The Demon Mantis, using the strength of one leg, charges forward while swinging its scythes.
It intends to clamp and cut from both sides like scissors.
I anticipate its movement and jump to the left while preparing my sword.
As a result, its right scythe hits my sword before the left one, and I use the momentum to escape through the gap between the scythes.
Taking advantage of the momentum from being bounced off, I strike the neck of the Demon Mantis as he passes beneath me with flowing blade.
However, in a split second, it twists its body to avoid my attack. While my sword manages to cut about a third of its neck, it doesn’t sever it completely.
The distinctive blue blood of demons sprays from its neck, but it’s unlikely to be a fatal blow for a demon’s vitality.
If I had been able to sever its neck, it would have been over now, but it seems it’s not that easy.
“Huh?! But you left yourself open, you brat!”
The Demon Mantis swings its scythe towards me while still in the air.
It probably thought I couldn’t move well in mid-air.
I clash my sword against its swinging scythe, adjusting the angle as I bounce off.
I dive into the inside of the scythe and deliver a reverse diagonal strike in sync with the rebound.
First Strike is the fundamental tactic of my swordsmanship.
Given my inferior physical abilities, I had to make sure I could execute this technique perfectly from any position to meet the minimum requirements for entering the arena of combat.
Three years since that dream.
Through training with Stella as my stepping stone, I can’t claim it’s perfect, but I’ve reached a level I can call accomplished.
It was a grave mistake to think it could be overcome with a shallow plan.
Furthermore, I use the state of being close to the Demon Mantis to my advantage. I twist the blade into the wound created by the previous attack and twist it to widen the wound.
Despite the resilience of a demon’s body, it seems the interior, like organs, can be easily damaged even with a child’s strength.
This is lucky.
I’m going to mess you up!
The Demon Mantis lets out a scream filled with agony, clearly different from moments ago.
Perhaps it reflexively tried to push me away, but despite being in close proximity, its scythe swings towards me.
Doing that in this state. . . . . .
While pulling out my sword and bending down to dodge, the Demon Mantis’s scythe pierces deep into its own body.
With me in close quarters and a small body, this was bound to happen.
It must have been the pain that made him instinctively strike on its own, but it’s a terrible self-inflicted wound.
This Demon Mantis, while having overwhelmingly superior physical abilities as a demon, doesn’t compare to the heroes with divine protection when it comes to combat skills.
Furthermore, its combat style is close-quarters combat.
The match-up is in my favor.
I’ll push through like this!
I thrust the sword into the wound again.
Combined with the previous attacks and self-explosion, its organs should be a mess by now.
However, if it’s a demon’s vitality, it’s not dead yet.
I need to cut and shred more.
I gouge into the wound.
I repeat this until it dies, covered in its own blood, swinging my sword relentlessly with only the intent to kill.
Perhaps it became fearful of me, the Demon Mantis, after pulling its scythe from its belly, tries to move back with all its strength.
I strike its leg with a slash, causing it to lose balance and fall.
Then, while lying on its back, I once again hack away at its exposed belly.
“Ide?! Itee?! O, oooooo!”
Pitifully letting out a scream, the Demon Mantis still chose its best option this time.
It flipped over, letting out a roar and using its unscathed back as a shield, crawling away to escape.
It’s a pathetic sight, but an effective strategy.
With my limited strength, I have to either exploit the enemy’s force or target their wounds and vital spots to inflict any damage.
However, maybe all the damage up till now wasn’t a joke; the Demon Mantis, after getting some distance away from me, vomited a large amount of blood and collapsed.
I stopped in my tracks.
I can catch up to it without a problem now.
“D, Don’t come any closer?!”
Screaming, the Demon Mantis readies its scythe.
Looking closely, that scythe is enveloped in wind.
A long-range attack!
I would’ve preferred to take it down before it could use it!
I barely dodge the wind slash attack that passes overhead by crouching down.
The slash that missed its target continues on, cutting down the trees in the forest tens of meters ahead.
I’ll never forget it.
The attack that blew away the village in my dream.
It would be instant death if it hits.
Even a near-miss would sever my limbs.
The Demon Mantis launches such a fatal attack wildly.
I can barely keep up with the speed of the flying slashes, let alone dodge them.
Though it’s better than an attack that leaves no room for escape, it’s still a huge pain.
And worst of all, I have no means of countering long-range attacks!
In the Seven Deadly Swords techniques that my dream self was using, there are of course techniques that can handle long-range attacks.
But with just three short years of training since I saw that dream, even if I know what the end result should be and had the best training partner, it’s impossible to master all of the Seven Deadly Swords.
Rather, I’m doing my best just to get closer to mastering the basics.
Right now, all I can use is the basic First Strike.
Polishing that even a little was the only way to counter demons in just three years.
I don’t regret that choice.
After all, if I can’t use First Strike, I can’t use any other technique.
It’s a waste to neglect the basics and try to jump into advanced techniques.
With such poor training, I wouldn’t have been able to corner this Demon Mantis this far.
I can confidently say that the me right now is stronger than any other me who trained differently.
But it’s still not enough.
It can’t be enough.
The opponent is a demon.
Humanity’s natural enemy.
The kind of monster that heroes risk their lives fighting, and one that a talentless person like me wouldn’t normally stand a chance against.
The fact that I’ve gotten this far without a single injury, and have been gaining the upper hand, is more of a miracle.
I’ve dragged it into my advantageous fighting style, seized its leg when it let its guard down, and struck it with as much damage as possible before it could regain its composure.
I’m almost there.
So, for that final push, I’ll rely not on miracles but on willpower, grit, and tenacity.
I keep dodging, predicting the trajectory of the slashes from the Demon Mantis’s stance and movements.
I can’t even blink.
A moment’s inattention means death.
Fortunately, it’s in a frenzy, not even aiming as it wildly slashes about.
Only about one-third of the slashes are aimed at me, and the rest are flying off in random directions.
This is helpful.
Honestly, if it had aimed properly, I would’ve been reduced to splinters by now.
But I can’t relax.
I don’t know when it might regain its composure and start making precise attacks.
It would be good if it slows down due to pain or excessive bleeding before then. . . . . .but I can’t hope for that much.
Because before that happens, my stamina is likely to run out.
“Haah. . . . . .Haah. . . . . .”
I’m out of breath.
Kids don’t have much stamina.
Especially after an intense battle like this one, whatever stamina I had is quickly depleted.
It’s a toss-up whether I’ll run out of energy first, or if the demon will fall before that happens.
I’d say it’s fifty-fifty, but if my stamina drops any further, my movements will become less accurate.
That would be fatal in this situation.
So it’s better to take the risk and make my move now.
I’ve made up my mind.
I stop focusing solely on dodging and move forward while dodging.
As my resources for dodging dwindle, the attacks narrowly scrape past me more than ever.
Even though they haven’t actually hit me, the residual energy around the slashes tears my skin.
My entire body becomes stained with blood.
It doesn’t matter.
If it means I can kill this thing.
“Stay back, you monster!”
The attacks from the Demon Mantis become even more ferocious.
While the number of slashes increases, their accuracy decreases, making them easier to dodge.
However, the sheer volume of slashes creates a wall of attacks I can’t completely avoid, and I get hit.
I swing my sword.
What I envision is the “Second Strike”.
—a technique for perfectly parrying both close and long-range attacks, though I can’t counterattack like a stream blade.
Even if it’s only a little, I’ll recreate that.
The technique succeeds.
By slightly offsetting the wall of slashes, I create a small gap that I slide my body through, successfully dodging.
However, since it’s a technique I shouldn’t normally be able to use, its accuracy is rough, far from a perfect parry.
As a consequence, my arms take the brunt of it—both arms are fractured.
My right arm can still move, but my left is useless.
It’s almost completely broken.
I can’t move it.
But still. . . . . .
“I made it!”
Finally, I weave through the wind slashes and get right up close to the Demon Mantis.
It screams and swings its scythe downward diagonally, which I dodge by ducking.
I don’t care that my immobile left arm gets severed and flies off as I collapse.
I kick into the Demon Mantis’s torn abdomen.
It freezes up from the pain.
I dig my toes deeper into its belly for a foothold and leap up to its face.
My target is. . . . . .
I switch my grip on the sword and thrust it into its eye with all my might.
Even for a demon, this is a weak point.
Onryomaru easily pierces deep into the eyeball, destroying even the brain behind it.
And then. . . . . .
The Demon Mantis’s massive body goes limp, and with a thunderous noise, it collapses face-first onto the ground.
“I did it. . . . . .!”
The Demon Mantis is motionless.
Generally, if you destroy the brain, most living creatures will die.
Demons are no exception.
In other words, I’ve won.
“I won. . . . . .!”
I try to raise my fist to the sky, but it just droops down, powerless.
Ah, my last attack must have messed up my right arm too.
And not just that, I can’t muster any strength in my body.
I collapsed face-down, just like the Demon Mantis.
“Heh. . . . . .Ha. . . . . .”
I’m breathing erratically.
My whole body feels heavy and painful.
I didn’t realize during the excitement of the battle, but it seems I’ve reached my limit.
I still can’t gauge my own limits. . . . . .
Far from my prime in my dreams.
“Ugh. . . . . .!”
Ah, this is bad.
The bleeding won’t stop.
My consciousness is becoming blurry.
Recovery potion. . . . . .No, can’t. My arm won’t move.
So. . . . . .
“O divine power, a fragment of God’s might, let your healing flow.. . . . . .Heal the wounded lamb…….—[Heal].”
My chant is broken, but I somehow manage to heal my wounds.
My Healing Magic isn’t that potent, but at least the bleeding has stopped and my right arm is somewhat functional again.
I reach into my waist pouch with that arm, grab a Recovery potion, and chug it down.
This should at least keep me alive.
“Damn brat. . . . . .!”
Just then, I hear a voice.
The voice of someone I was certain I’d killed.
Looking over, there’s the Demon Mantis, glaring at me with overflowing hatred in its remaining eye.
. . . . . .You’ve got to be kidding me.
Still alive even after I destroyed its brain?
Was my attack too shallow, or is this some special type of demon with robust vitality?
But it’s clearly no longer able to move properly, twitching and convulsing as it feebly raises its scythe.
It’ll be completely dead in a matter of minutes.
My victory remains unchanged.
Even if it takes me down with its dying breath.
“I won’t let you kill me, you little punk. . . . . .! I can’t stand losing to the likes of you. . . . . .! I will never forgive you. . . . . .! I’ll take you down with me!”
The Demon Mantis swings its scythe down.
I don’t have the strength to dodge anymore.
That scythe will undoubtedly take my life.
But I’m content.
If I can die protecting Stella.
I’ve prevented her awakening.
Now she won’t have to go to battle.
She won’t have to die as a hero.
The world may still be in danger, and I have regrets, but still, I’m satisfied.
Well, if you’re going to kill me, then do it.
Inescapable death looms over me.
A whirlwind of memories and reality sweeps through my mind.
And just as my life is about to run out, at that very moment…
“What are you doing to my Allan!”
A voice I know all too well rings out.
A voice as clear as a bell.
The voice of my dear childhood friend.
And she’s inserted herself between me and Demon Mantis.
The light from the sword Stella swung engulfs the Demon Mantis and obliterates it.
And so, the Demon Mantis vanishes without a trace.
Haha. . . . . .A single blow took out what I’d been struggling to chip away at.
She really is strong.
But more importantly. . . . . .
“Allan! You idiot! What are you doing in a place like this?!”
“Stella. . . . . .Why are you. . . . . .?”
What are you doing showing up here?
Moreover, that power you just used is unmistakably the power of an awakened hero.
If you use that, the meaning behind my fight is. . . . . .
“Today’s my birthday, and you weren’t around, so I went looking for you! Then I heard a loud noise coming from outside the village. . . . . .I thought it couldn’t be, but when I got here, there was a monster! You were lying there! Was that a demon?! The one you said you saw in your dream! Why didn’t you call out to me?!”
Yelling loudly, Stella lifted me up and began casting Healing Magic.
Wounds that I couldn’t fully heal began to mend, and even my arm started to regrow little by little.
“Then you should know. . . . . . What you just used is probably the power of a hero. If you become able to use that, you’ll be sent to the battlefield as a hero. Then you’ll die. Despite that, why. . . . . .”
“You big idiot!”
She actually headbutted someone who’s severely injured!
“If you died, then what’s the point?! If Allan dies, I, I. . . . . . .”
At that moment, I was speechless.
Stella was crying.
I’ve seen her get sulky and teary-eyed many times, but I’ve never seen Stella cry this genuinely.
Stella was shedding tears for me.
Seeing those tears, I finally understood.
“Sigh. . . . . .I see.”
I’m really an idiot.
Not just in my dreams, I was about to screw up in reality too.
If I died, Stella would be sad.
Just like I don’t want Stella to die, Stella doesn’t want me to die either.
I had forgotten such a basic thing while trying desperately to avoid that dream’s outcome.
Maybe, if I died like this, Stella would go on living with the same regrets as the me in her dreams.
That would be an unhappy life.
That wouldn’t protect Stella.
What I should’ve done wasn’t to die protecting Stella.
It was to stand beside her and support her.
I extended my remaining right hand and touched Stella’s cheek.
“I’m sorry. Next time I’ll rely on you. Let’s fight together then.”
“. . . . . .Promise!”
Afterwards, I was carried back to the village by uncle and my dad who had followed Stella.
In the end, Stella had awakened as a hero, so important people from the country would probably come to fetch her in a few days.
I succeeded in avoiding any casualties, but ultimately, I failed to change the most important destiny.
But that’s okay.
I’ve made up my mind.
My path is clear.
Bring it on, destiny.
I won’t run or hide anymore.
I’ll defeat you head-on, fair and square.
By the way, when I got back to the village, Mom cried over me, and then I got yelled at so much it felt like death.
It was scarier than the demon.
Maybe if I had died, I would’ve been killed by her when we met in the afterlife.
So as not to make Mom and Stella sad, I vowed to live and claim total victory over fate.