That scream reverberated inside the underground laboratory as Kirihime took another stab from the cursed katana that Kurokage held.
“How stubborn of you.” Kurokage frowned. “Even though it’s easier for you to give up from the extreme pain.”
“Ryou...will...come!” Kirihime repeated that sentence like a spell. “He’ll... definitely...save me...!”
Kurokage narrowed his eyes in displease and continue to stab the unresisting Kirihime with his katana, producing more scream and useless struggle from her.
“I’m sure you’ve felt it yourself, why this katana is called [cursed].” Kurokage spoke with light tone, as if he were talking with an old friend. “A single touch of its blade is enough to inject a certain neurotoxin that could heighten your sense of pain. You’ve been stabbed...how many times?”
Kurokage tilted his head and counted the wounds on Kirihime’s body.
“About 7 to 8 times, eh? A simple pain inflicted upon you would feel like a hundred times more painful, isn’t it?”
As if proving his words, Kurokage slashed Kirihime’s arm. Her eyes widened in pain and she bit her lips tightly that her lips started to bleed as well.
Kurokage sighed on this display of stubbornness. “Nothing good will come if you keep being like this, [Princess]. Just say that you’ll help me with my Mazoku and I’ll release you from the pain. For your information, I won’t use those Mazoku against humans. I’ll use them to seize the throne of demon king. Really, that geezer won’t die no matter what I throw at him.” He muttered.
“That...I won’t...let you...” Kirihime whispered weakly.
“What’s this? You’re sympathizing with demon too?” Kurokage laughed. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if you end up with a true Mazoku as your child.” He insulted Kirihime.
“You won’t...be able...to see...that.” Kirihime replied.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Kurokage directed his eyes at Kirihime, who still able to smile fearlessly.
The next second, the cursed katana had pierced Kirihime’s right leg and she couldn’t hold back a scream of pain. For a moment her vision blurred as Kirihime struggled to keep her consciousness intact. Kurokage mercilessly pulled his katana and fresh blood poured out from the deep wound.
“...that’s it. That’s the last string.” Kurokage said in a deadly tone. “If you won’t cooperate after I tortured you this far, then you never will. It’s fine. I’ll look for another person who’s just as interested in Mazoku as you. I don’t need you anymore.”
With those parting words, Kurokage swung his katana at Kirihime’s neck, who had lost all will to resist and simply closed her eyes, waiting for death to come and take her away.
“Sorry...Ryou. I had broken our promise...” Kirihime thought bitterly.
But the finishing strike never came.
Instead, Kurokage forcefully grabbed Kirihime’s pale face and stared intently at her.
“You...your hair...those words earlier...could it be...you’re—”
Both of them turned to look at the door, which had been blown away, along with several Mazoku that stood guard there.
“Kirihime!!!” Ryou lunged at her.
“Ryou...!” A surge of relief washed Kirihime’s body. Despite what she said to Kurokage, she half-believed that Ryou was defeated when there was no sign of Ryou. “I won’t doubt you again, Ryou!!” Kirihime decided in her heart.
“What??!! How is that possible?!” Kurokage let Kirihime go and lifted his katana once again. “Kill that boy immediately!”
Hearing his order, all the remaining Mazoku stood between Kurokage and Ryou, prepared to kill him. Unfortunately for them, seeing Kirihime was still alive had cleared Ryou’s mind and helped him think faster.
“It’s true that they were incredibly hard to defeat with normal means. Because once they seen my attack, it won’t work twice. Then—” Ryou changed his arms into two short swords and launched a precise finishing blow to every single enemy. With short swords, his agility had gone up several levels and he was able to do instant kills quickly. “I just have to one-hit them before they even know what hit them!” Ryou decided.
Upon seeing Ryou mowed down his army like they were nothing, Kurokage reevaluated Ryou’s ability and quickly cut Kirihime’s bound, then forced her to stand up and use her as a shield against Ryou.
“Stop right there, boy!! Don’t come closer or your precious master will die!” Kurokage roared.
Just as he hoped, Ryou stopped fighting and the rest of those Mazoku surrounded Ryou.
“That’s right!! If you resist, this girl will die instantly!” Kurokage pressed his katana against Kirihime’s neck.
“Tch! What a hassle...” Ryou muttered to himself as he lowered his swords. He had seen Kirihime’s wounded body and her injured leg. He knew that Kirihime was in no condition to fight nor run away.
Kurokage laughed happily. “What a convenient turnout!! With you here, I could bisect you and study your body to create even more perfect army of artificial Mazoku!”
Ryou gritted his teeth. “No matter how interested she is in Mazoku, Kirihime would never do such thing. Even though I doubted her at first, now I know. That she is a very kind-hearted person who never wished to hurt others.”
“Then, finish him! Do it cleanly!” Kurokage ordered his puppets. Then he turned to Kirihime, who fell silent all this time. “I’ll let you see the end of your faithful knight, [Princess]—”
Kurokage stopped talking and stared in disbelief, and so did Ryou.
A single hand that held a katana just dropped on the floor and started moving on itself like a tail of a lizard. The sword with decorated hilt that had just severed it was gripped by the pale-faced girl.
“Don’t touch me so casually, demon.” Kirihime said in icy tone.
Kurokage quickly snatched his severed hand and distanced himself far away from Kirihime, apparently moving out of instinct.
“Kirihime!!” Ryou snapped out of his shock and finished the last Mazoku, then rushed to Kirihime’s side, who had leaned on the sword.
“You’re late, idiot...” Kirihime whispered and slumped against Ryou, her energy drained from the wound in her leg.
“Sorry it took me so long to come.” Ryou gently laid Kirihime on the floor and quickly tended her leg. “But that was so cool! Who knew you brought the other decoration sword with you?”
Kirihime forced a smile. “Then you must work hard to surpass me. Satomi Ryou, this is my order. Kill Kurokage, the demon of shadow. I will not tolerate any failure.” Kirihime ordered.
Ryou nodded. “Leave the rest to me. I’ll definitely take you home.” He stood and faced Kurokage, who had connected his arm again with magic. “I won’t forgive you for laying your hand on my master.” Ryou unleashed his bloodlust.
The next instant, Ryou lunged at Kurokage with high speed.
“I’ll finish him as fast as I can and take Kirihime home! She won’t last long with that kind of wound—”
The next instant, Ryou had hit the ground and barely able to avoid a stab to his neck. Ryou quickly stood up and distanced himself from Kurokage.
“That was unbelievably fast!! Is this the raw power of a demon?!” Ryou thought as he examined Kurokage’s movements carefully.
“Aren’t you underestimating me too much, boy?” Kurokage narrowed his eyes in displease. “If a Mazoku’s power is half of a demon, then an artificial Mazoku’s power is even lesser than that. You dare challenge me like I’m just another artificial Mazoku?” Kurokage lunged at Ryou again.
Ryou barely able to see his movements and had to shift his eyes so that he could keep up with Kurokage. That instant proved to be fatal.
Kurokage hit Ryou with all of his strength and Ryou was flung to the wall, which crumbled upon impact.
“Ryou...!!!” Kirihime screamed in horror.
“I...I’m fine...” Ryou struggled to stand up while clutching his broken ribs. If he had been normal human, he’d have died with that attack.
“It won’t be for long, boy!” Taking advantage of that moment, Kurokage struck again, this time with his katana.
Ryou instantly shifted his legs to be as fast as cheetah’s and leapt away, but Kurokage didn’t stop there. He kept chasing Ryou, not giving him any chance to even land a blow on him.
“Ryou! Don’t let the blade touch you! It’s poisoned!” Kirihime warned him.
“Okay!! Don’t worry!” Ryou replied without losing his concentration.
The two was engaged in close-range fight, Kurokage who had the advantage of his strength and experience against Ryou who used his skills and wits. But as Kurokage said, an artificial Mazoku couldn’t hope to surpass demon.
Ryou made a fatal miss when he tried to attack Kurokage’s blind spot and the katana cleanly stabbed Ryou’s ribs.
“Uwaaakh!!!” Ryou staggered and fell to his knees as extreme pain almost overwhelmed his consciousness. Even so, he stubbornly stood up and trying to attack Kurokage.
But Ryou was distracted by the pain and he slashed the air. Kurokage, who easily dodged his attack, kicked Ryou’s broken ribs and he hit the wall again.
“No...not yet...!” Ryou coughed blood, but he kept standing up again.
“How pitiful.” Kurokage appeared before him and mercilessly stabbed Ryou’s shoulder, making him almost blacked out from the pain.
Suddenly Ryou clutched the katana with his bare hand and punched Kurokage’s face with his other fist, which shifted into a giant hand.
“No...way...” Ryou was shocked when Kurokage blocked his punch only with a single hand.
“I’ve told you. You’re no match for me.” Kurokage kicked Ryou again and slashed him. Then he leisurely lifted his katana once again to deliver the finishing blow as Ryou was frozen with pain.
“Kirihime...” Ryou glanced at the girl. “Sorry...I was a failure as your knight. I said I’d protect you, but I let you be abducted and now I’m about to lose... really, maybe it’d be better if we hadn’t met at all...”
“...I’ve had enough.”
The next instant, Kurokage’s katana-wielding arm had once again fell to the floor, this time accompanied with a decorated sword.
“...eh?” Kurokage was simply dumbfounded to be struck twice.
“So you want to give up?” Kirihime forced herself to stand. “You want to run away from your duty and leave me behind?” Her body trembled with anger and pain. “THEN GO!!!” Kirihime glared daggers at Ryou.
But her eyes were filled with tears.
“Just go and leave me alone!!! I don’t need someone like you!! You said you will stay by my side!!! You said you will protect me!!! You’re a liar!! I believed in you!!! I believe that you will never be defeated! Not by anyone!! Definitely not by that mere demon!!” Kirihime kept shouting.
“Mere demon?” Kurokage muttered in anger, but none of them paid him any heed.
“But if you want to give up...” Kirihime staggered, losing her energy. “...then fine. Just leave me alone, like everyone else does.”
Ryou was more surprised as he saw tears fell on Kirihime’s cheek.
“Ah...she had been suppressing all those pain inside her.” That thought flashed across Ryou’s mind. “She had been betrayed and left behind too many times. But even so, she reached out to me. She believed in me. And I...” Ryou forced himself to ignore the pain. “...must answer that trust.”
“Sorry, Kirihime. I was stupid to forget the reason why I can’t lose.” Ryou said in apologetic tone. “Will you trust me once again?”
Kirihime fell to her knees and forced a weak smile. “Of course. Satomi Ryou. I command you to release the chain on your power and protect your master with all your might!” She ordered.
As Kirihime spoke, an idea came across Ryou’s mind. A power that he desired. A power that was enough to protect Kirihime. Ryou reached out his arms and concentrated.
“As if I’ll let you!!” Kurokage, who had connected his arm once again, struck Ryou with his katana.
Kurokage’s eyes widened in surprise—and fear. His katana had cracked from being parried by Ryou.
“No...no, it’s impossible!!!” Kurokage quickly distanced himself from Ryou. “How...?! How did you get the [element of creation]?!”
Ryou’s arms and legs had shifted into something even stronger than the strongest metal but as light as a feather, enhancing his speed and strength by folds. Now he glowed with faint jade-green light. The element that could pierce any kind of metal and magic.
Namely, [Aether], the element that had created world.
A man in the shadow smiled in satisfaction.
“Then, let’s begin round two.” Ryou turned to Kurokage and disappeared.
“Wha—?!” Kurokage was utterly shocked to see his speed.
Ryou came from behind and attacked Kurokage, who barely able to evade his attack. This time it was Kurokage who was cornered and unable to retaliate.
“If this keeps going, then I’ll lose...!” Kurokage thought frantically.
That thought had robbed his calmness and created a chance for Ryou.
Kurokage coughed black blood as Ryou’s hand pierced through his chest. But a demon couldn’t be defeated if his heart wasn’t destroyed.
“As if...I’ll die here...!” Kurokage swung his katana and Ryou pulled his hand away. “Shadow Realm.”
That very instant, the whole room was covered in thick darkness. Ryou lost his sense of direction as he couldn’t even discern which was left and right.
“Coward!! Show yourself!” Ryou shouted as he kept moving.
“I’ve had enough playing. I applaud you, boy. No, Satomi Ryou. You had forced me to use my trump card.” Kurokage’s voice resounded within the room.
Suddenly the darkness dispersed, but Kurokage was nowhere to be found.
“Where are you?!” Ryou used x-ray vision, but nothing came up.
“...right here.” His voice surprisingly came from behind Ryou.
Ryou quickly turned around and slashed him, but he had disappeared again. This happened again and again, making Ryou even more frustrated.
“Ryou!! He merged with the shadow!” Kirihime, who was watching carefully, shouted. “You can’t touch him while he’s in the shadow!”
“Shadow, you said?! That’s unfair!” Ryou frowned.
“Fair?” Kurokage’s laugh filled the room. “It doesn’t exist in demon’s dictionary!”
Kurokage appeared once again behind Ryou and slashed his back. Though Ryou had tried to evade, but his back was wounded and he almost passed out from the pain.
“No...not yet!! I can’t...lose yet!” Ryou steeled himself and strained all of his senses. “Just one attack...I just need one more attack and it will all over! I will take Kirihime home!”
“One more attack and it’s game over for you!” Kurokage, who had the same thought, shouted.
“Oh yeah?! That’s exactly my line!” Ryou replied fearlessly, even though his body was at his limit.
Suddenly a pitch-black darkness covered the entire room and robbed Ryou’s vision. He quickly moved away from his original position, but unexpectedly, his back hit the wall.
“Wha—?!” Ryou quickly glanced to his back, but he saw nothing.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Those footsteps were definitely heading his way. But Ryou couldn’t locate Kurokage’s position at all.
“Come on...I just need a light! Just one second is enough! As long as I’m able to see where he is, I’ll be able to finish him! Someone...please give me light!!” Ryou prayed in his heart.
“Accept your fate, Satomi Ryou!!” Kurokage roared.
Ryou gritted his teeth and expected an attack anytime soon.
Suddenly Ryou heard the sound of something broke. The next instant, the whole room was filled with blinding light. Ryou quickly covered his eyes, but that light had done its job. Ryou found Kurokage standing few feet before him, blinded by the sudden light.
Kurokage’s eyes widened in shock when Ryou’s sword pierced his heart.
“But...how...” He muttered.
“You may be stronger than me, but my master is a genius. Don’t underestimate us.” Ryou said confidently.
He pulled his sword and the darkness disappeared as Kurokage’s lifeless body fell to the floor.
“Kirihime!!” Ryou turned to her, grinning happily. “I did it! I won!”
Kirihime smiled. “As expected...from...my butler...” Then she collapsed.
“He-Hey!! Are you alright?!” Ryou ran to her side.
“I’m...” Kirihime whispered weakly.
“What is it?!” Ryou asked worriedly.
“Huh?” Ryou was rendered speechless.
“This is...way...past lunch. I’m too hungry...I can’t move...” Kirihime closed her eyes.
Ryou sighed. “I was stupid for expecting something more serious. Then, hold on tight.” He lifted Kirihime and carried her on his back.
They went out of the mansion and returned home using a horse.
“...hey, Ryou.” Kirihime whispered as they rode home.
“What?” Ryou leaned himself closer to Kirihime, who sat in front of him.
“...I’m going to sleep.” Kirihime closed her eyes and fell asleep almost instantly.
“Wai—don’t joke with me!! You’re going to fall!! Oi, Kirihime! I can’t ride and hold you at the same time!” Ryou frantically trying to stop the horse without letting Kirihime fell.
“...I’m really glad...that you came for me...” Kirihime muttered.
“Eh?” Ryou looked at her, astonished.
“Thank...you...zzz...” Kirihime fell asleep again.
“You’re really...” Ryou sighed, but he couldn’t hold back his smile.