The underground stairway was part of a tunnel that wasn’t especially wide, it was the kind where it was fine for one person, but a bit of a squeeze if there were two.
Due to luminescent stones embedded in the walls, this underground tunnel didn’t require any lights.
As I lifted the hatch to the underground area, the sickening stench of blood and gore wafted up from the hole leading underground. My eyebrows jumped at this scent. Wasn’t this an unused chapel? Why was there the scent of blood in the air…unless something died here recently.
Don’t tell me! A thought suddenly occurred to me…
The urge to investigate hit me like a truck as I looked at the ominous stairs leading downwards. I anxiously got One-eye and Nine-finger to bring along 30 guardsmen to take the lead, while me and Big 1 stood in the center with another 10 guardsmen at the back. As for No.3 and Big 4, I forced them to stay above ground due to their injuries. No.5 on the other hand wasn’t that strong anyway, so I got him to stay behind too.
As I walked down the stairs, what immediately caught my eye was the traces of blood staining the walls all over. From time to time I would even step on little fragments of bones. Something had died here…and from the blood, it looked like it was being chased by something.
A few steps down, I found a claw print that wasn’t too deeply imprinted, but was still very conspicuous. I instructed Big 1 to place his own arm next to it as a comparison. The result was a pretty close match. This meant that the claw mark belonged to a large imp.
The underground tunnel went really deep and it wasn’t a straight tunnel either, as it took several bends along the way. As we proceeded down this snake-like tunnel, the scent of blood got even stronger.
Strange, if this was a normal stairway to a cellar, shouldn’t it have ended long ago? By now, we’ve at least travelled over 100 meters and the end still isn’t in sight.
Just as I was considering this, a pained cry traveled down the tunnel from the guardsmen in front, throwing the devils into slight disarray.
“Guardsmen, get down here quick. There’s an enemy!”
One-eye’s shout sounded unusually alarmed, making the whole situation that much more disquieting. The guardsmen immediately rushed down upon receiving the order. A few seconds later, One-eye’s voice rang out once more: “Master, you mustn’t come down, get out of here quick!”
“Ahh…” That was Nine-finger screaming, and judging from the sound of it, he was in a great deal of pain. Exactly what’s going on down there!
There’s a bend up ahead, once I cross that bend, everything will be clear to me. Just from their cries alone, they must’ve encountered some trouble, and it was the kind which could be settled right away.
“Master, please retreat.” Big 1 suddenly stepped in front of me, blocking the path forward. As he did so, he turned to the guardsmen with him: “Get down there and see what’s happening, if there’s trouble make sure to help them. No matter what, you must buy enough time for the Master to escape.”
“Yes.” The guardsmen were all loyal subordinates who immediately rushed down upon receiving this potentially life-threatening order.
“If there’s trouble, then there’s even more reason to let me have a look.” I was extremely pleased with their caution, but still, I must have a look for myself. What if it’s really true…she’s a benefactor of mine…even if it’s a one in a million chance, I must investigate it myself. I need to know if she’s still alive.
“Master, your safety is the most important matter now.”
Big 1 adamantly blocked my way, his intention clear. I knew that they were doing this for my safety so I didn’t insist too much and instead prepared to turn around.
Just as I turned around, a furious roar echoed from further down the tunnel: “So you’re here as well! That’s great. Hahahahah…in the end, you can’t escape from my clutches…”
“It’s that chipped-horn!” That’s the voice, the voice that haunts my memories whenever I think about that female devil. The first time we met, he was already on the verge of becoming a Demon Child, and led a group of 10 head imps. That encounter ended with him escaping. A number of his imps escaped as well.
Even he knows that [The most dangerous place is usually the safest]. He must’ve only ran for a short distance before hiding himself, all the while observing us. Once we fully evacuated the village, he must’ve came back and hidden himself underground…
“Damned bastard!” I cursed at his cunningness. To think he managed to fool us this way.
“Master, leave quick…”
As I hesitated, another cry echoed from further down. My eyelids twitched as if to warn me of the danger ahead. Without even guessing, I knew that the situation ahead was dire.
*bam bam bam* The heavy footsteps of a devil slowly closed in on me. With each step, the sound of someone being tossed and the cries of my subordinates filled the air. Big 1 immediately blocked the passageway, but before he could tell me to leave, a figure entered my sight.
He greeted us was a swift punch of his fist. It was a fist wrapped in a layer of flames that upon colliding with Big 1, who stood in his way, immediately burned his skin in an explosion of heat and brute force. Big 1 was no match for this fiery first, as it crashed it into him, it broke his right arm and threw him to the side onto the floor.
My heart jumped into my throat as I witnessed this sudden attack. As I instinctively backed away in fear, my vision rapidly took a nosedive as my entire body fell backwards. Due to it being a stairway, I had tripped on a stair as I retreated, causing me to fall on my butt.
“We meet again.” The owner of this domineering and arrogant voice was a red skinned, over two meter tall devil. As he looked down upon me, his signature chipped horn came into view. This figure…that’s right, it’s that bastard!
As those words left his mouth, he advanced a step and threw another fist in my direction. This sudden attack caught me off guard and I simply wasn’t able to react in time. However, just in the nick of time, the Grimoire of the Dead suddenly flew out and blocked the incoming fist.
The fiery fist had no visible effect on the grimoire itself, but the grimoire didn’t have much force behind it either, and flew right back at me after one hit.
Thankfully, there wasn’t much force behind the grimoire as it collided with me. I only hurt my back slightly as I crashed into the stairs. I immediately checked the spot where the flames came into contact with the book. It wasn’t hot…in fact, I couldn’t feel any heat at all.
Just as I stood there idly, Chipped Horn threw out another punch at me. However, just as he did so, his body suddenly jerked backwards slightly.
At the same time, I finally came back to my senses and desperately tried to shift my body to the side. The fist barely grazed my shoulder as it landed on empty air behind me.
“Master leave quickly…leave…”
So that jerk wasn’t accidental, it was because of Big 1’s fearless attempt at saving me. He desperately hugged Chipped Horn’s leg and tugged backwards, causing him to jerk back missing his target.
This opponent was just too strong…with just one punch, he managed to defeat my army’s commander. I must run, now!
I quickly crawled to my feet and dashed up the stairs, not daring to look back for even a second, my heart pounding with every step I took.
Having broken his right arm, Big 1 had to use his only remaining arm to hug Chipped Horn’s foot. Even so, he held on for dear life, refusing to let go. Seeing me leave his sight, Chipped Horn turned around and cruelly stomped on the hindrance of an arm. However, this didn’t stop Big 1 either, with his left arm now broken as well, he immediately bit down on Chipped Horn.
Ever since I’d given them weapons, my devils had never used their teeth to fight. In the heat of the moment, this basic fighting style finally came back to Big 1 as he suddenly remembered that his teeth were his strongest weapons.
Chipped Horn furiously kicked back, his leg coincidentally landing squarely on Big 1’s skull. The heavy kick sent him flying backwards immediately with a sickening crunch, whether he was still alive or not remained a mystery.
As he flew backwards, Big 1 crashed into an oncoming guardsmen and ended up blocking the passageway, as the two of them laid on the floor in a tangled mess.
By now, I had already reached the entrance to the underground tunnel. No.3 and Big 4 who had heard the ruckus downstairs had already gathered near the entrance, worry etched into their faces. Upon seeing me exit the tunnel, they breathed a sigh of relief. However, this relief was cut short by my following words.
“One-eye and the others are in trouble, they might’ve even…quick, gather the shieldbearers and saber wielders. Hurry!”
“Understood.” No.5 was usually a slippery fellow, but even he felt the seriousness of this moment. Without any hesitation, he sprinted off to gather the other devils while No.3 and Big 4 stood by my side, ready.
I brought the two of them out of that small room, but did not manage to leave the chapel. Before the shieldbearers and saber wielders managed to get here, Chipped Horn had already caught up with us. Upon leaving the tunnel, the first thing he did was take a deep breath of air, an intoxicated look apparent on his face. He then turned towards me while flashing a disgusting smile.
“Go on, keep running, why aren’t you running?”
Since I had left the dim tunnel and finally regained my presence of mind, I got my first good look at his appearance. Chipped Horn’s appearance was very similar to a head imp except for the fact that he was taller.
The only significant difference between him and a head imp, was the thin black tail growing from his tailbone. At the end of the tail was a triangle shaped tip that was similar to devil tails you saw in popular culture back on Earth.
I asked with a hideously desperate look on my face, an image that looked worse than a sobbing devil. This was the only thing I could do right now; stall for time until the guardsmen below came up, or until No.5’s reinforcements arrived.
“That’s right, I’ve evolved.” His voice oozed confidence as he said this. He was absolutely confident in his victory, and didn’t rush to capture me. As he clenched his fists it caught fire, but this flame didn’t hurt him. In a brazen show of strength, he slightly closed his eyes and smiled as he revelled in his newfound power.
“I’ve become the master of flames.”
Demon Child, the evolved form of head imps and also the three-star tier of devils.
Demon Child didn’t mean that they were the children of devils, but instead meant that devils of this tier had a defining feature that separated them from head imps. Devils who weren’t at least three-star couldn’t control magic. Only by advancing to three-star could they gain the ability to cast some fire magic.
Simply put, imps were the lowest tier of devils. They were basically at the level of cattle, this included head imps as well. The difference between a head imp and an imp was that one was a servant and the other a slave.
Only after they had ascended to three-stars, were they finally recognized as devils by other high ranking devils. Demon Childs were in a sense newborn devils.
I carefully shifted my feet backwards as he stood there, drunk in his revelling. Slowly but surely, I widened the distance between us. No.3 and Big 4 had wisely retreated with me as well, all the while maintaining an alert stance with their spiked maces ready in hand.
While my plan was pretty well thought out, reality never seemed to follow it. As we stood there, the sounds of footsteps began echoing from that underground tunnel. The guardsmen were on their way! But if I could hear it, the three-star Chipped Horn was definitely able to hear it as well.
“Seems like your men are almost here so it’s time to capture you.” Chipped Horn confidently declared. Beside me, my two bodyguards stood there agitated. While they knew that the three-star Chipped Horn was an entire tier above them, they weren’t frightened one bit. Instead, this merely strengthened their resolve to fight to the death.
Big 4 raised his spiked mace and charged towards Chipped Horn with No.3 following closely behind. As he left, No.3 left me these words: “Master, please leave first, we’ll hold him here.”
As Chipped Horn looked at his two opponents, he smiled disdainfully: “A pair trash actually dare to block my path. Die!”