༺ Gideon (1) ༻
Eleanor Elinalise La Tristan treasured Dowd Campbell.
At some point, if she were asked to summarize her own feelings, that would be the only answer that would come out of her mouth.
However, what she herself did not realize was…
When it came to something that was related to that man…
She would react intensely…
More intense than she had thought…
Much, much more intense…
“He told me that we’ll become family… But why is he… with another woman—”
There was a newfound emotion mixed in her voice. The ‘aura’ pouring out from her heart also felt like it was spreading throughout her whole body.
It wasn’t simply that she was angry because another woman engaged in ‘that’ kind of action with him.
Rather, it was because she felt like an ’experience’ she hadn’t had with that man yet was taken from her by another person.
At the very least, she should have all of his ‘firsts’.
How dare another woman have that experience with him!
“I can do it much better than her—.!”
Not only could she put a leash around her neck, but she could also do all kinds of things for him!
Why did he decide to go to another woman instead of asking her first!
Iliya, who was silently watching her from the side, narrowed her eyes.
‘No wait, the reason for her anger was a little weird, isn’t it?’
‘Seriously, how does that man have so much influence over her…?’
Her expression soon became serious.
Regardless of the reason, the aura that Eleanor was emitting wasn’t normal.
Although Eleanor herself was in a state of confusion and couldn’t grasp her feelings properly, it felt like she could turn hostile against Yuria at any moment.
Also, the aura she exuded was the same one that Iliya had experienced before.
The grey aura that covered the entire area during the Full Moon Festival.
And if she went a little further in her memory…
There was another time when she encountered it.
The red night, the cursed day when her entire family was swept away.
‘No, there’s no way.’
Of course, there were stories about Devils dwelling in the veins of the Tristan Duchy. However, it was illogical to suddenly think that the Lady was emitting such an aura.
It was far more likely that it was just her misunderstanding.
After all, if this really was the aura of a Devil…
The Heretic Inquisition should have already turned upside down long ago. There was no way that those people, who went crazy trying to detect Devils, hadn’t noticed this.
Not to mention that the person in question was someone as famous as THE Lady Tristan herself.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call a Devil’s Vessel the enemy of all mankind.
Unless the Imperial Family or a power equivalent to it was suppressing such information, those Vessels should have been dealt with much earlier.
‘No, I went too far. There’s no way they would do that.’
Iliya let out a bitter laugh as she stood up.
As far as she was aware, the Imperial Family wasn’t that wicked.
That was why she decided that it would be better to focus on resolving the current situation rather than making unnecessary suspicions.
“…Wait, Lady Tristan. Please calm down for no—”
Right when Iliya tried to calm Eleanor, her gaze caught on to something.
Dowd Campbell, rushing urgently into the camp.
‘…Wait, since when did he wear a mask?’
As she cocked her head in confusion, she noticed the mask on Dowd’s face.
‘Well, anyway. He has good timing.’
“Ah, Teach! Come here and take care of this!”
“I was going to even if you didn’t tell me.”
Dowd approached Eleanor without slowing down at all.
Seeing that, Iliya felt that something was off and started frowning when…
“…Dowd? What are you do—”
“Let’s have a brief talk.”
He approached a bewildered Eleanor before embracing her.
And right then and there, he lifted her up as if carrying baggage.
Then, he dashed out of the camp in an instant.
‘What in the world is he doing?’
“W-Wait, Dowd. Put me down! There are so many things you need to explain!”
Upon hearing Eleanor’s words, Dowd stopped in his tracks.
Then, as he gently lowered her to the ground, Eleanor briefly blinked in surprise.
She never expected him to comply with her words so easily.
Regardless of that, though…
There were more pressing matters at hand.
Eleanor clenched her fist and lifted her chin. Flames seemed to flicker in her eyes.
“…Who are…those women? What kind of relationship do they have with—!”
“They’re my friends. They’re different from you, Eleanor.”
Eleanor, who was passionately pouring out her voice, stopped in an instant.
Hearing his words, her eyes widened.
‘Huh? This man…?’
‘What did he just say?’
“You’re a special person to me.”
Eleanor bit her lips as her fists trembled.
Somehow… He was different from the usual Dowd.
Originally, whenever such topics arose, he would have these hazy eyes and did absolutely nothing besides breathing and waiting to see how it turned out.
But now… How should she put this…
His gaze was filled with certainty and his face was filled with determination.
This was the Dowd who was always clear about his goals. In other words…
This was the appearance she often saw on the battlefield, where he always shone brightly in emergencies.
‘Somehow, he’s co–’
As she was about to think that, Eleanor startled and shook her head inwardly.
‘No, I couldn’t be swayed.’
‘…He’s not cool…!’
The man was not cool at all. Eleanor repeatedly reminded herself of this fact, as if to engrave such a sentence into her brain.
There could be no doubt about that. Regardless of how she actually felt in her heart, for now, she had to think as such in her head.
Because this was the time for her to get angry with this man!
Eleanor tried to force out a fierce glare.
Usually, she could do it effortlessly, but somehow, it was especially difficult when this man was supposed to be the target of her sharp eyes.
“Don’t try to get out of this with such vague words–!”
“Then, I’ll tell you straight.”
Dowd’s calm voice continued.
“Eleanor, you are the most precious person to me. More than anyone else. You don’t have to worry about every little thing like that.”
The sharpness in her eyes began to soften.
She quickly turned her gaze away. After all, if she kept locking eyes with him, she felt like she would unintentionally be swayed by this man.
Her mouth went dry.
Even though she was supposed to get angry, Eleanor couldn’t understand why she herself felt like she did something wrong. It was a weird feeling.
It was to the point that she felt she should forgive him since she had already said enough.
And then, when she turned her head again and saw Dowd looking straight at her, Eleanor realized the reason why.
‘…Ah. I see.’
In essence, she already knew it herself.
She thought that if she tried to pursue this matter any further, a crack could occur in their relationship. Even if there was a one in a million chance, she couldn’t risk it.
Just imagining the possibility that this man might dislike her was utterly unbearable.
The reason for it was; she had fallen for him that deeply.
Her raging fury died down.
Probably a sign that her heart was satisfied by this outcome. If this man had acted like usual, with his frustrating indifference, she’d probably feel the complete opposite.
But hearing such words made her feel better.
Even so, she still had to make him promise something.
“From now on, if you’re going to do something like that, do it with me first.”
Dowd let out a bewildered expression…
But she was being sincere.
In the end, Dowd had no choice but to pinky-promise her with a reluctant expression.
[ Corruption Progress of target ‘Eleanor’ decreased from ‘64% →2%’ ]
‘What a relief.’
As I looked at Eleanor trot back to the camp, I wiped away the sweat that trickled down my forehead.
‘…I almost died.’
If the Corruption Progress had reached 100%, the Fragment inside would have gone berserk and the members here, excluding me, would have faced certain annihilation.
Considering they were all key figures in the scenario, it was a crisis where my life could have actually been considered forfeit.
Suddenly, a voice flowed from the amulet.
It was Caliban’s. However, his voice somehow felt colder than usual.
[I usually just shrugged it off whenever I see you seduce those other kids without thinking.]
His voice was ridden with thorns.
[But it’s a bit unsettling to see you act like that out of ‘necessity.’ You’ll receive divine punishment for playing with people’s hearts, you know?]
[If she was being that sincere to you, you should at least given her a straight ans—]
“Then I would die.”
“This doesn’t make me feel great either, Caliban.”
I knew better than anyone that Eleanor genuinely likes me.
Even just recently, didn’t she say that if I were to die, she’d die too?
Honestly, it was absurd for me to not know when someone harbored affection for me.
In the first place, the favorability level was clearly written in the status window.
“Do you know why I went out of my way to drag Eleanor out here?”
[What are you talking about?]
“If I were to hold the talk just now inside the camp, I would have died.”
At the camp, there was Yuria, who was dyed by the White Devil’s Fragment.
Saying such things in front of that incarnation of obsession could have led, not to Eleanor’s corruption, but to the Corruption Progress of Yuria instantly skyrocketing to 100%.
And if the White Devil went berserk, the probability that everyone here, except me, died was, once again, incredibly high.
‘…This is hell.’
Considering that the constitution of my soul would only make the Devil’s Vessels even more twisted in the future, this was just the beginning.
The trigger that made each Devil go berserk and the methods to prevent it were all different. The only commonality was that they were all highly sensitive to my ‘affection’.
Just saying one word about liking or disliking someone could cause a disaster. It meant that I had no choice but to continue walking on this tenuous tightrope.
In the end, one-way affection was the safest; Of course, I meant from the Devil’s Vessel to me.
The moment it became mutual, the probability of catastrophe exponentially increased.
‘I’m sorry, but…’
No matter how high someone’s favorability level was, I could only see it as a ‘stat’.
A stat for ‘strategy,’ not for the emotions of a person.
The moment I faced it person to person. The moment I take the ‘right actions’.
I would die. That was how this world was structured.
Until all the Devils in every Vessel are sealed, I had no choice but to unwillingly play the role of a playboy.
“So, even if I do some trashy things, please look the other way. My life is at stake here too.”
Caliban remained silent for a while before letting out a sigh.
[You really are… Unfortunate… How did you even end up with that kind of constitution?]
“The Headmistress didn’t say that people with my constitution had short lifespans for no reason, you know.”
With a bitter smile, I stood up from my seat.
[But have you never had a girlfriend before? You seemed like a total player just now.]
“Why is my reputation so shit?”
[No, you see, even if there were no restrictions, I feel like you wouldn’t be able to date anyone. Since you’re dense as fuck.]
[It feels like the only thing you’re good at is flirting, but you’re unbelievably skilled at it, you know? Like it seems you’re optimized since birth to be a player, right?]
There was nothing this man couldn’t say, was there?
“I’ve… Had a girlfriend…”
It was a bit ambiguous to count her as one, that was why I always mentioned having no relationship experience.
[Huh, really? How long did you date?]
“We dated for three seconds, and then she dumped me.”
Even though there were no words spoken, I could feel a subtle feeling of sympathy filling Soul Linker.
[Alright. I’ll believe you. Oh my, our dear Dowd. You have dated before? I’m so, so pro—]
“…Please shut the fuck up.”
“That must be it.”
The day of the Demonic Creature Conquest.
We found what we were looking for not long after the day started.
Even from a glimpse, the bear-like demonic creature was several times larger than ordinary ones. Grey aura was swirling around its body.
“…An Intermediate-Grade demonic creature. It shouldn’t be too difficult to hunt.”
As Kraut said this, he surveyed the surroundings.
Although the demonic creatures were only Low-Grade, He and Gideon alone had already hunted dozens of them.
Even if it was embedded with a Devil’s Fragment, it was unreasonable to think that such a team couldn’t handle an Intermediate-Grade demonic creature.
“…Isn’t this a bit excessive?”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at Kraut’s remark.
Well, I understood his feelings.
Two warriors that represented the Empire, genius of swordsmanship Lady Tristan, the Saintess sisters, and the Hero Candidate.
It was perfectly understandable to think that assembling such a team just to capture one Intermediate-Grade demonic creature was a bit too much.
“I called everyone because I needed them. It’s necessary, okay?”
“…You sure about that? Let’s finish quickly and go. I’m gonna get in trouble if I’m away from my territory for too long.”
With that, Kraut immediately dashed forward.
He seemed to express that he could effortlessly face such a weak demonic creature by himself.
“…As expected, whether then or now, he hasn’t changed at all.”
Lucia sighed next to me as she prepared her Graces.
“Do you know each other?”
“Holy Knights of the Empire can only be officially appointed if they are recognized in the Holy Land. I was in charge of Margrave Kendride’s qualification test.”
Huh, again, an unexpected connection.
However, if that was the case, Lucia should also know how much of a monster that man was.
That was why…
“You don’t have to do that.”
I stopped Lucia, who was about to send a Grace to Kraut.
Honestly, the bear-like demonic creature was getting shit on by Kraut alone. There was no need to support him.
“…Huh? But there’s no reason not to give him—”
With that, I gestured around.
Everyone except Kraut were standing still with their weapons ready.
Yuria, Eleanor, Iliya, and even Gideon who disliked losing to Kraut in any way.
After all, I ordered them to.
“Spare it. There is a real enemy we need to face.”
If I had to choose a reason for only sending Kraut to beat the shit out of it, it was because he would be the least burdened by such a task.
In terms of combat tenacity, he was a monster that could be ranked at the top in this entire game. Whether the Devil’s Fragment was deeply fused or not, dealing with an Intermediate-Grade demonic creature alone was not an issue.
The real thing to be concerned about was…
I silently glanced at Eleanor and Gideon.
In the end, the key figures of this boss battle were those two.
‘…I should prepare in advance.’
With such a thought in mind, I checked the system window.
[ 1 Trigger Condition for Hidden Event ‘???’ Met! (1/3) ]
The condition for the hidden event that I fulfilled during the battle with Valkasus.
If I fulfilled all of it, then…
I could obtain the most crucial means to lift the curse on Eleanor’s household during her exclusive quest.
‘If my assumptions are correct…’
In the original scenario, the only route to save Gideon, who was destined to die without fail, was by clearing this exclusive quest.
To do that, I needed to fulfill all the conditions for this hidden event before Chapter 5, where Eleanor’s corruption branching route triggered.
From then on…
Instead of being an antagonist for show like now, I would witness Eleanor transforming into a true villain.
Various images of a corrupted Eleanor flashed through my mind.
Events such as when she expressionlessly massacred a man’s entire bloodline in front of him, as he begged to just spare his child.
Or when she imprisoned all the civilians of her own territory in one building, set it on fire, and then stood still while watching them burn to death.
That was the type of monster she would become. If she was completely corrupted, of course.
“…What is it?”
As she tilted her head with a puzzled look in response to my gaze, I shook my head.
I couldn’t let her become like that. Ever.
To prevent such a sight, I had to trigger the second event here.
As I prepared myself, I looked towards Kraut, who was mercilessly pounding the bear demonic creature on the ground.
Shortly after, Kraut threw the demonic creature like a pebble and instantly did an Argentine Backbreaker in the air to slam it back down.
Then came the submission. The choked bear demonic creature couldn’t even scream as it writhed on the ground.
There was no chance to use demonic aura or anything for the matter. It was getting shit on, unable to even breathe.
“Haha, put some strength into it!”
Every time I saw him, I kept wondering… Is that fucking thing really a human being?
How could he easily play around with an Intermediate-Grade demonic creature that was fused with a Devil’s Fragment using just his raw physical prowess?
With a sigh, I stood up.
Since it was getting pulverized to such an extent, it was time for the ‘transition’ to take place.
“Margrave. Step back a bit.”
“What? This is the perfect time to–”
“If you don’t, you’ll get hurt.”
Kraut didn’t even have a chance to ask what I meant.
From the body of the half-dead demonic creatures, a grey demonic aura began to erupt.
The entire surrounding area slowed down.
It was the activation of a limited version of the Grey Devil’s Authority. Corrosion
In this slowed-down world, a small gem-like object emerged from the bear demonic creature’s mouth.
“W-What is that…!”
And Lucia, who sensed the ‘killing aura’ emitted by the gem, exclaimed in astonishment.
Despite its small appearance…
The malice emanating from it was so overwhelming that it felt like it could blind anyone who simply looked at it.
Gideon’s eyes widened at the sight of this.
This man was probably the only one who knew ‘what’ it was.
And he was also the only one who knew what would happen next.
The Devil’s Fragment, sensing the impending ‘death’ of its original Vessel, attempted to instinctively seek a different Vessel.
And, conveniently, there was a human here that was already infiltrated by one Fragment.
In this slowed-down world, the Devil’s Fragment shot towards Eleanor like an arrow.
It aimed to integrate into a Vessel that could let it remain in the Material Realm for the longest time. As such, it made the most efficient choice; a Vessel with one Fragment already fused.
Someone interfered with its trajectory.
Even in this slowed-down world, there was someone who displayed superhuman strength to stand in front of Eleanor.
Gideon looked dazedly at the Devil’s Fragment embedded in his chest.
He had purposefully blocked it with his own body so that it couldn’t fly towards Eleanor.
The grey aura flowing from the Fragment engulfed his entire body like an electric current.
From Gideon’s gritted teeth, a painful exhale escaped.
Under normal circumstances, he could have probably resisted getting ‘devoured’ by this Fragment.
However, he was currently heavily plagued by the madness that had descended upon his household. As such, there was hardly any room for him to resist.
“Get away… From me…!”
And Gideon probably knew exactly how an individual ‘behaved’ when encroached by a Devil’s Fragment for the first time,
After all, he had ‘faced’ such an individual in the past.
His eyes began to emit a reddish light, as he breathed heavily.
He was on the verge of losing his sanity.
“If you don’t want to die, run away! From now on, I will perceive all of you as enemies!”
To be more precise, he would perceive all living organisms as targets to be killed.
It was because Devils inherently bore enmity towards all living entities in the Material Realm.
In other words…
From now on, the ‘Strongest Knight of the Empire,’ while wielding the energy of the ‘Grey Devil’, would come to kill us with his full power.
The grey aura that had spread around was almost entirely stuffed into Gideon. Since it could now move more freely, it even tried rotating his arm.
“Just stay calm and leave it to me.”
“I knew it would turn out like this from the very beginning.”
I already knew that he would block the Devil’s Fragment with his body when it went for Eleanor.
And I also knew he would quickly get encroached because of his half-sane state.
‘Why do you think I gathered all these members in the first place?’
‘You think I gathered them only to defeat a single demonic creature bearing a Devil’s Fragment?’
“Well, wasn’t your visit primarily to see how much stronger you’ve become?”
These members were…
“Well then. Let’s see how well you did your homework.”
The force that would subdue the ‘Strongest Knight of the Empire’ who was infused with a ‘Devil’s Fragment’.
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