A cacophony of chattering sounds that was intermingled with buzzing noises created a most unpleasant din. Shielding one's ears was of no avail, for this racket did not attack the ears or hearing but the mind itself.
It was a potent psychic assault. Most of the expeditionary forces had no resistance to such an overwhelming mental attack. Some of the more frail-hearted people staggered, then grasped the ship's railings and retched over the side of the ship.
Suddenly, a swarm of insects emerged, seemingly out of nowhere. But where had they come from? Still midair, Eugene looked below while gritting his teeth.magic
The sea was dyed a deep crimson, reminiscent of congealed blood. The lifeless bodies of sea creatures floated atop, and dark dust poured out from their gaping mouths and overturned eyes. As the dust rose, it instantaneously transformed into winged pests, buzzing and flapping haphazardly in all directions.
The grotesque scene caused Eugene’s face to twist in revulsion. While most of the expeditionary force might have been unfamiliar with this noise and phenomenon, Eugene wasn't, as he had witnessed such a scene in his previous life. It stirred memories from long ago, memories he dearly wished to forget.
Taking action immediately, he drew the Holy Sword from within his cloak. As he raised the weapon high into the air, Altair’s blade erupted with a blinding light.
The dazzling Light spread with Eugene at its epicenter, illuminating the darkened sky and casting brilliant radiance upon the shrouded fleet. But Eugene did not stop there and swung the sacred sword with might.
The radiant Light surged forward, enveloping the insect-infested bodies of the sea creatures. The light emitting from the Holy Sword Altair was divine power itself. Within the intense glow of divine power, the corpses of the sea creatures began to get purified. No longer did dark dust or winged pests birth from them.
Yet, countless such insects had already swarmed the vast sky and sea. Even within the Light emitted by the Holy Sword Altair, the insects persisted resiliently, flapping their wings with vigor.
"Damn mosquitoes!" Sienna exclaimed with a grimace.
Though these pests were a different species from mosquitos, their behavior was eerily similar. Nay, rather it was more heinous than mosquitos. These creatures had a unique form of attack. First, they would destabilize their prey's minds by beating their wings and then draw closer to their weakened prey to suck their blood and feast on their flesh.
Kristina emerged from the open door of the cabin. She steadied her wavering body and took several large deep breaths. Dark power and divine power were inherently polar opposites of each other. As such, such intense dark power could mentally shake even a high-ranking clergy.
And Kristina was the Saint of this era, and within her resided Anise, the greatest Saintess in the history of this continent. So the effects of the extreme dark power were more pronounced for Kristina. Anise began to pray inside Kristina, and Kristina also raised her rosary in front of her chest as if in prayer.
A hymn echoed out from the swelling Light. Angels materialized and blew their trumpets. At the same time, wings sprouted from Kristina's back in a wide arc. The invoked angels only had a single pair of wings, while at their center, Kristina unfurled eight magnificent wings.
Together, Kristina and the angels ascended to the skies. A veil of Light was accompanied by the hymn, and it spread far and wide. The unpleasant noise of the insects was drowned by the hymn, and Light continued to linger by the sides of those who heard the hymn.
Once midair, Kristina met eyes with Eugene. Behind Kristina, Eugene also saw Anise. Without hesitation, he lowered the Holy Sword. As he did so, both their lights merged with each other, giving birth to a towering pillar of brilliant radiance.
A hole pierced the dark overcast sky. The pillar of Light penetrated the darkness, transforming into clouds and raining down onto the expeditionary fleet. The light had become actual rain, almost pouring forth heavily. The floating pests vanished under this rain, and those in anguish found salvation in the Light.
Sienna wasn't idle either. The Eternal Hole was activated as she extended Frost.
The fog rolling in from the distant sea didn't merely darken the skies, but it surged towards them like waves. Although she wished to see the source of the fog, it remained well hidden. Grinding her teeth, Sienna brandished Frost.
As if the ocean had been upturned, the water surged upwards, forming a sturdy wall against the invading mist. Yet the fog would not halt. Even for Sienna, it was impossible to craft a wall that could encompass the vast sea. Though the barrier was as long and high as any formidable fortress wall, the creeping fog sought to jump or bypass it, eager to engulf the expeditionary forces fleet.
However, Sienna had never intended to use the seawater wall as the only defense; it was merely to buy a brief respite. A humongous clump of mana, impossible to believe as belonging to a human, enveloped the fleet. The magic prowess of both the Dragon Heart of Frost and Sienna herself overshadowed even the magnanimity of the Eternal Hole.
A magical barrier of great might surrounded the fleet. The prayers of Kristina and Anise resonated in the air. The hymns of angels and the sounds of trumpets echoed loudly. Shimmering light transformed into feathers, fluttering within the barrier. The Light that Eugene summoned through the Holy Sword, together with the prayers of the two Saints, reinforced the magical barrier with divine power.
The sea, once transformed into a giant wall, now cascaded down to its original level. The fog, which had tried to jump and bypass the obstruction, now attacked head-on. The barrier shook intensely as the fog clashed with vigor. The ensuing vibrations rocked both the sea and the fleet. Still, the barrier remained unbreached.
‘The purification doesn’t work,’ Eugene realized suddenly.
He scoured the sea while keeping an eye on the encroaching fog.
The carcasses of marine life had been purified. Even insects that attacked the mind and then sucked the blood and gnawed at the flesh had been obliterated. Yet the sea remained as crimson as blood, and the sky, once pierced by a pillar of light, was now once again overcast. The implication was clear.
The sea and sky had become the dominion of the Demon King. From here on, the territory was essentially a Devildom.
But who could be responsible for such a thing?
‘Iris.’ A name quickly came to Eugene’s mind.
He recalled the battle from three hundred years ago against the demons who served the Demon King of Fury. He recalled the insects that tormented many on the battlefield as they fought against Fury’s army.
The Demon King of Fury had four children, and one among these children of Fury was a vampire called the Bloodshedder Sein. While the insects were born of the Demon King's power, Sein was the one who freely commanded the insects on the battlefield. Under Sein, the vampires drew strength by drinking blood and gnawing the flesh of their opponents through these bugs.
But Iris didn't possess the talent to control these insects, leaving Eugene with a plethora of questions.
How had the dark elf, who was devoid of any other talents, acquired the power her late father once wielded?
The crimson sea. The inky-black sky.
Bluntly put, Iris didn't have that much dark power. And from what Eugene had seen so far, none of the events transpiring in this sea was within her capabilities. So what trick had she pulled to gain such uncharacteristic strength?
There was only one plausible explanation: Iris had become the Demon King.
‘But how?’ Eugene wondered, genuinely concerned.
He could taste blood through his tightly clenched teeth.
That Iris? That feeble dark elf had actually become a Demon King? The one who lost her domain to Noir Giabella, was forced to flee from Helmuth, and even failed to pull off a simple kidnapping? That same wretch who had been reduced to piracy in the southern seas for years? She had become a Demon King?
"That’s impossible," Eugene declared firmly.
Unsurprisingly, Sienna, Kristina, and Anise shared the sentiment. They knew of Iris' centuries-long desire and futile efforts to become the Demon King.
However, one thing was clear. Iris had been desperately trying to resurrect the dead Demon King of Fury for the past three hundred years but to no avail. Increasing the dark elf population and invoking the Demon King's name would never lead to his return.
So, how did one become a Demon King? Eugene did not know the answer to this question. But twice had he thwarted beings, not born of the Demon King's blood, in their quest to ascend to such wickedness.
Eward Lionheart had come perilously close to becoming the Demon King because the remnants of the Demon King’s spirit had gotten bound to him. This vile connection was birthed from the fact that the very artifacts of the Demon Kings lay with the Lionheart clan, and the remnants of the Demon Kings remaining behind in the artifacts bore an acute interest in the Lionheart bloodline.
Yet, that alone had been insufficient. While something in the Lionheart’s blood indeed drew the Demon King's attention, Eward had still required sacrifices beyond his own bloodline to truly become the Demon King.
But Eward had been stupid. He truly did not know his place and strength and chose Cyan and Ciel as his sacrifices. Then, unsatisfied, he even sought to offer Eugene as another primary sacrifice. With his sights set on such important people, his failure was inevitable.
Contrarily, Edmund Codreth had adapted the ritual Eward failed to perfect. Instead of sacrificing a few of the Lionheart's kin as Eward had attempted, Edmund chose tens of thousands of insignificant souls, the world tree of the Samar Rainforest, and the slumbering powers of the Demon-Dragon Raizakia.
Had Sienna not been sealed in the Samar Forest, had Eugene never set foot in the forest at Ivatar’s behest, had he not formed a bond with Ivatar of the Zoran tribe, Edmund could have discreetly performed his ritual and quietly ascended to become the Demon King.
‘Iris commands thousands of pirates,’ Eugene thought as he tried to find the answers about Iris’ new powers.
But they were fewer in number than what Edmund intended to sacrifice, and their worth as offerings was not greater either. Plus, there was no dark power to be harnessed here, either.
‘Then, is there... something special about the land?’ Eugene mused.
The Solgalta Sea was a unique region. Perhaps somewhere in these waters lay the holy grounds of the God of War, Agaroth. But what did this have to do with Iris becoming the Demon King? She was an idiot of a dark elf with no magic, known only for her stupid gaze. So how could she muster the power to become a Demon King?
The chorus of angels was drowned out by another sound. It was a wailing emanating from the fog beyond the barrier.
As the wailing sound fell on her ears, Kristina moaned softly while clutching her arms. Had Anise not been there, she might have been consumed by that terrifying power.
"I intended to consume it all." Accompanying the wails came a voice. The fog pulsated, the sea raged, and the sky swirled with darkness. The voice continued, "But you stopped me? Dare you, mere humans, defy my will?"
A chuckling laugh echoed at this preposterous action. The ever-darkening fog soon became indistinguishable from the sky, like a looming wall of black. Then two slits appeared in the center of this wall. They slowly widened to reveal a pair of red moons.
No. they were, in fact, eyes. Only one being was capable of this.
Iris. She stood deep within the abyss of the sea. Every time she laughed, the eyes that appeared before the expeditionary force danced mesmerizingly.
"I take that back," Iris chuckled again. “You’re not mere humans.”
How ancient could those memories be? How long had it been since then? Iris couldn't even begin to fathom the vast span of time.
This place was a ruin, frozen in time since its destruction, a world incarcerated never to be reopened. Enveloped in dark power, Iris wrapped her arms around herself.
"It's been a while, Sienna Merdein. You are still the same, even after three hundred long years," Iris said in greeting her greatest foe.
Though Iris stood in the deep abyss within the sea, her eyes gazed upon distant seas.
Daringly, foes came to end my life without even grasping the gravity of their endeavor. They were merely insignificant beings. Audaciously, they had once dirtied their feet and tread upon the lands that once belonged to her father.
Deserving of death, they were.
"Perhaps your unchanging nature is but a curse, Sienna Merdein. All of your comrades, save for you, have perished. The elves you once deemed family have likely succumbed to the plague. Those still with breath surely await death's cold embrace." Iris’ words were scathing.
With a mischievous chuckle, Iris gazed upon Sienna. Three centuries prior, Iris had feared her. This crazy wizard, who perceived herself as an elf, though born human, was a calamity when it came to wielding magic, disregarding her crazy mind.
But now, not a shadow of fear crept into Iris' heart.
"You are but a wraith, living endlessly without dying, Sienna Merdein,” Iris mocked Sienna. And she was being sincere with her words. “I know why you have come to this place. Yearning for vengeance, are you? Desire to end my existence, do you? But that’s impossible. For now, I am... I am… an existence impossible for the likes of you to kill.” An intense thrill sent a shiver down Iris’ whole body.
In these ruins, Iris had seen much and had epiphanies. It was fate, as she had intuited, that she came here.
The destiny had been foretold in ancient days, a time of myths when gods walked the earth.
Her father, the Demon King of Fury, had made a promise with the Demon King of Incarceration, who had sealed this ruin.
—Eventually, my offspring will come to tread this water.
Ah, father. A chill ran down Iris' spine, remembering the engraved memories, and she mockingly laughed at all.
"Sienna Merdein, I shall end you here. I will conclude your pitiable ties to this world," Iris declared as if bestowing a favor.
Sienna remained silent while glowering at Iris. Words were of no value now. What Sienna desired wasn't a conversation with Iris. She attempted to detect Iris' location through magic, yet each try proved futile.
"And you are — Kristina Rogeris, the Saint of this era? Haha, inadequate, so inadequate. So what if you are the Saint? Do you really think your Light can hinder me?"
Iris burst into laughter upon seeing Kristina. The radiant Light caused Iris no discomfort.
The Saint from three hundred years past, Anise of Hell, had been a formidable being. But Anise's might had been due to her formidable allies — Molon of Terror and Hamel of Extermination. And then….
"Eugene Lionheart," Iris said softly.
The hero, Vermouth of Despair. Vermouth Lionheart.
"You have the Holy Sword in your possession. But, of course, you are the Hero of this era.”
Iris began to tread slowly, darkness and dark power emanating with each step.
"But you are inadequate. You aren't Vermouth. Do you truly believe... you can vanquish me?" Iris mocked.
"Keep talking," Eugene murmured, lips curled in distaste.
Iris' face remained unseen, but those vast crimson eyes, darting and mocking, irritated him.
"You seem ecstatic. Makes sense since you’re getting to wield power that doesn't befit you.” Not to be outdone, Eugene mocked Iris in return.
"Ahahaha! A power that doesn't befit me? You're wrong, so wrong. This power was promised to me from the beginning. It’s a legacy left by my father!" Iris said.
Her laughter echoed as she tilted her head to the heavens.
The vast opening was a gateway to the deep waters. Iris began to ascend, darkness swirling around her.
"I, Iris, am the Fury of this era. I am the Demon King of Fury," she stated.
She had realized everything after inheriting the legacy. She felt as if the hatred and sadness would drive her insane. However, she had embraced the madness.
"You can't escape these waters," Iris taunted mockingly.
"Escape?" Eugene scoffed, unable to hold his contempt.
Amidst her jeering laughter, Iris' giant, red eyes closed slowly.