Chapter 8:

The Abandoned Castle

The Swordmaster and the New God

      Castle Cunnart stood gallantly in front of us. According to Evelyn, it used to be a hunting retreat for the royal family and was abandoned when they built the capital, Calpa hundreds of years ago.

      We walked towards the grey tower, careful to watch our steps. The knights did not maintain the roads out here, so they were covered with a variety of plant life. It was swampy on either side of us, some of the water leaking onto the road. The roads had been getting better and more solid, but the closer we got to the castle the worse they got.

      “I probably should have asked this sooner, but have either of you ever fought demons before?” Evelyn asked.

      “Yeah, I fought with Kazuma the second we got in this world.” Other than him, however, no.” Austin smiled at me and I rolled my eyes.

      “Ok, then this may be a little tricky. Demons are a little trickier than your average monster. A single demon takes a B ranked adventurer at minimum to defeat it, and that's for the weaker species. They're also hard to kill, and the only real way to learn is by experience.”

      “What do you mean, hard to kill?” I asked.

      “You can't kill a demon unless you break its core, and the core can be almost anywhere on its body. Each species of demon has a range of locations where its core can be concealed. To make it even worse, not every core can be destroyed the same way, and there are several types that the demon could potentially have, depending on its species.”

      “What do you mean by types of cores? To my knowledge, a core breaks the same way no matter what.” Austin was frowning at Evelyn. It seemed like this was becoming a habit, even if this frown felt different from the others". Weirdo.

      Evelyn shook her head. Her red hair flowed behind her, shimmering in the evening’s light.“It's true that most cores are like that, like slimes for example. That's not the case for demons. Their cores can only be destroyed in specific ways. For example, one of the more common ones can only be destroyed with a vertical slash.”

      “So you're saying that they can only be killed by hitting a small core, that's not found in the same spot from demon to demon, and that core can only be destroyed if we tap it a certain way? Yo Kazuma, we get through this, your protagonist status is certified.”

      “Such a downer. Dude, if you look through the stereotypical stormcloud above your head, there's a silver lining here.”

      “Like what. These demons don't exactly sound like a walk in the park.”

      “You know, I'll tell you when I find it.” I truly had nothing. This sounded hard, and victory wasn’t assured, but we would win. We didn't have a choice in the matter.

      We're here. Are you two ready?” Evelyn asked. We stood at the wooden gates to the castle, both swung open wide. Apparently, the demons didn’t like sunlight, so they only came out of the castle at night.

      “Not really, but don't think I really have a choice in the matter.” Austin had taken out his sword. He was gripping the faint pink blade tightly with both hands.

      I took out my blade. My hands were still despite everything, and I felt calm. Sure part of me was razzled and nervous, but no fear entered my body as it had not done since entering this new world.

       We slowly passed through the wooden doors and into Castle Cunnart. The entrance hall looked dilapidated, with torn up tapestries lining the dark stone walls. The windows were either shuttered or so dirty that barely any light passed through them. Still, the small amount of light that crept through the windows prevented us from being completely blind. Wind blew through the cracks in the wall, humming softly throughout the hall. Other than the wind and our footsteps, the castle was deathly silent.

      We neared the end of the hall, carefully stooping over all the debris on the ground. According to Captain Walkins, the demons didn't start appearing until a little past the entrance hall. A splintered wooden door separated us from the demons. Evelyn reached her hand out towards the black iron handle. She gave a tug at the door, and it slowly opened towards the interior of the castle, creaking eerily as it went.

       Austin got in a fighting stance, his sword pointed out. “Well, if they didn't know we were here before, they do now. Aren't we nice?”

       We were in a stone hallway that seemed to be leading downward. Stairs descended into the darkness of the lower floors. Spiderwebs littered the walls and ceilings. Austin’s sword lit the way.

       “I wish I had something to burn. I should've thought of that. What am I doing?” Evelyn muttered to herself. She continued on, degrading herself quietly, assuming that I couldn't hear. Austin could probably hear every word, that or he had the most situational super hearing of all time.

      I racked my brain for a solution and found one almost as soon as I started. I should have thought of it sooner. I could just create a torch. I should have just done that in the goblin cave. ‘Creation’. A wooden torch appeared in my hands, only costing two hundred mana.

      I passed it to Evelyn. “Here you go. Can you burn this?” She looked surprised at the torch that seemingly appeared out of thin air.

       “How did you do that?” She whispered. She sounded impressed. Things were going well for me. Maybe I was an isekai protagonist.

       “It's one of my skills, creation. I can create anything as long as I have enough mana.” I said.

       “Really? I underst-” Evelyn stopped mid-sentence as Austin put up his hand. “I hear something up ahead. I thought my ears were just playing tricks on me earlier, but there's a high pitched sound just ahead of us, like when your ear starts ringing.”

       “That means there are demons up ahead. Whenever the lesser ones sense something moving, they start making that sound to disorient their opponents,” whispered Evelyn.

       Austin took the lead and gestured with his hand for us to follow. Evelyn sent a small spark towards the torch while we walked, setting it ablaze.

      We walked down the stone stairs, into the darkness below. Past the firelight and Austin’s sword, it was pitch black ahead of us. Demons could line the walls, and we would never know.

      Seconds later, I started to hear the ringing. It was like my ear was screaming at me, a super high pitched bell played through a broken speaker. My ears felt like they wanted to bleed. It was fine. I could get through this, what was a little screaming really going to do?

      The groaning of the building was overpowered by the ringing of the demons, slowly fading into the background. I couldn't even hear my own footsteps now, the ringing was so loud. It seemed to get exponentially louder the closer we got.

      “Watch out!” Austin slashed at a green lizard-like thing that jumped at him from the darkness. Its red eyes seemed to gloom at Austin, who slashed it in half. However, the demon's body cut like clay. When Austin's sword exited the green lizard-like body, it appeared perfectly fine, its red tongue swishing back and forth.

      ‘Appraisal.’ like normal, a screen popped up next to the creature. ‘Lesser lizard demon.’ A lizard demon, we could handle. All we needed to do was find the core, and destroy it.

       Austin rushed forward as the demon jumped toward him, somewhat like a frog. Austin moved to the right of the demon, avoiding its jump, and thrust into the demon's upper torso. The demon froze and started to disintegrate until nothing was left except a red sphere impaled by Austin’s sword.

       Before we had time to celebrate, a horde of demons appeared in the firelight. Some of them were lizards, but there was a variety, all with red glowing eyes. I used appraisal on them, getting back names like ‘lesser moth demon’, 'lesser water demon’, and ‘lesser rage demon’. There were more than I could count.

       They came rushing towards us as I held my sword. I felt nervous but confident. If Austin could do this, I could too. I met my first demon head on. It swished around me, being made entirely of water, and almost caused me to trip. I swung at its head, slashing it off. The good thing about the water demons was that their cores were visible on the outside. On the core was an arrow pointing horizontally. When I cut it, the demon lost its form and splashed down in a puddle of water.

       I swung my sword over and over again at the lesser demons. They swung wings, tongues, and themselves at me to no avail. I felt confident, alive. Several times I hit a core and my sword bounced right off it, those things were indestructible if you didn't hit them correctly.

       Austin swung his sword around like a baton, slashing demon after demon. After some time, he didn't stop at a single demon, killing them all in one hit. It was increadable. His blade always found its mark and destroyed the core. He slashed and thrust into every demon, hitting them with every angle possible. For one demon, he twirled his sword mid swing, causing the spinning sword to destroy the core.

       Evelyn stood behind us, launching bolts of fire at the demons. The flames bonded to the demons, making them focus their regeneration on the fire damage, and leaving them defenseless. Some of her fireballs even killed the demons in one shot if she got a lucky hit.

       The demons seemed to be thinning out. The demon horde wasn't as thick coming towards us, and there seemed to be fewer of them on the edge of the firelight. We were almost home free! The second we took out the rest of the demons, the castle's demon population would be significantly reduced, maybe even eliminated.

       I pulled my sword backward out of a demon and turned to look at Austin. His sword was turning blue now around every fifth slash, and that slash always killed the target. Did he find out how to use one of his other skills? If so, that was great, Austin was finally starting to grow up! So cute.

       After fighting demons for a while, I got a knack for where the core was, and how to destroy it. The feeling was almost instinctual. I just felt like I was hitting the right areas, that it was the right thing to do.

       “We're almost done with them. Just a few more!” Evelyn shouted from behind. She sounded almost elated. She could have been more scared than she looked? Evelyn didn't seem like the type to hide her emotions well though.

       I waded through the demons, killing as I went until there was only a handful left. Miraculously, I was completely unharmed. Evelyn made it seem like these demons would be a lot tougher than they ended up being. Was I actually as strong as an S rank? If so, then what was Austin?

       Austin swung vertically at the last demon, cutting it in half. We were done. The ringing completely dissipated after the demon died, leaving the groaning of the castle to take its place. I sighed and lowered my sword. I didn't feel exhausted yet, but was out of breath. Swordfighting was hard. I had mad respect for everyone who used a sword.

       “There's still one left,” Austin said quietly. He held out his sword, looking like he was well rested. “I think he's still a little far off. Do you two hear anything?”

       I looked at Evelyn, and we both shook our heads. I couldn't hear any of the ringing that the demons made.

       “Ok then, just follow me quietly.” He waved us on, the pink light of his sword shining ahead into the darkness.

      Our footsteps echoed in the stone hallway as we walked. We passed several dark wooden doors on our right. I peered inside the rooms with no doors or broken ones. Most of them had offices that were disheveled, like the occupant was in a rush to get out, knocking everything over in the process.

      “Hey Austin, did you figure out how to use one of your skills?” It was the only explanation for his sword glowing blue that I could think of.

      “Yeah, critical attacker. It lets me find a killing blow when one is available. I was just using it incorrectly when facing the goblins.” He hefted his sword up, turning it blue, then pink again.

       Just as I went to respond, the ringing started up again in my ear. We were close. One more demon. Honestly, it wasn't worth being this careful for a single one, we just killed hundreds of them after all.

      At the end of the stone hallway was an ornate door reaching up to the ceiling. Light shone from under the door, illuminating it. Brass vines curved inwards towards the golden handles, which glimmered in the firelight.

       “This is it. The last demon is inside here. Are you two ready? This one sounds big.”

       “It's just a single demon, we can handle it right, Evelyn?” I asked.

       “I guess. No, we can do this. I have faith in us.” Evelyn raised her voice, pumping herself up. Despite that, she looked somewhat timid, her arms crossed and legs touching.

      Austin pushed open both doors which groaned as they moved. Despite Austin’s strength, they still looked heavy to move. Inside was what looked to be a church of some kind. The walls and floor were made of smooth wood that stretched up eight meters or so towards the ceiling. Sunlight shone in through the glass dome, lighting the whole church up.

       Past the rows of benches was a wooden stand with the top split in half. Behind that was the demon. It was at least four meters tall, with black hair all over its body, sort of like a gorilla. Its red glowing eyes bore down at us as it snarled.

       ‘Appraisal’. The box that appeared read. ‘Ape pseudo-demon’. What was that? Every demon we’ve faced so far had the word lesser in the description.

      “I'm not sure we can win this.” Evelyn created a ball of fire in her palm. We were in a standoff, neither side moving.

      “Hey Kazuma, gun time?”

“Yeah, gun time,” I said, creating a pistol in my hand.

      Austin took the gun and pointed it at the ape demon. For whatever reason it stayed still, growling at us.

      “Bang.” The bullet rocketed through the air into the skull of the demon. It collapsed on the spot, shaking the whole room. Its body slowly disintegrated until there was nothing left, but a single red ball, smoking from where a bullet had entered.

      “What was that? It just flew, then it died, and then…” Evelyn kept rambling on, clearly overwhelmed.

      “That's a weapon from earth, called a gun.” Austin walked over to the core and picked it up. “Well well, what do we have here?”

      I went to Austin's side behind the stand. A pitch black sword was imploded in the ground. Red lines ran across the blade end to end, sort of like veins. Austin put both hands on the hilt and pulled up. The blade came soaring out of the ground into Austin’s fingertips. “Let's go,” Austin said, a smile sprouting on his face.