The first thing that popped out in Ryou’s mind was, “seriously, zombies? A demon king who summoned zombies? How cliché is that?”
The army of undead slowly marched toward Ryou, staggering in their steps but still clearly headed at Ryou. He couldn’t help but shoot a look of disgust at their appearance. He meant—he knew they were dead people, but at least Maou could have used newer dead people. These zombies barely had any rotten flesh attached to their bones, making them looked even more disgusting.
“Since you were no longer Mazoku, you can’t possibly defeat the whole army of zombies by yourself.” Maou looked incredibly pleased by himself. “They will keep rising back again and again until you join them, Satomi Ryou!”
“He’s not alone.”
Maou was rendered speechless when he saw Hanzoku and Kushu joined Ryou.
“...Hanzoku.” Maou finally spoke.
“Maou. It’s been a long time.” Hanzoku replied coldly.
“Thirteen years is long enough for you? You’ve lived too long among humans, you traitor.” Maou glared at Hanzoku.
Hanzoku wore a thin smile. “I see you’re still angry about that. Then how about a chat or two? For old times sake?”
“A chat, you say?” Maou laughed, but it was an empty laugh. “Fine, then. Come at me!”
“Ryou.” Hanzoku whispered. “I’ll distract Maou. You and Kushu go to Kirihime-sama and stop her. You need to break the barrier first to do that.”
“How...?” Ryou was about to ask when Hanzoku spreaded his own wings and flew toward Maou.
“Come on—we’ll figure it out later.” Kushu created thousands of weapons and started slicing through the zombies heading their way.
It seemed the zombies instinctively knew that they couldn’t touch Kirihime, so they went for Ryou and Kushu instead—though that didn’t make Ryou happy at all. Ryou fought his hardest with his sword, but just as Maou said, those zombies kept on standing back again, not to mention, stream of new zombies kept pouring out from the crack on the floor.
“There’s no end to them!!” Ryou complained as he slashed a zombie—and few minutes later that zombie stood again.
“Then, I’ll open a way, okay? I can only do it once and when I do, you must run as fast as you can to the princess, get it?” Kushu said.
“Okay!” Ryou prepared himself.
Kushu straightened up and clapped his hand. But somehow he amplified the sound and rendered all zombies paralyzed.
Kushu glanced at Ryou and grinned. “Your last attack gave me the idea. Now go and save her!”
“Yeah, thanks!” Ryou sprinted toward Kirihime.
But he hit an invisible barrier just few feets from Kirihime. Ryou slashed and stabbed the barrier many times, but it seemed physical damage couldn’t even scathe it.
“Kirihime! Kirihime!! Open up! Don’t throw your life away! Kirihime!!!” Ryou pleaded in his heart as he desperately trying to break the barrier.
Despite his effort, the barrier remained intact. Even worse, those zombies started moving again and they slowly surrounded Ryou, who paid them no heed.
“Kirihime!!! Put the barrier down, dang it!! How am I supposed to save you if you keep hiding like this?! Kirihime, did you hear me?!” Ryou shouted.
Suddenly a hand clutched his ankle and Ryou was dragged by a zombie into the middle of a pile of zombies. He swung his sword wildly, but soon enough the sword was taken by some zombies. Ryou fought with his bare hands, but he knew he couldn’t avoid getting bitten long enough.
“Will I turn into a zombie after a bite? Or will I die first then turn into a zombie?” Ryou shook those thoughts from his mind. “Whatever it is, I don’t want to know!! I have to save Kirihime! If only I still have my power...!”
“Ryou!!! Hang on!!” Kushu shouted in panic when he saw Ryou was surrounded by so many zombies, but he barely able to defend himself.
“My power...? What am I saying, even though I hate being a Mazoku?” Ryou bitterly thought to himself. “I always wanted to return to being human. I thought if I was normal again, I could lead a normal life and get those peaceful days back. I don’t want to be different. But...now I realized. This power isn’t a curse. Instead, this power leads me to Kirihime. Right...this is a gift. A gift...so that I could protect those I wanted to protect!!”
Ryou concentrated as hard as he could while fending off those zombies.
“Even if it’s useless, I have to try!! Come back, my power! I need you!! If you’re still in there, come back to me!” Ryou kept imagining the tiger he saw when he went berserk. “I’m begging you...I won’t reject this power anymore!! So please...let me protect Kirihime! Come back! Come back!! Come—!”
The next second, a zombie flung himself to Ryou’s back and bit his neck. Ryou screamed in pain and fell to the floor, unable to resist anymore.
“It’s over...? I’m dead...?” Ryou thought as more zombies crawled on him. “Kirihime will die...? Then...what’s the meaning of me protecting her for more than a year? What is the meaning of our encounter if I can’t even protect her? I really am a failure of a knight...” Ryou closed his eyes.
“Who said it’s over?”
Suddenly Ryou found himself standing in the darkness. The tiger he saw one year ago was standing before him.
“Huh? But...I was bitten. I’ll turn into zombie. What else can I do?” Ryou argued.
“Like I said, who said you’ll turn into zombie when you’re bitten?”
Ryou swore he saw the tiger rolled its eyes.
“T-Then...” Ryou widened his eyes.
“When I first came into your body, you simply wanted revenge. You wanted destruction and blood. So I complied. I destroyed everything, just like you wanted. Then you wanted me to disappear. When you consumed the antidote, I disappeared just like you wished.”
“Um...no...I was tricked into consuming the antidote...so...”
The tiger ignored Ryou’s weak excuse.
“But now is different. You want to [protect someone]. So I will once again comply to your wish. Because I’m one with you. I’ll lend you my power, Satomi Ryou.”
The tiger bowed before him and dispersed as small balls of light, which entered Ryou’s body and became his power once again.