The Demon King.
An absolute being who demonstrated his power and existence across multiple dimensions, even before infiltrating this world.
The Demon King’s army, as the name suggests, served the Demon King, and among them, the Four Heavenly Kings were the key officers who have led the army since its establishment.
“You revealed yourself publicly only once… when the Demon King’s army crossed the dimensional barrier.”
Realizing that one of the Four Heavenly Kings was before him, Phobia began to recall a story he had once heard, seizing this opportunity.
“I heard that the Demon King’s army overwhelmingly won that battle, but there were significant casualties on the demons’ side as well. From the moment someone’s music started to echo on the battlefield, not only demons but also humans lost their sanity and began to kill everything in sight.”
The music that indiscriminately drove all who heard it into madness, causing them to kill each other.
Even just by witnessing the aftermath of the tragedy, one could understand how dangerous she was.
“To drive not only enemies but also allies mad… that’s not the act of a sane person.”
Yes, she was different from the other Four Heavenly Kings.
While others might simply be ‘strong and cruel,’ she, who drove all sentient beings within the reach of her sound madness, could be termed a ‘disaster’ herself.
But despite his heightened wariness, she only quietly smiled in front of him.
“What’s so funny?”
“Well, I can’t help but laugh. To be so wary of me, a mere jester, based on just a hearsay…”
“Even after seeing what you’ve done here, you say that?”
Even though she made fellow demons go mad and destroy each other.
“Well, you might not believe it, but I am just the weakest among the Four Heavenly Kings. My rank as the second in command is just a position given to me for serving the Demon King since before the army was established…”
Yet, she continued speaking nonchalantly, smiling.
There was no hint of intention to deceive the other.
“After all, a jester standing on the battlefield—that’s absurd, isn’t it?”
Demons, by their very nature, were beings faithful to their desires.
So, Mephisto was not particularly concerned about her position or status.
Her only purpose was to bring a smile to her lord as a jester, and her own strength or achievements had always been of no concern to her.
“…To commit such acts and still chatter away.”
“You, not being a demon, wouldn’t understand. Why do I travel with such feelings…?”
The lute string in her hand twanged, echoing quietly in the aftermath of the tragedy.
After a passionate moment passed, everything heavy settled in its place.
“I just travel and collect stories.”
“In the midst of a journey, faced with a scene seething with desire, I merely paid attention. Knowing well that desire is the most interesting source of stories……”
“…hoping that the last stories written by those about to leave will become more passionate and beautiful.”
A lightly played poem.
Expressing her intentions, she harbored no guilt about her actions.
What she did was merely to escalate the situation she encountered.
“Did you get what you wanted by doing so?”
A cold wind began to blow in the dark forest.
“…No, unfortunately. Even with this, I don’t think it’s enough to please my lord.”
“Then, are you saying you’ll repeat this until you’re satisfied?”
The cold wind gradually turned into a blizzard, highlighting the presence of the one wielding that power.
It was the blessing of the Spirit King.
A symbol of the contract between those who bore the duty of protecting nature and those who constituted the order of this world.
“If that’s the case, will you stop me?”
Even that might not be enough to confront this monster, but still, Phobia was prepared to face death.
She did not only murder her people, who burned down her homeland, but she also did not hesitate to massacre without guilt for her purpose.
If she couldn’t be stopped here, she might become a greater disaster someday.
“Regardless of your intentions, if you intend to commit anything more, I will not stand idly by. For my pride and my fellow people…!”
“…You are brave, you…”
The frenzied jester faced such a being.
Immediately, she tossed the lute she held to the ground and spread her arms.
“Let me offer a modest tribute to that courage and give you a reward.”
“Come on, kill me.”
He momentarily hesitated due to her overconfident demeanor.
But she was resolute.
Without exerting any magic, she approached within arm’s reach and simply exposed her neck.
“You wretch, are you trying to deceive me?”
“Do I look like I’m playing tricks? You’re someone who can react immediately if there’s any sign, right?”
Yes, she had no intention of trickery.
As if she had decided to offer her neck right here.
“…Mr. Phobia. As you know, I have wandered many worlds following the Demon King, destroying them, and as the Demon King took pride in it, I, too, served him with joy.”
Yet, facing her own doubts, she wanted to explain her intentions as if they were trivial.
Remembering the days when she was lifted from being a mere street urchin to reigning as a conqueror on the battlefield.
Recalling the glorious days when her lord became a ruler of a world and, unsatisfied even with that, he moved on to new worlds.
“But the joy was only at first. Intoxicated with the glory of victory, he sought even more valuable things, crossing dimensions… but even that became repetitive, and soon only boredom was felt.”
Even the strongest desires were bound to fade after a while.
The Demon King was no exception to this rule, and at some point, feeling unfulfilled, he always felt bored.
In an effort to cheer up her lord, who had lost his laughter, she focused solely on collecting stories as she roamed the worlds she stepped into, even as the Demon King’s army went berserk in war.
“Can you even imagine? What it means for a jester who has lived only for her lord’s laughter to be consumed with the mission of making a lord who lost his laughter smile again.”
But the Demon King did not laugh.
No matter what performance she gave, he did not smile. The same went for even the most exquisite tricks or music.
“It’s said that demons do not hesitate in loyalty, pillaging, or submission for desire… but if I conclude that my desire cannot be realized, I will lose the will to live.”
Still longing for the days spent with him, she continued to repeat her meaningless journey.
Dragging only a worn and weary heart……
Thus, preparing deep in her heart for the ‘time of rest’ that would someday come.
“…If I say that moment has finally come now, would you believe me?”
She didn’t care how the time of rest would come or whose hand would bring it.
She just hoped that if her breath were to stop, it would be now.
Realizing that she could no longer enjoy even the same provocative stages with feigned laughter anymore.
Phobia could guess that it was not a lie.
Demons were beings that lived faithfully to desire and only for desire.
If what she was saying now were a lie, he would have noticed it from the flicker of such a desire.
“If you have truly lost your resolve, I will kill you right here.”
But now that she had even given up hiding her true feelings, her face, facing her own end, looked somewhat peaceful.
“I too am steeped in much blood, so I do not blame you for what you have done. It’s just that your existence could endanger the faction I belong to, so I intend to eliminate that possibility…”
Towards such a jester, Phobia simply delivered his verdict dispassionately.
Without malice or sympathy.
Merely with the single-minded intent to erase anyone who interfered with the responsibilities he bore.
“Do you really not regret your choice now?”
Yet, in response to the demand for certainty, voiced out of fear that she might capriciously change her mind, she still spread her arms and closed her eyes.
“Not anymore. Maybe a moment ago, but…”
There was this single glittering leaf that caught her eye during her long journey.
It remained in her memory even now, yet she regretted foolishly dismissing it as inconsequential.
“…Then there’s no need to prolong this.”
At that moment, the demon, who felt neither guilt nor love towards others, offered her neck.
The judge, who even silenced the cold wind, pointed his guillotine-like claws at her and delivered the sentence.
“Farewell, Mephisto Rage.”
Her eyes closed in sync with the sound cutting through the air.
In the ensuing darkness, she tried to recall someone from her memories with the last of her consciousness.
Despite the long years she had spent with the Demon King, the face that came to her mind at this moment was that of a man.
Their time together was brief and insignificant, but she believed the smiles she wore in his presence were genuine, not pretense.
Because he was such a comforting presence.
Because she felt her empty heart gradually lifting.
‘Why do I keep wanting to see you?’
So, if there was really an afterlife, she hoped that she would be allowed to at least expect to meet him there, whom she couldn’t see again on this earth.
Her body sprawled on the ground from the shock that hit her with a loud noise.
But she did not feel the pain, as if her body were being torn apart alive.
His front paw missed and struck a nearby tree, and her body, having escaped that range, lay fallen, embraced by someone who had suddenly intruded…
Who in the world?
Just one step forward, and she could have ended her vacuous journey of resignation right here.
The resentment towards him.
She felt like it subsided at the sound of his voice tickling her ears at this moment.
“Ms. Merilyn, Ms…”
It was a voice she couldn’t forget.
Even though they had parted only for a moment, even that moment was enough to make her forget what she had faced.
“It’s a relief.”
A body bloodied with hurried breaths.
Despite being battered by countless shocks, with not a single spot unharmed, the face that met hers was etched with relief.
As if to teach her that she was not the only one tormented by the fear of never seeing each other again.
“Yes, really, it’s fortunate that you are safe…”
The man collapsed his head in exhaustion only after confirming her survival.
Mephisto, feeling his weight, realized that her hands were now wrapped around his back.
The sensation in these hands, and the pulse and warmth coming from him proved it.
“Mr. Hyo-sung, you are alive…”
She did not forget him, even at the moment facing her end.
The meeting she had dismissed as trivial had miraculously come to find her at this moment.
But the situation was not conducive to indulging in such relief.
The judge, realizing that the previous attack had missed, soon turned his gaze towards the demon, embracing the uninvited guest.
The Assault Leader of the Anti-Human Alliance.
A being who, true to the name of the faction, regarded humans as absolute enemies.
“Did that man save you?”
Gradually aiming his murderous intent at him, he began to sharpen his heavy claws.
She felt a rush of urgency at the prospect of facing him.
She didn’t know why.
But he, whom she had carelessly let go, had come back.
‘This person cannot be. Not this person…’
A fierce aura.
At that moment, Phobia’s body shrank back in hostility, and she herself hadn’t realized it.
He tried to emit a cold aura in response, but even that subsided as soon as he faced her.
Until now, she had shown no attachment to her life, only a resigned look in her eyes.
To a demon who considered even the madness emitted by armies trivial, what significance did that man hold to evoke such a look?
Phobia, soon grasping the meaning, came to a conclusion and withdrew his power.
And then he turned his back on the scene.
Exposing his back without hesitation to someone who might kill him.
“Stop what exactly…?”
“I said preparing for an all-out war with the Four Heavenly Kings doesn’t pay off. You might not have been a difficult opponent before, but now you’re not an easy one.”
A sudden shift in attitude.
Then Phobia quietly responded to the jester, who spoke with bated breath.
“If I rush at you, you’ll pour everything into protecting that man. Am I wrong?”
Her hands, wrapping around his body, trembled.
Perhaps it was a reaction she herself was not aware of.
Realizing that ‘something impossible’ had happened, he soon withdrew his interest away from her without any lingering attachment.
“Be glad that you’re heterosexual. If the one you fell for were a female like you, I would have charged in prepared to die.”
“Fall for…? What do you mean? What are you saying…?!”
“It means to cherish the connection that brought out the current you.”
Yes, in his voice, disappearing into the darkness at this moment, there was something that could faintly be called ‘hope.’
“And if that’s sincere, then prove it.”
“Even you demons, crazed with desire, are a race that knows how to love someone, just like me, a beast.”
Phobia Homer disappeared into the forest with the cold wind.
When his shadow vanished from sight, the heavy atmosphere that had been pressing down on the space evaporated like a lie.
“What are you saying?”
But what happened here had already happened.
In the present, with only the cold wind brushing her skin, Mephisto looked down at the man in her arms, placing her hand on his chest.
“What are you talking about? You…”
Feeling the quietly beating pulse that proved he was alive.
Feeling the pulse growing gradually stronger.
Feeling the emotions she thought were dormant welling up inside her.
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