A great demon was an existence beyond eternity. From their point of view, 15 years was extremely short. It was a long time for Astaroth, however, despite him being a great demon. The newly acquired body that he obtained 15 years ago from his contract was extremely fragile. It was like walking a thorny road as he mixed among humans. He felt relief whenever he passed the day safely.
"So...I persisted for 15 years."
The shackle that was called a contract would last until his summoner's wish was fulfilled. He overcame Piaro and Asmophel, the ones who decorated the golden age of the empire, before securing his own power. He devoted himself to making sure the days passed without blood or vomiting. However.
Astaroth's eyes were consumed with hatred as he gazed at Mercedes.
"You ruined everything!"
In fact, the direct cause was the Overgeared King. If that crazy human hadn't showed up, Astaroth would have succeeded in getting rid of Mercedes and establishing a more solid position. With the way things were going, the contractor's wish to become the emperor would've been quickly realized. As such, the completion of the contract would then secure him enough magic power to look for a chance of resurrection.
Yes, Astaroth hated and resented the Overgeared King for ruining his years of waiting. He wanted to tear out Grid's soul and chew on the body. But the Overgeared King wasn't here at the moment, making it natural for Astaroth's resentment to spill over Mercedes.
"Why...?! Why did you bring him in?"
Astaroth's weak body couldn't bear his wrath as the swollen blood vessels on his forehead were ripped apart, spewing blood everywhere. Astaroth didn't care, however, as he barely managed to gather his weakened demonic energy and fire it at Mercedes.
Astaroth knew one fact from mixing in with humans for the past 15 years: they were really weak. They were creatures that were little different from the livestock that they raised. It wouldn't be strange for the injured Mercedes in front of him to die immediately. She would disappear from even a small wave of mana. There was a limit that humans couldn't overcome.
The lightning demonic energy reached Mercedes; resistance was not allowed. The metal attraction attribute of the lightning pulled Mercedes's broken sword towards her, preventing any resistance. She was destined to be helplessly killed by her own weapon, Astaroth was sure of it.
On the other hand, the emperor believed in Mercedes. The emperor shouted, "Mercedes! Survive!"
In the 12 years that she had been serving her master, this would be the first time that Mercedes had received her master's sincere command.
Her faint consciousness. Her numb flesh. Mercedes's vision was blurry, as if she was trapped in a cloudy fog. The only thing keeping her standing was her instinct and to protect the emperor. However, things changed the moment she received the emperor's command.
Mercedes's vision brightened, her sharp eyes processing the world more completely than before. Mercedes threw her sword, stopping the demonic energy that was flowing towards her.
Astaroth had come flying after the demonic energy. Astaroth ridiculed Mercedes for using the lightning rod principle to neutralize his demonic energy. It was a just a desperate, last-ditch effort after all. His devastating sword flew towards Mercedes' face.
Mercedes used a sword technique, shouting, "Supreme Swordsmanship 4th Style!"
Her body responded with the technique that had been ingrained in her body since childhood. The skill of an old hero, the technique that exuded the essence of a person labeled a traitor. While it had to be sealed, Mercedes used it at this moment.
Astaroth's eyes narrowed in surprise. He was baffled that the sword about to pierce Mercedes's face suddenly lost momentum before being pulled towards Mercedes' fingertips. Mercedes created a sword by substituting her hands and arms in its place. Her body shone radiantly as her palms held Astaroth's sword.
World messages emerged.
[A legendary knight has been born!]
[Every knight in the world will look up to her and praise her!]
"What...?" What...! What?!!!'
The fear sealed deep inside Astaroth's heart instantly surged up. He got a glimpse of Muller's shadow, a legend that broke beyond human limits and could threaten a superior species, from Mercedes. Mercedes had evolved. Astaroth wanted to deny the terrible reality before him.
Silver sword energy burst out from Mercedes. Her sword energy didn't target Astaroth,as they headed towards her fellow knights instead.
The knights who received Mercedes' sword energy rose up. They were so energetic it was hard to imagine that they had been on the verge of dying not too long ago. A silver sword imprint on their chests burned like fire. There was also a silver sword imprint on Mercedes' own chest.
"What are you trying to do?!!" shouted Astaroth, feeling threatened. He let out a deep, guttural growl, as if he were a wild beast. However, Mercedes and the knights felt no fear, with infinite courage protecting them.
"For our homeland."
"For our homeland!!"
Mercedes and the knights yelled! Then they rushed to Astaroth all at once. Astaroth was forced to give up the sword caught by Mercedes in order to get away from his spot, which was a big deal considering his strength. Thanks to Astaroth, Mercedes got a new weapon and became a complete knight.
Despite her various injuries, she leapt towards Astaroth at a transcendent pace, her sword dancing through the air like it was nothing. Her beautiful swordsmanship captivated everyone's attention.
The knights couldn't count how many times Mercedes stabbed Astaroth with her silver sword energy; it was just too fast to be seen by the naked eye. She stabbed so much and so fast that it made the illusion that the universe was pouring out into the air.
Astaroth crashed to the ground and coughed up blood.
The floor collapsed. The ground vibrated but the knights stood firmly in place. Due to Mercedes' buff effect, their courage and physical abilities had increased significantly.
"You...!" Astaroth's pale face became paler as he barely raised his body. Dozens of swords could be seen in his vision. It was in the sky above him. Mercedes watched Astaroth being damaged by the buffed knights and held her sword in front of her chest. The straight line seemed to represent her heart.
"Didn't I tell you? I will punish you."
Mercedes's sword energy fully unfurled, revealing wings of silver light fluttering behind her. Her glowing sword gave Astaroth a sense of despair.
Why were the legends always disturbing him?! This call rang out as Mercedes's sword came down like an angel descending to earth. Astaroth lost his power in the aftermath of the thunder stone's destruction, and was unable to cope with her attack. Thus, he was split in half, turning to grey.
The knights' shouts filled the great hall. Their momentum seemed to cover all of Titan. On the other hand, everyone, including the emperor, Bain, and Goldhit were silent. The second legend in the empire's history. Bain and Goldhit couldn't help feeling jealous.
In addition, there was the emperor.
He was ashamed. From the moment he was born, he had reigned over the world. This was the first time he was unable to raise his head. Mercedes approached him. Her life was saved after becoming a legend, but her body was covered in bloody wounds. Even so, just the fact that she was still beautiful was amazing.
"Your Majesty, please forgive my disloyalty in not trusting you."
The emperor was silent as Mercedes kneeled down before him. She was dominated by guilt, making the emperor feel even more pained.
"That...you are putting the burden of blame on yourself?"
"Knights can't blame their masters."
"Piaro and the former Red Knights didn't betray me?"
"Yes. Everything was the work of the evil great demon."
"Did you know it from the beginning?"
"I only found out recently. Piaro and Asmophel are serving the Overgeared King."
Mercedes' explanation followed, explaining the truth that she had heard and seen to the emperor. The emperor listened quietly while the knights were in tears.
"I see... It was like that..." The emperor nodded after he found out the truth. He lamented while feeling regret and guilt over the past. He was grateful that Piaro met a new master and overcame the past feelings.
"Yes, Your Majesty."
What decision would the empire make? Would he forgive Piaro's sins, and redeem him as a hero? Or would he cover up the past mistakes? No matter what choice the emperor made, Mercedes had to accept it. Honestly, though, she hoped that the emperor would tell the truth to the empire. She dreamed that Piaro would be stripped of the 'traitor' label.
The emperor's voice entered her ears, "I will strip you of your knight qualifications."
Mercedes was at a loss for words while the knights were agitated. Bain and Goldhit were also greatly confused. The emperor was getting rid of a knight who had become a legend? It didn't matter what the reason was; it was an incredibly stupid choice.
Bain was absolutely obedient to the emperor's commands, and had never dared give his opinion before, making what he was doing now all the more incredulous. He stood in front of the emperor, admonishing. "Your Majesty, you should reconsider..."
It was useless, as the emperor didn't give in. He shook his head and approached Mercedes, who was shocked to the core. He touched Mercedes' delicate, wounded hands.
"This isn't a command, but a request. Mercedes, give me a chance for atonement. Please serve my old friend and help him spend his last years in peace."
Piaro, who was regarded as the best genius of the empire since childhood, also came from an excellent lineage. It was natural for him to be approached by the emperor when he was still a prince. The two of them were friends for a long time and accumulated a friendship beyond status. This was why the emperor's sense of betrayal towards Piaro was so large, and also why he hated the existence of the Red Knights. Piaro's betrayal was a great ordeal and pain for the emperor.
"Please, I'm asking you."
The emperor shed tears. It was the first time Mercedes and the knights had seen it. They realized that the emperor was also human. Mercedes was unable to refuse his request. In the end, "...I will leave. I will protect the old hero and pass on his happiness to Your Majesty in the future."
"Thank you... I really thank you." Then. "I'm sorry."
Did the emperor ever meet anyone with a pure heart since the time he lost Empress Aria, and the time he was betrayed by a friend? Sadly, he hadn't. But things would change in the future. The weeping emperor smiled as the great burden in his heart was relieved.
The Saharan Empire was destined to become stronger in the future.
At the same time...
[A legendary knight has been born!]
[You have succeeded in sealing the weakened great demon Astaroth!]
[The 1st place raid compensation is acquired!]
"...No, what is this?"
Grid's mind became blank.