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A note from puddles4263

6/7

“What is that?”

“Uh…” Shual struggled to focus his gaze on the blurred countryside to pinpoint the location the Demon Prince was imperiously pointing. Likely because the Prince was aware of Shual’s inability to cope with the current speed, he had slowed down somewhat. But it was still far too fast for Shual to have a clear view.

The best he could do was see a wiggly blob... “That… ah… a Wraithplant. It’s a vile thing that can use shadow magic-”

“Ah. If it’s only a plant…” The Demon Prince didn’t even bother to finish his sentence as his eyes began to glow an eerie emerald. Shual shivered.

Then the duo’s motion accelerated, and they sped past the hill where Shual had seen something he believed was a Wraithplant. Behind them, they left the pained screams of the poor monster as the thing ripped itself apart.

Currently, Shual was clinging to a cramped basket made of sturdy vines that the Demon Prince had constructed for him. The first day Shual had just been carried, so although the current situation wasn’t ideal, it was much improved from the hellish twenty-four hours that had started off this crazy journey. It had been almost three days since they had left the portal, and during that time the two of them had acted like more like an exterminator than a Demon Prince.

Anything and everything, the Demon Prince would kill it. Shual wondered what Level the Demon Prince had reached. Do Demons have Levels?

Or maybe the reason that he always stops to kill things is because he enjoys the feeling of slaughter, some part of Shual whispered to himself. He did his best to squelch that thought before it gained traction. It was difficult enough to not have a mental breakdown simply watching this walking death machine that was the Demon Prince do his deadly business.

It would be quite another thing to admit that one day, Shual or other Frogpeople would be the next item on the agenda for the Demon Prince. As for what Shual would do on that day… luckily, he hadn’t been forced to make that decision.

Although Shual had volunteered to save a former classmate, it now seemed foolish and distant. Three days of being treated by a disposable tour guide had certainly strained Shual.

So far, however, the Demon Prince had gone out of his way to avoid Frogpeople. Both in numbers and individuals who were wandered the countryside. Besides, the Demon Prince seemed mostly concerned with rushing South.

They had passed some, obviously, but they were moving so quickly that there was no interaction. Which was good. Because if they had time to interact with a group, Shual would have been forced to consider whether he should call for help or not.

Or if he should call out a warning for all the other Frogpeople to run away. So many decisions that Shual would probably have to make someday… but he was currently spared taking an action that he could not take back.

Somehow, Shual suspected that the Demon Prince would not take any disobedience kindly.

During the journey, basically the only things Shual did were answer easy questions about the world and watch the Demon Prince. What surprised Shual the most about the Demon Prince was how reasonable he sounded when he wasn’t ripping some monster apart with his bare hands. His casual questions about the world and society from which Shual came were intelligent and Shual had no reason not to explain him. So he went through the topics of the regional Toad Lords and the batches of spawn that were separated by potential and sent off to Academies to train.

Shual even surprised himself by unloading all of the stress he had been compacting from his time in the Academy, where an administrator had hated him to such a degree that the had purposefully suppressed all of Shual’s positive results. Due to that, he had graduated and drifted around for almost three months, unable to find any Toad Lord willing to allow him into its service.

“What happens if you don’t find a Toad Lord?” The Demon Prince had asked.

Shual’s face was grim. “The Toad Lords control the Feed. It’s given to spawnlings and those at Academy without any commitment of service, but…”

Soon, I will starve, Shual thought bleakly. There was obviously other sources of food, but the Feed contained life energy. Without it, the Toad Lords wouldn’t have been able to maintain such an iron grip over the countryside. In all the years that the Toad Lords had ruled, that number had never shifted from one hundred Toad Lords.

Well, there were brief variations when one Toad Lord warred with another. Or strange incidents, like the Demon King arriving and killing two. But very soon, Shual had no doubt that two more Toad Lords would appear, able to harvest and create Feed.

As long as these demons don’t destroy us all…

Around them, the countryside was a blur as the Demon Prince bounded forward. They were moving so fast that the small raindrops that hit them felt like needle pricks. Shual crouched lower in the basket to avoid the worst of it, but the Demon Prince endured it without comment. As they ran, it was easy to forget this being was a destructive Demon capable of killing Shual. Instead, it was easy to be lulled into a strange sort of calmness by the even sound of his breathing.

Inhale, Exhale.

Inhale, Exhale.

Inhale-

“And that?”

The blurring world slowly morphed into something recognizable as the Demon Prince slowed. Shual peeked up from out of his basket. Then he blinked. “I… Don’t know what that is. It’s Level 70?”

“I see that,” Came the sardonic reply. Then Shual yelped as he was dropped into a rather large mud puddle. The Demon Prince blurred forward, his strange living spear stretching out and keening happily at being used.

Shual shuddered. Even the Demon Prince’s spear is bloodthirsty.

The monster raised its head and roared again, the sound booming out to the surrounding area. Then it lowered its head and stared at the Demon Prince as he approached. Above its head, there were only question marks and the Level 70 distinction. That intrigued Shual. He had never seen a label like that before. Why was its name hidden?

The monster itself looked almost… warped. So much so that Shual shook his head and checked to make sure he wasn’t suffering from motion sickness. Or some weird extension of traveling too fast for far too long. But the monster had a bone exoskeleton and looked like a giant boar that was the size of a small house. Long prickling spears of bone spread out from its back, almost three meters long. Even worse were the four thick tusks that jutted out from just below its snout.

Even from this distance, Shual could tell how sharp those tusks were. They were made to rip and gore the boar’s prey.

The reason that Shual believed it to be warped was twofold; first because its body seemed strangely stretched, and secondly, a large and powerful arm of maroon bone stretched out from the right side of its body. That maroon fist smashed the ground, spraying mud everywhere. Then the beast leapt to meet the Demon Prince.

Despite its strange longness and lopsided build, the monster moved almost as quickly as the Demon Prince. Even Toad Lords would hesitate to challenge a Level 70 monster that they didn’t fully understand, so there was a glimmer of excitement in Shual’s heart as he watched the two monsters smash into each other.

Even if he is evil… he possesses strength. Shual’s eyes never wavered from the clash. That strength… I won’t be able to achieve it like this… waiting for scraps from a Toad Lord…

But then the rest of Shual’s thoughts were blown away, as the Demon Prince crashed into the boar.

Even moving at a speed that was impossible for Shual to follow, the Demon Prince parried the tusks stabbing toward him and brought his spear crashing down against the skull of the boar. There was a screech of spear on exoskeleton, and then a moment of strange stillness as the two struggled against each other in close proximity.

Growling, the boar bunched its body to prepare to overpower the Demon Prince. But it was a hair too slow.

Before the boar could gather itself on the muddy ground, the Demon Prince switched his grip on the spear. As he did so, the spear wiggled like a serpent and slithered below the monster’s jaw. With practiced ease, the Demon Prince pressed upward with his spear and popped the monster’s front half off of the ground.

Even as the boar reared back to escape, the Demon Prince accelerated toward the monster’s revealed belly.

BOOOM!

The boar was thrown backward from the collision, but Shual couldn’t detect any real wound on its stomach. Mostly because the combatants were moving too fast, but Shual believe he would see something if the Demon Prince had inflicted a fatal wound.

With a grim purpose, the Demon Prince chased after the flailing boar. But as the monster spun awkwardly down on its legs to the side, its maroon arm was finally brought to bear. Fully half of the size of the torso of the giant boar, by the time Shual recognized the threat it already smashed into the Demon Prince.

Despite himself, Shual gasped in fear.

You want that monster to live? Some portion of Shual’s mind was incredulous at his own natural reaction.

But Shual’s practicality answered in the affirmative. If he dies, won’t that boar eat me next?

The Demon Prince was thrown sideways and hit a shallow lagoon like a bomb detonation, throwing water everywhere. But as the boar took the few seconds of space to right itself, the ground beneath it seemed to opened and huge gouts of emerald flame were spat upward.

Screaming in pain, the boar stumbled to the side even as the rain around it was immediately evaporated into steam by the high heat, creating an eerie blanket of fog over the battlefield. Suddenly, everything was quiet; the only thing Shual could hear was his own heart.

There was a low growl and then a light splash. But everything was covered by that steadily spreading fog. Most of it was dispersing, but the area where the two were located was thickly draped.

Shual could only huddle lower in his basket and hope for the best.

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puddles4263

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