Atofe clicked her tongue and swung her sword to parry an attack by the red-haired woman and looked over towards that Demon Lord of Salvation.
A casual demeanor. Calm confidence and aloofness, like he was untouchable.
It pissed her off. But she had to admit that he had the skills for it.
Instantly shutting up and locking down all of her men and preventing them from casting magic. Drilling a hole through her fortress which was made of the strongest steel in the Magic Continent straight down to where Kishirika and that clever human magician was being held...
'Kalman was right.'
Humans were dangerous. Although weak, in times of crisis they suddenly surged forward in strength with heroes popping up everywhere.
Atofe didn't know if that Rudras guy was actually just a human or if he was a member of the Dragon Race pretending to be human, but the woman fighting her right now...
A searing slash that severed Atofe's right arm, taking her sword with it.
Before the woman could turn it to ash, Atofe grabbed the severed arm with her left hand and held it against her shoulder, letting it regenerate. In the same moment, she spun and threw a kick at the woman.
A brief gap.
Atofe straightened and then took a look around.
Like what Kalman said, not every battle could be resolved with force. And not every defense was perfect.
So Atofe took a moment to gather her thoughts and look around.
Her men were scattered all throughout the chamber. Some were embedded in the ceiling, others pressed into the floor. The ones that weren't were frozen stiff, crushed by an invisible pressure that prevented them from moving.
Even the connection that Atofe had with them felt a bit faint, as if it could snap at any moment.
'There's a reason they called him the Demon Lord of Salvation.'
He was strong. Strong enough that Atofe wondered if he wasn't secretly Laplace's reincarnation. But that was impossible.
The Demon God wasn't anywhere near that ridiculous.
But that wasn't all.
Atofe shifted her gaze back to the women that guy left to fight her.
The first was a beautiful elf with flowing silver hair tinged blue. The same one that killed her in an instant and froze her body before she could react.
The elf seemed frail. Wearing a simple blue dress, she gave off the appearance of some princess that was escorting that guy on an outing.
But now that Atofe paid attention, she could see it.
Scars that should have been lethal. A confident demeanor born from facing countless life and death battles.
Strong. She seemed frail, but the elf was strong.
But she was also standing back right now, leaving Atofe to the other woman. And that one...
A human woman with crimson hair and complete control over fire. But she wasn't a magician. Instead, she fought with her sword, using that fire to make her hit harder, move faster.
It was similar to the Sword God style, but also different. Overwhelming speed and power, but also adaptability.
"You. Red-head." Atofe stared at her opponent and said, "What's your name?"
"Like you need to know!" She drew her blade and then stepped forward again, swinging her sword.
An attack similar to the Longsword of Light. An attack at a blinding speed aimed at Atofe's neck.
But it wasn't the first that Atofe had faced.
Atofe suppressed her instincts and then held her sword up to parry. After that, she stepped back.
An explosion of heat and energy.
The force from the slash sent Atofe sliding back. But at the same time...
Atofe grinned. "Got you."
The woman's sword bit into Atofe's shoulder. But in exchange, Atofe grabbed the woman's arm.
Yes. If the woman was fast, then Atofe would just have to catch her and-
"Only Rudy gets to touch me!"
A surge of flames. Battle Aura mixed with raw mana to turn flames into countless blades, shredding the hand that held onto the woman. At the same time, Atofe felt indescribable heat melt her skin down, dripping fat and charred flesh onto the ground.
The elf's voice.
Eris... Eris. So that was the woman's name.
Atofe would remember it.
"Why are you playing around so much? Didn't you want to kill her?"
"What do you think I'm trying to do?! She's like a damned bug. Look at her skin, squirming around like that!"
"Then just flatten her in one go. Or are you too tired to keep fighting?"
"As if. I'm not an old lady like-"
"L-Like your grandmother."
"Right. I thought that's what you were going to say."
A casual conversation that completely treated Atofe like air. As if she didn't exist, those women were cheerfully chatting and teasing each other.
Atofe finished regenerating and then cracked her neck, glaring at the two. "You women are really that carefree, huh?"
The red-haired woman... Eris gave Atofe a blank look and said, "I'm not the one fighting while showing off her breasts. They aren't even that impressive, you know? Sylphy's are bigger."
"Aw~! Thanks, Eri! You'll get there in a few years."
"...Just how did your boobs get so big anyway? Your mom isn't that big and neither is your grandmother..."
"Well, Paul said that massaging them every night before you sleep helps them grow bigger."
"You trusted that creep's advice?"
"It worked though?"
"..." Eris turned to look at Atofe and lowered her sword. "Are we done fighting now? I'm not in the mood anymore. And it's getting annoying staring at a topless woman."
"But you stare at me all the time at night, Eri."
"T-That's different! And what do you mean, topless? You're always wearing that lacy thing!"
"Ooh, did you want one? I've got a spare."
Atofe's eye started twitching. After that, she raised her sword and said, "Fine. Since you won't take this seriously, I will."
For the first time since the fight started, Atofe took a stance.
The one that her husband beat into her mind. The same one that beat her when they first met.
"Hm?" Eris noticed the change and then placed her hand over her sword hilt. After that, she frowned and said, "North God style? An that stance is the original..." Her eyes widened. "Right! Demon Lord Atofe... You're Kalman the first's wife!"
Atofe let out a bright smile. "That's right. I'm not a genius like him so I can't use it as well... But it should be enough for you."
"Funny." Eris smiled back at her and said, "I could say the same thing about Rudy. But I bet he's a better genius than your husband was."
Atofe narrowed her eyes. "Is not."
Atofe growled and then cleared her mind.
She was still pissed off, but she focused.
Like what Kalman said...
The essence of the North God style wasn't in speed. While it helped, Kalman had freely admitted he would lose to the Sword God in a straight clash. And even Atofe had a faster sword arm than him.
Instead, it was a 'pathway to victory.'
The Sword God had named his style to capture the essence of the blade, a sword that could cut down anything it came across before it posed a threat.
The Water God had named his style to reflect its essence of flowing like water, diverting danger away before using that force to strike back.
As to the North God...
Kalman said it once. The reason why he called it North God was because of a story he was told as a child.
The brightest star in the sky that could always guide you even in the depths of darkness. Something that you could always rely on even when you had nothing else.
The North Star. Like that, his swordsmanship was a guiding light to let the user find a way out of even the worst situation. Countless techniques and situations for every scenario. Moves meant to cut a path out where one didn't exist.
So Atofe focused.
Eris was strong, but Atofe could sense that she was inexperienced. Young and talented, as well as possessing a technique that could defeat any opponent unprepared for it due to its unique blend of magic and Battle Aura.
But that was all.
Atofe had seen through it. And while she was impressed, it wasn't to the level of being willing to acknowledge defeat. In a real fight, Eris would lose to fatigue.
The elf woman was the real threat.
Atofe couldn't see the flow of magic power like her bratty sister-in-law she had locked up, but she could sense it. And the amount of magic power radiating off the elf...
A deep abyss. On par or greater than Laplace. And from the scars on her body, it was clear that she knew how to use it as well.
But Atofe was confident.
If she could capture Eris, the elf would be forced to back down. And with that, she could teach a lesson to that arrogant bastard who brushed off her invitations over a dozen times before randomly showing up in her house.
So Atofe focused.
A single strike.
Atofe intuitively sensed that it was all she would be able to pull off against Eris.
And it seemed that Eris realized it as well, narrowing her crimson eyes to scan Atofe's body for weaknesses.
"...Eris." The elf spoke up and said, "If you lose, I'm going to bully you in bed from now on."
"S-Shut up, Sylphy! I'm not going to lose!"
A flustered response.
An attack without a start up. Something that wasn't as blindingly fast as the Sword God's Longsword of Light, but one that couldn't be seen regardless of its speed.
<Shadowless Sword>, a hidden slash without killing intent or any tells that could be read.
Using her Battle Aura to conceal her presence, holding her breath, erasing everything for a single slash.
Atofe aimed at Eris's shoulder to incapacitate her.
A flawless strike. A critical hit. Something that no one should be able to avoid, especially a mere human. Even the current Water God wouldn't be able to get out without at least a disabling injury. And that Sword God wouldn't be able to react in time without getting his arm cut.
Atofe was confident of that.
Even though she was confident.
Even though Atofe was sure of it. Even though Atofe was absolutely certain that Eris's inexperience would make it so she couldn't react.
A split second. Too fast for Atofe to react, but not fast enough for her to miss what happened.
Atofe's sword brushed against Eris's shoulder. The blade rested on the young woman's shirt and would have bit through had it been even a fraction of a second longer.
But she suddenly *moved.* Her body twisted in an unnatural way, almost as if another force pulled her out of the way from danger. And then at the same time, her sword lashed out to cleave Atofe's outstretched arm-
No. Her sword didn't move.
Eris was still caught off-guard and processing what happened.
But something else attacked in her stead.
A crimson haze formed from flames bearing a glowing crimson sword.
Atofe's arm fell to the floor, along with her sword.
In the next moment, Eris recovered and then stepped forward to slash, holding her sword at Atofe's neck. "Do you give up now? Or do I have to cut you over and over again until you do? And don't try that gross healing trick with me. I figured out how to beat it already."
Atofe shifted her gaze to the arm that Eris cut off.
A crimson haze wrapping the arm. At the same time, one that prevented Atofe from healing her arm, just like Eris said.
Not only that. There was a sensation. An annoying and prickly sensation that she hadn't felt for a long time.
Feeling that, Atofe laughed.
Eris frowned. "...Did you go insane from losing your head so many times?"
Atofe laughed. "Maybe. Though it's not as insane as a person being called a Demon Lord of Salvation. Someone like that really has to be crazy to have such a strong woman at his side."
The elf cleared her throat.
Atofe looked over and smiled. "Sorry. I mean 'women.'"
The elf smiled and said, "Thank you! It seems you're at least a little smart."
Atofe's eye twitched. But she took a deep breath and calmed down. Instead, she knelt down and said, "I recognize my defeat. So." She looked up and said, "What are the names of the heroes who defeated me?"
Eris pursed her lips and then grudgingly said, "Eris Notos Greyrat."
The elf giggled and said, "Not satisfied with being a hero, Eri?"
"No. Just..." Eris tilted her head and muttered, "I'm getting a strange sense that I've done something like this before."
The elf smiled and then looked down at Atofe. "Well, my name is Sylphiette Notos Greyrat."
Atofe nodded. "Eris Notos Greyrat and Sylphiette Notos Greyrat. You are the heroes who-"
A sudden burst of sheer cold.
Before Atofe could react, her vision shattered. Not just her vision, but her entire body.
It didn't take long to recover from it, but when she did, she turned to glare at Sylphiette. "I surrendered already! Why are you still-"
A glistening crystal sword pierced Atofe's heart before exploding, blowing a hole in her chest. At the same time, she froze and shattered again.
As Atofe recovered another time, she heard Eris speak up. "S-Sylphy! What the hell?!"
"What?" The silver-haired elf looked down at Atofe with a pleasant smile and said, "You might be fine with that, but this woman said she'd turn Rudy into a toy and use him until he broke, you know? So..." She turned to look at Atofe and said, "Hm. I think a hundred times should be fine, right? Rudy should be back by then... Oh. And it's no fun if you don't hurt, so..."
Another crystal sword.
Atofe's eyes widened and she quickly went to grab her sword to block it. But before she could, it pierced her chest.
A chilling frost, deep in her soul. Shortly after that, Atofe felt a faint prickling course through her veins. A prickling that turned into indescribable pain.
Sylphy's smile widened. And then she said, "Great! Ah, but no screaming now."
Just as Atofe opened her mouth to scream, she felt her throat freeze.
And then a crimson blade split her in half, freeing Atofe from the pain.
Atofe regenerated again and quickly scrambled away from the crazy elf lady. At the same time, she stared at Eris who was crazy enough to stand against her.
"Sylphy, no." Eris crossed her arms and said, "Torture is bad."
Sylphy pouted and said, "But Rudy would have done it! And she deserves it!"
"Didn't you hear Rudy? No hurting other people out of jealousy."
"I-I'm not jealous! You meanie! If I was, I would have killed you when we were younger! Do you know how many times I could have?"
"I-I do now, I guess... But even so, you'll make Rudy look bad! He's trying to be a nice Demon Lord, not a bad one!"
"...But that's no fun."
"...Hmph. Fine." Sylphy turned to give Atofe a cold stare. "...I'll leave you alone for now. But try and get close to Rudy again and I'm throwing you into space."
"He said no threats too, Sylphy."
"But it's a promise!"
Eris sheathed her sword and then rubbed her face. "...How come I'm the one with the most common sense around here? I grew up as a spoiled brat in a castle beating up servants. This shouldn't be possible..."
"You can thank Rudy?"
"I would. Except you turned out that way, so..."
"Hey! I turned out fine!"
Atofe watched the two interact with a blank face.
As she did, someone walked up to her and placed a cloak over her shoulders.
Atofe gave him a brief nod and then turned to stare at Eris and Sylphy again.
...It seemed that she misjudged the Demon Lord of Salvation.
She thought he was a weak coward for running away and leaving his women to fight in his place.
But that wasn't right.
He was just smart.
...Maybe Kalman was right. Atofe should think a bit more before she started talking. It seemed like scary people were starting to pop up in the outside world who were even more unreasonable than she was...