The Black Demon King 480
Chapter 25: Days of Lies
Deal with the Devil
Edited by: Enki
“W-Well, first, please accept a small token of our gratitude… Please, please, accept it…”
A short, thin old man approached me and began to bow repeatedly. Being a head taller than him, I had a clear view of his extremely desolate, bald head.
In addition to being so frightened that he seemed on the verge of crying and begging for his life, his elderly appearance and conspicuous, black-rimmed glasses gave the impression of a dull office worker who was about to be suddenly laid off.
Introducing himself as Randolph, he offered to talk to me as a representative of the village. He was wondering what I was going to do now that I had completely annihilated the Crusader soldiers that were ravaging the village.
The gazes of several villagers were piercing deeply into the back of his head. It seemed that the reason why he was the one standing before me was that he had no other choice rather than him simply being courageous.
For the time being, I couldn’t do anything but accept his offer of gratitude.
Knowing I could escape anytime I wanted, I thought I’d get as much information as I could while I was here. Sariel had only roughly explained the situation in and around the colonies, and that was all the information I had. Confirming the situation with my own eyes was better than listening to a thousand words.
Saying “Okay” with an overwhelming tone, I followed him to a room where we sat around a table in order to discuss things.
Its white-painted walls still felt new, but this room, which already had hints of daily life, was part of the church. I never thought I’d ever set foot into a chapel of the Cross Church… But it was probably the largest building in the village, so it also served as a meeting place. I didn’t think of it as anything else at this point.
“Umm, well, first of all, I’d like to thank you for helping this village.”
For the time being, I returned a single nod to his words of gratitude, which seemed to be more him desperately trying to avoid incurring my wrath than honest gratitude.
There was no need for me to say anything like “You’re welcome” or “I wasn’t particularly trying to help your village”. This old man was probing me, trying to see what my true intentions were, so I wasn’t going to give him a chance to throw a barrage of questions at me.
I would be the one asking the questions first.
“I’d like to know why those Crusaders came to attack this village, and under what circumstances.”
Randolph looked a little annoyed at my question; as if I had responded to his words of gratitude with a jab to the chin, but he then took a handkerchief out of his fur waist-pocket, wiped the sweat on his forehead, and answered my question.
“Oh, ah, umm… Yeah, they suddenly showed up and said they were in a hurry to return to Sinclair, so they ordered us to provide them with the supplies they needed for their trip…”
Randolph stuttered a lot as he answered, but still managed to accurately explain what happened.
Just before I had started watching the village, they appeared without warning and started asking for supplies. However, the Crusaders had already commandeered supplies from this village on their way towards Galahad, depleting their food stockpiles until they had barely enough for themselves. The moment the village mayor begged them not to take what little food they had, he was beheaded on the spot. Then, they started to take whatever they wanted. The village’s priest also lost his head in the chaos. After that, well, I arrived and killed them all.
“Do you know which unit was behind this?”
“I’m certain that these were the troops led by Lord Mashram.”
“Y-You don’t know about him…? I’ve heard he’s the nephew of Count Bergunt, who now leads the entire Crusade in attacking the neighboring country.”
So it was that guy with a head that looked like a 1UP mushroom. Certainly, his flashy armor looked like that of an aristocrat.
“So, the Count’s nephew, huh?”
The name “Count Bergunt” was something I was familiar with. Fiona said he might be the supreme commander of the Crusade, but this confirmed it. He was the only one who could have been behind Linfelt’s castle siege.
“Lord Mashram must have been entrusted with the supply base in the 203rd that’s close to this village but we have no idea why he had to return home in such a hurry.”
“He was escaping.”
“He was running away. The Crusaders were defeated.”
That’s the only thing I could think of. A large part of their soldiers must have managed to escape once their defeat was obvious due to being located far in the back lines.
It was a blatant abandonment of his post, but I had heard Count Bergunt was shot down. I didn’t know if it was because Mashram was aiming to become the next head of the Bergunt family, or just because he was afraid that the Spada army would chase after him all the way here; but either way, from his point of view there were many reasons to escape.
“I-Is that so…? Are you telling the truth?”
As opposed to my assertive expression, Randolph had a confused look on his face, almost as if he was saying “don’t go saying such serious things all of a sudden like that”. Had the Crusaders already publicized their victory as something certain to their people?
“The official news of the Crusaders’ defeat will soon reach this village.”
I had no other choice but to be the bearer of such news. At the very least, it was true that the news of the defeat reached Mashram’s forces, who were stationed at the 203rd colony; once known as Qual Village.
I didn’t know the details of the Crusaders’ rout situation because I wasn’t at the scene; but I was certain that if, on top of the scene of their entire army withdrawing before their victory or defeat had been established, the 7th Apostle Sariel –who was to be their savior– disappeared from the battlefield, the Crusaders would turn tail and flee miserably.
“A-Ah, I… I see…”
Randolph was muttering to himself with his face down, but he immediately regained his composure and raised his face.
“Um, by the way… What happened to Lord Mashram?”
“I killed him.”
There was no point in me hiding it. After all, they’d soon find a headless corpse in silver-white armor and Mashram’s head, with a solidified agonizing and crying expression, lying beside the shed.
“A-Ah, I… I see…”
With a forced, bitter laugh, Randolph’s face gradually became progressively more pale.
It looked like killing that aristocratic boy was a bit of an inconvenience.
“Will the village pursue the case of Mashram’s death?”
“I-I don’t know… Normally, the one responsible for it would be severely pursued, or at worst, the entire village could be burned down as a penalty… But in the current situation, if it is true that the Crusaders have been defeated, then even such an investigation as that could be vague…”
They didn’t seem to know how to deal with these situations.
“What do you intend to do?”
“W-Well, I don’t think we have much choice but to keep our mouths shut.”
His reply was immediate.
However, it wasn’t like he could have said something like “I’ll hand you over to the Crusaders!” or anything like that.
“U-Umm, this is an entirely different topic, but… Ah… Umm… What… What do you plan to do now?
And I couldn’t be too upfront about what my intentions were either.
“I’m not going to harm this village but if you really appreciate me helping you deal with that unit, I’ll take a reward.”
“Eeek! H-How… How much do you want? L-Like I said earlier, this village doesn’t have much food nor do we have money to spare… I-I’m not sure I can offer anything that would satisfy you…”
“If you can arrange the necessary preparations for two people to travel, that’s good enough for me. Rest assured.”
Even now, Randolph was so terribly desperate that he was hanging his head in front of me, and I hadn’t chosen the best words to say what I wanted. I should have anticipated this and chosen my words more carefully.
At any rate, if I could get myself back to Spada, then great.
“Oh, I see, sure, sure, thank you very much!”
I could only manage to say “sure” as Randolph had started to bow repeatedly in gratitude as if he was rubbing his forehead against the table.
“B-By the way… Can I ask you something?”
Our conversation seemed to have reached a halt. I supposed he was entitled to at least ask me a question. Besides, I could always choose not to answer it.
“It looks like you’ve gone through some sort of ordeal… Are you perhaps some kind of knight that has managed to escape from the battlefield?”
I couldn’t just say “no, I’m just a wandering traveler who happened to be passing by”. He had already witnessed me cut down one Crusader soldier after another as if I was mowing down tall grass.
But I didn’t nod right away. Instead, I remained silent and glared at Randolph.
“Eeek! I-I’m sorry! I wasn’t trying to snoop on your circumstances… I-I was just thinking, if you maybe didn’t want to be found by the Crusaders, then… maybe… there was something we could probably do to cooperate with you… depending on what you wanted to do… “
If he believed I was some kind of deserter, of course he would think I didn’t want to be found by the Crusaders. But what did he mean by “cooperating” with me?
“What do you mean?”
“W-Well, if that’s okay with you… You could hide here in our village.”
To hide in the village, huh?
I hadn’t thought of that. I had simply planned to steal from this village and then disappear with the wind.
To be honest, there was no reason for me to stay in such a place forever. Rather, since it was in the middle of enemy territory, it was best for us to return to Spada as soon as possible.
But the question was, could we actually depart for Spada under our current circumstances?
“If the Crusaders were defeated, many of their soldiers would head this way from the Alsace Fortress. And the road from here to Virginia, where the harbor is located, will be full of Crusader eyes for some time. So if you don’t need to make haste… Then it would definitely be easier for you to hide here and keep a low profile until this chaos subsides…”
Like Sariel said, soldiers would soon be flowing back from Alsace. They might not let go of that frontline base entirely, and they might be more vigilant in case of a counterattack from Spada… but it was true that there would be fewer troops present later on than there were now.
It seemed that I would have no better choice than simply laying low and waiting for the right time.
“Besides, we’re in the middle of winter. No matter where you go, the road ahead will be rough. Going off road and into the snowy forests and mountains to go undetected would be nothing short of suicide.”
I knew that it would be quite possible for Sariel and I to travel through even the snowiest of mountains, but it would still be quite dangerous. Was there really any benefit to rushing home and exposing ourselves to the danger of traversing the Galahad Mountains in the middle of winter?
I had to think hard about that.
“So you offer me shelter in your village. What’s in it for you?”
I didn’t think this man was offering me shelter without getting something in return.
He was, after all, offering sanctuary to a very dangerous man; one who was capable of killing dozens in a matter of seconds. He was either trying to get something out of this, or trying to set me up.
He turned away from my glaring gaze, but after a couple of sighs, Randolph opened his mouth as if he had made up his mind.
“With your help, our village should be okay even if more of the defeated soldiers come to attack us.”
“So you’d be employing me as some kind of bouncer.”
It was a quite drastic proposition. I was a bit taken aback, to be honest.
“In fact, even without the Crusaders, the surroundings of this village are still infested with dangerous monsters. Even now, most of the village’s vigilante corps members are in the woods, driving giant armored bears out of the village’s borders…”
Mashram and his party had appeared at the worst time for the village.
However, even if all the village vigilantes had been around, those five heavy knights and that Wind Mage would have destroyed them anyway.
“Those things have already killed and eaten three of our villagers, and are now persistently prowling around the village, probably because they crave the taste of human flesh…”
The first victim had been a lumberjack. He had been attacked and eaten alive by the first armored bear as soon as he set foot into the forest.
The sudden appearance of such a fearsome monster prompted two of the Crusader soldiers stationed in the village to hunt it down. But although they were successful, they were soon killed by another armored bear.
And at this moment, it seemed that every villager of their own self-defense force was out there; ready to die as they challenged those monstrosities.
Even so, I had never heard of a monster called “armored bear”. Perhaps, as the name suggests, they would look like regular bears but wearing armor, that is, being covered in some kind of hard shell… But at any rate, they wouldn’t be like anything I’d ever seen before.
“There is no guarantee that a new monster will not appear after these armored bears are dealt with. This village might be a dangerous place that could be crushed by monsters at any time… Still, to us pioneers who have been abandoned by our home country, we don’t have any other place we can call home.”
Then, the tearful Randolph once again lowered his head.
“I’ll scrape up a reward for you somehow, so please… Please, stay in this village and protect it, at least until the Crusaders’ flow back has subsided!”
I didn’t know whether I could trust him or not so I couldn’t give him an immediate answer.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.”
That was the best answer I could give him at the time.
“Ah, please wait! Would you tell me your name, if that’s okay with you?”
Ah, right. I had forgotten to tell him my name. Or rather, I knew that it would be quite risky to tell them my true name, so I had purposefully avoided doing that.
However, having reached this point, it would be better for me to give them a name.
“My name is… Kuroe.”
Of course, it was a fake name.
Sariel was going through a period of terribly vague memories.
“Haah… Haah… One… One more day…?”
The brain of a homunculus is excellent. And Shirasaki Yuriko’s memory was also outstanding. At the very least, Sariel kept remembering her experiences and memories almost as vividly as if they had happened quite recently.
Therefore, now Sariel, whose memory shackles had been completely destroyed through Kurono’s efforts, now had her own memories as well as the memories of Yuriko Shirasaki.
“Haah… Phew… I… I found it…”
That’s why there should never be a moment for her where her memories felt hazy or vague. If anything, it would be something like Shirasaki Yuriko’s early childhood… Actually, there could be only one other period of terrible instability in Sariel’s body that would make it impossible to remember it clearly.
“I found it… A way to leave my mind behind, even if I were to disappear…”
It was the time when Shirasaki Yuriko’s personality and the personality that would eventually become Sariel existed at the same time.
At that time, the “Angel Ring” was causing Shirasaki Yuriko’s essence to walk the path of gradual destruction while at the same time gradually generating the new personality as Sariel.
During her early days of existence as Sariel, the aspects of her new personality awakened only for a short time at any given day. However, its growth accelerated within just a few days.
Before long, her new personality was able to awaken only whenever her former personality was asleep. As her new personality continued to grow, it gradually began to take over the old one as the times where each personality was awake got reversed.
From the former personality’s point of view, it would soon find itself falling into the illusion that she was spending most of the day sleeping.
This gradual personality reversal phenomenon may have been experienced by Kurono himself as well.
However, Kurono had managed to remain as Kurono Mao since he succeeded in escaping the grasp of the “Angel Ring” at the last moment, right before his personality disappeared.
It had been a miracle that could only happen to one in several hundreds –no, as far as Sariel knew, it could only happen to one in several thousands of experimental bodies.
However, as Shirasaki Yuriko was no exception, she could not escape the fate of her personality disappearing.
“Haha, if there is ‘magic’… then there are also ‘curses’…”
Her will had been completely wiped out.
So this was just a memory. It was nothing but a vague memory mixed with noise because two personalities existed in one body at the same time back then.
“There was a certain ‘curse’… Without a doubt, that was a ‘curse’…”
With great difficulty, the memory she recalled had been revived.
Maneuvering experiments. Repeated over and over for God knows how long.
A single human standing as her opponent. He was armed with nothing but a simple steel longsword, completely ordinary –until a faint, red-black, eerie aura emerged from its blade.
In other words, a cursed weapon.
“Then, even I…”
She didn’t have too much of a hard time.
Back then, the one in charge of her body was still her former personality, that is, Shirasaki Yuriko.
Compared to the newborn Sariel … No, even now, Sariel still thought like this. Even now that she had accumulated battle experience as the Seventh Apostle, she wouldn’t be able to fight as well as Shirasaki Yuriko ever did.
However, this is probably the last maneuvering experiment that Shirasaki Yuriko ever fought in. No matter how many times Sariel rummaged through her memories, she couldn’t find any battle records of hers ever since.
Then, Sariel accurately remembered the next maneuvering experiment. Her opponent was a golem. It wasn’t a Light Golem, but a wild golem that was made up of rocks and was over 3 meters tall.
The scene of her spear piercing through the golem’s core located in its chest was immediately revived in her brain.
In other words, Shirasaki Yuriko’s personality disappeared completely at some point between the battle with the cursed swordsman and the battle with the golem. Every single memory after that point was completely clear.
“…Hey, you, other me…”
That’s why Sariel wasn’t confident about her memories around this time.
“I don’t hold any grudges against you…”
This feeling that was hazy like a dream.
“But I don’t want this feeling to disappear.”
Shirasaki Yuriko was speaking to Sariel.
“That’s why I’ll engrave this into my heart… this ‘curse’ called ‘love’.”
She was speaking her last words.
“Kurono-kun, I love you–”
With a click, Sariel opened her red eyes wide.
Her situation hadn’t changed. She was laying on the bed inside that small cabin. The clear winter sunshine was coming through the windows, brightly illuminating the room.
She had slept lightly. And she had dreamed. The contents of that dream were unclear… but Sariel decided that it wasn’t something she wanted to worry about.
Her precise internal clock told her that the time was just around noon.
Sariel closed her eyes again and continued to lay in bed.
The fact that she had carelessly fallen asleep twice by now could have been proof that her physical strength hadn’t fully recovered yet. Yesterday, she had been in a literal fight to the death using her power as an Apostle, and then, after the battle, she had spent the night with Kurono… At any rate, she felt that she must still be in a state of fatigue.
However, sleeping alone was too dangerous. Sariel wasn’t planning to fall asleep a third time. Even so, having no choice but to remain in bed made her feel like she was nothing but a doll that had been left unfinished and abandoned.
She didn’t want to fall asleep, but she needed to be physically rested so that she didn’t use up extra physical strength. And at the same time, her awakened consciousness was sharply alerted to the outside of the cabin.
The inside of the cabin was surrounded by silence.
All she could hear was the smooth humming of the stream just behind the hut and the occasional, beautiful birdsong from the forest.
There was an atmosphere of a scenic spot, full of the abundant nature that people living in the city could only long for… but this was still a dungeon.
At that moment, Sariel heard the sound of twigs being stepped on in the distance.
“…Distance is 300.”
She had determined that the noise had come from 300 meters away from her current position.
It was right then that Sariel realized that her abilities had fallen to less than one-third of her usual strength.
In the past, she would have been able to hear every noise within a 1km radius if she was focusing. And that distance was now only 300 meters. She had also only heard it that far out because the sound itself was quite distinct.
But Sariel simply accepted that fact. She could no longer remember the feeling of attachment to power that her former Apostle self was so proud of.
Without a single emotion in her heart, Sariel continued to pay attention to the existence of “someone” using her enhanced senses..
“Distance is 100.”
This “someone” seemed to be heading straight towards this cabin. She heard the sound of this person stepping over branches and twigs a second time, then a third time, but once he was within 100 meters, she could feel “his” presence clearly.
And she was convinced that the person approaching the cabin was not Kurono.
A rough nasal breathing. The sound of footsteps moving through the thick snow. All these sounds had already reached Sariel’s ears clearly.
The thing outside the cabin was a monster.
“Distance is 10.”
The monster stopped right outside the cabin.
It was only one monster. There were no signs of others like it around. It was probably a species that hunted alone.
It was at least much larger than the average human. By summing up the auditory information collected up to this point, Sariel could infer that it was about the size of an elephant when walking on four legs. It was a medium-sized monster, but its ferocious presence indicated a certain level of danger.
Such a dreadful creature was lurking right outside the cabin.
However, Sariel didn’t move. And even if she had wanted to move, she couldn’t.
She could feel the monster circling around the cabin as if trying to look inside. It was already aware that there was prey inside, and it had learned that from a distance of at least 300 meters.
Sariel waited patiently. Her eyes were still closed, and she remained motionless as if sleeping. She would remain like this until the monster dared step into the cabin.
She had told Kurono that the cabin was surrounded by a barrier that warded off monsters, but that explanation hadn’t been thorough. Though there was indeed a barrier, it only worked against weak monsters.
The weak wavelength of magical power emitted around the cabin was only able to ward off goblins and slimes at best. It wasn’t strong enough to be effective at keeping this hungry, medium-sized monster away.
Until this day, monsters and animals had not been able to enter the cabin while it was empty thanks to the barrier that was still effective even if its master was gone. But now that someone was inside, larger monsters would be lured to the cabin as they searched for prey.
“…Here it comes.”
After circling the cabin several times, the monster stood directly in front of the door and then took a step forward.
Sariel didn’t even need her superhuman hearing to detect the sound of the monster’s steps on the snow as it approached the cabin’s door.
Then, it stood right in front of the door as if it was about to ring the bell– And the next moment, one of the cabin’s walls was gone.
The deafening roar of a ferocious beast echoed along with the thunderous sound of doors and wooden walls being smashed.
Sariel knew the name of the monster that had just appeared before her.
It was a monster commonly known in the Republic of Sinclair as the “armored bear”. It was one of the most famous monsters that inhabited the entire Ark continent. As its name implies, it looked like a big bear wearing something similar to steel armor plates.
The true identity of its armor was a metallic shell. It had an aggressive design with thorns, like a crab’s carapace, and a dull gray shine. Its approximately as thick and as hard as the real full plate mail worn by Armor Knights. In fact, comparing the raw defensive capabilities without taking magical effects into account, the armored bear had the better gear.
The armored bear that had appeared was about 5 meters tall. It was larger than the average. If it were to stand up straight, it would break through the cabin’s ceiling. It had broken into the cabin while walking on all fours, as if it was forcingly bending its body to do so.
It then roared sharply, perhaps out of an urge to intimidate its prey, or even out of the joy of actually finding it.
Sariel opened her eyes, directing her sharp red gaze towards the intruder.
The armored bear and Sariel stared at each other for a while. The one who was going to eat and the one who was going to be eaten. Their relationship was clear.
A small human girl lying unprotected facing a giant armored bear full of wild, raw power. And the girl had no legs to escape and only one left arm to swing a weapon with.
However, there was no weapon powerful enough to penetrate the armored bear’s ironclad defense in this cabin. Kurono had taken with him the only knife there had been.
Since she was unable to move, Sariel was as good as dead meat from the armored bear’s perspective. She was nothing but a delicious morsel that was unable to run away or resist.
Therefore, the monster had no need for hesitation or vigilance. Its thick, yet large, knife-like claws rudely approached Sariel’s white body.
The armored bear threw itself violently at Sariel. From its point of view, it was just a casual action used to suppress its prey. But the swing of its ironclad arms was powerful enough to smash the bed on which Sariel lay in half.
Blankets and sheets were torn apart by the armored bear’s vicious claws, flying in the air as if dancing to the roaring sound of the wooden bed being smashed. But there was no Sariel to be found under the armored bear’s claws, and no delicate white body had been crushed by them.
A short breathing sound. When the armored bear perceived it with its highly sensitive hearing, he was finally able to find Sariel.
Sariel’s body was floating in the air. It had bounced on the spot.
The moment the armored bear brought its arms down, she used her torso like a spring, propelling herself up into the air without the need for arms or legs to support her motion.
Sariel, who didn’t have the ability to fly like a fairy, should have fallen into the wreckage of the crushed bed soon afterwards, but before that could happen, she moved her remaining left hand.
Her white fingertips gently touched the protruding armored bear’s arm. They were shaped as if a small thorn had been appended to their ends.
Using them as a grapple, Sariel pulled her own body towards the armored bear.
The monster opened its large mouth to chomp down on Sariel’s small body, her white hand was already in front of it. A small hand that resembled a knife.
A single ray of light pierced the armored bear’s head.
Since she no longer had any white magical power, Sariel couldn’t use magic. However, the magical power in her body was not zero. She still had access to the magical power of life needed for homunculus to exist.
Basically, magic uses primary color magical power. Which colors resided in the body, or whether one’s own vital force could be converted into primary color magical power, depended on the talent and constitution of each individual.
And without any white magical power, it was also impossible for Sariel to generate the pseudo-primary color magical power required to activate magic.
However, martial arts that tap into one’s vital force to be activated were no problem for her.
Thus Sariel was able to unleash her “Stinger”, which had the power of martial arts in addition to her superhuman strength, which was hard to believe from her slender and frail-looking left arm.
Its piercing force, which boasted the same power as a charge lance, was aimed at the eyes of the armored bear. Its head was covered with a shell like a helmet and its forehead was also thickly covered. However, its eyes were completely unprotected.
Sariel thrust his fingertips into the only exposed weak point of the armored bear’s face.
Her middle finger poked into an eyeball, mercilessly pushing forward as if digging into its eye socket. While breaking the shell around his eyes, Sariel’s hand completely penetrated into the head of the armored bear.
Her fingertips smashed through the hard skull effortlessly, finally reaching the fragile brain protected within it.
It was much smaller than a human’s. Even Sariel’s small palm could hold it.
Then she squeezed the armored bear’s brain. It felt like crushing a ripe tomato.
The armored bear stopped moving and collapsed on the spot, sounding out a short, painful cry as Sariel pulled her hand out of the hole where its eye used to be.
Her broken body was strong enough to hit it with her martial art, but the action of pulling her hand out in an instant was impossible without the help of her right arm or both legs.
Sariel managed to pull her left arm out of the armored bear’s head by shaking her body after falling on the wreckage of the destroyed bed.
Black blood painted the lower side of her arm all the way to the elbow, with small pieces of brain clinging to her muddy fingertips.
Sariel gazed at her dirty left arm with her bright red eyes before looking left and right.
“…What should I do?”
Sariel closed her eyes as if she was going back to sleep, either to think about how to apologize to Kurono for this mess, or to escape this reality for a while.