Lapis was running in the gloomy forest, her face faintly colored with fear.
She looked over her shoulders; Loren, with a greatsword on his shoulder, was running after her, but his face was distorted with fear. It was not an expression usually seen on his face, and Lapis wondered if that was what he looked like when he felt scared. She had no references though, so she turned around again and shrugged lightly.
Inside Loren’s body was a girl called Shayna, and it was her who formed the body’s expression. Even though it was the same body, the two of them must have felt fear in different ways; it was not certain that Loren would make the same expression Shayna had just now.
“Are they chasing us?”
Being chased by demons was what adventurers do; that was one of the things Lapis had signed to. Being chased by soldiers and adventurers couldn’t be helped as she was from the Daemon race; she had also used to that. But Lapis hadn’t even expected to be chased in a forest by countless crazy, naked-from-the-waist-down men. Surely enough she didn’t feel prepared at all.
“Why do I have to go through such a thing like this?!”
“As a daily activity?”
“Isn’t that bad?! I strongly protest!”
Shayna thought that shouting while running would mess up one’s breathing and cause excessive tiredness but Lapis’s body, with support from her demon abilities, didn’t seem to be exhausted by that.
Just then, a man suddenly reached out from the shade of the trees ahead and tried to block them. Lapis threw a punch at his face, coloring trunks of trees in red.
“It’s strange that we can’t shake them off, but how did they get ahead of us?!”
“Are we in a normal space now?”
The man fell backwards. Lapis thought about adding a kick just to make sure but just gave up.
No matter how high her ability was, it was still impossible to deliver a high kick towards the guy’s temple while running. If she were to make a more natural kick, it would have to be a front kick, and the place such a kick hit would be his lower half body. But this man was, just like the ones who were chasing them, naked from the waist down for some reason. A front kick might hit that vital, difficult-to-mention part of him. It would be alright if he had been wearing clothes, but Lapis just couldn’t imagine having her own feet come into direct contact with that thing.
Anyways, Lapis asked Shayna about her grumbling:
“What do you mean?”
“I think we have already been under the influence of the culprit of this strange happening, just like how onii-san has. If that’s the case, maybe we’ve already been trapped in some area and won’t be able to get out.”
“Even though we’ve tried our hardest to run away, it’s possible that we’re actually just running in a circle.”
“In that case, isn’t it strange that we don’t see the backs of our pursuers?”
“Maybe they separated and are hiding in the shades of the trees and will come out when we pass by, again and again.”
Lapis didn’t remember the faces of each pursuer. She agreed with Shayna’s idea that a fixed number of the men pretended to chase them while the others hid and came out to block them repeatedly. But if that was the case, there would arise a new problem. Lapis scratched her head in annoyance.
“In that case, it’ll be meaningless no matter how much we run, isn’t it?”
“We’ll run out of strength before long, and will be captured.”
It was easy to guess whose stamina would deplete first – theirs, who just kept running single-mindedly or of those men, who hid between the trees after running for a bit. Even though Lapis had quite high stamina due to her demon heritage, it was still impossible to run away from pursuers who could take breaks while chasing her.
“Well then, we have no choices but to intercept them somewhere, don’t we?”
“Or breaking free from the area we’re trapped in.”
Neither of it was easy. One had no choice but to do what needed to be done though – Lapis made up her mind.
“First of all, let’s deal with our pursuers.”
“I have no confidence about it, but I’ll try… Ah.”
Shayna stopped in the middle of the sentence. Thinking there was some problem, Lapis looked over her shoulders and saw Shayna pressing at her temples. Her expression changed from innocent and childlike to stern and bloodthirsty.
“If it’s that kind of work… I’ll take charge of it!”
Instead of Shayna’s unfamiliar tone, the tone of voice that reached Lapis’ ears was familiar.
He had stopped as his expression changed. Lapis saw their pursuers approaching him from behind and raised her voice in warning. But Loren had already raised his greatsword with both hands and swung it around with a roar. The blade cut deeply into the trees around them and slightly into the torso of the approaching man without stopping. The body was slashed into two, blood and flesh spread around.
Seeing the clothed upper half body being cut off from the naked lower half body, the pursuers didn’t even flinch. They started leaping at Loren with the momentum of their run. But trying to grab at Loren, who was wielding a sword, while they were barehanded, was just a mad attempt.
Loren slashed the sword upwards and cut one of the men into two from crotch to head in a straight line. He pulled the sword back and split another man into two again, from head to crotch this time. The two severed parts of the corpse slowly fell to left and right while Loren emerged in the middle, leaning forward with a violent shake while being showered in blood.
Thinking that Loren’s losing his stance was a good opportunity, the other men rushed in with increased vigor. But despite the unstable stance, he still swung the greatsword with his right hand; those on the path of his blade have their upper body torn off, making the cross-section of their bodies visible. The bodies were cut into halves and fell away.
New fountains of blood spayed in the air and Loren, having lost his balance, fell to his knees. Lapis rushed up to him, but he raised a hand to stop her.
“Loren! You’re still under its effect… This is not good, please change places with Shayna!”
It seemed like Loren’s mind was still being influenced by some force hiding in this forest. Lapis immediately realized that in order to fight, he had forcibly used the battle’s tension to trick himself. If this continued, his mind would be deeply affected by this phenomenon.
But he ignored Lapis’ advice and didn’t switch places with Shayna.
“I can’t let someone who’s not used to killing, kill. Unlike magic and such, the feeling stays on your hands.”
No matter how inhuman an existence she had now become, Shayna had originally been a very young girl. No matter how desperate the situation was, making such a young girl feel the blade cutting through flesh and bones and smell the stench of blood was… And Loren could still remember the repulsion he had felt when taking away another person’s life with his own hands.
“Leave it to me. I will try to keep my sanity until it all ends.”
“And after it all ends…”
“If I become mad, run. Or…”
Loren took a quick glance at Lapis’ face, then immediately returned his eyes to the enemies in front of them and fixed his grip on the sword.
“Deal with me in any way suitable then. I won’t hold any grudges, I think.”
Lapis wanted to say that she wouldn’t be able to do that, but before the words came out, Loren had stepped forward.
He swung the sword that had been resting on his shoulder downwards, and the head that received its direct hit was crushed into pieces and scatter in all directions.
Loren cluck his tongue at that.
He had been able to cut one man into half with a single stroke of his sword before, but now he could only smash them. This meant he wasn’t in good shape, and couldn’t control his mind or body as he wanted. Loren had realized that he had just used brute force to smash the head rather than slicing it.
The headless body was still standing and swaying on the same spot as if it couldn’t be stopped. Loren gave it a kick and turned his eyes to another prey. But he could feel his vision flickered for a moment, and grinned his teeth.
Breathing in the air thick with the stench of blood and mixed with that sickeningly sweet scent made Loren’s consciousness turn hazy.
[‘Onii-san! Don’t overdo it and just switch with me, please!’]
Shayna spoke to him, but he didn’t pay it attention. He asked her for a favor instead: Using Energy Drain, the ability of a King of the Death, to supply him with power.
Shayna didn’t question what he planned to do; she just immediately sucked up magic power and life force from the pursuers and the trees and poured it into Loren.
Feeling the power flowing into himself, Loren tried to drag out the sensation caused by the phenomenon, something he hadn’t been able to do by himself.
“It doesn’t even sway at this level… It just coats over the fight in my head.”
As if to give himself a hint, Loren only focused on the enemies swarming before his eyes and the greatsword he was holding. Right now, only these two things were important; nothing else was. He drove all other thoughts out of his mind and only focused on fighting.
“I won’t…. let you do it!”
In a corner of Loren’s roaring mind, the feeling resurrected. Something clicked and Loren, feeling the clinking sound of it, lifted the corners of his mouth to form a ferocious smile.