“His… heart,” the King slowly muttered in disbelief.
I was watching the scene unfold the next day. I was actually spying on Devon, who was in the throne room with Richard as a Knight explained what had happened the night before.
“Yes, my lord. Some… thing… ripped out and consumed Julian’s heart. It would appear based on our best guess that Gregory had found his body in this state. He dragged the body into a nearby bathtub where he… where he slit his wrists, sir, and bled to death while holding the first prince… n-naked sir…”
The King didn’t look surprised. He merely scratched his chin in thought. Richard had a mildly worried look, but it likely had more to do with his concern for himself. This sort of action would make Richard the next in line to be the heir. After a moment, he noticed Devon with his eyes squinted, deep in thought.
“What is it, Devon?”
“Father…” Devon paused for a second, but then stared ahead resolutely. “I believe I must finish pursuing the Bandits.”
“Bandits! The first prince has been assassinated, and you talk of bandits?”
“Father, I believe the two are connected. This Bandit King, Nova, he sent a spy to our castle for a month. This Cornelia Bartrum was merely one of his spies. We know those adventurers found dead in the treasury room were likely his as well.”
“Yes, but as you just pointed out, they are all dead.”
Devon’s lips tightened, suggesting he wanted to refute part of that, but he shook his head instead. “Either way, Nova might have had her spread some kind of curse or monster. If I don’t seek him out now, we might lose the chance of ever capturing him. I will mourn more comfortably once I see that man dead.”
The King made a fist like he wanted to berate Devon but quickly found himself at a loss for words. A moment later, he let out a breath and collapsed back on his throne, looking about ten years older.
“Very well, my son. I think it will do no good, but I will give you permission if it brings you peace of mind. Bring me the head of Nova.”
“Yes, father!” Devon bowed.
It was likely that Devon had been making this argument with the king all the previous day. Having finally gotten his permission, he immediately went to carry out the orders before the King could have a chance to change his mind. He quickly bid his brother and the King goodbye with a bow and then left the room.
He immediately headed to his own room where he already had a set of armor and weapons prepared to go. I watched him quickly dress, preparing himself for a battle. With the amulet, that battle would start the second he used it. In fact, he might appear in the middle of the camp. I also considered that Nova might have designed it to summon me directly into a cage, but that didn’t seem to be his style. At the very least, Devon should have no trouble creating an illusion outside the cage to free himself.
He checked over his equipment nearly three times. Once he went, wherever he went, he’d be heading back alone and on foot. Therefore, he needed to be ready for anything. He took a breath, drew his sword, picked up a sack of provisions that he was ready to drop at a moment’s notice, and then poured a bit of magic into the amulet. It exploded with light, and a moment later, the surrounding scenery changed.
I gave a breath of relief when I saw that the scene had changed into the one I had expected. It was the camp I had remembered, and Devon had popped up right in front of the Bandit King’s tent. It was only a few steps away from where Nova had left the disembodied head of Dox long ago to make a statement to me.
Devon’s sudden appearance in the middle of the camp was only seen by a few men. They stared at him absently, unable to understand what they were looking at. For Devon, the suddenness of the transport only took a few breaths to get over. He immediately raised his sword and screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Bandits! On the order of the King! You are under arrest! Surrender, and you will not be hurt!”
Of course, it would have been considerably better not to announce his presence, but that was never Devon’s way. Just as many men began to flee as turn to fight him. Two illusionary men suddenly appeared beside him, and the bandits gave pause as one suddenly became three. This gave Devon the time to finish his ordering, and the two illusions moved forth, fighting with the precision of a third tier.
He created only one more illusion a moment later before joining in the fight himself. As Devon had explained, the more illusions he created, and the more commands he gave them, the weaker he became. These illusions only had one or two commands. They were likely something along the lines of capture or kill all bandits. That’s why he could make so many and still fight himself.
This was opposed to the illusion he had once created to rescue the previous Harvest sacrifice. He likely had to install hundreds of commands onto it to get it to function properly. Keep her fed, keep her safe, find her somewhere safe, if you’re attacked by soldiers, do this, if you’re attacked by bandits, do that, and so on.
The four Devon’s shadows ended up creating a blood bath. I had figured Nova would have come out before long, but he had stayed hidden away. I pulled out of the Stalker ability for a bit and checked on Min. The summoning circle Reinhart had developed for us had not been triggered. Therefore, Nova had not fled using escape magic. It was instrumental that he ended up using that magic. Could he have seriously abandoned the camp? I knew that he was cold and gave little care for the life of other bandits, but would he really let the camp be ransacked by Devon?
When I went back into my special sight, a fire was spreading among the tents. The three illusions were finishing up running down escaping bandits and thieves. No one had surrendered since the penalty for thievery in this country was death; it wasn’t very surprising. There was no way to tell if people got away, but he had killed nearly two hundred men. Although it had been a long time, I did recognize a few of them as former lovers. I didn’t feel particularly bad about it.
The real Devon had approached the Bandit King’s tent and entered inside. I tensed, expecting Nova to burst out of a corner and try to strike Devon down. I really wished he had used an illusion for surveillance. This was far too risky. However, he moved forward anyway and eventually found himself in a bedroom I was only too familiar with. I had spent weeks in that bedroom, although smoke was starting to fill it now, as even the Bandit King’s tent was starting to catch fire.
Devon was looking around until his eyes suddenly caught on to something glinting on the dresser. He picked it up and glanced at it, and I tensed as I recognized the thing he had found. Of all the things he could find, this was perhaps the worst of them. It was my guild card. The one I had openly given Nova without question, not realizing I was basically giving him a full view of my abilities for all time. It was absolutely one of the biggest mistakes I had ever made in this world.
Devon looked down at the card as realization crested his face. “Aria…”
The words left his mouth, and I wished I could reach out and take the guild card from his hand. It was permanently connected to me, and that made it dangerous. However, a second later, he surprised me by dropping the card to the floor. With a shout, he swung the sword down and the card broke in half with a small, magical crack.
The text faded away on the card, and Devon gave a nod. I took a breath of relief and realized at that moment that I now owed Devon one. Well, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to pay him back. I did give him my second virginity, so perhaps that counted for something.
The smoke was starting to become too much, so Devon turned around and left the room behind. The place I might have started to call home once continued to burn behind him. However, when he took a step out of the tent, there, standing in the middle of the camp, was Nova himself.
Devon readied his sword. “You! You look like the wanted posters. You must be the one called Nova. You’re under arrest!”
“How did you get…” Nova started, then noticing the pendant around Devon’s neck, his eyes darkened. “Aria! That bitch! Burn to ashes, from which you came, die!”
Those last words were not meant for Devon, they were likely the phrase that would activate the death curse. I chuckled at that. He was, of course, too late. The curse was changed, and if he tried to trace it, he’d find I was still in the castle, exactly in the spot of Sylvia.
“Aria? You do know Aria, then?” Devon said.
“Knew…” Nova chuckled. “Her sweet little ass got me in the castle and helped me take your treasury. Of course, then her elf bitch forced me to use a special skill that sent me days out of my way. And I get back here only to find my entire camp burned to the ground. Well, no matter, you did me the favor of not having to do it myself. With this money, I’m thinking about retiring.”
“You seem confident you can resist me?”
“Oh… I’ve killed tier 3 prince cunts like yourself before.”
“I just have one question for you,” Devon demanded. “What was Aria’s involvement in all of this?”
Nova laughed. “She was nothing but a giant pain in my ass. If I could only get her out of my head! Perhaps, I can start by killing you!”
Nova lept at Devon, slashing his sword wildly. Devon danced back three steps before giving his own slash, forcing Nova to jump back as well. This was a battle between two tier-three fighters. As I was settling down for the show of a lifetime, my vision suddenly went out. Ah! My Stalker’s thirty minutes were up. I shouted in aggravation, sending my next skill out.
For two minutes I wasn’t able to see a thing, and they were some incredibly frustrating minutes. Then, the view returned again. This time, rather than seeing just over Devon’s shoulder, my view was a little more distorted and a little higher up. It was a better view, even if it occasionally felt like I was looking through water.
The two men were battling wildly. Their swords swung and with each strike, magical sparks flew. Nova’s sword often glowed blue or purple, infused with whatever magics he liked to use. Devon’s sword often made red flashes. Their fighting seemed almost like a dance. The swords would strike each other in a steady rhythm as the two men moved back and forth. For a while, Nova would be making ground, and then Devon would be making ground.
Both men were covered in sweat, dirt, and ash. A cut formed on Devon’s shoulder. Another struck Nova’s arm. The fighting was fast and aggressive, neither side letting up an inch. Blades of grass suddenly emerged from Nova’s feet and he jumped away before they could pierce his legs. A spike of ice shot from Nova’s hand and Devon had to dodge it as the icicle shattered into pieces and rammed into a nearby tree like shrapnel.
“It is time we end this!” Nova shouted.
His sword started to glow a deep purple, and he swung it down. Devon jumped to the side avoiding it, but then Nova let go of the sword and spun in the direction Devon had lept. It was a feint, and a moment later, a dagger slammed into Devon’s chest. I let out a scream as Nova’s blade pierced Devon. Devon looked down at Nova and then smiled. His body suddenly turned to smoke and dissipated.
Nova’s eyes widened, and he immediately dived to the right. The blade passing where his head had been narrowly missed.
“Fucking illusion? I’ve been fighting a fucking illusion!” Nova shouted.
Devon walked out from a nearby tree. Unlike Nova who was breathing with some difficulty, covered in sweat, this Devon was in remarkably good shape. Nova suddenly whipped his hand, and a dagger flew out. Before Devon could react, it struck him in the chest. I couldn’t even become concerned as his body immediately started to dissolve, and he disappeared as smoke too.
Another Devon stepped out from another tree, and then two more followed, one on every side of Nova. Nova’s mouth twisted in rage.
“What kind of fucking cheat skill is this, you bastard?”
All three Devons smiled and shrugged. However, none of them had talked, so even I didn’t know which one was the real Devon, if any of them were. Nova could barely keep fighting one Devon. If three of them attacked him now, he wouldn’t have a chance.
As the three men started advancing on Nova, he cursed one more time. He immediately used his escape ability, and his body suddenly vanished from this certain trap. All three Devons dissipated as a fourth Devon stepped out with a frown. But my eyes turned and started rushing back. I’d need them for what came next. After too long, I was finally going to end this.