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“You’re murdering your own citizens, Bernard? You even cut her from behind when she wasn’t looking! What kind of Prince are you?”
Bernard cocked his head to the side. “I’m not? I’m the demon-slaying Hero, so why would I care about any demon life?”
“You… so, you remember who you are? I thought you would have convinced yourself you were the Demon Prince.”
“It’s true… the miasmic infection did take some time to get control of. The prince was… excitable.”
“Then, if you’re in control of yourself, shouldn’t we work together to escape.”
“You misunderstand.” Bernard casually wiped the sword off on the body of the dead woman. “I am no longer being influenced by the prince’s personality, but that doesn’t mean that anything I said back then was incorrect. Carmine is my woman. A slaver like you doesn’t deserve her.”
“And you do?” I snorted, the rage inside me starting to grow once again.
“We will be getting married in a month. At that point, I will have the ability to break the slave mark on her, and she will finally be free of your control.
“You think I’m controlling her? Did you ever think that maybe she’s with me by choice?”
“Hmph… I know you slaver types. You manipulate and control people. She might not even be aware of the brainwashing you’ve done, that’s why I must save her!”
“And I’m sure the saving you’re doing in no way resembles brainwashing yourself.” I snapped back.
“Enough of this. There is no point in quibbling with you. The person who is the strongest writes the history books, so nothing you say even matters!”
With that, he moved to attack. He was insanely fast. I was shocked once again as he moved toward me. I had completely forgotten how frenetic and dangerous his fighting style was. He was swinging his blade in a cut aiming to take my head. It looked like he was trying to win this in one hit.
However, I wasn’t the same person that I was back then. I was no longer restricted by the Demon Lord’s binding and I had spent a great deal of time fighting monsters in the forest to increase my abilities. As Bernard raced toward me, I leaped forward to meet him. I activated my Haste as I made sure I had the best applicable jobs selected, and as my speed ramped up, I realized I could handle his own. The pair of us faced each other, a single clang of metal as we passed and ended up on either side facing away.
As we turned to face each other again, a streak of red appeared on Bernard’s cheek, leaking down to his chin. His hand rose to his face in surprise as he wiped the blood with his hand and then looked at it. His eyes shot back to me, and the expression on his face warped from a relaxed state to something much more disciplined. He lowered his body, taking on a true fighting stance.
His first attack had just been a casual thing. Perhaps, when I had bested him in the demon fort before, that had also been him looking down on me. It seemed like my best had only managed to get his acknowledgment. Now, things were going to get serious.
With Haste active, I was able to keep up with his speed, and the pair of us sparred, battling back and forth, our swords creating loud clangs that filled the burning village. Smoke billowed above our heads and assaulted my nose. The heat was pretty intense as well. As for Bernard, he seemed completely unperturbed by it. I was sweating like crazy.
After that first exchange, I hadn’t managed to land another attack on him. Thankfully, he hadn’t managed to land any attacks on me either, but that didn’t make me feel any more confident. We were fighting on the same level, and although he was concentrating, I noticed he wasn’t using any special skills. Meanwhile, I was burning through just about everything that I had to break even.
Furthermore, the town was completely on fire, and I hadn’t seen any of his soldiers or guards except for the sounds of metal clanging and shouting in the distance. I had no clue how many soldiers were in on this raid, but it would only take one to throw off the balance and put me on the run. I could make Portals now, but they took too long to do in combat. I also couldn’t flee until I gathered Garnet, who had yet to return from the Blacksmith.
I was most concerned that she had already been captured by some of Bernard’s goons. If they took her as well, I didn’t know how I would react. I considered using some of my more devastating True Hero abilities, but most of those put me into a state almost dead, and I couldn’t afford to be almost dead with absolutely no fallback.
“You’ve grown much in the last month,” Bernard said almost appreciatively. “However, it’s not enough.”
“I still got time to beat you,” I growled as I worked my way to my feet after being knocked back by a particularly powerful hit.
“It’s true… that if you continue to grow at this rate, you may become difficult.” Bernard nodded. “Thus, it’s best to kill you now.”
“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow mockingly. “You’d rather kill a worthy opponent to get stronger yourself?”
“I’ve… reached the limit that I can obtain.” Bernard shook his head. “In the end, I had to make a trade for this strength I have. It is only a temporary thing. Once, I had hoped it’d be enough to secure my place as a noble so that I could live comfortably and form a family in peace. However, after meeting Carmine… such a powerful woman, I will never have to fear for my family. The pair of us can live our lives together, as soon as she sees that I can offer her the love you cannot.”
“I love her!” I shouted, lunging at him.
My sudden outburst caught both of us by surprise. I was shocked because as I shouted the words, I was realizing they were true. At some point, Carmine had nudged her way into my heart just as solidly as Lydia, Miki, Terra, Carmine, and Shao. I’d never been able to see her as just a bodyguard or even as a friend. I didn’t want any other man to have her, and I wanted to be the one to be with her.
Bernard quickly got over his surprise, lifting his sword and meeting my attack head-on. At first, I thought I was going to push him back, but his sword suddenly glowed and a skill activated. His blow was suddenly ten times more powerful, and I found myself flying backward. I slammed into the wall of a burning hut. Luckily, that wall was composed of brick and wasn’t on fire yet. I could still feel hot coals behind my back, causing me to shove off it and land on my hands and knees.
Bernard had already flashed forward and was standing over my head, his sword at the ready to strike down. I shot a look up at him, and he gave a small grin.
“Once you’re gone, everything will go my way.” He lifted the sword and brought it down on my head.
Just before the blade hit the top of my head, an arrow struck it, causing the blade to shift. He stabbed into my shoulder instead. I let out a cry as I tried to dive away. However, Bernard had no chance to continue with the strike as more arrows were flying where he was standing. He leaped back, jumping away as more arrows fell. I grabbed my shoulder, already switching to White Mage and casting powerful healing spells. A normal man would have been out of the fight after wounds like that, but my White Mage ability was no joke and I was back to standing within thirty seconds.
By this point, Bernard had jumped away and was now about fifty feet away from me. A group of men had approached and stopped just a few feet away. I instantly recognized them, or at least the man at the lead.
The Bandit Hero and his group of Bandits were storming the town. Calypso was by his side, not looking even remotely winded despite having assuredly run miles with the rest of the group to get there. At this point, I could see a few men from Bernard’s group, various demon knights and soldiers who were engaging with some of the Bandit Hero’s troops.
“It’s too late now.” Bernard snorted as he seemed to recognize the Bandit Hero. “You won’t be able to make your sword now. That Magic Blacksmith hiding in this town is dead.”
“You killing your own citizens now?” The Bandit Hero said words very similar to what I had said when I first met him.
Bernard shrugged. “If he was going to help create a weapon that could be used against father, then it was only fitting that he die a traitor’s death.”
His answer was much different this time, but I finally knew why he had actually come here. He was trying to stop the creation of that sword. I knew it, the sword’s creation was a fundamental part of this dungeon’s lore! Except… Aberis wanted the sword to be made, while Bernard was trying to stop it! It could be said that Bernard represented the Dungeon Master Aberon at this moment, whose job was to preserve the curse and keep the dungeon going.
However, the curse itself desired to be completed. The relationships between dungeon masters and their dungeons was a strange and complex one. Dungeon Master’s wanted to protect the dungeons at all costs, while dungeons wanted to complete the lore at all cost. Dungeon Masters exuded control over the dungeons, but dungeons themselves had their own autonomy as well. Considering there were two potential ways to solve a dungeon, either by breaking or finishing the lore, you ended up with this strange dichotomy of a fiercely defensive master and a risk-taking dungeon.
The Bandit Hero gave me a look, somewhat worried about Bernard mentioning the sword. I gave only the slightest of nods. I probably shouldn’t have told him it was done, but he had just saved my life. I owed him that much, at least.
“You’re the one who killed him! Die!” There was a scream behind Bernard, and a small form swung a big hammer at his back.
He was far too quick though, and not only dodged the hammer, but knocked it out of Garnet’s hands and grabbed her throat.
“Hmm? A dwarf? Wait… you’re the prize, aren’t you?”
“You killed Master!” She screamed in a choked breath.
“You’re not needed. Plus… women with small chests should just die.” Bernard snorted.
“Wait!” I was going to shout something to that effect, but it was actually Calypso who spoke first. “The sword you speak of has already been made. That man has it, if you trade him her life, he’ll gladly give it to you.”
Her finger was pointed directly at me. I could only put on a wry smile. It looked like she was picking betrayal ahead of time.