“So, which of you ignorant fools would like to be enlightened first?”
Asura strolled across the grassy wilderness, his each step bringing with it a fresh bloom of flowers. The knights shrank back, afraid.
“He’s coming!” one of them warned his comrades, holding his sword with both hands. Even from a distance, I could see that he was trembling.
“Hmm…there’s so many of you. It’ll take too much time to enlighten you one by one.” Swinging his katana, Asura took another step, his feet disappearing knee-deep into the wildly growing tall grass. “It seems like…”
With a single slash, he sent dozens of heavily armored knights tumbling through the air. Emerald lightning crackled in the air, leaving behind a stink of ozone.
“…I must first eliminate those who lack the intellect to gather knowledge!”
More knights were sent crashing down as plants and green lightning danced through the dense vegetation. Despite their armor, they were knocked off their feet.
I slammed my staff into the soil to prevent myself from being lifted off and hurled through the artificial forest. Taking a deep breath, I glanced around, only to see the knights slowly rising back to their feet. Despite being swept about, they didn’t seem too hurt.
“This is Asura’s anti-horde spell? Doesn’t look like there are any effects…”
Even as I said that, I knew that it was a premature judgement. Surely there had to be some sort of effect, or he wouldn’t cast it. Maybe not physical damage, but something more nefarious. I could see spores floating about.
I had a bad feeling about the spores. Were they parasitic? Monstrous spores that entered our bodies through respiration and latched on, growing monsters inside our organs and killing us from inside? I probably watched too many Alien movies, but given how crazy this world was, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a demonic effect.
I blinked when I saw that single technique float before me in a blue holographic window. It seemed that the spores weren’t as nefarious as I thought it would be, but that term still didn’t sound very promising.
|Upon being breathed in, these spores will enhance the sensory perceptions of the hosts and amplify the pain they feel by a thousand times.|
What the hell?
That certainly didn’t sound good. A thousand times? That meant even a slight injury such as a small cut or gaze would cause unimaginable, excruciating pain?
The knights didn’t seem to care. Upon seeing that there was no negative effect after being bathed by Asura’s attacks, they decided to go onto the offensive.
“Comrades!” one of the knights shouted, raising his sword to rally his squad to him. “Follow me! We shall eliminate this filth from the face of Restia!”
With a roar, his armored squad charged, their blades glowing with divine energy. Their armor remained proof against the thorns and vines of the wilderness, and they bashed through the foliage to reach Asura’s position.
However, the demon remained standing where he was, completely unmoved by the aggression of his opponents.
As one of the knights closed in on Asura, a gigantic piece of wood burst out from the vegetation and slammed into him, its thorns digging into his armor.
“Hah! You think that such a weak attack can incapacitate me? This is but a scratch!”
Despite the protection the armor afforded him, several of the thorns had flayed open his exposed flesh in the joints. It wasn’t just him. The comrades who were following behind found themselves spiked or struck by similarly barbed wood, which pierced their armor and dealt surface wounds.
However, despite the armor reducing the worst of their damage, the squad of knights dropped to their knees, writhing about.
“It hurts! It hurts!”
“Oh, Goddess Evelyn, save me! Save me!”
“AAAAAAH! It hurts so much!”
They were screaming and flailing about from just minor wounds. Engulfed by red-hot agony, they writhed on the ground, unable to get up. Thanks to the Pain Amplifier curse, just a few superficial cuts were sufficient to incapacitate them.
Tears flowing from their eyes, the knights tried to rise, only to fall as pain coursed through their limbs.
“Goddess…it hurts so much…please let it end…let it end!”
“Idiots. So you’re the first to fall to the sin of ignorance.”
Even without moving his sword, Asura took off the heads of the knights and mercifully ended their misery. The wooden spikes and creatures lurking beneath the foliage had consumed the knights, attacking the weak spot between chainmail and helmet and severing their necks.
Upon seeing their comrades’ demise, the knights in the backline had charged and prepared a powerful spell. Raising their staffs, they launched a bombardment of fireballs, icicles and lightning at the solitary figure of Asura.
The bombardment crashed down onto Asura with the fury of gods, enveloping the entire place in multiple explosions. I shielded myself as the shockwaves buffeted me, trying to keep my eye on the expanding inferno that voraciously consumed the vegetation.
“Close combat attacks have no effect, so they’re now resorting to long range spells, huh?” I shook my head and sighed. “Unfortunately, long range spells aren’t effective either.”
The knight closest to me blinked and stared at me. I merely pointed at where Asura stood.
The demon seemed to have been wounded, but plants and vegetation flowed into his body, repairing the gaping holes that the explosions tore through him. In mere seconds, he was whole again, completely unscathed.
Even his armor was repaired.
“No way…he regenerated?”
“How is this possible!?”
“Even though we wounded him, he instantly restored himself?”
The shocked cries of knights filled the dense foliage as they backed away in disbelief, trying to wrap their minds around the amazing sight.
“That’s not surprising,” I replied as I studied the situation and analyzed it. “This guy…he’s controlling plants and vegetation with his Forbidden Garden. As long as there exists plants and trees around him, he’ll be able to draw a nearly infinite supply of nutrients to regenerate himself from even the worst of wounds with his Natural Regeneration ability. That’s why I didn’t want to fight him by myself. But even now…things don’t look good.”
I narrowed my eyes.
The gigantic Venus flytrap-like monster from earlier, and the heavily wooden spikes that can penetrate defense…he can manipulate and control wood-element magic freely. So it would be a given that he can use wood spells to restore himself. And that armor…
I watched as his armor wove and repaired itself. Rather than metallic chainmail, it looked like some sort of polymer-based fabric. Thousands of microscopic threads weaving and bending over each other and hardening into multiple protective layers.
In just a few seconds, he was fully regenerated.
“What are you talking about?”
“Then is he invincible? Doesn’t that make him immortal?”
“No…” I was thinking hard as an idea came to my mind and I smirked. “That Natural Regeneration special ability just exposed all of Asura’s vulnerabilities.”
I was staring at his katana. That was the single part of the Guardian that did not regenerate from drawing the power of Nature. Either it wasn’t part of Forbidden Garden or his affinity to wood magic – a weapon that was completely separate from his self.
I wondered if it was the source of his power. If it was…
“If we can destroy that weapon, we should be able to eliminate the boss monster.”
However, none of the knights were paying any attention to a “civilian” like me. They had launched another series of attacks that leveled the entire foliage around him, only for the vegetation to regrow and Asura to fully regenerate once more.
“Damn it! He completely restores himself whenever we hit him! Is he immortal or something? How are we supposed to fight a monster like that?”
I chuckled to myself. They were overestimating the power of Regeneration. As someone who possessed a similar ability, I knew its limits. Regeneration relied on magical energy. Run out of it, and I would lose the ability to regenerate.
Asura should be no different. The problem was that Asura seemed to possess an endless well of magical energy.
His eyes crackling with emerald eldritch energy, the Guardian crouched down and plunged his sword into to rampantly growing foliage. His body glowing with magic, Asura issued a single, chilling declaration.
“It’s my turn now.”
The knights scattered when a single colossal redwood tree burst out of the arcane forest, as if to pierce the heavens.
“I will show you hell.”
But that redwood tree was just a diversion…no, a single pillar to fence us in, trapping us in the forest with a murderous demon. Asura had lunged from the thick vegetation, disappearing into a green blur as he streaked across the air.
Swinging his sword, he descended upon the clustered group of knights, who grimly raised their swords and shields to brace themselves for his attack.
It was futile.
Upon landing, Asura obliterated an entire squad, reducing them into pieces and gore. Heads and limbs flew, blood splattering all over the plants, who seemed to go into a frenzy as they twisted and turned to thirstily drink the crimson fluids.
My jaw dropped as I backed away in reflex, battered by the shockwaves of Asura’s descent. Biting my lip, I studied the massacre, almost unable to believe my eyes.
How terrifying…in just one move, he killed so many knights! An entire squadron, wiped out in just one second!
However, the knight commander didn’t hesitate. Even as his men reeled from the catastrophic losses, he alone stood firm and led the charge.
“Hold your ground! Everyone, charge! We’ll fight with all our strength and show these demons the power of humanity!”
“Kill the bastard!”
“I’ll avenge Smith, Lyson and the others!”
“I will never forgive you!”
I didn’t know if it was the knight commander’s natural charisma or if he possessed a special ability that gave him a leadership buff and made his men immune to morale loss, but his rousing order seemed to have the desired effect. As one, the battalion of knights made their armored charge, intending to overwhelm the Guardian with sheer numbers.
“There’s so many of us and only one of him! There’s no way we can’t kill him!”
“Yeah! If he regenerates, we’ll just keep cutting and hacking away until he can no longer heal himself!”
Asura stood alone in the center of the massed charge, unperturbed by the terrifying sight of a stampeding crowd.
He had no reason to. With one swing of his katana, he massacred a dozen knights. Their comrades refused to falter, but more of them fell to the bloody carnage. Screams of pain and fury flooded the air as more of them were sent hurtling across the forest, victims of Asura’s bloody rampage. The Guardian himself continued to hack away, but such were the numbers of the knights that he didn’t seem able to put a dent in their battalion.
It was a stalemate for now.
I felt sorry for the knights. It was clear that they were too weak to combat Asura, and they were falling by the dozen with each swing of his sword. The knight commander was the only one who could withstand his blows, and as his men rallied around him, he reduced the disastrous death toll wreaked upon his soldiers by exchanging a few blows with Asura.
His efforts weren’t enough.
With a single forceful swipe, Asura sent three screaming knights high above their comrades’ heads. Their armored figures slammed into the huge trees and they crashed back down, writhing in agony from the bruises or fractures sustained. Pain Amplifier was driving them beyond their tolerance levels, incapacitating them.
But they were the lucky ones. At Asura’s feet, another two knights lay dead, one of them with his head severed from his shoulders. Gritting his teeth, the commander found himself driven back, but he dug his heels in and parried another blow from Asura.
“Go! Kill the demon! Avenge our fallen comrades!”
“I tire of this.”
Asura sounded almost bored. Raising his katana, he dodged the slashes of a few knights before blowing them away with his weapon. As they staggered to a distance, he seized the chance to stab his sword into the soil.
My Absolute Appraisal flared and I saw the name of the technique he was using.
Asura Death Jungle
That was such a cheesy description. Unfortunately, his ability was far from cheesy. All around us, the forest rippled around and whip-like vines writhed and lashed out. Dragging themselves out of the thick vegetation, carnivorous flowers of all shapes and sizes crawled and ensnared screaming knights with thorny vines, dragging them toward their petal-like heads. The core of the flowers opened up, revealing razor-sharp teeth instead of pistils and nectar.
“W…what the hell are these?”
“Let go! Let go…aaaaah!”
Knights lost their heads – literally – as the flower-monsters chomped down on them.
The remaining knights hacked and slashed at the newly emerged monsters, but were unable to slay them. One knight, in particular, stepped forward to wrestle with a flower creature. Even as it wrapped its thorny vines around him, he pummeled the petal-shrouded head with his crackling gauntlets, tearing it apart with brute strength.
“They can be killed!” he shouted, only for his head to be bitten off by a second flower monster. “UGH!”
“Everyone, be careful! This is the first time I’ve seen such a monster!”
“What the hell are those things?”
“Are they familiars? That demon’s familiars?”
“Ah! I don’t want to be eaten!”
A knight shrieked before his armor was bust open by a single spiked vine, then dragged into the waiting maw of the flower-monster.
“Don’t falter! They can be killed!”
The commander was trying to rally his surviving subordinates, and with a mighty swing of his sword, he obliterated a flower-monster that was stupid enough to try and devour him.
“Close your ranks! Don’t let them surround you! Make use of our numbers! They aren’t very different from the other monsters we have subdued in the past!”
With renewed enthusiasm, the knights yelled out determinedly and surged forward in disciplined formations, cutting apart the newly emerged enemies. But even as they brought down thrashing hordes of plant monsters, more continued to emerge from the foliage.
“It won’t end until we defeat the boss himself, huh?” I mused to myself. I glanced at Asura, who stood alone by himself amidst the carnage, still gripping his katana.
“Fools…even in your ignorance, you struggle. You refuse to learn.”
And we’re supposed to learn from dying? Gosh, what an ingenious solution.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. At that moment, our eyes locked and Asura turned toward me, his eyes blazing emerald.
“Hello again.” I waved. “I don’t suppose you’ve realized that I’m a fellow believer in the goddess Lyia and decided to spare us, right?”
“You are the most ignorant of them all.”
…huh? Where did he get that from?
“Hey, I object to being called ignorant,” I protested furiously. “I’ll have you know, I read a lot. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m still ignorant with regards to Restia, but that’s why I’ve come here. To learn. You’re the one standing in the way…”
But Asura wasn’t listening. He was speeding toward me, trampling on the grass as he raised his sword.
I backed away instinctively. The Guardian of the temple was approaching me at a terrifying speed, to the extent where I couldn’t see him any more than a green blur that was camouflaged by the forest around us.
The knights standing in his way were all knocked aside like bowling pins.
“What the hell!? The demon’s gone berserk!”
“Get out of the way! Get out of the way!”
Smashing past an armored vanguard of knights, Asura lunged at me. Jumping high up into the air, he came crashing down as he swung his katana in a deadly arc.
“You…you alone cannot be forgiven.”
I watched him as I grimly raised my staff. I see. He must have detected Lyia’s blessings on me. That was why he singled me out – because I was the follower of the same goddess as him. In his insanity, he must have sought to eliminate all other followers and monopolize both Lyia and her knowledge for himself.
“So be it. I’ll show you the error of your ways.”
I parried Asura’s blade with my staff, and the ground beneath my feet ruptured and fractured from the immense impact. Soil and grass were thrown about as the ground groaned. Asura twisted around and kicked me, catching me in the gut and sending me flying several meters. I slammed into a tree and uprooted it, crashing heavily onto the ground.
For a moment, I almost blacked out.
The excruciating pain was so tremendous that I couldn’t handle it. My senses were overloaded with agony that I writhed about from the most minor of bruises. Now I understood the use of Asura’s curse. If he couldn’t kill me with his first few attacks, he could at least incapacitate me with the overwhelming pain long enough for him to deliver the finishing blow.
Fortunately, I possessed Regeneration as well. The throbbing spikes of red-hot, molten lead in my veins vanished as my bruises disappeared and I staggered to my feet, wincing at the phantom traces of pain. Even when fully healed, my mind had been psychologically scarred by the immense amount of pain.
“I knew it. You’re the same as me.”
Asura slashed at me, but I managed to parry his katana with my staff. My feet dug in and left trails in the soil as his blow sent me skidding across the ground.
“Are you joking?”
“You too are a follower of her holiness Lyia, I see.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you!”
I couldn’t help but yell in frustration. However, Asura merely slapped me away with another swing of his katana.
“However…there can only be one of Lyia’s Chosen.”
I stared at him in disbelief. The guy had gone crazy. Literally.
“Who said that? Lyia? She never placed any such restrictions. Besides, Evelyn has almost thirty Chosen, you know?”
“I don’t care about that goddess of humans!” Asura bellowed as he slashed again. I barely managed to block his blade with my staff. “I only care about serving her holiness Lyia!”
“Evidently,” I muttered. “To the point where you’re trying to decrease her number of followers and hog her for yourself.”
“Therefore…” Asura growled as he bore down on me. My knees buckled as I struggled to withstand the heavy slash from his sword and kept the blade centimeters away from touching my face. I didn’t dare to give way. Even a small cut or graze would cause me to collapse from the sheer amount of amplified pain. Aware of this, the Guardian grinned ominously. “…let us decide right here and right now, which of us is worthier to be her Chosen.”