Chapter 18:

The Entrance

The Swordmaster and the New God

      After we woke up, little time passed before we left the cave. Safety was fleeting, our last chance at security trapped. Everything was on us now.

      “The plan is simple! I thought about last night, and here's what I came up with.” Evelyn spoke as we walked through the mountainous realm. We had agreed to plan while walking, not wasting precious daylight if you could call it that. Lightning replaced the sun, constantly flashing above us.

      The Demon Lord’s castle was in clear view now. Less than fifteen minutes and we would be at the doorstep. We were in the supposed range that demons ventured out into, but we hadn’t seen a trace of one. Despite that, we kept our guard up. I knew firsthand how demons could attack from nowhere, sneaking up like a ninja.

      “So, I feel like the side entrance over here is the safer option.” Evelyn had pulled out her map, holding it against one of the many stones poking out of the solid earth.

      “That looks good to me. The entrance is probably swarmed with demons as well. Saving as much energy as possible is ideal.” Austin temporarily stopped to look at the map, then moved on. Evelyn had to sprint to catch up, putting the map back in the satchel.

      A few minutes later, we were at the gate, hiding behind a convenient rock. The castle loomed over us, giving off a menacing aura. The gate was behind a long purple bridge, spikes lining the top of the railings. The bridge was wide enough to fit three horse-drawn carriages riding side by side, perfect for a swarm of demons to stand on.

      Demons swarmed the bridge, clattering along the tiles. Crossing here seemed impossible; the demons were just too packed together. They crawled over one another, coming and going. When they got too packed together, they seemed to suddenly glitch, passing through each other. Some of them phased too far, falling through the bridge into the darkness below.

      Beyond the demons, the gate lay. The giant wooden doors looked weirdly inviting, allowing you to come into the dark halls. Demons went in and out, not caring about each other. Only their bright red eyes were clearly visible, lightning flashing over their bodies.

       “You know what, that side entrance is sounding really good right now.” Austin started to move from rock to rock, careful to stay out of sight.

       I followed, careful to copy his movements. According to Evelyn’s map, the side entrance was less than five minutes away.

      I viewed the castle as I ran, getting glimpses through the cracks of the rocks. The castle was humongous, at least forty stories tall, and twice as wide. Towers and ramparts stuck out, reaching for the sky, as the main spire put them all in their place. The stone seemed darker, more menacing than the bright white stones of Calpa’s wall. They were dark, dirty, worn with time. This was truly the castle of a Demon Lord.

      After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the side entrance. The door was quiet, unassuming in its placement. Here, the earth directly touched the castle, no bridge separating the two. A simple hundred meters separated us from the door, from the Demon Lord.

      “So Kazuma, are you ready to yeet our lives away?” Austin asked.

      “Please, if I'm yeeting myself anywhere, it's into traffic. You can yeet your life wherever you want to.”

      “What a way to go.” Austin rolled his eyes as he stepped out of cover. I followed as we entered the stretch between us and the castle, Evelyn following. We walked slowly through the dirt, careful not to make any extra sounds. The thunder had all but disappeared when we got close, leaving only the flashes of light as proof for the lightning's existence.

      We reached ninety-five meters, ninety, eighty-five. All was going well. We could make it. We could reach the Demon Lord’s castle without facing a single demon. How lucky were we?

      Suddenly, I heard a ringing sound. It was faint, somewhere to the left of us. The ringing was slowly getting louder and louder

      “Crap! To your right!” Austin swung his now pink sword through a demon jumping from one of the rocks. The sword glowed blue as it hit, snapping the demon’s core in two. “They're all around us!”

      I looked behind me in surprise. We were completely encircled. They had trapped us! I pulled my sword out, holding it at the ready. We only had one option now; to fight.

      I ran to Austin's back, covering for him while Evelyn stood between us. None of the demons made a move, their ringing only getting louder. It was dark, hard to get a good view of the demons.

      It was a standoff, us versus them. If we were going to beat the Demon Lord, we needed to win here. “Screw it.” I charged at the wall of demons, sword glimmering in my hand. From my first footstep, all the demons charged. They were a wave. A pitch-black tsunami roared through the still air.

      I leaped backward, landing next to Evelyn. The demons came to me, a ringing wave of death. I stabbed one in the chest, then slashed at another. The demons were everywhere, grouped together like a swarm of fire ants.

      My sword was like a whip, lashing at the demons. Appraisal wasn't even an option here. There were simply too many demons. They fell left and right from our attacks and their own. In the process of attacking us, the demons crawled over each other, burying their comrades alive.

      The wave seemed never ending, no matter how much I swung my sword. This was more than the demons we had faced at the old demon infested castle; this was an army.

      My mind raced, trying its hardest to find a solution. We needed an explosion, something to destroy their numbers in one fell swoop.

      I looked back at Austin, ready to jump towards him to get ideas. His sword had somehow changed color again this time to a lime green. That wasn't the interesting part, however. Austin was a blur, dashing from demon to demon. Wherever he was, demon corpses followed. The blood splatter followed the blur, almost looking like a cape.

      He dashed over to me, faster than I could reach. He had to be moving at least a hundred miles an hour, maybe faster. “What do you think? We may lose this, but I'm gonna lose with style.” He had a giant grin on his face, opposite to his expression earlier in the cave. Americans were always so obsessed with their violence.

      “The more you say we’ll lose, the more likely we will. Do you have any ideas on how to deal with this?”

      “Not really. I don't think that the sniper rifle you have will really help here.”

      “How did you....?”

      “Not the time. We need some sort of explosion. Not to wipe them all out, but just enough to make this manageable.”

      “What, like a bomb? My mana is full right now, but I'm not sure I can make one big enough.” I had struggled to make a sniper rifle, so a bomb was most likely out of the question. Besides, most bombs needed set up time, something we didn't have.

      “You do know grenades exist, Right?” Austin temporarily blurred out of frame, appearing a few meters to my right, where Evelyn was getting overwhelmed. Her fire blasted the demons, scorching them alive. Their burn mark’s kept healing, however. Evelyn needed space to aim; she couldn't get the precision needed to hit the cores without it. Even if she hit a core, it would only be destroyed if her blast met the requirements, making her flames suited for more of a backup role.

      Austin slashed through the demons, leaving a trail of death in his wake. His sword was the only reason we were alive. Emilia’s power had made me feel cocky like we could destroy anything. Still, it was better to struggle than to rely on that nutcase.

      Taking my mind off Emilia, I focused on making the grenades; there should be mana to spare if all went well. Grenades were simple, especially compared to guns. I focused my mana, using the time given to me by Austin’s blade. ‘Creation.’ A half-dozen grenades appeared with a flash, sitting in my palms. Wasting no time, I immediately pulled the pin on one and threw it into the demon wave. I hoped that the explosion would destroy most of the cores..

      The green ball of death flew through the air, dispersing into the black mass of the demons. Time crawled at that moment, waiting for the inevitable, drawing out the mere seconds before… “boom!” The grenade exploded, launching all the demons in the vicinity. Red cores fell like rain onto the ground as the demons disintegrated in the air. The demons seemed to glitch out, body parts phasing in and out, disappearing and then coming back, over and over before disappearing forever. It was a massive success. The sheer chaos caused by the explosion hit most of the cores in just the right way. Austin had great ideas once in a blue moon.

      I wasted no time throwing the other five grenades. Each one exploded a few seconds after the last, sending demons flying like birds. The wave of demons grew smaller with every blast, turning from a tsunami into a kiddie pool. The bloodshed was like a massacre. I almost felt sorry for the demons, getting slaughtered left and right with no remorse. Almost.

      Taking the opportunity in stride, Austin took care of the survivors. His blade dashed around the circle, leaving a trail of death wherever he went. Less than a minute later, the last core fell onto the ground.

      “Guys, I know we want to celebrate and all, but look behind us before you do.” Before I could say anything, Austin spoke up, stealing my spotlight. Still, I followed his instructions. What I saw was a mountain sticking up into the air.

      “Hey Austin, I don't know if all that sword swinging messed up your brain, but that's called a mountain, something that was already here for your information,” I said.

      “No dip, Sherlock. I'm not talking about the mountain. I'm talking about what's on it!”

      I looked closer, trying to see every little detail. My eyes scanned the mountain, searching and searching. I gave a start when I found it. A black mass was stampeding towards us, rolling down the hill. At first glance, it just looked like part of the mountain, making the mass hard to see.

      “They're speeding up! Run for the entrance!” Austin was already halfway there as he spoke.

      I glanced at Evelyn, who looked absolutely euphoric, then ran after Austin. I couldn't hear the ringing yet, but I didn't want to wait for it. The mass looked larger than the wave we’d just fought. The mass of demons on the mountain was larger than the castle. They would swarm us, devouring everything in their wake.

      I made it to the door with no problem, Austin holding it open. Turning, I saw Evelyn right behind me. She looked ecstatic, happier than she had ever been. Happier than any human should have the capacity to be. She reached the doorframe, then stopped.

      Her body started to glitch, disappearing and reappearing. Limbs teleported everywhere, creating abominations. I met her expression of pure bliss one last time, and then she disappeared.