I leap toward the god with the paper talismans. My fist, supplemented with telekinesis, is about to snap forward, but before I can attack, an arrow shoots straight toward me from the airborne god with the bow, aiming to pierce through the top of my skull.
Fortunately, I was expecting it. Just because I’m attacking one of my opponents doesn’t mean I’ll disregard anything that happens around me. I’m used to fighting against a numerically superior foe.
A fraction of my left arm explodes, and I use the force of the detonation to spin to the right, my body almost coiling in mid-air around the arrow which flashes past me harmlessly. Still, this arrow successfully countered my rush for the god with the talismans. I’m forced to land, where I find myself on the defensive when a silhouette flashes near me in the corner of my sight. I raise my right arm just in time to block the attack coming for my face.
This guy is really fast…
A dagger’s blade slides over my arm, producing a shower of sparks and a screech of tortured metal – the metal being tortured is that of the dagger, of course, not the adamantine of my limb. My arm twists around the dagger, locking it in the crook of my elbow while my clawed fingers strive to clamp around the god’s wrist. Unfortunately, he reacts in time. He decisively abandons his dagger and retreats out of my reach.
In the meantime, my left hand is pointed at my other two opponents. My left arm splits down the middle, each strand attacking one god. The strands of ice move almost like snakes, rearing up and circling around, then flashing forward to suddenly attack, trying to take my enemies by surprise. Sometimes, the strands divide again into multiple branches, thinner than the trunk they came from but still wickedly sharp and pointy. These attacks aren’t enough to kill these two gods – in fact, they’re repulsed or avoided rather easily – but they’re still dangerous enough that my enemies have to devote their attention to them, rather than ambush me while I’m not looking.
And as for the 2nd-rank god in the back, he’s still not moving.
He stands there, aloof, as if he disdains even looking at us little ants.
The audience surrounding us isn’t moving, either.
What a disappointment…
I was hoping for a great battle, but perhaps separating that werewolf’s head from his shoulders has daunted them. There is still tension in the air, but they’re hesitating. I feel wary gazes following my every action.
I let out a small, helpless sigh.
Do I have to force their hand?
A stream of ice flows through my meridians. Thousands of tiny, glittering arrowheads appear around me. They start spinning like drills, fast enough to bore through metal – and more to the point, flesh. Even for me, controlling so many objects through telekinesis is quite an exercise. It doesn’t actually require a lot of soul force, since the arrowheads don’t have much mass at all, but it’s difficult to split my attention into thousands of threads.
I manage, though.
The three gods watch me warily. It looks like they don’t dare to look down on me too much. The 2nd-rank god still looks at me like I’m an idiot he can kill any time he wants. The brat looks at me like he wants to gnaw on my bones and grind my flesh and drink my blood – perhaps he’s more like me than I thought.
And a stir finally spreads through the surrounding spectators, both humans and majin, as they see the thousands of projectiles aimed at them. Now, they should know that I don’t intend to let them off. They don’t look scared, however. All of them here are practitioners. There is no way a little bit of ice would kill them so easily, especially when I give them so much time to prepare a counter against it.
Which is why they’re all quite surprised when spinning circular saws made of ice suddenly burst out of the earth and mow them down.
It took me a few seconds to send enough ice through my feet and into the ground to form them, and even then, they’re not particularly big. But they’re sharp, which is what always matters.
The saws tear through the crowd. The frontmost ranks are cut at the waist, their upper bodies toppling to the ground amidst geysers of blood and splattering organs.
“Destroy them! Destroy them!”
The ranks standing behind have time to react, and all my saws are promptly destroyed.
Only to make way for the arrowheads I created earlier.
Neither human nor majin spectators are flurried. Their magic was already at the ready after they dealt with the circular saws, so they aim their spells again and cast. The spells are about to collide against my ice constructs when the latter suddenly vanish into white smoke. Some spells too vanish as their attentive operators realize that something’s wrong and hurriedly cancel their magic, but most simply continue on their way. And hit whatever is standing ahead. That is to say, the other side of the encirclement. Human spells strike majin, and majin spells strike humans.
And that does it.
The tension that had already covered the arena during the competition had almost reached the breaking point after I attacked the human gods. I would have thought it would go past this breaking point after I killed the werewolf, but it unexpectedly didn’t. But receiving those last attacks, first from me, then from each other, finally did it.
The angered majin who were injured by the human spells that were supposed to counter my volley of ice arrowheads cast spells right back. Not at me, but at the human side. And the humans who bled from the magic that inadvertently struck them do the same.
People die in droves.
Intense pleasure shoots through my body at this spectacle.
Humans kill majin, and majin kill humans. Every second, deadly spells reap lives all around me. The smell of blood and death is overpowering. The situation is so chaotic that I even see some humans and majin attacking people on their own side, presumably taking advantage of the confusion to resolve personal grudges.
But I’m seemingly forgotten.
I suppose a little girl, no matter how much strength she’s displayed, doesn’t make for much of an outward enemy on whom to focus. A whole crowd composed of one’s hated, long-standing foe makes for a much more attractive target.
…Well, it’s not as ideal as if everyone was trying to kill me, but it’s certainly better than the unresolved tension from earlier.
There’s still the 2nd-rank god and the brat, though…
They can’t just sit on the sidelines and watch.
I grasp the dagger I snatched from the speed god earlier, then fling it toward the 2nd-rank god’s face.
Come on, mongrel!
Try and kill me!
(Nooooo! Don’t provoke him! Are you insane?! What are you doing?!)
Despite Phineas’s cries, the dagger flies fast and true. A corona of air follows it on its way, along with a sonic boom. But the 2nd-rank god doesn’t move. When the dagger is about to embed itself into his arrogant face, he smirks, and golden ripples appear in the air in front of him. With the crack of an explosion, the dagger shatters.
Metal shrapnel flying at high velocity pelts against everyone else around. A few unlucky spectators drop to the ground, bleeding or dead. Since I was facing the 2nd-rank god and standing at the ready for a counterattack, I’m not particularly inconvenienced – I just tilt my head to the side to prevent a sharp fragment of the blade from gouging out my one good eye. Same for the brat; he was standing behind the 2nd-rank god and is thus perfectly safe. The god with the talismans, on the other hand, is almost as unlucky as the random spectators who became collateral damage. His attention was on me the whole time, absolutely confident that the 2nd-rank god would handily deal with my attack, so he’s taken by surprise when a piece of shrapnel buries itself deep into his calf.
Those people don’t work very well as a team…
I see the talisman god’s eyes widen in surprise at the sudden pain. This is far from a fatal wound, of course, but his balance wavers, and the light coming from his talismans flickers for an instant.
A branch of ice splits from my left arm and, fast as lightning, stabs into his belly. The talisman god coughs out a mouthful of blood, and his body is yanked into the air.
Tsk. How sloppy.
Seeing their comrade’s plight, the other two gods momentarily lose focus. Their gaze shakes. It doesn’t last long. They recover almost instantly, then an arrow is loosed and accurately destroys the branch of ice holding the talisman god aloft.
But it doesn’t matter.
The speed god and the arrow god didn’t lose focus for a long time when the talisman god was injured. It was truly only a flickering mistake.
But it would have been more than enough for me to kill them.
Still, I don’t take that chance.
What would be the point of that?
For once, I’m faced with a group of decent opponents. I usually see so little entertainment; it would be a shame to waste this chance.
That’s right. I don’t kill them.
Someone else does.
In that short instant where those three gods are at their most vulnerable, three black dots appear a few centimeters above their heads. The dots look almost as if three drops of ink dripped from a brush onto the canvas that is reality. But those three dots are of a black darker than any ink could possibly be; darker than a space crack, even.
A powerful qi fluctuation explodes in the sky.
The eyes of the 2nd-rank god protecting the brat suddenly widen. His face pales, and his hand rises in reflex, reaching toward his three allies.
His stentorian voice rings out like a crack of thunder, but he’s too late. The dots disappear after only a fraction of a second, but in that fraction of a second, the world twists around them. Light itself warps and is pulled off course, seeming to curve around the dots as if desperately avoiding them. If it were only this much, it wouldn’t be worth my notice. It wouldn’t be an attack; it would merely be a pretty illusion.
The attack comes in when the three human gods are pulled toward the dot above each of them.
Though ‘pulled’ might not be the right term.
The effects of that on the human body are gruesome. I stare with great interest as the talisman god dies horribly. His body ceases to resemble a human’s. First, his skull goes from roughly spherical to elliptical, then continues extending in length. It isn’t ripped off. It is drawn further and further toward the black dot, entraining the rest of him too. His neck, his shoulders, his chest all disappear into the black dot. And then, at the end of that fraction of a second, the qi fluctuation coming from the sky falters, and the dot silently pops out of existence. Strong winds blow to compensate for the air devoured by the black dot. Half of the talisman god is gone, only leaving behind a pair of legs attached to distended, deformed scraps of flesh. The stubs of bones poke out of his midsection at the cut-off point, but they’re not straight like bones should be. Neither are they broken, per se. Instead, it’s like they’re made of putty, like someone pinched one end and pulled, slowly lengthening them until the lack of material forced them to thin and taper.
The same thing happens to the speed god and the arrow god.
Three gods die to a single spell.
(Incredible,) Phineas says in a hushed, awed voice. (Were those black holes? Could this be an extreme application of conventional gravity magic? Or another rune altogether? They seemed too contained to be actual black holes, but their short lifespan and reduced effect might be due to lack of proficiency. Though would anyone be reckless enough to conjure black holes without the ability to control them perfectly? There’s no telling what kind of collateral damage might have occurred…)
I let Phineas ramble on while my smile turns into a wide, pleased grin and a shiver of pleasure and anticipation crawls up my spine.
Even I never faced attacks such as this.
Oooooooh, I’m getting excited!
I want to fight!
I want to fight whoever did this!
I want to kill them! I want them to kill me!
My hungry gaze trails upward. Above the arena, a figure floats in the sky. It’s clearly a female, but her face is concealed beneath a hood. It’s a little strange, actually. From this angle, I should be able to see her face, but shadows unnaturally cover all her features but her lips. An artifact, presumably. She must have been hiding all traces of her magic, somehow, because I didn’t sense even the slightest flicker of a qi fluctuation before the black holes appeared to kill my three opponents. Normally, that would only be possible if the spell could be cast at a moment’s notice – something impossible for magic of this magnitude. She must have been gathering her energy behind a veil for a while before throwing the best punch she could.
She only attacked the three human gods, so she was probably trying to help me.
Did ripping the head off that werewolf not make my message clear enough? I don’t want anyone’s help. I just want to kill everyone here. Helping me goes directly against my intentions, as it means there’ll be fewer people left for me to kill myself.
Well, I suppose the most interesting opponents are still standing.
My gaze bounces between the 2nd-rank god and the black hole god – there’s no way that woman isn’t a god, with that kind of power. The brat has been forgotten. Compared to the other two, he’s just not as palatable.
The 2nd-rank god finally reined in his conceit and now looks at the floating figure with a serious gaze.
Is that her?
“Young master,” he says as huge pieces of rubble from the partially destroyed arena lift off the ground and start to levitate around the Major, spinning around her faster and faster like an angry stone hurricane. “I’m afraid you’ll have to take action. I might not be able to spare any attention to protect you.”
“It’s fine. Didn’t I already say that it would be unbecoming of me to stand back and cower when our enemies are standing before me? I’ll fight too.”
He says that, but I can see his eyes dart warily around. He’s scared.
“Hmm.” The 2nd-rank god nods solemnly, his eyes still trained on the Major, and a golden light starts to radiate from his whole body. His feet slowly leave the ground as he takes flight. “Young master, I’ll leave this rabid beast to you. I’ll handle the Major.”
“I couldn’t ask for more. She and I have a score to set–”
The brat’s speech is cut off when an adamantine fist smashes into the 2nd-rank god’s body. The golden halo around him counteracts most of my strength, but the impact is still enough to blow him away. His body flies so uncontrollably fast that he draws a bloody road into the crowd battling all around us, human and majin practitioners exploding into clouds of blood mist when he crashes through them like a battering ram. He slams into the ground 300 meters away, the earth caving around him into a sizable crater as the visible shockwave from my punch rocks the entire island and sends everyone around me soaring through the air as well. A momentary hush falls over the arena, before the heat of battle infects everyone again and they scramble to resume the bloodshed.
KAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! There’s no way I’ll let my two most charming opponents kill each other off while I have to content myself with the weakest of the lot! It would be best if all three of them came at me at the same time, but the next best thing would be to fight either the Major or the 2nd-rank human god.
Killing the brat can wait.
In any case, he’s probably equipped with a dozen protective artifacts, again. Killing him will probably turn into a drawn-out, frustrating ordeal.
The 2nd-rank god bursts out of the crater like an angry sun, the golden light around him flaring brightly. He looks disheveled, now, and blood traces a red line from the corner of his mouth to his chin. A murderous glare locks onto me.
“Disgusting beast! You dare to touch me!”
Over the course of two seconds, the glow around his body gradually dims almost to nothing. Instead, his entire body turns golden, making him look like a statue cast of gold. I can feel the enormous power held within him. Then, he rushes forward, fast as lightning, each of his steps shaking the earth. It’s like what’s charging at me isn’t a single man, but a whole stampede of demons howling for my blood.
Come and kill me!
With a crazed grin on my face, my magic explodes. Black smoke trails up from three of my limbs. Inexhaustible torrents of blood-qi flood my meridians, while the rest of my body produces more to compensate at a crazy pace, filling my dantian faster than I can consume its contents. I immediately start comprehensively healing myself in preparation for what’s coming. With the delicate clinks of interlocking ice crystals, four thick and sturdy arms burst out of my back. Each of them contains a terrifying amount of ice, as if entire glaciers were compressed to the limit to create them.
Sanae stirs inside my eye socket, and I feel her thirst.
With a shout over our soul link to keep her in check, I rush forward to meet the 2nd-rank god head on. His features twist even more when he sees I don’t intend to evade his charge, like my desire to fight him in and of itself is a great insult.
We meet in the middle of the arena, and I throw a simple straight punch at him. Telekinesis sharpens the force to a pinpoint of destruction. I draw strength past the limits of my own body. My muscles break down and start to liquefy under the strain. It’s painful, but I don’t care. I trust in the healing I initiated in advance.
Or rather, this feels good! I like it!
Unwilling to fall behind, the 2nd-rank god meets my fist with his own.
Fist meets fist.
The island shakes again, and great rifts crack its surface, swallowing vast swathes of the arena and the city around it. The clouds in the sky are blown off by the shockwave. The helpless human and majin spectators around us are vaporized. The sea bordering the island heaves and rocks like in the middle of a storm.
Adamantine against flesh. Even with the support of his golden magic, the human god fails to come out on top.
crack, crack, snap!
The bones in his arm shatter, some even poking through his skin. His face twists in pain, but he grits his teeth and bears with it. His gaze turns increasingly cold and murderous. In the meantime, my right arm is uninjured, but the impact travels up to my shoulder and directly pops my arm out of its socket.
Good! To disable my right arm right from the start!
But I still have five more!
I am much faster than the 2nd-rank god. By the time he’s regained his balance from the impact of our first confrontation, I’ve already struck him dozens of times, each blow breaking the sound barrier and slamming mercilessly into him.
However, limbs of ice, no matter how dense and solid, eventually aren’t as powerful as my right arm. The five of them strike one after another but deal no substantial damage. Instead, flecks of ice are chipped from my arms and scatter all around us as my own strength and the god’s defensive capabilities strain them to the limit. I continuously channel my magic into them to fix them even as they break.
Then, the 2nd-rank god finally strikes back.
His golden fist smashes into my ribcage. Even with the protection of the black suit, an enormous impulse shakes my organs, and blood wells up my throat. I’m almost thrown back by the impact, but I redirect most of the force through my legs and into the ground and forcefully stay in place.
I disregard defense and continue raining mostly ineffectual blows on him.
He does the same.
There is no technique at all in our battle. It’s a pure contest of strength and resilience. I don’t mind that. The feeling of expending all my power in order to break something is genuinely delicious. Even though my blood scatters everywhere and my organs only remain in one piece because I’m holding them together with frameworks of ice, I’m entirely satisfied. The 2nd-rank god is, too, judging by the smug smile he gives me upon noticing that I’m the only one bleeding all over the place.
Still, even though he can smile like this, he doesn’t have the leisure to actually speak any taunting words.
Above us, more sounds of battle ring out. The brat is fighting the Major and, surprisingly enough, holding his own rather well. I sometimes catch his figure out of the corner of my eye, and though he looks increasingly distressed, he at least manages to avoid death and constrain her. The Major probably can’t call up any more black holes. Otherwise, that brat would be long dead. In fact, it’s very possible she injured herself to kill the talisman god and the other two, earlier.
The two battles seem to be locked in something of a stalemate, for now.
But it doesn’t stay that way for long.
Even though my blows don’t injure him as his do to me, the golden cast of his body gradually becomes darker and darker as more damage accumulates. Soon, his skin has almost returned to the usual pinkish hue other humans have.
My next blow receives a better response than before. The 2nd-rank god’s ribcage caves in under my clenched fist. He’s not back down to regular human levels – a regular human would be turned into dust, under that kind of strike – but he’s no longer impervious to damage. He stumbles back under the impact and spits out a mouthful of blood.
I may have received 1000 times more damage than he did during this battle, but I’m 10,000 times more resilient than a human. In a contest of strength, there’s no way I’ll lose so easily.
The human god seems to realize the same thing.
He steps back, then takes to the sky. Veins appear on his forehead, twisting and pulsing in strain. Blood leaks out of his nose and eyes as a powerful qi fluctuation bursts out from within him. His body gradually turns to gold again, and his injured right arm heals, the shattered bones knitting together again. And though the gold covering him doesn’t have the healthy shine it had earlier, this time, the spell doesn’t stop there.
The 2nd-rank god’s body grows larger and larger.
Until finally, a 60-meter-tall golden giant stands before me.
The earth trembles when his feet land upon the ground. I have to look up, up, up to meet eyes that have turned into blank golden spheres, without irises or pupils. He looks down at me like at a tiny ant crawling on the floor.
…Well, I have to admit the scale might indeed give one that idea. I’m only around as tall as a diminutive 10-year-old. I just reach the waist of most adult humans. So, facing a giant like him, I might not look like much.
But I’m someone who’s fought a Sulfur Frog before.
Now, that thing was big.
The battle between the few remaining human and majin practitioners gradually peters out as more and more people notice the giant standing among them and occluding the sun. Eventually, everyone stands there, dumbfoundedly staring at the transformed 2nd-rank god. Only the Major and the brat still fight, but the flow of their own battle slowly brought them further away from us, so that they now fight in the sky above the city, rather than near the arena.
“Know your place, dog!” The 2nd-rank god’s voice rings out like an enormous bell, the pressure of its sound physically palpable. “Rabid beasts like you are only fit to grovel at my feet!”
(Damn, he looks strong!) Phineas cries, clutching fretfully at his white beard. (What did I say? What did I say?! Why did you have to go and antagonize such a person?! You should have listened to me! How do you think I managed to live for 3000 years as a 1st-rank god?! Huh? How do you think?! Or do you even think at all?!)
The giant raises his arm high, then sends a palm strike down toward me, golden ripples surrounding his hand. Even before the palm reaches me, the pressure crushes the ground around me. Even injured, it’s not enough to affect me, though.
I simply stand there, head held high, with a bright smile on my lips.
A slight touch of telekinesis acts upon the blood covering my face, making it flow upward to my forehead, and then…
First, the golden ripples press down against me, but they can’t injure me. Then, the giant’s palm smashes against my head. I feel my body break, all the healing I can call up and all the ice I can conjure not enough to halt the damage. If my skeleton weren’t indestructible, I would have been reduced to mush.
As the case may be, I find myself buried deep into the earth, my consciousness faint, my entire body thrumming with intense pain.
I take a moment to savor the sensations, then force my aching body to move and crawl upward, pushing rubble out of the way. It doesn’t take much time, as the earth has been churned up and broken to pieces around me.
Even before I make my way out, I can hear the screams of pain.
When I finally climb out of the earth, my gaze falls upon a kneeling giant painfully holding his hand against his chest. Beneath the golden skin, terrifying black veins spread from a tiny black puncture mark on his palm.
Kahahaha. Black blood covering a black horn.
The giant should have paid more attention to where he put his hand. When one crushes a wasp, it’s important to make sure its stinger is out of the way.
I couldn’t use this particular trick against the Sulfur Frog. It wasn’t a demon; it was a godbeast, and thus vulnerable to the Taint. But it was so enormously big that it could get rid of contaminated tissue before the poison could spread to the rest of its body. To the Sulfur Frog, even ripping out house-sized chunks of flesh from its body could still be considered a minor scratch.
But the giant isn’t the same. He’s not gigantic enough.
(Nice! Quickly kill him while he’s not paying attention to you! Or run away!)
(What?! What do you mean, no?!)
I want to see if the fight will end like this or if he still has something to show. He should have, I think. I’ve already seen it before. The Taint shouldn’t be an absolute death sentence, to those human gods.
And indeed, while resisting the pain, the giant waves his hand, and a black pill appears out of thin air, presumably out of a space storage. His huge, clumsy fingers can’t grasp the pill without crushing it, so he simply flicks his palm upward and sends the pill toward his open mouth.
The pill is about to cross the threshold of his lips, when it suddenly swerves in mid-air and soars toward me, coming to a stop floating before me.
[…Thank you for this kind gift.]
The giant glares at me murderously, his features twisting in hatred. For a moment, he looks like he wants to rush at me and beat me to death, but the pain and the steadily spreading black veins hold him back. He waves his hand again, and this time, a whole fistful of black pills appear in his hand. He lowers his head and directly bites into the pile of pills without giving me a chance to steal everything.
I let him do it and busy myself catching the pills overflowing from the cracks between his fingers. By the time the black veins covering the giant’s whole arm slowly come to a stop and his desperate cries of pain fade away, I’ve collected nearly a hundred black pills of my own.
I bring one of them in front of my nose and store the rest in my space ring.
Isn’t that the smell of my own blood? Or is it that the smell of the blood currently spilling out of my injuries has contaminated the smell of the pill?
I hesitate for a moment, wondering if I should try to taste the pill.
But eventually, I just store it with the others.
If this thing can counteract the Taint’s effect, it could be a deadly poison to me. I don’t want to die in such a way. It would be unsightly.
Finally, the giant stands back up.
The golden shine on his body has turned dull and lifeless. Even if he managed to survive, it looks like the Taint still isn’t something harmless. Perhaps if he’d taken that antidote before the fight, he would have been fine, but it looks like he didn’t. He should have been less arrogant.
Or maybe he enjoys being hurt, too?
With an animalistic roar, the giant charges toward me. I first think he’s coming for another contest of strength, but when he’s still 30 meters away from me, he abruptly stops and violently claps his hands, as if applauding me, the tips of his fingers pointing toward me.
With a deafening thunderclap, golden ripples, thick and clear enough to seem like physical objects, flow toward me like a tidal wave. I’m interested in their effect, so I let them hit me.
The ripples’ effect on me reminds me of the weapon the brat used on me in the village of Dorn. Like back then, I’m blown through the air like a meteor. The world a blur around me, I crash out of the remains of the arena and tear through the city. I indistinctly feel walls and trees crumble as I smash right through everything in my way.
In mere moments, I slam into a ship anchored at the harbor, more than a kilometer away, reducing it to kindling before I plunge uncontrollably into the sea and disappear beneath the waves.