Tales of Berseria Fanfiction: Alternative Berseria The X (アルタナティブ・べうセリア・ザ・クロス) - 36. White Light Part II
Chapter XXXVI White Light Part II
The dragon’s jaw crept out of the sigil, and its fangs parted from top and bottom. The void within dragged the air itself into its deadly dark and infinite pit of emptiness. Laphicet’s most significant treasure was in peril. He held onto Velvet’s hand desperately. Her body waved through the wind without resistance. At that moment, it hit him;
A future without Velvet, a tomorrow without the scary girl who the world feared and called Lord of Calamity had no meaning and was not worth living.
Velvet’s dusky eyes struggled to glance at him, begging for a merciful release of the torment that hounded her,
“A twisted monster like me doesn’t deserve to live…” The image of the young shepherd’s lifeless body lying in his pool of blood haunted her once more as guilt overwhelmed her fragile spirit. She couldn’t have brought herself to meet Laphicet’s pure soul. The Empyrean’s pretense show wounded her intellect and her heart. Velvet lowered her head to make her demise easy to bear.
“Don’t you understand?!” she pleaded, tears flowed freely on her cheeks.
Innominat’s grin shifted into a sneer as he watched Laphicet grasping her hand, fiercely, “You’re the reincarnation of the first sacrifice. A part of me.” He snorted, “Don’t worry, I’ll devour you too. “
The dragon’s mouth widened, and Velvet floated higher, pulling Laphicet off the ground. Suddenly, Eizen slid through the air and caught Laphicet’s ankle. He gestured at the ground, extracting mana chains from the dirt, entangling him and anchoring the trio to the ground.
Eizen grimaced, as much as he hated to say, the little malak was Velvet’s only chance at redemption, “Laphicet, tell this idiot what she needs to hear!” Eizen yelled, tightly holding the mana shackles.
The wind muffled all the sounds. Velvet flashed a begging glance at Laphicet. She couldn’t fix the past, and she couldn’t bring back Avernus.
“Please… Let me go…” she implored him in a series of whispers.
Laphicet clenched his teeth in a worried movement,
“Will you stop whining?!” He shouted from the bottom of his throat.
Whatever the thickness the air was, it couldn’t prevent Laphicet’s words from piercing through it. Like a slap in the face, she began to wake up from her nightmare. A faint spark glowed in her eyes. She could see Laphicet’s angry face clear as day, shooting a scolding glare at her.
“No, I don’t understand. You rage at everyone. You’re frightening! You broke Avernus’s heart, and you tried to eat me!”
Laphicet swallowed his sadness, making space for more words. His glance captured Velvet’s ambers,
“But you’re also kind, and you’re filled with life! I don’t understand a single thing about you!”
Velvet exhaled a grievous sob. She could feel his hand, however small, was clinging into her bandaged arm. Those short fingers were digging into her flesh with all the power they could muster.
“…But you gave me a name when I was a number…” Laphicet inhaled deeply, strengthening his body against the wind,
“You gave me that compass!
You taught me what it meant to be alive!”
Laphicet’s face wrinkled further in determination,
“That’s why I care about you, Velvet. I’ll protect you for my own sake!”
Laphicet shook his head to the side, gasping.
“I don’t care if you’re evil!
I don’t care if it was pointless!
If the whole world says, it’s a mistake to care about you if the gods say it’s a sin to love you…
THEN I’LL FIGHT THE WHOLE WORLD!” Laphicet’s stridently yelled at Velvet, his throat almost dried.
Velvet’s heart gnawed at her soul as hope bloomed again. “Phi…” Velvet whispered, staring hopelessly at the little malak.
Laphicet turned his head from side to side sharply, “It doesn’t matter how much pain you feel. A world without you, Velvet…”
Innominat, annoyed by his endeavors at bringing back Velvet, gestured his arm at them. Velvet’s bandages came off, and it transformed unwillingly into its demonic form. A sadistic grin curved on the Empyrean’s pale face, then he curled his fingers inward. The claws plunged into Laphicet’s arm at Innominat’s command.
A shrilling scream came out of Phi’s mouth. White mana dripped from his wounds, but he didn’t waver. “… It is one thing I couldn’t bear!”
His painful cry shook Velvet’s sanity. She struggled to take back the control of her arm to no avail, “Let me go! I can’t control it! My arm will…”
Out of nowhere, a clap of thunder rumbled far, far away, and it boomed another thought-to-be lost voice.
“Velvet… You think you’re a monster! You think you deserve death…
But all you are is a selfish, stubborn girl!”
Velvet stopped breathing for a moment and whirled her head at the top. A galvanic shock rippled through her spine, and her eyes burned brighter.
“Could it be…!” Her lips moved lively as blood rushed through her body.
Laphicet’s grip hardened as Velvet’s demonic claw stopped devouring his arm. He suddenly gasped, eyes widening instinctively with determination as the speech fueled his anticipation.
Innominat frowned. Mana left his pale cheeks as his eyes darted at the top, scanning desperately for the Shepherd, “No! Impossible!”
The voice reverberated in the earthpulse as if it was coming from all sides,
“You embraced Kamoana when she needed a mother…
You looked after Eleanor when she thought nobody cared for her…
You’re not a monster! You’re just afraid… Afraid of being close!…
Afraid of affection, love, and being loved!”
The rest of the team whipped their heads around, searching for that bright, ringing voice, and instantly, the area behind them quaked and burst into light and dust. The cloud suddenly hummed and buzzed with charged up voltage.
Innominat’s yellow eyes rounded as a thick beam of blue thunderbolt zapped at him from inside the smoke. The arte enveloped the Empyrean in dancing, polarized waves of electricity. Innominat lost the control of Velvet’s arm and howled in anger.
Dust and smoke settled and revealed Avernus; standing sideways, shoulders squared, with his left leg supporting him as the beams of electricity were discharging from his hands.
“I’m not the dumbass here! You are, Velvet Crowe!”
Eleanor’s eyes gleamed with joy, face widening from all sides with Rokurou grinning behind her. Eizen shook his head, “I’ll be damned…” he mumbled.
Lailah appeared from her orb and landed swiftly on her feet, pulling out her guardian cards, which levitated in front of her. She performed a complicated gesture over the floating guardians, mumbling an arte and letting them loose at Innominat. They whistled through the air and exploded in a brilliant fire as the intense heat covered the Empyrean from head to toe.
Avernus flashed a confident, cocky glance at Velvet’s brightened eyes,
“For a kind person that her tenderness knows no bounds…” He paused, then the side of his mouth quirked into a cheeky smile,
“You are making a lot of senseless excuses not to care and love.”
Laphicet mimicked Avernus’s haughty grin and bravely turned his head back at Velvet. Her eyes were filled with tears of uncertainty. Laphicet whipped his free opened hand at Velvet, “If you want to eat my arm… so be it! But leave me with this one so I can smack the jerk who made my Velvet cry!”
Avernus groaned as his arms surged with more mana and transferred it into electricity. “As the Lord of Calamity, Velvet, you are the last person on earth to give up. There is no god without a devil. If this little, pretentious brat claims to be a god,
then we will give him his devil!”
The broken girl groaned and pushed on at the obscuring cloud in her mind. It was finally time to accept and cling to hope, giving herself a second chance.
Velvet’s right arm instinctively found Laphicet’s hand among her murky vision,
“I loved them all. I love Laphi and Celica… Arthur, everyone.” Her body shook with agonizing weeps. She sobbed between each word, “To have it all stolen from me…
Why them? Why not me?”
Laphicet’s finally curled his fingers firmly around Velvet’s right hand. With a mighty pull, he snatched her away with the help of Eizen.
The dragon’s mouth roared and was sucked back, disappearing into the dimness portal. The sigils cracked on all sides. Glitters dusted around the golden circles. The Empyrean’s grip on Velvet dissolved into nothingness. For the first time, Innominat’s face darkened with fear. He gazed at Velvet and Laphicet through the sheer amount of constant electricity as they fell on the ground.
“Your despair… How is it gone?!” he shouted bafflingly at Velvet.
Avernus smiled boldly, his eyes glimmered with magic, and his body surged with more electrical power. “Time to go! Beast Thunder!”
The arte stormed in the form of a lion’s head as if lightning blasted from the sky. The electrical bolt buzzed at Innominat before exploding against his small body, crackling into a spray of blazing sparks. The Empyrean lost his balance was thrown far away into the dark depths of the earthpulse, his annoyed scream parroted in the area and silence a few seconds later.
Lailah rushed to Laphicet and immediately cast a healing spell on his heavily wounded arm.
“Stay still…” Lailah told him, cupping her hands around his arm as Laphicet’s white cheeks darkened to red, still-locked onto her compassionate eyes.
Velvet pulled Laphicet up, staring assertively at their new companion. Suddenly, a white orb bloomed in a blinding light, and Seres stepped out of it. Her face illuminated, and she cast a smile at Velvet.
“A flame burns in my heart, too. A flame I cannot quench, no matter how hard I try, just like you, Velvet.” She said to her and turned slightly to meet Avernus’s eyes. The Shepherd gave Seres a frim nod, and she returned it all the same.
Velvet stepped closer; at last, the spark returned to her burning eyes, “…I finally understand how you felt.” Velvet whipped her head slowly back at Avernus, “But the only one I can fight for… is myself.”
Seres beamed, “That’s good enough. That’s proof that you are truly alive.”
Velvet slid to Seres as she disappeared into a white light and sank back into her demonic arm, immersing it in a flame. Velvet gripped her fist and let out a battle cry, rushing at the opened portal, her hand burning with immense fire.
Lailah’s eyes widened, whirling her head back at Avernus,
“Master, she is…!”
Avernus grinned and scrambled. “Yeah, I know. She’s a daemon.” He hooked his arms around their chests, tugging them under his armpits, and sprinted after Velvet.
“Strap on tight, everyone! We are leaving!”
On the other side of the portal, Magilou fell and twitched feebly on the ground, still gesturing her hands at her front, creating a magical barrier against an unknown enemy. Her body shuddered with agonizing pain.
Bienfu flew back to her side, lips stuttering in fright.
Magilou wiped a trickle of sweat from her forehead and smirked at Bienfu, “Don’t worry. If Velvet could do it, there’s no way I can’t…”
A shadow slipped over her crouched body; Melchior and a young malak, the same age as Laphicet with silvered hair, towered over the witch, “How many times do you plan to destroy and rebuild your own heart, Magilou?” Melchior mocked.
Magilou’s breath rattled through her teeth, “We’re on a hundred and seven… or was it a hundred and eight? I lost count… Heh… Not that I care.” She breathily taunted.
Magilou collected enough energy to rise on her feet again. The shield still held on.
Melchior’s face creased into anger, “Pathetic fool. Did I not tell you it would require an iron will, as indomitable as the very trees that live and die across millennia?”
Melchior waved his hand at Magilou, and a burst of dark energy covered her body, and she screamed in pain. Gasping for air, she jeeringly looked up, “Like you, I suppose…” Magilou turned to the little malak, “Or that boy over there?”
Melchior pointed at the malak, “That is the foundation of an ideal world, one free from man’s sins.”
She resisted. Her unrelenting chuckles continued to bother Melchior. She stood on her feet again, tanking all the negative magical energy that Melchior sent her way. “An ideal world, huh? What a joke.”
Enraged by her defiance, Melchior cast another spell at Magilou. The dark arte connected, and a corrupted fog swirled around her. Magilou crashed to the ground, and she wheezed for breath. The witch looked up at the little malak, “You. Kid. The boy who was your companion… Laphicet. He’s alive. Chasing a terrifying daemon girl, he has learned the immensity of the seas and weathered the dry wastes of the land.”
Her hand glowed with power once again. Magilou channeled the last few remaining mana she had, giggling, “You think all these exorcists and the Shepherd Artorius are heartless, but there’s this dumb Shepherd that treats you like a family, throws himself at danger like it’s his life purpose… daemon, malak, exorcist, reaper, witch… it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t discriminate… He’s not even acting self-righteous!” Her laughter rose up in tunes, “His duty is to kill the likes of her… but he fell in love with that daemon girl! Isn’t that the obnoxious thing ever?!” She giggled wickedly. “A daemon and a Shepherd! Together! Hahaha!”
Magilou exhaled deeply, letting out a sigh, and refocusing on the duo. “He’s crazy… and with that daemon girl, taught Laphicet how to live his life to the fullest!” She gestured her clawed hand at them, reinforcing the magical ward, “Those people… they’re different from us… Despite the pain, the anguish, they embrace the life they’ve been given. They live, undaunted by the ugliness of the world!”
Melchior snarled and raised his hand at her. Another blast of dark energy hit Magilou, and her body immediately collapsed on the ground.
The legate gritted his teeth, but the anger quickly turned to pity, “So you’re doing this all for them? Is that what this is?”
Magilou sneered, slowly raising her head, “Not even close. They aggravate me to my wit’s end, especially the Shepherd. Like stabs in the chest, over and over and over. And that’s exactly why I intend to see how all of this ends. I won’t be satisfied until I do!”
Melchior rubbed his hand over his face, shaking his head in disappointment, “Words bereft of meaning. You truly are my greatest failure. Even someone like Lucian saw through that failed man’s ruse and silenced his heart when he understood what was at stake.”
Magilou barely hissed a moan, “Funny just how little I care.”
Without batting an eye, Melchior charged up his arte, clapping his hands to conjure a dark orb that was filled with void and emptiness.
Suddenly the portal behind her sent a scorching blast of air at Melchior, hurling him flying, who bellowed as it whipped over him.
The blaze subsided, and the team stepped out of the portal. Velvet glanced at Magilou, who was still paralyzed on the ground, “Let me guess… We came at a good time?” she said with a playful tone.
Avernus tipped his head at the witch, smirking, “I guess there’s a heart beating in that small chest of yours, Magilou.”
Magilou grinned but groaned in annoyance, “You two are late. Because of your lazy butts I had to have a boring conversation…”
Avernus whirled his head at Melchior. He readied himself, creating an electrical orb between his hands and glared like a hawk, “Yeah… Melchior isn’t a good chatting partner.”
The old exorcist scowled, his eyes shifted between Velvet and Avernus, “So, you two came face-to-face with Innominat. If so, then you must know that your quests for vengeance are utterly meaningless… and you Shepherd, your choice was the biggest mistake your bloodline has ever done. You alone voided their sacrifices, their way, and reason.”
Avernus played with the orb, moving his hands around it. His facial feature remained still, unmoved by Melchior’s taunts, “That’s exactly the opposite.” He said confidently, “This time, however, is different.”
Melchior locked his arm nervously behind his back, “The very soul that you carry wrote all of this, created this prestige order. But you sold the future of humanity to some daemon!”
Avernus glanced at Velvet, the corner of his mouth quirked into a smirk, “That’s exactly where you are wrong. She knows and understands everything…”
Melchior flouted, “What a wicked and unholy monster can comprehend?”
Velvet indifferently glared at the legate, “I know why sadness fills the world, and I know how deep are the burdens of sin. I tried to abandon my memories of Arthur and Laphi, to cut myself off from it all, and end this tragedy. It’s what they would have wanted.”
Melchior stroked his beard, “Exactly. You do well to know your place.”
Suddenly Velvet raised her voice, “But that’s exactly why I can’t forgive them… Not Artorius, not Innominat…”
Lailah flashed a gloomy glance at Velvet as the Lord of Calamity pressed her bandaged hand on her chest, “I know my heart is ugly and full of contradictions. But those days we spent together in familial warmth… They’re proof that I… that all of us… were truly alive.”
Velvet’s eyes burned with passion, and she glared at Melchior,
“That’s why, no matter how hard, no matter how sad it gets…
I will take my vengeance to the very end!”
With her strident declaration, Avernus waved his hands, bolts of electricity danced around his arms. Melchior took a step back, “Don’t be a fool! Just give up and die! It is your destiny to wallow in despair!”
The energy was partially released, small bolts sparkled, and shot from the orb to the ground as it continued to charge up. Avernus flashed a snicker, “Do you see now? You’re a fool. You ruined people’s lives, you stole their souls, their freedom, their emotions, their families, and didn’t faze one bit. I don’t know who I was in my previous lives, but those people made a mistake, and I intend to fix that mistake.”
The orb solidified into a ball of a superior lightening. He held it above his right hand, knitting his brows. His tone of voice hardened.
“By removing you, crazy lot.”
Melchior huffed, baring his teeth. Velvet narrowed her eyes, “You take my family, turn me into a monster, and you want my soul, too?” Her arm transformed, and she gestured it at Melchior, “Now who’s being the fool?”
Magilou laughed clamorously as she raised on her feet, “Let me on this! I lost a bet, and I’ve got some anger to work out!”
Velvet glanced at her, grinning, “Are you sure you can fight in your condition?”
Avernus too, followed Velvet’s expression, “You can rest over there near the cliff and enjoy the show while we tend to the old man.”
Magilou whipped her hand at them, “Who you two do you think I am?!” she relaxed her body, taking a deep breath and flashed a wicked glance at Lailah, “Oh, what did you say? I thought you never ask!”
Lailah’s eyes widened. She didn’t use to Magilou’s peculiar behavior.
“I’m the dastardly witch Magilou! Scourge of self-righteous exorcists! Now face the wrath of Magilou Mayvin!” she proclaimed malevolently.
Lailah whirled his head back at Avernus, looking up at him. Avernus winked, “You’ll get used to this.”
Melchior clapped his hand, creating a dark orb out of the ether, “Fools! All of you.”
A beam of dark energy was shot from the levitating ball. Lailah quickly hurled her cards in front of the group, blocking the shot. Velvet raised her demonic hand and sent a blast of fire at Melchior. It slammed against his black sphere, exploding into hot flames.
Magilou slipped to their side, “Everyone! Sorry to have worried you!”
Velvet growled, eyes still locked on Melchior, “I wasn’t worried.”
Melchior’s little malak charged up a spell, but Laphicet sent a series of magic bolts at him, one right after another. The attack disrupted the malak’s spell and finally, burst him across the field, rendering him unconscious.
Avernus aimed his electrical orb at Melchior, “I was worried a little bit.”
Laphicet nodded, “Yeah.”
Eizen swept a cocky glance at her, “I didn’t realize you were someone who needed looking after.”
Rokurou brandished his swords, taking an offensive stance, “Me neither.”
Eleanor pulled her spear out, standing side by side with Magilou, “This is our way of saying we trust you.”
Magilou’s arm glowed with power, and she sent waves of void magic at Melchior. “You horrible ingrates! Stabs in the chest, that’s all you give me!” she complained, although playfully.
Avernus targeted Melchior, raising a brow, “Those are lovely stabs, Magilou. Take them with heart.”
Eizen came to his side, looking at the floating orb, “May I?” he asked, and Avernus nodded. The Shepherd stood sideways, giving the reaper a clear shot.
Eizen smiled wickedly and curled his hand into a fist. He quickly smashed the orb, sending it towards the legate. The spell whizzed through the air and connected with Melchior’s shield, splintering it as strong bolts of lightning weakened it. The old exorcist resisted, but his bubble finally exploded, sending sparks of magic whipping around the area.
Melchior fell on his knees slowly, gasping for air and moaning in pain. Velvet reverted her arm, frowning at the defeated legate, “Tell Artorius and Innominat: They took something precious from me. I’ll never forgive them for that!”
Melchior snarled and got on his feet, “The record of history is stained with evil people like you. You spread havoc and destruction, all to satisfy your ends, a dark font of malevolence. The exorcists have to destroy a daemon lord like you!”
Avernus slid beside Velvet, “Do you take me for a fool, Melchior? I know how this started. You are “evil.” Ripping people of their lives, their happiness, and their emotions? Your arrogance knows no bounds. You brought nothing but misery on people in the name of the greater good.”
Melchior swept an irritated glare at Avernus, “It was your sole purpose to destroy the likes of her! Your bloodline did exactly that across the millennia. It is all because of your forefather’s teachings and your instruction! And now, when the world is on the precipice of change, you took the side of the very thing which you swore to destroy!”
Eizen hooked his thumbs in his pockets, “You talk a lot. How about you keep talking, and tell us where Aifread is.”
Melchior clenched his jaw in anger, “You’ll regret this…”
The air behind Melchior distorted and a tear in space and time formed,
“Come forth!” Melchior shouted, and a pair of claws creeped out of the portal.
Eizen’s face scrunched in shock as a daemon came out of the gateway. Avernus immediately recognized the monster, but as soon as he took a defensive stance, a beam of green energy passed his head. The magic ray buffeted Melchior, sending him and the daemon crashing into the portal. The was torn apart with a loud bang as it collapsed into nothingness.
The team whipped their heads.
Zaveid was still in his firing pose, and a satisfactory grin flashed on his face, “Carelessness will get you killed.”
Eizen rolled his eyes and sighed, “You ruined the moment.”
Zaveid scowled as he holstered the Siegfried, “Huh? Don’t you mean “Thanks for saving us, Zaveid. You’re my hero and role model”?”
Everyone gave him a mild stink-eye, except for Lailah and Laphicet. Lailah stepped closer to him and beamed, “Thanks for saving us, Mr. Zaveid.”
The wind malak raised a brow at her kind response.
“Wow, this is a surprise. You guys are branching out. Mind if I know your name, Ms.?”
All of a sudden, the whole team shot a curious glance at Avernus. The Shepherd blinked faster. He was overwhelmed by the weight of their “needs for an explanation,” and an introduction.
Avernus cleared his throat, cocking his head, “Well… everyone this is Lailah, Lailah… my friends.”
She waved her hand at everyone and smiled slightly. Velvet quickly appeared beside Avernus, eyes rounded on him.
“What happened?” she casually asked, giving the Shepherd a peaceful chance before he’s turned into a delicious steak.
Avernus shrugged, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I brought some reinforcement, that’s all.”
Velvet instantly pulled his broken staff from her back and slammed it into his chest, pushing it hard against his skin, “…May the sun ever warm your face, and the countless stars ever guard your sleep. Ring any bells?”
A breath escaped him, but he collected himself, “Told you, don’t know what you’re talking about. Innominat might’ve shown you some illusions.” He pretended and took the lump of metal from Velvet.
Lailah shook her head from side to side, “Lies, Master?! You never lied.”
Avernus sighed, “You run with the Menagerie, and you’ll get used to a lot of unethical stuff.”
Now even Lailah was frowning. There was no escape. Velvet fingers drummed against her folded arms. Avernus clicked his tongue,
“Tsk, very well…”
He explained the truth, bit by bit. The flood of information dwarfed everything else, leaving everyone with troubled thoughts.
Zaveid scratched his head, fiercely, “I see. So, the malevolence, the cycle, it was all because of that woman… Tiamat. And you turned out to be a malak’s reincarnation. I think we’re officially reached peak bonkers!”Eleanor brushed a hand over her forehead, “This is too much! We had an Empyrean with us all this time. And you nearly died?! Again?! Oh my god, Avernus, you’re impossible!”
Lailah glared at the Shepherd, “What does she mean, again, Master?”
Avernus fake an innocent smile, “There were times that I… nearly surrounded myself to the void.” He said quickly and quietly in the hope that Lailah couldn’t catch it.
Lailah shook her head in short movements, eyes flited with disquiet sensation.
Magilou raised her hand and started finger-counting, “First, he nearly drowned and burned at the same time when he took out several Abbey’s ships, then Velvet bit his arm. Shigure nearly cut him in half, and another close call when he nearly buried himself under a tower. Hmm… what else… Oh! He tried to purify Zaveid’s dragon girl, which guess what? He nearly died! What a shocker!” She gestured with an open hand at Lailah, “Five times!”
Velvet waved her hand, “He’s like that: reckless, careless, and a dumbass.”
Avernus’s glance shifted between Laphicet, Eleanor, Lailah, and Velvet as they shot their glares at him. His heart leaped as no one took his side.
Eizen groaned in anger and scowled, “Why Tiamat didn’t finish us? What she had planned?” His eyes narrowed even further, “A malak reborn into a human? I never knew such a thing would be even possible.”
Avernus waved his hands, “Tiamat needed us to stop Innominat. But I’m not sure what exactly she planned… it looked like she wanted to stop him, in the hope that humans can still create malevolence. And about Susanoo’s reincarnation, that’s not what you think. Susanoo wanted to boost humanity’s resonance without Innominat’s intervention. I think I carry the last bits of his essence, nothing more. I’m me, not an ancient malak.”
Rokurou stroked his chin, looking calmer than the rest, “Indeed, I thought Innominat reborn into Velvet’s brother was insane.”
Zaveid swept a glance at them, “What is this again? My brain can’t handle another complicated story. Explain, small words.”
Velvet turned to Zaveid, looking calm. “Very well, since Avernus told his tale, I’ll tell mine.”
After a brief explanation, Zaveid crossed his arms, nodding his head. “I see. So now that you know who’s Innominat, can you still fight him?”
Velvet looked briefly at the young Shepherd, “Avernus’s story has given me more reason to kill him, and Artorius.”
Zaveid smirked, “You’re one ice-cold girl.” He turned to Lailah with an assertive glance. She was standing beside Laphicet, hands gripping one another in front of her short skirt, and held a few inches taller than him.
“So, what’s her story, Shepherd?”
Lailah tantalizingly smiled, and Avernus let her speak instead, “My name is Lailah. I’m Master Diphda’s apprentice, and his first assistant malak for as long as I can remember.”
Rokurou turned to Avernus with a curious look, “Master Diphda? How many apprentices did you have?”
“Lailah was the only one,” Avernus answered with an honest face.
Magilou tossed Avernus a wicked grin. Her eyes sparkled with mischief, “She calls you, Master Eeh? Even Laphicet doesn’t call Velvet “Master.” But I have to say. She is so formal.”
Avernus exchanged a threating gaze with her, “It’s called politeness, Magilou. Though I understand why you might struggle to grasp its nuance.”
“What did you teach her?” Eizen asked.
“Mostly magic artes and…”
Lailah quickly cut him off, everyone could feel the appreciation and the high praise she held for the Shepherd by looking at her body language, “It was not about only artes; He taught me history and sketching! He showed me a lot of ruins, temples, and… He gave me my name…”
Wordlessly, Laphicet turned to her. He could relate easily to Lailah. Her lips curved in a broad smile, cheeks turned pink, and eyes glittered as she excitingly described.
“He taught me how to live my life. Master Avernus was the closest person I ever know…” Suddenly, she gloomed, lowering her head.
“Before he made a pact with lady Tiamat…”
Avernus pressed his lips as he spotted sadness in her eyes, “I didn’t want to leave you. It was too dangerous fighting hordes after hordes. I wanted you to be safe.”
Zaveid chuckled snobbishly, “That’s Avernus, alright; finicky overprotecting everyone.”
Lailah nearly stumbled, shaking her head dismissively. “But you are my…!”
Before the magic word left her mouth, Laphicet turned to her,
“…Family.” He finished Lailah’s sentence.
Immediately, she beamed as their eyes met, “Yes, that’s right!” She gently nodded.
“I’m L-Laphicet…” He abruptly and nervously introduced himself. Lailah giggled at his panicky behavior, “Nice to meet you, Laphicet. Your arte was refined, and you performed it pretty well.”
“Thanks! I can teach you some… if-f you want.”
Lailah clapped her hands, face brimming with “Of course! I’d love to.”
Eleanor cheered slightly, “These two are getting along…” she flashed a scolding glare at Avernus, “If you think you can shoulder every problem and protect everyone in the world by keeping them far away, then you’re selfish and arrogant, Mr.!”
Avernus relented and gave her a sheepish smile, “I know. I was wrong…”
Rokurou chuckled, “Avernus is the model of devotion, but I’m a daemon now, I can’t relate to him.”
Lailah immediately sensed malevolence inside of the swordsman. She darted an uneasy stare at him.
Eleanor sighed a little, “I guess the only you’re good at is: worrying people.” She then smiled at Lailah, trying to comfort her. “I’m Eleanor Hume, Lailah. Welcome to the Menagerie!”
Magilou giggled wickedly, “Don’t fret, sweetheart. We have daemons, reaper, witch, exorcist, malak, and your beloved Shepherd with us. We’re like a package deal. One can’t exist without another.”
Avernus rested a warm hand on her shoulder, squeezing tight, “They’re good people, Lailah. Better than home and better than anywhere else.”
Lailah’s penetrating gaze shifted between his eyes. Then she let out a pent-up breath, “Yes, master.”
“And no “master.” Just Avernus or I’m going to feel old.” he advised.
Lailah’s cheeks flushed, “But that’s…”
“We’re a family, remember?”
Laphicet suddenly stepped closer. Stiffen, he shot a downcast glance at Avernus, “I must tell you something;” He paused and swallowed, trying to keep a straight glance, “I’m… I was Velvet’s nephew, Celica’s child.”
Avernus leveled a shrewd gaze at Laphicet, eyes widening. “You were Celica’s child?”
“That makes Artorius my father, right?”
Velvet slid closer to them, “Look, you were reborn, right?”
“Honestly, I don’t know anything about how being reborn works. But to me… what you see, what you hear, and what you feel is important. Whoever we used to be in another life, I’m me now, and you’re you. That’s all there is to it.” She turned to the Shepherd, wearing a smile, “Am I right, Avernus?”
His eyes shifted to her lips instead of answering her. Velvet’s cheeks flushed. she frowned and groaned in annoyance, “What are you looking at?”
Avernus shot a slantwise smile, “Nothing… You just smiled.”
Velvet’s face crimsoned, “Don’t change the subject… dumbass!”
Laphicet chuckled, “Yeah, Velvet’s right. I guess I’m me now.”
Magilou trotted closer, “But you’re Velvet and Avernus’s cute little pup, aren’t you?
Laphicet mischievously grinned, “Be careful, I bite.”
After relishing Velvet’s flustered face, Avernus gave Laphicet a wide exuberant smile, “Velvet’s right, you’re your person.”
Suddenly, shock flitted across Laphicet’s face, “I can feel Innominat! He’s coming!”
Their heads snapped forward, scanning for an escape route. Zaveid reached to Melchior’s malak that was stood there motionlessly and tugged his hand. Eizen narrowed his eyes at him, “What are you doing?”
“We can’t leave him like this. I’ll get him a vessel somehow unless Avernus wants to be his vessel.”
The Shepherd gave him a firm nod, “Sure, but first, let’s get out of this place.”
The team rushed to the broad set of staircases. Lailah scanned the area, noticing clouds beneath them, “We’re high above in the sky!”
Zaveid groaned, “Yep. Floating islands. Abbey went far to hide this facility.”
They pounded down the stone stairs to an archway below.
Next to Avernus, Zaveid elbowed him, “Hey, it seems you’re a kind of guy that is good with names.”
Avernus turned to him, confusingly, “What makes you say that?”
“Lailah is a pretty good name. Can you think of another good one for Number One?” Zaveid asked flatly.
Laphicet cheered, “You want to give Number One a name?!”
“Yeah, calling him by a number seems to mean, you know.”
Rokurou snuck between them, “Wait, I got this; how about Hajime? It means “the first,” and he’s Number One, right?”
Zaveid’s eyes narrowed, “In that case, why not just go with Ichirou?”
Rokurou’s face suddenly cramped in anger, “No way, that was Shigure’s childhood name.”
“Why should we care about it?”
Eleanor shimmied her way from the back, “It should be softer. How about Ichi or maybe… Something like Numby?”
Velvet appeared beside Avernus, glaring bafflingly at her, “Numby? Where’d that one come from?”
“It’s like “number,” but cuter,” Eleanor replied.
Avernus rolled his eyes, “I’m the one who supposed to…”
Without paying any attention to him, Velvet whirled her head at Zaveid, “How about Bob?”
Avernus narrowed his eyes, “Bob?! Where did you get that?”
Magilou sighed frostily, “I think it’s because of his hairstyle.”
They passed a bridge, turning sharply at the end. Eleanor raised her arm, “I like it, but let’s make it “Bobby,” so it doesn’t feel dull.”
Velvet gave her a confirming nod, “Yeah, I like it.”
Eleanor cleared her throat, “Then the Number One is at this moment renamed…”
Laphicet sprinted to the front, scowling, “Stop it, you two! You don’t understand it at all! A boy doesn’t want a name that sounds cute!”
Velvet and Eleanor bit their lips, “That was quite an outburst!”
A prideful smirk was carved on Avernus’ face, “Laphicet is right. He needs a stylish name. Let’s name him…”
Eizen quickly jumped in, “How about Silva? His hair and pendant are both silver.”
“I like it. It’s got a certain mystique about it.” Rokurou agreed.
Laphicet gratefully approved. “Silva… Yeah, it sounds cool!”
Zaveid’s mouth stretched into a wide grin, “Well if his old buddy Laphicet approves, the Silva it is. By the way, Avernus, what was your chosen name?”
Avernus snickered wickedly, “Ah, I’m afraid you’ll never know.”
Zaveid’s eyes widened, “Oh, come on, man!”
Laphicet yanked his coat, “Please, tell us!”
Velvet groaned and affixed him with an angry look. The curiosity nearly overwhelmed her mind, “Don’t be such a kid and speak up!”
Avernus shrugged jadedly, “Nah, it’s one of those times that you need to suffer the consequences.”
Lailah skipped near him, smiling playfully, “I’m sure Avernus will tell me.” Lailah softened her tone slightly and leaned closer, then winked at everyone.
“I’m sorry, Lailah, my lips are sealed.”
She pulled away in a disappointed look. Zaveid suddenly pointed towards their front at a font of light.
“That’s the portal.”
Avernus set off through the well of light, and the rest followed him along. They exited the portal and found themselves on a small Island. Zaveid gestured at the far-end, “My ship’s anchored there. We need to go over those mounds.”
The team sprinted at the dock on their heels.
All of a sudden, the air around them hummed with negative energy.
Avernus twirled around, catching a dark orb streaking straight at them through the air.
The ball carved around and dived behind Zaveid. Avernus’s eyes tracked the arte as it hit Silva. His entire body seized up, and he let out a blood-curdling shriek of pain.
Rokurou pulled out his daggers and turned around, “What just happened?!”
Velvet snarled, baring her teeth as she glared at their front.
Innominat’s short figure floated above the clearing. He frostily swept a glance at them, “I won’t let you get away, Velvet.”
There is a brief silence as the team readied themselves, and then Silva began to groan in pain, and a thick cloud of dark purple fog sprang up around him. “I’m scared!”
Watching a dark cloud enveloping the little malak, Avernus fumbled and curled his finger around something invisible in his front. A small blue portal burned, and he pulled his broken sword form ether.
Avernus whipped it and pointed it at Silva; it sent a wave of silver magic, connecting and pushing against the malevolence.
Eleanor lashed out at Innominat, “Stop it! You’re turning him into a dragon!”
“He’s just another necessary sacrifice for eternal peace,” Innominat said in his monotonous tone and turned his head at the peak of a mountain nearby, nodding at someone.
Malevolence thickened itself around the little kid. Avernus pushed more mana into silver flame. It whipped around the corruption, struggling to wash it away.
Out of the blue, a javelin-like bolt buzzed through their and impaled Avernus on his shoulder, ripping it open. He flinched for a second but immediately straightened himself up to his full height, gritting his teeth to control the pain.
Lailah hurried and coiled her small fingers around the pole, trying to pull it out, but it burned her skin, and she stumbled back. Laphicet instantly placed a healing arte on her hands.
Velvet sensed two more glittering spears coming from above. With a burst of effort, she strode over to Avernus and parried the first javelin with her wrist blade out of the air before it could reach him. Velvet pressed on her right foot, and the sharp blade came out. She matched her movement with the pace of the second spear. She performed a high front-flip kick that trailed a purple streak with her right boot blade. The somersault kick knocked the arte out of its flight path.
Avernus, trying to contain the excruciating pain, ogled her flashy move as Velvet landed back on the ground, her raven hair twirling around. “I never get tired of watching that flexible body in action.”
Velvet darted to his side. The sheer amount of malevolence hazed Avernus’s left eye, and half of his body was succumbing to the dark corruption. Velvet seized the pole and started to pull it from his back, “Flattery will get you nowhere.” She scolded him vexingly.
Avernus pressed his lips and then gasped as she took out the crystalized spear, smashing it afterward between her bandaged hand.
“It will get me there… eventually… someday.” He breathily joked.
Velvet caught his shoulder and flipped him around, “Let it go! You can’t do it.”
“But the kid… Silva…”
She shook her head violently to the sides, Avernus could feel her hands curling around his coat, pulling it harshly. “You mustn’t, you idiot! It’s more of a battle to continue living! And you must win that battle!”
Avernus held on to her eyes. Amidst that stern look, he could read hints of pleading among it.
He released the sword, and the flow of energy stopped before consuming him. Avernus stumbled in her arms momentarily before rising and darting a glance at the top of the mountain.
The legate stood at the top. Magic energy swirled around him like a blanket.
“I see that you’re still useless, brother.” Lucian sneered, brandishing his sword.
The area suddenly darkened as a cloud of thick malevolence covered their back where Silva was, and an enormous dragon crept out of it.
Magilou pulled her cards out of her handbag, whirling around playfully, “Innominat to the front of us, a dragon to the back of us, and a legate above us… Reaper’s Curse doesn’t begin to describe it.”
Innominat tilted his head to the side, “What a shame… Is that “despair,” I sense?”
Laphicet flashed a courageous glare at the Empyrean as he stood side by side along Velvet and Avernus, “Not on your life.”
“It’ll take more than this to make me and Avernus break.” Velvet stridently declared.
Innominat narrowed his eyes, “The more you resist, the more you’ll suffer.”
Zaveid wandered forward, his face filled with disdain, “Avernus, I don’t care if he’s your bloodlines’ arch-nemesis. I will punish this rotten little delinquent myself.”
Innominat scorned, “You’re just a malak. You don’t stand a chance.”
Zaveid lifted his arm, holding Siegfried. He pointed the gun at his temple, “I’m not just any malak.”
He pulled the trigger and fired a power-up round point black at his head. He slightly filched, “And I’m sick of murdering scum like you!”
He rinsed and repeated, firing a second round at the same place, “I know no limits! For I’m Zaveid!”
All juiced up, he lunged at the Empyrean. Innominat gestured with a glowing hand, and Zaveid froze in his place, struggling against unseen bonds. “What?!”
Innominat smiled wickedly and shot a beam of light in Zaveid’s direction. The blast hit him square in the chest, blasting him across the field.
Zaveid crashed to the ground close to the team and knocked out unconscious.
Innominat crossed his arms, looking haughty at the team, “I told you, you have no chance against me.”
A silver glint on the ground grabbed Laphicet and Avernus’s attention. They glanced assertively at one another, and both of them nodded at the same time.
Laphicet swept a confident look at the group, “We’ll hold off Innominat and Lucian. Everyone else, take out that dragon.”
Eleanor’s worrying eyes shifted from Avernus to Laphicet, “There’s no way you two can face them alone! At least let me assist you!”
Laphicet marched toward Innominat, “This isn’t an order. It’s a strategy.” He confidently said.
Avernus picked up Siegfried and glared at the top of the hill. Lucian grinned and opened his arms, “Come, brother. Let’s finish this!”
Avernus squeezed Siegfried’s grip and leaped at the legate, disappearing in a brilliant flash of thunder.
Velvet turned to the dragon, “I’m counting on you two.”
Innominat squared his shoulders, eyes rounded up on Laphicet, “For something that’s a mere part of me, you’re cocky.”
Laphicet’s whole body glittered with power, whirling and gesturing his arms around, several magical orbs danced around him. “I’m the malak Laphicet.” His artes streaked at Innominat as he pointed his finger at him. They exploded against his body, disappearing into a mild smoke.
Innominat rose unharmed, narrowing his eyes at Laphicet. “I miscalculated before. I won’t hold back this time.”
Innominat waved his hand, and a blazing orb rose up from the ground. He hurled it at Laphicet. It came soaring right at his face, only to break apart in midair, missing him entirely. Innominat snarled, checking the other side; Lailah was standing close to them, conjuring another arte.
Innominat twisted his hand, and the air began to swirl. Glowing, it turned into a bright beam, and he fired it at Lailah. “You are beneath me.”
Lailah’s eyes widened in fear as she couldn’t complete her arte in time. She shut her eyes, but no harm befell her. She opened her eyes only to see a giant wall of void magic had blocked the arte.
Laphicet’s shoulder pressed against hers as he stood by her side, “I told you, I had it under control!”
The wall burned away, revealing Innominat’s grimacing face.
Lailah’s hands burned with power, “Your strategy needed some tweaking!” she said, eyes locked on the Empyrean.
Laphicet’s confident face blushed slightly, “Then I’ll have your back.”
“And I’ve got yours,” Lailah assured him.
Innominat released his sun energy in an explosive burst. The two young malaks dodged the attack, sidestepping to each side as the arte immolated the ground between them.
At the top of the hill, Avernus materialized from the bolt. Power hummed through him, and he drew his free hand and swung it at Lucian; a lightning saber conjured right before it connects with Lucian’s blade, sending azure sparkles around them.
Lucian grinned confidently, their faces a few inches from one another, “The day of revelation is coming soon, and I see you haven’t woken up yet.”
Avernus pushed harder, their blades vibrated. “You know that I won’t allow it.” His lightning sword flashed brighter. Electricity surged through Lucian’s blade, burning his hand. He winced in pain, backing away from the struggle.
“Who do you suppose has continued to lead things to this conclusion?! It was all because of your useless cycle that trapped us in this dark fate!” Lucian shouted and leaped for another attack, swinging his sword.
Avernus lifted his hand and aimed Siegfried at him, firing a lethal bullet. Lucian sliced the shot in mid-air, but soon find Avernus dashing at him. Having used Siegfried as a distraction, his blade founded Lucian’s armor, carving straight through the metallic armguards. Lucian bit his lips in pain and lunged back.
“This is our destiny! It’s the path you took, knowing where it was headed!” Lucian sprinted at Avernus, he shield-bashed him. Avernus swung his elemental sword, but Lucian’s shield deflected it.
“I’m done with destiny! With fate!” Avernus noticed the sigil on Lucian’s shield glittered brightly. He warped away before the destructive beam him in point-blank.
Lucian scanned the area around him to find a trace of the Shepherd, but there was none. “People have faith in nothing and hide from problems they don’t understand! They never learn and never bother to ask! This is a world where people live with eyes and souls of hatred! Where hands have no purpose other than to swing swords! That’s how people are, Avernus!”
Avernus suddenly appeared behind him, slashing his blade. Lucian whirled on his feet, but Shepherd’s sword sliced half of his shield away. “People are not like that! Your whole logic is twisted!”
Lucian back-pedaled, throwing away his damaged shield, “How are they not like that? What’s your proof?”
Avernus hesitated. Lucian launched himself at him, raising his sword and slashing it away at the Shepherd. The area flashed, their blades pushed against one another, “What do you believe, Avernus?! And why do you believe it?!”
“We were brought up not knowing anything else aside from duty and sadness! My mother disproved me before, and now, they’re doing the same thing! But I know… That past belongs in the past. Right now, right here, is where I stand, and I’m free to choose. And I choose to live!”
Lucian sneered as bolts of electricity danced in front of his face, “Of course I know nothing else! But you do, who took the side of evil and daemons!”
“They’re not evil. They’re strange, scary, and they do what they want. But they’re living their lives to the fullest and sure as hell they won’t let anyone take their freedom and this world from them!” Avernus’s body immediately glowed with magic, and pulse with devastating power, knocking Lucian back as the arte melted the surface of his armor. The area around them reeked with the smell of burning metal. Lucian took off his charred helmet, throwing it away, “Do you still wish to suffer? Still clinging to hope? Telling yourself, “Someday, eventually things will get better”?”
Avernus paused, collecting his mind.
Lucian twirled his sword, “How long have you continued fighting with your thoughts clouded by such sweet poison?”
As he spoke, the shadows around Avernus churned, and pulsed, a murder of crows rose from them. He glanced at the sky and grinned;
Dark clouds began to gather up above.
At the bottom of the hill, the team struggled against the dragon and Innominat.
Lailah sent burning explosive cards at Innominat. He waved his hand and deflected them all back at her. She covered her face, but they burst into flames as they blew up around her. Lailah hit the ground with a thud.
“Lailah!” Laphicet screamed and then glared at Innominat, clenching his jaw.
The Empyrean squinted at him, “You talk big, but you’re struggling even to protect yourself.” He hurled a fireball at Laphicet, and he creates a wall of guardian cards that disintegrated as soon as Innominat’s arte hit it, flinging him to the other side.
“If you apologize now, I’ll make sure it doesn’t hurt when I devour you.” He said mockingly.
Laphicet glanced at Lailah’s unconscious body. He curled his fingers into fists and instantly rose up, “No way I’m apologizing. Not to some jerk who doesn’t understand how Velvet feels!”
Innominat condescendingly glared at him, “And you’re saying that you do? She’s my sister.”
Laphicet eyes shifted to Velvet as she fought against the dragon. Then his head whirled back at Innominat, gazing confidently, “I know everything. But I won’t tell you!”
The Empyrean groaned in annoyance and sent more fireballs. They slammed against Laphicet’s defensive cards, enveloping him in a dense flame. The little malak cast a wind arte to blow the heat away, only to find Innominat jousting at him with his white sword.
“I’ll devour you. We’ll be one again anyway!”
A grin carved on Laphicet face. He raised his golden compass, holding it toward Innominat. Suddenly, the Empyrean’s eyes widened; the buried memories bubbled up in his mind, distracting him. The sword hit the compass, breaking it apart, but it also passed the Laphicet’s head.
Laphicet coiled his hand into a fist, drawing it away, “She is not yours!” He sucker-punched Innominat in the face, sending him flying to the ground.
Laphicet whipped his head at the top of the mountain. Cloud formations were in their thickest form.
Beneath the clouds, murders of crows swooped down on Avernus. He readied himself, hands glowing with lightning powers. He slammed his palm into a flying malak, and it exploded. Avernus turned and shot beams of blue light from Siegfried, cutting through them.
Lucian waved his hand, “Hugin! Munin! Merge!”
With his command, crows turned into bright spheres and merged into two flying malaks. Avernus flashed a glance at the bottom. They both delved at him from above. Avernus turned and jumped, disappearing into a thunderbolt. Crow malaks were turning their heads from side to side, searching desperately for the Shepherd. He abruptly appeared above the lowest one. He pressed his feet on its back, using it as a launch platform to boost himself up. He then stepped on the second one, sending it whirling at the ground.
Avernus lifted Siegfried above and at the sky. The clouds flashed and thundered. Waves of electricity shot from them and hit the barrel of Siegfried, whipping across his body, turning him into a living battery.
Lucian shuddered in anger. Avernus aimed Siegfried at the dragon. Laphicet whipped his head at the team, “Everyone, look out!”
Avernus released the magic from Siegfried, and the peak of the mountain trimmed by immense electricity, sending Lucian and his malaks down to the ocean.
Velvet gazed at the top of the mountain. Hearing a rumble of thunder, they watched a dense ray of lightening approaching them. In a clumsy rush, they docked, throwing themselves on the ground. The beam hit the dragon and burst into a million bolts, lifting the giant monster off the ground and slammed it against the hill. The area quaked, and It landed with a sick crunch amidst the rubble, motionless.
Laphicet punched a victory fist into the air, cheering.
Innominat gritted his teeth and turned to Laphicet, “I’ll turn you into a dragon! See who’s laughing then!”
With a cruel and murderous gaze, Innominat waved his hands, an orb of corruption and malevolence formed above his hand, and he immediately hurled it at Laphicet. Defenseless, the arte engulfed his body in a dark mist. He clenched his chest, yelling in agonizing pain. Velvet instantly sprinted, screaming his name.
But his body pulsed with new power. The purifying energy swirled around him, leaving his body and washing away the corruption.
Innominat’s eyes widened to their limits as he watched Laphicet’s flashed blindingly, the magic purified the area around them.
As the Empyrean looked back, he spotted Avernus, holding Laphicet in his arms and pointing the gun at him, and a rage equivalent to Velvet in his eyes brewing. Overwhelming power crackled around him, his hair floating all around as his magic skyrocketed.
“You’ve done all this gloating, but we are all still here.” He squeezed the grip, finger fiddling with the trigger, “I’ve been keeping this arte with your name on it, you megalomaniac waste of mana…”
Avernus pulled the trigger instantly. The barrel flared up, and a beam of powerful magic buzzed fired from Siegfried. The whirling beam of lighting power tore toward Innominat and consumed him. It carried the Empyrean off his feet to the beach, melting stones and vaporizing seawater, until a column of hot steam rose up, and with a boom, the Empyrean disappeared.
Gasping for air, Avernus looked down at exhausted Laphicet, as he peacefully slept in his arm. Eizen carried Zaveid on his shoulder, and Eleanor picked up Lailah. With a nod from Velvet, they scrambled toward Zaveid’s ship.
Later that night, on the calm sea, Avernus was healing the nasty gash on his shoulder, groaning as the torn flesh stitched back together.
Suddenly the door to his dark cabin opened up, and a chill breeze entered the room. The familiar floral scent invaded his senses.
She moved in the small, tight area that was illuminated with a candle. Velvet cocked her head inquisitively to the side, “How are you holding up?”
The last part of the wound closed up, and Avernus faintly hissed, “… I’m fine now. How are Lailah and Laphicet?”
“Laphicet’s still asleep. But Lailah woke up fine. She’s staying by his side for the night.”
Avernus stood, putting his coat back loosely on his shoulder, “Yeah, he exerted himself, casting the Silver Flame.”
Velvet crossed her arms, “That was the same arte as yours? How was that possible?”
Avernus glanced at the broken sword on the table, “It’s because he is the Silver Flame.”
Velvet’s gold, luminous eyes shifted questioningly between his, “What do you mean?”
“Susanoo carved a portion of Innominat’s body using this sword, in the hope that they haven’t had to rely on the Empyrean’s purification abilities to wash away the malevolence. Yet, it wasn’t enough.” Avernus inspected the sword, brushing its broken blade. His face beamed with hope, “But Laphicet is part of Innominat. He is exactly the purification fragment that separated from it. The power I had was the last part of the puzzle.”
He put back the sword on the drawer and slipped closer to Velvet. A secretive surreptitious smile flitted across his face, “With your help, we can put an end to this… once and for all.”
Velvet hesitates as he mentions her, humming faintly before regarding him with a wandering gaze, “Lord of Calamity concerning herself with some seraphim that keep wallowing in their misery?”
Avernus grinned bitterly but with a hint of hope, “I may not know about everything, but I can recognize signs of a leader.”
“Yes. Has it ever occurred to you why everyone follows you without question? Even Eizen, with a thousand-year experience, gave the command of his prized ship to you. Despite being a pain in the butt sometimes, you command with respect…and fear.”
Velvet growled slightly. Avernus waved his hand, “But it is within your character. The thing is, even the things turned out differently, even the world was cruel to you; it needs you more anyone to move forward.”
Velvet quirked an eyebrow, “Did you hit your head recently?”
“Maybe, but I’m not wrong. When you’re ready, we can talk more about it.”
Velvet looked away, breaking their shared gaze. “There’s another reason that I’m here…” She reconnected their glances, her eyes felt calmer than before, “While I prefer not making a habit out of getting help, I do have to say… Thank you, Avernus.”
Avernus flashed a smile, “Laphicet did most of the work; you just needed a slight nudge.”
She gasped momentary, drawing back a little, “No, it’s not just that. I mean, for everything…”
The Shepherd’s face turned neutral, “Oh…” then molded into a curious expression.
“I was blinded by vengeance. Without you and Phi, I couldn’t make it past the Empyrean throne. You two threw your lives away for me countless times yet, I regarded Phi as a tool and broke your heart…”
Avernus smiled broadly, “The things we did, were because we wanted to do them for ourselves. My feelings for you… and Laphicet’s emotions are there because we love you, and you can’t do anything about it. You’re not at fault here.”
Something unexpected surged up inside Velvet, a mixture of uncertainty and anticipation rose in her eyes, “What will you do when it’s all over?”
Avernus was taken back. He looked at Velvet, pained echoes of inner turmoil etched in his face. Then he cleared his throat, “I… I think I’ll go back to the far-continent.”
Velvet’s expression didn’t change. She patiently waited. Avernus’s face became distant. A vague, subtle sadness tugged at the corners of his mouth, “…There is nothing for me here. I’ll do what I got to do together… and then I’ll move on…”
A bright, hot burst of anger rippled through Velvet. She whirled on her hills and paced to the door. Avernus dropped his head, face all somber.
The moment of sadness was interrupted by the sounds of metal clicking against one another. Avernus whirled his head questioningly at the door.
Velvet fumbled with the lock and fastened the bolt.
He stood as Velvet strolled back to him.
“Back in the earthpulse, Innominat showed me the memories of Arthur and Celica together, living happily.”
She stopped a few inches from his chest, her face looking up at his dimmed face. Avernus shivered as their breaths mingled in close space.
“Ever since I met you, despite everything, it turned to an adventure. I hated the world for that, and I’ve done and experienced things I would never have dreamed of.”
Avernus swallowed, “I’m sorry…”
Suddenly, Velvet reached up to cup his cheeks. “Never apologize to me. What I’m trying to say is… I never really wanted to talk about this before, but now, I do…
She leaned closer, eyes digging deep inside his soul.
“Stay by my side…”
Avernus pressed his lips slightly, stealing a doubtful glance, “Are you finally asking me to be your boyfriend now?”
His suspicious tone didn’t help with his choice of words. Velvet narrowed her eyes, “I’m not sure I agree with such a horrendously basic term… I don’t know what the future holds now. Frankly, I don’t care, but I want you to be with me…Now, till all ends.”
Velvet didn’t wait for an answer. She cupped both sides of his face kissed him. He melted into the kiss as she deepened it, her thumb brushing gently over his cheeks. Velvet pushed his body to the back until they stumbled on his bed. As they broke apart, she nipped at his lower lip. He panted for breath, his whole body feeling flushed.
Avernus found her looking down at him with a glazed expression full of longing and desire. Her long hair fanned out beautifully over the bed.
“It’s so easy to make you fluster.” She said boldly.
Avernus grinned, “Two can play at that game.”
Velvet quickly slid her hands over his arms, locking them on the bed. He struggled, groaning in vain as her superhuman powers overcame his muscles. “Uhh… It’s not fair.”
Velvet leaned in close to his ear, whispering, “Lord of Calamity isn’t impressed with you endangering your life.”
A mischievous grin formed on his face, “I should try to get killed more often if this is what I get in return.”
“Say that again, and I devour you myself. Wait… I’ll devour you anyway.” Her eyes twinkled with amusement, lingering on his body for a long moment — the chill air whispering over their skin. The flickering candlelight was illuminating their flushed faces.
Velvet slowly raised her hand. The Brunhilt ring started to glow, and she snapped her finger.
The candle burned out, and the room plunged into darkness. Velvet let go of his arms, and Avernus pulled her against himself, feeling every line of her body and feeling her shuddered and gasped.
Their whispered voices merged with the night, and they melted into one another. Becoming one with the night.
Among her boundless dream, Velvet found herself sitting behind a dining table. She traded glances with Seres as she sat peacefully on the other side.
“So… Should I think of you like my sister?” Velvet asked.
Seres shook her head gently, “I’m a malak named Seres… I’ve inherited Celica’s memories, that’s all.”
“…And that doesn’t make you the same person?”
Seres maintained her neutral stare, “What exactly defines a person’s identity? I may have her body and her memories…”
Velvet lowered her head, trailing off, “You’re right. If your soul has changed, you’re not the same person anymore…”
Guilt overwhelmed her face, “Even if I were Celica, I don’t have the right to be called your sister. I followed Artorius’s orders without question, sacrificing my flesh and blood.”
Velvet turned her head to the sides, eyes cloudy with fault, “What about me? I devoured you. I have no right to condemn you for what you’ve done.”
“There’s a difference, Velvet. I wanted you to do it. Even had I survived, I would have given myself to you before long… I wanted you to have my power. No matter the cost.”
“Right after the Advent… Celica’s memories returned to me…”
Suddenly, Seres’s body changed its shape into Celica. Velvet moaned in shock, eyes widening.
Seres’ rough voice turned into Celica’s soft and kind tone, “It was then I understood what exactly it was I had done. Arthur, kind, and caring…”
In a blink, she reverted. “…Transformed into the cruel Artorius, he is now.”
“Why did your memories return?” Velvet asked.
“I’ve heard that very rarely, malakhim can regain memories of their previous lives. But it was because of Avernus…”
“Yes, I thought this was my punishment for the pain I brought to you all. But his essence reached out to me. His power broke Innominat’s grip on my soul.”
Velvet stared at the table’s wooden textures, “So, he’s right…” Velvet raised her head, only to see that she shifted into Celica once again.
“The stronger I feel my love for Arthur, the less I can forgive Artorius… My hatred of him has grown so deep. I’m not Celica anymore. As Seres, I can never bring back Arthur that I loved. Neither do I have the power to defeat Artorius.” Seres smiled, eyes burning with hope, “But you can! You’re a therion! You have fully absorbed my power. You can help Avernus, and together, you can face the Shepherd.”
She gave Velvet a firm nod, and Velvet returned her just the same, “I know. We will stop him.
Seres’s face darkened into the gloom, “Forgive me, Velvet. I’ve pushed everything onto you… My hatred, my determination… I wanted to apologize one last time… In the end… “
A soft, gentle smile curved on her face, “I’m glad I had a chance to know you. I’m glad that once I could be Laphi’s sister… And Celica and Arthur’s sister as well… I was happy.”
With a fulfilled expression, Seres dissolved into the void, and Velvet plunged back into her body.
With a sharp gasp, she opened her eyes and found herself on the soft mattress of Avernus’s bed. She turned her head to the side, finding the young Shepherd sleeping soundly beside her. After a few moments of watching him sleep, she noticed that he had tossed the blanket aside. With an audible groan, she pulled it back on his naked body.
“You’ll catch a cold, dumbass.”
Suddenly, a small paper fell off. The curiosity gained the better of Velvet, and she picked it up. Unfolding it, her heart escaped a beat,
We can find a way
To Break the Madness
Take my hand and come with me
To a place where we can feel
There’s a flame that burns in me
I need a way to set it free
When you find love in your heart
The light in your eyes is a star
Change that you feel Helps you to heal from all the rest
If you believe
In human touch
She quickly folded it back. Until now, it was a hard pass. She hated it when it was all about sharing their feelings. She glanced at the ageless moon through the window, she pressed the paper sheet against her chest and smiling unknowingly to herself.
“People will go on living out their lives and forging a new era. No one knows what the next era will be like. However, whatever form the world may take,
The moon will always be there, shining like a White Light.”
Next on Chapter XXXVI:
As the team searches for a new strategy to beat Artorius and Innominat. Eizen’s greatest nightmare comes true, as one of Lucian’s malaks drops a small, yellow umbrella on the deck of Van Eltia. Lailah learning to fit into the group, young couple problems, and a reaper hell-bent on saving his family are what drives the Menagerie in the next chapter. Be sure to check:
Season of the Reaper.