"—Commence the purge—"
The airship fleet of the Lansis-Tolldorre-Luselle alliance had announced their intention to sterilize this whole dark-pixie-infested region to kill both Fiorfata and me. They began their bombardment at my and the Demon Lord's locations.
They appeared to be aware of my position the same way that Heroine once sent her subordinates to me so accurately. Several hundred cannon shots hit the castle, pulverizing it in a blink of an eye.
The explosive rain falling on the city was killing the dark pixies, certainly, but also dozens of times more of the townspeople who hadn't managed to evacuate in time. Their screams of pain and hatred filled the air.
What were they thinking?
Were they trying to protect the world in their own way? But what need was there for a massacre, to kill even their own people who were only trying to escape?
A sudden sense of vertigo overcame me, and I held my face with my right hand.
I was fighting to avenge my murdered comrades, and to save the world for the sake of my own savior, the World Tree. I would even take the lives of millions if they proved to be an obstacle.
Since when had I begun to lament the death of others?
It felt as if I had been in the presence of humans for far too long, and now my heart, that which I never had thought to have anything it holds dear, was throwing me an error.
This wasn't supposed to happen… I'd promised the World Tree. I'd sworn that I'd protect this world.
I didn't understand what was going on with myself… All I knew was…
"…this feels terrible…"
Through the gaps between my fingers, my gaze was fixed on the flying battleships. My eyes narrowed, the whites of them turning scarlet, and colors pulled away from my whole body to bleach me white.
One of the battleships flew toward me and began its bombardment.
My foothold crumbled. The building that had been barely holding together now collapsed, the rubble falling to bury me.
I immediately transformed into mist to slip through the debris and flew high up, then turned back to human. My hands clapped with force.
My demon's blessing ripped out the magical barrier protecting the flying battleship, wiping out most of the crew. The airship gradually dropped in altitude, finally crashing into the ground in a shattering impact.
As they saw their ally's demise, several other flying battleships began heading towards me. Projectiles of fire and ice were flung from the magicians that had probably been stationed on board as anti-air.
I dodged them with a somersault in mid-air, blasting my cold mist at one of the approaching airships and freezing its external systems. It crashed after a slow descent.
Shooting them down with pure power was taking a lot of my magic. I couldn't continue like this.
Deciding to board them and deal with the airships from the inside, I charged straight at one of the ships, flying through and taking hits from the magical scattershot they were firing at me. I landed on the deck, freezing the dozens of magicians there with my cold mist.
"No idea where the engine room is… but it looks like the bridge's that way."
Spear-wielding soldiers poured out the deck from inside the ship. They held out their weapons while looking awfully scared. They probably didn't think I'd actually get on. I jumped above their heads and crashed through the bridge's windows with a flying kick.
"T-the Dark Lady?!"
Inside were a crew member standing in front of a wooden wheel that looked like it was taken from a museum, as well as several navigators. A middle-aged man wearing an extravagant-looking uniform, probably the ship's captain, gaped as he saw me entering through the windows. He shouted, enraged.
"Wretched rabbit! You dare to stand in front of our conquest?!"
Something was strange in his words.
"…what do you mean?" I asked, "didn't you fire on the city to kill that thing and me?"
"Hah, isn't it obvious? Once we've purified this land of your and the Unseelie Lord's foulness, we, the Western Alliance, shall gain supremacy over the Central Continent!"
As the man continued his spittle-laden tirade, he unsheathed a rather garishly decorated sword hanging from his waist.
"You've made a mistake coming aboard my ship. No matter how skilled you are at magic, it won't help you when you're in reach of my sword! You'll be a foothold to my own ascendancy, so DIE!!!"
The man swung diagonally downward. I crouched to evade and swept my leg through his own. The black-scabbard sword once more appeared in my hand by itself, and I slammed it through the man's shoulder to pin him to the ground.
"Shut up. If you want to save the world, then give the order to shoot the Unseelie Lord right now. I need to kill it too."
"D-don't bother tricking me, like hell I can believe the words of an animal!"
Right, so negotiations already broke down the moment I looked like a demihuman…
Then maybe I should just kill him and threaten his second-in-command. As I put more force on my grip of the sword, the skewered man laughed, his face beaded with cold sweat.
"Oh, you're not going to get what you want. I've already announced your boarding to our fleet admiral, a general from Lansis Empire. The magical barrier from the other ships will be coming soon, and elite soldiers will be coming to save me! Your reign ends here, Dark Lady!"
The ship shook with an impact. Just as the man finished his words, I felt myself becoming slightly heavier.
From what I could sense, this barrier being created from the other ships wasn't the type of barrier that was used to protect cities. It was the stronger type used to cover the palace of a capital.
Yet what came next hadn't been the elite soldiers as the man had said, but an even more powerful impact. The ship listed. Someone who looked like a communication officer shouted, their report filled with panic as they fell halfway out of their seat.
"C-captain! The surrounding ships are firing on us!"
The captain screamed and began turning hysterical. Had they intended for this to happen all along, or had it been a sudden change of plan?
"Sir Admiral! I'm still here! Baron Horae is still alive! Please stop the attack!"
The flying battleships' salvoes of cannonfire sunk their target without giving a chance for any of its crew members to escape. I slipped out as mist just before the airship crashed into the ground and shattered.
"…so they're going to be that ruthless, are they.."
Within the burning ruins of the former city, within the field of corpses of civilians who hadn't managed to escape, I saw the old man who had been hostile to me when I first came here.
He didn't get away, then… but for some reason, inside the arms of the old man was a canine beastman boy who looked like a slave, as if he had tried to protect the kid before both of them died.
Had he had a change of heart after I parted with him, I wondered?
I stepped on top of the city's debris and looked up at the flying battleships.
They hadn't deployed this fleet to save the world, but for the achievement of having saved the world. They'd done it because they wanted more influence than the Central Continent, and not only would they destroy their fellow human country for it, they wouldn't even hesitate to sink the ship of their allies…
But at the same time, there were still people like the old man who'd tried to save a demihuman child even at the cost of his own life.
Was this what it meant to be 'humans'…?
In the distance, I could see the flying battleships attacking Fiorfata being shot down one after another without dealing any decent damage to it. Even with so much firepower, the humans could still do nothing more than just delaying the Demon Lord for a moment.
Yet even when the fleet was being dismantled, the largest flying battleship on top of me was still aiming all its cannons at me.
Must be the admiral's ship, right? Were they still thinking of killing me for their fame and glory even now?
But just as their cannons were ready to fire, a beam of light streaked through the sky to pierce through the admiral's airship.
The shock rooted me to the spot for a moment. Far, far away, I could see the silhouettes of some sort of bird rapidly approaching.
The dots in my vision were getting bigger very, very quickly. Before long, over a dozen dragons of all colors arrived to burn down the flying battleships around me with their breath. Half of them then split off to head for Fiorfata.
From the remaining half came a gold-colored dragon that was visibly larger than the rest. It blew away the debris and landed, its golden reptilian eyes staring at me.
"So, thou art the Dark Mistress of the present. We have heard the Call of the World Tree. Ride upon my back."
"Hurry! My brethrens yet delayeth the Demon Lorde, but they shan't hold for long!"
Swept along by the force of the golden dragon's will, I jumped from the debris to its back. Massive wings spread out to bring us soaring into the sky.
"O' Dark Mistress, whither be thy next destination?"
"Hark, all! We are southbound!"
"W-wait!" I said, trying to assert myself as I returned to my senses, "I need to deal with Fiorfata…"
"I am aware. Upon the demise of all but one of mine own brethren hindering the Demon Lorde, it shall be lured to me." The gold dragon said with a kindly voice.
"But then your comrades would—"
The gold dragon slightly shook its back, interrupting my insistence.
"Worry not. Until now, we have lived unconcerned with the mortal world, even when the human race attempted to take the Saplings for their own. And even if it leadeth to disaster, we, possessors of power supreme above any other, could not allow ourselves to wipe a single race out of existence."
"Hear me, youngling… Now, we limit ourselves no more. Through the wickedness of mankind of this world and the foreigners, a calamity hath come from the Netherworlde. Thou art still but a fledgling. We could not let thee bear the burden all by thyself."
"O, Dark Mistress."
The dragons flying behind us were now circling around me. The gold dragon gently spoke.
"The World Tree worrieth for thee. Thou art not alone."
I gave a small nod, nuzzling against the dragon's back.
The scenery blazed past us. We crossed hundreds of kilometers of ocean in only a few dozens of minutes, and my next destination, the island country of Sanhuit, was coming into my view.
"Come! Give thine order as a Mistress of Dark!"
"…raze the palace, and liberate the World Sapling!"
"We hear and obey."
The gold dragon roared. The six dragons behind us followed suit with their own howls in concert.
A dragon's roar was said to break the minds of men, and theirs had driven the streets below us into full-blown hysteria. We arrived at the palace, turning it into ruins in an instant, and the World Tree once more sent a white magic stone into my hand.
A/N: In more conventional stories, the commoner protagonist would grow as a warrior and conquer their hesitation to kill. But in Shedy's case, her growth happens in reverse. She'd become a demon in order to live exactly because she had nothing. After becoming a demon, as she continued to be in the company of others, she began to understand the heart of 'humans'.