The air became stifling. It felt like someone had wrapped their hands around my throat and was choking the life out of me. Every fiber in my body was screaming at me, telling me to run. I don’t think I had ever felt like I was in such danger before. My entire existence felt threatened by this presence, which I couldn’t even see.
I wasn’t the only one who felt it; all around me, my classmates dropped to the floor, crumpling like puppets without strings. Alicia had also fallen onto her knees. Sweat dripped down her face, drenching her sailor uniform as she sucked in deep gulps of air.
I could feel the buildup of energy from outside. It was more powerful than anything I had ever felt–even more powerful than the beast who attacked me five years ago, on the day I had stopped using my powers. Something was coming. Something was coming, and it was coming fast, and if I didn’t do something, everyone here was going to die!
Without thinking about the consequences, I unsealed my power. Pinions shot from my back, tearing through my shirt and blazer. I threw my hands out and summoned a shield just in time for something to crash into it.
Sparks exploded against my shield. Black energy shaped like a bolt of lightning tried to penetrate the hasty defense I had thrown up. Cracks spread along the surface, but I repaired it by pumping out more energy. The lightning bolt intensified. I gritted my teeth, dropping to a knee as I struggled to keep my shield up. If I didn’t keep it up, if I let it drop… I didn’t want to think about what would happen to everyone here.
My shield flickered. I tried to put more energy into it, and for a moment, I thought I had succeeded. Then a crack appeared. The crack became larger, and then that one crack became multiple cracks that expanded across the ethereal surface. Like the shattering of glass, my shield suddenly exploded in my face.
The bolt of black lightning continued on. I grimaced as I realized that I had failed. Everyone was going to die here. There was nothing I could do.
And then a dark crimson shield sprang up, stopping the lightning shaped discharge in its tracks. I blinked. Then I blinked again. After I realized what was happening, I looked at Alicia, who was still bent on a knee. She had raised her left hand, and from that hand, demonic energy poured out like water from a fire hose to create a magic circle–the shield that was protecting everyone.
I looked back at the shield. The lightning bolt that had blasted through the wall dissipated with a final crackle that echoed across the room like the thunderous roar of a cannon. Alicia flinched as her shield dropped. Smoke wafted from her hand as though she’d poured too much energy into her shield and suffered some kind of reverse feedback.
“What an impressive display of power. I would have never imagined you’d become so strong after only three short years. Then again, you are that man’s daughter,” a voice said seconds before someone appeared in the hole made by the attack.
I glanced at the person–no, the thing that was floating several meters from the hole in the wall. He, or maybe I should say it, was large and muscular, with crimson skin like blood and a crown of spikes on his head. His eyes were a uniform color of red. Their rhomboidal shape lent him a devilish air. Not the “devil may care” kind of air that tradition bad boys had, but the “I’m evil and I know it” kind. He wore robes of scarlet and purple. They would have been majestic, except they looked worn down and ragged, like they were the only clothes he’d been wearing for the past few weeks.
“No…” a weak voice called out. It was Alicia. Her eyes had grown wide, and they shook with a terror that I’ve only seen on one other face before.
The devil grinned, revealing sharp, saw-like teeth. “Alicia. You’ve grown into such a lovely young lady. It’s almost a shame that I have to mar that pretty face of yours.”
I had no idea who this person was. All I knew was that he spawned a fear in Alicia that was all but leaving her immobile. During the time when we were attacked by Xaphan, she had remained calm, confident, and she’d taken a quick, decisive action. Now? Now she remained rooted in place, her legs trembling.
This couldn’t go on. I didn’t like to see someone who, for the past week, I had thought of as strong and confident, quake like this. It wasn’t right.
I stood up and walked in front of Alicia, blocking her vision of the creature that brought her such fear. Despite my glare, the devil didn’t seem bothered. He stared at my two wings, his nose wrinkled like a sudden horrid scent had wafted into his nose.
“A Nephalem,” he growled. “I had not realized your kind still existed. The angels must have gotten lax if they allowed you to live. Then again, perhaps your parents are to blame for your continued survival. I wonder what foolish devil helped give birth to a wretched creature like you.”
The words which spewed from this devil’s mouth made me freeze. It sounded like this devil knew a lot about Nephalem. I wanted to ask him questions, pick his brain, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Alicia was frightened because of this man. She was more important than my desire for answers.
“Are you going to let this guy control you?” I asked Alicia. She looked up at me, her eyes still wide. “Come on. You’re stronger than this. Stand up.”
Alicia shook her head, and then, slowly, as if her joints were rusted gears in need of a good oiling, she stood up and walked stand beside me.
“I’m sorry. I lost my head for a moment there.”
I looked back at the devil we’d be fighting against in a moment, a half smile on my lips. “It’s okay. I don’t know what this guy did to make you so afraid of him, but it must have been something big. Let’s kick his ass together.”
Huh. This was the first time I had ever sworn. I wonder if that made me sound cool?
“Right.” Alicia nodded. “Let’s send him packing.”
“Hehe… hehehehe! Hahahahaha! AHAHAHAHA!”
I remained in place as the devil before us guffawed, listened as his mocking laughter echoed across the room. He could laugh all he wanted. After what he had done here, after what he had done to Alicia in the past, there was no way I’d let him keep this laughter up.
“I can’t believe it. A devil and a Nephalem working together. How disgusting. How rancid. How abominable.”
The devil’s smile vanished, and a vicious sneer took its place. He crossed his arms. It was such an arrogant stance, like he was saying it didn’t matter what we tried, that we would never beat him in a million ears. I surprised myself by actually being upset that he seemed to be underestimating me before the battle had even started.
“Very well,” he said. “Let’s see how a half-breed monster and a fledgling devil can do against me. Let’s see if you can defeat the great Belial.”
With those few words, the battle begun.