It was a site worthy of being called a picture of hell.
「Hahahahaha! Burn, burn!」
Her usually delightful and lighthearted temperament had completely vanished. Ellen let loose fire arrow after fire arrow without even attempting to hide her own brutality.
「Now, all of you. Blow your flames over it!」
Mio ordered the hellhounds, in an instant their fiery breath had engulfed the trees and began to spread.
The people of the forest and the white elves could do nothing to resist this attack, they could only run and attempt an escape. It had become difficult to aim with their bows due to the light of the flames and the upward current that was blowing, and the arrows would not fly straight when loosed. The white elves used the trees to hear the voices of animals through magic, but with all the surrounding plants burned, there was nothing they could do against the hellhounds.
「Are you certain my lord? You said that the white elves were to be taken alive, but they will not survive in this fire.」
Ellen asked Aur suddenly, perhaps now satiated after having loosed so many of her arrows.
「It will not be a problem. While the flames were lit to surround the village, there is a single spot that will allow them to escape. They should flee unharmed from there.」
However, that is where the real hell will start for them; Aur added.
「The real hell?」
「Logan is stationed there.」
Indeed. If a demon was there waiting, it was a hell; Ellen accepted.
Now that Logan inhabited the body of Zaitlead, the Hero of Lead, he became the greatest and most powerful warrior among the ranks of Aur’s subordinates.
The 『Curse of Lead』that repelled all magic had been broken, but the high ranking demon that was Logan, already had a resistance to weak magic. But unlike Zaitlead, he could use his own magical abilities, such as the manipulation of fire and flying through the sky.
Additionally, the unbelievable physical strength that Zatitlead had possessed remained the same. It was fearful that he held enough destructive force in a single fist, that he could blast away the solid castle walls in one hit.
If such a being was waiting for them at the exit, well, the fate of the white elves was surely sealed.
Ellen thought in relief, and in that instant, an arrow grazed her cheek.
「So you came after all. …I thought that you would come. …Man of the forest, and you, white princess!」
Ellen licked off the blood that dripped from her cheek, she smiled at the couple who glared back at her.
「So you were alive after all. Black Empress, Ellen…!」
The person who had spoken while fixing Ellen with a scowl was the white elf, Ceres, whose beauty was as the rumors said. She was tall and thin, with a small head and features that spoke of nobility. And even among the flames, and covered in soot, she still appeared flawless.
「This crime of attacking our village for the second time. Once and for all, we will have you pay for this with your life.」
The figure standing next to her holding a bow was Evan, a citizen of the forest. He wore a wide-brimmed hat with a feather, and the eyes that peered deep underneath were green and sharp like an eagle as they shot through Ellen.
「I could say the same to you. Taste now the retribution of killing my brethren!」
Even so, Ceres and Evan were expert archers with skills that could well match Ellen’s. They were bound to put up a good fight.
「Oh, have you finished talking?」
An out of place, lazy and cheery voice echoed.
「Well then, here I come!」
In the next instant, a mass of iron steel passed before Ellen’s eyes. The bodies of Ceres and Evan shot up high into the air, and just like dolls, they fell heavily to the ground.
「…Wha, what was that?」
「Joe the Gorgon. His entire body is covered in a skin made of iron steel, he cannot be killed by arrows. Jill, Joel, bring them back here.」
At Mio’s command, the black dogs bit the clothing of Ceres and Evan with their teeth and raised them onto their backs. The bodies did not move a muscle and their limbs seemed to have been twisted in odd directions, but they were not dead.
「…Mio, I am glad you are my friend. I felt it with my heart just now.」
Ellen said heartily at the plain girl, who laughed as she controlled the two massive hounds and a bull made of iron steel known as a Gorgon.
「Huh? Oh, I am happy that you are my friend as well.」
Mio tilted her head to the side in bewilderment.
「Now, this is a most glorious moment.」
Ellen said without hiding her smile upon seeing the prisoners locked up in their cell. The people of the forest and white elves had suffered light casualties, but most had been taken alive. The young girls especially did not have a single scratch.
「There are times when you impress me very much.」
「Then you should appreciate me more, master.」
Logan said in a voice that was understandably tired. It took a considerable amount of effort for him to save the girls who had not been able to flee from the engulfing flames.
「So, master. What will you do with these prisoners?」
Ellen seemed incredibly relieved now that they had taken their enemies homelands and had defeated them so completely. But she knew that Aur had need of fighting strength, so she would not torment them until they were broken. In any case, Ellen was able to laugh at the amusing prospect of them being used against their will towards avenging her comrades.
「If it were only one or two of them, I could have them thoroughly brainwashed and trained…but for this number, we will probably have to take hostages to make them obey.」
Aur took the prisoners and regardless of race, separated the men and woman into different cells. He stood in front of the men’s cell and raised his voice.
「You who live in the forest. My name is Aur. They call me the Demon Lord. You have been defeated by me. Obey my commands and turn in your bows.」
「You mock us! Who would obey you!」
「I would rather die.」
「We proud people of the forest will never succumb to evil!」
Said the elves and people of the forest together. After listening to them for a while, Aur continued.
「I applaud your spirits. …But are you all not forgetting one thing? …Yes. Your women.」
At Aur’s words, the startled men could only shake.
「If you promise to faithfully serve me, I will ensure their safety. But if you say that you will defy me…」
The men spat bitterly and glowered at Aur.
「Even so, you are all people of the forest, known for your virtue and courage. The women are no different. You may have the resolve to rebel in spite of the casualties. So I will have to take the route that will be the most effective for the likes of you, with your righteous hearts.」
The expressions on the faces of the men turned to deep suspicion at Aur’s words.
「If the human men defy me, I shall punish the elf women. If the elf men defy me, I shall punish the human women. It will be easier to bear the thought of your new neighbors being punished rather than your own, would it not?」
「This is an outrage!」
Aur said with a sly grin as the men once again opened their mouths in protest.
「If humans defy you, they should be the ones that are punished!」
A single elf voice cried, and the cell fell into silence. The elves and humans who had been intermingled until now started to slowly draw away from each other.
「Indeed, it is as you say. But is it not a more effective way of dealing with you all, who are bound by trust? …Even so, it will implicate the women. I will prepare some relief measure then.」
Aur nodded magnanimously at the man who had asked with a hint of desperation in his voice.
「Should the elves inform on the humans for preparing for a revolt, I will have the human women punished instead of the elf women. It shall be the same for the reverse. Then we will have retributive justice. The righteous will not be punished.」
The men finally began to understand what Aur was trying to say. Aur had not actually believed that『punishing others was more effective than punishing the offender』even a little. This was a condition to divide the humans and elves, to have them watch one another.
There would not be any meaning to this condition should they all rise up at once. But if one side betrayed the other, only the women of the other side would be punished. If one side prepared for a revolt without telling the other, the other side would take the fall for it. Aur was testing this trust that had grown between the humans and elves.
And Aur had sensed that the 『true trust』that needed to exist between the humans and elves in order for a united uprising to occur, would not sprout. The only reason that they had been able to unite when under attack by the dark elves, was because there was no other recourse in order to live. Just as you would flee to where the fire could not reach you, you will use the only method that is left to you. This is the same for both elves and humans.
But in situations where there are multiple ways out, things will carry out quite differently.
Different values. Different lifespans. Different standings. Even between humans, between elves, it would take time to come to a conclusion. And with this number of humans and elves, it would be impossible for them to all reach the same conclusion down to the last person. It would only take one person to destroy a plot to revolt.
With this settled, it was likely that the men would be useful as slaves for quite some time. If they worked at a distance that was not too close or too far from one another, they would continue to monitor each other.
Aur turned on his heels and made his way to another cell…a solitary cell.
After he had dealt with the people, he must go to the heads.
It was time to meet Ceres and Evan.