Miles away from Gray, where the hilly grasslands transitioned into tree-filled terrain, Eliza was standing inside a forest clearing.
Soft sunlight filtered through the trees, landing on fallen leaves and branches. It was an area of peace, a place that would be easy to take a nap in. A sort of area with an atmosphere where it wouldn't seem odd to find a fairy wandering by. A rare and hidden setting that could only be found once in a lifetime. And indeed, with Eliza standing there, the picturesque scene of an ethereal beauty in a forest clearing was complete.
But that peaceful scene would not last long.
Eliza took a look around and nodded. "This place shall do."
Ignoring the serenity of the area, the forest clearing was a place out of view from the grassy plains as well as any potential onlookers in that direction.
Reaffirming that she was well hidden and that Gray could not see her, as well as the fact that she could not easily sense Gray from her current position, Eliza nodded and pressed her right hand against her heart.
The scenery distorted as a symbol appeared above Eliza's head. It was a shining white symbol of infinity... and yet it was not. The symbol was the familiar twisted loop, but laced with crimson cracks and black veins.
Eliza ignored the symbol and glanced back where she had left Gray. "...I should finish this quickly and hurry back with provisions." A casual remark, yet one directly at odds with the events surrounding her.
As if a direct manifestation of the corrupted infinity, space and time itself seemed to distort. The peaceful forest clearing became dyed with crimson and black shadows. Light and darkness inverted, and from within, a dozen forms emerged.
They were fearsome figures, covered head to toe in jagged black platemail that seemed to have come from the depths of the underworld. Each were armed with a crimson blade threaded by tarry veins. Their ominous appearance, coupled with a murderous aura that chilled the bones, would strike fear into any adventurer that had not yet reached the level of a Braveheart.
Eliza frowned. "Only so many? And so weak? I had believed at least the Demonslayers would appear... but I suppose this makes it easier."
Were they offended by Eliza's words? At once, each of the figures raised their sword. With the act, countless elements flooded the area, gathering into the blades. Fire, water, earth... even more obscure elements such as light and darkness coalesced. An elemental formation that could eliminate even the Hero sent against the Demon King.
But faced with that display, Eliza simply shook her head. "Fools. Did they think me weak from my complicity in being enslaved?"
A fraction of a second. A time so short that a normal human would miss it by refocusing their vision. Within that time span, a dozen different slashes imbued with countless elements surged towards Eliza's body, creating a cage with no avenue of escape-
Eliza walked out of the forest clearing, a finger placed on her lips in thought. "The Sanctuary I placed should still be in effect for another half hour. In that case... does Gray prefer boar, or hare meat, I wonder?" She frowned, thinking about it for a while longer before shaking her head. "...Though it will take a while longer, I suppose I will simply have to find both."
Like that, the white-haired beauty vanished into thin air, scouring the forest and grassland for potential game to bring back to her savior, all the while a content smile on her face.
And in her wake was a horrific scene of broken flesh and steel created as a message to those who believed she would return willingly to being a tool once more.
While Eliza was blissfully hunting game for Gray's sake, he was doing his best to survive even a second longer.
Gray threw himself to the side, not caring whether or not his body would be harmed when he landed.
He felt a jarring pain in his left shoulder as it collided against the ground. But whether due to adrenaline or otherwise, the pain quickly went away, allowing him to focus on the slimes. Craning his head to look back, Gray saw six green streaks fly towards where he had just been standing and collide against the ground.
Gray heard a sound similar to a snake. Of course, it wasn't a snake, but the result of slimes that had increased the acidity in their bodies to the extreme.
Six holes were rapidly forming where the slimes impacted, a result of the ground being rapidly dissolved. Seeing that, Gray let out a sigh of relief. If that had hit me... He didn't even want to think of what could have happened.
Not wanting to take any chances until Eliza returned, Gray turned away from the holes that the slimes had made, and started to run. Behind him, he heard a series of quivering sounds, like jelly being shaken in its container.
Damn. It seemed like it was too much to expect for the slimes to have killed themselves striking the ground.
Gray grit his teeth and pushed his body to move faster. The slimes were fast and would catch up to him if he didn't give it his all.
BOING. BOING. BOING.
Bouncing sounds from behind him. Gray risked a look back and his face paled.
A small slime army. He didn't know where they had come from, but the six slimes chasing him had turned into a dozen. Twelve slimes with cute appearances completely at odds with their murderous intent.
Gray turned his head back forward and looked around, scanning the terrain for anything that might help. Grass, grass... damn! There's nothing!
His luck seemed to have run out. There was no place Gray could hide, no additional weapons he could use, nobody around to help. Not only that, but Gray could taste copper. His weak body, already pushed in the battle with the first slime, was starting to give out on him.
Glancing back, Gray saw that the gap between him and the slimes was getting smaller and smaller. The result of his body running out of fuel.
At this rate...
His body would tire out before the slimes did. Gray would like to think that Eliza was somewhere nearby and would show up to save him in the nick of time, but he doubted it.
Except, did he even have any other choice?
Open terrain surrounded him. Outnumbered, he would be at an immediate disadvantage if he stopped moving. So he couldn't stop. Even if his lungs gave out on him, he had to keep running, keep buying time in the hopes that Eliza returned-
Are you running away again?
A sudden thought. One accompanied by a surge of anger.
-That was right. Running away from danger and clinging to the coattails of someone else. Becoming nothing more than a parasite... what had made him think that was alright? Just because Eliza was stronger than him, he had to depend on her?
Gray stomped his foot against the ground and spun around.
The slimes were just behind him. The moment he stopped, they caught up. But because his stop was so sudden, they didn't have time to react.
Gray swung his bag at the closest slime towards him. A sloppy yet powerful blow with all his might, smashing down at the ground.
The slime splattered, squashed like a bug. A strange shimmer emerged when it did, causing the air to distort slightly.
Gray ignored it and kept moving. Was it adrenaline, or something else? His ragged breath and worn-out body seemed lighter, his movements becoming a little more precise.
A second slime was splattered. A third, a fourth... in no time at all, six slimes, the same number that he had run away from the first time, were killed. Each vanished in a shimmer, dissolved into thin air.
Gray's heart pounded. Whether from fear or excitement, he didn't know. Either way, he turned his gaze to the remaining slimes. ...I can take them.
One slime met Gray's eyes and immediately retreated, launching itself back into the tall grass. Before Gray could do anything about it, the rest of the slimes had followed suit.
After the last slime had vanished, Gray's body grew limp and he collapsed onto the ground. Being pushed beyond his limits over and over, the accumulated fatigue finally caught up to him.
A clear blue sky and a brilliant sun. Staring at that sight while lying on the ground, Gray said, "...I did it."
He lived. He didn't know how he did it, but he had lived. "Ha. Haha. Hahaha!" A heartfelt laughter, filled with relief. Relief that he wasn't useless. Relief that he could fight. Relief that, maybe even without Eliza, he could find a way to survive in this world and grow strong enough to make his way home.
Gray shook his head and got to his feet. "I'd better head back." In his frantic run for his life, Gray had gone pretty far from where Eliza told him to wait for her return. While he didn't think it would be hard for her to find him even if he wandered off, Gray decided that he might as well make it easier for her.
He put on his backpack and started walking back.
A soft sound.
Gray scanned his surroundings, but he couldn't see a single sign of what it could be. That sounded like a slime, but... After seeing nothing around and not hearing the telltale sign of rustling grass, Gray shrugged and kept walking.
I should probably check on my shirt. It would be awkward meeting Eliza again topless like he was at the moment. While he didn't think she would mind it much considering how she had reacted thus far, when he imagined being stared at by her intense gaze while his shirt was off... Probably a good idea to put my shirt back on.
That same sound.
Gray stopped again and glanced around. "...Am I imagining things?" There weren't any signs of the grass rustling, so there shouldn't be any slimes nearby. But he still heard a faint bouncing sound, like a rubber ball.
"...Whatever. If it's just slimes, I can deal with them."
Equipped with the perfect anti-slime weapon in the form of his 100% polyester bag, so long as his enemies were only those, Gray was confident he could take them on and win.
Just in case it was more slimes trying to ambush him, Gray shifted his backpack to his right hand again and kept a wary eye out for signs of danger as he walked. But as he walked, there weren't any signs of them. If anything, there was only a soft breeze in the air that caused the grass to shift in the distance.
Time slowly passed as Gray headed back. On the way, he didn't see any signs of slimes. Considering their usual cowardly nature in RPGs when faced with a stronger enemy, he thought nothing of it.
-He should have.
Gray arrived back at the grassy clearing with no problems. Picking up his shirt and finding that it no longer burned his skin, he put it back on.
At that moment, he heard a strange noise. A sound like something quivering from above.
Gray looked up, expecting to see a bird or something in the sky. Instead, he felt a sudden chill and his vision was shrouded by a viscous green.
Confused, Gray raised his right hand to rub his eyes. And when he did, a strangled scream escaped his throat. The reason for that?
In front of his eyes, what should have been a hand, healthy and whole... there was nothing but melted flesh and bone.
Gray had become enveloped by a king slime, born as a result of the slimes he had killed.