Chapter 7:

CHAPTER 4: TAKING SIDES

The Demon Saint is Missing, so I Ran to Another World Vol. 11


***The Sea of Sand, Cherflammen***

When Lady Noir Usarved’s household departed for Cherflammen, there were three coaches plus a squad of demon cavalry from the House Usarved’s guards’ retinue, all armed with lances, swords and demon weapons—or in their own words, the ‘crack horns’. As she intended to return to her clan’s stronghold at the city of Darkmoor, they chose the main desert road going through the middle of the Blighted Lands, then the mountain passes that led to the port city itself. Lady Noir also expected to meet the Lord Kuro at the other side of the border, taking him along to her destination for an ‘extended stay’. So, for that reason, she hired some human maidservants and menservants to serve the needs of her ‘guest’.

However, when her convoy reached the crossing outpost, they found out that the Lord Kuro was missing. The border guards told her he continued on his way towards the Sea of Sand—on foot and with meager provisions, much to Lady Noir’s horror.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” she bellowed at the terrified soldiers, “Not even us demons can cross that damned desert without proper preparation!”

“Y-Your H-Highness,” the commander of that border guards’ unit tried to reason, “there’s no order for us—”

“Can’t you use your heads at least once?” Lady Noir snapped back. “The Lord Kuro’s a human, and that place behind you is a freaking dry and dead desert! I’ll have your heads chopped off once I reached Darkmoor! I expected you to at least have some common sense!”

“Milady,” it was Shevaun, “while it’s normal to get mad at the indecisiveness of our soldiers, at this point, we should send search parties to scour the Sea of Sand instead for the Lord Kuro. And we need some of them to help us, so please, I implore you to stay your mighty hand and spare their lives.”

The redness on Lady Noir’s pale face never disappeared; she was shivering, fists clenched. However, following her chamberlain’s request, she did take a deep breath and walked away a few paces, before deciding. “Very well, do it,” she told her chamberlain. “I’ll revoke my desire to execute these fools. They should help in the search instead, together with my guards. You have to bring him back.”

“But milady, don’t you think that having your guards away from you is—”

“I said send them all, Shevaun. That man, the Lord Kuro, is worth more than I, so I won’t hear any more of this unless he is back here safely.”

The demon chamberlain, while she tried her best to keep her disagreement to herself, couldn’t help but heave a sigh. As the Lady Noir’s words couldn’t be broken, she just took a bow and went back to the soldiers. Minutes later, groups of demon search parties embarked towards the infamously inhospitable desert known as the ‘Sea of Sand’.

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Shevaun Ilkes, Lady Noir Usarved’s chamberlain, knew the risks involved once she had the entire guards’ retinue of her mistress go on a search for their missing human. Though they were at the border crossing with some of the demon soldiers loyal to Prince Hurion Devras, they were still at a relatively close distance to the Blighted Lands—which was a well-known region controlled by the ‘Knights of Cassandra David’. Only the wrath of the demon prince was keeping those villains from making a move against the members of the House Usarved, and no one knew how long would that fragile stalemate would last.

“…”

And so, it was for that very reason she divided the guards of her lady. One group would do the searching, along the soldiers from the border outpost, while the other would remain in the company of Lady Usarved’s convoy. She also urged her mistress to continue on their way to Darkmoor, as remaining on the border outpost (actually, a blockhouse) was dangerous for them.

“I thought I told you to order all of my guards to the search,” the princess of the House Usarved replied to her suggestion.

Milady,” Shevaun stood her ground, “while the Lord Kuro’s life is a priority, it is also of great importance to keep you safe.”

“Yes, I’m aware of the ‘Knights’ in the Blighted Lands, and I can square off with them…even if they send their armies against me.”

“It is of no doubt, milady. You’re too powerful for them; you even knocked the Human Saint unconscious.” The chamberlain then added, “But, as your proud and faithful servant, it would be a great dishonor to me for you to lay your fingers against those lowlifes. Please reserve your powers for the bigger fishes.”

Hmph! While I have no qualms about my brother encouraging independent thought like the humans, I’m afraid too much of it would lead to our people’s ruin,” Lady Noir heaved a sigh. “Haa…in any case, as you are my trusted chamberlain, Shevaun, do as you see fit.”

Shevaun gave a bow before giving the order for their convoy to resume their journey.

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The other maids of Lady Noir’s’ household rode on the leading coach, together with the human servants they hired. Following that was her own carriage, with the crest of House Usarved magically-covered to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Behind was the third wagon, laden with the distinguished noble’s belongings—including items she bought in Chersea. Surrounding them was the rest of the guards’ retinue, about a third of the original force that left the human lands for Darkmoor.

As they came towards the entrance of the Blighted Lands—the part of Cherflammen where the sky was slowly turning dark, the guards rearranged themselves into two columns flanking the three coaches, ostensibly to shield those from any hostile parties that would attempt to shoot or cast offensive magic against them. They also increased their pace, to quickly traverse the territory and also to give their enemies a hard time in tracking them.

However, just as they exited the lands of the undead, there was a small explosion. Then, the lead coach’s front wheels suddenly gave way, and the carriage broke in the middle of the desert path.

“Hurry and fix the first coach!” the captain of the guards’ retinue ordered as his eyes looked up to the dark sky, “We can’t stay here for too long.”

A pair of demon soldiers then alighted their horses and went beside the broken carriage to check on the damage. However, just as they approached it, a shot rang out.

“!!!”

The guards were shocked by what just happened, and so they could not react quickly when one of their own fell from his horse, dead from a gunshot wound to his temple.

“We’re under attack!”

At once, the guards swarmed the main coach, where Lady Noir was in. From the broken first carriage came forth the humans, eyes bloodshot and their guns—all modern, automatic ones—were blazing. They rained metal death on the unfortunate demon soldiers who were caught in the open, trying to protect their mistress.

From inside the second coach, Lady Noir and Shevaun watched the carnage unfold outside. The demon guards were hopelessly outgunned, falling one by one. The Usarved princess was in awe and terror at the same time; it was her first encounter with semi-automatic handguns. Good thing her chamberlain was quick to cast a fortifying ‘earth’ spell to keep their carriage intact. Nevertheless, one or two bullets could still be heard knocking on the coach’s walls almost every passing second.

When Lady Noir regained herself, she demanded, “Let me out, Shevaun! I’ll teach these idiots a valuable lesson about messing with the House Usarved!”

Milady, please calm down! You’ve seen how powerful those crack horns are; you’ll be killed before you can even utter your magic spell halfway!”

“We can’t stay here! My guards are being mowed down, and I’m hiding in my carriage like a cowardly brat! My pride as a demon will never allow such an embarrassing moment! Remove your magic spell at once, Shevaun!”

“But milady, if I remove this—”

“It’s an order. Do it!”

“Milady—”

“Do it,” Lady Noir insisted, “or I’ll blast a hole through you myself!”

Faced with her mistress’ threats, the demon chamberlain had no choice but to obey. However, as Shevaun knew what could happen, she dove and pulled Lady Noir down with her as well, while their enemies’ bullets peppered the carriage and rained wooden debris on them.

“!!!” As they could not stand, Lady Noir blasted the carriage doors open, much to the shock of her surviving guards. They pleaded to her, “What are you doing, milady! Please stay inside!”

“We’ll be both dead whether we stay inside or outside, so I prefer to fight and die outside.”

The demon guards knew that no matter how they tried to reason with Lady Noir, she would always have her way in the end, so they just let her out. Nevertheless, they did all their efforts to shield her from enemy fire, all the while the noblewoman assessed the situation.

“How many people we’re fighting?”

Just as she asked that question, another group of villains burst from the third carriage, surrounding them. Apparently, those humans were not acting alone.

Shevaun, always the quick-thinker, erected a sand barrier high and thick enough to hide them, and low enough for the demon soldiers to still return fire. She also anchored their defenses on the disabled second carriage, so that their western flank was secured from the enemy, freeing more demons to defend the other sides.

“I think we got 30 humans attacking us, Your Highness,” the captain of the guards’ retinue answered. “All of them are armed with some sort of crack horns I have never seen! It’s more accurate and fast-firing than what we currently have!”

“How many soldiers we still got?”

“We lost seven in their surprise attack earlier, but our side still has 18, Your Highness!”

“There’s another group approaching from the west of our position,” Shevaun revealed. “I think it’s additional 15, so make that 45 people.”

“It must be those ‘Knights’,” Lady Noir muttered.

“The ‘Knights’, Your Highness?” the captain couldn’t believe her words, “Those are the humans we hired as servants! The traitorous vermin are trying to kill you! Where did we even get them?”

All eyes fell on Shevaun, who was supposed to be in-charge of recruiting those people for the Lord Kuro.

“Come on!” the chamberlain defended herself, “I did my best to recruit them from the most reputable maid service agency available in Chersea! Anyone wouldn’t expect them to turn against their masters at the first opportunity! Did you guys suspect them of duplicity?”

“Cease bickering! I don’t know what offense I caused them to earn their ire, but from our experiences back in Chersea, the ‘Knights’ recruited humans to do their bidding. Of course, they can always do it again, like this time,” the noblewoman sighed. “In any case, keep your fire. Distract them long enough for me to cast my curse on these fools.

Shevaun then took personal command of the guards, with the captain as her second, “Alright, we’ll protect Her Highness with our lives! Covering fire!”

The demons let out a volley of bullets, in answer to their enemy’s hail of fire. Though it was not enough to drown the opposition’s offense, it certainly caused some of them to slacken the attack in an effort to dodge the musket balls. As if to add to their woes, a breeze blew from the west that picked up sand and made it harder for the combatants to aim at each other.

“I think there’s a sandstorm brewing up!” the captain commented.

“Then we need to get out of here as soon as we can,” the chamberlain answered.

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Meanwhile, Lady Noir began scribbling on sand the magic circle for the curse she would cast. It was a powerful, yet pretty complex spell, so she would need an ample amount of time before her magic would be ready. The blowing wind didn’t help her cause, and she was forced to use magic in order to keep her drawings intact, further reducing her concentration.

“!!!”

Her demon guards, hard-pressed and desperate, kept on the routine aim, fire and reload sequence, under the guidance of her chamberlain, Shevaun. They were drilled to do that repeatedly; however, the longer the battle dragged on, the more visible the signs of exhaustion would come to light.

And there were also some lucky shots that killed two and injured three on their side already.

“…”

Soon, the smoke of the battlefield and the swirling sands obscured everyone’s sights, and they were just blindly firing to where the sounds of enemy gunfire was heard. Just as the last reserve ammunition of the guards’ retinue was exhausted, however…

“Alright everyone,” Lady Noir triumphantly declared, “I’m casting the curse now!”

The demons uttered a quick nullifying spell that wrapped their bodies in a counter-curse blanket (a personal defense magic developed by the House Usarved eons ago). Once the soldiers and Shevaun protected themselves, Lady Noir then released the power she was building within her magic circle and obliterated the surrounding desert, along with their enemies…

“…”

…or it should have been what happened.

“!!!”

“What’s going on, milady?” Shevaun asked. “I thought you’re casting a curse?”

“I-I’m trying to, Shevaun!” she countered. “But…”

“But what?”

“My power…it’s not releasing!”

“How’d that happen?”

“Someone’s tampering with my magic!”

“T-Tampering? You don’t mean to say—”

“Your Highness,” the captain of the guards’ retinue shouted, “the humans have thrown their guns and are approaching our position with swords!”

“Fix bayonets!” Shevaun ordered, as she pulled her own sword from its magical scabbard.

Lady Noir took out her dagger. As she was a proud member of the House Usarved, she would prefer ending up dead, rather than captured…but of course, she would go down with some of her enemies’ souls in tow.

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Leave the noblewoman alive; kill the others!” was the shout of the person in command of the human forces.

“Raaargh!”

Just as the humans charged their position, the demons hid behind the sand barrier, waiting for the melee to arrive in front of them.

“!!!”

The battle evolved from ranged, hide-and-seek combat, to an up-close and personal fight. The humans fought like they were in a frenzy, not even bothering to tend to their injuries, even if they were shot at—or bayoneted multiple times—by the demons. They just kept on advancing, hacking their way even if they were already bleeding…only falling down dead when enough blood from their bodies were already drained. It was a shocking sight.

The guards’ retinue of the House Usarved—though hopelessly outnumbered and dwindling with every second passed—fought on valiantly, throwing jabs, hurling magic spells, thrusting and slashing with their bayonets, and even biting back, desperate to protect their princess. Shevaun also contributed to the defense of her lady, though she could only cast defensive magic.

“Th-These are not even h-humans!” one of the demon soldiers remarked. The tenacity of their enemies was not what they expected; it’s as if those people were hypnotized…drugged, even. They were there only to kill or be killed.

As for Lady Noir, she didn’t pay attention to what’s happening around her. She was focused on trying to make her magic work, though she repeatedly failed to even light a spark. Frustration after frustration piled up, as she kept on attempting to activate the curse she made. Finally, Lady Noir’s patience snapped, and she leapt towards the nearest enemy to vent out her frustration by slashing the human’s neck.

“If you won’t die by my curse, then you’ll die by my blade!” the demon noblewoman continued on stabbing the dead man, while Shevaun and the guards rushed to her side to defend her.

“Your Highness, the sandstorm is intensifying,” the chamberlain told Lady Noir. “Please stay close to us!”

The demon princess hadn’t even uttered anything when the sandstorm struck them, effectively blinding everyone caught in it. The battle quickly ceased, as no one could make out who was friend or foe. Nevertheless, Shevaun and the guards’ retinue wouldn’t let their guard down; they drew even closer to their mistress, as they sought to protect her from any enemy that might’ve slipped.

“…”

Several quiet, yet tense moments passed, and the demons never let their weapons down. The sandstorm was increasing in intensity, up to where it was hard to keep one’s eyes open for too long. The orders had to be shouted, or it wouldn’t be heard. Shevaun then created another sand wall reinforced by her magic, to keep their group from getting buried in the sand as well as for the soldiers to take a breather.

“!!!”

From behind their hiding spot, Lady Noir and her companions heard the muffled screams of their enemies. It’s as if someone was attacking them. However, no matter how much they wanted to check on what’s happening outside, Shevaun asked them not to exit her ‘sand wall’. So, they just had to content themselves listening to the horrible cries of pain coming from their enemies.

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When they determined that the sandstorm had passed, an eerie silence came upon the battlefield. Everyone waited for their enemies to resume shooting at them, but to no avail. Finally, not wishing to wait any further, the captain of the guard volunteered to climb out of their ‘sand wall’ and take a peek at the situation. He realized that the storm buried their hiding place for about a meter of sand, also effectively burying the dead and the road. However, what was even more remarkable was the ‘people’ the captain saw…

“The…the ghouls! They are here!” he told everyone inside the hollow sand fortress.

“What? The ghouls?” Lady Noir couldn’t believe at first, “Those cowardly ghouls of the Blighted Lands?”

The captain excitedly nodded, “And they are armed as well, milady!

“What? Armed?” the chamberlain exclaimed.

“So, they really did side with the ‘Knights’ then,” the noblewoman bitterly remarked. “I guess this is our end, then.”

However, the captain called out to them, “Heeey! Over here! Heeelp!”

“What are you doing? Stop that!” Shevaun and the other soldiers tried to stop him from attracting their attention, but it was all in vain.

“No, milady! Wait, they’re coming over here!”

“Prepare to fight!” Shevaun ordered the rest of the guards.

“Wait! Wait! Don’t do that! There’s also a human coming with them, that’s why I called for help,” the captain was exhilarated. “He looks like the Lord Kuro of Arles!”

“What?” Lady Noir immediately stood up the moment she heard her teacher’s name, “The Lord Kuro? He is here? Come down from there! Let me see for myself!”

The captain of the guards then switched places with the demon noblewoman. Just as she reached the opening of the sand wall, Kuro was there to meet her, along with the lord of the Blighted Lands, Vitalis the Undead.

“Hey! It’s been a while, Lady Noir!” he greeted her with a wide, confident smile. “I took out your ‘friends’ for you!”

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***Kuro, a few moments before the end of the battle…***

It took a good amount of convincing before the Lord Vitalis finally agreed to help the beleaguered forces of Lady Noir Usarved.

“…”

While the Ghouls were always ready to help, fighting the ‘Knights’ wasn’t one of those. When the pilot and Rosita returned with his motley army of undead, they were horrified when they realized it was the lady of the House Usarved whom they were about to rescue.

“Greg, laddie, I think I rather stay back from this,” Lord Vitalis admitted to me, just before we joined battle. “Those are the soldiers from the House Usarved, and if my clan aided them, we would surely attract the enmity of the ‘Knights’.”

Hmm…are they that powerful?”

“Well, they are powerful…on par with the Prince Hurion Devras’ forces,” he confirmed. “If they decided to wipe us out, they could do even before we put up any resistance.”

“But…you’re also afraid of Lady Noir Usarved, who’s the twin-sister of the demon prince.”

“True. That’s why we’re staying neutral, laddie,” Lord Vitalis said. “I don’t want to offend any party in this conflict.”

“I see…I understand your situation, milord,” I nodded. “However, you can’t protect your clan forever if you swim in two rivers. Eventually, you have to side with one, risking your people and resources to make sure that your faction succeeds.”

“And what if the side I picked loses? That will endanger my people.”

“That’s a valid point, milord. However, consider this; if you stay neutral, you might save your people for a while, but you’ll definitely earn the ire of the winning faction, since they would reason that you’re only there for the ‘winner’, thus they’d be highly-suspicious of your intentions every time. Whereas, if you picked one side, there’s a 50-50 chance that you’d save or destroy your clan.”

“Don’t you think the first option would only give us a bigger chance to ‘live’, since they’d only suspect us of duplicity?”

“Yes, but if you picked Lady Usarved’s side, you’ll be sure of victory.”

Hoh, that’s the first time I heard you talk with confidence, laddie. How can you be so sure of that?”

“Well, the ‘Commoner General’ is with her forces.”

“Impossible. He’s a human hero; he has nothing to do with our affairs.”

“What if he does?”

“Well, prove it to me.”

I nodded and stepped forward, making sure that I’d be seen by him and his army behind him. Then, I channeled every mana in my hand, releasing a golden-yellow aura from it. Another wind began to blow, which quickly turned into a powerful gale that whipped up the sand into a mighty storm. Then, with the rhythmic gesture of my hands, I directed the sandstorm towards the warring forces—already blinded by the ‘little sandstorm’ I created earlier, effectively engulfing them and stopping the fight.

“…”

Then, I went back to the Lord Vitalis, who was—though his face had decayed long ago—visibly awestruck by the display of power. “Milord,” I asked him once again, “can I convince you to help Lady Noir of the House Usarved?”

“Who are…” the undead lord fell to his knees, “that’s…there’s no mistaking it! That’s the god-power of the Beastman Saint!”

I smiled, “My name is Greg Santos, milord, a former teacher. However, I have another name. The humans from Chersea also calls me Kuro, the Commoner General who saved them from the zombie plague before. It’s nice meeting you again, Lord Vitalis of the Blighted Lands.”

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And so, with the Ghoul clan firmly convince of victory in siding with the House Usarved, we launched our attack amidst the sandstorm. The undead didn’t need a vision to seek their enemies; their simple instinct to search for healthy flesh was enough to locate their targets with precision. As we immobilized our foes’ ability to strike back, I specifically asked the Lord Vitalis’ soldiers to capture the hostile forces instead, so we could interrogate them later.

“…”

However, the task proved too difficult. The humans fighting against the Lady Noir’s army resisted, no matter how blinded they were by the sandstorm. It’s as if they were drugged to attack everything that moved—men and women alike. The undead of the Lord Vitalis had no choice but to end their resistance by killing most of them.

“…”

I said ‘most’, for there was one human we captured alive…or rather, he surrendered when he ‘came to his senses’.

“Lord Vitalis, Sir General Greg,” the undead soldier who caught the lone human survivor told us, “This human returned to his sanity after he was knocked down. He also killed a demon who tried to shoot him.”

“Hey, that demon is no friend of yours!” the human defended his actions. “That’s a member of the ‘Knights’, Lord Themis! He drugged us into becoming suicidal berserkers!”

“Bring him to the Lady Usarved,” Lord Vitalis said. “She’ll know what to do with scum like him.”

The man had a disheveled appearance, combined with an overgrown beard. I didn’t know him, until he set his eyes on me and said, “Hey! You’re that Commoner General, the Lord Kuro of Arles! I didn’t expect to meet you here!”

Lord Vitalis and his undead soldiers looked at me.

“Hey,” I shrugged, “I don’t know this guy.”

“What?” he countered, as if he couldn’t believe what he just heard from me. “Even though I let your lovers live!”

“Lovers?”

“That Iron Princess and the Human Saint!” the disheveled human replied. “Maddie is my niece, you know!”

“Wait…” I came near him and stared at his face, trying to remember who he was. As my memories were in chaos, I couldn’t recall the man’s identity. However, as he was saying words that interest me, I asked the Lord Vitalis to let me accompany our prisoner to Lady Noir, just in case she wanted to execute him.