C29 – Blind Spot Vision
With his blade in hand, Shire expertly parried to the left, timing his move flawlessly.
In response, the half-devil assumed it had gained the upper hand. Pulling back its claws, it aimed a swing at Shire’s waist with its right arm. Yet, Shire’s gray knife deftly intervened, causing a deep gash across the creature’s arm that oozed black blood.
“Uhh… Uhh…” Grimacing in pain, the half-devil clutched its wounded arm. Seizing the moment, Shire pressed forward, thrusting his blade into the demon’s heart. It entered with ease, puncturing through its chest. Empowered by the razor-sharp weapon, Shire felt his strength magnified, his confidence boundless.
As Shire scrutinized the demon, he understood its malevolent influence on souls. The demon’s corruption seeped into and corroded the essence of beings, manifesting violent changes externally. Multitudes of souls metamorphosed into sinister Devil Substance, serving as the shell and weaponry for the newly-formed demons. To sustain and fortify these infernal souls, they perpetually harvested lives or preyed upon one another. This made it imperative to prevent demons from emerging in densely populated areas. An encompassing mental turmoil would lead to the corrosion of countless souls.
However, humanity could adapt to this kind of psychic influence; those who survived might emerge stronger.
In the midst of the chaos, Shire observed a mercenary howling in agony. Blood stained his lips, and his grip tightened around a golden necklace. Amidst sobs, he cried out for his mother, yet he did not succumb to becoming a half-devil.
“Run! Seek reinforcements!” Shire’s voice rang out as he yelled to the mercenary.
The dazed mercenary nodded and stumbled away, his footsteps fading into the darkness.
Some Winged Devils were unwilling to let him escape. They swooped down from the trees, and Shire raced after them to intervene. The wound on his back throbbed, and as he dashed a few steps, a powerful wave of dizziness struck. His head lowered, a ringing echoed in his ears, and his vision rapidly dimmed into darkness.
Hu… Hu… He couldn’t stop.
I have to stop it. I can’t let it hurt anyone else.
He raised his head, held his blade and rushed to the side of the Winged Devil. It swung its tail violently, Shire raised his blade and chopped off the end of its tail.
“Hiss…” A Winged Devil turned around and looked at Shire with its ugly face.
It was taller and stronger than me, but at this distance, I can kill it.
A crimson beam shot from the Winged Devil’s eyes, lancing towards Shire’s soul. An intense burning sensation seared him, yet this anguish paled in comparison to the torment Yafen’s soul was subjected to. Undeterred, Shire locked onto the pair of blood-red eyes and lunged forward, his saber wielded in a two-handed arc.
The Winged Devil deftly deployed its wings in the opposite direction, exploiting the opportunity to nimbly evade Shire’s swift blade, averse to confronting it head-on.
In the devil’s wake, the mercenary was locked in a frantic bid for escape, the distance between him and danger growing with each desperate stride. His freedom felt within reach, never again to be ensnared.
“Nuin Sharp Edge!” With his proficiency in Piercing Spells limited, Shire mustered his utmost effort. A keen projectile shot forth, propelled with remarkable velocity, inflicting harm upon the Winged Devil’s form. Folding its wings, it momentarily recoiled.
Indeed, this was the approach to gradually erode its strength. It dared to descend from its arboreal perch to the forest floor, a manifestation of its carelessness.
Shire cautiously observed the flaws of the devil.
“You are bleeding.” A Winged Devil whispered.
Shire’s rear lay beyond his field of vision, a sense of bloodshed engulfing half his back. The confluence of blood and fabric brought a queasy discomfort, a sensation that intensified with every second. Unchecked, this continuous bleeding threatened to claim him before a verdict with the Winged Devil could be reached.
Ever since the horn’s impact, Shire’s vitality dwindled by over fifty percent. Blood continued to escape his body in ever-growing quantities. The agony, akin to marrow-infesting vermin, consumed his bones, making rational thought and sustained combat an elusive pursuit. The wound’s hemorrhaging persisted, siphoning Shire’s dwindling energy bit by bit.
As the Winged Devil closed in on Shire, he brandished his blade in a swift slash, only for it to gracefully sidestep the assault, methodically sapping his stamina.
“Inflict injury upon me, as done countless times.” The devil’s voice faintly reverberated through the air.
Anxiety gnawed at Shire. Swift resolution of the duel was imperative, else he’d fall prey first. The devil remained unburdened by fatigue, stoking its fires with soul-energy. While their souls yet burned within, their power remained inexhaustible.
“I’ve observed myriad Devil Hunters traverse these depths,” it declared, “among them the robust and frail, audacious nobles courting peril, and the destitute seeking rapid ascension. Some with virtuous origins, others steeped in vice. Yet a common trait binds them all—hubris.”
Shire advanced upon the Winged Devil, their proximity growing. Fatigue encroached upon him, and he inhaled deeply, not due to breathlessness, but as a futile attempt to stave off the seepage of his blood.
He still felt that his legs were getting heavier and heavier.
“You’ve lost too much blood. Don’t act rashly.” Gradiu instructed.
“I… I don’t have a choice.” Shire’s anxiety was palpable, his resolve forced as he advanced. With the Winged Devil present, Shire managed to maintain a cautious distance, stymieing any attempt to close in.
It’s all over, I’m about to collapse. Shire’s legs felt like jelly, threatening to give out beneath him. His vision grew progressively dimmer, his head heavier. Since when did his body feel this leaden? He struggled even to take a single step forward.
“Let’s move up.” One of the Winged Devils extended a digit, causing the blade in Shire’s hand to slip from his grasp.
Oh no! Shire’s heart skipped a beat. Without the blade, he was utterly defenseless against the devil.
Utilizing the power imbued by the Winged Devil, Shire elevated the slate-gray blade into the air, allowing it to rotate slowly. He observed its intricate design with great care.
“I’m rather intrigued by your weapon. Where did you come across it? It bears the hallmarks of something unearthly.”
Shire lifted his gaze towards the blade, suspended in mid-air, its orientation shifting incrementally.
“It’s a work of artistry, far beyond the capability of mere mortals.” The Winged Devil scrutinized the blade’s edge, its tone thoughtful. “Truth be told, I noticed it the very first time we crossed paths…”
There was a flaw…
He slowly raised his hand.
“What are you doing?” Some Winged Devil lowered its head and noticed Shire’s movements.
“Phantom Divine Power!”
The blade whirled through the air, and as Shire gripped it tightly, he thrust it forward, simultaneously unleashing the Hunter Curse. A surge of tremendous energy sliced through the atmosphere, far mightier than the wicked technique employed by the Winged Devil to shackle the blade. With swift precision, the blade hurtled towards the demon.
For the first time, a genuine expression of terror graced the Winged Devil’s visage. Hastily, it folded its wings in defense, but the ashen blade punctured through its expansive wings, driving straight into its corporeal form.
Shire sensed a current of air under his control, a current that he manipulated to bear down upon the gray blade. It plunged deeper into the Winged Devil’s form, systematically dismantling its barriers bit by bit, aiming for its very soul core.
An anguished cry erupted from the Winged Devil’s maw. Struggling, it wrested the embedded blade from its massive wing. Half of its wings remained tethered to the weapon, and it sagged helplessly. A colossal gash was gored across its body, grounding its flight for good.
The Winged Devil relinquished its wings, choosing instead to crawl upon the earth. It surged towards Shire with rapidity, launching a clawed assault. The intense force sent Shire soaring, his body hurtling through the air to collide heavily with a tree behind him.
The impact reverberated with a resounding thud as Shire coughed up blood. His frame struck the ground with an agonizing thump, the shockwaves throbbing through his internal organs. His strength deserted him instantaneously, leaving him bereft even of the ability to raise a finger.
“It’s futile now. We’re undoubtedly doomed.” Gradiu’s voice dripped with desolation, “Why must you prove so ineffective?”
“I’m a goner. You can return to the netherworld.” Shire crumpled onto the ground, his breaths shallow and labored.
Blood, injury, exhaustion.
“Rather than being chased back to hell in such a sorry state and enslaved by the King of Chaos, I would rather be eaten by this lowly servant.” Gradiu cursed, “I hate you!”
“Can’t you save me again?”
“Ah, now it’s very natural to ask for my help? The answer was no. Repairing you consumes my strength. The soul that I ate the troll earlier has already been used up. Right now, I have nothing at all.” Gradiu complained, “Alright, the countdown to life.”
A Winged Devil crawled in front of Shire.
“Who inhabits your body?” A Winged Devil inquired with perplexity, “Why do I sense two souls?”
“I am your master,” the Blade Demon choked his words, asserting control.
“I fail to comprehend,” a humble tone saturated the Winged Devil’s response, “Is there something I can assist you with, sir?”
“Vanish,” the Blade Demon’s voice carried a threat, “Seek sustenance elsewhere.”
“Ga-Ga-Hahaha—” The Winged Devil’s shrill laughter resounded, “It’s you! It’s truly you! Saber Lord, the King of Blades, the ultimate Eviscerator—no wonder you can craft such a weapon.”
A thread of unease and frustration tinged Gradiu’s soul. Shire could sense that he sought to temper his apprehension.
… “What are your intentions?” The Blade Demon’s confidence had evaporated, “I am the Demon Lord.”
“I cannot permit your existence in this form, my lord,” the Winged Devil’s voice hushed, “Rebirth in the depths of hell shall restore your power.”
Within Shire’s soul, Gradiu roared, a refusal to surrender. Yet, this anger proved futile, a mere outburst of impotence.
A Winged Devil suddenly turned around.
The weak Shire heard the sound of hooves approaching. Horse? Who could ride a horse into the forest?
“Tremble!” A Winged Devil roared at the rider.
Shire witnessed its visage illuminated with a sinister, malevolent gleam. The sheer dread it exuded was enough to drive anyone, human or animal, to madness and corruption.
The mounted warrior remained silent, urging his steed forward, thrusting his spear into the gaping maw of the Winged Devil. Swiftly, he disengaged, reined his horse, and unsheathed his sword.
The colossal rider’s spear skewered through the Winged Devil’s cranium, causing its form to shatter upon impact, crashing heavily to the ground. Shire gritted his teeth, rising amid his own blood. He retrieved the obsidian blade from the devil’s wings and promptly severed its throat. A deluge of corrupt, black substance spilled forth.
“Release it! Unshackle it!” A Winged Devil wailed, as its demonic essence seeped from its shattered shell. Instead of returning to hell, it surged into Shire’s form, becoming Gradiu’s sustenance.
“Huff…” Shire gasped, his agony palpable. His body throbbed with pain.
“No… Why…” The Winged Devil’s anguished malediction reverberated, its limbs convulsing. “I only sought… to soar in a new realm…”
“You ventured where you shouldn’t have.” Shire’s tone was somber.
“Should? Should not? Who are you to decree…” It extended a bony digit, jabbing accusingly at Shire.
He confronted it placidly, upholding the righteousness of mortals’ triumph.
“As a prelude, you are eligible.” Gradiu assessed the situation. Initially apprehensive and uneasy, he now exuded smug satisfaction, voraciously consuming the devil’s essence.
Shire breathed heavily, clutching his saber, and glanced sideways at the mounted warrior.
Rocher removed her helmet, the entire headgear airtight. Only a narrow slit remained for her eyes, while her horse, the very same horse! What audacity it took. Its eyes were concealed beneath the black fabric, ears plugged with linen. Relying on the rider’s exceptional skill, it had journeyed thus far, now pacing aimlessly, oblivious of its whereabouts.
“Is it deceased?” She queried, “From my vantage point, we accomplished a remarkable feat.”
“Hmm,” Shire’s strength was spent, his body sagging as he collapsed.