As the red-haired man takes a step toward me, his fingers coil around the hilt of his sword, and a powerful qi fluctuation explodes out from within him. Gusts blow dust off the ground into eddies, and flags, hung atop poles at the corners of the stocky towers on each side of the city gates, snap in the wind.
I think I’m supposed to be intimidated.
It’s not working so well, though.
Probably because this idiot is vastly inferior to me, in sheer power if nothing else. But I doubt it would work any better even if I were the weaker one. This sort of thing never had the slightest effect on any demon I’ve ever fought in the Planar Tower. No matter how much I tried to threaten them or coerce them to keep their distance, they still always rushed at me fearlessly, jaws snapping at my face. And while I may not be as mindlessly aggressive as those beasts, I am, after all, still a demon. The only fear I remember experiencing is that of actually dying. If that memory hadn’t been carved indelibly into my mind, I probably would have already long forgotten what fear even is.
Humans seem a bit more receptive to this little trick, though.
I suppose I could do that. Let them experience the difference between us and frighten them off.
But I won’t.
I don’t intend to kill everyone in this city, because that would be excessive, and I’m not an indiscriminate monster – usually. But neither do I intend to spare the lives of any of those standing in my way right now.
Indeed, I want to kill them all.
…I’m in a rather bad mood, today.
And I’m not the only one.
Judging by the look on the red-haired man’s face, his day isn’t going any better than mine. In fact, he looks so belligerent he might try to kill me even after knowing I’m stronger than him.
That’s the feeling I get when I look at him, at least.
A hesitant voice comes from behind me. When I look over my shoulder, the elf woman, her face pale and drawn, is clinging onto her daughter, who has buried her head into her mother’s chest and doesn’t seem inclined to look at the world around her.
…That kid would definitely have died in the Planar Tower.
Was I like this, too, at first?
I can’t remember.
Well, nothing should happen to her. Even though her mother looks scared, she ought to be more confident in her own power. She doesn’t seem to have any offensive abilities, but her shield really is pretty good. It should be able to hold up for at least a while against the attacks of anyone here besides myself.
Just in case, though…
With a thought and a burst of magic, a barrier of ice encircles the two elves and grows up and over them, curving and linking above their heads to form a protective dome. At the same time, it pushes into the earth beneath their feet to form a complete sphere and prevent anyone from digging through the ground to reach them.
[…Keep your own shield up.]
With a last warning before the sphere closes around them, I’m satisfied with my work and am about to turn back to the red-haired man, when…
A shift in the wind behind me.
The whistle of a blade slicing through the air.
Instinct – honed by centuries of experience – tells me where the blade is, and where it’s aiming. I lean to the side and twist my body out of the sword’s trajectory. A strange silver glow pulses around the metal, leaving a buzzing sound in its wake.
I reflexively kick out at the body that should be holding the other end of that sword, but the moment my leg should have made contact, the blade, the silver light, and the buzzing sound all disappear, as if turning into smoke and dissipating in the wind, and my claws cut only air.
I spin around to expend the unused momentum of my kick, and when I face the red-haired man again, I find him in the exact same spot as earlier. His fingers are still clenched around the hilt of his sword, but the sword itself is still in its sheath, and I’m pretty sure I would have heard if he’d drawn it.
He’s looking at me with faint surprise on his face.
“You really have good reflexes, kid. Still, don’t you think taking your attention away from the fight is looking down on me a bit too much? You won’t be so lucky next time.”
“Ignoring me, huh? Well, that’ll stop soon enough.” A dangerous smile appears on his lips, and his shoulders start shaking. For a moment, I wonder what’s going on with him, until he starts laughing loudly. “Hahahaha! I’m glad! I’m truly glad! That there are still fools like you who dare to cause trouble in my city! A devil, right? Hahaha!”
With a violent movement, the red-haired man finally draws his sword, and a silver arc of light shoots out of its tip and leaves a long, deep cut into the ground, stopping just a few centimeters in front of my toes. The faces of the soldiers standing in rows behind him flush with excitement at this display.
Some sort of artifact, clearly, but it doesn’t look particularly powerful. I doubt it could cut through me. And I likely won’t have to face the same kind of danger I did when Haris’s gloves exploded, even if it too goes out of control.
Feeling the reaction of his soldiers behind him, the red-haired man’s smile widens, showing his teeth. “You know, for some reason, some of my enemies have taken to calling me Yarang, the Human Devil. But I just can’t agree with that epithet. You devils live for the fight. You revel in it. You bask in bloodshed. And I heartily approve. There is nothing quite like a good battle, is there?” His gaze suddenly turns disdainful. “Except, you pieces of trash are just too damn weak. The only reason you’re so notorious is that you’re very good at killing weaklings. But what point is there in slaughtering some worthless peasants? In the face of a true powerhouse, you’re as helpless as little lambs. It’s insulting to compare a man such as me to the likes of you.” Yarang spins his sword around his fingers as he looks at me, tilting his head. “So I’m not holding on to too much hope for this. But still, try not to disappoint me too much. The last devil I saw certainly did. His strength just didn’t match up to his bluster, and I ended up ripping all his limbs off and feeding him to my dogs in just a few moves.”
Well, all right.
That’s funny, actually. I also had a limb ripped off. And I was also fed to some dogs – dog demons, rather. I’d almost think this idiot read my autobiography and decided to make up a story along its lines to impress me.
Still, I’m not a devil.
And I don’t ‘live for the fight’ or anything of the sort.
At least, I don’t think so.
Killing is relaxing. The idea that a threat has been properly exterminated and won’t be coming back to jeopardize my life. But fighting, in and of itself, isn’t.
I did enough quiet introspection while I stayed with the Springfields. And now is hardly the time for it. The two elves behind me might freeze to death if we don’t hurry up.
So let’s start with the violence, already.
The ground shatters underneath my feet as I rush toward Yarang. In response, he stoops down, and the moment I enter his range, he slashes, in one single, lightning-fast motion, letting out a sharp yell of exertion at the same time.
The sword traces a thin silver line through the air, but that line doesn’t come anywhere close to touching me. His movement is just too predictable. I jump over Yarang’s sword – actually, I jump over Yarang himself. When I pass over his head, my leg snaps out, and my claws pierce into his skull.
Once again, my kick fails to hit anything. Yarang’s body dissipates like smoke right before I touch him. I’m forced to flip through the air a few times to reduce the impact of the failed attack on my balance, and I land in the middle of the rows of armored soldiers who were standing behind Yarang.
All their spears are held up high, like a forest, ready to meet my descent. I twist my body to slip through the sharp points, pushing away those I can’t avoid with my left hand – it splits into several branches to reach multiple spears at once.
When I land amidst the soldiers, I’m at a distinct advantage. Their spears are too long to properly strike me in such close quarters, and it’ll take them time to switch to the short swords at their hips. To make it even harder on them, I drop down on all fours and stay close to the ground, crawling around and slipping between their legs like an eel through water.
“Kill the bitch!”
“She’s over there! Give me some space!”
Each time I pass near a soldier, the ice flowing over my body sharply bursts out, piercing and skewering them right through their armor, leaving a trail of dead bodies in my path. They scream and exclaim and scramble to try and strike me down, to pin me to the ground long enough to kill me. Their teamwork and coordination is actually pretty good – I think – but I am fast, and while standing in such precise, tight rows would certainly be appropriate to deal with a charging enemy, now that I’m inside their formation, the soldiers are too close to each other to use their weapons efficiently or to cast magic at me without affecting their nearby allies. Their situation isn’t improved by the chaos I cause in their ranks. Ice isn’t my only weapon, and I certainly feel no compunction in tearing through every leg I see with my horn and claws, or in simply grabbing the soldiers by the ankle and swinging them into those standing next to them. There are a few close calls, when a sword or two cut a few strands of fur off my tail, but in the end, none of the soldiers manage to injure me.
Yet, even as more and more humans fall around me, I don’t allow myself to grow complacent. Yarang himself hasn’t reappeared, but I’m pretty sure someone who was speaking so confidently just a minute ago wouldn’t just scamper off after one or two attacks from me – failed attacks, at that.
I’m proven correct just a few moments later, when a rain of silver arcs of light suddenly falls upon the chaotic and disordered rows of soldiers. In front of those merciless lights, armor is useless. Limbs fly off, heads roll, bodies fall to the ground and dye the earth red with their blood. The attack has too wide a scope for me to evade it, so I also find myself in the middle of it. A pyramid of ice rises up around me to block some of the falling arcs of light, but I quickly give up on that idea and let the ice I just conjured flow back into my left arm and fuse with it. I could definitely reinforce the pyramid with a constant stream of blood-qi, but I don’t know how long Yarang can keep up this spell, and I don’t want to waste my energy. I quickly store the bloodstained maid outfit I’m wearing into my space ring and simply let the hail of silver lights rain down onto my body.
It’s a little bit painful, but it only deals superficial damage, so it doesn’t really bother me. I just need to be careful not to let my tail get hit too much.
The soldiers, on the other hand, aren’t faring quite so well.
All of them are dead, now. Which really makes my work easier, but I want to ask why Yarang even bothered to bring them here. Just so they could die? Is he using their death to fuel some sort of ritual? I read about things like that in Miroslav’s books. Or did he really expect that they would be useful against me? But in that case, he certainly gave up on them and disposed of them rather quickly. It seems like a waste.
Tracing back the trajectory of that silver hail, I find two origin points. Two Yarangs are standing on top of the towers on both sides of the city gates, waving identical swords in the air like madmen and spewing silver energy waves in my direction. A few crossbowmen are standing next to them. These men didn’t dare to shoot at me earlier, considering I was tightly surrounded by their comrades, but now that I’m the only living thing standing down here, they’re most likely going to start shooting bolts at me any minute.
So I prevent them.
A cluster of ice spikes, sharp ends pointing down, appear over each tower. Distance to me is a little less than 60 meters, still well within range of my magic. Yarang notices my spellcasting, and from what I can see, the sight seems to rattle him – perhaps his own ability to cast powerful spells stems more from his artifact’s power than from his own skill?
Yarang doesn’t even bother to warn the crossbowmen before his two bodies once more disappear, bringing an end to the rain of silver lights.
Just an instant later, it’s instead a rain of ice that falls upon this part of the city.
Well, no. Actually, it doesn’t fall on the city.
It only falls on the crossbowmen themselves.
Wide-area spells are all well and good, but they’re rarely the best solution to any given problem. Precisely targeted attacks are usually more efficient.
The crossbowmen have wide and tall shields on their backs, and they quickly hunker down below them to weather the storm, but the spikes I created are much heavier than they look, and with a touch of telekinesis to help them along, it isn’t too hard for them to reap the lives I want them to.
Most enemies have been dealt with.
Only Yarang is left.
His ability to appear and disappear at will in multiple places at once should be some sort of projection magic. The way he uses it is interesting, immediately fading away after each single attack. Consumption must be higher than if he maintained his projections for a long time instead of quickly discarding them, but I suppose someone who hasn’t faced this kind of opponent before would be rattled by this seeming invincibility.
Unfortunately for him, I’ve fought a few varieties of demons with similar powers in the Planar Tower, and I’m perfectly aware that such magic isn’t omnipotent. Yarang’s own does seem to be a high-level variant, seeing as my senses actually couldn’t spot the subterfuge at once and how each projection can use the power of his artifact, but in the end, magic is always subject to limitations.
For one, range.
I’m not sure whether it’s impressive or pitiful – I don’t have much basis for comparison – but my maximum spellcasting range is something around 270 meters – it went up to a full kilometer during the incident in Fushia City, but it dropped back down afterward, though it still increased a bit compared to what it was beforehand. Judging from Yarang’s reaction when he saw me cast a spell only 60 meters away, his shouldn’t even be that high.
Which means his main body is at most 60 meters away from here. If I consider the places where he’s already appeared since the start of the fight, I can narrow it down even more.
Although, if he’s making use of his artifact as a crutch to forcefully increase his basic abilities, it might invalidate my calculations.
And there are quite a few hiding spots, in this city. I can neither hear nor smell him. I can’t detect any qi fluctuations coming from anywhere, either.
Just after advising against using them, am I going to be forced to cast a wide-area destruction spell?
It’s not as if I don’t have any of them, but…
I do have enormous reserves of blood-qi, now.
I can afford to be a little stupid.
<Always stupid. Anyway.>
[…That’s really mean. Well, why don’t you try it? Do you know where Yarang is?]
<Trace. Spell. Real body.>
[…I tried. It’s not working. To my senses, each projection feels like an actual, self-contained person. There is nothing to trace.]
<Blind. Fool. Weakling. Idiot.>
[…All right. Spit it out, already. Where is his real body?]
This spider is really getting more and more arrogant. If her body wasn’t indestructible, I’d definitely beat her up.
Out of the corner of my eye, a dilapidated building, with nothing to set it apart from the others around it, suddenly flashes red. Soon, the light gathers to form a red silhouette, outlined through the house’s stone wall. The silhouette is sitting cross-legged, a sword held sideways on its lap, its hands flashing through a variety of hand signs. Red fumes, which I interpret as qi, constantly emanate from the silhouette, but those fumes never spread beyond a meter from it, as if blocked by some sort of invisible barrier.
…Was Yarang hiding here from the start?
He may act like a muscle-brained fool who only cares about fighting, but he’s unexpectedly quite crafty. He’s more like an assassin than a warrior. And what was all that about ‘living for the fight’ and everything? Was he just trying to trick me?
His techniques are quite arcane and intricate, too.
More than mine?
I feel a bit weird, now.
Am I actually the violent barbarian who doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘subtlety’?
<Yes. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.>
I’m a god, though! That has to count for something!
Well, it’s true I didn’t become a god through painstaking effort and cultivation, but…
Still, even if Sanae hadn’t told me where he’s hiding, this house of his is in the scope of the destruction I was about to wreak on this city, so he would have died either way.
In the end, only the results matter.
My magic may be simple, but it’s efficient. It works. It makes me survive.
As Yarang’s silhouette continues his hand signs and two more silhouettes quickly start coagulating next to the first, a spear – a simple, efficient, working, making-me-survive spear – forms in my hand.
The spear flies and punches straight through the house’s stone wall. I see Yarang’s silhouette’s head snap up and its hands freeze in shock. But he’s sitting cross-legged, making it difficult for him to dodge in time.
In the end, Yarang the Human Devil dies easily.
A single thrown spear is enough to end his life. And the fight.
The three red silhouettes outlined on the stone wall gradually fade into nothingness. With Yarang’s death, his isolation spell also breaks, and I can finally detect the fluctuations from the remnants of his qi, confirming indubitably that he indeed was hiding there.
[…You can interfere with my senses, now?]
Those red lights outlining my targets were unexpected. It’s the first time Sanae can alter what my eyes are actually seeing. In the past, she would have simply shown me a mental simulation of where I should be aiming.
Did something happen to the soul link between us, at that time?
Why do strange, hidden consequences keep appearing one after another, just because I got a bit too angry and lost control of myself for a short while?
This is really inexplicable.
It’s definitely the fault of that damn second rune, somehow. This thing is definitely bad news. I was definitely correct to have never activated it.
[………I’m sure they’re fine.]
Turning away from the battlefield filled with rubble and severed limbs and pools of blood and cooling corpses, I hurry toward the ice sphere still sitting there, a bit further up the street, sadly forgotten despite my supposedly perfect memory.