We tried to be reasonable… We tried to be good… But it seems we can’t escape this bloodstained fate. In truth, we were afraid of confronting our inner demons and tried hiding behind the memory of Tyler Suesa. We kept rejecting the darkness in our hearts when in reality they were the truest remnant of our past life.
No, we were never being reasonable at all. It’s too much to live by our former ways in this chaotic world. Travelling with the Nomura Clan made us forget, but now we can no longer remain ignorant.
Then what should we do? How can we avoid falling into that hateful state when resentment forms our very core?
There’s nothing else we can do. We can only keep holding back these emotions and hope for the best.
That’s impossible. Haven’t you noticed we keep reaching for our blade subconsciously? Suppressing our darker impulses is making us more brittle, and some day, we may not be able to recover from the rage.
We’re chasing after a man we can never be, and the disparity is tearing us apart. If we want to move forward, we must forge our own moral code, to adapt the memories of our previous life instead of blindly following them. And once we filter this grey world into black and white…
You’re saying we should continue staining our hands.
If we cannot avoid killing others, then we should do so as a man, not a monster. What we need is the conviction to overrule our rage and bear the pain.
But for what? Without violating Tyler’s memory or Helena’s affection, for what reason can we wholeheartedly cut down a person?
… We must never inflict harm for the sake of Helena’s resurrection. She would never accept such a thing.
We also hold no loyalty to any god, king or country.
Then what of self-defence and to safeguard those we hold dear?
Those are fine, but are we willing to cut down any starving bandit or reluctant combatant who raises their blade?
It doesn’t always have to end in death.
And yet Sen almost died because we spared an unconscious foe. This is no longer a matter of should or should not, but of how far we’re willing to stare into the abyss.
<Parallel Thought (Greater) has evolved to Parallel Thought (High)>
… Sigh, I guess it’s as good a time as any to stop.
Stirring from my position after hours of stillness, I fetch my sword which I’ve been staring at this entire time. While it isn’t healthy, I’ve been using <Parallel Thought> to converse with myself through the reflection on the blade. Of course, it’s not like I developed a parallel will. The last thing I need on top of deluding status screens and repressed loathing is a split personality.
In all honesty, I still feel terrible. The guilt I buried from killing the adventurer Gavel by swearing “never again” has resurfaced alongside my current distress. I have no answer, but as much as I want to hole up in some grove for further reflection, now is not the time.
Unsettling the barn animals around me, I take the basin of bloody water and leave the building. I empty its contents on a grassy space before making my way back to the inn, mask securely over my head. The sun is peering over the horizon and few souls are out and about. Upon seeing me, they greet me with great cheer instead of fear. While it is a first, I am hardly uplifted by their words. Nonetheless, I return their greetings with a friendly voice. With my eyes on the ground, I pass the wrecked village square and enter the Whistling Willow.
“Ah, morning Enbos! I didn’t realise you were already out, but you’re just in time.”
To my surprise, I find Sen, Minna, Norf and Lili are already up and eating breakfast on the ground floor.
“What are you all doing up so early? You should all be resting.”
“Sigh, we would, but a certain hyperactive idiot had to wake up everybody.”
“Sorry Minna, but it’s hard to sleep knowing there is so much to do. We really need to discuss some things.”
“I see. Where’s Hachirou?”
“He’s in his room. More than any of us, Hachirou needs to spend today in bed. I have no idea what he did, but he dearly strained many of his muscles. I’ll need to tend to him throughout the day, so please keep the door unlocked.”
“I will. Thank you, Lili.”
“I-it’s nothing. Please join us.”
Circumventing the debris, I take a seat around the battered table. Norf offers me half a loaf of bread, but I kindly refuse as I realise Lili hasn’t told them of my true form. Speaking of Lili, she currently has a worried expression as she looks between me and the others who are happily eating. Sitting opposite of Sen, it’s unavoidable that my sight drift to his bandaged hand that’s unsteadily holding a mug. He notices the subject of attention and tries to put me at ease.
“*Gulp* This is nothing, Enbos, not when compared to my life. I can’t thank you enough for what you did. I’m forever grateful.”
“I’m happy to hear that Sen, but it doesn’t change the fact you lost your finger and almost died because of me.”
“You didn’t do those things, the cultists did, and as far as I can tell, you’ve already punished them with their deaths. If anything, I should be apologising for being so useless. You were right when you said I was nothing but a distraction.”
“Ah, t-that was-”
“It’s alright. It wasn’t my finest moment, I admit, and I know you were only looking out for me. But enough about me. Are you feeling better, Enbos?”
“You were pretty shaken the last time we saw you. We know you were really conflicted.”
“I’m fine now. I had some time to settle my heart. Thank you everybody for worrying for me.”
Hearing my tone, a wave of relief surfaces on Sen, Minna and Norf. However, Lili is rightfully sceptical as she looks at me with even greater concern. It seems she wants to have another private chat.
“It’s good to see you in good spirits, Enbos. Now, onto the matter at hand. We may have recaptured the village, but there are more cultists in these lands. As far as we can tell, the bridge should be under their control,” says Minna.
“There is also the matter of the ruins. It’s clearly their handiwork and they have been keen to hide it. They should have another detachment with more captives nearby” I add.
“If there are more captives, we need rescue them. Maybe we can prepare an ambush.”
“I’m not so sure, Sen. First, we need to coordinate the adventurers and villagers. Oh, and just so you know, my people skills are rather… lacking.”
“Did you forget you’re this village’s saviour? But that’s fine if you’re not up for it, Enbos. After all, Lili here has become everybody’s resident saint.”
“Eh, what do you mean?”
“She freed them, healed the everybody, and prayed for friend and foe alike. In their eyes, she’s like a missionary sent directly by God.”
“I-it’s a little embarrassing that they’re calling me “Holy Maiden” and “Divine Lady”, but I’ll gladly answer their trust.”
“Okay, but before we can do anything, we have to learn more about the cultists, like their number, when they move or anything else.”
“I guess we’ll have to gather all the adventurers and oldest villagers for a meeting. That way we can pool all our information and organise everybody.”
“Actually Sen, there is something I want to do while you hold the meeting…
I want to question one of the cultists.”
My unexpected suggestion shocks everybody around the table, as their imaginations run rampant about my methods. There is now a uniform look of concern regarding my mental health, and honestly, I share the same sentiment.
“Look Enbos, we know you can be scary, like really scary, but that doesn’t mean you have to do this. A-are you sure you want to after what happened?”
“You don’t have to push yourself. We can get just as much information if you join us at the meeting.”
“Please reconsider, Enbos. I stopped the villagers for a reason. It’s not your place to “question” others. By its very implication, it’s something moral men will not do.”
“You know full well that doesn’t apply to me.”
“But that doesn’t mean we will stand by and let you do it!”
“Don’t worry Lili, everyone. I don’t plan on hurting them at all. I swear I won’t do anything unsavoury, even if I end up questioning a certain despicable guide.”
“Please, believe me.”
“… A-alright, but you better tell us what you’re planning.”
“I’ll share the details when we’re not in public.”
Finishing breakfast, we agree to rendezvous at noon to discuss our findings. However, as we prepare to leave the inn, a flustered man in light armour comes running towards us.
“Divine Lady Iranor!”
“I just checked the gaol house a-and… all the cultists are dead!”
“What happened? Did any of the cultists escape?”
“All the bodies are accounted for. And by the look of things…”
He hesitates for a second as he scratches his cheek uneasily. It appears he is ashamed of what he is about to say.
“I don’t know who or when, but most of the captives had their throats slit. T-the rest were set alight.”
“O-oh my God.”
“I’m sorry, Lady Iranor, but despite your will, it seems one of us could not contain their hatred.”
“How many people know of this?”
“Only myself. I was in charge of checking up on them.”
“I see. It is unfortunate but right now we need to gather everybody for a discussion so please keep it to yourself until then. We’ll be gathering all the adventurers and villagers at the inn within the hour. May you help spread the word?”
“Of course. I’ll be on my way!”
Well, so much for my plan. It’s a good thing Lili ran damage control to avoid distrust spreading amongst our midst. Still, was it truly the act of a vengeful victim, or could it be…
“Well, that’s unfortunate.”
“It seems there’s no one left for you to interrogate, Enbos.”
“… No, I still have someone left I can ask.”
“Here it is, Master Enbos. After everything ended, the original owner returned but ran out screaming when he discovered how the cultists renovated it. It really makes me sick imagining what they did in that building.”
“Thank you. You don’t have to remain for what I’m about to do.”
“Oh, I know what you are about to do, and I hope he gets everything that’s coming for him.”
He spits on the large bag at my feet before departing elsewhere. Once he’s gone, I haul my writhing baggage over my shoulder and turn to face the unassuming house. Although I have almost no sense of smell, the stench of blood seems to envelop this abode. Undeterred, I enter the building and survey the horrifying contraptions within.
I knew it, of course the cultists would prepare a torture room, and looking at the dried blood staining the floorboards, it was regularly used. Pieces of enamel litter the ground and dull instruments lay on a nearby table. I can almost imagine the ghostly screams lingering in this slaughterhouse, and yet, I know such spirits would have already been turned into monsters. It’s not out of sadistic joy or satanic traditions that they use this room, but for the sake of making stronger undead. By drawing as much fear and hatred out of the subject, they can create a stable <Soul Core>. Regardless, it’s undoubtedly one of the most inhumane things I’ve ever seen, and today, it’s going to receive its most deserving visitor.
Throwing my baggage onto the accursed throne, I remove the bag to reveal my prisoner: Terry the Necromancer, the guy I knocked out in the warehouse and locked in a wardrobe. I had completely forgotten about him and failed to tell anybody, but now, it seems like a blessing in disguise.
With hateful eyes, he watches as I lock the door and forcefully bind each of his limbs to the chair. I then take a stool and sit before my captive audience.
“The village is taken. Your brethren are dead. You know why I am here and no one will take pity on your blackened soul.”
“There are many things I could do to you. I could put you through hours of near suffocation. Increase gravity to pool blood in your legs. Flay you piece by piece and make you watch through my eyes. I can subject you to any and every heinous act you’ve ever inflicted in this very room…
But I can see it in your eyes. You are devout to Maleosis and you’d sooner bite your tongue than say a thing. However, I am not here to torture you. You will tell me what I want… even if I have to reanimate your corpse to do so.”
While he was indifferent before, his eyes suddenly widen as he latches onto my bait. To add more “evidence”, I order Mr Bonny to hop out of my bag and remove his gag. With a raspy voice, he struggles to express his surprise.
“Y-you’re… a believer!?”
“I am. My name is Enbos the Black, Dark Acolyte of the Full Moon Brotherhood.”
Although I am not from the same cult, or rather, brotherhood as him, Dark Acolytes are closer to Maleosis than any run-of-the-mill cultist. They are chosen followers who have received a blessing from the dark god himself. It is the first step to becoming the head or founding your own faction. Unless someone of equal or higher rank says otherwise, or if it will interrupt their current duties, they are obligated to obey.
“A-a Dark Acolyte? Lies! The Full Moon Brotherhood was crushed years ago and nobody has heard a word since!”
Unless, of course, they don’t believe me at all. I was just using the cult name from my Necronomicon, but it seems they’re now defunct. Should I say I am a survivor? No, I have a more reliable method, although it pains me to use it.
“Have you received a Brand from your hierarch?”
He doesn’t say anything, but the fierce pride in his eyes says enough. Good.
<Allocate 10 skill points to Maleosis’ Pact of Power?>
<10 skill points allocated. 110 skill points reserved. Maleosis’ Pact of Power: Active.>
“Huh, this feeling is… Please forgive me for my insolence!”
Sigh, I finally used it: my deplorable blessing. As much as it annoys me, it’s the best way to convince him. Any senior member should have an indirect blessing called a Brand of Maleosis. According to the tooltip for my blessing, activating its effect gives off an aura that will alert others marked by the dark god. While I did consider using it last night to make the cultists back off, I didn’t want to reveal it to so many people and there was every possibility the innkeeper had the authority to defy me.
Regardless, the simple truth is that I utterly abhor this blessing. Even in my frenzied state, I avoided using this ability. I don’t care how much power it gives me; it feels like a parasite bound to my soul.
“B-but Brother Enbos, why did you flee and aid those non-believers?”
“It is not your place to ask, Branded One. As a Dark Acolyte, each of our paths are unique and profound. I have no reason to divulge my machinations, but understand that whatever we do is in service to Maleosis, and it is for that reason we are given free reign.”
It seems he’s completely convinced. Of course, if he had any idea I was the one who knocked him out, destroyed his undead arsenal and killed most of his brethren, I doubt he would be so willing.
“Still, I admit that had I known of your presence and intentions earlier, I may have aided your plight instead.”
“Then, will you lend your strength, Brother Enbos?”
“That depends on you. Now, tell me of your brotherhood and everything you’ve been doing in these lands.”
“Of course, Blessed One. I am Terry of the Order of the New Dawn, a humble necromancer in service of His Holiness Tascus.”
“Order? Not brotherhood?”
“Yes, we discarded our old name. The Ascension of our Hierarch is near, and under his guidance, our faction will be reborn. The Prophecy will be fulfilled and our teachings will finally spread across the lands to replace the flawed Path of Eden.”
“I see. By the way, what is this prophecy?”
“What is it?”
“S-surely you must know, Brother Enbos. After all, almost a year to this date, every Pact-bearer received a divine revelation. It’s whispered in all inner circles, so to not know is-”
“The Full Moon Brotherhood is still fragmented and I only recently became a Dark Acolyte. It’s regrettable but I never received the Prophecy personally.”
“I understand. That is truly regrettable indeed.”
“Will you do me the honour of telling the prophecy?”
“T-that would be an honour indeed, Brother Enbos. While I never heard it word for word, the Prophecy speaks of a champion who will rise from His blessed and uplift our faith. His champion will be perfect in form, wise beyond measure and strong enough to vanquish all that defy His will. And with unparralled magic, His champion shall instrument Maleosis’ return, finally ushering a true Eden upon this world.”
“How magnificent. And you’re convinced your hierarch is the prophesised one?”
“There is no one more fitting. While God’s glorious vision was relayed to everyone in the inner circle, we all knew His Holiness Tascus was the one. On the day His message was spread, His Holiness immediately saw the clearest path to fulfilling it. Only he has the genius and insight to shephard us all. Only he has the will to carry all our dreams. Only he has the strength of body, mind and soul to truly become His Champion. It is as if the Prophecy was solely made to announce our leader’s competence to all the factions.”
This guy is obviously idolising his hierarch, but there are still grains of truth to be found. It seems this Tascus is the mastermind behind this village, or rather, everything happening in these lands. And judging by this guy’s praise…
“Is His Holiness Tascus an Apostle?”
“Indeed, he is.”
“I-I see, but you still haven’t answered my initial question. Why were you masquerading in this village, collecting adventurers?”
“The capture of adventurers was only secondary. Our true mission was to uncover the lost city of Tiel.”
Hearing that name, I immediately recall the excavation sites scattered around the Tiel Woods. More importantly, I remember Lili’s story, and the horrifying thing associated with it.
“It can’t be… You were looking for the remains of the Undead Ravager?”
“Yes, and with its secrets, His Holiness Tascus shall unite the factions as Maleosis’ Champion and turn this country into our seat of power. I hope you now understand our Hierarch’s greatness.”
What the hell are they trying to do with an Undead Ravager!? Are they planning to recreate one to destroy Catorrem? If so, they can certainly overturn this country and weaken the Lysium Theocracy’s Holy Order. But how is their hierarch going to control something like that?
“Does His Holiness seek to make one of his own and control it?”
“I’m sorry, Brother Enbos, but my position does not allow me such knowledge. Regardless, I have complete faith in my hierarch.”
No, this isn’t important right now. All that matters is getting everyone out safely. I can inform the authorities of this conspiracy later.
“Thank you, brother. You have indeed convinced me of your hierarch’s grand plan. How may I speak with him, and if I cannot, where may I find the rest of your Brothers?”
“Our Hierarch oversees us, and although there is no need, he travels often between our stations. If you wish to speak with him, there is a communication tool in Father Alan’s study behind the inn, along with a map of all our locations in these lands. Please don’t let those heathens get a hold.”
“It will be done. May Maleosis bless you.”
This should be enough to evade the cultists, or better yet, contact Catorrem to send an armed force. Depending on the number of enemies, it may be better to hole up in this village until everything blows over. Lili could also call the Holy Order, although it may make my situation more precarious.
“Now that the questioning is over, I need to be assured you will keep your silence. Have you been instructed in the event of capture?”
“Of course, Brother Enbos, and knowing you will lend your strength to our cause… I can rest easy.”
“Huh? What do you-”
Activating a skill, I immediately jump out of my seat as mana surges throughout his body. Although I’m wary, there is no hostility coming from- H-he’s setting himself on fire! Is this how he plans to keep his silence!?
I immediately raise my hand to suffocate the flames…
… but stop.
With those final words, he continues to burn with a serene look on his face. Even now, I can extinguish the fire and sustain his life with necromancy… but I won’t. Instead, I force myself back on the stool and watch as the rest of his life smoulders away.
He’s tortured countless people, filled entire graveyards with innocents, and used their tormented souls to kill even more. He’s a menace beyond salvation or mercy, and for that…
“H-he deserves to die.
He must die.
Tyler may regret… but I no longer will.”
As the fiery haze tempers my bones, I can feel my heart grow a little colder.
“Enbos, you’re finally out and- *cough, cough* What is that terrible smell?”
Detecting Lili’s spiritual signature, I leave the building to find it is already noon. She tries to peer within, but I promptly close the door behind me before she can get a good look. It seems their village meeting has already concluded. Regardless…
“What are you doing here, Lili?”
“I know you gave your word, but I came just in case he tried to-”
“He took his own life by setting himself alight.”
“Oh my God. Did he see through your ruse?”
“No, he believed me and tried to silence himself permanently. But knowing of how he died, it’s likely no one among us was responsible for the gaol house massacre—they took their own lives.”
“B-by the spirits…”
“A few of them must have been mages, while the rest managed to sneak in a knife. Really, they were beyond saving…”
“Are you alright, Enbos?”
“Now’s not the time, Lili. I need to share what I learnt with everybody.”
I begin walking towards the inn, but in an uncharacteristically aggressive move, she grabs onto my cloak and stops me in my tracks.
“… You won’t leave me be, will you?”
“No, but that’s not why I’m stopping you. T-there is something you need to know before you see the others. We asked the adventurers at the meeting, and it seems the cultists faked every reported death by using unrecognisable corpses.”
“But that means Sen and Minna’s friend…”
“Yes. Eric may still be alive.”