makes place to a vast, barren, empty plain.

I only take a few steps over it before the veil of nostalgia covering my eyes is torn apart by an arrow suddenly flashing through the air and passing just a few centimeters in front of me, almost invisible in the evening’s twilight. The arrow’s power is such that, when it strikes the ground, it blows a crater into it that sends me reeling back a few steps.

I blink and stare dumbly at the crater for a second or two.

Then, before the next shot can come, I dive back into the forest, rolling on the ground until I’m sheltered behind a tree. Cold sweat flows down my back as I realize how close I came to dying.

One of the oni hunting for me had a bow, if I recall correctly.

But still, what an amateurish mistake. She was too hasty. She should have let me go on for 100 meters more, so that I wouldn’t be able to retreat back into the forest. That way, even if she missed her first shot, she’d have time for a few others.

Or perhaps, the goal isn’t to kill me, but to prevent me from going forward, to make me lose time so that her comrades coming from behind can catch up to me?

Without waiting to confirm either way, I quickly stand up and bolt deeper into the forest and the cover of the boughs. Perhaps two seconds after my departure, another arrow pierces the tree I’d rolled behind and accurately hits the ground where I’d been lying. Both explode under the impact, one after the other, sending the former toppling ponderously with the sound of splintering bark and cracking branches, while the latter erupts in a shower of earth and soil that patter everywhere around me as I stumble away.

…Woah. That archer may be an amateur, but she certainly has raw power.

There won’t be much left of me if I get hit by an arrow like that. I’m actually a bit surprised I wasn’t injured by the air stream, when the arrow flew by just in front of me earlier.

When I’m deep enough into the forest that I’m confident the archer can’t see me anymore, I change direction, heading toward her – because my pursuers will most likely expect me to run away from her, and I like to surprise people like that.

I didn’t have time to check her exact position before I scampered back behind cover, but judging from the delay between the two shots, she should be quite some distance away.

I should try to find her and say hello.

Night has fallen completely by now, but the stars are bright enough that I won’t break my ankles in any pothole.

A good news is that heading in an unexpected direction seems to have had at least some effect. My pursuers still haven’t caught up to me, even now.

Of course, with Ralgrermn in their team, things won’t stay this way.

It’s clear he can’t keep up his tracking magic at all times, or I would have already been caught a long time ago, but once he realizes they’re going in the wrong direction, he’ll definitely cast it and correct their course.

While I still have time, I need to take care of that archer.

Things are going to be difficult enough without constantly needing to worry about an arrow blowing my head off.

I’ve already found the spot she shot from earlier, but as expected, by the time I arrived, she’d already moved. She left little trace of her passage, but fortunately enough, I happen to be an asmodian. Hunting her down is as simple as increasing my olfactory acuity and following her smell.

Most people don’t realize that shapeshifting can be used like that, too.

Well, not like there are many of us around to teach them about it…

The oni’s smell is getting thicker.

Not far now…

I slow down, careful not to break any dry branches when I walk or anything stupid like that.

And there she is, her back to me, crouching on an escarpment, gazing down at the forest below. She’s searching for me, her bow firmly in hand, arrow nocked and ready. I wonder for a moment if she can even see that far in the darkness, but I don’t plan to ask her and make sure.

Should I get up close and use a knife? Or play it careful and just throw –

“Finn! Behind you!”

A shout resounds from off to my side, breaking the night’s silence, in a voice so raspy and grating I have absolutely no doubt its owner must have been fed on gravel and ground glass since they were a child.

All right, then. Thanks for making the decision for me.

I don’t even take a glance and see who that voice belongs to.

I heft the small glass sphere I’ve been holding in my hand and throw it at her.

“Stop!” the same grinding voice screams at me.

I wish I could. Truly. But it’s out of my hands – literally.

Before Finn can spin around and aim her bow at me, the small sphere crashes against her flank and shatters, letting the two fluids housed within, which had so far been contained in separate compartments, suddenly mix together, to explosive results.

An enormous flame leaps up and engulfs Finn, completely swallowing her silhouette. A horrendous scream, something that I can’t even recognize as coming from a person’s throat, splits the air, drowning even the roar of the fire.

Incendiary grenades.

Good stuff.

Even high-rank warriors won’t enjoy getting hit by those, let alone that little archer. She’s, what, 5th-rank at most?

I don’t watch her die. I turn toward the voice from earlier, just in time to see a mountain of black fur and yellowish fangs rush at me, claws flashing.

Ralgrermn.

I frantically retreat behind a tree, putting the trunk between us, only for his strike to simply smash straight through it. The obstruction dampens the impact a little, but his palm still slams into my chest like a battering ram, sending me flying back a good 20 meters, not too far from Finn.

“Gah–!”

I think a few of my ribs just broke.

It hurts a bit, but I have it better than Finn, overall, so I can’t complain.

I slowly roll to a stop, face down, a few trails of saliva and blood linking my mouth to the dead leaves covering the ground. I prop myself up on my elbow and reach behind my back with my other hand.

I look up. Ralgrermn is coming for the death-blow, his eyes bloodshot and angry.

When he’s close enough, I throw the second grenade at him. His pupils shrink when he sees it arc through the air in his direction, but his reflexes are good. He dodges just before it can hit him, diving to the side more nimbly than anything as massive as he is should be able.

The grenade breaks open against a hanging branch, spreading tongues of liquid fire in a wide radius, lighting up the night with their bright glare, casting shadows on the werewolf that somehow make him look even bigger and scarier.

I struggle to my feet, spitting out the blood in my mouth and wiping my lips against the sleeve of my coat. I reach behind my back again and grasp my last grenade.

These things are very convenient, but making them is quite an expensive and delicate process, so I don’t have many of them.

Also, they tend to explode at the slightest shock. I’m somewhat surprised the two I had left didn’t break when Ralgrermn struck me. That would have been less than fun.

I take a glance at Finn, lying unresponsive on the ground next to me, but even though the fire covering her still burns, she’s already dead. Even if she wasn’t, I doubt she would have the time to bother about me.

Ralgrermn is staying perhaps a dozen meters away from me, staring at me, his fur a black slightly darker than the night around him, making him look like a huge, indistinct shadow blending in with his surroundings. Even his armor has been dyed a matte black, not even the light of the fires reflecting against it.

The hunter, in all his glory.

“I am going to kill you, woman,” he says suddenly, his voice calm now, but seemingly even deeper than before, like rumbling boulders. His elocution is clear and precise, completely at odds with his rough and wild appearance.

“Probably, yes,” I reply, because that’s the truth. “Mind if I ask you a question?”

“Go ahead.”

“Why are you here?”

Ralgrermn tilts his head. “Are you pretending innocence? Your guilt is without question. Even if it weren’t, my orders are clear.”

“No, no. What I mean is, is this matter so important that you need to come here yourself? I was quite surprised when I saw you in Rayyan Fortress, let me tell you.”

“Ah, yes. I see where the confusion might be coming from.”

“Right. Why is killing Preston such a grave matter?”

“It’s not exactly ‘grave’, but… Preston is the younger brother of Lord Hardron’s 17th lover. Not a very well-liked younger brother, mind you, but his sister took it as an affront to her dignity that you killed a member of her family. She prevailed upon the Lord’s affections to send me after you.”

…Well, I’ll be damned.

Unbelievable.

No less than seventeen lovers?! At the same time?!

I’m jealous.

Why don’t I have a harem of beautiful women at my beck and call, too?

In any case, mystery solved. I should probably try to leave, instead of making conversation.

I take a step backward, the heels of my boots hanging over the edge of the escarpment Finn was occupying earlier. My steps dislodge a few small stones, which fall down the sheer drop, sometimes clattering against the sharp rocks jutting from the cliff face.

“I wouldn’t recommend that. It’s just going to make things more painful for both of us – but especially for you.”

“Really?” I ask, taking a look over my shoulder. I have to admit it does look very high.

“Really. You do realize that, if you can make that jump, so can I, right? I’m afraid you’re not going to escape that way. What you will most certainly achieve, however, is breaking both your legs.”

“Well, when you’re out of good ideas, you start giving the bad ones a try.”

Without bothering to hear his reply, I throw the last incendiary grenade at my feet and jump right before it explodes, aiming my fall for the highest tree I can find, in the hope that its branches will cushion my fall at least a little.

I’m not sure it’s going to work very well, to be honest – rare are the days when I link the word ‘cushion’ with things made out of solid wood – but I am a 4th-rank warrior, after all. The most I ever displayed in Hardron Fortress was 3rd-rank strength, so I’m going to assume that Ralgrermn is estimating me and my survival chances based on erroneous information.

While I fall and the tree I aimed for gets rapidly closer, I slide my travel bag from my back to my belly – now that’s more like an actual cushion; I’m glad I thought of it – just in time for me to crash into the topest branches, barely slowing down. My arms are up in front of my face to protect it, so I don’t take much damage from that.

And then, I reach the first really thick branch, which does a much better job of slowing my descent, but has the unfortunate side effect of seemingly breaking every intact rib in my chest and quite a few other things besides.

The next few instants are a blur of motion and impacts.

I have trouble keeping track of which side is up and which side is down.

Until I finally slam heavily into the ground.

“Oooooh… That one hurt…”

That was very high indeed.

But I’m still alive, with both my legs roughly intact.

I enjoy proving people wrong.

I open my eyes, gazing at the sky through the gaps between the trees.

And a second later, a deep howl resounds through the night as a huge fireball suddenly dives down from the escarpment I just left, trailing streams of fire in its wake like a comet.

I feel a smile creep up my lips.

I hear there are some tribes whose members have to walk a path covered in blazing coals, as some sort of adulthood ritual. Ralgrermn probably thought he would easily be able to do something similar and burst through the flames of my last grenade to follow me down.

Unfortunately, the liquid contained in my bombs is less forgiving than coal.

It sticks to the skin. And it burns very, very hot.

It probably won’t kill Ralgrermn, but it should slow him down.

In the meantime, I’ll try to catch my breath.

I’ve been limping along in a random direction for a few minutes now, one of my hands pressed against my chest in a futile attempt to reduce the pain.

Ralgrermn, two oni, one ettin.

Not good.

Ralgrermn is injured, but he can still kill me easily.

Where on earth can I find some way to escape this…

Hmm?

Well, now…

I suppose, sometimes, you just have to ask.

I’ve reached a small clearing, in the center of which a platform rises out of the ground.

I recognize this. I went through something similar a year ago, to arrive in the Planar Prison.

A teleport formation.

How nice.

Except…

Am I going to have enough time to channel enough of my qi into it to activate it? From my last experience with such a device, I remember that those things are quite greedy in energy. It only took all the apostles who were there at the time a minute or two to do it, but I’m alone. It’ll take much longer for me than it did for them.

Well, it’s not like I have a better option.

I clamber onto the platform and start sending all my qi into it.

Hopefully, this teleport formations will lead me somewhere nice. With a breathable atmosphere.

Come on, come on.

Is this thing even working?

Maybe it’s broken, and I’m wasting my time?

“Hey, there! What are you doing?”

My body stiffens uncontrollably at the voice abruptly coming from behind me. This voice sounds like the direct opposite of Ralgrermn’s, fluty and high.

I slowly turn around, careful not to make any sudden moves.

The ettin is here, with a stupid smile on his face, watching me. And it looks even bigger and nastier from up close. It can probably break me in half with one hand. His voice sure doesn’t fit him at all.

“I’m ju–”

Before I can get more than two words out, the ettin slaps his open palm against the air in my direction, and a wall of wind slams into me, blowing me out of the platform and onto the ground of the clearing, where I fall onto my back, driving the air out of my lungs.

“Ugh…”

Great…

An ettin with wind magic.

Things are just getting better and better, aren’t they?

Also, my ribs really hurt. Please stop it with the violent impacts.

While I lie on the ground, dazed, one of the oni comes into my sight from behind the bulk of the ettin. That guy doesn’t have a stupid smile on his face, though. Rather, he’s glaring at me, eyes full of hate.

Oh?

Might you be in some way related to that woman called Finn, perhaps? Her lover? Her brother? Both at the same time?

The oni jumps onto the platform, barely even giving it a cursory glance, like he’s used to seeing mysterious teleport formation popping up everywhere he goes, and looks down at me with contempt. “Sir Ralgrermn wants to kill you himself, whore, so you’ll live a few minutes longer. I advise you to behave, because my orders are to catch you alive. Nothing was said about you keeping all your limbs.”

…Yes, that’s definitely the sound of a personal grievance.

But fine. I happen to be quite attached to my limbs, so I’ll obey.

I promise you I will not move from here. I won’t even try to get up.

I hope you won’t move, either, so that the poison I’m spreading through the air right now will reach you more quickly. I’m sure you’ll like it. It’s a custom compound, you see. Quite effective against oni. It worked pretty well against Preston’s 4th-rank bodyguards, so I have high hopes for you, too, even if you’re a rank above that.

As it happens, however, instead of a few minutes, only a few seconds pass before Ralgrermn, accompanied by the last oni, bursts into the clearing, bringing with him the scent of charred meat.

His eyes lock onto me, completely ignoring everything else, anger and rage blazing inside them.

…Well, damn it.

Looks like this is it for me.

“You… I was going to kill you quickly, but I changed my mind.” He slowly approaches me, limping with each step, his feet raw and bloody. “I am going to slowly rip you apart, woman. You will –”

His speech is suddenly interrupted when the symbols covering the teleport formation start shining, their light bright and obvious in the night. Ralgrermn stops speaking, his gaze turning to the formation. His eyes widen in surprise, like he hadn’t even noticed it beforehand, and he waves his hand to the oni standing on top of it.

“Elster! Get down! Quick! Get down from that thing!”

The oni called Elster pales as he suddenly realizes the danger, and he rushes toward the edge of the teleport formation, but he’s just a moment too late.

Just as his body crosses the edge, the ancient Eashiri characters flash brightly.

12 comments

    1. Yeah. I’ve been raised on shounen manga, so I hold the fanatic belief that each chapter must end with a hook to the next. Preferably, it should involve a zoom-in on the character’s face as they ask a dramatic question that ends with the punctuation “?!” and the sound effect “doo-doo-DOOOM”.

  1. So, pretty sure that’s Akasha making a dramatic appearance. It’s not looking all too good for the werewolf and co, since they will presumably attack her reflexively.
    What’s the deal with being inside the teleport zone when it goes off though? Just a messy demise as bits of you go elsewhere? A messy demise as bits of incoming stuff suddenly overlap your existence in this plane?

    1. My First thoughts were if you stand in a Teleport circle when it goes off, the new Mana/QI/Whatever that appears can Widely Effect and harm any Foreign body in its reach.

  2. I like that next chapter is titled: “S 005: Apostle? Devil?” I think a good OP fight is always funnier when observed by someone who possess common sense. From the MC’s PoV, it’s often either a detailed explanation of the battle from a technical standpoint and commenting on the opponents’ weakness, or just some funny bits about how those people who looked “so strong” are just flies to be swatted. Admittedly, the latter is also true from an outsider PoV, but the “OMG WTF” factor is a great plus.

  3. doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM doo-doo-DOOOM

  4. I want Sif to die so bad… She still hasn’t done anything redeemable or relatable to make us like her, ya know?
    Oh well, maybe Akasha can cheer me up.

    1. I basically just hope she isn’t able to manipulate Akasha. The spider is a better companion, and Akasha isn’t socialized enough to be ready for the sort of relationship I suspect Sif would try to initiate.

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