Even in the midst of the fierce battle, the sound of the gunshot is incredibly loud.
The twin bullets fired horizontally from the two barrels cross the distance of less than twenty meters in the blink of an eye, looking to consume their prey.
With a short dying cry, the red-haired boss leading the elite Centaurs falls in the hills of Iskia.
The bullet pulverizes what is left of the steel armor protecting his upper half and penetrates his body, thoroughly destroying it.
But he is not dead.
Despite the fact that he is a monster, perhaps the Centaur’s pride as a commander has allowed him to throw his javelin with all his strength.
Even Kurono likely knew that he would not make it in time to stop this attack.
With this great spear coming towards him, he prepares to intercept it with the『Absolute Malice Hatchet「Neck Cutter」』in his right hand.
Even with the instability due to being on horseback, if the spear targets either him or Nell he will be able to repel it one way or another. With Kurono’s skill, it is definitely possible.
But if the spear’s aim is Merry, blocking it is impossible.
No matter how large the hatchet’s blade is, it does not have the reach to cover the horse’s back legs.
He cannot swing『Absolute Malice Hatchet「Neck Cutter」』as he wants to. He can only helplessly watch as the spear pierces the lean muscles of Merry’s rear body.
If striking the leader is too greedy, striking his horse would be better – the Centaur has succeeded in that.
With a neigh of agony that drowns out both their screams, Merry’s legs buckle and she tumbles over.
With the spear functioning as an emergency brake to stop Merry’s full-speed sprint, the two passengers are thrown violently from her back.
Even as Kurono spins two or three times in mid-air, he sees Merry falling.
And in the moment before she hits the ground, Merry sees her master.
Trying to suppress the feelings of self-hatred welling up in the depths of his heart, Kurono focuses on what he needs to be done in this moment.
He can easily make a safe landing after having been thrown into the air, but the same cannot be said for Nell.
Sensing Nell’s position largely through instinct, he orders the tentacle maid to catch her.
He feels the sensation of the Anchor Hands digging into Nell’s soft body, and in the next moment, Nell herself comes flying into his arms.
Even though they’re friends, Kurono has no doubt that she is reluctant to be held in the arms of a man but knows that the situation leaves them with no choice, so she’ll just has to endure it.
With Nell in his arms, Kurono controls his altitude perfectly as he falls and lands safely on the ground.
「Wah, ah, err, Kurono-kun...」
「Nell, cover me.」
After landing safely on the grass of the hills, Kurono quickly puts Nell down without looking at her and looks straight ahead – in the direction that they had come from.
Kurono sees Centaurs crowded around Merry, repeatedly thrusting their spears into her.
It is clearly overkill, an act of cruelty.
Merry is just a horse, after all, a method of transport.
Less than three months have passed since she was purchased, not enough for her to be called a long-time companion.
But does that mean that Kurono can feel nothing in this situation?
「I’m sorry, Merry.」
When Kurono rode Merry for the first time, he was so unskilled that he could not control her properly without Lily’s help.
Even though he lacked the experience, he continued to ride her; Fiona had ridden Merry with him during their date, and he had even been taught a way to practice riding her.
After increasing their sense of unity by letting magical energy flow between them, Merry became accustomed to Kurono.
And before he knew it, Merry was running with all her might, even when facing this group of elite Centaurs.
There is more than enough reason for him to feel an attachment to her. More than enough for him to have faith in her.
For Kurono, Merry had become an irreplaceable, necessary companion.
That is why Kurono is whispering words of apology with tears coming from his eyes.
He is mourning her death – no.
「Merry, won’t you still take me to the fortress...?」
Kurono is apologizing because he needs to continue using her, even after her death.
If he loses his horse here, there is no way he can make it to Iskia Fortress in time. Even without taking distance into account, there would be no way to outrun the monsters without Merry.
Even if he annihilated this group of Centaurs, there is no saying that a second or third one will not appear to block their path – in fact, it would be strange if there were no more obstacles ahead.
Kurono needs Merry’s legs, no matter what. He cannot lose his horse here.
And Kurono possesses a way to make the deceased Merry run once more.
He calls forth a large naginata.
It was originally black, but with Kurono’s blackening, even its blade has been dyed a jet-black color now.
He has already put his hatchet, rifle and the nameless nine weapons back into his Shadow; the『Haunted Grave』is his only weapon now.
He faces the several dozen remaining Centaurs, who have not lost their fighting spirit even after losing their boss.
Kurono is a little uneasy about using this weapon for the first time, but it should not be forgotten that the『Haunted Grave』is a cursed weapon.
Saeed Maya Hydra, who was not a fighter during his lifetime, fought Kurono on even terms with this weapon in his hand.
If Kurono were to wield it, being a veteran adventurer who can control curses perfectly, he would give new meaning to its technique and display just as much skill with it as its original owner.
In fact, even though Kurono faces the Centaurs charging at him like surging waves, he does not doubt that he will be victorious for even a single moment.
They are sacrifices for Merry to be revived, and at the same time –
They are the audience for this repulsive melody of resurrection. The cursed performance called『Dead Revival』–
The cemetery on the town’s outskirts had a gravekeeper whose appearance had not changed for a hundred years – this story was familiar to anyone who lived in the town.
It was not a mere rumor or ghost story. There really was a gravekeeper living there.
Everyone described the gravekeeper’s appearance as that of a beautiful white woman dressed in black.
And everyone in the town was surely been told by their grandfathers,「Her appearance hasn’t changed at all since I was a kid.」
The identity of the gravekeeper was unknown. Nobody wanted to know, they mustn't know; this was something that does not need to be said.
But she had a duty. She buried corpses with nowhere else to go, offered them a requiem and sent their souls peacefully to heaven.
So that they would not harbor any malice to rise again as Undead.
「Gravekeeper-sama, please grant my request.」
Another corpse had been brought to her today.
The one being placed inside the coffin was a small girl.
A girl with no relatives had died of illness. That was clear from the fact that her lifeless body was here, and from her thin, withered body.
The gravekeeper didn't question anything. No matter what kind of wicked person, adorable child, or lonely elderly person is sent her way, she merely buried them silently.
Knowing this, the townspeople simply left the corpses in her care with a modest payment and quickly returned to the town. There was no unnecessary exchange of words.
The gravekeeper carried out her work indifferently.
She placed countless coffins in the countless graves and buried them.
There was nobody around to grieve over these people’s deaths and fill the air with their sobs, let alone a priest to speak a rite of purification.
The only thing that could be heard in this melancholic cemetery in the corner of a dark forest was the cry of the Nightingales*.
No, after burying these bodies and from morning until evening, on these two occasions, the melody of the gravekeeper’s requiem song flowed in the air.
And so she sang again today.
There was not a single person other than the dead buried here that have heard this song – or at least, that should have been the case.
In response to the voice that reached her ears as she finished singing, the gravekeeper raised the Haunted Grave.
It was impossible for someone to attend her service.
The only ones to visit this place other than the deceased would be the monsters that come here, seeking dead flesh to eat.
It was not particularly rare for this to happen, but with the black naginata that she wielded, she didn't allow any monster to defile the graves.
But as she pointed her weapon in the direction that the voice came from, her crimson eyes opened wide in surprise.
She had performed her role as a gravekeeper for over a hundred years, but this had never happened before.
「Ugh... Kuh... UWAAAAH!」
There was a young man sobbing there.
「Who... are you?」
That was how the gravekeeper met the boy.