Atk 0 Crit All ~My attack stat is negligible, so I can't help but rely on critical hits to succeed!~
Demons. No one knew how they came into existence. When one appeared, they would often signal their arrival with a purple column of light shooting into the heavens.
Demons were an existence that invoked calamity, as the surroundings that came into contact with them often became contaminated with the stench of evil. The earth became fallow and beasts were driven wild with rage by the miasma that seeped from them. The appearance of one would spell disaster that only the strongest of fighters and magicians could repel.
That was true for this current case too. As the demon had appeared right in the middle of land governed by the Madiswil family. Before the kingdom could react and gather their men, a demon leading a swarm of demonized beasts had invaded the governing town. Unprepared to face dozens of beasts that had been powered up much higher than normal, the guards at the edge of town quickly found themselves outmatched. Swords snapped under the weight of a charging boar as its horns skewered the men before casually flinging their lifeless bodies aside. Wolves bared their fangs and chomped down on helpless residents that were too slow to run away. Lizards, kobolds, bugbears, goblins – all poisoned by the miasma coming from the sole demon, had mutated into terrifying creatures that were much stronger and fiercer than their normal counterparts.
As they all stampeded into town, a lone demon trudged forward slowly, making a beeline for his target – the Madiswil mansion. Miasma surrounded it, making it hard to clearly see its figure. However, if one were able to get close enough without being killed, they would be able to see a human-like body that looked as if it had emerged from a pile of embers and ash. Spots glowed purple under a mostly grayed body, as it appeared that miasma was being ejected from those areas.
"Kikikiki, reveeeeenge will beeee miiiiine!" A distorted, inhuman voice sounded from the demon.
With no one able to hinder his path, the demon continued to move forward as his beasts paved the way for him. A lone trail of fallow earth was left behind as he casually strolled through the front gates of the town.
By the time reinforcements had arrived, the city of Madiswil had been completely wiped out.
A kobold fell as my chef knife bisected it horizontally from the waist up. Though these monsters had been intimidating at first, my knife had no trouble slicing through them compared to their normal forms. Since the monsters were in a berserk state, it was not hard to read their attack patterns and counterattack. The only danger was the small amount of miasma that they leaked out, which created a burning sensation upon contact with your skin. Enough exposure and the miasma would potentially cause some serious damage to your body. Thankfully, everyone had been provided with accessories from the church that would counteract these effects.
Detecting no more around me, I looked around the ruins of the once-prosperous town of Madiswil.
After Eryn and I had seen that column of purple light and met up with the guild, the members present were separated into two groups. The group composed of more seasoned veterans and strong magicians went to intercept the swarm of demonized beasts that had trampled through Madiswil territory. Aerial familiars were able to scout their tracks, seeing that they were heading in the direction of the capital. The other group was told to circle around to investigate the town of Madiswil for clues while cleaning up the demonized beasts that straggled behind.
Having been put in the latter team, Eryn objected initially.
"I'm capable enough to join the fight! Please let me come!"
"You may be, but can you say the same for your familiar?" Castia said, declining her request.
"None of you new recruits will be going anyways. It's too dangerous for the inexperienced."
Cornelius came over to reassure Eryn. "Your role is important as well. Maybe you can find a clue to the sudden appearance of the demon, and what it is targeting."
Eryn reluctantly backed off at the urging of her friend.
By the time we had arrived at the main town of Madiswil, we were met with a gruesome sight.
Buildings had been heavily damaged, and bodies were strewn on the ground, remnants of those attacked by the demonized beasts. Neither fortified walls nor armed guards had been enough to repel the invasion as it looked like a herd had stampeded through the middle of town, paving a path of destruction in its wake. A few of those beasts could be seen still wandering through the town.
The team of magic knights that came to this area suddenly felt unsure of their abilities as they stared horrified at the rampant destruction. However, one by one they snapped out of it and moved forward to slay the remaining beasts.
Eryn and I had separated to quickly scout a wider area, though we made sure not to stray too far from each other in case backup was needed.
Having finished up the beasts I encountered, I noticed the sounds of fighting still going on nearby. Eryn was over in that direction last time I checked. It was unusual for Eryn to still be fighting by the time I was done. Maybe it would be best to check in on her.
I quickly maneuvered between the rubble lining the pathways, until the figure of Eryn came into view. Sure enough, she was still in the middle of battling two kobolds. Surprisingly, I saw no signs of other dead monsters around her.
Watching for a moment, I could see that she was actually struggling to inflict heavy damage on them. While Eryn had no injuries herself, the two kobolds only had minor lacerations.
A sword strike connected squarely on the chest of one of them, but only a faint trail of blood dribbled down from the shallow cut that resulted. This caught me off guard, as I had been used to Eryn taking out monsters in essentially one blow.
Moving in to aid her, I snuck up and plunged my knife right into the weak point of the other kobold's back. The blade slid cleanly through it, delivering a fatal injury.
Having been relieved of the pressure from one foe, Eryn focused her attention on the other one before her. She knocked it off balance with a swift sword blow to the legs, sending it to the ground. Not stopping there, she brought her sword up and pounded it down on the fallen kobold repeatedly until it finally stopped moving. It brought up memories of my initial encounter with a slime.
Eryn looked up and heaved a sigh of exhaustion before turning to me.
"Seriously. You aren't having any trouble with them?"
"Nope, cuts the same as before."
"Ugh. To think I'd see the day…" Her voice trailed off.
"What was that?"
"Nevermind! Let's press forward!" Eryn shouted as she quickly walked on.
Interestingly, the destruction appeared to be more or less focused in a straight line, leading up to a large residence on the hill. Making note of that, Eryn mentioned that the territorial lord lived there.
"Ouch. First, his son goes on a rampage, then demons show up. What God did he piss off?" I joked to try lessening the gloomy mood.
"It is strange. I've never read anything about demons having the intelligence to choose their targets, but demon appearances happen so few and far in between that maybe those details were lost in history." Eryn was lost in thought.
I could only shrug in response. I knew even less about this world than she did.
We continued traversing the path towards the lord's mansion. The two of us combined were more than a match for the beasts that we encountered. However, that did not mean that it was a pleasant stroll for me. The sight of corpses lining either side of the path unnerved me. While Eryn checked each one to make sure that we didn't pass over someone that could be healed, I had to stay back. The first person that I had checked turned out to be a corpse that had been torn in half. Upon realizing this, I abruptly turned away as my stomach started upending its contents. Despite having been acclimated to gory battles against monsters, my mind had set a distinct boundary when it came to humans in the same situation. It was a boundary that I couldn't compel myself to cross over yet.
I distracted myself by looking out over the town, scanning over the ruined districts from an elevated perspective. The sounds of battle and magic seemed to be slowing down, suggesting that the remaining enemies were thinning out. Hopefully, there would be no more surprises so that we would finish quickly and get out of here.
As we approached the front gate of the mansion, the two of us were surprised to see how the gate and front door appeared to have been pried apart forcefully by earth magic. The remnants of the obstacle once impeding the demon's path had been blown away with high power magic. This was looking more and more like something that a man armed solely with a knife should stay out of.
Eryn walked forward without any hesitation. I took a deep breath and followed behind, unsure of what awaited inside. As Eryn stepped into what looked like a grand entryway, she suddenly paused. Having stopped so abruptly, I nearly ran right into her. Looking ahead to see what caught her attention, I was met with a horrid scene.
A person had been encased in earth from the waist down, as if being held upright. Blood had coated the earth and floor around him. A chill ran down my spine as I realized that the person no longer had a head. Chunks on the ground suggested that the head had been torn off and crushed, as if the person had been executed.
"That's the lord of Madiswil," Eryn exclaimed as she slowly walked over and pointed to an emblem on his jacket. She continued forward, following a bloody trail leading further into the house.
In contrast to what I felt, Eryn seemed not horribly bothered by the gory scenes. I felt kind of bad letting Eryn lead the way, but I was really no good with these kinds of things. The one time my friend had strapped me into a VR horror game, I flipped out and kicked him in the stomach by accident as I flailed around in terror. There was a strange sense of security in having the scary moments boxed within a screen.
The blood trail led up to the second floor, whereas the other entrances had been blocked by slabs of earth that had risen from the ground. Flames had scorched a few surfaces leaving signs of a spell battle that had taken place. The attacks were focused heavily in a certain pattern, indicating that the demon had likely forced his prey upstairs. This gave me the feeling that the demon had done everything purposefully, which made it even scarier.
Still, Eryn proceeded onward as we followed the trail. The entire hallway was a mess, a combination of earth and furniture cinders had jumbled its normally straight path. We stepped around the obstacles, alert for anything jumping out at us. At the end of the hallway, a lone door stood slightly ajar, leading to the master bedroom. Kicking the door open and walking forward with her sword drawn, Eryn peeked inside cautiously. After pausing for a moment, she turned back to me.
"Don't come inside. Given how you're acting, I don't think you should see this."
Eryn turned back towards the room with a look of disgust. Within the room, what appeared to be the rest of the Madiswil family had been strung up. She didn't even need to check to know that they were long dead, as their bodies had been gruesomely warped and portions of their bodies had been rendered into ashes. The remnants of the horrid scene had indicated a sick sense of enjoyment that the demon had for torture. This was not something that a mindless demon would nonchalantly do, or at least that was what she hoped.
While she was far from comfortable with it, the questions in her mind drove her forward, allowing her to block out this disturbing scene. She was determined to find something useful so that she would have an excuse to report to the battlefield. Since she had noticed how the demon had gone straight for the Lord of Madiswil, she couldn't help but wonder if the demon personally knew him. Having seen that the demon had followed through with executing the other members of the family, rather than blindly destroy the mansion, this feeling only solidified. The earth magic that was used on the gate also looked somewhat familiar though the mana signature was different from anything she had sensed before. Though the Madiswil family was known to use earth and fire magic, it didn’t make sense for them to block their own escape, so she concluded that the demon had used similar magic.
Along the back wall of the room, an upturned bed among the charred and wrecked furniture forming a makeshift barrier had stood out. Eryn approached, cautiously gripping her sword and readying a spell in her other hand. However, all she found was a body that had been silenced already. Judging by the facedown body that had a protruding spike lodged in her neck and the pool of blood underneath, Eryn guessed that the woman had tried to hide while the others fought, but a stray attack had found its way to her. Turning her over, her arm clutched a book to her chest, giving the sense that she had guarded it with her life.
It took some effort to pry it from her stiff hand, but Eryn could find no more promising clue than this. Casually skimming through the book, it appeared to be the owner’s diary, a detail of the everyday events of the Madiswil matriarch. Eryn’s eyes abruptly paused as the writing suddenly spilled messily across the page and was barely legible, an obvious contrast to the tidy and proper handwriting before.
God have mercy on us! A demon had shown up but when he had called out our names, I didn’t know what to do. Randall was the first to catch on and went to talk to him. That bastard killed him! All we could do was flee!
With our escape blocked, his siblings are holding him back but the sounds outside are growing faint. Please stop him! Anyone pleas-
The writing trailed off at that point. Jittery marks of the pen could be seen afterwards, but the writing was too messy to distinguish. The pages had wrinkles in certain spots, as if tears had dried after spilling on the pages.
Flipping back a few pages, Eryn scanned over a few entries farther back, which detailed multiple events leading up to this point - the aid that Starkenberg received from his father, the mother’s plea to help him after being disowned from the family, the rest of the family’s mocking attitude towards his exile. They had to do it to save face, but the mother couldn't help but feel conflicted by the decision.
Next was an entry suggesting that Starkenberg had disappeared soon afterwards, and the mother's worry about what had happened to him.
The details started lining up in Eryn's mind. As hard as it was to believe, Starkenberg had somehow turned into a demon. While there had been no mention of demons originally as humans, not much was known about a demon's origin to begin with. Given how he had tortured the bodies in this room and beheaded the Viscount, this was no doubt a fit of revenge after he had turned into a demon. Whether the demon had recognized his mother’s mercy or simply missed her, the Viscountess had been spared from an agonizing death, in favor of a quick one.
Eryn turned around and quickly left the room.
"Claude! Let's move! We have to hurry!" Eryn yelled to him as she ran past him.
"Huh? Did you find something out? Where are we going?" Claude chased after her.
"We have to join the others on the battlefield!" Eryn continued running without even looking back.
Since she knew the identity of the demon, there was a chance that she could do something about him. This was an opportunity to earn some real recognition. Even if she couldn't take him down alone, there was no way she would pass up the chance to be a big contributor to the demon's demise.
With that in mind, Eryn and Claude rushed to their cart and headed towards the battlefield.