Will show up in this post sometime over the next 24-48 hours. I have a fever, the screen is blurry and my brain draws blanks when I demand it provides me with words 😛 In the meantime, have a teaser and suffer with me ;]
Advance warning : 74 is also likely to be delayed by a couple of days.
The audience room of the Gran Flamm’s royal castle was enveloped in an odd ambiance. Viscount Rion Frey, a rumored rebel, had finally accepted royal summons after an unprecedented dispatch of Knight Commander Frederick to Bandeaux to hold talks. On top of that, the unruly noble had been given a warm welcome and granted a personal audience with the royal couple. It was not a private meeting, though. Arnold, the Crown Prince, and an assortment of high ranking officials from different civil and military government branches would take part. And hardly any of them had an inkling of what was actually about to happen.
Soon enough, Rion arrived in the audience hall. Many of those present felt anxiety prompted by uncertainties raised by this occasion. Others, the hardline opponents of Viscount Frey, were watching the proceedings with bitterness in their hearts. For them, this audience was completely unnecessary. The Crown Marshal, a figurehead of this faction, was not even trying to hide his displeasure despite the presence of the King. This behavior only aggravated the existing anxieties.
「…He is here.」
Impersonal mutterings, hard to attribute to anybody in particular, could be heard from different sections of the room. And indeed, Rion crossed the threshold being lead by Frederick inside.
He was the full focus of all kind of stares that had various degrees of hostility and fear mixed in, but he didn’t care much. Rion had already gotten used to the unpleasant attention of others.
He and Frederick proceeded towards the throne quietly. The Knight Commander approached the King and knelt in front of his liege. And Rion sprang into motion.
In one fluid motion, he eased the blade from Frederick’s waist and moved towards the throne.
「Wha!? Crown Marshall! Stop that man!」
Frederick’s very flustered shout echoed in the room.
The Crown Marshall reacted with barely any delay. He drew his blade and slashed straight down making a shockwave of roaring wind cutting pass right in front of Rion’s eyes as the youth was about to step in front of the King.
Having halted Rion in his tracks, the man followed up with a sideways slash. Clashing steel rang loud in the audience hall. Rion managed to stay on his feet despite the weight of the blow.
「So you have finally shown your true nature, immature fool!」
「Who are you calling a fool, you old fool?! If you don’t want to die, step aside!」
「As if I would just because you say so!」
The Crown Marshall didn’t waste any more time on throwing insults. He advanced on Rion and unleashed a flurry of blows. Rion met the man’s attacks with his own blade and the clashing blades turned into a staccato of sound.
「…You sure are strong.」
Inadvertent words of admiration escaped Rion’s mouth. To be honest, he had never expected the Crown Marshall to be this strong. The man might have been inferior to Frederick when it came to speed, but he was the Knight Commander’s better in other aspects.
「Ha! How many years do you think has it been since the first time I drew a blade? I cannot possibly be inferior to a mere country bumpkin.」
「Start bragging when you obtain your strength by your own efforts!」
「Says who?! I, at least, do not rely on the Demon God to gain superficial strength!」
「…Oh, damn it! Old man! This guy is—」
Rion understood and notified Frederick of his mistake a second late. Before the youth was able to complete his sentence, two metal spikes shot out from the floor piercing his body and intersecting in his torso.
Fresh red blood trickled from his lips and, once the spikes withdrew, Rion collapsed to the ground. A silent scream of horror reverberated through the audience hall.
The people present were frozen in place, the situation unfolding in front of their eyes was beyond their comprehension. Only the Knight Commander reacted immediately. Without wasting even a second, Frederick closed the distance that separated him from the Head of Intelligence Bureau, and swung his blade sideways.
There was a loud metallic sound and James was blown away into one of the palace’s pillars. No blood could be seen on the old knight’s blade.
「…Hard. So, as he predicted, you are no human after all, huh?」
A normal person would end up with their gut slashed wide open. But the sensation Frederick felt from the blow was nothing like cutting flesh. It was as if he tried to slice through a plate of steel, or perhaps something even more durable.
「Mhm. To think that you would figure out this much. Well, it’s probably all thanks to that Frey kind anyway, right?」
「Yes, that is true.」
「As expected, really. From the beginning, we knew that he would be the greatest obstacle to us.」
Using the fact that the devil had taken his eyes off him, the Knight Commander also threw a glance towards where Rion was lying. He felt some relief seeing the Queen earnestly try to heal the bloodied youth. Her Majesty’s aptitude for magic was excellent as could be expected from someone of a Marquess House lineage.
「Name yourself, fiend. Or do you intend to hide behind that fake mask of “James”?」
「As if you could tell whether any name I give you is real. I am one of the four great demon generals, Goran of Steel.」
「Eh!? Are you kidding!?」
This completely unsuited to the situation shout came from Maria. She was probably prompted by the “great general” title. But Frederick had no leeway to bother with the girl. A devil was finally revealed. The fiend would have to be dealt with here and now, preferably captured, but killing him was also an option if the former proved too hard.
「Seal the room! Block any paths of escape!」
Jolted by the Knight Commander’s orders, the Royal Guard that escorted Rion recalled the plan of action. They drew their blades and formed a human wall surrounding Goran.
「Haha! Such futile effort! Gather as many of these mere knights as you want, it won’t matter one bit!」
「Ha! Back at you. A mere devil like you is something I can deal with by myself!」
In reality, Frederick was afraid that requesting any more help from the guardsmen would just make them get in the way, but there was, obviously, no need for him to say that. Neither the enemy nor his allies needed to know that.
The Knight Commander renewed his assault on Goran. However, the knight’s blade was being blocked by the devil’s bare arms. Again Frederick couldn’t shake the feeling that the sensation was really not the one of cutting a human’s limbs. And besides, a normal human’s arm wouldn’t be able to repel a sword.
At this moment, steel spikes and rods, like the ones that had pierced Rion, began assaulting the Knight Commander from below. He blocked them all, though, in a splendid display of skill.
「…This looks like magic, but is it really?」
This was the royal audience, the King himself was present. The best counter-measures against magic known to the Kingdom were deployed everywhere. They weren’t perfect, of course, and a talented, powerful magician would still manage to cast a spell if he wanted to. But that magician would find it much harder than usual to succeed and the effects would be noticeably weaker too.
However, the magic of the devil had proven to be effective enough to cause serious injury to Rion. The knight commander thought that to be really strange.
「Hahaha! There’s no need to hide it, so I may as well tell you. There are more magic attributes than the four you bastards use. Mine is steel, and no matter how many magical barriers against the four elements you make, my power will not be affected.」
「Steel attribute? I never heard of such a thing.」
「Of course, you haven’t. Our attributes originated from our god, Lord Daimon himself. That magic is different to the magic of this world. Once Lord Daimon revives, the attributes he embodies will replace yours as the foundations of this world, changing it into one more suitable for us to live in. Our dearest wish will come true!」
Upon the Demon God’s revival, the fundamental attributes of the world would be changed. There was probably no one in the royal palace who properly understood what this outrageous claim meant. Even Goran himself was, in reality, unlikely to understand much of what was involved.
A world whose basic building blocks changed would cease to be the world it once was. Nobody could know if it would still even be habitable for humans. Or devils for that matter.
「…Either way, your body is tough. That much is obvious.」
「Of course, human. It’s not like a mere thin iron plate, my body has the hardness of steel itself. You cannot cut that with a sword. You have no way of defeating me.」
「We shall see!」
Faster than the eye could see – this phrase fit Frederick’s bladework perfectly. And by lodging the edge into Goran’s shoulder, he proved that his blade could indeed cut into steel. But it couldn’t do more.
He had to take a great leap backward to evade the devil’s magical counterattack and the only thing that remained in his hand was the hilt of his sword. The blade itself remained in Goran’s body.
「Splendid.Truly. I felt an itch!」
Despite being pierced by the blade, the devil didn’t shed a single drop of blood. Everybody could see its words were not lies
「A new human, if you please. Once you monkeys go extinct, devils will finally rule the world.」
Saying this, Goran had surveyed the surroundings. And he noticed a group that stepped forward to challenge him.
「We won’t let such a thing to happen!」
「…You? What can a small fry like you even do?」
「What did you call me!?」
Having been called a small fry despite her role as the protagonist, Maria felt the blood rush to her head. Propelled by anger, she wielded her blade and attacked Goran. The result was roughly the same as when Frederick had tried. Goran took the strike with his arm.
But there was another blade incoming from the opposite side – Lancelot’s.
This one also stopped at Goran’s arm though.
「Eat this! 」
With Goran’s two arms being preoccupied with blocking, Arnold attacked the devil’s chest with a spear. Unable to parry the momentum, the enemy flew backward again, but, once more, the weapon failed to penetrate.
「Hmph. Like replacing swords with spears will help you in any way.」
「That’s not a line of someone who has a sword stuck in his shoulder.」
While the Crown Prince assaulted with words, Maria and Lancelot continued to swing their weapons on Goran’s flanks. However, no matter how many times their blades found their mark, the devil showed no signs of faltering.
「Futile! Mere blades cannot defeat me!」
「Then how about magic?」
At the same time as the Crown Prince asked his question, Goran’s body was enveloped in flames. This was not Arnold’s doing. This was the King’s magic. This was why Maria’s group kept attacking Goran despite knowing it to be pointless. They had been buying time for the removal of anti-magic barriers.
The royal spell conjured flames big enough to make one think that Arnold himself would be caught up in the effect. Everyone thought that no matter how tough the enemy may be, there was no way he could survive this conflagration.
「…As expected of one wearing this crown. That was quite the spell. But I am steel. Flames cannot possibly burn steel.」
When the flames of magic dissipated, Goran stood where he had been standing, seemingly not even weakened, even if his clothes turned to ash.
Understanding that the devil had withstood the magic of the King caused everyone to groan.
「It’s true that fire cannot burn steel! But it can melt it!」
And just as the cloud of defeat had started to spread, Maria’s voice rang true. For the first time, ever since her arrival to this world possibly, she acted like a proper protagonist should.
「Your highness Arnold! Erwin! Let’s go!」
Answering Maria’s call, Erwin and the Prince began their arias. Both of them overlapped with Maria’s own aria perfectly.
「…This is the strength of wind and flames together! Behold the new power brought into existence by our cooperation! Fusion!!」
The magic that Maria invoked was the extreme magic, fusion, that was supposed to be used against the Devil Generals. Devil Goran, belonging to the last-boss class, fully warranted having it used on him.
This time Goran’s body was wrapped by the flames conjured by the Crown Prince. And while the conflagration looked the same as before, the color of the flames started changing from normal, to yellow, and then to orange as it overlapped with Erwin’s wind spell.
Goran could be heard groaning in pain this time. This was the proof that actual damage was inflicted. This display of the hero’s magic briefly raised Maria’s stock in everyone’s eyes.
Not for long though. The flames around the devil soon lost their vigor and vanished entirely.
Maria shouted astonished. And simultaneously, the feeling of defeat started to creep into everyone’s hearts again.
However, both Frederick and Arnold took up their swords again without paying any mind to the general mood. They headed straight towards Goran and attacked while the last flickers of flame still clung to the fiend.
「…Heavens are merciful.」
Goran, as previously, tried to receive Frederick’s blade on his forearm. But this time the sword sliced cleanly through the devil’s left arm and buried itself in the collarbone. Arnold’s blade also bit deeply, and although the Prince did not manage to completely cut off his enemy’s limb, he reached all the way to the bone.
「I see. Even though our spell did not burn him completely, he has lost the toughness.」
Confidence vanished from Goran’s face. As Arnold and Frederick attacked again to finish him off, the fiend dodged and fled without hesitation.
「He must not flee! Finish him off!」
The Royal Guards swarmed fleeing Goran, but were scattered by iron pikes that rose from the ground en masse. Some guardsmen, trying to seal his escape path, created a human wall in front of the audience hall’s entrance. The devil, however, had no need of doors, he just crashed into a wall ramming himself an exit. The great general escaped.
Frederick reacted late. Even though the toughness of the enemy was clear, nobody expected the creature to be capable of punching through massive palace walls by simply crashing into them. The surprise robbed the humans of precious seconds needed to stop Goran.
Not long after, more collapsing masonry could be heard from the distance. Another wall gave way.
「After him! He cannot escape!」
The Knight Commander jolted the knights into action but he was already inwardly lamenting the lost chance. The Devil, Goran, served as the head of the Kingdom’s intelligence operation. While his current way of escaping was flashy, once he lost the immediate pursuit, he would have many clandestine ways to flee.
「Unconscious, sir! He collapsed to the floor all of a sudden and is yet to awake.」
「…Is that so. Have him carried to a discrete room and arrange a physician to check his condition. The room is to have no windows and be locked from outside at all times. Guard him strictly. Understood?.」
「Sir! Yes, sir!」
Frederick was half-certain that the Crown Marshal had not been subverted by the demon but rather controlled outright. But he would not let his guard down just yet. Also, controlled or not, it didn’t change the fact that the Marshall committed a crime.
With all the necessary orders issued, he could check up on Rion now.
The healing magic had been cast, yet the youth still kept lying on the ground. His wounds were deep, and, even with the Queen’s help, it was possible they would not seal completely.
「…Please, open your eyes. Please.」
Her Majesty could be heard praying. Frederick could see she was severely shaken and understood at a glance this was not good.
「Someone, anyone. Find a bed for Viscount Frey and carry him there. And do find out where are those doctors?」
A group of knights moved to carry out those instructions, but they were a little late. Rion rose from the floor and sat up before they managed to get close.
Rion was quite confused. The first thing he saw after opening his eyes was the face of the crying Queen. And then the woman suddenly hugged him tightly.
「Frey… Thank goodness. I thought I failed to save you.」
「…Uh …Err, I am fine, majesty. So—」
「Please, do not ever leave my side from now. I cannot bear let you go again.」
The Queen’s words implied something. Rion couldn’t figure out what at first, and it took him time to process what he heard. Eventually, he got what she was saying, but he didn’t get why was she saying that to him.
Others, more experienced in life, understood everything much faster. What was happening in front of their eyes wasn’t a normal affair between a man and a woman. Those two barely had any chance to spend time together and the difference in their age was significant.
Which left but one reason for Her Majesty to treasure Viscount Frey this dearly despite all the arguments against.
「Sophia, dear. We do understand you find Viscount Frey adorable, nevertheless, such words can be easily misunderstood.」
「…Pardon the lapse, my lord husband.」
The words of the King awoke the Queen to the mistake she was just making.
「We remember the Viscount is an orphan and that desire to replace his mother is not something We can hold against you. How could we? But it is a bad thing when a sitting monarch shows favoritism. You do understand this, right?」
「…I do, sire.」
The King was eagerly and desperately trying to gloss over the situation. The Queen did her part too. But hardly anyone of those present believed this desperate effort. And this exchange finally cleared out the last question marks from Rion’s mind.
「…His Majesty is right. And not only the words, this position is also quite misleading.」
Rion extricated himself from the Queen’s arms and stood up.
「My deepest apologies for making Her Majesty worry. As can be seen, my body is fine now.」
「…Do not push yourself needlessly.」
「I am not, my Queen. However… Her Majesty is right, of course. I am quite tired and I should return to lodging house to take a rest. May I have your leave, milady?」
「I will have a room prepared for you. Just rest there instead.」
「I couldn’t possibly. Nothing I’ve done deserves such grace. My Lords, Ladies, I bid you good day.」
Rion headed straight out pretending not to hear the words of the Queen. Suddenly all the stares he was facing started to bother him again.
He preferred when people looked at him with scorn. These gazes of the new kind were just irritating. He wouldn’t yet admit that it wasn’t the looks that annoyed him so much.
Rion Frey was now aware of his lineage. And that knowledge only amplified the hurt in his heart.