17 – Demon Lord Route – IV
Moonlight filtered in through the dense tree branches, barely illuminating the forest ground. Night had fallen while I explored the perimeter of Alvheim to memorize its protective barriers and reinforce them with my own. As a result, my ability to handle and analyze mana increased, although it wasn’t reflected on my status page.
It was quiet. No wind, no movement. Like the calm before a storm, the Ancient Forest was silent and still.
I held my faithful companion (stick) in my right hand and walked, ignoring the trail of monster carcasses behind me and the minor headache I had.
While there was barely any light, there was plenty of darkness. And because there was darkness, I could see, the shadows acting for me like a spotlight would for others.
My destination was the northern part of the Ancient Forest.
In the other timeline, Titania had warned me of the emperor sending out his army of Braves to deal with any survivors. While I didn’t know how she obtained that information, I could guess. The imperial soldiers would have wanted to resort to whatever they could to break the elven morale. That fact would have been enough to drive more than a few battered elves into despair.
Although this was a different time, the goddess’s words and my own experiences had shown that events converged. Varied they may be, the same events would unfold in a certain order.
I didn’t know if the timing of events had shifted due to my actions, but if they did they would have shifted to occur earlier rather than later.
And that meant-
A giant snake with glistening black scales lunged towards me from a tree in front of me. Its fangs dripped with corrosive venom, and a maw capable of swallowing me whole in a single bite widened before my eyes.
I swung my right hand, and then there was a soft thump as the snake’s head landed on the ground before me. Not long after, its body collapsed onto the forest floor and thrashed about in its death throes. In the end, it died to its greed like the countless other monsters I had encountered on my walk and added to my growing power.
Power. Something that I would need a lot of in the coming days.
…And also something I would have expected the goddess to comment about, but she was oddly quiet.
That didn’t bode well for me. With her whimsical nature, who knew what surprises would show up in the near future?
I walked. This time, no monsters were brave enough to lunge out despite the enticing mana I exuded. It seemed like the buffet I had enjoyed wandering about had come to an end.
But an even bigger meal was going to start.
There were lights in the dark forest. Fire light. Although they were miles away, in the pitch black of the forest grounds, they shone like a beacon.
I concealed my presence and mana. At the same time, my body melded into the shadows, my affinity towards darkness utilized to its full extent.
Akira yawned as he patrolled the campgrounds, inwardly cursing his classmates. After a full day of marching and combat practice, they got to sleep in while he was out there in the dark woods by himself.
And that wasn’t even taking into account that bastard Kouki. It was enough that he already had two of the school’s beauties at his side, but he even took along the reliable transfer student into his party to undergo secret training in the capital!
“Dammit. Why couldn’t I be the hero? I have a strong cheat too…”
On that day, everyone in his class had been summoned into a white void. There they were greeted by a goddess who explained that they were going to be transported to another world to fight against the Demon Lord and his army. Because it was unfair to expect that of a single person, she decided to send everyone in their same grade. Even so, since Kouki was the one that the transportation spell locked on to, he was made the ‘Brave’, the one fated to clash against the Demon Lord in single combat.
Akira called bull on that. Sure, Kouki was fairly handsome and good at kendo, but that was it. His grades were in the bottom half of the class and his personality was completely annoying. In fact, if it wasn’t because of befriending the transfer student on the first day of class and being the childhood friend of the school’s number one beauty, he would have been nothing!
Even as the Brave, the only thing that made Kouki special was being able to use Light magic. His talent with a sword was so-so and his magical power was only slightly above the rest of the class.
In contrast, Akira possessed ‘Reading’, an ability that let him parse everything around him. With it, he managed to master the Imperial Swordsmanship, master the basic elemental magic, and even gain some proficiency in that chaos magic the empire tried so hard to keep hidden.
If their transportation to another world was a story, then by all rights Akira should have been the protagonist. Instead, there he was being put on patrol like a worthless mob because his ability made it convenient to spot out dangers.
“…Stupid classmates. Stupid soldiers. Stupid Goddess.”
Akira carressed the sword on his side and muttered, “One more week. After that, I’ll take back the spotlight by force if I have to. The hero should be me, not that brainless idiot.”
Akira was the one who scored in the top of the class.
Akira was the one voted as class representative.
Akira was the one with the most cheat-like power there.
He should be the one hailed as a hero, not some muscle-head spouting justice and other delusional things.
But that idiot could enjoy his role while he still had it. Now that he had ‘read’ some of Kouki’s light magic into a sword, it wouldn’t be long until their roles switched.
Akira shook his head. “Enough fantasizing.”
Even though he disliked his position, he still had to play it out thoroughly. As much as he hated that it was true, he was indeed the best person for the job of patrol.
Akira scanned the forest trees for monsters, but came up with nothing but darkness for miles around. Assured, he walked around, continually scanning for hostiles.
With nothing but silence, Akira’s mind started to wander. “…I wonder how much of what the emperor said was true?”
The elves teaming up with the Demon Lord. While it wasn’t too much of a stretch, the usual stories didn’t follow that development. From what Akira had read at the imperial library, the elves were the guardians of Yggdrasil as well as the ones who first taught humans of magic. Rather than enemies, they were benefactors. Yet, they had decided to turn on humans and join forces with the Demon Lord, a physical embodiment of darkness?
Akira found it fishy.
He wasn’t like the muscle-headed Kouki who blindly believed in that emperor, or like the sheep that followed that idiot.
Furthermore, while the soldiers traveling with them hid it well, they couldn’t hide the lust and desire that occurred whenever elves were brought up, especially not from his eyes.
Akira patrolled while lost in thought. Reaching the south side of the campgrounds, he found a giant boulder and sat down.
From the stories he had read, elves were always portrayed as the good guys. The exception would be dark elves, but even then that had usually been a result of some tragedy in the past. For the empire to send soldiers and even Otherworlders to subdue the elves reeked of human greed.
And then there was the lust that Akira had seen in the soldiers. His reader’s instincts were telling him that this was a bad plan, but he wasn’t prepared enough to strike out on his own quite yet.
Maybe he should-
A black line flew towards his neck.
Akira’s eyes widened and he hurriedly jumped back, drawing his sword to parry.
Light met dark and was devoured. At the same time, the surroundings were shrouded in shadows, a pitch black void replacing the Ancient Forest.
There was a figure standing before Akira. Wreathed in spiralling shadows and emanating oppressive mana, it was clear that the figure didn’t have good intentions.
But most importantly of all…
“I… can’t read you?”
The all-powerful ability Akira had gained from being transported to this new world, the trustworthy cheat he relied upon to increase his strength, the fool-proof power that showed even the unfathomable depths of the emperor’s strength.
For the first time, it failed.
The figure tilted its head and then raised its right arm. With that act, a blade forged from darkness emerged.
“…I don’t believe it,” Akira said. “I don’t believe that I can’t read you!”
Akira raised his sword and narrowed his eyes.
A headache. Blood rushed to his brain, enough to where it felt like it would burst from the pressure. His eyes blurred, his vision dyed red as blood vessels popped from the strain. Akira’s resolve fueled his power and his determination bore a single fruit.
But it was bittersweet.
“Demon Lord… Nazin?”
The figure- no, the Demon Lord charged.
My faithful companion (stick) cut through the air towards the student’s neck. Yet, strangely again he managed to parry.
I was confused for a while until I saw his eyes. The irises were a deep crimson hue, partially with blood, and had a pinwheel design.
“So you’re reading a bit into the future. Interesting, but pointless.”
I was just testing the waters, something I decided to do after I remembered my bitter defeat in the future. It seemed like the summoned person in front of me wasn’t that powerful though, even if he had the eyes of a certain ninja clan.
The barrier of darkness I established to hide our fight converged, wrapping around the patrolling student.
His eyes widened and his sword shone with light, exuding a pure white mana, but it was pointless. Darkness enveloped the light yet again, and then there was nothing left of the student.
The shadows dispersed, returning the surroundings to normal.
I stared at the campsite the student had been patrolling around.
It was an artificial forest clearing. In complete disregard of the natural environment, the trees that had lived for thousands of years had been cut down. Their trunks were tossed haphazardly to the side, not even being used to create a natural barricade. Instead, like rubbish, they were carelessly strewn together in a tangled mess.
In the place of the ancient trees, countless tents made of cotton and wooden poles dotted the clearing. Circles of about four to five tents each surrounded a campfire, and throughout the clearing there were at least twenty of those circles.
Yet, whether because they overestimated the strength of their patrolman, or because they were confident in being able to handle whatever opponents emerged regardless, there was no one awake.
I adjusted my grip on my faithful companion and it seemed to thrum with excitement. In response, I fed it mana, condensing a blade of pure darkness and imbued with chaos.
I stepped forward, idly swinging my faithful companion to test its weight, and then said, “I wonder if I’ll get a title for this? What do you think, Goddess?”
Again, there was no reply from her. However, I did get a response from my faithful companion. It hummed with power, as if telling me to rely on it. And, while it didn’t say anything, I somehow got a sense that it was telling me I didn’t need any powers from that goddess.
I laughed. “All of this acting and time leaping must be driving me crazy. A stick can’t communicate. But still, wouldn’t that be interesting? An insane person with a perfect memory whose sanity is kept in check only by a stick…” I shook my head at the wild thought and headed towards the nearest tent.
Opening the flap, I was met at the sight of four grown men, sprawled about some mats. Imperial soldiers, judging from the discarded suits of armor shoved against the tent’s side. All of them were sleeping and completely unaware of my entrance.
Stab. Pierce. Slash. Sever. In four moves, one tent was cleared. Only… ninety or so left to go.
I walked out of the tent, letting the blood stain the floor, and headed towards the next one. Again, there were soldiers. Again, they were killed.
One circle of tents, two, five. After clearing out ten circles, I started to doubt Titania’s warning. Perhaps the soldiers had been bluffing to her to break her morale. Out of the fifty tents I entered, none of them had any person that appeared like they might have been a transmigrator.
I opened the flap to the next tent, resigned for more disappointment. Instead, on seeing the people there, I subconsciously muttered, “Hoh? It looks like somebody’s enjoying the other world life.”
A Japanese male teen was sleeping in the center of the tent. Clinging to either of his arms were two girls, also Japanese.
Judging from the haphazardly strewn piles of clothes all over the tent floor and the faint musk in the air, the three had been enjoying themselves quite well into the night.
“Still, this is careless.”
I shook my head at the sight of the three, but I didn’t let down my guard in case it was a ruse and used Analyze.
“Aki, Yuki, and Haru. Combat potential B and… fast asleep.”
I frowned. This was too easy. I was expecting something more to happen. Usually a time like this was when the protagonist jumped out of nowhere to attack the intruder. That or someone woke up and caused everyone to be on their guard.
Was this a trap? Did the goddess expect me to kill off the Braves to delay the empire? Was that why she didn’t speak up?
I had a headache. I felt like I was forgetting something… and so I hesitated.
In that hesitation, one of the girls yawned and blearily opened her eyes.
I froze, but quickly relaxed. Information Concealment was active. Not only that, but it was dark and I was wrapped in shadows. I was fine.
But then the girl’s eyes focused on me. “…Aki? What are you doing up?” She blinked and then turned her head to look at the boy at her side as if the check he was there.
…It was a coincidence. There was no way she could see me, right?
Suddenly, the girl froze. She turned her gaze back towards me and opened her mouth, her eyes wide in shock.
I swung my faithful companion, but it was too late.
Blood sprayed and her words were cut off. But the damage had been done.
The other girl and the boy woke up. I quickly cut them down, but from outside I could hear sounds of people stirring.
“What was that?”
“That scream! Yuki-chan?”
I scowled. “Tch. I don’t know why Information Concealment’s not working… but I guess plan B is still an option.”
I wanted to quietly eliminate the Braves and the soldiers before heading to the capital and assassinating the real hero and his party, but it seemed like that option was shot down. Since the stealth mission was a failure, it wasn’t worth staying any longer than I had to.
Screams echoed through the forest clearing. Panicked shouts for order sounded from the soldiers.
I opened the tent flap.
Seeing the fully armed and wary group of over two hundred soldiers and a hundred Japanese students instantly lock their eyes on me, I muttered, “…Plan C it is.”
I walked out of the tent and raised my faithful companion. At the same time, I released the suppression I had been placing on my mana.
One of the Japanese students nearest to me, a male with glasses and short bangs, gulped and took a step back. “Th-that power… W-who are you?”
I grinned. “Isn’t that obvious?” Darkness gathered around me, forming a crown of black thorns and a cape of shadows. “I am Demon Lord Nazin, the one protecting the elves from you greedy humans. And you are already dead.”
With my words, that student exploded in a pile of gore, shadows crushing his body in an iron grip.
And the battle between the Demon Lord and the Braves truly began.