Translator and Editor: SaltyTank
Before they left, Jade pleaded to Andre for a favour. She wanted to return to the village and see what remained of her home, as well as bidding farewell to Roger. Despite Andre and Hilde’s efforts at convincing her not to, she was determined to do so; it was her duty to witness the final moments of her village. It wasn’t easy for her at all as well.
The three returned to where they had buried Roger. Jade knelt on the floor and carressed the dirt. Lowering her head, she made a short prayer. She had already cried while they were travelling back; she still felt miserable, but tears no longer flowed. Much to Andre’s surprise, Jade was a lot calmer than he had thought.
After a short while, Jade kissed the soil and stood up. The trio didn’t converse much at all as they walked to the village, or at least what remained of it.
‘Watch your step.’
The sun was gradually making its way downhill when they finally arrived at the village. Hilde held Jade’s hand and led her into the village. However, they encountered a corpse at their first turn underground—it was someone Jade knew. She had mentally prepared herself for the sight, yet it was still extremely difficult to bear.
Jade reached out to turn the corpse that had been twisted into inhuman positions but was stopped by Andre.
‘Underground villages are graves in itself. There’s no need to bury them again.’
‘Yes… You’re right,’ she murmured.
Jade retracted her arm that had frozen in mid air and nodded, then headed deeper into the village. There used to be lightstones at every corner to light the village up, but over half of them had turned into rubble now. The energy stored within the lightstones had long since dispersed into thin air. Without any lighting, they could barely see in the tunnel.
The walls and floor were riddled with holes and pits. It seemed like the village might collapse any moment. Treading cautiously, they finally reached the deepest area of the village, which was a wide plaza.
The plaza that used to hold festivals and rituals was now littered with corpses. The villagers had been literally forced into the corner by the gods and had all met their demise there. Jade looked around the silent plaza and noticed something on the wooden altar in the centre of the room. It was the corpse of a brutally dismembered god.
‘The gods… really can die.’
Like a priest about to hold a ritual, Jade walked up onto the altar. She glared down at the tattered god and was left speechless for a fair while. Even though she knew the corpse wouldn’t move ever again, the fear that had been ingrained into her mind as a child was clutching onto her heart with a frozen hand.
Unable to bear the sight any longer due to nausea, Jade turned to look away, only to see something even more grueling.
‘Ah…’ Jade violently wrenched her hand from Hilde’s and ran to a corner.
There lay a pair of middle-aged man and woman who tightly embraced each other even in their final moments. Jade lost all strength in her legs and dropped to the ground. A splash of crimson dirtied her clothes and legs, but she didn’t pay any heed to all of it. The only thing in her mind right now was to crawl forward.
Hilde felt grievance creeping into her mind while looking at Jade—her own relatives emerged in her mind.
Andre had apparently anticipated Hilde’s surge of emotions and lightly patted her on the shoulder. She shook her head, also shaking off the overwhelming emotions as she did.
This time, Jade cried. She couldn’t hold back any longer.
In the end, she prostrated on the ground to pay final respects to her beloved parents. With unsteady steps, she wobbled her way back to Andre and Hilde. If not for Hilde who caught her just in time, she might have tripped over already.
‘Thank you…’ Jade said in a worn out voice. ‘Sorry for not asking for your names sooner.’
‘Ah, I’m Hilde, that gloomy dude over there’s Andre.’
‘Who’s gloomy?’ Andre glared at Hilde with a cold look. ‘Miss Jade, I am Andre Kramer. Please call me Andre.’
‘Andre Kramer… You’re Tuninese?’
Hearing the unexpected term, Andre was astounded.
‘You know about the Tuninese?’
‘I knew a few Tuninese back then, just that I thought they’re now…’
‘Right, perished… There’s only two survivors in our tribe, me included.’ Andre smiled with a depressed expression. With the abrupt change in subject, the three turned silent.
Entire villages perishing was rather common these days, let alone mere tribes. It had been two decades since the fall of his city anyways; it was only natural he had moved on since.
Having saved her from peril and knowing that they were on the same boat, Jade felt a sense of closeness to Andre. The silence getting slightly awkward, Jade spoke up. ‘Sorry for holding you up for so long and having to go along with my willfulness.’
‘Don’t say that, we’re the ones who should apologise. In the end, we didn’t arrive in time…’
Jade shook her head and looked around in sorrow. ‘Everyone knew it was supposed to end like this. If the gods wanted to kill us, there’s no way we could resist. I’m the odd one out to have survived.’
‘No, the so-called ‘gods’ you speak of hold no such power.’
‘That’s right, Jade! There’s nothing wrong with surviving,’ Hilde said as she put her arms onto Jade’s shoulders. ‘You’re really brave, ya know? We’ll protect you and get you safely to another village. You’ll live an even greater life, so live on for everyone in this village alright?’
Their encouragement, however, held little meaning to Jade.
Choosing to live was probably just a spur of the moment by her subconsciousness. Perhaps dying there and then was the path to true freedom, the path to fleeing this dying world doomed by the gods. Mankind could never know the meaning of being alive just by merely trying to survive the next day, let alone living a fulfilling life. Everyone was born into this world by their parents, but all they could do was lead a dull, mediocre life where they had to constantly fear for their lives.
Was living on really the better choice? Jade couldn’t find the answer.
Noticing her internal struggles, Andre pulled her arm and half-dragged her out of the village before torrents of negative emotions swallowed her.
‘It’s time to go. Stay any longer and your soul will be stuck here forever.’
Jade didn’t respond nor did she reject Andre, only lowering her head while letting him drag her along.
By the time they left the village, the scenery was already replaced by the misty night. Hazy moonlight showered the lands through the smog despite the dark crescent shielding a part of the bright moon. A slight breeze stirred up the smog and brushed against their cheeks, also fluttering Jade’s long and wavy hazelnut hair. Andre lifted his shield to block the wind for her, earning a wry smile from the young lady.
‘Let’s go then.’
Jade nodded in response.
Before they could take more than a few steps, Hilde dashed ahead of the group and gripped the hilt of the short sword hung on her back.
‘Andre, look! Over there!’
Andre nervously looked at where Hilde was pointing at and was startled for a brief second, but he quickly recovered and stood in front of Jade, sword in hand.
‘Wait wait wait… Andre, is this for real?’
‘Looks like we have a pretty tasteless joke on our platter.’
‘It’s… the gods!’ Jade’s eyes widened. She stared at the dark shadow flapping its wings while gradually descending from the sky, and the shadows seemingly stared back into her eyes. Her body felt chilly, and the fear of death gradually spread from her heart once again.
Andre held her hand tightly and said, ‘Stay calm, we’ll protect you.’
‘Ya forgot already? Andre and I can kill them!’
Hilde pulled out from her bag two large pieces of cloth cut from the gods, tossing one over to Jade and cloaking the other one on herself.
‘Their clothes can block magic. Cloak up and hide there like a good girl, kay?’
Jade finally let go of Andre’s hand and hurriedly hid behind a tall tree. A bit hesitant, she eventually covered herself with the large piece of cloth. It gave off a really eerie smell as if it was burnt herbs. Although it was bearable, it was by no means a pleasant smell.
‘Andre, gonna use ‘brain cores’ this time?’
‘No, it’s two against one.’
Hilde casually tied the cloth around her neck and turned it into a makeshift cloak. She quickly dashed into the smog and was out of sight.
On the other hand, Andre held his shield at chest level and had a stare down with the god. It saw Hilde running off into the smog, but it couldn’t care less and flew straight at Andre.
It was lightning fast, quicker than a leopard lunging at its prey. Before Andre could estimate how far away the enemy was, the god was already merely several steps away. There was no time to think—Andre stepped forward to engage the enemy.
The god lifted its palm which had five feral claws instead of fingers and struck without particularly aiming at Andre’s vital parts; there were no life forms on this planet that could take a god’s strike head on without taking heavy damage.
Andre knew their difference in strength from the start and had never thought of engaging in a fair duel, his step forward being only a feint to disorient the enemy. He then lightly stepped his foot on the ground and pushed himself into a backward roll.
The sharp claws slashed at the soil dozens of centimeters in front of him and were stuck. Not missing the opportunity, Andre quickly swung his blade at its elbow. His attack tore off its forearm and sent it flying towards the tree where Jade was hiding behind.
‘Ah—’ Jade almost screamed but quickly covered her mouth.
The forearm rolled and bounced into the distance, clashing into rocks and trees. Its fingers that had turned into claws twitched even though they had been severed from its main body.
It was then Jade caught sight of a light blue aura. She turned to look at the forearm to find it gathering an orb of light. The scene where the gods had attacked her and Roger flashed through her mind, and it was the same orb of light that had dealt deadly damage.
Andre quickly sidestepped upon seeing the orb of light, but it continued to home onto its target. He swung his cloth-covered shield and smashed the orb into bits. Shards of light scattered everywhere, some flying right at Jade.
The shards smashed trees and created small pits all over the place. Jade hurriedly covered her face with the cloth and cuddled into a ball, yet a small shard still flew directly towards her and landed.
She felt a small shockwave through the cloth, but as Hilde had said, it managed to block the terrifying magic. Jade quickly breathed out a sigh of relief.
Sword and claws clashed against one another again and again. Without borrowing the power of brain cores, half of Andre’s swings were actually defensive in nature, but he still daringly struck whenever he saw an opening albeit exposing himself as he attacked.
Surprisingly, the god disengaged and took a few steps back. It was constantly getting hit while the enemy wasn’t hurt in the slightest, prompting the originally monotonous god to change its attack pattern. The retracted wings on its back extended into two massive scythes and slashed at Andre.
He knew it was far beyond what he could defend against with a sword and shield. With no option other than putting distance between them, he kept on retreating until he backed into a tree and had nowhere to go.
Finally catching its prey, the god gathered an orb of light in its remaining arm and prepared to swing its wing-scythes. There was absolutely no chance that Andre alone could escape the situation.
‘An… Andre!’ Jade was extremely anxious but there was nothing she could do to help. She could only shudder in fear while looking at Andre’s imminent defeat.
Just before the god attacked with all three attacks, two lines of silver light flashed across its back. Hilde, with her pair of long and short swords, cut its wings off. The wing itself was a tough scythe which couldn’t be cut, thus Hilde slashed at the base, the weakest part of the structure. Andre also sprung into action and bashed his shield into the orb of light, dissipating the magic before it could be cast.
Hilde yelled as she switched the pair of blades in her hands into two daggers and drilled them into its knees from behind. At the same time, Andre rolled to the side as the god fell to the ground while attempting a strike. He quickly severed its other forearm with a backhand slash.
Having built up their chemistry over the years, they were never hesitant when it came to cooperating in a fight.
Switching back to her swords, Hilde stabbed through the god and pinned it onto the tree Andre had backed into not long ago. The tough tissues connecting its waist had been cleaved, and its body lay limp in an uncomfortable position.
Andre tightly held onto his longsword and slashed at the god’s exposed neck with all his might like an executioner. Its head was sliced off cleanly and dropped to the ground.
Jade’s jaws dropped to the floor. The chain of attacks performed by the pair was beyond her comprehension; all she could see were flashes of their blades and the god was already executed.
After personally witnessing the battle, she finally believed Andre could really slay the gods—just like in the legends.
The hints slowly connected in her head until they all came to the term ‘Tuninese’. Jade finally remembered; it was a story told by an adventure who had passed by the village a few years ago. No wonder she had forgotten about it, for it was a phrase in the Tuninese dialect which was rarely spoken these days.
‘The god slaying sword… Brynhildr…?’ Jade murmured to herself, not knowing what the phrase truly meant. Nevertheless, it was a phrase she would never forget.
Andre, hearing the familiar dialect, made a massive frown and pulled Jade to him. ‘In this world, there’s no such thing as the god slaying sword. Just a bunch of demons coming straight from hell.’
Andre’s fiendish look caused her to shudder. At that moment, she felt that the man glaring at her was scarier than the gods.