Chapter 29:

The Will to Press On

Atk 0 Crit All ~My attack stat is negligible, so I can't help but rely on critical hits to succeed!~

Over the majority of the battle, the front line of demonic beasts slowly crept forward as they were not only tough to kill but possessed nearly inexhaustible energy. In contrast, the kingdom of Sistina's forces had to rest which caused them to retreat and give up ground periodically. As exhaustion set in, one looking at the battlefield from above would be able to see the line shift at a faster pace as the battle dragged on.Bookmark here

However, a new event had suddenly caused a disturbance in this formation. Like a stone skipping on the surface of a pool of water, a small disturbance traveled through the wave of monsters, forcing its way in. Dots of activity advanced ever forward, causing a clearing of monsters to ripple outwards from each point along the charge. Of course, only those up high could see this happening. The demon at ground level could only feel a disturbance in the miasma ahead of him.Bookmark here

The demon, a man who used to be called Starkenberg, paused in wonder at what this meant.Bookmark here

"Hmph. A last-ditch effort from cornered rats,” He grumbled.Bookmark here

However, feeling the disturbance getting closer and closer, he became more unsure.Bookmark here

'Did they have a secret weapon?' He thought.Bookmark here

At that moment, he saw him again. Gliding through the air on a board, the figure sliced through his army of monsters with ease. Though his thirst for revenge had included him, the faint memory of a knife grazing his neck still lingered in his subconscious.Bookmark here

"What is HE doing here!? Not again! I won't let him ruin me again!" He roared as he tried to steady himself.Bookmark here

He wouldn't lose again, not with all the power he gained! Not while there remained those that mocked him!Bookmark here

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"Seriously. How did everyone agree to something like this?" I mumbled to myself as my knife sank into a bugbear. Due to the lack of resistance, my levi-board didn't even slow down as I glided past it, the upper half of the bugbear sliding off and falling to the ground.Bookmark here

Castia and the squad leaders had decided to mount a small team composed of their best to charge forward and take out the demon. With the main enemy taken out, the formation would ideally collapse, and the monsters would no longer charge towards the capital. Afterwards, it would just be a matter of slowly cleaning them up, which the kingdom could hire adventurers for.Bookmark here

Due to my ability to instantly slay the demonic beasts, I was spearheading the charge as a group of support knights casted magic to boost my stats. Other magic knights maintained a wall of resistance around the whole group with their wide-area spells. Cornelius and Eryn were right behind me, firing off coordinated magic to incapacitate the enemies ahead, creating openings for me to mow them down. Soldiers brought up the rear as they made sure to block any monsters charging from the side, hoping to disrupt our advance.Bookmark here

We were moving at a swift pace due to the coordination of a team of veterans that knew exactly how to back each other up. Despite being inexperienced, Eryn was also allowed to come along. Cornelius vouched for her, much to her delight.Bookmark here

"With Knight Faulkner and Sir Claude by my side, you may find it hard to keep up with us!" he proclaimed.Bookmark here

Sir Claude, huh? That's quite a difference from when you used to call me Mr. Chef. Though I wasn't sure that I could live up to those expectations. I was doing everything I could just to keep up. Without the teamwork of the collective group, there was no way I could keep advancing.Bookmark here

Returning back to the present, I felt a cold wind on my back graze me. Take a brief look behind, a wolf had apparently snuck up on me, but it was now frozen in place, jaws extended.Bookmark here

'Such reliable backup from Mr. Corny,' I thought as I sliced it in half.Bookmark here

Cornelius and Eryn immediately started a chant keeping in sync with each other. Moments later, their ice and wind magic combined to create a devastating blizzard that was freezing everything that it touched ahead of me.Bookmark here

Though this was not enough to kill the monsters, patches of ice weighed down their limbs and cemented them to the ground. All I had to do was glide in and cut each one down.Bookmark here

Their perfect synchronization, likely from being long time acquaintances and training partners, demonstrated the truth of Cornelius's earlier words. I reminded myself to get jealous later when I had the time for it.Bookmark here

As we got closer to the demon, the miasma suddenly felt thicker. I subconsciously reached for the charm around my neck that was supposed to purify its effects. A slight warmth transferred to my hand as the charm glowed to reassure me that it was still active. However, I may have just been reaching for something to calm my nerves.Bookmark here

A strange figure finally came into view. Truthfully, it looked kind of like a Saiyan who had climbed down a chimney covered in soot and ash, aside from the random purple glowing spots. Maybe it was the hair. It was standing straight up likely he was in the middle of a power up. Miasma swirled around his body like he was some sort of djinn.Bookmark here

"That's Stark Mad? Looks like he's in need of a bath."Bookmark here

I joked to myself as a way to keep from thinking about it, but the sight of his demonized form scared me. Seeing nothing but '??'s hovering above him didn't help the situation. I was facing an unknown that had helped wipe out a town. Of course, there would be other places that I'd rather be.Bookmark here

But then, I noticed that as he looked towards me, he seemed to recoil in surprise.Bookmark here

Huh? What was with that reaction?Bookmark here

I was almost as if he was cautious of me. Thinking back, I did threaten to kill him not that long ago, but wasn't he a powerful knight? Now that he was a demon, there should be an even bigger gap in power. However, Stark's current actions belied this expectation.Bookmark here

"Go on! Now's your chance!" Eryn yelled at me, spurring me from my hesitation.Bookmark here

Her voice seemed to be the trigger to push me forward. In any case, I couldn't let this opening go to waste. I kicked off the ground as hard as I could, moving faster than I had ever gone before. My movement already having been accelerated by support magic, I came within attacking distance in mere moments.Bookmark here

The demon started charging up a spell, so I had to beat him to it once again. As my knife drew closer to the demon's neck, I felt an odd thump in my chest. It beckoned me to stay my blade.Bookmark here

Why here? Why now? I wasn't sure, but I had a strange feeling that there was a line that I shouldn't cross. Panic started taking over as I wasn't sure what to do anymore.Bookmark here

As time seemed to slow down, my mind raced as I tried to think about my next action. As the thumping grew louder and louder, it called for me to change my strategy. Endless questions plagued my mind.Bookmark here

Was I doing the right thing? What if my knife didn't cut? What if I fail? Why depend on me?Bookmark here

My grip loosened on the handle of the knife as I let it drop from my hand. Instead, I pointed my finger and stabbed the point on his neck that I had used before. My hesitation to follow through resulted in a big mistake.Bookmark here

"Ha, fool!"Bookmark here

It had no effect on him. My thoughts had betrayed me. Before I could try something else, I felt a sharp pain hit my stomach as something hard pierced through me. My feet no longer felt the touch of the ground, and the sounds of battle started to be replaced by ringing in my ears. Not knowing what happened, I felt the air whizzing around my body. A single thought ran through my mind as I blacked out.Bookmark here

Why had I tried so hard?Bookmark here

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A familiar room. The sound of a disc whirling in a game console was the only noise. Looking around, I saw the laptop on my desk, still displaying an assignment that I had yet to complete.Bookmark here

Posters decorated the wall, the girls looking at me with a smile as if they were ready to sing me a tune with their synthesized voices. A bag of chips on the ground, opened and half-eaten. Books in the corner that I had decided to toss aside for later, when I would have the will to study.Bookmark here

Looking down at myself, I saw the clothes that typically wore during my college days.Bookmark here

How long has it been since I last saw this? 6 months? As I picked up the controller to my console and started playing, the muscle memory of button presses and the flickering colors on the screen gave me a sense of comfort, as I tuned out the rest of the world.Bookmark here

What was I doing before again? Oh right, I guess I failed. How typical. I was never able to follow through when it counted. Why try then? I'd rather let myself be absorbed in the screen in front of me. Free from expectation, free from pressure. The world could go on without me.Bookmark here

"…de!"Bookmark here

"Eh? Don't bother me, I'm in the middle of something."Bookmark here

"..aude!"Bookmark here

The voice got louder and clearer, despite my efforts to brush it aside. What did it want from me? I failed already, so just let me go back to what I enjoy. My old life. Doing the bare minimum to make others satisfied, so that they can leave me alone to my interests. That's all a normal guy like me is good for anyways!Bookmark here

"You really think so?" Another voice echoed in the room.Bookmark here

Another me in a chef outfit was standing there. How could I be looking at myself? I must have been imagining it. As if he could read my mind, he responded to my thoughts.Bookmark here

"It's not my fault you thought me up. How did it go again? I am thou, thou art I –."Bookmark here

"Whoa there. I get it already." To think that I would be having a conversation with myself in a dream. Don't tell me my 'persona' is actually that of a chef?Bookmark here

"Is that really all you can do?" Chef Claude questioned me again.Bookmark here

"Yeah. What else can you expect? Just look at this room. It reeks of procrastination and indulgence! If I try, I may get somewhere, but then people will start expecting things from me. What then, if I fail? Why pin your hopes on me? Just so that I can hold them back?"Bookmark here

Chef Claude only shook his head. "That's for you to answer. But before I forget…it's dangerous to go alone, take this."Bookmark here

I reached out and grasped the familiar handle of a chef's knife, taking it as the other me disappeared. A simple cooking tool. One that, in most cases, would hardly be much of a threat.Bookmark here

"Couldn't you have left me the Master Sword or something instead?"Bookmark here

I traced the air with the knife for a bit before looking around the room.Bookmark here

"Oh right, this is a dorm room. There's no kitchen."Bookmark here

My mind had gone straight to cooking a meal, but I had nowhere to do it. So that was it. No more specialties. No more meals on the road. No more smiles as a certain girl ate my food…Bookmark here

I felt dampness run down my cheek, which I wiped with my free hand.Bookmark here

"Huh? Tears? Did I…?"Bookmark here

Somewhere along the line, I had started growing attached to that world. As troublesome as that place was, it felt like there was room for me.Bookmark here

Things to do, experiences to encounter, people to meet…Bookmark here

I should keep trying…just a little bit longer…Bookmark here

My hand went towards the game console and clicked off the power button. The world around me faded to black, as all I was left was the feeling of the knife in my hands and the warmth of the girl I would wield it for.Bookmark here

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"Claude!"Bookmark here

The voice of a girl roused me from my state of unconsciousness. Turning over, I rubbed my eyes to clear my vision. The lingering pain in my stomach was still there, but it wasn't too bad. Looking down though, there was a large tear in the front of my shirt.Bookmark here

"Thank goodness! You're awake!" Eryn gave me a hug.Bookmark here

"How long was I out?"Bookmark here

"Only a few minutes. Just enough for one of the healers to recover the wound on your stomach. It was pretty bad."Bookmark here

"I see."Bookmark here

Looking around, the team had formed a perimeter, holding back the monsters. A large ring of ice had surrounded us to keep them from getting close, which was constantly being regenerated as the monsters smashed into sections of it to break it down.Bookmark here

Cornelius had taken command of the front, trying to detain the demon with his ice magic, but earth and fire clashed with ice, creating a temporary stalemate. Beads of sweat rolled down Cornelius's face. He wouldn't be able to maintain his position for long.Bookmark here

"Claude, you good to go? We can't finish this without you." Eryn begged as she held the handle of my knife up to me.Bookmark here

Though I was still a bit sluggish from the earlier blow, I nodded and took the knife. I promised myself that I would try a bit harder. If it was for Eryn, I'd ignore everything and move forward.Bookmark here

I got up and started jogging forward. The other knights around me took notice and hurriedly cast support magic. The jog turned into a run. The run turned into a sprint. With my knife pointed forward, I lined it up with the demon ahead.Bookmark here

The demon turned towards me. "YOU AGAIN!"Bookmark here

"Hey gruesome, that's not where you should be looking," Cornelius said with a wink. He poured his mana into his ice magic, momentarily breaking the deadlock and coating the demon in ice.Bookmark here

"All yours!" Cornelius yelled out as he dropped to his knees, his mana reserves having been spent.Bookmark here

Not wanting to stray at all from my focus, I wordlessly charged forward and aimed my knife once again. The thumping in my chest started sounding, once again urging me to pull back.Bookmark here

Strangely, another voice in my head seemed to chime in this time though I knew not where.Bookmark here

"Do it…kill…kill the demon…make me proud…"Bookmark here

As the thumping and the voice tried to drown each other out, I got fed up with the push and pull.Bookmark here

"SHUT UP ALREADY AND LET ME DO THIS!" I screamed over the noise in my head.Bookmark here

The knife sank into the neck of the demon, stopping him from charging his spell. Unlike other monsters, the knife suddenly stopped midway remaining lodged in his throat. I tried to pull it out, but it snapped, leaving only the hilt. Without a second thought, I reached into my item box and pulled out two more knives, continuing the assault. Pressure points, the glowing spots, anywhere I could think of to target – my knives repeated sank into the flesh of the demon. When one knife broke, I instantly drew another one, not leaving any time for the demon to recover from its ice-bound state. Over and over, I stabbed relentlessly as demon blood dyed me and the ground purple. Shards of broken metal clattered around us as knives continued to break and be replaced. Miasma whipped across my body, leaving a burning sensation which I ignored through sheer determination.Bookmark here

After what felt like a long time had passed, when in fact was only a minute, I had finally exhausted my supply of knives. The demon slumped over, looking much like a bleeding mass that had been cut by a hundred shards of glass.Bookmark here

The thumping in my chest had stopped completely. There was nothing holding me back now.Bookmark here

The demon trembled as he couldn't believe that he had lost again. The imposing figure of the chef that had beaten him once before stood in front of him once again despite having received a near-fatal blow.Bookmark here

"Not now! Not again!" It wailed.Bookmark here

"Just give it a rest already," I said, huffing and puffing. Picking up the broken hilt of my main chef knife, I gathered a few bits of metal on the ground. Feeding them to the knife, the hilt glowed as mana was poured in. The blade extended as it recovered its original form.Bookmark here

With one final swing, I stabbed my knife into the back of the demon. The tip apparently hit something, as a purple flame shot out from the wound. The demon flailed around in agony, as flames erupted from the glowing spots and engulfed the rest of his body. Pretty soon, the purple flame had extinguished, leaving only a pile of ash on the ground.Bookmark here

"Is it over?" I sank to my knees.Bookmark here

Cheers erupted around me as the monsters started to move in a disorderly manner. As predicted, without anyone controlling them, the demonic beasts stopped charging forward. Many of them turned around to run away. The immediate danger seemed to be over.Bookmark here

I felt someone collide into my back.Bookmark here

"You did it!" The familiar voice of my master cheered behind me.Bookmark here

The two of us went to join the others, who were energetic despite being clearly exhausted.Bookmark here

"There he is! Claude, the Demon Cleaver!"Bookmark here

‘Urk. Please don't call me that. I'd rather not have something so horrible stuck to the end of my name.’ I was too tired to fight back though, as the others continued to chant it.Bookmark here

In the following days, the remainder of the demonic beasts were eliminated. The peaceful days returned once again.Bookmark here

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