“…Whitehare, the Dark Lady!!”
Despite the barrier, the Dark Lady had shown up inside the city.
She was the culprit behind the rapid destruction of eleven World Tree Saplings, guardians of the human race. She had been declared the Dark Lady for her dangerous ideology. Together, the large countries had signed a request for the three Heroes, including Gold, to defeat her.
Her combat power was unknown. According to eyewitnesses and rumors, she acted alone. Some said she had frozen a whole city, citizens and all.
The Dark Lady had astonishingly white skin and hair, blood-red eyes, and were clad in a similarly-colored dress that didn’t leave much to the imagination. Those rabbit ears that could belong to no one else fit with what Gold had heard of her, yet seeing her with his own eyes, he thought she looked no different from a normal, slender, cute-looking young girl, if he ignored her demihuman characteristics.
Just as Gold was about to glare at the Dark Lady, his vision and his thoughts wavered for a fraction. She was declared the Dark Lady due to the threat she posed, but could the rumors have been exaggerated? How could such a tiny girl possess such power? Her bare arms and shoulders looked so fragile, Gold thought he could break them just by a squeeze.
Even with the experience and instincts he’d honed until now, he thought it impossible that she could be more powerful than the Troll King, the Dark General approaching this city. Yet another part of him, the intuition of a Hero who had received a Blessing from the arch-elemental of light, dared not challenge the girl in front of him.
She was no person. She was an unfathomable something in the shape of a person.
“Milord, please give the order!”
“We’d turn that demihuman girl into naught more than rust on our blades!”
But not everyone shared his intuition.
Even with the wealth of experience Gold had, it was the first enemy he’d felt such a strange dissonance for. He wasn’t even sure if the other Heroes could feel what he did.
Before Gold’s raspy voice could finish the order, the youths of nobility, his Imperial Knights, had already pulled out their weapons and charged at the girl.
“Foul demihuman!” “Die!”
For a brief instant, the young men of nobility had been mesmerized by the sight of the alluring girl of white, but once they understood their opponent was a demihuman — in other words, cattle — they immediately saw her as nothing more than an animal to butcher.
The white girl silently narrowed her eyes at the attacking men. In a gust of speed, she intercepted, her sharp claws piercing their hearts.
Dying gurgles, painful cries, and fearful shrieks rang out. She was too fast, too strong. She was tearing throats, crushing necks, and stabbing hearts so effortlessly, as if the men were balloons and she was the needle.
Finally coming to his senses, Gold screamed, pulling out the greatsword strapped to his back. An aura of light surrounded him as he swung at the white girl. She took out a dagger in a flash, blades clashing in sparks and a shrill ringing of metal.
The girl immediately jumped backward after the clash. Her eyes slightly widened as she looked at Gold’s face. She discarded the dagger that was now nothing more than a handle, its former blade broken at the base.
“Damn you… Dark Lady!! Why are you doing this?!”
To Gold’s angry question, the girl named Shedy only tilted her head in response. She looked at the destroyed facility, then at the silent corpses of the Imperial Knights, then turned back to Gold.
“Everything!! Do you find joy in ruining the peace of this country? This world?” Gold shouted, enraged. Shedy just faintly frowned.
“…why would I enjoy it?”
“Whatever, it’s not important. By the way, are you sure you have the time to be talking with me?”
The sound of something breaking rang from afar. Gold could hear faint screams of people.
“The barrier’s gone, you know? What’s protecting the walls? Even the lower-ranked trolls are coming. There’s only one thing that could be happening.”
Shedy bluntly said, her voice level, cold, and impassive. Gold paled.
The time Gold estimated the Troll King would take to reach them had stood on the assumption that the barrier was working normally.
One of the barrier’s capabilities was to cover all the space of a limited area like a castle, filling the air not unlike a hemisphere of water. But for larger areas like towns and cities, it could only cover the outer layer of the area in the form of a wall, or perhaps a border line.
This type of ‘membrane’ barrier had its pros and cons. The disadvantage was that like the railway barrier, once monsters slipped through a part of it, they were free to act on the inside unimpeded. On the other hand, the advantage was that the barrier was more focused, more powerful, and the bigger it was, the better the range for its monster-repellant effect.
In other words, with the size of the enormous barrier covering the capital, its repelling effect extended for several kilometers. It should have slowed the trolls down quite a bit.
Even if the Troll King moved on ahead of the army and attacked by himself, the barrier and the walls should be able to withstand his assault until Gold could get there.
But in the end, the city had met with the worst case scenario. The Troll King was going ahead while the barrier was destroyed.
“You sure you don’t need to go?”
Shedy slightly tilted her head. Gold held his greatsword in a death grip, teeth clenched tight.
If he left the Dark Lady here to head to the walls, the castle wouldn’t have enough defenders. The Sapling might be destroyed.
If he fought the Dark Lady, the walls would fall. With reinforcements still a long way away, the Troll King would easily overwhelm the garrison, and the trolls arriving afterward would then be free to wreak havoc among the citizens.
Either he believed that the garrison can hold on, or he put his trust into the Holy Knights of the castle.
Either he prioritized protecting the country and the emperor as royalty, or he prioritized protecting the people as a Hero.
Gold ran for the walls.
He didn’t know which was the right choice. Perhaps both Goldi, the royalty, and Gold, the hero, were wrong.
But he still moved. He moved as a man who wanted to save the townspeople, the children who had cheered for him with smiles on their faces.
And he thought he heard the faint voice of the Dark Lady behind his back.
He must have misheard.