The Black Demon King 498
Chapter 25: Days of Lies
The Calm Before the Storm (part 2)
“You two get along now.”
Reki and Ursula nodded obediently.
I felt terrible for only being able to come up with such textbook words for them. Even though they were appropriate, I didn’t know what had happened between those two, let alone trying to find a way to help them resolve their differences.
“Priest Kuroe… Do you… do you really have to go?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Reki.”
As Reki clung to me without hiding her sadness nor the tears that were starting to come out of her big red eyes, I gently stroked her head. Would this be the last time I would ever stroke her hair?
“Hey, Priest Kuroe, there’s one last thing I wanted to ask.”
Ursula was as expressionless as usual, but she suddenly leaned towards me, and the shadow that formed beneath her seemed to be particularly dark for some reason.
“Do you like us?”
“Sure, I like you two very much.”
It went without saying. However, she wanted me to say it, so I did.
“I’m really glad I met both of you. Reki, Ursula, Thank you for sticking around with us.”
Then I brought Ursula closer to me and hugged them both at the same time. I felt their little hands on my back, hugging me back strongly.
“Then, Priest Kuroe, tell us something…”
Ursula’s words came out somewhat muffled due to her being leaning against my chest.
“Priest Kuroe… Which one out of Reki and Ur does Priest Kuroe like the most?”
Reki picked up from where Ursula seemed to have left off.
There was no way I could answer that question immediately.
“What are you talking about? What do you mean by liking one of you more than the other one?”
Which one do you like best, who do you like the most? Those are questions that are most relevant whenever romantic feelings are involved, and they don’t make any sense in a family-like friendship environment.
Though one may have a preference for either parent, or have a favorite sibling or friend, it doesn’t feel like quite the same question.
Reki and Ursula are like little sisters in their early teens to me. I don’t want to –nor I should –give special treatment to either of them.
“Yes, after all… I thought you’d say something like that, Priest Kuroe.”
“But that won’t do! You have to choose!”
I felt their hugging becoming tighter and tighter. There was a deep force imbued into their hugs, so tight, so strong, and so desperate that it was as if they both felt that they were holding onto me for dear life.
“Priest Kuroe, please…”
“You can even lie, it’s okay, so…”
…So answer, which one of us do you like the most?
It was a question that seemed to be so full of passion, and yet it also felt somewhat cold and apathetic.
I suddenly found myself unable to understand them. Why would they ask such a question? And what were they expecting to make out of my answer?
It somehow felt like something two girls would ask of the one man they had both fallen in love with…
“Reki, Ursula… D-Don’t tell me…”
There, I finally noticed. Or maybe I should say it was finally made evident.
I would normally think of me coming to such a conclusion as me being somewhat conceited. But their seriousness and desperation are so strong that I couldn’t think of any other reason for them to act like that.
The true intention behind them wanting to know which of them I liked the most…
The reason why they had suddenly become so distant with one another…
It all made sense to me now.
“Both of you… someone like me…?”
I was already having a hard time saying all of the words in my question, but I was still interrupted before I could put it all together out loud.
“Whoa! What’s that!?”
“H-Hey, are you okay? You’re all messed up!”
The gathered villagers suddenly start making a racket.
Just when I was starting to think that their reaction was a bit exaggerated considering the current situation, I turned my gaze in the general direction of where the commotion had started.
“What, a Crusader cavalry…?”
It was a cavalryman who was going down the village’s main road, heading straight for us. I had seen him passing through here a couple of times a month in the past.
However, there was something strange about him.
His horse was terribly exhausted, and was almost dragging its hooves. The cavalryman himself was full of wounds, too. He seemed to have dropped his helmet somewhere, and his mail, which would normally shine with a dazzling silvery luster, was slightly covered in mud.
To put it simply, it seemed like he had been attacked by someone, and narrowly managed to escape with his life.
I couldn’t help but feel that something bad was about to happen. I left Reki and Ursula and followed Randolph and Ryan –who had been quick in their response to this occurrence– to meet the cavalryman.
“Oh, knight, tell us what happened to you!”
The village chief, Randolph, was the first to speak to him.
I knew I recognized this cavalryman. It was the same middle-aged, bearded knight who was the first to come in here searching for Mashram. I’ve seen him come to this village regularly after that to exchange information with Randolph.
“Haah… haah… I’m sorry, but… water… could you give me some water…?”
The cavalryman slid down his horse and powerlessly fell onto the ground, asking for water as if he had just arrived after days of being lost in a desert.
He seemed to be struggling to calm himself down and was unable to explain much of what had happened until one of the villagers brought him a bucket of water taken from a nearby well.
“Here you go, please calm down and try to drink slowly.”
As the villagers watched him attentively while holding their breath, the cavalryman brought the bucket to his mouth without even complaining that it wasn’t a cup or a glass of water instead. He chugged down the bucket’s contents so desperately that it made very clear just how thirsty he was.
“Haah, haah… M-Mayor Randolph… p-please listen carefully…”
He quickly emptied the nearly two liters of water in the bucket with only a few pauses, and after seemingly catching his breath at last, he started talking about what had happened.
“Y-You all need to run away from this village… B-Before the f-fog comes… quickly!”
“Fog? What do you mean? What’s going on?”
“The 201st Colony has disappeared… it’s gone, vanished without a trace.”
“W-What are you talking about!?”
Those words were something that every other villager, myself included, must have been asking themselves.
It would have been easier to understand him having been attacked by monsters or bandits. But the cavalryman said that an entire village had completely disappeared. It was simply hard to believe.
However, this cavalryman did come from the east, and Spada is in the opposite direction. There was no doubt that he had come from at least somewhere around the neighboring 201st Colony. And the fact that he had been attacked by someone or something was beyond question.
It was possible that as he fled from whatever that was attacking him, he saw the village “disappear” behind him.
“Anyway, you have to run away quickly… It’ll be too late to do that once that fog arrives… That fog made everyone disappear… and it’s coming this way– cough! cough!!”
“Knight! Knight, are you okay?”
“Water… More water… My throat feels like it’s burning…”
The cavalryman seemed to be struggling to continue to speak, and was evidently in pain as he held his throat with his hand.
“Knight! Try to remain composed!”
As if he could no longer hear Randolph’s voice, the man threw himself on the road, seemingly no longer able to bear the pain. His suffering was so strange that no one knew how to react to it.
“Oh, oh… Guohh…”
Everyone wondered what would happen next. Would he suffocate? Would he groan and throw up?
What ended up coming out of his mouth with full force wasn’t vomit, but a big snake…
No, it wasn’t a snake. Its slender and coiling movements resembled those of a snake, but the thing’s appearance is completely different.
It was more like a tentacle. Or if we were to get really technical with names…
“An octopus !?”
It wasn’t just a single tentacle, there were many. And they all had suckers that looked like beads, all lined up along their length. Something like that could only be called an octopus.
However, the octopus’ “legs” were neither red nor white, which Japanese people are used to seeing, but instead were dyed in an eerily bright emerald green, and they were smeared with mucus, which splashed out every time it shook any part of its body.
The cavalryman looked like an octopus trap from where its caught prey was about to break free. The tentacles continued to wiggle violently as they kept on emerging from out of the man’s mouth.
“Uwaaah!? What is this monster!”
“Eeeeeek! I-It’s a devilfish!”
The villagers began to scream as if all Hell had broken loose.
The green octopus that eventually came out of the man’s mouth wasn’t that big, with a total length of about 50 cm. Which was only natural, considering it had been hiding inside the body of a human being.
Now that I could have a good look at it, there were some differences between this creature and the usual octopus. The most notorious one was that it only had four tentacles. Even elementary school students in Japan knew that octopi have eight. So this creature could be a completely different thing.
It had snake-like eyes that shone glaringly, and a horrifying mouth with round fangs on its backside. Although there were several differences, it still had the overall shape similar to that of an octopus.
I was curious, but this wasn’t the time to examine this creature at leisure.
Seeing that the green octopus had jumped out with enough momentum to attack some of the nearby villagers, I immediately opened fire at it.
With a high-pitched cry, the large caliber pseudo-Full metal jacket fired a bullet that bounced off the octopus’ body.
“…Still alive, huh? Is it resistant to shocks?”
The bullet should have blown off its main body, but instead it had been sent rolling on the ground for about two meters, and its four tentacles were still wriggling vigorously.
I would have to try something different.
I simplified the Grenade Burst skill technique to have it create a single incendiary grenade. A black flame burst out the moment it hit the octopus.
I had expected it to completely consume its body, but after screaming in pain and struggling in the ground while engulfed in the flames for a while, the octopus finally stopped moving completely.
“…Is it dead?”
“Looks like it. Fire seems to have been the right choice.”
A single line of cold sweat ran through Ryan’s forehead as he asked me a question without taking his eyes from that terrifying monster.
“W-What the hell is that thing…?”
“Well, all I can say for now is that there’s no doubt that the 201nd Colony to the east of here was attacked by this octopus monster. As the knight here said, we should be prepared to evacuate as soon as we–”
As I was finishing my sentence, I suddenly felt something was wrong with my left eye.
Or should I say that it had reacted to something?
A spot of red light floated suddenly in the air, far away, from the east.
“Ah, I see, so that’s what’s going on…”
It’s been a long time, but there was no way I could forget the meaning of this light glowing red into my godly left eye.
The Fifth Trial of the Demon King was about to begin.