“Damn! Failed, did they…?”
A short stretch removed from the flower field where the Master, Yuuto, and the rest minded their own business, a single man lurked in the depth of the woods. His appearance, if the small horns and wings weren’t a dead giveaway, wasn’t that of a normal human.
The man in question was a demon. And not just any old fiend, either; he was one of the lieutenants that led the Demon Lord’s armies, known to others by the name of Doss.
“Curse those wretched Heroes! They dared to obstruct the path of a demon… I refuse to let them leave with their lives intact!”
In a fit of pure, unadulterated rage, Doss let his magic strike a nearby tree. And, as would be expected of someone with his ranking in the Demon Lord’s armies, the enormous tree was felled in a single blow.
The orc kneeling in front of him shivered at the mighty display. Doss had, at one point, faced the Hero Party in battle.
The encounter had ended with him suffering defeat, and he had dragged himself away from the Hero Party and back to his troops by the skin of his teeth. The only things that greeted him upon his return were the scorn and disdain of his fellow demons.
That was to be expected, of course. What kind of demon was he to lose to humans, inferior as they were? Not only that, but it had only taken a mere rabble of four to knock him off his feet, only four to force his disgraceful retirement. Had he been in their position, Doss had no doubt that he would treat them as scornfully as they had him.
“I’ll wipe myself clean of this shame! There is nothing I wouldn’t do to see those damned Heroes fall!”
Doss steeled himself, his resolve only further braced by his own hate and anger.
“I see I was wrong to leave this to the hands of monsters. I have to butcher them with my own!”
The scars the Heroes had dealt him had yet to heal over, just as his magic had yet to recover fully. It was for that reason that he had resorted to setting traps for the Heroes using these orcs, and even they had failed him.
There was little else he could do, in that case, but take matters into his own hands. His mind made up; Doss made to move towards the field the Heroes stood upon.
“Hm? You’re still here, are you? You useless swine! Drop dead!”
Doss let his magic loose again, striking down the kneeling, fearful orc. The lone blast was enough to have the orc dispatched with ease, its renowned and immense vitality rendered meaningless.
The result was hardly mind-blowing, especially considering his position as lieutenant. Having let out his rage on the hapless orc and now slightly calmer of mind for his efforts, Doss began conceiving of whatever plans he would need to drive the Heroes against a wall.
“There were two other humans with the Hero Party, come to think of it…”
Doss had made use of his magic to watch the battle unfold from afar, and had not only seen the four Heroes, but also caught a glimpse of two more humans that were nearby.
The pair had been, quite luckily for him, made up of a man with delicate features who appeared rather lacking in the sphere of strength, and a little girl who didn’t even possess anything that might have helped her in combat.
“Well, they are Heroes. They wouldn’t just stand by and do nothing when others are in trouble.”
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It was then that Doss thought of a crooked plan befitting his demonic nature. If he were to capture one of them – either the man or the girl, it mattered little which – and take them, hostage, he could prepare his own onslaught, and there would be little the Heroes could do to ward him off.
It went without saying that, had they been like Doss, who wouldn’t even bat an eye if one of his own comrades were captured in the heat of battle, they might attack him without regard for hostages. But he very much doubted that Heroes would be capable of such feats.
Of course, Doss had no way of knowing that had he been facing off against any of Yelquchira’s members, their Master excluded, they would have simply and joyfully cut through him with the intent to kill, hostages or not. This was the same guild that included Laladi in its ranks.
“This couldn’t be more perfect. That brat ran off into the forest, didn’t she? I guess I can just take her hostage.”
Doss couldn’t keep the grin off his face. He was already aware that Laladi and waddled her way into the woods. He spread his wings, ready to fly to where she was and seize her…
“You don’t need to go out of your way, you know. Lala’s already here; you don’t hafta go anywhere!”
The most adorable little voice stopped him in his tracks. Doss turned vigilant, looking for anyone that might have addressed him directly.
His attempt to remain vigilant immediately proved to be futile as a vine knocked his feet from beneath him and tossed him aside.
The attack caught Doss completely off guard. The earth in front of him suddenly began to bulge, almost as if it were answering his question.
An enormous flower dug its way out, its petals closing off its center. Once it had sprung out in its entirety, its petals slowly began to open.
“Hi there, Mister!”
In the middle of the circle of petals, Doss saw Laladi, the very girl he’d planned to abduct. She was squatting, looking down at Doss with a blank expression that was a far cry from what she’d shown the Master.
“What…?! How’d you find me this quickly?!”
Doss’ wide eyes expressed his shock. One couldn’t blame him, really. If anyone else were to try and sniff him out in this wide, thick forest, it might have taken them a full day, and they still would have found neither hide nor hair from him. It would have taken an obscenely long time.
Barely ten minutes had gone by since the orcs had involved them in their ambush, and she had searched and found him in no time at all. Not only that, she’d even come directly to him. No mere human should have been capable of hiding their presence to the extent that would allow them to close in on one of the Demon Lord’s lieutenants. Thought both those thing should have been impossible for her, here Laladi was, staring down at Doss without a sliver of warmth.
“Well, I’m sure you know why Lala came to you, right?”
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Doss gave her the first answer that crossed his mind, and Laladi nodded, pleased with his response.
“Are you a friend of those Heroes?”
“Huh? Don’t be ridiculous, you damn maggot. There’s only one person Lala’s devoted herself to, and that’s the Master.”
Apparently, that had been enough to trigger Laladi’s ire. She’d even called an actual lieutenant of the Demon Lord’s troops a maggot to his face, her dead eyes continuing to stare down at him.
At this point, it should be made clear that while the members of Yelquchira were on a level where they were willing enough to use their own powers alongside those of their fellow members, they weren’t willing to go further. None of them would find it in themselves to proudly declare them as friends. Even then, each one of the girls was so strong-willed and unique in their own way that seeing them working together for a common goal was nothing short of a miracle.
“Lala’s really angry, you know. It’s your fault the poor flowers are so beaten up, isn’t it? Lala’s got a real strong connection to flowers, see? That makes her mad.”
“Hmph. If simple flowers are enough to upset you, there’s nothing I can do. Also, I didn’t think the orcs would go barging into a clearing full of them.”
“Just shut it. The leader’s responsible for his underlings.”
And that responsibility would be paid for with his life, of course. Laladi didn’t openly state as such, instead choosing to keep it to herself. She wouldn’t have had much of an issue stating the obvious, but she was in the mood to play with her food.
“Well, Lala’s pretty angry about the flowers, but it’s the other thing you did that makes her angry.”
“The other thing?”
Laladi nodded, and in a split second, the depths of her anger swirled to the forefront.
“You… You let that filthy orc get close to the Master, didn’t you? If you wanna make up for your crime, pay for it with your own life.”
Getting angry over a horde of wild orcs that put your lives in dangers was one thing, and by all means perfectly reasonable. But being killed just for having an orc be nearby? That was such a ridiculous pretense for murder, even for Doss himself.
But for Laladi, it was anything but, and she wasn’t hesitant to make that clear.
“Hah! What a fool!”
Surprisingly, the first one to make their move was Doss. The demon had no love for humans and had always thought them to be a species that, as a whole, was inferior in every way. He hadn’t decided to engage a human being in idle chitchat just for the fun of it. He had kept Laladi occupied and talking for a good reason, and that was so he could buy just enough time to let his magic accumulate.
Doss’ spell flew, containing every drop of the powerful magic he had amassed. He had packed enough power into his spell that, had it been directed at the Heroes that had seen to his defeat instead, it would have taken them down in one hit. His magic made contact, and the resulting shockwaves swept over the area.
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“Hahahah! I have no idea who or what you are, but there’s no way you can take that spell and still stand!”
“Urgh… The smoke stinks…”
Doss, expecting to be greeted with the sight of Laladi sprawled across the earth, was rattled to his core when he saw her simply standing there, her reaction relegated to a light coughing fit. His attack hadn’t even scratched her. The enormous plants that had sprung into existence in front of the girl had, seemingly, been enough to completely negate his magic. They didn’t even have a single scratch on them.
“Now it’s Lala’s turn.”
With that, Lala stretched her hand out in front of her.
That small gesture had been enough to send Doss flying. Oddly enough, her attack hadn’t made an impact with the direction she faced, namely his front, but with his back. He turned around, half-expecting to see the other man that had been in her company standing behind him…
“The tree… Did the tree just move?!”
One of the trees became unrooted of its own accord, sluggishly pulling its own roots out of the earth until it could use them to stand and move about. Its winding branches began swinging to and fro as if to threaten the demon.
“That’s ridiculous! As if a lieutenant would be beaten by a mere tree, of all things!”
Doss unleashed his powerful magic, blowing the approaching tree to splinters. A single spell had been more than enough to destroy it.
“Ooooh. Good work, lieutenant.”
Laladi lightly applauded.
While the assertion of his own pride had left Doss with a pleasant tingle, he could only cock his head to the side when he saw that Laladi didn’t appear even remotely fazed. Who in their right mind could remain so calm, knowing that they could be blown to bits by his magic?
“Guess it’s time to double down.”
That was when the trees behind her caught Doss’ eye as they sickeningly writhed and squirmed about, their sheer multitude nothing short of utter ludicrousness. A biting chill ran down his spine.
“You’re in the forest. Lala has so many weapons here she doesn’t know what to do with half of them. This fight won’t end, not unless you can mow down every single tree in this forest.”
Laladi offered him a sweet smile, one that resonated well with her cuddly exterior. The second she had finished her sentence, the trees behind her broke out of their languid sate and came rushing towards Doss in frenzied droves.
“YOU LITTLE SHIIIIIIIT!”
Doss once again focused his magic, knocking down one tree after the other.