Tales of Berseria Fanfiction: Alternative Berseria The X (アルタナティブ・べうセリア・ザ・クロス) - 35. White Light Part I
Chapter XXXV: White Light Part I
Laphicet jerked awake from a sluggish sleep, head roiling with the pain of using too much energy. His eyes flutter sleepily, and he gave a pained moan as he straightened up. Laphicet noticed Eleanor, crouching beside him.
Her solicitous eyes beamed slightly, “You’re awake! I’m glad to see you’re okay.” Eleanor swept a glance around the area, “It looks like we got sucked into the earthpulse.”
Laphicet gaze shifted between Eleanor’s eyes, “Are you all right, Eleanor? What about everyone else?!” he queried hastily and worryingly.
Eleanor looks away, swallowing hard, “I’m fine…”
Laphicet rose up on his feet. He inquisitively scanned their surroundings, darkened sky, levitating rocky islands floating around, and streams of magic energy with muffled whispers in the air. They were trapped within the earthpulse. Suddenly a deep chill shudders through him as his skin burst into goosebumps. He recalled Avernus’s last words,
“It’s all on you, Phi. Take care of your family.”
He unintentionally reached out and squeezed Eleanor’s hand, “Where is Avernus?”
Biting her lips, Eleanor gave him a brief, regretful smile, “Avernus didn’t come down with us. He… He is probably fighting Artorius as we speak.”
She then looked over his shoulders. Laphicet whipped his face around. For a moment, his face glowed with a relieved smile before darkened into the gloom; Velvet was glued to her spot, staring blanking, muttering broken sentences and jumbled words in a senseless tone, “Kill… Kill… I killed… He killed… so many… Murdered… Slaughtered… It was all for him… We killed for… him…”
Laphicet leaped out of his spot on the ground. A haunted expression flitted across his face as he focused more on Velvet. She was delirious, almost all of her facial expression was gone, and continued her lifeless mumbling. She whined at each word, humming breathlessly as if she was constantly choking.
“But he said I was… ugly… Nothing… All for nothing… I can’t… I have to kill… Die…Die…”
“Velvet…” Laphicet called out to her, tearing her from the delusions and back to reality.
Velvet whirled her head at Laphicet, “You’re awake. Come on. We’re leaving. I have to kill them.”
Laphicet glanced innocently at her, “But Innominat is your…”
Velvet’s eyes burned up in a fury, pouncing at Laphicet, “It’s just an illusion! A fake! A trick!” she screamed, madly in denial.
Abruptly, Velvet paused her tantrum, and a sinister expression took over her face, “Or… what if it was him? Then that means he betrayed me, doesn’t it?”
Laphicet ruefully stared at her soundlessly. Velvet tilted her head at the little malak, frowning menacingly, “You think I can’t kill a traitor like him? Why? Why wouldn’t I?” Velvet closed her distance, and immediately lunged at him, grabbing his small shoulders, and shaking his body in an outburst, “Just how many do you think I’ve killed…” You who watched me do it?”
Laphicet shut his eyes and jerked back, dropping his head apologetically. Eleanor rushed to them, but a shiny bubble shot out of the ground, blooming into a flash.
“Laphi… Time to wake up.”
Laphicet and Eleanor winced at hearing the familiar, yet kinder and smoothening voice of Velvet. The light went away, and moving images of younger Velvet and her brother arose before their vision. Laphicet’s eyes widened shockingly,
“Innominat?!” he breathily and hastily observed and turned his head back at Eleanor. She gave Laphicet a ponderous look as their eyes met, “No, this is different. A…A vision of the past, maybe?”
Their glances bounced back wondrously at the sight of a young, compassionate, and a loving sister taking care of her little brother. Laphicet eyes focused on a face he’d never expected to see.
Suddenly, Velvet clawed the scene, letting out a bloodlust scream. The bubble tore in half and dissolved into nothingness.
Velvet instantly whipped her head around, maliciously grinning, “Did you see? I killed him! It was easy! Avernus thinks I’m not used to it, but I’ll show him that he’s wrong!” she manically rushed to Laphicet, he took a step back. “Use your power; get us out of here.”
For a moment, dread swirled in Laphicet’s guts. He never truly saw the Lord of Calamity’s brutal side, especially not beside the vision of her younger self when he could compare them. Laphicet collected himself, holding the gaze of Velvet with his calm and determined eyes, “No! We’ve got to find the rest.”
Velvet’s face scrunched into fury. She marched at Laphicet, and grabbed his head violently, holding it down in a submissive stance, “I said; get us out of here, now!”
Following her scream, Laphicet hopelessly gestured his hand to the sides. A ball of light flickered, but nothing happened. Eleanor paced to them, raising her hand and slapping Velvet in a flash. “Enough!” she yelled.
Velvet quickly grabbled Eleanor by her collar, nearly pulling her off her feet and frantically glared at her in the eyes, “They’re the one who needs to be stopped!” Velvet trailed off, “Isn’t that right?! I’ll kill them… I’ll kill them all…!”
A deadly silence veiled over them. Eleanor patted Velvet on her shoulder, “You must calm down,” she advised serenely.
Velvet pushed away Eleanor, clenching her jaw. Suddenly, her face went impassive, devoid of all emotions, “…Fine, I’ll come down and look for an exit. That’s what you want, right?”
The Lord of Calamity took off. Laphicet and Eleanor scrambled after her, but their eyes caught something small lying on the ground. Laphicet took a moment to collect it, his eyes gloomed as he recognized Velvet’s hair comb. He picked it up, pressing it against his chest in a regretful gesture. Laphicet raised his head, watching Eleanor motioning him calmly after her,
“Laphicet, you should rest within me for a while.”
The young malak fiercely shook his head in response, “No, and If I hide, it’ll hurt Velvet even more since Avernus is not here….”
Eleanor’s brows darted up for a moment. Laphicet wilted, “Do you think he…”
Eleanor nodded reluctantly, casting a hopeful glance at Laphicet, “I’m sure he’s fine… I’m alive, which means he’s still alive.”
Laphicet gave Eleanor a brisk nod in return. Uncertainty with a small hint of anticipation surged up inside him, “Then I should at least be at her side like Avernus always does… until he comes back.”
Eleanor gave him an affectionate look, “You have become stronger, Laphicet.”
His heart hammered in his chest, fumbling the comb in his hand. “I haven’t, and I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do now… I wish Avernus was here.”
Eleanor glanced at him with determination, “Yes, you are, Laphicet. Otherwise, Avernus wouldn’t have said that.”
Laphicet stiff expression eased up a little. Eleanor firmly continued, “You’re doing it right by being near her. Having someone close can be all the help you need sometimes. So, keep an eye on Velvet while we search for the others. Just remember; you’re not alone; I’ll always be with you.”
His face beamed, smiling widely, “Thanks, Eleanor…”
Abruptly, their brief moment of closeness was disrupted by Velvet’s battle cry. They scrambled to her position. Laphicet channeled magic through his fingertips, and Eleanor swirled her spear around. As they moved up the path, they saw Velvet slashed a daemon; cutting it in half and kicking the remains down to the Abyss below.
Laphicet let out a silent hum and jerked back as he glanced at Velvet’s wrathful eyes. Their gazes locked into another until another orb came out of the ground, and expanded into a magnificent veil. It showed another glimpse of the past like a theater.
Velvet uncaringly glared while Laphicet and Eleanor shifted their attention to the lonely man on the ground, leaning frustratingly at a tree. Their eyes widened together at the same time; although younger, they immediately recognized Artorius. As the memory went on, a village girl rushed to his side. She nervously looked around and sat beside him, offering her help while Artorius refused, mumbling that he had failed his master.
“My wings are weak; it doesn’t matter anymore…”
Amidst his grief, the girl smiled profoundly. Laphicet and Eleanor felt that their souls lifted at her warm affection. The girl talked about one of her unique cuisines and asked him if he would join her for dinner. Her kindness melted the dark, hopeless shell of Artorius as his eyes flickered with aspiration. But he resisted, even his empty stomach growled. Her eyes gleamed, and she then gave him a fresh, red apple, ignoring his woeful expressions, “Once your belly is full of warm food, you’ll be able to pick yourself back up.”
The girl yanked his arm, forcefully placing the fruit inside of his hand. With a delighted look and eyes glimmering with fire, she dug into his dimed soul,
“I can feel it. Your body is shouting, “I want to live!”
However, Artorius rebutted her kindness, wearing his defeated cloak once more, “I’m a disgrace… I don’t deserve to live…”
The girl, unfazed by his despairing rant, maintained her bright expression, “Is life something you have to earn? To deserve?”
Her optimistic yet straightforward argument left Artorius doubting his self-condemnation. Having nothing to add to his pessimistic debate, she took the lead, burning away the murkiness of his soul, “These feelings are natural. You ear when you’re hungry, and cry when you’re sad. Feeling these things is proof that we’re alive.” She stood on her feet, offering her hand to the young exorcist, “What’s your name? Mine is Celica. Celica Crowe.”
Her liveliness washed away his despair. Artorius graciously accepted, curling his hand over hers, standing up, “I’m an exorcist, Artori… No, Arthur. I’m Arthur.”
Out of the blue, Velvet ripped the memory veil, tearing it apart as her dark red claws burned with malevolence.
“Artorius!” The scene disintegrated as she screamed madly. Laphicet dashed to her side, but a known voice drew their attention away from Velvet’s enragement.
“…What in the world was that?” Rokurou shouted. Laphicet and Eleanor whipped their heads toward him.
Laphicet’s eyes gleamed with hope as he glanced behind them, “Rokurou, Eizen!”
The two brothers-in-arms reached their position. Rokurou shook his head slightly, “That was Artorius, and he called himself Arthur…”
Eizen rubbed his chin, staring thoughtfully, “The Earthen Historia… They say that events on the world’s surface cast imprints on the earthpulse that runs below.”
Rokurou folded his arms, nodding, “In other words, an illusion of the past.”
Velvet suddenly spoke, breaking her hardened silence “…It’s not an illusion. That was my sister.” She trailed off again, staring blankly into the ground, “So, he managed to fool her too. Yes… Yes, Shepherds… like Avernus fooled me…that must be it. They lie, they scheme to get to what they want… Avernus must’ve tricked her too. That’s why she freed me from the prison…” she mumbled breathily and callously.
Laphicet clenched the hair comb firmly as she strutted up the path. Eleanor turned to Rokurou, “Have you recovered from your wounds?” she alarmingly asked.
The swordsman cocked his head and grinned haughtily, “Yup. Tough as nails, that’s ol’ Rokurou.”
Eizen stepped closer, giving him a meaningful look. The smile dried on Rokurou’s lips, and he reverted to his common expression, “I’m more worried about Velvet, is she okay?”
Laphicet bit his lips, staying silent while Eleanor curled her fingers into a fist. She glanced down, “How could she be okay? Innominat is reborn, and it’s her little brother!”
Eizen crossed his arms, uncertainty flitted across his face, “Let’s worry about ourselves for now. This earthpulse is completely under Innominat’s domain. We can think of it as an extension of his body.”
Laphicet acknowledged, regarding the rest of his friends with a grim glance, “Yeah, which means my power won’t get us out of here.”
Eizen gave them an understated, cautious look, “Be wary, Innominat may be the one showing us these memories. Remember, he’s after Velvet and the two types of malevolence inside her. If Avernus cannot kill Artorius and Innominat… we may be able to use that against the Empyrean to get us out of here.”
Laphicet suddenly shot a fit of glaring anger at Eizen, “What are you saying? Just use her?”
Eleanor stepped up, “I’m sure Avernus will succeed, I’m still alive and feeling well, and that means…”
Eizen shifted his eyes to Eleanor, cutting her off, “That means nothing. He would not endanger your lives on a possible losing battle.”
Eleanor shuddered in fear, eyes focusing on the pirate, pleading for an answer, “What do you mean?!”
“He broke off your squire bond before taking on Artorius.”
“That’s not possible!” Eleanor revolted, clenching both of her fists.
Eizen held her imploring glare, “Can you two feel his presence?”
Eleanor gasped, squinting her eyes, struggling to find a trace of Avernus in her psyche. After a brief moment, her eyelids stuttered in fear, “I-I can’t…”
Laphicet took a deep breath and closed his eyes, searching among the ocean of magic for his spark. He groaned, pressing his teeth. A minute had passed, and his eyes opened with a hint of fright.
Eizen waved his hand, shrugging them off, “Then it’s a no. Even if he fails, he already bought us some time, and we can use Velvet to find a way to escape the earthpulse.”
Laphicet scowled, gesturing angrily at Eizen, “Avernus would never permit that!”
“I know. But he’s not here, is he?” Eizen said, coldly. Laphicet turned to Velvet as she took her distance, his gaze skimmed over her.
Rokurou heaved a small sigh, “We have to keep moving. Nothing will be gaining by staying here.” He rolled his eyes, “And we need to look for Magilou. Even she doesn’t deserve to be stuck here forever.”
They trailed behind Velvet, keeping a bit of distance. Rokurou exhaled, turning to Eleanor, “How long do you think she’ll last?”
Eleanor met his eyes, “What do you mean?”
“A blade can’t just be hard. It’s got to be flexible, or it’ll snap the first time it meets an unexpected force. Hardness alone won’t save Velvet from breaking. If she keeps being shaken up like this, she won’t be able to handle it.” Rokurou explained, sending concerning vibes to Eleanor and Laphicet.
“Is there nothing we can do?” Eleanor asked worryingly.
Eizen shook his head to the sides, “No, if she breaks, that’s it. Until then, we will continue with our mission.”
Laphicet slid closer to Eizen, “Why can’t we help her?! She is suffering, and it is too much!”
The reaper scowled, “If you let sympathy fog your vision like Avernus, you can end up crushing yourself against a reef.”
Laphicet face twisted in ire, “Avernus is not dead!” He lashed out, glaring Eizen with his hands balled tightly into fists.
Eleanor flashed vexingly before pressing her lips, “Avernus didn’t feel pity for Velvet, he… he loved her! There’s a world of difference between sympathy and love, Mr. heartless pirate!”
Eizen groaned, drumming his fingers against his crossed arms. The weight of the silence that followed Eleanor’s words pressed down on everyone.
Rokurou turned to Laphicet and Eleanor, looking amiable, “That’s true. I’m sure if he was here, he would’ve thought of something. Even so, Velvet wouldn’t care that much.” He sighed and placed his hand on his chest “…But it was inevitable; Avernus or not, her fate will be something she’ll have to decide for herself.”
Laphicet straightened himself up, cocking his head, “Then I have a decision of my own to make: I won’t give up on Velvet. No matter what.” He declared firmly.
Rokurou and Eizen gave him a confirmative look, “Do what you have to, we won’t stop you.”
Laphicet quickly scrambled to Velvet, flaunting side by side before entering a blue portal, and into the unknown.
The time lost its meaning. He took in a smooth and delicate feeling of hot air. A pleasant heat filled his chest like he had been running; only he didn’t feel tired or winded. The cold air of Velvet’s cell had been replaced with warmth steam as his soul flew off with it. He thought the afterlife couldn’t be more comfortable, floating in nothingness, wrapped up in a warm blanket, safe and sound.
The long rest had finally come.
Suddenly, bright bursts of light filtered through his eyelids, as someone opened a door that let light in. Sounds of obscure giggles and meows pulled him slowly from the bliss of his seemingly eternal rest.
With a shearing gasp, Avernus plunged back into his body. He instantly opened his eyes as he jerked awake from his sleep. His back immediately slipped and submerged inside water. He quickly raised his head above, gasping for air and trying to get his bearings. He took a moment to gape at his surroundings: the steam nearly filled the place, he squinted his eyes, but he could make out a small creature, running around the edge of the pool of hot water he was in.
It certainly felt like a hot spring.
“You’re awake, meow!” the fluffy creature observed, flapping its arms.
“A Katz?” he blinked, “Do they have Katz in the afterlife?” he mumbled, raising a brow.
Avernus instantly remembered past events. Heart pounding against his ribs, he frantically ran his hands over his bare torso, feeling the smooth, unbroken skin of his chest and waist.
“Am I dead?” he wondrously asked.
Katz giggled, waving a towel in the air, “No, of course not, you meow! They brought you here to rest!”
Avernus narrowed his eyes, rubbing his back as he struggled to move closer, “They… who are they?”
Katz offered him the long white towel he was holding, “They’re waiting for you, meow!” the creature dodged his question.
Avernus dazzlingly reached for his hand, accepting his gift, and Katz immediately disappeared into the steam. Still in shock, Avernus slowly came out of the pool. Wearing the towel, a strange sensation came over him; wearing only this towel was enough. He sighed, pressing a finger to his temple to stave off the magical properties of the cloth.
Suddenly his glance fell upon a new but familiar ready-to-wear outfit near the exit. The set was nearly identical to his regular clothes, except for the taller collar and a golden chain connecting between the two sides of the coat.
Brows knotted as he looked down at his suit, still torn and spattered with blood, lying on a nearby table. He let out a groan as he recalled Tia’s betrayal and his failure to stop Artorius and Innominat. Avernus quickly put on the new clothes effortlessly and marched to the exit.
He dashed over to the door, but he realized that there wasn’t a doorknob. He pushed it to no avail. Avernus breathed as a fresh sensation came over him. This place was familiar. Avernus instinctively fumbled his hand for a doorknob, and out of thin air, it appeared from his pure will. He wrenched the door open and dived inside.
As Avernus slipped into the hall, he was momentarily overwhelmed by the high ceilings, stained glass windows, and bright obsidian floors.
“Where the hell am I?”
Avernus dazzled by the marvelous architecture, and floating azure crystals, yet a mixed sense of belonging and nostalgia hit him hard. He moaned angrily as he could not relate to his feelings at all: he never been to this place before.
Immediately his gaze fell upon a platform in the middle. Avernus leveled a shrewd gaze at an older man sitting among some pillows and was smoking hookah. His gleaming green eyes narrowed.
The older man saw him, beckoning him closer, and gesturing him to sit.
Avernus let out a sharp gasp and stepped closer. He surveyed him: very short, wearing a blue vest, adorned with golden thunder-like ornaments over a white robe. He had white hair with one-piece tinted yellow, sticking up on top of his head in a shape of a lightning bolt. His bushy eyebrows nearly obscured his eyes.
The older man’s lips curved into a soft, wistful smile. He again motioned him silently to sit. None of them spoke a single word; only the water bubbling sound of hookah could be heard. Avernus sank onto a pillow, cross-legged, across from him. His eyes never wavered from the older man.
The host had already poured him a glass of some drink. Avernus saw him picking up his shot. Avernus raised his glass to the older man’s and reluctantly knocked the shot back, eyes watering as the drink seared down his throat.
“That’s some strong stuff. Uhh…” Avernus murmured, shaking his head, and clearing his throat.
“Welcome to Heavenly Steps, pact keeper.” The old man blew smoke, “…I’m Zenrus, the village chief, and currently, a guest at Heavenly Steps.”
Avernus opened his mouth, but Zenrus cut him short, “I know who you are, Avernus Diphda.”
The shepherd raised his brows, giving him a wan flicker of a smile, then lowered his eyes, “Then I guess you know a lot about what I’m doing.”
Zenrus gathered smoke in his mouth and blew some out slowly and steadily, “Yes, I’ve been waiting for you all these years. Even so, Zui Fuu thought it was futile. Although I hoped we could meet under different circumstances.”
Avernus’s body shook as he remembered his previous encounter, leaning as he was ready to take off after Velvet and the others, “I need to go back! My fam-” He gasped and paused, blinking, “My friends need me; their lives are in danger.”
“Ah, yes. Your battle with the current pact keeper and Innominat…” Zenrus gently placed the hose back. “You don’t need to concern yourself. The time passes very slowly here, and I assure you. Your…” Zenrus paused and cleared his throat, “…your friends are fine for the moment. The crucial matter is that you discover your true purpose and…” he raised his head, straightening himself up, “The truth of the world.”
Avernus smiled bitterly as the thoughts of Velvet, Phi, Eleanor, and the rest of the crew trapped in the Innominat’s fangs gnawed at him, “Thanks but I…”
Zenrus calm face quickly jerked his chin at him dismissively, “How can you protect others when you can’t even protect yourself!”
Avernus took a shuddering breath, caught off guard by Zenrus’s scolding remarks, “What are you…”
Zenrus immediately continued, “You didn’t even ask who saved your life.” Zenrus gestured behind Avernus, “There are people that care deeply about you, and you all you do is ignoring their feelings.”
Avernus whirled his head back. A ripple of shock ran through his body. He instantly stood up on his feet. All of his face muscles stretched as he laid eyes on a young girl, silvered hair with hints of green and red, tied back in a ponytail, and wearing a red and white dress, was standing behind him.
Her bright face darkened as she looked up. Lailah gasped ruefully, and she cast down her gaze. She tried to swallow a deep sadness in her throat, her body shivered, and she clenched her jaw. Then she straightened her spine and met Avernus’s eyes,
“Why, master?! Just what do you think you’re doing?!” her watery eyes pleaded at him.
Avernus’s eyes grew hazy with regret, “I was… I…”
“You left me without saying goodbye, and when I found you after… after all these years, you were lying down in your blood!” The sadness gloomed her bright face even further.
A deep silence veiled over them. Zenrus moved to his side, hands locked on his back, “I found this young malak unconscious near the shore.” Zenrus’s lips curved into a sneer, “If it hasn’t been for Zui Fuu and I… she would’ve died.”
Avernus whirled his head in dismay, eyes clouded with concern, “Unconscious? Here? How?!”
“I… I sailed from the far continent…”
“Alone?!” Fear waged across Avernus’s eyes.
“Yes… Alone. But I got shipwrecked near Midgand…” Lailah explained.
“Why, Lailah? I’m not worth it…”
Lailah huffed in anger, gripping her fists, “Because you’re the one who found me and gave me my true name, master!” She pressed her chest, memories flashed in her eyes, “Among those closed hearts in the castle, you were the only one who stood by me. You taught me how to live my life, how to choose, and how to be responsible… So please don’t tell me that you’re not worth it… Because it’s not for you to decide!”
Avernus clung into her soft but scolding stare, “I’m sorry, Lailah.”
She gasped and broke off their eye contact. He took a step forward. Lailah whirled her head back sulkily.
“I was selfish,” Avernus mumbled regretfully.
Lailah slowly turned her head toward him and darted an anxious glance back at Avernus, who gave her a grim nod and stepped forward, “I didn’t think clearly. I thought I failed everyone back home. I ran away, assuming that you were better off without me…”
Lailah placed her hand on her chest, “But we didn’t! We cared for you! More than you could think, master!”
Avernus stared down again at the floor, saying nothing. When he finally looked up, his eyes were pained and apologetic. “I never meant to worry anyone. But I put your life in danger… I messed up.”
Lailah’s gaze shifted between his eyes, and pain glanced across his face.
“I did the same thing… here, to my friends…” Avernus quickly turned to Zenrus. A memory haunted his eyes, “Tia… what happened to her? Where is she?”
Zenrus’s smile faltered. Watching him be so stern, made Avernus go quiet immediately.
“Follow me,” His voice tinged with bitterness. Zenrus gestured over the large door, and then it opened instantly. He urged Avernus and Lailah forward, following close on their heels as they tentatively approached Zenrus and the immense sets of steps that stretched to the top.
“This place is sealed tight. You don’t need to worry about the intruders.” Zenrus lips curled into a grimace. Avernus and Lailah couldn’t help but felt the weight of whatever he wanted to share with them.
“Do you understand how the world works?” Zenrus calmly asked.
Avernus and Lailah glanced at each other, shaking their heads, “No.”
Zenrus let out a soft groan, “Then you don’t know what is the heavenly realm either…”
Avernus and Lailah’s glances bounced back from another again, “No.”
They walked straight up to the top, “The heavenly realm is where the seraphim reside. It is the first and true world. It’s long existed way before your earthly world came into being.” Zenrus explained serenely and fatherly.
Avernus trailed off, looking at the visible clouds in the sky, “Seraphim… I’ve read about them; they were like the ancient malakhims that existed several thousands of years before.”
They reached a tall mirror, and Zenrus casually entered it. Avernus nodded to Lailah, and they both followed him to a circular hall. Lailah suddenly waved at a flying malak, “Hi!” she hailed heartily.
The malak sailed closer as its features became apparent; a white flying rappig, with blue tribal symbols all over her body, “Greetings, pact keeper.” Her small, pig-like face moved up and down, “I’m Zui Fuu, a malak and former seraph.” She then glanced at Lailah, “I hope you’re feeling better, Ms. Lailah.”
Lailah quickly nodded and smiled, “Yes, thank you so much for your help!”
Avernus’s gaze shifted between the three of them and then immediately bowed to his waist’s full limit, arms locked beside his body, “I’m eternally grateful, and forever in your debt for saving Lailah.” He expressed his gratitude, formally as he stayed in his stoop form.
Lailah’s mouth half-opened while her eyes widened at Avernus’s curtsy. Zenrus faintly smiled, “She is a pure malak. Traveling all this way just for a… human. It’s what a close family will do for each other.” Zenrus remarked.
Avernus straightened up, glancing profoundly at Lailah, “Yes, that’s true. I was wrong to leave her. But I promise I will make it up.”
Lailah blushed and clapped her hands, “Now, all we do is…”
Zenrus abruptly raised his hand, “Wait, there are matters that you must consider before leaving, pact keeper.”
Avernus firmly gazed over the two seraphim assertively, eager to hear their story.
Zenrus pointed to a long, glass looking steps that stretched to the top and at the end, was an arch looking gate. “Can you see what’s on the other side, Avernus?”
The shepherd squinted at the gate, brows knotting. He peered through the middle and caught glimpses of a world beyond, “There are… tall buildings, glimmering sky, roads paved with luminous stones… and creature flying around… shining dragons?”
Lailah tried to follow Avernus’s gaze. But she shook her head. “I can’t see anything.” She said.
Zenrus kept slowly nodding his head. Avernus turned to him for answers.
“That’s the Heavenly Gate, which only opens when certain precise conditions are met.” Zenrus sighed in frustration, “But in tens of thousands of years, none have succeeded in opening the gate.”
“Why is it important to be opened?” Avernus asked.
Zenrus remained silent, and Zui Fuu flew closer, “As a pact keeper, it is part of your duty to understand, and as a young malak Lailah, you have every right to know the true nature of the events which we have entangled you for a long time.”
Avernus crossed his arms, and Lailah locked her hands in front of her body, eagerly waiting.
“Empyreans and malakhim once resided in the heavenly realm. At the time, they were known as seraphim. Malakhims are the seraphim who descended from the heavenly realm, and the Prime Lords who ruled over them eventually came to be called Empyreans.”
Avernus glanced at Lailah from the corner of his eyes, his lips curled into a smile, “Told you; malak and seraphim are the same things…”
Zui Fuu cleared her throat to grab their attention, “After your world and humans were discovered, the first prime lord and her seraphim came down on the earth. She tested humans, and unfortunately… found them to be imperfect.”
Avernus’s facial feature flickered for a moment. Guessing her name wasn’t hard, but he refrained from interrupting her.
“She imposed a rule, or it is better to say: cast a curse upon humanity. It made coexistence impossible. But, some seraphim truly believed they could coexist with humans, and descended to the surface, banding with like-minded humans. However, because of the curse, their cooperation came to a swift end. Even minor disputes gave rise to malevolence, and daemons and dragons quickly filled the land.”
Lailah stepped closer, “Who was the first Seraphim?”
“She was known as Tiamat, the Great Mother of Creation.” Zui Fuu replied.
Lailah cupped her hand over her mouth. She glanced shockingly at Avernus, “Is she talking about Lady Tiamat?!”
Avernus flashed a concerning look at Lailah as if he was already suspecting.
Zenrus looked up to him, “Ah, I know that look, young pact keeper.”
Zui Fuu continued, “Her curse was for the humans to produce malevolence at the mere feeling of negative emotions, and sins. To the seraphim, malevolence is as poison. Thus, agreeing with Tiamat’s move, the seraphim decided to eradicate the surface world, humanity included.”
“Why they didn’t go through with it?” Avernus asked.
“There did dwell among the seraphim those who desired coexistence with humankind. Thus, the other Five prime lords moved against Tiamat, and a battle ensued. They eventually managed to overcome Tiamat, sending her to the deepest, darkest depths of the earth. Those more merciful seraphim made a bet with the ones who were in the heavenly realm that like Tiamat, sought annihilation. They wanted to prove they could overcome the malevolence and live among the humans.”
Avernus slowly shook his head to the sides, “…I guess it didn’t end well.”
The blue markings on Zui Fuu’s body flickered, “The daemons shredded the malakhim who loved humanity, and the dragons devoured the humans who trusted the malakhim. To combat malevolence, Innominat, the leader of the Five, became the auxiliary Empyrean to subdue the poison by devouring it, while the rest governed the land to heal it. Although the results were proved to be undesirable.”
Avernus slightly twitched his body, “I guess he paid the price for exposing himself to malevolence…”
“Innominat’s mind had already been altered by absorbing the infinite amount of malevolence. He became… addicted, ruthless, and blind to the consequences. Soon afterward, he took the land as his domain and his body, forcing the rest of the Empyreans out of the earthpulses. The four remaining Empyreans seek other seraphim tribes for help…one clan answered.” Zui Fuu explained, turning to Zenrus.
The old seraph’s gaze swept over Avernus and Lailah, “We answered their call.”
Avernus tipped his head to the side, lifting an eyebrow, “You and Zui Fuu?”
Zenrus snapped his finger, and suddenly, an image hovered behind them, showing a group of young seraphim, gazing down from the clouds with the one in front, wearing an outfit with an uncanny resemblance to his own.
Lailah winced, her gaze fixated on the image, shockingly, “That’s…!”
“Susanoo, the leader of thunder seraphs, and my clan chief,” Zenrus explained.
Avernus clenched his jaw, but he let out a breath and spoke with forced calm. “Of course…”
Zenrus slowly turned to the hovering vision, “He was stubborn, reckless. But his heart was in the right place.” Zenrus motioned his head to a short figure behind Susanoo. Avernus and Lailah instantly recognized Zenrus’s younger self. “We were young and inexperienced. We thought that our resolve could overcome anything. Therefore, we sneaked our way out of the heavenly gate and came down to earth.”
Zenrus face was directed at the changing visions, clinging into them. “When seraphim found out, they declared us as exiles. But Susanoo wagered them to find a solution for Innominat’s tyranny. Despite his efforts, there was no hope; the world needed Innominat to suppress malevolence and to give humanity strong resonance to see the daemons, but it also needed other Empyreans to recover the land and keep the nature in check. Innominat wouldn’t allow the rest to interfere, and he constantly disrupted their duties. The equation became impossible to solve.”
Zenrus slowly turned to them, “Thousands of years had passed; nearly all malakhim abandoned their dream of peaceful coexistence and distanced themselves from humanity. We eventually regretted having descended from the heavenly realm.” A grim tone overshadowed his voice, “At that time, humans with resonance, already rare, dwindled to almost total extinction. Susanoo spent several years, teaching them to bond with malakhim, and use their power against malevolence, but it was not enough to ensure the absence of Innominat, that the world doesn’t need a safety valve to purge the poison.”
Zui Fuu peered into Avernus’s eyes, “It was futile.” She added.
Zenrus cocked his head toward him, “Until he desperately sought the answer from other sources…”
Avernus cast a nervous glance, “Tia!”
Zenrus trailed off, “Yes… she who started it offered him a solution; to keep the cleansing dragon in a cycle of death and rebirth. Without disclosing the secret with other malakhim, Susanoo battled Innominat with the help of four Empyreans and imprisoned him in an earthpulse. Knowing that the world will need Innominat again, Susanoo sacrificed his soul in the River of Life, that spanned throughout the earth, beneath the earthpulses, so his power would be reborn into a human body.”
“Why Tia helped Susanoo?” Avernus wondered, eyes scowling.
“When Tiamat lost the fight, all she could think was vengeance. Susanoo had no choice, it was her solution, a chaotic world without the four Empyrean, or the world would end in a flood of malevolence if he killed Innominat. But she was patient, and what’s better to keep the world in a state of chaos?”
Avernus’s face scrunched up in focus, “Then all the conflict and the strife throughout history, all the fear, and hatred, served but one purpose; to keep Tiamat’s wheel of vengeance turning.” Avernus rubbed his hands down his face, letting out a groan, “How the far-continent was able to awaken her? Why she helped me with the fight if Innominat is her enemy too?”
“A long time ago, again in desperation, the old Avarost empire, forcefully sacrificed a simple tailor with strong resonance, to resurrect an unknown, old spirit and to help them with the rising daemon threat. Little did they know: the woman was a mother, and her heart was filled with despair and hatred as her body plummeted into the abyss. Tiamat absorbed her and was reborn with the first notion of revenge against humanity once more.”
Fury raged Avernus’s face, “Idiots!”
“She delivered them justice, but she also wanted the rest of the world to suffer. Tiamat carried out with her eternal plan, nudging history or sometimes, shoving the Shepherds to suit her needs, forcing the world to go through the vicious cycles. When Artorius resurrected the Innominat and decided to carry out a new plan, she sneaked her way here with you to stop him.” Zenrus told them.
“A new plan?” Avernus asked.
“Yes… unfortunately, the current pact keeper, Artorius, is using Innominat’s power in an attempt to control the nature of humans and malakhim. If Innominat suppresses all the emotions, her plan would be for naught. There would be no more malevolence.”
Avernus gritted his teeth, “So that’s his plan; To strip every one of their emotions! A world, running purely on reason!”
Zui Fuu gradually flew closer, “Maybe Artorius is right. When the alternative is an eternal cycle of tragedy, forced by Tiamat, perhaps it is better not to feel tragedy at all. I believed in humanity for tens of thousands of years, but there is no point.” She said despairingly.
Avernus glared at her, “It is funny. You sound like that you just gave up. And do you know that “You” are responsible for these tragedies?”
Zui Fuu flapped her wings faster in shock, “What?!”
“First, Tiamat cursed us. Then, Susanoo, out of desperation, yielded to Tiamat’s solutions, trapping us in this very cycle that seraphim are the cause of it, and now you’re telling me that there is no point in believing in humanity?” Avernus said briskly.
A grim silence fell upon them.
“Then do you hope that malevolence can be extinguished… that we can coexist? Even so, when you die, do you understand that there is no hope for future generations to properly guide them through the dark times?” Zui Fuu asked worryingly and seriously.
Avernus glanced at Lailah, “If you’ve watched us, you know that’s possible. I’m not impatient. I can wait for humanity to learn and grow. Even so…” A silent passed between them as he tried to think of something to say, “The fate of the world is in the hands of someone that is the key to all the problems…”
Avernus stroked his chin. Zenrus and Zui Fuu’s gazes roved on him.
Lailah, trying to change the subject, slid closer to the seraphs, “How the humans knew what to do?”
“Susanoo left the instruction on how to resurrect Innominat, how to bind it to the will of the pact keepers, and how to send it back into its prison. Most of it is a common knowledge that has been between the nations, but a lot of it has been lost, even to us.” Zenrus answered.
“So, that makes me the last inheritor, am I right?” Avernus thoughtfully stared and inquired.
“Yes, the last one.” Zenrus disclaimed.
Avernus suddenly felt a pulse in his temple, “Okay… What do you mean by “The last one”?”
“His blood grew weaker with each rebirth. I could sense him. You’re the last scion. When you die, his legacy will be gone, and his soul will be lost… forever.” Zenrus said sullenly.
Avernus let out a low growl. It didn’t matter to him what would happen to the seraph’s soul. “How did he manage to defeat Innominat?”
“Through his vessel, he made a pact with all Empyreans, and they ground the eight-headed dragon down to its primary body. Then he left it slumbering in a prison.” Zenrus said.
“And If I’m right, they used sacrifices to reawaken him, binding him to the current pact keeper, so he could devour the malevolence as an autonomous being by following the will of the shepherds,” Avernus added.
“That’s correct.” Zenrus acknowledged.
“But how did they force it into slumber again? I doubt there is anything on how to do it.”
Zenrus waved his hand in the air, and the vision changed to a symbol of a great dragon eating his tail.
“That’s the Ouroboros! The infinite sign of birth and rebirth.” Lailah remarked.
Avernus watched the symbol for a moment. His stomach twisted with unease. Finally, he squared his shoulders and let out a sharp sigh, “Okay, what it had to do with Innominat?”
“I don’t know,” Zenrus said.
Avernus felt anger bubbling inside of him, lips pulled in a snarl, “You don’t…. what? Are you joking?”
“No, young man, we never knew the details. We avoided the times when Innominat rose up to cleanse the world. But, it is said that the process would mask him from the public’s eye until people forget about his existence, and in turn, he would have lost his earthly body and finally, falls into a slumber.”
Avernus’s lips curved into a grimace, “That’s not enough!” he protested, but his furious face suddenly cooled down as an idea flickered in his mind, “The true name… what is his true name?”
“It’s always changing when he’s reborn. Not even the Empyreans carry a single true name.” Zenrus explained.
“Then how can I learn it?”
“You should ask his current pack keeper,” Zenrus replied.
Avernus clicked his tongue, “And he’ll tell me.” He shook his head and sighed, raising his cupped hand as a ball of silver flame quickly formed inside it, “How and why do I carry this spell?”
Zenrus raised his head to gaze clearly from behind his bushy brows, “That’s the silver flame. Susanoo cleaved it from Innominat using his sword.” Zenrus said, lifting his hand to conjure a small portal, and then he pulled something from the ether, a golden but broken blade. He threw the weapon smoothly at Avernus.
He snatched it and surveyed it from up close, “That’s nice; blue hilt, a golden handle, golden frame, and a turquoise jewel etched in the middle. But the blade is broken…” he observed.
“Susanoo hoped to use Innominat’s purification ability and pass it to other malak who was powerful enough to use it to cleanse the malevolence.” Zenrus clarified calmly.
Avernus tilted the weapon, swinging around, “I tried to pass it using my squire bond to a powerful young malak… but I don’t know if it worked or not.”
“You’ll find your answer if you’re able to repair his sword,” Zenrus said.
Hope flickered across his face, his lips bent into a grin, “I think I know the perfect blacksmith for the job.”
An electric bolt covered the sword, and it disappeared into thin air as Avernus coiled his fist, storing it in his ether, “Where is Tiamat?” he inquired fiercely.
“She retreated beneath the earthpulses, for now,” Zenrus informed him.
“Anything else I should know?”
Zenrus moved to the edge of a balcony nearby, staring into the clouds below, “Resurrect the four Empyreans, make a pact with them, and prove that you’re the true pact keeper.” His stare still held onto the sky, “If you can, find a solution to this vicious cycle.” Zenrus softly groaned, “Of course, no pressure.”
Avernus shifted beside him, looking in the same direction, “I think I know two people who are strong enough to carry dreams of hope for humanity, and malakhim.”
“How can you be certain that a young malakhim with no experience and a woman who brought nothing but death and misery, can save the world? What if the people you trust so much decide their happiness is better than the fate of the world?” Zenrus asked, honestly.
Zenrus knew all about his comrades. Avernus stared thoughtfully and smiled widely. His emerald eyes flickered with anticipation, “That’s what matters. If you traveled with them, you would’ve understood. This is their world too. Humans, malakhims, witches, pirates, exorcists, and even daemons are fighting for the same cause, even if they don’t know it. Their hearts burn with passion, hope, and desire to live. She can do it, and so does he.” Avernus turned to Zenrus, “I bet there was no one like them before to stand against Innominat nor Susanoo knew such people back in his time.”
Avernus beckoned Lailah to come closer, “Are you Ready? We’ve got a bunch of misfits to save.”
Lailah firmly nodded. They closed their eyes, and Lailah mumbled a phrase. Avernus hesitated, but quickly opened his eyes afterward,
Lailah instantly disappeared into a flaming orb and sank into Avernus’s body. His heart abruptly leaped at the feeling of an electrical power surging through his body, rushing to his fingertips.
“Without Tiamat’s interference, you can use Susanoo’s seraphim thunder powers to its maximum limit. You don’t need to sacrifice your blood for it.” Zenrus explained, gazing at the Shepherd.
Avernus focused inward and quickly connected with his magical core. Electrical energy surged inside of him. His body thrummed with mana. He extended his arm up toward the sky, feeling the electricity racing up into his fingertips.
“And what of you, Avernus? What will you do?” Zenrus firmly asked.
Avernus grinned for the two seraphs, “I’m not a savior nor a hero. This is their destiny.” His smile widened,
“I’m just a messenger.”
The sky cracked, and his body glimmered with arc energy. A flash of white light flooded the balcony, blinding the two seraphs for just a second, and a boom echoed in the area as he disappeared into a thunderbolt.
Zenrus let out a soft sigh of relief, “Good luck, old friend.”
“Welcome home, Arthur.” Celica’s kind voice echoed within the earthpulse. A new memory began to roll, like a drama, playing on a stage. Another glimpse of Artorius and Celica’s simple life went on. Laphicet and Eleanor watched the scene closely until Celica stroked her stomach, “I can only hope that this little one grows up to be as strong as Velvet one day.” She expressed hopefully but with hints of uncertainty. Artorius’s eyes rounded in shock as Celica lifted her head, not having the courage to look him in the eye, she avoided his gaze, “You’re happy… I hope.”
Artorius bounced and wrapped Celina in a tight hug, “Of course I am! I never thought I could ever be this happy!” He cheerfully celebrated. His stoic face beamed with bliss as Celica embraced him. After they let go of each other, Artorius pulled a pendant from his pocket and gave it to Celica. Cheer ran through her eyes, “I’ll cherish it always. It’ll remind me of this happy day!” Artorius covered her hand with his own, staring fondly into her eyes, “Let this serve as proof of our love. This, I swear, I swear to protect you both with my life.”
The scene came to an end with Velvet’s claw tearing through it. She started to laugh manically, gazing towards the top, “Oh, that’s rich! You mean you believed his nonsense?!” her mouth turned instantly into a sneer, “It’s all a pack of lies. His smile, his promise, everything.” Heart thrumming her chest, Velvet walked straight up to the portal. Her face turned cold once again.
The group followed in her tracks. Laphicet whirled to Eleanor and gave her a concerning look, “We glimpsed a warm, loving family, but it gave me the creeps.”
Eleanor looked over toward the portal, “Same here. Innominat is scheming behind everything. Velvet used to love lord Artorius truly.” She locked her hands behind her back, looking down in sorrow. “Having that happy past thrust in front of her at a time like this must be tearing her apart.”
As doubt and suspense whipped their souls, they entered the portal and met with another, ongoing scene:
Red moon, high up in the sky, crimsoned the Aball’s cape below, as Artorius dispatched two daemons with his sword. He rushed to Celica’s side. She pleaded him to run away. He whirled his head toward her, defiantly, “I can’t do that! I want to have my life with you! With our child!”
Then a werewolf lunged at them. Artorius lifted his sword and slashed at the monster, but it deflected his attack, grabbing his sword and tossing it away. The daemon raised his claws and scythed them down. However, Celica pushed him away, and the strike hit her instead, casting her into the hole below. Artorius extended his arms to catch Celica, but it was too late. His arm dangled from the edge.
Artorius jerked to the sides, letting out a painful cry as he punched the ground, making a dent mark on the stone. The daemons circled him, but he rose on his feet, and one by one, they all fell to his blade. Blood covered his right hand, dripping from it, and it wiggled like a useless limb from the side. He dropped on his knees, picking up the Celica’s pendant from the ground, ‘Why…Why?” He curled his fingers around it and looked up to the crimson moon, “Why couldn’t I? Why couldn’t I protect my own family?” he wallowed in despair, clenching Celica’s pendant to his chest.
Then a shadow approached him. Melchior stood behind, gazing into the moon, “Remember this moment well, Artorius. Humans are weak. Filled with sin.”
His cold and dead voice woke Artorius from his squall, “Melchior?!” he yelled desperately.
“The people of this village offered you and your beloved family up to the daemon brigands,” Melchior informed him. Artorius whirled his head around, looking the old exorcist in the eyes. Melchior continued, “… A sacrifice so that they could escape and hide.”
Artorius jerked his head to the side, resuming his staring at the blood moon, “No… they wouldn’t…”
Suddenly, a column of golden light shot through the hole, hissing as it continued to erupt like wild and untamed energy. Breathless, Artorius watched the folded event in shock, “A domain?! What is this incredible power?!” He swallowed hard and paused to catch his breath, “Don’t tell me the Empyrean we’ve been searching for was here this whole time!”
As the flaring ended, two orbs of light landed swiftly beside them and turned into motionless bodies of Seres and Laphicet. Artorius whipped his head toward them in horror. Melchior glared at them, “So they have been reborn. But do not be deceived. They are not the same people you knew.”
Artorius stretched his hand toward them, only to fell again. A painful expression governed his face while he pressed Celica’s pendant onto his forehead, “Why? Why must fate be so cruel…”
Undaunted by the unfolded events, Melchior gaze towards the sky, “It appears that Innominat’s resurrection is incomplete. We must guide him until we understand why.”
Artorius quickly rose on his feet and limped towards Seres. He extended his hand, showing the pendant to the malak, “…I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise. I’ll make things right. I’ll abandon who I am.”
At that moment, the last light in his eyes died out. Cold as ice, he stared at Seres, “Nameless malak. I will forge a pact with you. I will put an end… to all the pain in this world.”
Melchior glared irritably at him, “Do you have it in you? You, who abandoned my friend’s ideals and fled?”
“On the souls of my dead master, wife, and child. This, I swear. My name is Artorius Collbrande. I have inherited the will and the strength of Claudin Asgard, former head of the exorcists.”
The scene quietly faded away, leaving everyone in shock and dismay.
Eleanor whipped her head at Laphicet, gazing grimly, “That malak was you, Phi!”
Laphicet returned her gaze with a troubled glance, “I… I don’t remember!”
Rokurou narrowed his eyes at Laphicet, “They said you were reborn as a malak. That means…” He paused and then turned to Eizen, bafflingly, “What exactly?”
“The soul of a human who passed away can, given the right circumstances, be reborn as a malak,” Eizen replied.
Curios expressed flitted across Rokurou’s face, “You’re saying that Artorius’s child was reborn as Laphicet?”
Eizen breathed heavily and looked away at the space that the scene played out, “If what we saw was real, then yes.”
Eleanor shuddered visibly and heaved a small sigh, “So, the female malak that was born along with him was…”
Velvet suddenly spoke, “My sister’s reincarnation. But I devoured her long ago.” She said frostily.
Eleanor gasped as horror flashed in her eyes, “You… You didn’t know, right?”
“I knew. I had already caught on to who Seres was.” Velvet told her cruelly, leaving Eleanor and Laphicet in a state of startle. Words had died in everyone’s mouth. Velvet glared coldheartedly at them, “But it doesn’t matter. What does it change? I’ll devour anything to fulfill my goal. My sister, my brother, even the world.” She chased the path to another portal, disappearing into the gateway.
Eleanor’s breathing became erratic. Taking that tragedy proved to be difficult, “How cruel… why such a horrible thing had to befall them?” she wept achingly.
Eizen turned to her, “Get a hold of yourself, Eleanor. Velvet and Laphicet are in rougher waters than any of us. As much as I hate to admit it, without Avernus, they’ll be looking to you to light their way.
Eleanor swallowed her despair, straightening herself up, and wiping tears off her face, “Yes. I must remain calm and steady.”
Laphicet gasped and gestured towards their front, “Look! Over there!”
A tear, in reality, was glimmering a hundred meters away from them.
“An earthpulse rift! We may be able to get out from there.” Eizen suggested. The team readied itself to sprint, but another memory bubble darted from the ground. A voice came out that made Velvet hesitate. She gasped and stared into the orb,
“Arthur… there’s something I’d like to speak to you about, alone.”
The scene unveiled, Laphi and Artorius were standing near Crowe’s little cemetery. Laphi turned to Artorius, “Two souls possessing powerful resonance and free of malevolence. These must be sacrificed on the Scarlet Night.”
Artorius surprised, gave Laphi a curt nod, “…Ah, yes. The ceremony to resurrect Innominat. Your read my book.”
Laphi looked up, “I haven’t fully mastered the ancient tongue yet, but I have read your notes. You wrote that if Innominat is resurrected, we can make a world free of daemons.”
Not a single muscle moved on Artorius’s face, “Seven years ago, a soul with strong resonance…” He stopped and flashed a glance at the tomb of Celica and her child, “My unborn son… was sacrificed for that purpose. Now, Innominat’s resurrection is half-complete.”
Laphi stooped over their tombstones, “Because of that, everyone’s resonance has grown stronger. Enabling them to see daemons.”
Artorius maintained his emotionless stare, “Yes. That’s the truth behind the Opening.”
Laphi’s eyes grasped at her sister’s memorial, “So if one more person is sacrificed…”
“Innominat’s resurrection will be complete, and his power will spur the creation of many new exorcists.” Artorius complete his sentence.
Laphi rose on his feet, “Can’t I be the sacrifice?”
Velvet stopped breathing for a moment, letting out an audible moan.
“Tell me, why do you think the birds fly?” Artorius asked.
“I think that birds fly because they must. Why else would they have wings if not to embrace the sky? I have wings too. Weak as they are. That’s why I must fly! Now!” Laphi pleaded, but Artorius remained stoic and silent, but the little boy pushed on, “If we miss this Scarlet Night, the next won’t be for another three years. By then… I won’t be alive.”
“Laphicet, why would you say such a thing?”
“The “Twelve Year Sickness.” That’s the name of my disease.”
Artorius shut his eyes, breaking their eye contact, “So you know…”
Laphi ran his finger over his chest, his eyes filled with determination, “I’m not afraid of being sick. But I don’t want to be a burden on everyone until I die… I couldn’t take it.”
Artorius gazed at him for a few moments, “Your wings are your will, and they are strong.”
“Please… You can’t tell Velvet about this.”
Artorius crouched, his eyes flickered with hope, “I promise.”
“I’ll make a new world. A world where my sister can be happy.”
Velvet screamed like a banshee and chopped the memory into pieces. Her shrill screams ricocheted through the earthpulse. The team rendered motionless as Velvet sliced more memory bubbles out of the air, shrieking in rage, “Don’t talk to me about will! About wings! Both of you… Together, you… you betrayed me!”
Some of the orbs brightened, playing their stored memories of Velvet, Laphi, and Artorius. She kept lunging at each, erasing them with her sharp claws.
Suddenly, a horrible, otherworldly growl ruptured the air. The team turned toward it and saw a horrifying daemon streaking at them, tearing a swath through the untouched orbs; A half lion, half spider daemon, with the legs of birds, wolves, and a snake tail.
Rokurou whipped his sword out, brandishing his blades, “What is this thing?!”
Eleanor reached for her spear, drawing it out, “it is an amalgamation of different daemons!”
Velvet’s face contorted into a wild rictus of a look. She ran straight at the daemon. The hideous creature surged toward her, screeching with infernal fury. “It doesn’t matter what it is! I’ll devour it until it’s dead!”
The daemon hurled his paw to grab Velvet, but she swiftly dodged it and countered his attack by slashing its arm from top to bottom, leaving a nasty gash and devouring the flesh in the process. It howled in pain but again streaked toward her. Its glowing eyes bulged with rage.
This time, the spider legs launched at Velvet. She guarded against the blow, holding them in place. Velvet growled and shook off its grip, palms lifted, she sliced them horizontally with her blade. Black blood spewed from the pipes.
Immediately, Velvet’s claw lashed out, glistening with blood, and plunged into the monster’s face. Her eyes flaring with bloodlust, she stared into the daemon’s dead, and hateful eyes. Black, oily blood oozed from the deep wounds as she borrowed her claws further into the monster’s disfigured face. Velvet then grabbed its lower jaw, pulling it away from its face. Helpless, the daemon struggled, snarling against her grip.
Driven by rage, she tugged the lower jaw away, the daemon’s flesh parted away, leaving a trail of dark, malevolent liquid sludge of daemon blood in the air. The jawless, daemon’s body toppled and crumbled into ash, dispersing into the dark.
As Velvet’s body shuddered in rage, she noticed a lifeless figure formed where the daemon died.
Her eyes widened, and her pupils shrunk down. She screamed as she glared down on an imitation of her bruised and battered self, all the more aching for the expanse of measured devastation contained within it. She shivered visibly, “I’m dead… I’m dead…”
Velvet pressed her hands on her temples until another memory orb appeared near them,
“Birds fly because they want to fly…”
Velvet and Laphicet jerked their heads toward it. Eleanor covered her mouth with her hand, eyes beginning fill with tears. Their legs began to tremble as Avernus’s voice pierced the silence,
“…They have wings, and they want to know what those wings can do. Once they’ve tasted the delight of flying, they have to fly, because for a bird not to fly would be denying themselves their happiness.”
The orb had unmasked itself; Avernus laid down on the frozen ground of Velvet’s cell, laughing weakly, then dissolved into a wracking cough.
“But it all starts with birds wanting to fly.” His anguished face eased into a slight, warm smile, “Don’t worry, Velvet. Laphicet has this under control. May the sun ever warm your face, and the countless stars ever guard your sleep…”
His face slackened, and his head fell heavily on his side.
Their eyes filled with tears as they stared down into his still features.
Velvet’s shook her head slowly to the sides, “Lies…” she mumbled, Hot tears slipped down her cheek, and she choked back a sob.
Laphicet scrambled to her side and yanked her arm, “Calm down Velvet! This farce is just another of Innominat’s illusions!”
Suddenly the area enveloped in a blinding flash, and a circular sigil formed, “Farce?” How insensitive. That “farce” is the real face of my sister.”
Innominat appeared out of the portal, haughtily, his gaze swept over them, “She hates, resents, devours, and kills. She tramples people, cities, everything, living only by her emotions…” The Empyrean described, monotonously, like a dead being. He smirked bitterly, “What an ugly, tainted soul.”
He gazed maliciously at her. Laphicet’s face scrunched up in anger and lashed out at Innominat, “It’s not like that! You can’t manipulate her by showing lies!”
Innominat shot a condescending glance at Laphicet, “Lies? Nothing you say will matter. She knows if it’s the truth.”
The Empyrean lifted his arm. A light beamed in his opened hand. A charred, broken remnant of Avernus’s staff conjured from the shine. He curled his fingers over it and hurled the staff at their feet. It rolled until it reached Velvet’s pointy boot.
“Do you remember, sister? There was a time when I told you, no one’s ever going to marry you because you were too athletic? Then Avernus came, and you pushed him away. But he persisted, bloodied his hands in the hope that you back down, that you may have a chance at redemption.” The Empyrean shook his head, “Look what you did. Not only you broke his heart… sister…” He squinted his eyes, “You killed him. He died alone and heartbroken, in a dark corner of a foreign land.”
Laphicet swallowed hard, trying to hold his tears at bay, but Velvet picked up the staff and left his side, slowly limping forward. She slumped over Avernus’s still form, her whole body shook with painful sobs, “He’s right… Everything I did was baseless, arrogant… And even so, he never left my side… I devoured and killed so many, but he never ran away…”
Innominat’s yellow eye illuminated, “Without even knowing Arthur’s true goals and worse yet, you didn’t even show mercy to your own sister’s reincarnation.”
“I ate here!” Velvet howled, her voice broke into an ear-piercing scream of pain and misery.
The Empyrean smiled wanly, “And despite all that, I still love you, Velvet. That’s why I chose to become a sacrifice. For you, sister. But think, if you try to stop the resurrection, wouldn’t Avernus and my death be all for nothing?”
Velvet’s tears streaked freely on her cheeks, hands shaking in regret, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”
“You’ll accept it, then? That everything you’ve done up until this point, all of it…”
Velvet’s fell on her knees, the last spark of resistance faded away, her arms dangled powerlessly from her shoulders, “I hurt so many people, all for no reason. I’m a monster.” She wept with a wealth of self-loathing conception.
Innominat levitated high up the ground, “If you’ve accepted it, you have to atone for your sins.” A golden circle began to form above them, “Once I eat the final two malevolence inside you, I’ll fully awaken. Give them to me. Give me your hatred, your despair. If you do, I can cleanse this world of all its pain, As Avernus wanted.”
The golden portal burst into an endless hole as different symbols rotate around it. The black hole sucked the air inside it. Velvet’s motionless body floated away.
“I had hoped… that you could love in a world without pain and sadness…But you’re a monster now. You don’t belong there.” The Empyrean chuckled humorlessly and observed them from above.
A storm began to brew. The portal materialized utterly, revealing a golden dragon’s jaw coming out of it. Eleanor struggled against the current, but her body succumbed to it. Rokurou lunged himself at Eleanor, grabbing her waist and pulling her body out of the circulation.
Laphicet suddenly sprinted towards Velvet as her body drawn to the dragon’s mouth like a weightless feather. The little malak raced, extending his short and small arms, and finally managed to catch Velvet’s arm, barely hanging from it.
Velvet slowly opened her eyes, staring lifelessly at Laphicet, “Let me go… I have to go…” she murmured.
Laphicet clenched his teeth in defiance, shaking his head violently, “No!”
The Empyrean glared arrogantly at the duo. But unknown to all of them, a beam of light flashed in the distance.
After all, it is not possible to have a storm without Thunder and Lightning.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!