OmaeGotoki:Volume 3

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Novel Illustrations[edit]


Episode 4: Necromantic Dreams Of Love And Loss[edit]

Interlude 1 - Because Girl 𝛽 Rejects Contradiction[edit]

As soon as she falls asleep, the nightmare comes again.

It feels uncomfortably, overpoweringly real, recreating even the air of that horrible time.

The eyes are chasing Sara.

Her beloved brothers Ed and Johnny sacrifice themselves to save her, and before her very eyes they’re warped into those horrible masses of flesh.

The eyes still chase her, refusing her escape.

In front of her is that mass of things, behind her is a wall.

Touching them means death.

They’ll crawl inside her, multiply her body parts, and finally she’ll become a mass of countless heads and limbs just like everyone else.

“Hahh… gaha… ah… ahh… Ed, Johnny… I’m so sorry, su… Even after all you did for me, I’ll be joinin’ you soon, su…”

Sara gives up.

The eyes show no mercy, not even to a helpless ten-year-old girl.

They roll forth en masse, brushing up against her skin and slipping inside her body.

“No… no… Ahhh… I don’t… wanna die, su…!”

Nothing changes, though, as the eyes continue to flood inside her. She frantically claws at the wall behind her, but the cold stone doesn’t give.

“Aughh… uah… hugh… g-gross… n-no, I don’t, want… I don’t wanna be a monster…!”

Her nails split, fresh blood glistening at her fingertips.

Her legs multiply.

Her body bloats.

Just as she thinks she’s about to vomit, ripe somethings all too similar to internal organs spill out of her mouth.

Unable to change anything, unable to save even herself, she turns into the same horrifying mass as her brothers.

“St-stop… ugh, ogh, guh… gwegh, fgh, gh, gugh… ogh, ngheeeeeh…!!”


◇◇◇


“Noooooooo!!”

She bolts upright in bed, screaming.

“Hahh… hahh… hahh…”

Her shoulders heave with every breath, drenched in sweat, golden hair clinging to her cheeks.

“Uu… ahh… uaahh... !”

She saw a nightmare that was more than a nightmare. Most of it she’d experienced herself --- not a dream but a memory. Every time she thinks of it she’s unable to do anything but put her face in her hands, shoulders trembling, and weep.

---The people closest to her died, and she alone was left alive.

The grief and guilt fill her chest, proving more than she can bear.

Seeing that, the blue-skinned woman at her side pulls Sara into her chest.

Neigass of the Three Demon Generals.

She was looking into the Church’s secret plans and the Origin Cores, but unable to find anything at any of the Kingdom’s scattered research labs she entered the Capital itself. Halfway through her investigation she stumbled across Sara being chased by those eyes and saved the girl’s life. Cutting off her search, she fled the Capital with Sara, and running into Gadio on the way out she entrusted him with a message for Flum. Already several days have passed since then.

Currently, the two of them are hiding out in an abandoned cottage in the mountains some distance away.

“There there, don’t worry. They can’t get to you here.”

The eyes stopped their pursuit the second they left the Capital.

“Even if someone tries to hurt you, I promise I’ll protect you.”

When they first met Sara wasn’t even willing to listen to Neigass, but now she wraps her arms around Neigass’ back and buries her face in her chest.

OmaeGotoki 03-Int1 1.png

She still doesn’t trust her yet --- but after being betrayed by the Church and separated from Flum and her friends, Neigass is the only person she can rely on.

“Uu… uuuuuu… Why did everyone… why’d things hafta turn out this way, su…!?”

“It’s not your fault, Sara-chan.”

“So why…!?”

Neigass wordlessly strokes Sara’s hair. She could say that it’s the Church’s fault, but Sara, Ed, and Johnny are all members of the Church.

The organization itself isn’t to blame --- it’s their leaders and the leaders’ puppeteer, Origin.

“I was… I was excommunicated, wasn’t I, su?”

After crying for a little while longer, Sara asks Neigass in an even more depressed tone than before.

“From what I’ve heard, I think so.”

The Church branded her as a heretic, making it so that she could never return to the Capital. They’ve probably made her out to be a real monster by now. If they ever find her she’ll probably be publicly executed without even being given a chance to defend herself.

“I listened to their voices on the wind, though, and it sounds like there are a lot of people even in the Church who’re very worried about you.”

“...Really, su?”

“It sounds like there are a lot of people who can’t accept the Church’s judgement… no, it’s because there’s no reason for you to be punished like this that people are starting to distrust the Church. Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll clear your name and you’ll be able to go back soon.”

Relaxed by Neigass’ relaxing words and comforting warmth, Sara blissfully narrows her eyes and starts to doze off again.

Suddenly remembering something, Sara’s eyes flit open and she looks up at Neigass from within her cleavage.

“Hm? What’s wrong?”

Neigass smiles down at her.

“Why’re you bein’ so nice to me, su? I’m with the Church an’ I kinda hate demons, su...”

“Isn’t it only natural to help a cute little damsel in distress?”

“Whenever I wake up from a bad dream you give me a hug like this, su… Whenever I remember back then an’ start cryin’ and flailin’ you always comfort me with a smile, su. I don’t think just anyone would do that, su.”

“Hmm… Well…”

Neigass would be lying if she said she didn’t have another reason. She doesn’t want to admit it, but there’s a second pertinent reason why she came to the Capital.

“Are you hidin’ somethin’, Neigass, su?”

Sara looks straight up at Neigass with her big, pure eyes. Since she’s really just curious, Neigass feels as though it’d be dishonest of her to not tell her.

“I’m about to say something a little strange, but don’t hate me, okay?”

“Is it somethin’ that bad, su?”

She can’t just say ‘yes’ if asked so frankly, but at the same time she’d feel guilty if she said ‘no’.

“...When we first met in that cave outside Enchide, I called you cute, didn’t I?”

“Come to think of it, you did, su.”

“W-Well, I was thinking that if I came to the Capital I might just get to see you again, so…”

“...Eh? Y-You wanted to see me, su?”

“T-That’s only half of it! I really did want to expose the Church’s secrets… wait, why’re you running away? Come back!”

Sara starts rapidly edging away from Neigass.

“So that’s why you saved me, su!?”

“Of course not! I really would’ve saved anyone in that same situation, I swear!”

“Well… I guess I can trust you there, su…”

Neigass’ kindness towards her isn’t fuelled by fishy ulterior motives alone --- Sara knows that better than anyone else. If her kindness was just a front Sara would’ve surely been suspicious.

“Now do you understand why I didn’t know what to tell you?”

“Uu… I don’t know how to reply, su. But that’s it, right, su? You’re not hidin’ anythin’ else, are you, su?”

“...”

“Why aren’t you answerin’, su!?”

“Well… Sara-chan, you call Flum ‘oneesan’, right?”

“Yeah, su… But you’re a demon, an’... I dunno what to think about you, su…”

“Since you seem to be opening up to me a little more, though, w-why don’t you call me ‘Neigass-oneesan’...?”

Neigass’ breathing grows a little rough, a faint blush appearing on her cheeks. Her expression strikes Sara as somehow perverted.

“No, su.”

“Whyy!?”

“It feels kinda wrong, su! I’m stickin’ with just Neigass, su!”

“Aww…! But that’s so boring! C’mon, just try it, pleeease!”

Neigass starts whining like a child throwing a tantrum.

Sara can feel her mental image of the ‘horrifying, murderous’ demons crumble away.

After a moment Neigass resorts to simply pouting, but with a small “Ah!” her face turns grim and she starts muttering something to herself.

“...No, wait a second. If she’s using just my name, doesn’t that mean she thinks we’re really close…? ‘Oneesan’ feels a little idolizing, but if she’s just calling me ‘Neigass’ then it’s like we’re really close… like she’s giving me a chance… I can live with that…!”

Utterly disgusted, Sara quickly puts some more distance between them, heading for the cabin’s door.

“I think I’ll go it alone, su.”

Neigass quickly gets up off the bed, frantically glomping onto Sara from behind.

“Lemme go, su! I don’t wanna go anywhere alone with a pervert, su!”

“I’m sorry! I went maybe a little too far and I’m sorry, just don’t leave me~!”

“The fact that you think that’s just ‘a little’ too far is really worryin’, su!!”

“Okay, I get it! Just ‘Neigass’ is fine, and I promise I won’t have any more weird fantasies about what you call me!”

“...Really, su?”

“I-I’ll try.”

“That’s not really encouragin’, but… I guess I can trust you for now, su.”

Having succeeded in stopping Sara, Neigass lets out a sigh of relief.

The two of them return to the bed, and this time Sara sits in Neigass’s lap, using her breasts as a headrest.

“After all that, I completely forgot about that dream, su…”

“See? Just as planned.”

“It’s not good to lie, su!”

Sara pinches Neigass’ thigh.

“Owowow!”

“...I guess if I can talk to you this casually, though, that means I trust you, su. I really am simple, huh, su… I hated you demons up until just a little while ago, su…”

Sara doesn’t trust Neigass just because she’s nice, though.

Demons --- including, of course, Neigass --- can fly. If they wanted to, they could effortlessly pass right over the border and go anywhere in the Kingdom they pleased.

If they felt like it they could level the Capital anytime, su…

The demons haven’t done so, however. That alone is enough to debase the Kingdom’s cultivated image of the demons as human-slaughtering fiends.

“I hope everyone in the Kingdom could become like you, Sara-chan.”

“Since there’re people like you who abduct little girls with weird ulterior motives, I can’t really see that happenin’, su.”

“Ouch… You’re surprisingly sharp-tongued.”

“Only to some people, su.”

“Does this mean you think I’m special?”

“Not in a good way, su.”

Neigass is clearly elated. If not even verbal abuse can stop her, she’s truly invincible.

A moment later, however, her expression clouds.

“I suppose I can’t say that all demons are good, though… It’s not like I know them all personally. Maybe there are even some demons out there who do kill humans…”

“Y’mean there’re some suspicious people out there, su?”

“I hope not, but… The fact that Origin’s power is leaking out is enough reason to be worried.”

“Leaking, su…?”

“...I’m planning on continuing looking into the Church’s research after this, Sara-chan. I can’t just return to the Demon Lord’s Castle empty-handed, after all.”

“Really, su? I…”

“I can take you someplace safe if you’d like --- though given your situation it’d have to be somewhere outside the Church of Origin’s reach.”

“The Church’s got eyes all over the Kingdom, though, su.”

“Yes, and that’s why it’d have to be somewhere in the Demon Realm.”

“So I’d be all alone an’ surrounded by demons, su…?”

“I can’t guarantee they’ll be happy to see you, but they certainly won’t treat you badly. We don’t hate humans, and we’re quite a warm and friendly people overall.”

Neigass’ words are the truth. They wouldn’t fear her or regard her as an enemy, and especially since she’s only a child they’d probably treat her quite well.

Even if Sara is fine with Neigass, however, it’s not as though all her deep-rooted resentment of the demons is gone.

“If you don’t want to do that, you could always come along with me. I’ll probably end up butting heads with the Church and maybe even run into more of those monstrosities, and it’d be a lot more dangerous than waiting in the Demon Realm, but---”

“I… All I can do is cast healin’ magic, su. I’m not all that strong, su. I’d probably just slow you down if I went with you, su…”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, just seeing your cute little face is enough to inspire me! Cuteness is justice, after all!”

“...An’ that’s what I’m worried ‘bout most, su.”

Neigass had intended that as a joke, just a little something to help ease Sara’s doubts… mostly. She was maybe half serious.

“It would be a great relief to have a healer with me, though. If you did decide to come with me, I’d welcome you from the bottom of my heart.”

Those are Neigass’ true feelings --- and if she’s been invited, there’s no reason for Sara to turn her down.

“I guess… I guess I can tag along with you, su. It’s not like I don’t wanna know what the Church’s really up to, su.”

“YESS!! A journey with just the two of us…! Yay!!”

“But! No sayin’ weird stuff, okay, su? If you try anythin’ weird I’ll seriously punch you, su!!”

“Oh, that might be difficult. When it comes to cute things I can’t show any self-restraint. I am a demon, after all.”

“Bein’ a demon’s got nothin’ to do with it, su! As long as you don’t do anythin’ like that, though, I guess it’ll be… mgh!?”

Pulling Sara close, Neigass buries Sara’s face in her ample bosom.

“I know it’s a bit of a bad habit of mine, but it’s your fault for being so cute…!”

Sara flails around for a moment, but demons are stronger than humans both magically and physically.

After a moment Sara gives up, entrusting her body to Neigass. Her skin might be blue but she’s incredibly soft and warm, and above all she smells almost too good.

Sara doesn’t want to admit it herself, but even if only when enveloped by Neigass’ warmth she can forget the tragedy in the Capital. She can only barely remember the destruction of her home eight years ago, and as such nearly all her pain, her suffering, all the scars on her heart were left by none other than the Church when they killed Ed and Johnny.

Maybe Neigass saved not only Sara’s body but her heart and soul as well.

Maybe she really doesn’t hate demons as much anymore.

“...Pwah!”

Finally coming up from Neigass’ cleavage for air, Sara looks Neigass straight in the eyes.

“Hahh… What’d I just say about stuff like this, su? I can’t even imagine what you’ll try next, su…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to get you used to it little by little.”

“Don’t even try it, su! But, I-I guess… I’ll be countin’ on you, Neigass, su.”

Even as Sara puffs out her cheeks in protest, she properly thanks Neigass. The Church --- no, her ‘mother’ Ellen taught her to always mind her manners, after all.

“Hmhm, and I’ll be counting on you, Sara-chan.”

The places they were born, the colour of their eyes, even their skin is different.

That doesn’t change the warmth that they feel from each other’s bodies, however.

I guess humans an’ demons aren’t that different, are they, su…?


Interlude 2 - Because Girl 𝛼 Embraces Contradiction[edit]

Cyrill, Jean, Maria, and Linus --- even reduced to four people, the Hero’s Party continues the Journey.

Cyrill’s expression is as dark and unsociable as always, and that had been dragging the entire Party’s mood down --- but now things are different.

For some reason, Jean is actually in a good mood.

“Don’t be so glum now, you three! It’s a beautiful day for a journey, don’t you think?”

“Seriously, the hell’s up with Jean recently…?”

“As long as he’s happy, that’s enough. We should hurry and catch up, Linus-san!”

“Uh… Sure...”

Even Maria seems to be in high spirits recently, proving a lot more talkative than she has been recently.

I guess I should be happy they’re both feeling better, but…

Linus hangs back away from them, however, studying them both carefully.

He can barely feel something dangerous coming off of them, as if they were walking on thin ice.

It feels less like they’ve worked their way through what they were struggling with and more like they’re relying on something now, something they shouldn’t be…

Maria, who had been walking in front of him, turns around to face Linus. She puffs out her cheeks discontentedly, evidently in an unusually expressive mood.

“Didn’t I say we should hurry up?”

“Y-Yeah… Right, you did.”

She links arms with him, pressing her chest into his arm. He’s used to skinship with women, but feeling Maria at his side he nervously twitches.

“Is there something bothering you, Linus-san?”

“You seem a lot more cheerful now, is all… I was just trying to figure why.”

“There’s no real reason for it. My body simply feels a bit lighter than normal is all.”

“I guess that’s fine, then.”

She’s probably hiding something.

If she’s keeping something from him, it might be because it wouldn’t help her, or maybe she doesn’t trust him.

Or maybe --- she doesn’t want to drag him into her problems.

Up until recently just looking at her face was enough to make his worries disappear, but now her expressions only make him more and more uneasy.

Maybe I should make her quit the Journey with me, by force if I have to… Maybe if we manage to start a life somewhere far away, then…

Maria would probably resist it with everything she’s got.

No matter what, though, he can’t bring himself to believe in what she thinks is right.

“...Why are you so…?”

Studying his thoughtful face, Maria’s own expression clouds over.

“Hm?”

“No, it’s nothing. Let’s go, Linus-san!”

A moment later the shadow is gone from her face, however, and as if to distract him she grabs his hand.

They walk hand-in-hand, both fully aware of the invisible wall between them.


◇◇◇


Heading ever-deeper into the Demon Realm, the four of them are attacked by Tsaion once again. He’s attacked them and forced them to retreat several times now.

“You guys aren’t hot at all anymore… This’ll be enough for you guys --- Flare Meteorite!!”

He summons a massive sphere of flames above his head.

This time, however, he isn’t using the high-cost high-power Illegal Formula. The Hero’s Party has grown so weak that he needs to hold back on them now.

Linus, the only one of them left who can properly fight, fires three arrows in quick succession at Tsaion from beyond his spell’s range. Before they reach him they split up, each closing in from a different direction.

“It looks like you’re still burnin’, at least, but this isn’t hot enough to hit me!”

A wreath of flames explodes out from him, easily reducing all three arrows to ash. Linus’ attack wasn’t weak --- Tsaion’s flames are simply too strong.

Linus doesn’t let up on the offensive, however, this time putting three arrows to the string at once. They howl as they flash across the sky, cutting through the air in a different way than his last arrows did.

“Not bad… but this still ain’t enough!!”

Tsaion fires a similar spread of three flaming bolts in return.

Just after that, Jean casts magic at him from where he stands down on the ground below.

“Blue Flame.”

“Fire magic at me!? Are you nuts!?”

Like a disembodied soul, the ball of blue fire flickers unnaturally as it flies up at Tsaion. It’s small and weak enough that it doesn’t even feel worth countering.

Ignoring Jean’s spell, he turns his focus back to Linus’ arrows. The Fire Arrows collide with them, shattering them apart with ease --- but the Wind-magic-infused shards continue to hone in on Tsaion.

“Dammit, they aren’t normal arrows after all!!”

“Terror Messenger --- even if they’re reduced to mere fragments of wood, they’ll never stop hunting you.”

Linus may be an archer, but he’s also a caster of Wind magic in his own right. While he’s nowhere near as strong as a full-fledged mage, he can produce impressive results by combining magic with his physical prowess.

Tsaion flies away from them at high speed, swivelling and spinning in an attempt to shake them off, but even though he increases the distance between them he can’t seem to lose them. He hits them again with Fire magic, but he only succeeds in breaking them up further. The arrow shards and Jean’s Blue Flame refuse to be lost.

“Enough of these stupid games!!”

Inhaling deeply, he draws all his pursuers in, then---

“Blaze Sphere!!”

The air around him burst into flames as he wraps himself in a veil of extreme heat. Linus’ arrows are reduced to ash --- but the Blue Flame is unaffected. Even now the flickering blue ball is the same as it was before Tsaion’s spell.

Clicking his tongue in irritation, he grabs the Flame to crush it directly.

If it really was just fire, that should be enough to snuff it --- but instead it flares up, engulfing his arm and draining the warmth from it at an alarming rate.

“Wha… this ain’t fire? Damn, that’s cold --- this’s gotta be ice, then… but then how’d it get though my Blaze Sphere…!?”

As Tsaion looks down at his numb arm in confusion, Jean starts laughing.

“Blue Flame is, obviously, fire, but at the same time it’s ice --- I don’t expect an ape like you to understand the intricacies of a genius’ magic, though! Hehe, hahaha, AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I’ve already reached the point in my research where such a thing is possible! Next up --- Medusa Wind!”

Jean extends his hand, but nothing visible comes out, as though he weren’t casting magic at all. Just then, however, a breeze tickles Tsaion’s cheek, and with a thin cracking sound he can feel something odd stuck there. Reaching up to touch it, he finds a clump of stone on his face. He tries to pull it off --- only to realize it’s a part of his flesh.

“Wait… You’re turnin’ me to stone!?”

The ‘wind’ must be causing it. Tsaion flies away from the wind’s path as fast as he possibly can manage.

“Your turn now, Linus,” Jean mutters.

As if knowing exactly where he’ll go next, Linus’ next arrow hits Tsaion in the right shoulder.

“Gh…! D-Dammit, stop with all this creepy magic! Prometh---”

Abandoning all restraint, Tsaion moves to unleash some more powerful magic on the Party.

Maria’s magic cuts him off.

“Sacred Lance!”

A spear of light flies at him from her fingertips at an intense speed. He attempts to twist his body out of the way, but unable to avoid it completely it embeds itself in his right arm, searing his flesh.

“Gaagh! Gh, not yet… I’m not done yet!!”

Tsaion doesn’t lose heart --- but Maria’s magic isn’t finished yet.

“Spiral.”

The spear of light starts spinning inside his arm at a breakneck pace.

“W-What the--- gh, gagh, aaaaaaaagghh!?”

GWEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!

Like an electronic mixer, the spear wraps itself around his flesh, spinning and tearing great chunks of it loose as it wreaks havoc on his bones. In moments chunks of bloody flesh are sent flying as the spell does its horrible work.

“Hagh… a, ghu… y-you… assholes…!”

His will is still unbroken. Only the determination to prevent the Party from reaching Shietume prevents him from losing heart completely.

Jean and Maria have already started to prepare their next spells, however, and Linus’ sights are trained on the gap between his eyes. Only Cyrill just stands there, sword in hand with a dark expression on her face --- but even without her they’ll kill Tsaion at this rate.

“I-I can’t… I can’t lose here…!”

Shietume’s crying face appears in his mind.

He absolutely can’t afford to die.

“Dammit, I…!”

Frustration rich on his face, he grabs as much of his scattered arm as he can muster and turns his back on the Party, fleeing north.

“Elemental Burst!”

“Judgement Storm!”

Jean and Maria don’t let up their offensive, however, unleashing their strongest spells at his back.

Elemental Burst is a combination of earth, fire, water, and air, a blast of raw power designed simply to destroy. The four elements together are released as a burst of white energy, making it look very similar to Light magic.

Judgement Storm is a modified version of Judgement, a spell that launches a massive sword of light at the enemy. By causing the sword to rotate at high speeds, it not only covers a greater area but creates a powerful shockwave that travels with it, ‘purifying’ and immolating everything in its path.

Tsaion first focuses on dodging Judgement Storm. It only grazes him, but it still manages to carve out a mass of flesh from his shoulder. Since that arm was already in tatters, however, it won’t pose a problem now.

Then, extending his left hand and gathering all the mana he possible can into it, he takes the Elemental Burst head-on. Given its raw power it’s impossible to cancel it out, but he should be able to deflect it.

“Gh… DORYAAAAAAAAAAA!!”

By putting literally everything he has into that counter, Tsaion succeeds in altering the spell’s path enough that it misses him. The white light pierces the cloudy sky, blasting through with enough force that the clouds clear in an instant.

Shuddering at the thought of what that spell would’ve done if it had hit, Tsaion somehow succeeds in escaping.


◇◇◇


As soon as he returns to the Demon Lord’s Castle, Tsaion shuts himself in his room and collapses onto the floor.

“Gotta patch myself up before Shietume sees me… I can’t… hahh… hng, let her see me like this…”

The only issue is how to get help. If he can make it out of the castle, he might be able to make it through some low-traffic alleyways to an acquaintance’s house --- that should be enough.

Head bobbing, body refusing to listen to him, he manages to eventually stand with a hand on the wall beside him.

But just then---

“Niisan, are you back already?”

The last person he wanted to see arrives at his door.

“Dammit…”

He collapses back to the floor again. He hopes for a split second that keeping quiet will be enough to fool her, but he knows it’s impossible. The two of them are close enough that they don’t even need permission to enter each others’ rooms, after all.

“I heard your voice, so you’re there, aren’t you? I’m coming in.”

Sounding slightly peeved after being ignored, she opens the door without waiting for an answer. She lets out a little “Hya!?” as soon as she sees Tsaion on the floor.

“Niisan, what happened to you!? Don’t tell me the Hero…!?”

“...Yeah, that’s about it. Damn, I’m lame…”

“Wha… Is that why you didn’t answer me!? It’s too late for that, Niisan, I’ve known you’re lame for a long time now!”

“That’s kinda disappointing, honestly…”

Shietume gives him a new mental wound, but she tends to his physical wounds with healing magic right then and there. Thanks to the fact that he’d picked up his lost arm, she’s able to heal it good as new.

Her Rare Attribute is Eclipse, which gives her control over both Light and Dark magic. Since she’s especially talented with healing magic, Tsaion often teases her for being un-Demon-Lord-like.

“Thanks.”

Tsaion looks Shietume in the eye and thanks her, and her cheeks turn bright red.

“I hate it when you hide things from me. Come right to me next time, okay?”

“I’ve gotta look tough, y’know?”

“At your age? Hurry up and grow out of it already… and stop turning up your collar, too.”

“No can do. That’s my---”

“Blazing soul, yeah, right. I know what you think. Seriously, if not for that I think you’d be really cool and everything…”

Shietume complains to herself quietly, but a part of her is glad he’s so clueless --- she doesn’t want him doing anything that might make him popular with the other demons. She’s far too embarrassed to just tell him that, of course.

“More importantly, what’d they do to push you this far?”

Standing up for a moment, she plops herself down on the edge of his bed.

“How should I know? They just suddenly turned up the heat on me outta nowhere, pullin’ out all this weird magic I’ve never seen before…”

Tsaion sits down the bed right beside her.

“I can’t believe they’d get stronger so suddenly… Their numbers were thinning so much I was hoping they’d all give up soon.”

“You weren’t wrong, though --- get a buncha deceived humans together and they’ll start breaking up on their own sooner or later.”

He affectionately pats her on the head, and she leans in closer to him.

Demons as a race avoid conflict when they can avoid it, but Shietume’s mother taught her to believe in the good in peoples’ hearts and avoid conflict as much as possible. When the Hero’s Party started their invasion, she had the demons living near the southern border retreat up north. Even now, most of the inhabitants of the Demon Realm are loyal to her, but there are of course always exceptions --- the Three Demon Generals were created to appease that radical element, though honestly she still dislikes the idea of fighting the Hero and destroying villages in the Kingdom.

“No amount of training could’ve made them that hot that fast, though.”

“Maybe… Maybe they’re using Origin’s power?”

“‘Rotation’, ‘connection’, ‘multiplication’... I saw them usin’ that kinda thing, yeah. You sure the seal’s still tight?”

“I’m the only one who could possibly get at the book with the sealing ritual, and only Dieza and I know its contents. There’s no way anyone could’ve messed with it.”

“Those guys down in the Kingdom started going screwy fifty years ago, right?”

“Yes, during Mother’s generation. We haven’t been on good terms with them since…”

“I can’t imagine her screwing anything up… Seriously, what’s goin’ on here?”

The previous Demon Lord, Rietus, was Shietume’s mother. Unfortunately, she died of illness thirty years ago, just after the end of the Demon War.

It was far too early an end for a demon.

The only ones at her deathbed were Shietume and Dieza. After saying her last farewell to her daughter, Rietus squeezed Dieza’s hand, said “Dieza… You…” in a thin voice and left Shietume to him. Moments later she quietly passed away, as if simply falling asleep.

After that the still-young Shietume took up the mantle of Demon Lord with the support of Dieza, Tsaion, and Neigass, maintaining the seal at the same time, but --- somehow, the humans got their hands on Origin’s power.

Neigass left to investigate, thinking that there might be a different Origin responsible for recent events, but she hasn’t found anything yet.

“If the Hero reaches us here, then the seal will fall apart.”

“I guess we’ll hafta kill them, huh.”

“That’d be playing right into Origin’s hands! If we kill the Hero then the humans will only hate us more!”

“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

“No, I’m sorry I yelled at you. It’s because I’m so naive that you keep getting hurt…”

She edges closer to him, clinging onto him more tightly than before. Feeling her leaning on him, Tsaion knows what he has to do.

I’ve got to protect her, no matter what.

“But how can we stop them now…?”

“We’ll have to stop either the Kingdom or the Church, I guess.”

“They won’t even listen to us anymore…”

The humans have been convinced that the demons are evil ever since the Demon War. By the time Shietume became the Demon Lord, their relations were beyond repair.

“They haven’t returned any of my messages, and of course they ignore me every time I try to hold a summit… All the nobles that had anything to do with us have either lost their titles or their power.”

“I guess it’d be hard even for us, huh. Aren’t there any humans who’ll help us?”

“All the humans these days have been taught we’re evil from a young age.”

“Yeah, but what about those guys who left the Party?”

“Umm… Gadio-san, Eterna-san, and… Flum-san, was it?”

Shietume’s never met them herself. She only knows what Tsaion and Neigass have told her.

“Maybe we could talk to one of them… Neigass said she ran into them a while ago, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, but she hasn’t been around much.”

“I’d imagine her investigation’s hit a few snags. We’ll ask her about it when she comes back. I think it’s worth a try.”

“I wish.”

Silence falls between them.

Shietume strengthens her grip on his arm. His wounds may have healed, but the smell of blood on him makes her uneasy.

“...Why does everyone have to fight?”

“I’m sure those guys’ve got their reasons.”

“All I want is peace, though…”

Tsaion wraps his arm around Shietume’s shoulders.

Feeling his warmth, she finds herself wishing that things could always be so peaceful.


◇◇◇


After beating back Tsaion, the Hero’s Party finally arrives at their next Continue Point on schedule. Cyrill casts Return and brings the four of them back to the Teleportation Room beneath the Palace.

“We made some fine progress today! How about we go out for a celebratory drink, Linus?”

“Sorry, I’m busy.”

“What, I finally invite you out and you turn me down? You’re a bit of a wet blanket, aren’t you? Not that it matters, really. Nothing could spoil my good mood! Fuhahahahaha!”

Still laughing, Jean leaves the room. Cyrill watches him leave, more confused than anything else.

Maria, on the other hand, has a content smile on her face.

“Hey, Maria-cha…”

Linus calls out to her, but Maria leaves the room without responding. It’s as if she didn’t even hear him.

He simply stands there, watching her walk away, a troubled look on his face.

“Linus-san… What do you think happened to those two…?”

Cyrill can’t stay quiet any longer, unable to keep her question to herself.

“Hell if I know. They’re not acting themselves, that’s for sure.”

“It’s because I’m useless, isn’t it…?”

“Don’t worry about it, just take your time. Everyone knows you’re the heart of the Party.”

“...Yeah.”

Even Linus’ encouragement feels empty. A dark look on her face, Cyrill leaves the Teleportation Room, headed for the Palace’s balcony to get a bit of air.

Since she’s the Hero, just walking outside is enough to draw a crowd. Maybe because she feels especially approachable many people are eager for any chance to talk to her, making even a casual stroll impossible. That’s the last thing she needs right now.

She looks out on the Capital below her.

Out of the corner of her eye she spots a sweet shop, one that she remembers visiting before. Closing her eyes, she thinks back on that time, the sight still fresh in her mind.

“Mmm! The cream, the sponge cake, the fruits, everything’s so good! The Capital really is amazing, huh?”

“Mm, it’s good. Really good.”

“Hehehe, if you eat it that fast it’ll be gone in no time!”

“I’ll just get another. What about you, Flum?”

“Hmm… Maybe I’ll get another, too! Ehehe!”

Before they knew it, the cake had disappeared from their plates. For the next course, they each decided to order for the other.

“I’m really glad you’re here, Cyrill-chan.”

Right after the waitress left, Flum turned to face Cyrill with a smile.

“What’s this, all of a sudden?”

“I’ve been kind of a nervous wreck ever since I came here. Everyone’s so strong, but I can’t seem to do anything right… If you weren’t here I think I would’ve run away long ago.”

“Flum…”

“I’m really glad I met you, Cyrill-chan… from the bottom of my heart.”

Flum averted her gaze bashfully.

She wasn’t the only one feeling under pressure, though. Cyrill felt all the same unease and pressure as Flum, only stronger. Without her Cyrill would’ve been completely crushed by it.

She should’ve been honest with Flum and with herself and thanked her.

She couldn’t do it, however. The words caught in her throat, and she didn’t know what to say. She’d never cursed her clumsiness with words any more than at that moment.

Cyrill’s memories move on, taking her to a very different incident some time later.

“Thanks to you, one of the actual Chosen got hurt again. Well? How are you going to make up for it, hmm!?”

“I-I’m so sorry…”

Flum, sitting sprawled out on the ground, inched away from him.

Cyrill watched her from Jean’s side.

“You simply don’t understand what absolute trash you are, do you!? Do you really think that just apologizing will make up for all you’ve done!?”

“Agh…!”

Jean grabbed her by the collar, uncomfortably hoisting her into the air.

He only abused her when nobody else was around. Cyrill was the only person Flum could rely on, and as such it was natural that Flum gave her a pleading look. She had to have known that she was the only one who could’ve helped her.

But --- Cyrill simply turned away, pretended not to see anything.

She had enough on her own plate, she didn’t have the energy to worry about others, Jean was too scary to stop --- she could think of any number of excuses.

Not one of them justified what she did, however.

In the end it’s her fault Flum was forced to leave, never to return.

Those happy days, her only real friend --- they now exist only in her memories.

All of Cyrill’s unhappiness is nobody’s fault but her own.

“Cyrill-chan.”

A kind voice from behind her snaps her out of her reminiscence.

“Maria…”

Turning around, Cyrill sees the saint standing behind her, giving her a merciful smile as if offering her the hand of salvation itself.

Maria takes Cyrill’s hand, pressing a small black crystal into her palm.

“We call this a ‘Core’.”

“A Core…?”

Looking at the spiral within the Core’s depths, Cyrill can feel her consciousness getting drawn into it. A chill runs down her spine. Her instincts whisper to her, telling her that the Core is by no means a good thing.

“Both Jean-san and I were able to use this to become stronger, you know.”

Cyrill herself has seen their new ‘power’ at work just recently.

If I can use that ‘power’... if I can make myself useful again… then maybe I can get out of this slump I’m in. But---

There’s no way something so convenient, so easy could possibly exist.

“You want to help us, don’t you?”

Maria’s voice sounds just as it always does, but for some reason Cyrill can feel a pressuring edge to it.

OmaeGotoki 03-Int2 1.png

“Why don’t you try it, then? I’m sure it’ll be to your liking.”

“Is it really safe?”

“Everyone’s using it, myself included. The Church has spent many years researching them, so you can trust it, I promise.”

Cyrill doesn’t have any reason to distrust Maria. She thanks her, then puts the Core into the bag slung over her shoulder.

As if that really was the only business Maria had with Cyrill, she says “You’re welcome,” then heads back inside the Palace.


◇◇◇


Maria is walking the halls when a blonde woman in a long white coat approaches her. The woman stops, glasses glinting as she readjusts them and the corners of her mouth twisting upwards.

“How’d it go, saint-samaaaa?”

“Echidna-san… Don’t worry, Cyrill-san accepted the Core as planned.”

“That’s so goooood to hear. It’d be a pity if the fruits of my labour weren’t put to good uuuuse, nfufufu!”

Echidna Ipeira, a bewitchingly beautiful woman with a distinctive beauty mark under one eye, is on even terms with Mother within the Church --- in other words, she’s in charge of her own little ‘project’.

“How’s your Core doing, saint-samaaaa? Feeling sick at aaaall?”

“Not yet, at least. I’ve heard only good things about your Chimaera Cores so I’m honestly not worried.”

“Nfufufufu, that’s good to heeeear. I can’t afford to lose to the Children or Necromancy, after aaaall. I’m still a liiiittle worried about you, though, saint-samaaaa. I didn’t design those Cores with huuuuman use in mind.”

“Thank you for your concern, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m afraid I have some business to attend to, so if you’ll excuse me.”

“Aaaahh, I’m so soooorry for keeping you. I’ll seeeee you later, then.”

Giving Maria one last flirtatious smile, Echidna disappears into the depths of the Palace.

Maria, now alone, concentrates on the voices reverberating inside her head.

[NOT BAD] [ALMOST THERE] [DON’T NEED HER] [I’M NERVOUS] [MUST REVIVE SOON]

She receives the voices loud and clear.

“Don’t worry, Origin-sama.”

The saint smiles.

[BECOME ONE] [LET’S CONNECT WITH HER] [NO, KILL] [CRUSHING THE STARS’ WILLS COMES FIRST] [WHAT ABOUT OUR NEXT REBIRTH] [NO, KILL, KILL, KILL]

Her Core amplifies the voices flowing into her mind.

All of Origin used to be of one mind, but recently their opinions have been divided, their arguing incessant.

Everything is her fault --- everything is because of Flum Apricot.

“Seeing Cyrill-san safely to the Castle comes first.”

They’ll have all the time they need after that.

Everything is for breaking Origin’s seal, for achieving Maria’s true goal---

“To eliminate all life, no matter what it takes.”

Muttering to herself, she heads for the Palace gates.

“Those foul, awful demons… I’ve got to kill them all…”

She’s all alone. She can show her true colours.

“I hate, hate---!”

Something cuts in.

A faintly smiling face… his face.

She shakes her head clear of him.

I need to forget him.

He’s only in the way.

I can’t trust him to do anything.

If she trusts him she’ll be betrayed, she can feel it.

“I hate humans… I hate all life. I’ve got to kill them all…”

She bites her thumb. Blood flows out. She laps it up, swallowing the iron tang.

Her grudge is burned into her chest --- something that has become Maria herself, violating the very title of ‘saint’, moving only to see its wish fulfilled.

She’ll betray and be betrayed, compromise with whomever she must, all for that.

She has no reason to hesitate.

There’s (probably) nothing in this world that could make her regret what she’s going to do.


Chapter 1 - What He Lost[edit]

Three days have passed since the end of the Ink incident. The West Quarter is surprisingly peaceful, and the Church hasn’t made any move yet. Maybe they don’t know Ink’s still alive yet, or maybe they don’t think it matters. As Flum heads to the adventurer’s guild with Gadio she feels a little uneasy.

As they enter a narrow alleyway, the West Quarter’s infamously foul wind hits them in the face. Flum scrunches up her face in disgust, brushing her hair back into place with her fingers.

“It’s pretty quiet.”

Gadio, clad in his longcoat, mutters to her. Just a little while ago he’d dropped by Flum’s house, asking her if she’d come to the guild with him.

She turns up to look at him.

“The Church hasn’t tried anything, either.”

In the past two days Gadio had found Mother’s lab, mainly with Ink’s testimony and by retracing their attackers’ steps. They’d abandoned it and cleared it out before he arrived, of course, but nonetheless they have one fewer hideout now. Mother and the Spiral Children are probably looking for a new base of operations as they speak.

“It looks like it’s safer around here now that Dane’s gone, but that probably won’t last for long.”

“I don’t want to imagine what those thugs will do now that they’ve lost their leader.”

Gadio sighs and closes his eyes, shaking his head from side to side.

Dane led the lowlifes of the West Quarter, but now that he’s gone they’re free to do whatever they want, in a sense.

“They’re probably going to fight over who’ll be their next leader or something equally stupid.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine that’ll end well…”

If nothing else, Dane was charismatic. No mere thug could take his place.

“Chances are they’ll split into gangs and start warring with each other for territory. That’s why we’ll need to form a plan to keep the peace.”

“At the guild?”

Flum still hasn’t heard from him what they’ll be doing at the guild. She’s curious, but she’ll have her answer soon enough.

They arrive at the guild without trouble, and Flum enters the building first. Ila, sitting at the counter with her chin propped up on her elbow, groans as soon as she lays eyes on her.

“Right, time to call it a day.”

“Looks like you’re as eager to do your job as always, huh?”

“I can finally catch a break now, so I’m not going to let you of all people ruin it.”

“You sure you’re not a little too free now?”

“I can do whatever I want, so I will. You can go back to whatever filthy little hole you crawled out of now. Go on, shoo!”

“You really get on my nerves…!”

Flum glares at her, but Ila simply turns away with a bored expression.

“Seriously, the only time I’ve seen you seriously work is when you shoved that werewolf-hunting quest on me. I wonder if they’d fire you if I complained to the Central Quarter guild?”

“You just can’t take a hint, can you? You really think they’d listen to a D-Rank slave instead of me? Give up and go home to that bandaged chick already.”

“If the guildmaster were here you’d be singing a different tune!”

“Ahaha, like he’d ever come out here! There’s no way a famous S-Rank adventurer like him would be seen dead here! You’ll regret your stupid fantasies sooner or later.”

Each taking the other’s provocations head-on, their argument only continues to heat up --- but just then Gadio enters from behind Flum. He looks Ila square in the eyes.

“You called?”

She freezes like a songbird before a dragon. The colour quickly drains from her face as she breaks out in a cold sweat.

“G-Gadio… Ruskett…? W-What’re you doing here… You’re supposed to be out on the Journey!!”

“I have my reasons. Well then, Ila Gereisen, you’ve got my attention. I’m supposed to be dead now, am I?”

“U-Uhh… Slowe-kun…? C-Could you come give me a quick hand out here…?”

Her kouhai doesn’t respond. Slowe is typically quite obedient to her, but he’s not stupid enough to get on Gadio’s bad side over something like this.

“...You’re not coming? …Uuuu…”

Losing her nerve, she shrinks before Gadio’s glare. She then gives a pleading look to Flum, of all people, but Flum only sticks out her tongue in response.

“Why you little…!”

Ila glares at her, but she’s already all but doomed.

“Wait… So you’re the guildmaster here, Gadio-san!?”

“Something like that. They forced the title on me a few years ago, but I’ve never once come in to work.”

“Ah, so that’s why you wanted to plan here! If you’re the guildmaster then the thugs can’t just do whatever they want, huh?”

Gadio is S-rank, after all --- the kind of fools that’d dare make him an enemy are few and far-between.

“So, Flum, it sounds like this woman’s tried to kill you before.”

“Yeah, for my licensing exam she made me fight a D-Rank monster, of all things!”

“Protocol states the monster should be F-Rank… Raising the rank on her like that could’ve well killed her. I can’t just overlook that.”

“N-No, I mean, Dane made me do it! I tried to stop him! Really! A-And I mean, look, she’s still alive, so no harm done, right…? Right? You agree with me, don’t you, Flum?”

Unable to contain her amusement at Ila’s panic, Flum clamps a hand over her mouth, shoulder trembling with suppressed laughter. Ila clenches her fists in irritation under the counter.

“She should probably be fired for all she’s done. What do you think, Flum?”

“Hmm… That does sound appealing…”

“Y-You’re not serious, right!?”

“I mean, you’ve broken pretty much every rule there is…”

“Well, maybe, but…!”

Flum was technically dismembered on that quest, even if she did come out fine.

“We’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we?”

“Yeah, but nothing good. In fact, I think I want to see you get fired even more now…”

“H-How about we be friends from now on, then? If I get fired then how am I supposed to make a living!?”

“Here’s an idea --- how about you sell your body?”

“You’re heartless!!”

Flum resists the urge to turn the insult right back at Ila.

Even if Flum does have a grudge against her, though, she’s at least trying to turn over a new leaf, unlike Dane. Since she broke off her deal with him as soon as he went over to the Church’s side, there might not be any need to fire her after all.

“How does just cutting her salary sound, Gadio-san?”

“Hm. You’re quite generous, Flum.”

“Ahh, thank you so… wait, cut my salary!? Hold on a second, why should I have to---”

“Maybe I should fire you after all.”

“Ugh…!”

At this point there’s nothing more she can say.

“I won’t let you just do as you please now that I’m here. Be ready to work --- for real this time.”

“Whatever you say…”

Ila slumps in her chair, defeated. Flum sniggers at her.

As soon as Gadio disappears into the depths of the guild to handle the formal paperwork, Ila snaps at Flum.

“Thanks to you, it looks like I’ll have to cut my food budget!”

“You reap what you sow.”

“Hmph, where do you get off talking to me like that? If you really know Gadio Ruskett, though, I guess you’re that Flum Apricot, aren’t you?”

“You just figured that out?”

“Of course I did. Nobody’d think that a Chosen would be skulking around here with a slave mark.”

“To be fair, Eterna-san’s living with me now, too.”

“Wait, Eterna Rinebow too? I can’t imagine what’s left of the Party now… What does the Church think it’s doing?”

If word got out that three of the Chosen were just hanging around the Capital, there’d probably be a panic. Back when it was just Flum and Eterna there were rumours, certainly, but since Eterna doesn’t leave the house much it didn’t go past that. Given how much Gadio sticks out and how he’ll be working as guildmaster, however, he’ll probably end up attracting a lot of attention to them.

“I’ve heard the rumours, but what with those creepy corpses in the slums and everything the Church’s only getting fishier.”

The rumour that the Church was involved in the eyeball incident is currently spreading throughout the Capital like wildfire. Now that someone as big and important as Gadio has openly gone against them, tension’s bound to keep on rising.

“Can we really trust him to be the guildmaster now, though?”

“What, do you have some problem with Gadio-san?”

“You don’t know? They call him ‘Gadio the Coward’ for a reason, y’know.”

Flum snorts at Ila disbelievingly.

“Even though he’s pretty much boldness personified?”

“Now, maybe. Some say he abandoned his friends mid-quest and ran back home with his tail between his legs.”

“Lying just because he cut your salary… How sad.”

“I’m not lying! If you don’t trust me then go ahead, ask any adventurer. Or maybe if you’re so close to him you should ask him yourself?”

There’s no way she could just walk up to him and ask “Are you really as much of a coward as everyone says?”

A little lost as to what she should do, Flum lets out a perplexed sigh.


◇◇◇


A little while later, Gadio returns from the depths of the guild.

“I’ll start my work as guildmaster starting tomorrow,” Gadio tells Ila before leaving together with Flum.

Heading back to Gadio’s house, they make for the East Quarter. The whole time Flum has a look of consternation on her face, mulling over what Ila had told her.

“What’d she tell you?”

“Well, it’s not really what she told me that’s the problem, more like what she told me to do…”

Flum clumsily tries to avoid the question.

The closer they get to the Central Quarter the cleaner and more populated the streets become. The looks of all the passersby are of course fixed on Gadio, but occasionally they take a quick glance at Flum --- though they seem more preoccupied with the slave mark on her cheek than anything else.

“‘Gadio the Coward’, huh?”

He says it before she has the chance to.

“So you know?”

“It’s the truth, after all.”

“Of course it isn’t! You’re---”

“No, I am a coward. I deserve that name.”

His words drip with self-loathing. Since he apparently has his reasons, Flum can’t argue. The mood between them is stiflingly awkward as they leave the Central Quarter for the East Quarter.

They stop on the corner of one of the richest parts of town.

“Welcome home, Master Ruskett.”

The guard by the entrance bows deeply as soon as he lays eyes on Gadio.

“Woah… Is this really where you live…?”

Past the iron-wrought fence lies an opulent mansion, nestled in the middle of a yard big enough to be a park.

“Yes, though it’s not like this is all mine.”

Opening the gate, they walk down the cobbled garden path towards the house. Trees laden with red flowers arch above them. In one corner of the yard lies a garden filled with all manner of colourful plants, a tree larger than a small house cordoned off in the center of it. In a different corner an assortment of toys lie scattered around a swing set and a small sandbox.

It’s said that S-Rank adventurers live in the lap of luxury. Flum always had the impression that meant that they’d be able to eat steak every day and be able to afford as much cake as they wanted, but the real thing far surpasses her fantasies. She gawks at the opulence all around them like a country bumpkin seeing the big city for the first time. Seeing her like that, Gadio’s stern expression loosens slightly for the first time that day.

After a short while they arrive in front of the mansion. From inside Flum can barely hear the sound of someone running, and a moment later the door flies open and a young girl flies out.

She glomps onto Gadio, beaming at him.

“Welcome home, Papa!”

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch1 1.png

It takes Flum a moment to process what the girl said.

I guess it’s not impossible since he’s thirty-two years old, but…!

Having heard nothing about any children before then, Flum can do nothing but stare at Gadio wide-eyed, mouth half-opened in shock.

Putting his face in his hands, Gadio lets out a rare exasperated sigh.


Chapter 2 - Reason To Fight[edit]

“I didn’t know you had a kid, Gadio-san.”

“No, she’s… How many times do I have to tell you not to call me papa, Hallom?”

Gadio gives the little girl, evidently named Hallom, a pat on the head. He acts naturally enough that they clearly look like father and daughter --- but if Gadio denies it, then they must not be related by blood.

“Papa’s Papa! Even Mama says so!”

Hallom puffs out her cheeks in anger. Just as Gadio gives her a bitter smile, a red-haired woman about the same age as him steps outside.

“Welcome home, Gadio.”

“I’m back, Kereina.”

Their exchange makes them look just like husband and wife.

“Isn’t it about time you just let her call you Papa already?”

“I can’t. I don’t know what I’d tell Souma.”

“So it’s Souma this time? Yesterday it was Tia. Seriously, there’s being proper and then there’s this…”

“We’ll continue this later. I brought a guest.”

“Ah!”

Kereina seems to notice Flum standing there for the first time.

“Sorry for leaving you out of the conversation like that. Wait, you aren’t Flum-chan, are you? Gadio talks about you all the time! He says you’ve got real promise.”

Flum blushes slightly, more than a little embarrassed, though she doesn’t take it at all seriously. Until just a little while ago she was a status-zero, powerless little girl, after all.

“How about we bring the conversation inside? The parlour’s fine, right, Gadio?”

“Yeah. It’d be best if we weren’t disturbed.”

“Ahh, so you’re telling her about that. Got it.”

“Ehhh, Hallom thought she’d finally get to play with Papa!”

Gadio picks up the pouting Hallom and hands her to Kereina. She’s probably six or seven years old, but both of them handle her as though she weighs nothing. Judging from the scars on Kereina’s arms she’s likely a retired adventurer --- she and Gadio might’ve been party members at one point.

“Papa promises he’ll play with you later, but Mama will play with you now, okay?”

“Playing with Mama’s boring! Hallom wants Papa!”

Kereina plants the writhing and flailing Hallom onto her shoulders, unfazed by the girl’s antics. The two of them disappear inside the mansion.

Unable to keep up with their conversation from start to finish, Flum watches their backs in a daze.

“Let’s go.”

“U-Uh, yeah…”

Flum has to hurry to keep up with Gadio’s massive stride as he heads inside.


◇◇◇


The walls of the parlour are covered with expensive-looking paintings, and a crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling. The sofa is deceptively soft, and Flum sinks into it far deeper than she’d expected as she sits down.

Everything in the mansion is opulent to the point of excess. The decorating sense clearly doesn’t match the Gadio she knows.

“I was planning on just talking about the Church and giving you some equipment, but it looks like you have a few questions for me now.”

Gadio sighs as he sits down across from her.

“Equipment?”

“Stuff in the storehouse that we gathered some while back. Some of it’s cursed, so I thought you might be able to use it.”

“Wait, really!?”

“I certainly can’t use it.”

“Thanks. I guess I’ll take you up on your offer, then.”

Most adventurers simply throw away any cursed equipment they find, but a few pieces make their way around the Capital as collector’s items. She spots them on display in store windows every now and then, but she’s never really seen anything she’s content with. Since it’s not every day that she gets a chance to root through mountains of corpses, Gadio’s offer is welcome indeed.

“We’ll leave that for later, though. I’m sure you’re curious about Kereina and Hallom.”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

Kereina isn’t his wife and Hallom isn’t his child, and yet the three are living together quite comfortably. Flum’s head is about to burst with all her theories as to why that could be.

“Kereina was my best friend Souma’s wife, and Hallom is their daughter. Souma himself was killed by a monster six years ago.”

That alone is enough for Flum to figure things out. Since Hallom is about seven years old now, she probably doesn’t remember her real father. Gadio likely took on the role of her surrogate father, and chances are Kereina sees him as…

“If he was your best friend, then Souma-san was probably really strong, right?”

“Far stronger than me, at any rate. He held our party together as our leader and always bravely lead the charge.”

“Your old party…”

“Me, Souma, Kereina, Tia, Jane, Rowe --- we were truly the perfect team. With three S-rank and three A-rank adventurers, we were convinced that we were invincible.”

They were probably right --- just having three S-rank adventurers would’ve made them the strongest party in the Kingdom.

“Originally, this house was built for the six of us to live together in.”

“You were that close, huh?”

“Just being with them was all I ever wanted… Tia and I were newlyweds back then. I’ve never been happier in all my life.”

The reflection of Gadio’s face in the polished table is filled with sorrow.

“I never knew you were married.”

“I was against it at first since Souma was already married, though. Ironically, she died not long after we swore our vows --- and it was all because I was too weak.”

Gadio spits the words out with self-loathing.

“So all six of you were living here together? What happened to everyone else?”

“Six years ago, we took on a quest to hunt a dragon. We were all convinced that it’d be so easy, that we’d be home in a flash… Kereina was waiting for us here with young Hallom, after all. When we finally met the beast, though, we realized it wasn’t a normal dragon at all.”

He takes a deep breath, a bitter look in his eyes.

“It had a hideous spiral of flesh for a face.”

“Wait, so you fought one of those monstrosities six years ago!?”

Flum raises her voice in shock and pitches forward in her seat, and Gadio wordlessly nods.

“It took us by surprise. Before we’d even realized what was happening, Jane and Rowe were dead. Souma fought bravely, but in the end he was ‘spiralled’ and turned into mincemeat from inside his armour. Tia took a blow through the heart protecting me… I was the only survivor.”

Six years later, he still regrets the events of that day. It’ll likely haunt him as long as he lives. Even if someone were to forgive him for his weakness, he’ll never be able to forgive himself.

“I barely managed to escape with my life, only to find all my colleagues blame me as a weakling and a traitor, hence ‘Gadio the Coward’. I can’t blame them, though, since it’s the truth. I left my party members, my best friend, even my wife behind that day, walking into the Capital as though nothing had happened --- nobody deserves that title more than I do.”

Gadio grits his teeth and tightly balls his fists.

“I went back to the place we were attacked later, hoping to at least give them a proper burial, but all that was left was Souma’s sword and armour. I wasn’t even able to return with my own wife’s corpse…”

Frustration and regret are thick in his voice.

Ever since then he’s been using Souma’s sword and armour, determined never to forget his failure.

“I tried to bury myself in the way of the warrior, determined to grow strong enough that I wouldn’t make the same mistake ever again, but the emptiness wouldn’t leave me --- it still hasn’t.”

Flum is at a loss for words. She’s learned more about him in the past few minutes than she has in the past six months, but now that she knows she doesn’t know what to say.

After a long moment in thought---

“No matter what happened in the past, Gadio-san, you’re no less of a hero now. You’re not a coward!”

Her words are neither a poison nor an antidote --- a sense of irritation rises at her own ineptitude.

Her feelings must’ve reached him, however, as his expression relaxes and he grows a little more at ease.

“You really are kind, aren’t you?”

“N-No, I...”

“Let’s leave the gloomy talk at that move on to the main topic, shall we?”

“About the Church, right? Did you figure out anything else?”

“There’re still a few things I discovered from those Grand Cathedral documents I haven’t told you about yet. It might’ve been best to tell you everything right after the fighting ended, but it was all I could do to memorize a few things before being chased out of the Cathedral. I wanted a little time to think things over first.”

After he got information on the Children those eyes had started pursuing him. The fact that he was able to memorize yet more information in such a state is plenty impressive.

“I haven’t quite finished sorting through everything yet, but I did manage to learn that there are three research teams working with the Cores.”

“Yeah, I heard that there were multiple teams from Otilier-san. One of them’s the Spiral Children, right?”

“From what I could tell, they’re just referred to as the ‘Children’ within the Church. The other two are ‘Necromancy’ and ‘Chimaera’.”

“Just the names send shivers down my spine…”

It’s easy to imagine the kinds of horrific experimentation the other two teams are conducting.

“Necromancy seems to be attempting to use the Cores’ power to turn corpses into weapons. Their leader is a man named Daffyd Sharmas.”

“Ah, him --- Otilier-san mentioned that she’d seen him and another researcher, Echidna, around the Grand Cathedral.”

“Echidna’s heading the Chimaera project, apparently. From what I’ve seen all the teams also have a cardinal overseeing them.”

“The cardinals are the second most powerful people in the Church after the Pope, right? I think I heard there were five of them…”

“Of them, Tarch Kanswalker oversees the Children, though on the surface he only oversees the Church’s lands and infrastructure.”

“Two jobs at once… You think the Church’s short-staffed?”

“They can’t go making anyone a cardinal, after all, and there’s a chance that they really are just keeping an eye on things. The researchers seem to have complete control over their respective projects --- I can’t imagine them condoning Mother disposing of Ink like that.”

The Church has been keeping their human experimentation top secret. They wouldn’t have allowed Ink to fall into Flum’s hands like that if they had any say in the matter.

“To be fair, I wouldn’t leave anyone insane enough to do research like that without a babysitter, either.”

“The Church are the insane ones for conducting that research in the first place… but we’re getting off topic. The Chimaera research team is trying to stitch the bodies of different things together into a single creature and bring it alive through the Cores’ power.”

“So Necromancy’s trying to make Cores to fit the bodies and Chimaera’s trying to make bodies to fit the Cores, huh? It sounds like they all have their own unique approach… So which cardinal’s in charge of Chimaera?”

“Slowanach Seitie, the man in charge of the priests and priestesses.”

“Another double-duty… Did you figure out who the leaders of the Children project are?”

“The names Mike Smithy and Falmo Fimio were written there. I’ve heard that Falmo is the cardinal overseeing research on healing magic.”

“That seems to be a pretty obvious fit. Mike Smithy’s probably Mother’s real name, then.”

“Most likely. He probably took the name to hide his identity --- or rather, to immerse himself in his role, from what you’ve told me.”

“I only got to talk with him for a little while, but I could tell he had a few screws loose. Now that we have a name, though, it should be easier to track him down. If it’s his real name there should definitely be a lead or two in the Captial.”

“Yes, I plan on tracking down this Mike Smithy first. He should be panicking now that he’s lost his lab, which is good news for us.”

That’s what makes the most logical sense, but something strikes Flum as a little off.

“Umm… So the team that killed your friends six years ago was probably created by Chimaera, right?”

“They’re the only ones making monsters, after all.”

That means that Chimaera must’ve been at work for at least six years. The lab at Enchide was abandoned about ten years ago, but the chances that it also belonged to them are high.

“You’re wondering why I’m not chomping at the bit to hunt down Chimaera, is that it?”

Flum nods vigorously.

They’ve killed both his best friend and his wife. There’s no way he isn’t holding a grudge.

“True, I do hate them. Now that it’s clear they’re the ones responsible, I have every intention of hunting them down and destroying them no matter what. At the same time, though, I have no intention of allowing Children or Necromancy to continue either. As far as I’m concerned they’re all equally guilty.”

His voice, low and heavy, is laden with hatred.

“Eventually I’ll crush the Church itself. That’s the sole reason I’ve become as strong as I am now.”

He was a plenty competent adventurer back with his old party, but he was nowhere near the level he is now. After losing everything six years ago, he literally put his blood, sweat, and tears into training himself, finally becoming the Gadio he is today.

His anger fuelled him every step of the way. Even when he didn’t know who he was fighting it was a great source of strength, but now that the enemy is within reach his blood must be boiling.

“What about you, Flum?”

“What do you mean?”

“We still don’t know what they’re really after, but the reason you were forced into that Journey was because of ‘Reversal’, the only thing that can stop those monstrosities. They probably haven’t given up on you yet.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine they’d leave me alone now.”

The Church is one thing, but even Origin itself desires her power. Judging from the fact that her name was in that notebook she found outside Enchide, it’s probably been after her since her days in her hometown, since she was only a child, always. It won’t give up easily.

“You’ll have to deal with it whether you want to or not, but there’s a difference between fighting and just defending yourself. Can you really keep fighting them with just the determination you have now?”

His expression is harsh, but his thoughts are kind.

She may have suddenly gained the strength to fight, but that doesn’t mean she has the resolve to handle whatever comes her way.

Violence destroys not just bodies but hearts as well.

Gadio is simply worried that if she keeps fighting as she is now, she’ll crack sooner or later.

“I’m not just defending. I have something I need to protect.”

Her voice is filled with resolve.

She has someone supporting her.

Flum doesn’t feel as though she’s grown any stronger personally --- it’s because there’s someone supporting her, a home to return to, that she’ll be able to fight as long as she needs to.

“I have Milkit, and I’m still determined to live a normal life with her here in the Capital someday. If I have to fight for that, then I’ll fight. I’m sure I’m not anywhere near as determined as you are, but I’ve made up my mind to do this.”

“For her, huh…? In other words, you’re fighting for…”

Gadio is about to say something, but realizing how crass it’d sound coming from him he stops himself.

“Nevermind, there’s no point in me saying it. That should be more than enough motivation, though.”

“Yeah. You can feel free to rely on me instead of trying to shoulder everything on your own, y’know.”

“I suppose I’ll be counting on you, then.”

Gadio’s expression relaxes, and following suit Flum grins.


◇◇◇


Having finished talking about the Church, Gadio shows her the way to the mansion’s storeroom.

The tiled floor of the impressively long hallway is polished to the point that it’s almost blinding. The vases, busts, and even doors that line the hallways are opulent enough that they’d probably feel right at home in an art gallery. Just one of the vases probably costs as much as Flum’s entire house.

“It’s down these stairs.”

Descending the stairs and opening the door at their foot, they arrive in room filled with all manner of equipment. The mannequins are clad in everything from dresses to robes, from leather armour to platemail of a staggering variety of sizes and designs. The shelves are filled with helmets, headbands, gauntlets, shin guards, boots, brooches, and too many more defensive items to possibly count. Glass cases are packed with an incredible assortment of accessories. Longswords, shortswords, greatswords, spears, hammers, maces, staves, bows and more line the walls.

Flum casually casts Scan on a few items to find a large amount of Legendary and even some Epic equipment mixed in with the others. The contents of this room is undeniably many times the cost of the mansion above.

“T-This is amazing…!”

“I thought of getting rid of them since I can’t use them all, but my memories always get in the way in the end.”

The equipment that his old allies used are probably somewhere in the horde.

Flum didn’t come for anything in that room, however --- Gadio tells her that what she’s looking for is beyond the door in the back.

A huge pile of equipment dominates the back room, along with the powerful raw stench of blood. Just like Flum’s own Bloodied Steel Gauntlets, there are probably a number of items in the pile that won’t come clean of the blood they’re steeped in.

“Rowe had a hobby of collecting cursed stuff like this. Nothing in here’s normal, I’m sure.”

“He sounds like he was a bit of a weirdo…”

“We kept telling him to throw this stuff out. I never thought I’d ever see it be useful…”

There’s a hint of nostalgia in Gadio’s voice. This mansion is likely filled with happy memories for him --- and that’s exactly why it’s so hard for him.

Flum reaches out to the pile of equipment. One by one, she casts Scan on everything she sees. Some of them tremble faintly on their own, some of them have wrinkles that look eerily like human faces, some of them scream into her mind just by touching them, and after she and the cursed items stare each other down for a while she picks up a helmet.

“Find anything good?”

“I’ve got to admit, there’re some pretty powerful curses in this stuff.”

“It sounds like that’s making it hard for you to decide.”

“I’d like something Epic, if possible… Ah, you’re fine with that, right?”

“The higher the tier, the stronger the curse, and the more useless it is to me.”

“That’s a relief.”

“You’re fine with anything Epic, are you?”

“Well, no… Take this helmet, for example.”

She shows the helmet in her hands to Gadio. It’s made from a pitch-black metal and covered in a number of sickly purple splotches, and its overall shape is twisted and warped.

“It’s so weirdly-shaped that I’d barely be able to see out of it. There’s probably some creepy reason for it, but…”

She opens and closes the ill-fitting faceguard a few times.

“True, you couldn’t use that as a helmet. Maybe it was a sculpture or something that got cursed somehow. If you could sense your opponent’s presence, though, barely being able to see wouldn’t be a problem.”

“I’m not that good yet.”

Maybe if she raised her Intuition stat enough she could use it, but since it’s currently useless to her she puts it down with a clunk that sounds oddly like a resentful wail. Pretending not to hear anything, she continues digging through the pile.

“Hm? This is…”

The next thing she pulls out is a leather belt.

Name: The Shrieking Masochist’s Leather Belt
Tier: Epic
[This equipment lowers your Stamina by 363]
[This equipment lowers your Agility by 212]
[This equipment lowers your Intuition by 749]
[This equipment robs you of your resistance to poison]
[This equipment amplifies your pain]

Its somewhat unsettling name aside, it looks like a normal double-pin belt aside from the fact that the colour of the leather looks maybe a little on the rich side. The odd colouration might be due to blood, but since it doesn’t smell like it Flum doesn’t put any more thought into it. Judging from its length and width, it looks like it’s purely decorational.

It looks perfectly normal --- and if she starts hearing screams out of nowhere later, well, she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

“It has a pain-amplifying curse on it. Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Gadio watches skeptically as she tries the belt on.

Then, Flum suddenly drives her fist into the stone floor. The skin on her knuckles splits and she can distinctly hear and feel the cracking of bone, but her injury heals a second later and she seems unperturbed.

“Huh… I barely even felt that.”

Seeing her almost too willing to harm herself, Gadio furrows his brow.

“Pain is your body’s built-in limiter, you know. Don’t go doing anything stupid now that you don’t feel it.”

“I know, I know. It’s not like it didn’t hurt at all, and I’ll admit that I maybe went a little too far just now…”

Gadio’s worries are far from alleviated, however.

From what he could tell from her battle with Dane’s subordinates, her fighting style is borderline suicidal, maybe a side effect of only being able to fight in extreme close-quarters. True, the way she fights with such abandon is extremely unnerving to her opponents at the very least --- but the bodies of normal humans aren’t that disposable. There’s a chance it might affect her psyche.

I just hope she doesn’t get even more reckless now that she doesn’t have to worry about the pain…

Name: The Maniacal Massacrist’s Damascus Gauntlets
Tier: Epic
[This equipment lowers your Strength by 1,312]
[This equipment lowers your Magic by 674]
[This equipment lowers your Intuition by 377]

While Gadio is worrying, Flum has already moved onto the next piece of cursed gear.

The next thing she puts on is a pair of wicked-looking metal gauntlets. The fingertips end in pitch-black clawlike spikes. Given all the black metal in the pile and even as per her own Zweihander, maybe all metal blackens after absorbing enough resentment.

Flum is currently using the Bloodied Steel Gauntlets, but now that she’s got her hands on Epic-tier gauntlets she’ll have to retire them. She feels a strange sense of attachment to them, since they’re the first cursed equipment she’d gotten her hands on after meeting Milkit --- but when she stops for a moment to think she realizes it’s weird to feel that way about some bloody old gauntlets.

Just as she tries to figure out what to do with them, Gadio makes a suggestion.

“Those are cursed, aren’t they? You can leave them here if you don’t need them anymore.”

“Thanks, I think I’ll take you up on that.”

Thanking her old gauntlets for everything up until then, she puts them to rest on the very top of the pile.

Concentrating on her two new pieces of gear, the belt and greaves fade into motes of light. Two new crests appear on the backs of her hands, and rolling up her shirt she finds a slightly different-looking crest there right below her navel.

With this, Flum has gotten her hands on four pieces of cursed equipment. All together---

Strength  : 2,036
Magic     : 1,267
Stamina   : 1,572
Agility   : 1,164
Intuition : 1,315

---her stat total has become 7,354, right in the middle of A-Rank. Compared to when Jean sold her into slavery, she’s like an entirely different person. Even now she can feel mana coursing through her veins and her senses sharpened to new heights.

“Alright, then, I guess I’ll be taking these two home.”

“If that’s what you decided, then go ahead. I’ve got to admit, though, being able to reverse enchantments must be useful. Cursed equipment gives far greater penalties than normal equipment gives, and in turn that means your equipment counts for a lot more.”

“Trust me, it has its drawbacks.”

Most people can grow stronger by training and through combat, but her stats can’t increase that way. Being able to use cursed equipment is certainly nice, but without it she wouldn’t be able to hold her own against even an F-Rank monster.

“I wish Reversal would make it so I could get stronger by just lazing around and stuffing my face with junk food…”

“Reality isn’t that kind, though, huh?”

“I wish it was, though. It’s not like it’d hurt anyone.”

Gadio lets out a short snort of laughter.

“You’ve got that right,” he mumbles morosely to himself.


Chapter 3 - A Chunk Of Meat Perfect For Carving[edit]

As soon as they emerge from the basement, they find Hallom waiting in ambush to jump into Gadio’s chest.

“Papa, play with Hallom!”

Evidently her selfishness-gauge has maxed out.

Kereina jogs down the corridor to catch up with them, a troubled look on her face.

“Hallom, you can’t just abandon me halfway through hide-and-seek!”

“You let a child fool you? You’ve lost your edge, Kereina.”

“I can’t help it, she’s gotten really good lately! Unless I really hide she finds me right away!”

She raises her voice to hide her embarrassment.

“You’re not busy now, right, Papa? You’re done talking, right?”

“I am, but you’re being rude to our guest.”

Gadio gives her an affectionate pat on the head, but Hallom’s mood doesn’t improve.

“You really like Gadio-san, don’t you, Hallom-chan?”

“Yeah! Hallom loves Papa!”

“It looks like I’m not wanted here anymore. In that case, I’ll just show myself out. I wouldn’t want to be in the way.”

“Eh? You’re going home, Oneechan? Play with us!”

Flum was sure that Hallom thought she was in the way, but that doesn’t seem to be the case after all.

“No troubling our guest, Hallom. I’m sorry she’s such a handful, Flum-chan.”

“No, I don’t mind. I’d be willing to play with her for a while… i-if it’s not a problem, that is.”

“Any help would be welcome, trust me.”

After that Hallom leads Flum to her room by the hand, and by the time she finally lets Flum go the sun has already begun to set.


◇◇◇


After politely refusing an invitation to dinner and leaving Gadio’s mansion, Flum lets out a large sigh.

“Where do kids get all that stamina…?”

Even with the stat increases of her new equipment she feels exhausted.

Milkit’s probably waiting at home with dinner, however. Not wanting to waste even a second, she hurries towards the West Quarter.

“Oh? Is that you, Flum-san?”

Not long after she starts running, however, someone calls out to her. Turning, she finds Reach standing there, whom she hadn’t seen since after the incident in Enchide. He’s wearing a relatively plain white shirt and a black vest, and judging from the fact that he’s alone and empty-handed he’s probably out for an evening stroll.

“It looks like you were just visiting Gadio-san’s mansion, am I right?”

“Something like that… but I don’t remember ever mentioning him to you.”

“Come, now, I’ve heard the rumours that you’ve been living with Eterna Rinebow. I must admit I had no idea that you were one of the Chosen when I asked you to pick those herbs for me, but I’m not so dull as to not know now. You’re quite the troublemaker, not telling me something so important when we first met.”

He gives her a joking smile.

“Please don’t call me that. I might be a Chosen on paper but I’m nowhere near that level.”

“I don’t know your circumstances, but you’re a Chosen in my eyes for saving my wife.”

“Flattery’ll get you nowhere… Speaking of which, how is she?”

“Thanks to you, she’s doing a lot better now. My wife was overjoyed. She said it’s just like magic.”

“...That’s not funny, you know.”

“Yes, I can assure you I wasn’t laughing at the time.”

He never told his wife, Foie, that he went behind the Church’s back to get illegal medicine. She was apparently perceptive enough to realize the truth, though.

“Ah, Reach-san. Fancy running into you here.”

As Flum and Reach talk, a gaudily-dressed woman approaches them.

Her red coat is trimmed with plush fur, and a number of large corsages adorn her dress. Her nails glimmer with a myriad of different colours and her fingers are laden with enough large gems that a punch from her would probably be quite painful, but most of all her opal hair stands out as it shimmers slightly in the light. Her face is covered in thick makeup and her perfume is strong enough to be paralyzing.

“Out for a walk, Satils-san?”

Reach smiles at her and the two muscular armed men standing half a step behind her. Unlike with Flum, however, his smile is clearly a fake ‘business smile’. She’s famous enough that even a country bumpkin like Flum knows who she is.

Satils Francoise --- a business magnate and Reach’s rival of sorts.

“Yes, I thought I’d get a bit of air. If taking a little walk means that I can meet you, Reach-san, then maybe I should consider making this routine. Might I ask if that slave there is yours?”

Satils gives Flum a mercilessly frigid look --- the look of someone quite used to the ‘proper way’ to deal with slaves.

“Of course not. She’s quite a respectable adventurer.”

“Is that so? She looks perfectly defenseless to me. Any quest that can be completed by the likes of her mustn’t be anything that impressive.”

“You can’t judge people on appearances and numbers alone. If nothing else, I trust her completely.”

Not remembering having done anything with that much trust, Flum squirms in discomfort.

“Hmm…”

Her interest apparently piqued by Reach’s words, Satils studies Flum from top to bottom. Partway through her inspection her brow furrows slightly. She must’ve cast Scan on her.

“...If you trust her, Reach-san, I suppose she must be plenty respectable.”

“She’s quite dependable, I assure you.”

“If she wasn’t yours I was planning on using her since her face isn’t half-bad, but I suppose I’ll have to give up.”

“Wait, ‘use’?”

Flum cocks her head to the side in confusion. She has no idea what Satils could possibly mean by ‘using’ a slave. If nothing else, though, Flum’s instincts tell her not to get too close to the woman no matter what.

“Ahh, cute slaves are so hard to come by these days… If you come across anyone good you’ll introduce me, won’t you?”

“I’m afraid I’m rather against slavery as a whole.”

“Really? What a waste. You’ll never find anything else so entertaining, I promise. I know, why don’t I show you my favorite place the next time I go shopping? Maybe seeing it in person will change your mind, ufufufufu!”

Leaving behind only a bewitching laugh, she turns around and leaves.

As soon as she passes out of sight, Flum lets out a sigh of relief.

“That was Satils Francoise, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. As I’m sure you could tell, she’s quite the ill-natured old she-devil.”

Flum does a double-take at Reach’s surprisingly vicious words.

“I-I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk like that about anyone…”

“She might run fashion boutiques and bookstores on the surface, but I can assure you she’s involved in all sorts of unpleasant business.”

As if he truly hates her guts, he doesn’t even try to sugarcoat his words.

“If you know that much you should be able to report her, though, right?”

“Of course I’ve looked into her black market dealings, and I even have proof of what she’s done. Unfortunately, she’s got strong ties with the Church, and I’m sure they could counter any evidence I could possibly offer. Worse, if I’m not careful, they might even come after me.”

“You know quite a bit about the Church.”

“They were supposedly quite opposed to my family’s medicine dealings when my parents ran the estate, and even now they try to control my business dealings. They’re quite the thorn in my side.”

The Church frequently pushes their agenda onto others, even if they end up harming the common folk in the process. Reach certainly isn’t the only merchant to have been stymied by their plans. The fact that the Church still goes unchecked is testament to their incredible influence.

“Similarly, it’s thanks to them that the likes of Satils can just do as they please. In fact, I’d heard that until just recently she was in association with a black market slave merchant. Apparently she’d bought a fair number of slaves from him.”

“Why would she do that instead of buying slaves legally?”

“Given all the regulations and the like, there are fewer and fewer new slaves every year, I’ve heard. In order to get slaves that respond well --- in other words, fresh slaves that haven’t given up yet, she has to go through more illegal routes.”

“Slaves ‘respond well’...? You make it sound like she tortures them.”

“That’s what she does with them, you know. Satils takes a sort of perverse pleasure destroying beautiful things.”

Reach is almost unnervingly knowledgeable about her. He’s probably been looking into her quite thoroughly.

“That’s how it was until recently, at any rate. Apparently the slave merchant she’d been dealing with was found dead a short while ago. It’s not rare to hear of masters being killed by their slaves, but I heard that in this case his body was in a truly awful state and there were a number of other bodies at the scene. I can’t say the man didn’t deserve it, however...”

Reach’s description of the scene rings a bell with Flum --- or rather, there’s a fair chance she was the one responsible.

“Recently I’ve been trying to find a way to change the laws and make slavery illegal, but… Are you alright, Flum-san? You’ve frozen up.”

“Eh? Ah, no, uh… It’s nothing.”

Her heart isn’t in her response.

Part of the reason is because he suddenly brought up her first murder, but more than that she’s curious about one little thing. A dead slave merchant, illegal slaves, and someone who loves ruining beauty --- something about that combination strikes Flum as harrowingly familiar.

What if… what if that Satils woman is Milkit’s former master…?

If she’s right, then Satils is the one who poisoned Milkit’s face.

Rage bubbles up from within her. She turns to glare in the direction Satils disappeared in. She’s hit with the urge to chase her down and hack her apart, but with a deep breath Flum manages to calm herself.

The fact that she hurt Milkit still remains.

She can feel a sinister black flame start to burn in her chest, a cruel hatred that surprises even Flum herself.

“...I’ve got to kill her.”

She mutters to herself quietly enough that Reach can’t hear her, clenching her fist tightly enough to bleed.

Reach, surprised by Flum’s sudden murderous aura, nervously taps her on the shoulder.

“...Are you sure you’re alright?”

He taps her on the shoulder.

She slowly turns to face him, and by the time her eyes meet his she’s smiling cheerfully.

“Ah, sorry. I kinda spaced out for a moment there.”

“T-That’s, uh, good to hear… You seem a little different from the last time we met.”

So much has happened since last they met. It really wasn’t all that long ago, but to Flum it already feels like the distant past.

“I’ve found what I need to do now, that’s all. Back then I was still trying to work everything out.”

She looks down at her palm as she talks.

She’s been thinking a lot about what she and Milkit really need for a normal life.

She doesn’t want or need anything special, just normalcy.

To be honest she hates killing people, and she hates making so many unpleasant memories and tearing her own body to shreds. She really, really hates it.

Even so, she has no choice.

In order to deal with the Church and how they treat everyone around them like garbage, it’s necessary for her to return the favour and mow them down like weeds. If it’s to destroy Origin, the source of all her misfortune, she has no reservations whatsoever about carving herself up.

“No matter how much I complain about how unfair it is, they won’t just disappear. I have to push back even harder.”

“You’re probably right --- there’s no such thing as the strong standing up for the weak, in the end. Everyone is simply too determined to push their own agendas for any change to really occur. As long as there are still ‘the strong’ and ‘the weak’, even if they switch places the same tragedies will repeat themselves all over again. It’s a sad part of human nature.”

“Exactly. That’s why I believe that one side has to go.”

“I owe you a lot, Flum-san, so if you ever need my help you can consider it yours. Try not to carry too heavy a burden by yourself.”

“Don’t worry, there are people who’ll support me. I’d really rather not get you wrapped up in all this, Reach-san.”

Reach simply laughs in response.

“It’s far too late for that. The Church already has their eye on me, and on top of that a journalist friend of mine is gathering what information she can.”

“A journalist… As in, a newspaper journalist?”

There are a fair number of newspapers in the Capital. Some report recent events, some are oriented towards adventurers, and the Church even has a paper for publishing their own news. In the end, though, all papers go through a censor, one who doesn’t allow for any anti-Church sentiments to be published.

Whoever his journalist friend is, she must be outside the Church’s censors’ reach.

“In fact, why don’t I introduce you two? Welthy!”

As soon as he calls her name, a young woman in a deerstalker cap pokes her head out from behind a nearby corner. Her tight-fitting clothes seem to suit her quite well, and after a quick wave to Flum she quickly trots over to them.

“This is Welthy Mankathy.”

“Hey! It’s great to finally meetcha, Flum-chan!”

She cheerfully holds out her hand for a handshake, but Flum is more concerned about why she was hiding.

“Makathy…? Are you two siblings?”

“Yes… unfortunately.”

“Hold on, Niisan, whaddya mean ‘unfortunately!?”

She glares at Reach, but with a little “Anyhow” he changes the subject

“She may seem unreliable, but I assure you she’s a good journalist if nothing else.”

“Hey, didja forget I’m the one who figured out Satils was sending all those herbs to the Church!?”

“Herbs? As in, medicinal herbs? Why would the Church…?”

“I dug up a buncha stuff about how there’s no guarantee they won’t catch any of those sicknesses that can’t be cured with magic, but considering how much they’re getting they’re prolly after something else, y’know?”

“We don’t know all the facts yet so we can't do anything with that information, but it should serve as a bargaining chip at the very least.”

Reach’s tone is almost too light for such a conversation.

“By the way, Niisan, arencha making those two wait a little long dawdling here like this?”

“Hm? Ahh, you’re right… You wouldn’t believe it, Flum-san, but the old couple that owned the house I gave you are currently waiting for me.”

“They’re not asking for their house back, right?”

“No, of course not. That house is yours by rights. I’m quite surprised to hear from them given how old they must be now, though. To be honest I’m shocked they’re still alive.”

Her house’s former owners --- Flum is quite curious about them, but she can’t stop him when he’s in such a rush.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you now, then. Welthy, give her your card.”

“Yeah, sure, here! I’ve been spending a lotta time sniffing around Satils for clues recently, but if you come across anything you come right to me, got it?”

Welthy hands Flum a roughly palm-sized business card. Flum takes it without thinking, but a moment later she realizes that it’s completely blank. She cocks her head to the side in confusion, and in response Welthy gives her an impish grin and casts a bit of magic on it.

“Burn Projection!”

The paper’s surface ripples slightly as it fills itself with words. Her paper’s name, her address, the words ‘News Journalist’, her full name, and in the remaining space a quick mugshot of Welthy herself appear on the card. The mugshot especially, though, is far too precise to be a drawing, almost as though Welthy herself had crawled onto the card’s surface.

“Letters, pictures, scenery, if I’ve seen it I can mark it down just like that! The journalist who’ll expose all the world’s secrets, that’s me, Welthy Mankathy! Again, it’s great to meetcha!”

Leaving behind something oddly like a catchphrase, Welthy proudly disappears behind a nearby corner.

Holding the business card up to the dark sky to try to get a better look, Flum reads it again.

“A journalist, huh…?”

They say the pen’s mightier than the sword, but what could a pen do against the Church?

Even if she’s a bit of an unknown, though, it’s reassuring to know Flum has a new ally now.

Shoving the card into her pocket, Flum finally heads back home.


◇◇◇


Milkit tilts the watering can into the planter outside their house, watering the plants growing there. After she finishes, she crouches down to admire the cute little pink flower that has just begun to blossom.

She’d received the flowers from a middle-aged woman who lives in the neighbourhood. She treats Milkit kindly despite her bandaged face, and recently they’ve even been exchanging side dishes.

The little sprout didn’t even have a pot at first, but yesterday morning it’d started to bloom.

Milkit feels a small sense of accomplishment.

She’d never felt that way before meeting Flum. It feels good --- not in any dramatic or novel way, but the gentle feeling works wonders on her heart.

The scent of dinner wafts in from inside the house. The evening’s menu consists of a basilisk, mushroom, and tomato stew with a corn potage and caesar salad. For dessert they have tagoule, a citrus fruit common around the Capital. Despite being about the same size as an orange, it has larger seeds and a distinctive smell that hits the nose strongly with every bite. Given that it’s a lot sweeter than most citrus fruits, it’s said that nobody in the Capital hates tagoule.

It’s still not done yet, though. Milkit thought she’d leave the finishing touches for after she comes home. It’s not as though Milkit is just killing time in front of the house since she’s so late --- although as soon as the thought crosses her mind she feels a little embarrassed.

Milkit puts a hand to her chest.

There’s something there that she didn’t have before she met Flum. Since she’s started living there she’s started eating well and getting all the nutrients her body needs, and so she’s started to fill out a little bit. Flum always seems to be enjoying herself whenever they eat together, so Milkit herself has been getting a little carried away and eating maybe too much recently.

Maybe I should be a little more careful at dinner --- though the important thing isn’t on her chest but in it, past her flesh, that warm feeling.

It’s that feeling’s fault.

The reason why she came outside when Flum was slow to come back, the reason why her excuse made her feel so embarrassed, the reason why even now her heart’s aflutter --- it’s all that feeling’s fault.

It seems to only grow larger with every passing day.

Flum had once told her that it was called ‘trust’, but she gets the feeling that it’s gone past that now. She can’t imagine it’s anything normal between master and slave --- she’s never felt that way about any of her past masters, to say the least.

What is it, then…?

Waiting for an answer that’ll never come, Milkit stares off into space. Then---

“I’m back, Milkit.”

She feels two warm palms cover her cheeks. Looking up, she finds Flum’s lovable smile shining back at her.

There’re still any number of things she needs to think about, but she has a new priority now. She returns Flum’s smile.

“Welcome home, Master.”

“Sorry I’m so late. Anything I can do to help with dinner?”

“All that are left are the finishing touches. Would you care to give me a hand?”

“Of course! Let’s make it quick, though. My stomach’s been grumbling for a while now and your cooking’s the only thing that could shut it up.”

“Hehe, I’m not sure I’ll be able to meet your expectations but I’ll do my best.”

The two head inside the house hand in hand. That soft, pleasant mood follows them, and as soon as the front door is closed the world outside returns to its cold cobblestone self.

A single large man stands where nobody was just a moment before. Casting a measured look at their house and snorting, he leaves as silently as he came.


Chapter 4 - To Those Who Dare Defile The Holy Land[edit]

“Eterna? It’s almost time for dinner!”

Eterna, sleeping slumped across her desk, wakes up to the sound of Ink’s voice. She rubs her eyes and turns to face the bed, and just then Ink greets her with a beaming smile. She can’t see, but according to her she can sort of sense the movements of those around her. Ink is currently wearing a shirt a full size too big for her, and because she was just lying down her longish black hair is messy.

“How careless... I fell asleep.”

“Yeah, you were really sleeping hard! You were mumbling something about your Mom and Dad, too.”

“...I see.”

Responding just as she always does, Eterna lets out a sigh.

“That was a big sigh… I never knew you had parents, though.”

Ink, having never met her parents, is likely just curious.

“I’m human. I have parents, too. I’ve never met my real ones, though.”

“Eh, really? Just like me!”

“Nn… we even both had ‘replacement’ parents.”

“So were you dreaming about them?”

“I’ve been having a lot of dreams about back then. I lived in this house a few decades ago, too.”

“Come to think of it, I think Flum mentioned something about finding you when she first came here…”

“I used this room back then, too. I couldn’t help myself.”

That being said, though, trespassing is trespassing.

What that does mean is that Eterna wasn’t just camping out there for no good reason --- Ink’s mental image of Eterna changes slightly from ‘eccentric weirdo’ to ‘just a weirdo’.

“...Huh? Did you say ‘decades ago’ just now?”

“Nn.”

“Ueh!? E-Eterna, how old are you!? You sound only as old as Flum!”

If Ink could see what she looks like she’d probably be even more confused. She looks and sounds just like a girl in her early to mid teens, after all.

“I don’t know when I was born. Maybe I’m about sixty?”

“You’re OLD!”

“Don’t call me that.”

She doesn’t need anyone to tell her what she already knows.

“But if you’re that old, I guess that means your mom and dad aren’t around anymore, huh…”

“I joined the Party partly to confirm that. Before heading out I went to the village they lived in… and visited their graves.”

“I bet they’re happy to see you’re still doing well!”

“I hope so.”

Closing her eyes, Eterna’s memories of Kinder and Claudia readily well up inside her.

I wish I could’ve met them again. They lived a full life, though. There’s no point being sad.

“Hmmmm… I didn’t know you were that much older than me. Maybe I would’ve known if I could see…”

“Probably not. I look only a little older than you.”

“Eh, really!? Why---”

“Eterna-saaan! Dinner tiiime!”

Flum’s voice from the ground floor cuts Ink off.

“Ah, Flum’s calling you.”

“I’ll bring your food later.”

“Okay! I’ll look forward to it!”

Ink sees Eterna off with a smile. She might seem plenty energetic, but she still can’t leave the room yet. Just in case something happens, Eterna leaves one of her floating fish things behind; if it detects anything off it’ll let her know through the other device.

The smell of tomato stew has made its way all the way up from the first floor. Putting a hand on her cutely grumbling stomach, Eterna heads down for dinner.


◇◇◇


“Thanks for the food!”

Having just finished eating, Flum smiles contentedly. Milkit and Eterna echo her, and right after that Eterna takes Ink’s portion up to her room.

Flum and Milkit start cleaning up together. Quite used to working together by now, Milkit dries the dishes that Flum washes and then together they start putting everything back in its place.

I wish it could always be this peaceful --- but even as the thought crosses her mind Flum knows it’s impossible, leaving her feeling a little depressed.

“If only every day could be like this…”

Just then, Milkit mumbles to herself, and knowing that they were thinking the same thing at the same time fills Flum with a simple happiness.

“I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me, then!”

“Ah… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…!”

“I feel the same way, so you’ve just doubled my determination is all. I’ll wrap up this little fight with the Church and we’ll be living in peace in no time!”

Just thinking about how long it’ll take and all the obstacles in the way makes her feel tired. If it’s for a blissful everyday life together, however, Flum gets the feeling she could fight forever

“Are you planning on living in the Capital after that, Master?”

“Yeah. I really like living here and I’ve gotten really used to this house, after all. I think I’ll visit everyone back home to let them know I’m doing fine, though.”

“I suppose I should stay here when you do, then. I can’t imagine that you’d want to introduce your parents to a lowly slave like me…”

“Eh? Of course I’m going to introduce you. You’re my partner, after all.”

“Partner…?”

Milkit’s heart skips a beat. The word has an impressive weight to it, a nuance that feels almost a little too progressive.

“Well, you’re definitely not my slave, but ‘friends’ doesn’t quite feel right, either. I know it’s not the best word but who knows, maybe by that time we’ll be calling each other something else entirely.”

“P-Partner’s enough, I’m sure!”

“Enough or not, there’s no helping it if that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll just have to get used to it, right?”

“W-Well, yes, but… Ah, come to think of it, when I meet your parents, Master… I’ll have to take off my bandages, won’t I?”

Milkit puts down the plate in her hands, squirming slightly as she fiddles with the ends of her bandages.

“I didn’t even think of that…”

It’d probably be best if she showed them her real face, but I’m not sure how I feel about anyone else seeing her like that… or actually, I really want to avoid it.

The pleasure Flum feels from having Milkit all to herself, and the sense of satisfaction Milkit feels from being Flum’s and hers alone --- the two of them are slowly coming to realize just what their little nightly rituals mean both to themselves and to each other.

To be blunt, Flum doesn’t want to share that with anyone else.

At first she was hoping to get Milkit used to being without her bandages to the point where she could walk like that outside, but in reality Milkit’s condition is only worsening… or rather, their relationship is only deepening.

Flum doesn’t have any intention of allowing anyone else the right to see her like that, at least for the time being.

That being said, it’d be rude for her to introduce Milkit to her parents like that. After mulling it over for a while---

“...We’ll think about it when the time comes.”

She decides to just put it off.

Milkit gives her a relieved smile.

“Y-Yes, let’s. We still have a lot of time before then, after all.”

“Y-Yeah, loads of time. No need to rush, ahahaha…”

“Ehehe…”

They lightly laugh it off together.

When that time comes, though, there’s a fair chance that their ‘illness’ will have only gotten worse.

I get the feeling she’s not going to be taking them off after all…

For some reason Flum feels as though it’s the undeniable truth.


◇◇◇


You were really nice to me again today... I get the feeling I'll be having that dream again.

Milkit has never had such a clear, lucid dream before in her life.

The dream springs forth from her memories --- a dark, filthy part of her life brimming with emptiness and sorrow, a past that she had begun to forget in her happiness.

Precisely because she knows that happiness, however, the sight before her eyes grows all the darker.

“You were born to be sold, got it? You better work hard for me.”

The first words that Milkit can remember are those.

She was three years old at the time.

Her parents were scumbags, selling their own daughter to a slave merchant as soon as they possibly could, and in turn she was snapped up by a rich noblewoman.

She went completely mad after she lost her real child to illness. She bought dozens of young slaves from the slave merchant, and with her servants she loved them and raised them as if they were her own children. She gave them all names and let them live in the lap of luxury. Since child slavery was already illegal at that point, all her ‘kids’ were obtained through illegal means.

Supposedly, she was the one who named Milkit.

When Milkit was three years old, the same age as the real noblewoman’s dead child, the woman lost all interest in her just like the rest of her ‘children’ and she was sold right back to the slave merchant again. The slave merchant was very pleased with their arrangement, since very young slaves weren’t very popular and she went through the trouble of raising them to a profitable age.

Right after Milkit was sold back to the merchant, a journalist uncovered the noblewoman’s crimes and she was driven from the Capital.

It meant nothing to Milkit, however. It was too late for her.

It was then that the merchant told her those first words. She didn’t doubt him, she simply accepted that as who she was, letting it seep into her core.

After that she was passed from slave merchant to noble and back again, over and over again.

“No… Please, not this…!”

It’s nothing but a replay --- the events of her life as they actually happened repeating themselves before her eyes.

“Stop… I don’t want… I never want to go back there…!”

It’s nothing short of a nightmare.

In the depths of despair, Milkit lived with all the grace and dignity of a maggot. Such a life was so natural for her that she never thought of herself as unfortunate, but never once did she experience actual happiness.

But now, looking back --- the ‘natural way’ of things terrifies her. Her ‘everyday life’ is gut-wrenching.

No matter how hard she tries to deny it the dream doesn’t cease, showing her what happened next.

“Ohh, yessss… You’re beautiful… Your collarbone, and those ribs… You get me? Of course you don’t, you’re too young. But there’s a real charm to watching kids your age starve, y’see…”

A man who found starving slaves to be deeply arousing.

“Those eyes, those cold, cruel eyes! Yes! More! Hate me more! Turn that suffering into hatred and disgust for me! Oh, yes, hate me more!”

A woman who derived pleasure from being looked down on by slaves.

“The gods tell us that no price can be placed on a human life! By that logic, slaves aren’t human. The gods don’t care about you. Hurting you, even killing you isn’t a sin!”

Even a priest who was addicted to breaking children --- all her owners, everyone who turned to the illegal slave trade, were perverts with dark and twisted desires.

When the priest had bought her, Milkit was convinced that she was finally going to die. Fortunately, a journalist caught a whiff of his crimes, and fearing everything coming to light he tearfully sold all his slaves back to the slave merchant before he could lay a hand on her.

She was ten years old when she returned to the merchants. Despite the long years she’d spent in that cruel world she was exceptionally beautiful, and it wasn’t long before she was bought by a new master.

Satils Francoise.

As someone who loved destroying anything she believed to be more beautiful than herself, Milkit couldn’t have been more ideal.

“Ahh, just looking at you is enough to infuriate me! What right does a slave like you have to own a face like that!?”

At first Satils had always asked that question with a whip in hand and curses on her lips, but Milkit’s torture was almost gentle compared to how she treated the other slaves.

Maybe it was because she never had any intention of killing her.

At about the time three of the slaves who’d been bought along with Milkit died, Satils suddenly stopped abusing her and started treating her nicely. For once she gave Milkit a decent amount of food --- and with it the mustaad poison that ravaged her face.

“Oh, what happened to your beautiful little face? You look absolutely horrifying now! You’re completely worthless now, aren’t you!? Ahahahahaha!”

She blatantly repeated those same words over and over with a cruel smirk --- but in exchange Satils’ mood drastically improved, and Milkit kept receiving food and even a proper bed. Even as she did so Satils was relentless with the other slaves, whipping them, slashing open their calves, stomping on them with her heels until they finally died coughing blood and were thrown out with the trash.

Until the end, Milkit was treated not as a slave but as a thing, a tool for stroking Satils’ ego and nothing else.

“What a filthy, filthy face… How pitiful, so pitiful… What happened to you, I wonder?”

She loved watching slaves suffer more than anything else, but she didn’t lay a hand on Milkit --- her 'masterpiece' must’ve been simply too wonderful to ruin.

Eventually, however, Satils grew bored of her. Three years after she bought her, Milkit was sold back to the slave merchant. With her face ruined and thus her one and only selling point lost, all she could do was sit in the cell where she eventually met Flum and await her death.

“Ahh… It’s finally over…”

That dark, cold room that reeked of rotting flesh seemed the perfect place for her die. She simply sat there with an empty heart, patiently awaiting her fate.

She waited and waited --- but in the end that moment never came.

She’d grabbed the hand that was extended towards her.

If the dream were just a repeat of those days, it would’ve ended there --- but this is a nightmare, born of her lingering insecurities.

No matter how long she waits, her master doesn’t appear.

While she waits in vain, the slave merchant arrives and starts his ‘show’.

Nobody saves her, nothing changes, and just like the rest of the slaves in that cell, the ghouls that drop down from the ceiling she is devoured and finally breathes her last.

“Why… why won’t it end? This is wrong, I-I, this place is… no… go away, please stop…!”

Precisely because she knows the happiness of a life with Flum, the raw despair of being eaten alive is almost unbearable.

If this isn’t a nightmare, then what is it?

The slave merchant laughs at her from his front-row seat in front of the cell --- and at some point Satils had come to sit beside her, looking down at her and laughing her horrendously shrill laugh.

“I don’t want to die… it can’t end here, I still… I need to live…!”


◇◇◇


Milkit’s eyes fly open.

“A dream…?”

The room is dark except for the moonlight that shines through the window and illuminates her figure. Turning over, she can make out Flum sleeping on the other bed, her breathing soft and peaceful.

“I was fine up until now… I can’t believe just remembering is so painful…”

The slave merchant can’t kill her now.

Satils can’t beat her or poison her anymore.

The time she’s spent with Flum has made her happy, so happy that just remembering that unrepeatable past fills her with terror.

The fear of loss fills Milkit’s chest, causing her to desperately crave her master’s warmth.

If she only asked, Flum would probably let her sleep in her bed.

If she falls asleep in her arms, she would never have a nightmare again.

“...I can’t expect her to spoil me like that, though.”

Milkit silently scolds herself.

It’s because she’s so kind and generous I’ve got to show some restraint. I can’t be a burden on her when she has such a difficult fight ahead of her.

“Goodnight, Master.”

Milkit closes her eyes again.

She finds herself a little scared of the darkness enveloping her, but she sees no more nightmares that night.


◇◇◇


The quiet night passes and morning arrives.

Birdsong drifts in through the window and into Flum’s ears, and still half-asleep she strains to hear the sounds coming from the first floor. Toktoktok, knife against cutting board, then fssssshh, something sizzling in a frying pan.

The sound of her everyday. The sound of peace. The sound of her.

Come to think of it, Mom made those same sounds first thing in the morning...

Reminiscing, Flum sits up and spreads her arms wide in a full-body stretch. She crawls out of bed, heads down to the first floor with a yawn, and as she enters the living room---

“Good morning!”

Milkit greets her with a smile.

“Nnn… Morning…”

Flum gives her a tired response and she giggles.

Normally Flum would head to the bathroom to wash up now --- but instead she closes in on Milkit, staring at her face at point-blank range.

“I-Is there something on my face?”

“...Did you sleep okay? I get the feeling you look a little tired today…”

To be honest Milkit’s body feels a little heavier than normal thanks to waking up in the middle of the night, but it’s not enough to interfere with anything.

“I’m perfectly fine.”

She smiles.

Flum, still a little worried, returns a “I guess that’s fine, then” and heads for the bathroom.

After quickly putting her hair in order and washing her face, she returns to Milkit’s side.

“You’re up awfully early this morning, Master. Do you have a quest?”

“Nah, I just woke up early. Want me to cut this?”

“Yes, please. Ah, Master.”

“Hm?”

Milkit glances over in Flum’s direction, and noticing an unruly cowlick sticking up off her head she smooths it down.

“There, all better.”

“Thanks. I must be still half-asleep… If Eterna-san had seen me like that she probably would’ve teased me again.”

“She’s quite particular about hygiene, after all.”

Even just after she’s woken up, Eterna’s hair is always in perfect order. Apparently she manipulates the amount of moisture her hair gets to set it, which Flum believes is nothing short of cheating.

“As soon as this is done I’ll go water the flower out front.”

“‘Kay. You’re raising it well, y’know. It’s really pretty.”

“Yes. I feel a little more confident now, so I was thinking of trying to raise one from a seed next.”

“Sounds great! Mind if I help you pick it out?”

“Of course!”

“How about we plan to go take a look next time I have a day off, then?”

Flum suggests a plan as she continues preparing breakfast.

Milkit, already thinking of where they should go, is clearly elated. She finishes frying the eggs sunny-side-up, transfers them to a plate, then leaves the kitchen.

While she’s gone Flum starts assembling the salad alone. Just after she finishes cutting the veggies and puts out enough for four people on the dining room table---

“...?”

Flum notices that there’s no noise at all coming from outside.

Hurrying to the front door, she checks out front.

“Milkit?”

A quick look around reveals no signs of Milkit except a toppled watering can that spills its load freely onto the ground.

Maybe she went to get water. Maybe that nice neighbour stopped her and they’re talking now.

No --- Flum’s raised Intuition catches a very different sound.

“Two people up on the roof…!?”

Flum hates her carelessness enough she’d kill it if she could.

“Dammit, I’m an idiot! I can’t believe I let it happen again…!”

They’d aimed to kidnap her the moment she left the house; they’re clearly not amateurs. Their target wasn’t Flum but Milkit.

She doesn’t know who’s responsible, but just a few days ago Nekt did the same thing. She should’ve realized it there was a chance it’d happen again.

Assailed by a strong sense of regret, Flum bites her lip hard enough to draw blood. As if taking out her frustration on the ground she kicks off, landing on the roof of her house in a single powerful leap. Still crouched down from the landing, she casts a quick glance all around her, spotting two figures in black cloaks fleeing to the east.

Gritting her teeth loudly, she gives the two a look that could kill and starts sprinting across the roof. As soon as she reaches the edge she leaps onto the next house over, and hopping from rooftop to rooftop she hunts Milkit’s kidnappers.

“---Scan.”

She checks their Status. First, the large man carrying an unconscious Milkit on one shoulder. His name is Triet Lanciela, his Strength and Stamina are both over 2,000, and his stat total is a little over 8,000. Second, the slender man who whimsically flips from rooftop to rooftop. His name is Demiselico Ladius, his Agility is about 2,500, and given that his Intuition is also on the high side he seems to favor speed over power. His stat total is also in the low 8,000s, and his only real weakness seems to be his Stamina, which is only in the triple-digits. They’re both A-Rank adventurers.

They’re clearly quite skilled --- but Flum has enough strength to take them on. The only real problem is how to get in close.

She plants a foot on the very edge of a rooftop, and this time channeling prana into her legs she takes a flying leap forwards. Clearing an entire house with ease, she quickly starts to close in.

“Hey, isn’t that little girl getting closer?”

“Dammit, she’s headed for us, ain’t she? This was supposed ta be a quick an’ easy job!”

The two men start to panic as she quickly begins to catch up to them. When they Scan her, though, all they see is a column of zeros. They likely recognize her name, but looking then at her slave mark they’re only more confused. If it’s not really her, though, then how could she possibly match their speed?

“Tch, fine! I’ll take ‘er on, you go on ahead, Triet!”

“Can you handle her alone, Demiselico?”

“She’s just a little brat. Even if the bitch’s A-Rank, I ain’t gonna lose to a girl! Remember that Suzie chick? She talked a good game but when I pushed ‘er down she was gaspin’ in no time! Hurt em’ a little and any woman’s the same! Hyaha!”

“How long are you going to keep bragging about that? I know you poisoned her first.”

“Those wide eyes, the way she foamed at the mouth an’ twitched… Good times, those. Lemme tell ya, there ain’t no bigger turn-on. But now we’re just that gawdy ol’ hag’s pawns… Aahhhhh, it ain’t enough! This ain’t enough! I gotta get me some drugs at least…!”

Demiselico keeps running even as he scratches at his head like a madman.

“This isn’t the time for that, just deal with her. If it looks like trouble, run!”

They were hired directly by their employer instead of through the guild --- a so-called ‘black quest’. The risk might be high, but the reward is even higher.

“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry ‘bout it! I’ll make sure ta check her out nice and thorough-like first!”

Reaching into the case on his belt, Demiselico pulls out two daggers covered in a dark fluid. Whipping around in midair, he throws one with a “Hn!” of exertion, and as he lands he throws the second. The two daggers fly at Flum like bullets, and before they’ve even reached her he has two more daggers in hand. Even if she dodges, he has a follow-up ready.

Flum makes no move to evade his attack, however. Single-mindedly, zealously, she keeps sprinting straight towards him.

“Ha, not gonna run? You really wanna take that paralytic head-on an’ become my sex doll, don’t ya!?”

Flum can see his attack clear as day. Just as the tip of the first dagger hits her stomach---

“Reversal!”

It suddenly changes direction, heading right back at Demiselico.

She sticks her right hand forward towards the second dagger, taking the blade through her palm. It lets out a wet squelch as it punches clean through, but the pain is only enough to cause her arm to twitch a little. Even the poison on the blade doesn’t have any effect thanks to the ‘anti-poison’ enchantment on the Belt.

“Reversal, huh…? So that’s what yer little Rare Attribute can do!”

He jumps to an adjacent house to avoid the dagger, throwing another at Flum in midair.

She flips to avoid it as she pulls the dagger out of her hand, using the centrifugal force of her spin to send it flying towards Demiselico’s landing point. Her form is poor, her aim is off a little, and she wasn’t able to throw it with much speed, but having only just landed he has no choice but to stop and deal with it directly.

Pulling out a gladius with a roughly half-meter long blade, he swats her attack out of the air.

Since he finally stopped, though, Flum is able to catch up to him all at once.

Resolving himself for close-quarters combat, Demiselico draws a shortsword from his belt and faces her in a dual-wielding stance.

“I make it a point ta know ‘bout everyone A-Rank and above ‘round here, but I guess there’s some I haven’t met yet. Ta think a little girl like you…”

He starts monologuing. Judging from his attitude he’s underestimating her for being a girl.

To be honest, though, she couldn’t care less what he thinks of her.

The only thing on her mind is Milkit.

“How dare you…!!”

The wicked black Gauntlets manifest on her arms, and drawing the Zweihander from its extradimensional sheath she swings her blade at him in a wide horizontal arc.

Taken by surprise, Demiselico takes a quick step back. The tip of her sword grazes his chest, cutting open his clothes.

“Not even gonna let me talk!? That ain’t cute, yer never gonna get a boyfriend like that! Ya gotta show yer senpai the proper respect!”

The openings that a greatsword like hers leaves with every attack practically begs a shortsword user like him to take advantage. He steps forward after her blade has passed and stabs at her thighs. The wound isn’t deep but it rips her shorts and draws blood nonetheless. Before she can swing again, Demiselico has already darted out of her reach.

“Shadow Mist!”

Adding magic to injury, a black fog robs Flum of her sight a moment later. She tries to leave the spell’s effect, but a blade comes out of nowhere and bites deep into her arm. His next attack hits her flank, then cheek, then leg, shoulder, back, arm again --- the darkness itself seems to be relentlessly slashing at her, the sheer volume of shallow cuts not even giving her time to breathe.

“How d’ya like this!? How’s it feel ta suffer alone in the dark like that!? I love this! I can’t get enough! This’s almost as good as screwin’ a corpse, hyahahaha! Hahaha, ha--- hah!?”

He fights by sealing off his opponent’s movements and slowly letting the pain of his attacks weaken them to the point where he can deal the finishing blow.

“This is stupid.”

Flum’s injuries heal almost instantly, and she can barely even feel the pain of his strikes.

Even the fog isn’t an issue with a little prana.

“HAAAHH!!”

Cavalier Arts: Prana Sphere.

Prana bursts out of her body, dispersing the fog in an instant.

“T-The hell!?”

Sensing that the tables are turning, Demiselico attempts to jump to the next roof over.

Without a moment’s delay, Flum unleashes a Prana Shaker at him.

As soon as he lands on the opposite rooftop he narrowly avoids the crescent wave of energy by flattening himself against the ground. He stands up and moves to throw his shortsword --- but Flum isn’t done yet.

ReversalCome back!

The blade of energy was filled with her mana.

Demiselico realizes that the Prana Shaker is flying back to Flum only after it’s amputated both his legs.

“Eh…? Agh, aaaaaagh, UWAAAAAAAAGH!?”

His legs remain on the rooftop but his torso slips off to the alleyway below. Literally incapable of landing in a good way, the back of his head collides with the ground and he lets out a throaty groan of pain.

It’s not enough to kill him, however, and with his arms alone he desperately tries to crawl away.

Just then he hears the sound of someone landing nearby, as if mocking his last hope of survival.

A dull scraping sound draws closer, as if someone were dragging a sword.

Death itself approaches.

“Ha… hagh, th-this… it h-hurts… I-I don’t like pain… I just wanna feel good…! G-Goa geh oua…!”

Demiselico tries to scramble away, unable to even speak clearly through the pain and fear embracing him. He can’t outrun her, however, and a shadow cuts off the light falling on him from the gap between the rooves.

Squeezing out a little more strength he turns to look up and immediately regrets it.

She looks down at him with eyes colder than ice.

“Where’s Milkit?”

The other man is long gone.

She’ll have to squeeze the information she needs out of Demiselico.

“S-Spare me… Please…! I’m beggin’ ya, there’s so many bitches I haven’t screwed yet… I don’t wanna die…!!”

His only response is a plea for his life.

If he’s not talking now, just asking him again won’t yield results.

First, Flum raises the Zweihander and severs his left arm.

“AGYAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

An unpleasant scream.

“Where’s Milkit?”

Raising her sword again, she repeats her question.

“D-Don’t kill me… I-I didn’t mean no harm! I just needed a little cash…! I-I-If it looked like I was havin’ fun I’ll apologize! I’m sorry… I’m so sorryyyy…! I was ordered to… I’m a good, honest adventurer, really!! I really am…!”

Maybe he’s not an A-Rank adventurer for nothing. He clearly has no intention of sharing his employer’s identity even if it kills him.

“Hahh… I was really hoping to avoid this.”

She hates it, really.

Being in pain, inflicting pain, suffering, making others suffer, getting hurt, hurting others, everything.

It’s the last thing she wants, but if that’s the only way to get Milkit back she has no choice. There’s no way such a cold, cruel world would listen to her otherwise.

She puts the tip of the Zweihander against Demiselico’s palm, and with a wet crunch she drives it through.

“Ghugh, OOUGHHH!!”

He probably won’t be dying anytime soon if he’s still screaming like that. That being said, he might not feel like talking even if she crushes his arm like this. She pours mana through the blade, deciding to do something a little more painful.

ReversalPeel away.

A thin snapping sound comes from the tip of Demiselico’s fingers.

“---!?”

The nail of his thumb ‘reverses’, peeling away with such pain he can’t even scream.

“Where did your friend take Milkit?”

He frantically shakes his head back and forth.

He’s really starting to get on my nerves… He’s going to die either way so he might as well just come clean. Maybe this still isn’t enough?

She reverses the rest of his nails all at once.

Since he still doesn’t say anything, however, she changes her focus slightly.

ReversalBreak.

With a sharp crack, his entire thumb bends back at an unnatural angle.

“Gh, ugh, ougghh…!”

As if he was expecting it, he clenches his arm with all his might, his lips pursed into a small ‘o’ as he moans.

“Where did your friend take Milkit?”

He only shakes his head again, so she breaks the rest of his fingers all at once.

“Kh, agh, AAAAaaaaAAAGH!!”

While he’s screaming she breaks his wrist as well.

“Hgh, ghiiii!! GYAaaaAAAaaAAGH!!”

Jeez, is he trying to scream my ears off…?

“Hahh, hahh, hihgh… hiiiihh…”

“Where did your friend take Milkit? If you don’t hurry up and tell me I might do something worse. Don’t worry, though, I won’t kill you yet.”

She crouches down, putting her hand against his temple.

Next is his face, maybe an eye, maybe even his brain.

“Are you really fine with that?”

“Nghaaaaa… augh, agh… aaaaagh…!”

Tears and snot run down his face.

“O-Okay, I’ll spill, I’ll shpill sho jusht forgibe mheee!”

There’s no telling what she might try next. Just as she says, she’d probably introduce him to countless things worse than death before finally putting him out of his misery. He’d rather throw away his pride and die an easy death than have to suffer any more.

“S-Satils…! Satils told us ta bring ‘er some bandaged slave she saw in town…!”

“That bitchy old hag still hasn’t tormented her enough…?”

Words Flum would normally never say spill out of her mouth of their own free will.

“So where’d he take Milkit?”

“T-The basement…! T-There’s a secret room in ‘er basement… B-But the only way ta get there’s through… through a tunnel in a house ta the southeast… a green-roofed house… there’s nobody livin’ there, it’s just an entraaance…!”

“So if I go there I’ll find Milkit, huh.”

Flum stands up and starts walking towards the East Quarter.

Seeing her back, Demiselico squeezes out the last of his strength to cast some magic.

“He… hyaha… show yer back ta me, huh? Be a good girl… get on yer knees, ya fuckin’ bitch!! Shadow Bullet!!”

He fires a fist-sized ball of black energy at her back.

“...You guys just never learn.”

She’d noticed, of course --- a single swing from the Zweihander wipes out the magic, the blade of energy continuing on to cleave him in half.

His death is quick and quiet. He doesn’t even have a chance to scream.

Putting away her sword, Flum hurries onwards to the East Quarter.


Chapter 5 - I Really, Really Hate To Do This, But[edit]

Welthy has been watching Satils’ mansion from early in the morning, determined to uncover her evildoing. She rented a room on the third story of the apartment building next door, and from the window she carefully looks for any sign of change.

“If only I could figure out where that secret room of hers is I could find a way in, I’m sure…”

She’d heard rumour of the secret room from a servant of Satils whom she’d ‘accidentally’ gotten drunk. She hasn’t seen any sign of the room herself, however, nor does she have any concrete evidence proving Satils’ collusion with the Church yet.

Bored, she props her chin up on the windowsill and stares at the unchanging mansion.

Suddenly a loud THUD comes from right above her, and with a “Ueh!?” Welthy springs to her feet. A number of somewhat quieter thuds follow right after, almost as if someone were walking on the roof. Finally, the mysterious figure jumps off the roof, flitting past the window before sticking a landing several meters below.

Welthy frantically peers out the window, hanging halfway out of it as she looks at the ground below.

“Flum-chan? W-What’re you doing here?”

Recognizing Flum, she calls out to her in an uncertain voice. For some reason Flum’s clothes are drenched in blood, and her coldhearted expression makes her seem like a different person altogether.

Responding to Welthy’s voice she glares up at the window, though as soon as she recognizes Welthy she relaxes and smiles.

Her eyes still aren’t smiling, however.

“Ah, Welthy-san! Great timing. I was just about to break into Satils’ secret basement. Wanna come?”

“Eh!? I’m coming, I’m coming right now! Wait juuuust a second, okay!?”

She doesn’t know how on earth Flum knows about the secret room, but getting her scoop comes first. Welthy runs down the stairs two at a time and flies out the front door. Then, following Flum’s directions, they head in the opposite direction from the mansion.

“Umm, we’re both talking about the secret room in her mansion, right? Where’re we headed?”

“Apparently the only entrance is over here.”

“Huh… So where’d you hear that? Oh, wait, nevermind, you probably don’t want to reveal your source, right?”

“An adventurer Satils hired tried to kill me, but he was kind enough to tell me everything I wanted to know.”

Seeing no point in hiding anything, Flum responds frankly.

“...Wait, kill you?”

“He was trying to stop me. My partner got abducted, you see.”

“Ahh, now I get it.”

Welthy suddenly understands Flum’s murderous mood.

“We’re here.”

Flum stops in front of a perfectly normal-looking house with a green roof. She tries the door to find it locked.

“Wait, so you’re telling me that the entrance’s in here? Maybe it doubles as an emergency escape route or something…?”

As Welthy mutters to herself, Flum puts her ear to the door.

She can faintly hear something moving inside.

Next, she knocks on the door just as she would someone’s house.

Immediately afterwards the door opens and a man in his mid-thirties pokes his head out.

“Is something wrong, miss?”

He gives her a friendly smile.

Flum gives him a murderous glare.

Welthy watches their exchange uneasily, hoping that it really isn’t just somebody’s house.

“I’m looking for some people, a small girl with a bandaged face and the large man who abducted her. You haven’t seen them, have you?”

“A kidnapping? You don’t hear about that sort of thing much around here. You think he’s hiding somewhere nearby? …Ahh, come to think of it, I get the feeling I saw a couple like that just a little while ago.”

“Could you tell me more about them?”

The man gives them a shifty smile and nods.

“Why don’t you come inside where it’s more comfortable?”

“If you say so.”

Flum readily follows him inside.

“Wait just a second, Flum-chan!”

Welthy frantically tries to stop her, but Flum ignores her. Not wanting to be left behind, she follows them inside.

As soon as they’re both inside, the door slams shut.

Welthy turns around, and---

“DIEE!!”

A man with an axe suddenly leaps at her. The man who let them in and another one appear in front of Flum, and each brandishing a different weapon all three of them attack in sync.

Welthy screams, reflexively covering her head and ducking down.

Just then, however, the cries of the men all stop.

She opens her eyes just in time to see the upper body of the man who’d been standing in front of her fall to the ground with a thud. Casting a quick glance around the room, she discovers the other two men have also been cut in half.

Flum swings the Zweihander clean of their blood before resheathing it.

The house is suddenly quiet except for the low, pained moan of one of the men, though he’ll breathe his last soon. The smell of spilled guts and fresh blood mixes together into a ripe smell that causes Welthy to cover her mouth in disgust.

“Are you okay?”

Welthy responds to Flum’s cool demeanor with a “Yesh!”, her voice betraying her.

“D-Did you just… With one swing…?”

“Yeah. If I didn’t they would’ve killed me.”

Flum extends a hand to Welthy.

Kill or be killed --- it makes good, plain sense.

Flum’s overflowing murderous aura terrifies her, however, and Welthy hesitates to take her hand. Seeing fear on Welthy’s face, Flum retracts her arm and starts walking away.

“Ah… I didn’t mean…!”

“I know life’s precious. The problem is, not everyone thinks that way.”

She’s learned that the world is filled with people like that in her fights up until now.

“There’s a disgusting number of people out there who’ll kill anyone who gets in their way, and there’s no convincing them otherwise. If I’m going to protect her I’ve got to kill them first.”

The only things Flum truly holds dear are Milkit’s life and her own. As long as she keeps that in mind she won’t hesitate and she’ll be able to strike first.

“The only solution is to kill, without hesitation, without mercy --- am I wrong?”

Welthy can tell that she lives in a world where fighting for survival is a part of everyday life --- but despite that she’s desperately trying to find a way out.

To be so afraid of Flum is nothing short of heresy.

“I’m really, really, sorry.”

“It’s fine. I’m sure you’re not wrong. Right, then, let’s go find that entrance!”

Her voice is full of false cheer.

Feeling a little ashamed that she made a girl younger than her put on such a front, she slaps her cheeks with a “Get it together, Welthy!” and stands up.


◇◇◇


Every breath fills her lungs with stagnant air. The room sends a chill down her spine, but somehow it feels familiar.

“U… Uu…”

Milkit opens her eyes from where she lies on a soft something.

“I… I was making breakfast with Master, and then… I went outside to water the flower…”

She props herself up with one hand and holds her head with another as she sits up.

No matter how hard she tries, she can’t remember anything after that.

“Then everything went black… What am I doing here…?”

She slowly looks around the room.

To her right, she spots a desk covered in papers. Beside it is a glass-doored cabinet, inside which is an assortment of strange medicine bottles and shiny steel tools. The walls are an uninviting grey colour, making the room feel even colder.

Next is left.

She turns her head---

“Good morning, Milkit.”

The face of a garishly made-up woman is right in front of her own. She smiles, exposing her teeth.

Milkit jumps back at the sight of the last thing she was hoping she’d ever see. She knows that face.

Her former master --- Satils Francoise.

“Ah… ahhh… How… why…!?”

She can’t form her words properly through her terror.

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch5 1.png

She shakes her head from side to side as she shrinks backwards.

Seeing her reaction, Satils lets out an unpleasant laugh.

“Oh my, in such a short time your reactions have become almost human. I’m so happy for you. Is your new master treating you well?”

“Hahh.. Hahh… N-No… nooo…!”

Milkit starts crawling towards the corner of the room. Watching her scurry like a terrified rodent, Satils lets out a pleased sigh and stands up to follow her.

Milkit starts clawing at the walls, desperate for any way out.

“There’s no need to be so scared, now. Nobody’s coming to save you.”

“Master, Masteeer…!‘

“Do you really think your ‘master’ will actually come looking for a filthy little thing like you? She must be quite the eccentric. I’m sure she could do better than you for a sex slave.”

“Uuuu… Mas, teeer…! Hya, uaaagh!?”

Satils grabs her by the hair, dragging her back to give Milkit a good, long look at the glimmer of insanity in her eyes.

“Toooo baaaad! You’ll never see her again!”

“That’s impossible…! You’re lying!”

“Ohh? What gives you the right to talk to me like that? Don’t you think you’re getting a liiiiiittle carried away, hmm? Well!?”

“Y-You’re not… my master…!”

“Since when do slaves have the right to decide that!?”

Screaming hysterically, she slams Milkit’s face into the ground, fine silver strands of hair coming free in Satils’ hand. Studying a hair with a look of ecstasy, she giggles and licks it up into her mouth.

Milkit starts fleeing toward a different corner --- but the room has no doors or windows, no avenue of escape. No matter where she goes, only cold stone awaits her.

Knowing her prey can’t escape, Satils stands up with a swish of her elegant dress and heads for the cabinet, selecting a finely-polished knife from her collection.

“Aaaahh… Aahh…!”

The blade catches the light of the chandelier as Satils advances on the terrified slave girl.

“I had this room made specially for me, you know. Countless layers of secret rooms and traps lie between here and the outside. I’m the only one who even knows it exists. How can that be, you ask? Eeeeveryone who helped build this place is dead! I killed eeeeevery last one of them!”

“Masteeeeeeer!!”

“Nfufufufufufu! No matter how loud you scream, nobody will ever come for you --- no, nobody even could! This is my secret garden, my paradise of dreams! Only my playthings and I are allowed here! Now dance, like a butterfly plucked free of its wings! Dance, like a young girl being carved to shreds!”

Satils spreads her arms wide, spinning and laughing.

She only brings the ‘playthings’ she’s taken a special liking to down to her secret room, the ones that she wants to slowly, thoroughly, intimately destroy. Over hours, even days, she slowly carves their flesh, rubs salves into their wounds to increase their suffering, and even goes so far as to cut off their eyelids so that they can’t even sleep.

Once that slave is dead, she leaves the disposal of the body and the rest of the cleanup to the room’s next ‘tenant’. Satils takes special interest in watching her next victim squirm as they imagine all the tortures that’ll soon be enacted on their own bodies. As soon as the cleanup has finished, the process begins again.

“I’ve heard all the rumours, you know. There aren’t many bandaged slaves in the Capital named Milkit, after all --- but imagine my surprise when I heard you’d found an antidote for your face! Did your ‘new master’ do that for you? How nice of her to fix you up so I could break you all over again! I set my sights on you a while ago, knowing I just had to slowly squeeze every titillating bit of pleasure I could out of you! But to think you’ve even regained your emotions! You had such a pretty face it felt like such a waste that you couldn’t properly enjoy our time together! I’d paid so much for you, too. I at least wanted to hear you beg for your life properly! Don’t you agree? Don’t you feel sorry for all you made me go through?”

Milkit vehemently shakes her head no.

“My, you’ve grown bold. That feeling of defiance --- ohh, what a rush! I think I’ll have you take off those bandages first. I want to see all your beauty before I go about defiling it! That gap, what a wonderful spice it adds! Hurry, now, quickly!”

There’s no way I can do that…!

Her true face belongs to Flum and Flum alone. Milkit shrinks into the corner, as if to cover it further.

“You don’t want to? Oh, I see, you’re trying to remain faithful to her, aren’t you? Ahahaha! A forbidden love between master and slave, is that it!? Come to think of it, those clothes… Did your bewoved ‘mastew’ owdew you to weaw them? They’re so very cute, but they hardly seem practical. I bet she gets a kick out of seeing you in them, doesn’t she!? Erotic cosplay to satisfy her sick desires, is that it!? Can’t you see that she doesn’t really love you, Milkit? All she feels for you is lust, L-U-S-T!”

“You’re wrong! Master’s not that kind of person!!”

“Ahahahaha! How hilarious! Really, I don’t think I’ve ever heard something so laughable before in my life! Aaah, Ahaaan! What a wonderful notion! I really, truly want to crush you nooooow!!”

Satils leaps at Milkit. The feeling of her rough breath against her porcelain skin is hideous enough to cause Milkit’s teeth to clatter.

“This knife? It’s only the first course --- no, the appetizer! After this come the whips and the needles, the poisons… aren’t you excited!? Tell me you’re excited! You won’t? Why not? Say it. I said say it! Say iiiiiit!!”

“Kh… khuu…”

“Look, the knife’s coming cloooooseeeeer…! Just a liiiittle touch, and---”

“Hyugh!?”

“You’re afraid of how cold it feels, aren’t you? It’s scary, isn’t it? Be afraid, then! Show me more of that face of yours! I’ve waited soooo long for that face! I wonder how it’ll twist and warp once we really start, hmm!? Don’t you find that the most blissful of ecstasies!?”

With a shrill khhhh, she rips open the front of Milkit’s dress. The blade left no mark on her skin, but seeing the ripped edges hurts her heart more than it could ever hurt her flesh.

The clothes her master gave her are ruined --- but more than that, the memories of time together with her master, something more valuable than her own life, are being desecrated by that woman, by her, of all people.

“Next is the skiiiiirt…! Look, your precious clothes are getting torn to shreds… I can feel you trembling. Your body, your heart, I can feel your sadness in it, your fear! Ahh, I just can’t get enough of this feeling…!”

Just as she says, Satils tears open Milkit’s skirt, exposing her thigh rising up to her underwear.

“Oh… Oh my, what a bold slit! If your ‘master’ saw this she’d probably be too turned on to save you and pounce on you instead! Though before that --- you’ll be long, looooong dead!! My, that’d be necrophilia, wouldn’t it, swinging her hips over a corpse like you…! So, so filthy! I could never understand how anyone would do such a thing…! Ahh.. aaaahahahahahahaha!!”

“Uuu, aahh… Masteeer…!”

Milkit starts to wail, but Satils sticks the knife in front of her face, quickly shutting her up. Finding that somehow amusing, she brings the knife to and fro, cackling as she watches Milkit’s reaction.

Quickly growing tired of that, however, she grasps Milkit by the hair again and slams her head against the wall.

“Hyagh!?”

A smile appearing on Satils’ lips, she does it again and again.

“Augh, u… Gah, gh… Agh, ugh… Sto, gh…!”

Blood pours from Milkit’s forehead and nose, staining her face down to her neck red.

“I wonder why the more you resist the more badly I want to hurt you!? Ahh, I know --- they say the more you love someone the more you want to pick on them, after all! This is love, then! The whip of love! Hang in there a little longer, now! I’m just starting to enjoy myself!”

Saying so, she mashes Milkit’s head against the wall one last time, more strongly than before. Since she’s only a normal woman, however, she doesn’t have enough strength to knock her out then and there. Milkit crumples to the ground, mumbling the same thing to herself over and over again.

“Mas… ter…”

Milkit still believes Flum with come with her.

If what Satils said is true, then she doesn’t have a hope.

Milkit knows.

She knows that there are any number of people stronger than Flum out there, enough obstacles that she can’t possibly overcome them all.

Even so --- Milkit will believe in her.

She may have given up on everything and everyone else, but if nothing else, Flum gave her hope.

“H… Hel… p…”

“What’s this? Don’t tell me a lowly slave like yourself has the nerve to ask for help?”

“U… uuuu…”

Satils’ words cause her to falter.

Flum will definitely come save her --- but she’s the type to sacrifice herself in the process if she has to.

Knowing that, no slave would or even should wish that of their master.

“Fufufu! You really are an interesting little girl. You’re simply perfect, like you were born only to be killed by me here, like this! Nfufufufufufu, fuafufufufufu! Oh, how I’m going to enjoy this…!”

Satils stands and starts stomping on Milkit’s gut with all her strength.

“Hagh!”

“I might just!”

“Fugh, gughe!”

“Accidently!”

“Obhe…!”

“Get ahead of myseeeeeelf!!”

“Buegh… hyugh… fuu…”

The dull pain erodes her senses, filling her with an urge to vomit and threatening to rob her of her consciousness. A thin strand of saliva escapes her lips.

The only thing going through her mind are the words her master spoke to her only yesterday.

[You’re my partner, after all.]

Not a slave but an equal.

She still doesn’t know what that entails, to be honest. She’s never been that close to someone before.

“Go on, beg! Plead for mercy! Even though you’re a slave! Forget yourself and scream for help! Give me that satisfaction!”

“Uu… Gyagh… gh… agh, mas… t… er…”

If that means that they rely on each other, desire each other---

“Yes, yes, just like that! Show me more! Flail more, resist more! Show me how it feels to die alone and betrayed!!”

“Hahyugh… hygh… agh… he… lp…”

---Doesn’t that mean it’s okay to ask her for help?

“Help, me… m… Mas… ter…!”

Those words aren’t magic. They won’t change a thing. If anything they’re the change in Milkit’s heart given shape --- and from Satils’ perspective, it’s simply an added bonus.

“Nfu, fufufu, kufufuhahahahaaahahahahaha!! You really did it!! Aaaaahh…! You’re a FAILURE as a slave!! To think that even now you’re pining for her!! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA---”

At that moment, a loud BANG cuts off her laugh.

The room itself trembles and dust flies through the air as a massive hole is blown in the wall.

“Haha… ha…”

A small silhouette approaches from beyond.

“Ha…?”

Satils looks at the hole in confusion.

As soon as the dust settles and she can see who it is---

“Wait, you’re Flu--- GWEGH!?”

Flum drives her fist into Satils’ face, sending her flying back across the room and into the opposite wall.

“Aahh… aaaahh…. Uaaahhh…!”

Her joy is too much for words. She thought it was the end for sure.

“You really… You really came…!”

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Flum is nothing less than a true Chosen to Milkit---

“I… I… I thought… I’d never… never see you again…!”

“Milkit!! Ahh, you’re hurt… If only I had it more together…!”

Milkit glomps onto Flum with all her strength.

Just being able to feel Flum’s warmth again is enough to make her forget her pain.

“No… No, you’re wrong, Master…! You came… You really came, so don’t apologizeeee…!”

Large, wet tears hit Flum’s shoulder. Tears start to well up in her own eyes, born from the sheer relief of making it in time.

“Letters of correspondence with the Church and receipts, both with the Church’s symbol --- Haha, with evidence like this not even she’d be able to weasel her way outta what’s coming to her!”

Welthy, slipping into the room after Flum, heads right for the desk. Everything there points clearly to Satils colluding with the Church.

“So, Flum-chan, how do you think---”

She turns to ask Flum about what they should do with the documents, but as soon as she lays eyes on her she freezes.

She’d thought that Flum would be back to normal now that she’s reunited with Milkit --- but that coldhearted, cruel look is back on her face. Zweihander in hand, she glares down at Satils.

“H… how? T-The… traps… how…?”

The traps were admittedly quite devious, but there was nothing that Flum and Welthy couldn’t have worked through together.

But---

“I broke them.”

There was no need to follow the breadcrumbs and solve the puzzles like an idiot. Prana and ‘Reversal’ together was enough to simply destroy everything in her path.

“T-The adventurers… I hired two A-Ranks and a handful of B-Ranks…!”

“I broke them, too.”

Satils’ eyes open wide in fear.

There’s nothing left to protect her.

“Don’t worry. You’ll see them in hell soon enough.”

“H-Hold on just a moment! Do you really think you could get away with---”

She then remembers her own words.

She’s the only one alive who knows about that secret room.

Now that everything’s broken it’d be a lot easier for someone to reach that room, but the entrance is well-hidden if nothing else. It wouldn’t be hard to cover up the whole incident. There’s no telling when or even if her body would ever be found.

“M… M-Money? I-If you want money I have it. Anything you want, if you let me live I’ll give you whatever you want!”

“Okay. I’ll just take enough to make up for what you did to Milkit. How much d’you think that’d be?”

“Five thousand gold coins…? No, ten thou--- gehgh!?”

Flum grabs her by the collar, glaring into her face point-blank.

“You think I mean money? A thousand of your lives wouldn’t make up for what you’ve done to her.”

“B-But that… ahh… p-please, please, I… I don’t want to die…!”

Flum gently puts a hand to the quivering Satils’ ear. With a quick “Reversal!” and a wet wrenching sound, her ear turns itself upside-down and twists itself off.

“GYAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

Her high-pitched scream echoes throughout the room.

Putting a hand to the bloody hole in the side of her heard, she starts panting like a nervous little dog.

“Welthy-san, do you have the documents you need?”

“U-Uh, um… I’m pretty sure.”

“Good. Could you wait outside with Milkit for a minute?”

“You’re not coming with us, Master?”

Unease fills Milkit’s voice. Gentleness fill’s Flum’s smile.

“I don’t want you to see what happens next. I don’t want you to hate me.”

“No matter what you do, Master, that will never happen!”

“Ahaha… I’m really happy to hear that, but…”

Flum scratches her cheek, blushing.

“I really think some things are better left unseen, though. Could you please just go with Welthy-san?”

“...If you say so.”

Flum can understand how she would want to be together after all that --- but considering that ‘torture’ would be a pleasant way of putting what she’s about to do with Satils, she really thinks Milkit shouldn’t be there.

She sees the two of them out of the room with a smile.

As soon as they’re out of sight, she flips a little switch in her head. Picking the knife up off the floor, she looks down at the cowering Satils.

I wonder how it’d feel to be her, suddenly forced into the shoes of all the people she’s killed here?

“Are you ready? Not that it matters either way.”

“W-Wait…! I haven’t done… I don’t deserve… Money! Name your price!”

“I told you I don’t want your money. Trust me, I don’t want to do this, either. I can’t just not kill you, though.”

Her crimes, past and present, are one thing --- but more than that Flum’s angry, plain and simple, that she had the nerve to abduct Milkit like that.

The result: She can’t find a single good reason to not kill her.

“H-Help! Somebody, anybo--- agh, aghaaaaaaaagh! Sh-Shtop, shtaghghaaaaaa!! M-My arrrrrrrm!!”

Without any option but to kill her as extremely and thoroughly as possible,

“N-Not my face… Not--- tegyagh!? Kyuhruuuugh… ngah, gyah, hahh, hahh, gibe be back by nobe… hyagh!? Agh, gah, n-not ag… AAAAAAAAGH!?”

she strives to let her experience even more pain and suffering than Milkit did,

“I don’t wanna die… I don’t wanna, dyaaaaaargh! G-Gibe be… what you… b-by bod--- hygh, HYAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

showing her not a shred, not an instant of mercy---

“Sh-Shtop… mogh… g-gill… myergh… ugh, gyaaaaagh!! P-Pleaje… hyugh… gill… gill beeeeeeeeeee!!”

Milkit and Welthy can hear everything perfectly clearly from where they wait --- the rending of flesh, the splattering of blood, the cracking of bones, and near the end the sound of something loudly and wetly bursting. That includes, of course, her endless, almost inhuman screaming.

“Milkit-chan, was it? Is Flum-chan always like this?”

“No, most of the time Master’s very kind. If nothing else, she treats me very well…”

There’s a distinct tinge of happiness in her voice and a blush on her cheeks.

“Ahh, so it’s because she likes you so much that…”

So it’s only people who get on her bad side that she does this to, huh? Yeah, I really don’t wanna make her angry, ever…

Just as Welthy starts to analyze what kind of person Flum is, the room suddenly grows silent.

Having finished Satils’ ‘execution’, Flum runs straight for Milkit and scoops her up in a tight embrace. Milkit, eyes narrowing blissfully, rubs her cheeks against Flum’s.

“I think I get now why Niisan said she’s such a reliable… know what, never mind, I still don’t get it.”

Seeing their intimate embrace, Welthy mutters to herself with a sigh.


Chapter 6 - Re[edit]

After the three of them leave Satils’ mansion, they head to Reach’s estate to give Milkit a chance to rest. It isn’t long after they’ve borrowed a guest room that she falls into a peaceful slumber. Flum, wearing a change of clothes she’d borrowed from Welthy, sits on the edge of the bed and gently strokes Milkit’s hair as she watches her sleeping face.

A few minutes later Reach flies into the room in a panic.

“Flum-san, did you really kill Satils!?”

He must’ve heard everything from Welthy.

Flum nods, then tells him all about the events earlier that day and Milkit’s past.

“I’d heard that she was quite the unpleasant woman, but I would’ve never expected her to be Milkit’s former master… Given her ties with the Church, though, wouldn’t it be problematic if you were suspected?”

“They’ll probably never find her corpse, so I should be fine for a while at least.”

“We can prove all her crimes now, so as long as we don’t mess up making it public there’ll be no problems!”

If they were to just publish everything now while Satils is ‘missing’, Flum and Welthy would come under suspicion. Among the papers they found was proof of her torture and murder of slaves, however. As long as they’re careful, they should be able to make the public believe that she deserved her fate and thus lessen the impact of the news.

The information about her dealings with the Church is the same; what’s important is what they reveal and when.

“Understood. We’ll leave that to you, then.”

Reach readily agrees, apparently of the same mind.

After that Reach and Welthy talk outside, leaving Flum and Milkit alone together.

Flum watches her angelic sleeping face, lightly poking at her cheeks through the gaps in her bandages. As she does so, she begins to grow sleepy herself. The day may still be young, but so much has happened that she feels exhausted. Seeing no reason to resist, she lays down and succumbs to sleep.

The two of them wake up three hours later, when Reach brings in a priestess from the East Quarter to heal Milkit’s injuries.


◇◇◇


Eterna’s probably going to be furious…

Bracing herself, Flum opens the front door, and just as she expected Eterna is waiting there with a grumpy look on her face.

Their eyes meet.

Seeing that they’re both in one piece, Eterna lets out a sigh of relief. Then, walking up to Flum, she gives her a sharp poke to the forehead.

“Ow!”

“You were both missing when I woke up. I was worried.”

She gives them a pouty look.

Then, bringing her face close to Flum’s neck, she takes a sniff.

“...You smell like blood. Reach’s messenger came by earlier, but I want details.”

Reach had been kind enough to have Flum’s clothes washed and returned quickly, but the smell of blood must’ve seeped into her skin.

“MIlkit got abducted by her former master, so I went to take her back. No big deal.”

“Sounds like a big deal to me.”

“I agree, but… as you can see, I’m just fine.”

Milkit somewhat awkwardly bows, and Eterna crosses her arms.

“Was the Church involved?”

That’s her primary concern. If that’s the case, then they can’t let down their guard yet. They could try again at any time.

“No. At least, not directly.”

“In that case… fine. You aren’t hurt so I won’t yell at you. Call on me next time, though.”

At the time Flum was too focused on saving Milkit for anything else --- she got the feeling that if she didn’t go immediately it’d be too late. On top of that, Eterna was still asleep at the time and if she left Ink alone the Church might try something.

As she says, though, Eterna would’ve been able to wrap up the whole mess a lot more quickly. Her Water magic is simply that strong.

“I won’t forget next time, I promise.”

“Good. I made lunch, by the way. Want some?”

A faint but delicious smell wafts out at them from the living room. In response, Flum and Milkit’s stomachs grumble.


◇◇◇


Nobody even thinks of leaving the house that afternoon.

Even dinner is made with what they have lying around. Eterna’s lunch was plenty delicious, but after just one bite Eterna mutters “This is good” with a vaguely frustrated expression. Having beaten a Chosen at something, Milkit seems a little proud for once.

After supper, Flum half-drags Milkit into the bath with her.

Milkit was determined to resist out of sheer embarrassment, but Flum wasn’t going to accept no for an answer.

“I’ll just sit and wait for you in the changing room, then.”

After hearing that, Milkit didn’t have the willpower to resist.

Milkit can’t help but feel a little self-conscious,

“Uwah, your skin’s so pretty and smooth! I’m kinda jealous.”

and as Flum washes her back and strokes her hair,

“I really love your hair. I keep thinking you’ve got to be an angel or a fairy or something.”

she can’t help but turn bright red.

Given how small the bath is and how tightly they have to squeeze together in order to both fit, their body temperatures rise to the point it’s simply miraculous they don’t overheat.

Finally, bedtime arrives.

Dressed in their matching nightgowns, Flum takes off Milkit’s bandages as she does every night and the two spend time together as they always do before parting and going to their respective beds.

Turning off the light, the room returns to darkness.

Flum readily closes her eyes, but Milkit lies awake, staring blankly upward. As her eyes adjust, she slowly makes out more and more of the ceiling.

I’m too scared to sleep.

She’d just met Satils again. She’ll have another dream of her past, no doubt, a nightmare even more visceral and cruel that last night’s.

Just as she resigns herself to a sleepless night---

“Hey, Milkit? Wanna sleep together?”

Flum lifts up her covers invitingly.

Seeing her master’s gently moonlit smile, Milkit’s heart starts beating faster.

“I-I couldn’t possibly. There isn’t enough room for the both of us in a single bed.”

“It’s fine, we’ll just have to get in really close together.”

Just like with the bath, her invitation is a little stronger than normal.

“But I can’t suddenly just…”

“C’mon, I saw how lonely you looked. You’re really too afraid to be alone right now, aren’t you?”

“...You could tell that just by looking at me?”

“Well, yeah. I feel the same way, after all.”

“You do?”

“I can’t shake the feeling that you’ll disappear again while I’m asleep. If I can feel you in my arms, though, I don’t have to worry about you leaving me.”

All it takes is an instant for someone to disappear --- and Flum’s experienced that twice recently. That it might happen while she’s asleep is almost too harrowing to bear.

“Um… It’s really okay?”

“Actually, I’d really like that.”

“In that case… I suppose I’ll take you up on that.”

Taking along her pillow, Milkit slips into Flum’s bed. The space under the blankets is already filled with Flum’s warmth, and being enveloped by it makes her feel like she’s in her tender embrace.

Her worries melt away as if by magic, replaced half by joy and half embarrassment. It’s incredibly relaxing, but if anything the heavy pounding in her chest will only keep her awake.

“C’mon, get in here.”

Milkit is close enough to the edge of the bed that she might fall off at any time, so Flum pulls her close in a tight embrace.

“Ah…”

“Hehe, you’re really nervous, aren’t you? We hug like this all the time.”

“You say that, but… your heart’s beating quite fast, too.”

“W-Well… I mean, hugging like this in bed is sorta… y’know?”

“Hehe. I guess we’re the same again, Master.”

Milkit’s point-blank smile surpasses that of an angel’s, unmistakably the smile of a goddess. Even though Flum manages to suppress the urge to start worshipping her, her heart betrays her true feelings and starts to pound out of control.

To Milkit, that throbbing feels nothing short of blissful. The only place she can truly feel safe from those dreams is in her master’s arms. That warmth, that heartbeat, that smell---

Even when I close my eyes you tell me with your body that you’re right beside me, allowing me to lend my body to blissful slumber...

“Um, Master?”

“Hmmm?”

When Milkit was being attacked by Satils, she wished that Flum would save her. She, as a slave, asked something so improper of her master.

Flum saved her in the end --- and in that instant their relationship as master and slave was completely annihilated. Flum didn’t treat her as a slave to begin with, so they were never truly like that, though; Milkit just interpreted their relationship in the only way she knew how.

When she realized that what was forming between them was something else entirely, she didn’t know what to do. She’d held back, held it in, sticking to only what she knew and what she was ready for.

She can’t keep it up any longer, though.

The time has come for her to step into realms unknown.

“Um… I-If you want… I mean, if you’re okay with it…”

Nervousness and restraint tripping up her words,

“...Could we maybe sleep in the same bed like this every night from now on?”

she tells Flum just what she wants.

Flum, beaming, draws a little closer and touches Milkit’s forehead with her own.

“I was just about to ask the exact same thing.”

Milkit knows that Flum would never lie to her, that she’s the one person she can unconditionally trust. Flum’s words seep deep into her heart, and Milkit feels the indescribable joy of being of one heart and mind with the most precious person in the world to her.

“Let’s go clothes shopping tomorrow. The dress you were wearing got a little torn, after all.”

“Okay! I think we should by you some new clothes, too, Master.”

“How about you pick some out for me, then?”

“I’m not sure I’ll meet your expectations, but… I’ll do my best.”

“Hehehe, I’m looking forward to it! Anything else you want to do?”

“How about we go out for lunch?”

“Lunch, huh? How about we splurge a little and go to a really high-end place?”

“A fancy restaurant…”

“Don’t worry about it how much it costs or anything.”

“It’s not that. I’m simply a little concerned that if it’s too fancy I won’t be able to reproduce it at home.”

“Ah, so that’s what you’re after.”

“Yes, I’m hoping to make it my own so that you’ll prefer my cooking to any restaurant.”

“I’d say you’ve already done that, though...”

Lying together in bed, they plan out the next day’s outing. In the end they get so wound up that they stay up a full hour later than they normally would.


◇◇◇


The next morning, the air between the two of them is too sweet for Eterna to ignore.

She carries a sausage to her mouth, bites off about half, chews thoughtfully, swallows --- and then subtley smirks at them.

“Big date planned?”

“Kagh, hagghk!”

The soup Flum was slurping goes down the wrong pipe, spurring a coughing fit. Milkit frantically draws closer to her, rubbing her back as she offers her a glass of water. After gulping it down, Flum’s shoulders heave with a heavy breath. She then turns to glare at Eterna.

“You’re wrong!”

“The mood says otherwise.”

“What’re you saying!? We’re just going to by Milkit some new clothes. We’ll be stopping by a few other places on the way, that’s all.”

“Most people would call that a da---”

“Shopping! They call it shopping! How come every time we go out shopping you think we’re going on a date!? Isn’t that weird, Milkit?”

“Yes. Master and I really are just going shopping, nothing more.”

“Sounds like a date to me…” Eterna mumbles discontentedly.

If nothing else, they aren’t taking it as such. They’re simply enjoying their time together not as friends but as partners. Maybe they haven’t figured out precisely what that entails, but it seems to be something like ‘family’ --- even if their relationship is a little too heated to call it that.

“...I don’t get it.”

Still failing to see any difference between their ‘shopping’ and a date, Eterna can do nothing but give up.


◇◇◇


Flum and Milkit head into town hand in hand.

As they walk, Flum notices Milkit casting occasional glances at her head.

“Is there something weird stuck there?”

“No, I was simply noticing you were wearing the hairpin I made.”

“Ah, this? Of course I’m wearing it. You gave it to me, after all.”

Even now, as Milkit looks at it she feels a little worried that it’ll get in the way mid-combat or that she made it too fancy for actual use.

“It’s really cute! I love it!”

Flum seems to truly like it, however.

I should just be happy, then, Milkit tells herself.

As they chat, they head to the same clothing store where they bought Milkit’s clothes before. The employee there seems to recognize them, and perhaps because she knows they’re good, paying customers she doesn’t make a face.

Talking a few outfits over, they pick out a few that really stick out to them and Milkit heads to the changing room to try them on.

“Ohh… That’s pretty nice…”

“I think it’s maybe a little too plain.”

“Hmm… I’d say it’s more ‘normal’ than plain. Really, though, it’s just not fair how you can look amazing in anything.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. Really, if you keep talking like that I might just believe you…”

The first thing Milkit tries on is a simple beige dress with a thick white apron overtop, an extremely simple maid outfit. On her head she wears a cap meant not for fashion but rather to catch any loose hair. The outfit has almost no sex appeal, but in exchange it feels very domestic and practical.

“You really think this suits me?”

Milkit seems a little uncertain as Flum eyes her up and down.

“Normally you feel almost too pretty, y’know, like someone else might try and make a move on you, but seeing you like this is kinda… I don’t know, relaxing? You look kinda wife-y, I guess.”

Hearing that, Milkit turns back to face the mirror, and after fiddling with the skirt and readjusting the cap a little she studies the outfit again.

“If you really believe so, Master, I’ll make this candidate number one.”

“Yeah, by all means!”

Deciding that outfit is a ‘keep’, she changes into the next one.

“By the way, I’ve noticed you really like frilly clothes.”

“Yes, I think they’re quite cute.”

“So you didn’t like that last one as much?”

“I wouldn’t say that. If I always choose my own clothes they’ll end up all feeling similar, so I believe a little variety is a good thing.”

She finishes changing while they chat.

She opens the curtain --- or rather, she pokes her head out. For some reason she’s bright red down to her neck.

“Y-You chose this one, didn’t you, Master?”

“Yeah, it was really frilly and looked really cute, just like the stuff you normally like… is there something wrong with it?”

“No, um, just… please take a look for yourself.”

She opens the curtain and everything is suddenly clear.

“Oohhh…”

Flum reacts as soon as she sees it.

The top is extremely frilly and cute, just as expected --- the problem is the bottom.

The skirt is incredibly short.

It’s long enough to barely cover her underwear, but at that length it completely exposes her shapely thighs.

As Flum watches Milkit shyly pushes down on her skirt, determined to cover as much of her legs as possible. The sight is more than enough to raise Flum’s heart rate beyond healthy levels.

“S-Sorry, I didn’t realize the skirt was so short…”

“I-If you like it, Master, um… I’d be fine with wearing it at home…”

An incredibly attractive offer.

Getting the feeling that she’d lose something precious if she agreed, however, Flum fights back the urge.

“N-No, don’t worry about it. Try on the next one, the next!”

“O-Okay!”

Milkit quickly slides the curtain shut, putting a hand to her chest and letting out a large sigh. She was incredibly embarrassed and her heart is still beating wildly, but---

“...Maybe this one isn’t all that bad.”

She thinks back to Flum’s blushing face with a small smile.

A few short minutes later, she emerges in a new outfit.

This time it’s not a maid outfit but a simple, pure white one-piece.

“You chose this one too, didn’t you, Master?”

“Yeah…”

Flum is utterly captivated.

She always had the impression that Milkit was incredibly pure so she thought the dress would fit her --- but she never expected it to be so perfect on her.

“You look like a nobleman’s daughter…!”

“You’re exaggerating, Master. No real aristocrat would have a bandaged face like mine.”

For some reason even those bandages seem incredibly attractive to Flum, however.

If she were to walk out on the street without them, passersby would doubtlessly mistake her for a noble lady.

“You’re beautiful…”

The words spill loosely from her lips.

I wish I could just cut out this sight and keep it with me forever…

“Um… I’m going to get changed now.”

Unable to stand Flum’s intense gaze any longer, she retreats behind the curtain once more. Changing back into the clothes she left the house in, she leaves the changing room.

“What now? Do you want to pick out some different ones, Master?”

“I think the first one’s good. It was pretty cheap, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, compared to the other two.”

She double-checks the price tags just to be sure.

Incidentally, the second maid outfit with the microskirt is the priciest.

“Okay, so that’s that. I think maybe two more would be good.”

“Are you not going to buy anything for yourself, Master?”

“I don’t think there’s anything here that’d really fit me.”

“I’d love to see a somewhat different side of you, Master.”

“...Really? Could you pick out something you think’d look good on me, then?”

“I can!?”

Beaming, Milkit starts energetically looking through the store.

I don’t remember the last time I saw her so full of energy.

“You wanted to dress me up that badly, huh…?”

Flum is suddenly filled with a sense of mortal dread.

Receiving a single outfit from Milkit, she’s pushed into the changing room without even getting a chance to look at it.

In front of the curtain, Milkit waits for her master to finish changing with a smile.

Behind the curtain, Flum lets out a confused “Eehh…!?” before grudgingly trying it on.

The curtain slides open.

There stands Flum --- wearing the type of ultra-frilly maid outfit that Milkit loves so much.

“Uwaaahh…!”

Milkit puts her hands to her cheeks, letting loose a happy squeal of joy.

Flum grabs at her sleeves dubiously, face bright red as she stares at the ground.

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch6 1.png

She never expected that wearing a maid outfit could be so incredibly embarrassing.

“I-It really doesn’t suit me, does it…?”

“What are you saying!? You’re absolutely ADORABLE, Master!”

The blush on Flum’s cheeks grows more intense, and she barely manages to resist the urge to shut the curtain.

T-This is for Milkit’s sake…!

“I-It doesn’t seem like the clothes are wearing me, does it?”

“Don’t worry, you look perfect!”

“This dress clearly wasn’t made for housework…”

“That gap’s what makes it so great!”

“...Is it just me or are you really enjoying this?”

“...Ah.”

She freezes.

“I’m so sorry, Master, I was so elated I…”

She doesn’t have many opportunities to choose Flum’s clothes --- though to be fair, Flum would wear anything Milkit wants her to. The problem is that Milkit wouldn’t ever come forth with anything on her own, so unless Flum gives her an opening it isn’t likely to happen again.

“You can pick some more clothes for me later. I’m happy you’re happy, but I don’t think I could take any more of this right now…”

“Oh, no, don’t worry about me!”

The curtain flies shut and Flum hurries to change back into the same shirt and shorts she always wears. She summons the Belt and stops to look at herself in the mirror for a moment.

“I’d love to see Milkit happy like that again, but I can only really relax like this… what a dilemma.”

Flum leaves the changing room, and after picking out two more maid outfits with Milkit they leave the store, headed next for the restaurant.


◇◇◇


The Central Quarter’s Main Street is just as overflowing with people as always. Flum squeezes Milkit’s hand and walks a little ahead of her to shield her from the worst of the throng.

“There certainly are a lot of people here… I get the feeling it’s more crowded every time we visit.”

“I heard there’re new tourists and merchants coming in all the time. The real issue’s the carts… Look, the crowd’s parting so the carriages can get through and that’s throwing everyone off.”

At one point there was talk about making a street for the carriages alone, but there were enough other things going on at the time that the plan got tabled indefinitely. That wasn’t the first or the last time, however. Construction, maintenance, public security --- in the Capital alone the problems only continue to grow, and as the King still hasn’t moved to fix anything discontent only continues to grow among the people.

“How’re you feeling, Milkit? Not getting dizzy from the crowd, are you?”

“I’m doing fine.”

“Right, then, I’m gonna plough ahead. Don’t let go of my hand, okay?”

Pushing through the gaps in the crowd, they move forward, finally arriving at the restaurant safe and sound.

It’s certainly quite fancy, but there’s no dress code and so they should be able to get in just fine. There’s a chance that they might be turned away for being slaves --- but fortunately the employees don’t bat an eye at the slave mark on Flum’s cheek. They’ve been well-trained, it seems.

Among the customers there are a few who look at her with apparent disgust and some of them even try to trip her as she goes by, but as ordinary people they only get hurt for trying.

Shortly after they arrive at their table, a waitress brings them their menus. Milkit opens hers and goes wide-eyed, looking at the prices, at Flum, then back to the prices.

“Just order whatever you want.”

“O-Okay…”

Milkit doesn’t possess the willpower to order the most expensive things on the menu. At the same time, though, it’d be rude to Flum if she just ordered the cheapest thing they offer, so she should order something a little pricier --- and in the end she simply orders what she wants to eat most.

Flum orders something decidedly more expensive than Milkit.

The food that comes out to their table looks more like art than food, as they dig in Flum notices Milkit puzzling over how to copy the flavour and laughs, and in no time they finish their meal.

The bill turns out to be a hefty sum, but they both leave satisfied.

“Ahh, that was good!”

“It was, wasn’t it? It’ll be quite difficult recreating that at home.”

“Getting to enjoy that food, not once but twice… and if you’re making it, it’s bound to be even better!”

“Please try not to get your hopes up too much, Master. I’m nowhere near a professional’s level.”

“What’re ya sayin’, Milkit-kun? Your cookin’s peerless, I tell ya!”

“Kun…?”

Out of sheer excitement Flum starts talking strangely.

“Ahaha, I’m kidding. So, where to next? Wanna look at some seeds?”

Their date plan spins and spins inside Flum’s cheerful brain.

I’d like to go to an accessory boutique and buy a proper thank-you for Milkit, or maybe we could go check out some more clothes at a different store. Maybe after that we can check the marketplace to see if there’s any good cursed equipment going around, look around at kitchen stuff, and maybe we’ll finish off with buying ingredients for dinner tonight.

She hopes to do as much as possible today to clear their heads completely of the whole Satils incident.

“As long as I’m with you, Master, I don’t care where we go!”

Even if she doesn’t show it on her face as readily, Milkit is just as happy.

I’ll let Master spoil me a little bit, and I’ll forget about all the difficult stuff and just enjoy myself.

In an instant, however, everything changes.

“Eh…?”

Turning to look at a gap in the crowd, Milkit suddenly freezes in place.

“...Hm? What’s up, Milkit?”

Flum, her hand still in Milkit’s, follows suit.

She turns to follow Milkit’s gaze --- and freezes in the same way.

A sea of people separate them from her.

Between the gaps they can catch a glimpse of a woman who seems out of place, as if she’s somewhere else entirely.

On top of the woman’s flashy flower-covered dress she wears a red fur coat, her nails glimmer with fresh nail polish, and her fingers are heavy with gemstones.

Her opal hair shines with a myriad of shades.

Her unforgettable face is caked with gaudy makeup.

“H… How…?”

“That’s not… She can’t be here! You killed her yourself, Master!”

Rejecting reality doesn’t change it.

She’s not a ghost --- she’s alive, walking, talking, laughing.

“Satils Francoise…!”

Flum says her name, and as if in response Satils turns to face them for a fleeting moment.

She smiles, showing off her pearly white teeth.

A chill rips its way down Flum’s spine.


Chapter 7 - A Dream Is A Blight Of Happiness, And So Are You[edit]

Satils turns to leave as if she hadn’t even noticed them.

They stand and stare after her for a long moment, but they can’t just let her get away.

“Let’s go!”

“O-Okay!”

As they follow her, they discover that she seems to be visiting her businesses in the Central Quarter with her servants. After she finishes she heads right back home, not once making contact with anyone from the Church.

Flum considers stopping and interrogating her, but there’s a fair chance it’s a trap.

“I guess our first stop is back home to tell Eterna.”

Flum mutters to herself as she peers around a corner at the front gate of Satils’ mansion. Milkit, strengthening her grip on Flum’s arm, nods. Her face is pale.

Just when I thought I was finally freed of those nightmares…

“Seriously, how’s that possible? I don’t care how rich she is, there’s no way she could afford a second life.”

“She’s real, isn’t she…? I wish she was just an imposter, but…”

“I don’t have any proof, but the way she looked at me there’s no doubt. What do you think?”

“I believe she’s really Satils, too. Just looking at her makes my skin crawl…”

It might be very relative, but it’d be hard to replicate that feeling assuming it's even possible. In a sense it’s far more certain than any physical evidence could be.

“I was really thorough, so there’s no way I accidentally left her alive…”

“Do you think it might be because of an Origin Core?”

Of the Church’s three research teams, the most likely one is---

“Necromancy, maybe?”

“Good guess, oneesan.”

The voice that responds isn’t Milkit’s but that of a child. Recognizing the presence behind her, she draws and swings the Zweihander as she turns around.

“Whoa, that’s a pretty rude way to say hello!”

“Ee…!”

Seeing him, Milkit freezes in fear.

“Nekt!!”

“Oh, you remember me. That’s good to hear.”

Standing there is a young boy in a white shirt not even ten years old --- one of the Spiral Children, Nekt Linkedge. He laughs off Flum’s murderous glare.

“Aren’t you being a little too bold? I would’ve thought being hunted down by Gadio-san would’ve prevented you from walking out in the open like this.”

“Hunted down? Ahaha, no way. We’re keeping up our research just fine. In fact, we’re doing a lot better now that Ink’s not getting in the way anymore.”

“One more word, and…!”

Flum steps forwards, putting herself firmly between him and Milkit.

Nekt, however, makes no move to attack.

“C’mon, no need to snap at me like a wild dog. I doubt you’ll believe me, but I’m here to talk, not fight.”

“Your kind isn’t really the talking type.”

“Don’t lump me in with the other teams’ monsters. We Children are used to the Cores, unlike them. I’m me, not Papa’s puppet.”

He certainly sounds just like a cocky little kid, if nothing else.

On top of that, even if she’s stronger now than when they last met she doesn’t think she could take on someone that even Gadio struggled against.

I can’t just attack on impulse.

Flum lowers her sword.

“I’m glad you’re the talking type.”

“Cut the crap. What do you want?”

“I’ll keep it simple, then --- let’s team up.”

He says the last thing she expected.

“I’m not trying to trick you, just to be clear. You already know about Chimaera and Necromancy, right?”

“...I’ll hear you out, at least.”

She glares at him, and he shrugs.

“Jeez, just getting you to listen is a pain. You know how the Church has three research teams, right? Any guesses why there’s not just one?”

“To make them compete?”

“Correct! You’re a lot smarter than you look. I was pretty sure you just ran around stabbing things blindly. But anyway, the three teams aren’t exactly friends. Not surprising, since two of us are going to get scrapped eventually.”

“So you want my help crushing Necromancy, is that it?”

“Glad you’re quick on the uptake. It’s not a bad deal, if I do say so mys---”

“I refuse! You abducted Milkit and now you want me to team up with you!?”

Flum cuts him off, not interested in hearing anything else he has to say. Even now she can remember what it was like to have Milkit disappear so suddenly, and Milkit herself is probably even more scared of him.

There’s not a single good reason they should listen to him.

“I guess you do hate me, after all. Look, I only did that because that Dane jerk made me. I couldn’t care less what happened to that bandaged oneesan.”

“That’s what I hate about you most. You think Origin’s just talking to you, not controlling you, but you don’t even realize how twisted you are! That’s even worse!”

“Huh… I guess you might have a point there. I haven’t talked with people on the outside much so I really don’t know.”

“Glad you agree. Now get lost.”

Cutting off their conversation, Flum grabs Milkit by the hand and starts leading her away.

Nekt starts talking in an exaggeratedly loud voice.

“Looking to go to Eterna Rinebow for help, huh? You might want to reconsider that!”

“...What do you mean?”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t do a thing. Just think for a moment, though: That Satils lady suddenly came back to life with a Core, right? It’s got Necromancy written all over it. They’ve been slinking around in the shadows up until now, but they just hit you with a declaration of war! Isn’t it natural to think the other Chosen are at risk, too?”

“Kh… Hold on, Milkit!”

“Okay!”

Scooping up Milkit, Flum sprints back to their house.

Nekt smugly waves them goodbye, stopping the moment they pass out of sight. The cocky smile disappears from his face and he lets out a heavy sigh.

“Hahh… I guess I’ve got to work from the ground up, huh? No, maybe she saw right through me. Maybe my perception’s just as twisted as she thinks…”

He turns his back, narrowing his eyes.

“I wasn’t lying, though. I said so, didn’t I --- the other Chosen are at risk.”

He really didn’t mean to deceive her --- but if she finds herself feeling cornered, well, that’ll just work out better for him.


◇◇◇


Just as planned, Gadio leaves the guild early after wrapping up a few odd jobs.

He was hoping to find a lead or two on the Church using his position as guildmaster, but he hasn’t seen any results yet. His opponent essentially controls the whole Kingdom, so he shouldn’t get impatient and hope for immediate results.

Knowing full well that a lead won’t just fall into his lap, he decides to return to Kereina and Hallom for the time being.

“Hmph. This isn’t like me…”

A box of cakes hangs in his grip. He tires to remember the last time he felt so flustered doing something like that --- it hasn’t been since Tia’s time, at the very least.

“I hope Kereina and Hallom like it.”

I can’t keep dwelling in the past. Tia and Souma may be dead, but I’ve still got a life to live.

The only real challenge left to him is accepting that. Unless he forgets about his best friend, his beloved wife, and most of all the ‘Coward’ who abandoned them, he can’t move forward.

The cakes he’s carrying with him are his first step down that path.

The patisserie he bought them from, incidentally, was one that Flum recommended to him while they were both in the Party.

[Cyrill-chan and I had cake there together! It was soooo good!]

Her eyes had sparkled with happiness despite the countless hardships the Journey was forcing on her. If it was good enough for her to recommend the place to Gadio when he clearly isn’t the sweet-loving type, it must’ve been amazing.

Lost in thought, he arrives back home before he realizes it.

Before he can open the door, however, it flies open from the other side.

“Hahh… hahh… Thank gods you’re finally back, Gadio!”

“I bought some cake for Hallom---

“T-Thanks, but… it really isn’t the time for that now!”

Kereina herself seems fine --- something must’ve happened to Hallom.

She grabs him by the arm and tries to lead him inside, but spotting something she stops dead in her tracks.

Following her gaze, he sees the same person she does --- and stops in the same way.

“Welcome back… or wait, I guess it’s the opposite?”

Her voice is light and bright.

“I’m home, Ga-kun.”

Her cheerful smile is the same as it was six years ago.

“Is that really you… Tia…?”

The woman who sacrificed herself to save him, the love of his life --- his beloved dead wife is standing there before him.

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch7 1.png

“Of course it is! Who else could it be? It’s me, your partner-slash-wife, Tia Ruskett!”

Before he has a chance to be happy, his mind goes white with shock.

“That’s… impossible…!”

He saw her die with his own two eyes.

And yet, somehow, she’s standing there before him, just as she was in life.

It’s an impossible sight.

His mind blares warning signs.

His adventurer’s instincts scream at him to stay away from her.

All his caution is buried beneath an inestimable volume of happiness.

The box of cakes falls from his hand, and before he realizes it Gadio is hugging her with all his strength.


Chapter 8 - Drowning[edit]

“You’re crushing me, Ga-kun!”

Tia, wrapped in Gadio’s broad, muscular arms, smiles.

“...Tia…”

Voice filled with countless emotions, he calls her name.

“Nn, you don’t have to sound so lonely. I’m right here.”

Responding to his overflowing love, she wraps her arms around his back.

“Tia…!”

“Nhehe, I never thought I’d get a hug like this from my shy little Ga-kun…”

He can feel her body there, in his arms.

It can’t be an illusion. She’s really there, really alive.

“But really… I don’t think I can hold on any longer… give, give!”

Tia starts thumping him on the back. Finally returning to his senses, he relaxes his grip, and this time she grabs his shoulders and looks him in the face.

“You’ve gotten so strong… I couldn’t believe it when they told me it’s been six years, but looking at you I can believe it.”

“You haven’t changed a bit, Tia.”

He brings a hand up to her slightly reddened cheeks.

His fingers tremble, as if he were about to touch a sand sculpture, afraid she’ll collapse at his touch. Her cheek is warm, however, and smooth like silk.

He still can’t believe it, but she’s not dead, she’s standing there right in front of him.

“You’re still just as warm as always.”

She puts her hand on top of his, her small hand overlapping with his large one.

Her eyes narrow blissfully, as if confirming that Gadio is really right there in front of her.

The air around them seems to thicken, leaving them in a world of their own.

Kereina watches them a short distance away, a complex look on her face.

After a little while Tia finally pulls away with a tinge of regret.

“I have a lot to tell you. Why don’t we go inside?”

Spinning around, she turns to address Kereina.

“What happened to my room?”

“Ah, uhh… Just as you left it. I’ve been keeping it clean.”

“Thanks, Kereina. How about we talk there, then, Ga-kun?”

She leads him by the hand into the house.

Kereina can’t do anything but watch them leave.

She can’t bring herself to believe it.

Knowing nothing of the truth behind the Church and unable to even guess how Tia returned, all she can do is watch them leave, alone.


◇◇◇


Long ago, in a distant corner of the world, there grew a great tree, boughs laden with beautiful fruits. The fruits were poisonous, however, and anyone who ate them would slowly waste away. Everyone who lived in that land knew better than to eat the tree’s fruit.

One day, however, a youth was dared by his friend to eat one of the fruits. Determined to prove he wasn’t a coward, the youth did as he was dared. Having proven himself the youth should’ve been content --- but every day from that day forth, the youth would return to the tree for more fruit.

His friends and family told him to stop or else he’d die, but the youth ignored them. Finally, he began to cough blood and he perished soon after.

Why couldn’t the youth stop eating the fruit?

It’s simple.

The fruit was so fantastically delicious that he couldn’t live without it.

Gadio remembers hearing the story of the youth and the fruit from Rowe. At the time he’d laughed and called the youth a fool --- but he hardly has the right to laugh now.

“You’ve gotten a bit more rugged since last I saw you, Ga-kun.”

Tia’s room.

Gadio sits on the sofa there and Tia sits in his lap, touching his face all over.

They always used to sit like that whenever he spoiled her, though to be fair they’d only gotten so close one short year before her death.

“I liked how thin and modest you were back then, but I like the new Ga-kun, too. You have the same face as back then, but you’ve become a man I can feel safe behind… That’s my husband!”

“Really?”

“Mm, no doubt about it. I think so, at least.”

She snuggles into his broad chest. He naturally wraps his arms around her.

“It was just a month ago to me, but it really has been six years, hasn’t it…?”

“The mansion’s just like it was back then.”

“Yes… I was honestly shocked to see how little my room changed. But the Capital’s buildings, the people living in them, everything’s different. Kereina changed, too, and… Hallom-chan, right? It’s hard to believe Souma’s little girl is so big now…”

There’s a tone of loneliness in her voice. She’ll never get back those six years she lost.

Looking at her expression, Gadio’s guard begins to slip a little.

She has feelings, warmth.

If she’s not really Tia, then what could she be?

“I think I’ve changed, too…”

“You said you came back to life. What happened?”

He doesn’t want to ask, but the impossible has happened. There’s an undeniably high chance that the Church is responsible.

He can’t just leave things as they are.

At worst, he might have to kill her with his own hands.

“I don’t know much, but they told me they brought me back by putting an Origin Core into my body.”

He had the feeling that was the case, but she says the words he wants to hear least. Clenching his fists, he squeezes out a reply.

“So… it’s as I feared.”

“It sounds like you know about it already. I’ll keep it short, then. They took that weird power and limited it, weakened it, and after tuning it so that I wouldn’t become a monster they finally let me come out.”

Gadio never expected to hear the explanation from her own mouth. If it really is a trap set by the Church, then they probably would’ve kept the details hidden.

No, maybe by being so frank they’re trying to lull him into a false sense of security.

Unable to read their true intentions, Gadio furrows his brow. Staring up at those wrinkles, Tia eventually reaches up and prods at them with her finger.

“There you go making that difficult expression again. Can’t you smile a little more?”

“I can’t. The Origin Cores are dangerous. Didn’t they tell you it was a monster with one of those Cores that wiped out our whole party?”

“Yes, Daffyd-san mentioned that. He said they still couldn’t control the Cores at the time. I wasn’t happy to hear that, but I couldn’t complain since the same thing brought me back to life.”

“Daffyd Sharmas… So Necromancy’s responsible for this.”

“You know him, too? He’s a lanky man with glasses who’s always wearing a labcoat. He said he was doing all this to bring back his own wife.”

She readily tells him more than he asks for, even. If he asks where their facility is she might really answer.

“You don’t have to look at me like that. There’s no reason for me to keep any secrets from you, Ga-kun. Daffyd-san even told me I didn’t have to hide anything.”

“I don’t get it. What’re they planning… Why would they bring you back and have you come here like this!?”

Gadio starts to grow frustrated, but Tia simply smiles at him in response.

“I don’t know anything about the other teams, but all Necromancy wants to do is bring back the dead. That’s it. They only want to save people who’re suffering because they’ve lost a loved one. Daffyd-san’s been through the same thing, after all, so I think that’s really it.”

Tia certainly doesn’t seem to be lying. If nothing else, Gadio can tell that.

If they can, in fact, control the Origin Cores, then there’s no telling what miracles they could bring about. If one of those miracles has brought her back to him---

“...No. I can’t believe this.”

Gadio shakes his head.

Tia’s expression saddens for only a moment, quickly returning to a smile.

“Daffyd-san said you’d have a hard time taking it all in. To you and Kereina it’s been six whole years, after all. Of course you’re a little confused.”

“Sorry… I want to be happy. I really do.”

“Don’t be sorry. You’ll come see me, though, won’t you?”

“Come? Where are you going?”

“They told me my body still needs tuning. They said that Origin might take over my body if I’m not careful. That’s why I have to go back to the lab in a few hours.”

“Back to the lab…”

Gadio feels regretful that they’ll be parting again so soon, no matter how sure he is that it’s just another of the Church’s plots. He can’t suppress his joy at reuniting with her so easily.

“I love it when you look that lonely, too. They told me that we’ll be able to live together again soon, though, so just try to hold on until then. Ah, but we can stay like this until I have to go, can’t we?”

“I can’t say no to that.”

“Fufu, that’s good to hear. You’re just as kind as you’ve always been.”

Delicate, pleasant time passes, as if they were wrapped in a dream.

The unease spiralling in Gadio’s chest doesn’t disappear, but the more he feels her warmth the more it fades, slowly but surely.

The risk is great --- but the reward is simply too much to pass up.

The deeper he sinks, the less Gadio finds he wants to escape that mire of happiness.


◇◇◇


Kereina opens the box Gadio brought back in the kitchen.

Inside is cake for two.

Of course he didn’t buy any for himself. It goes without saying who those cakes are meant for.

She bites her lip. She doesn’t know herself whether she’s frustrated or sad.

“Mama, who was that blue-haired lady?”

Hallom seems to suddenly appear beside her.

“She’s Gadio’s wife.”

“Papa’s wife? Isn’t Mama gonna be Papa’s wife?”

She’d never said anything like that. There was only a feeling that it’d turn out that way --- not just Hallom but even Kereina had felt it, and she’d been expecting it, almost certain of it.

I knew it was impossible right away, but in a year… no, two years I was sure we’d be together…

“Now that his real wife’s back, there’s no room for me.”

“Real wife? Mama’s a fake?”

“...!”

Hallom didn’t mean to hurt her, but her words pierce Kereina’s heart.

She should’ve chosen her words better. Those sorts of feelings can’t be expressed in terms of ‘real’ or ‘fake’.

Kereina’s feelings aren’t any more or less real --- but she’s the second, number two.

They were only in such a relationship to lick each other’s wounds, nothing more.

“So if that lady’s here then Hallom’s Papa won’t be Hallom’s Papa? Hallom doesn’t want her, then!”

“Hey, you can’t just---”

“She’s scary! Mama’s waaaaay better!”

“Ahh, really, if you say that I can’t get mad at you!”

Kereina crouches down to ruffle Hallom’s hair.

“Tia’s a good person, though. I’m sure you’ll like her if you give her a chance.”

“No.”

“You don’t know that for sure. You can’t just decide---”

“No, Mama. Hallom doesn’t think she’s scary ‘cause Hallom doesn’t like her.”

Hallom’s expression is resentful --- but more than that it’s uneasy.

Kereina had felt something weird about Tia herself, and she can’t bring herself to say Hallom’s wrong from the outset.

“That lady’s empty.”

Kereina cocks her head to the side.

“Empty?”

“She’s smiling but she’s not smiling, and she looks like she’s having fun but she’s not.”

“Hm? I’m sorry, Hallom, could you put it so I can understand it?”

“...Hallom can’t. Hallom doesn’t know how, either. Hallom just knows!”

Adults can never really understand how children see things.

She probably just doesn’t trust her yet. I’m sure they just need a little time together.

Tia’s always been good with kids, and if anything they seem to find Kereina the scary one.

Without giving any more thought to Hallom’s words, she ruffles her hair again with a smile.

“Would you like some of the cake Gadio brought back for us?”

Hallom pouts for a moment, but unable to resist her hunger she gives Kereina a firm little nod.


◇◇◇


After parting ways with Nekt, Flum runs through the Capital with Milkit in her arms. Without paying any heed to the curious looks of passersby, she focuses only on reaching her destination as soon as possible.

Finally arriving back home, she throws the door open without slowing down and calls out in a loud voice.

“Eterna-san, are you okay!?”

“...What?”

She lets out a sigh of relief when she sees Eterna relaxing at the dining room table.

“Hahh… what a relief. Nekt showed up just a little while ago, and he told us you were in trouble… I’m so glad you’re okay…!”

Flum collapses where she stands. Even if her Stamina is a lot higher now, running like that while carrying someone is still exhausting.

Milkit brings her a towel to wipe off her sweat with from the bathroom.

“The Children? Why?”

“He told us he wanted our help crushing Necromancy. Apparently they’re not on good terms with the other teams. I turned them down, of course, but… hahh, good thing Nekt was lying.”

Taking a quick look around, there’s no sign of any sort of fight. Nekt was probably just trying to get under her skin.

“Where’d you meet?”

“Right by Satils’ mansion in the East Quarter.”

“Why there? I thought you and Milkit were on a date.”

“I-It really wasn’t a date, I assure you…”

Milkit timidly denies it with a red face.

“We ran into Satils again by Main Street! I’m pretty sure that Necromancy project Gadio-san mentioned did it.”

“Necromancy… So they brought Satils back…”

Eterna averts her eyes, a somewhat depressed look on her face.

Not expecting that reaction, Flum cocks her head to the side.

“Uhh… I came back here because I thought I should talk things over with you before I did anything. So what do you think? I considered just following her, but I think the Church is probably expecting that. It’d be pretty risky.”

“Maybe…”

At Eterna’s vague response, even Milkit cocks her head to the side in confusion.

“...”

After a moment of silence, she suddenly stands up.

“Eterna-san?”

“I need to think. I’ll be back.”

“Eh? Uhh… Okay. See you later.”

Eterna walks out of the house with a dark look on her face. Hearing the door shut behind her, Flum and Milkit exchange glances, then cock their heads to the side at the same time.

“Eterna-san was acting strangely, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah… Maybe hearing about Nekt and Satils was just that much of a shock. Or maybe… something happened while we were gone.”

“To be honest, I’m a little curious about a few of the glasses on the shelf having moved.”

Flum turns to look at the shelf, but the change is fine enough that she doesn’t notice anything odd herself.

“Doesn’t that just mean Ink and Eterna-san had something to drink?”

“Three cups have moved, so that doesn’t explain everything.”

“Hmm… Maybe somebody came by and Eterna made them some tea? Let’s go ask Ink. She probably heard everything.”

They head upstairs.

Ink still can’t leave her room, so they’ll have to be content with talking through the door.

Flum knocks on the door, and from inside they can hear her reply with a bleary “Hnn…?”

“We’re back, Ink.”

“We’ve returned.”

“Welcome back! Was your date fun?”

Hearing Ink repeat Eterna’s words from earlier, Flum slumps her shoulders with a sigh.

“Really, it wasn’t a date…!”

“Ahaha, really?”

Even though she’s supposedly still recovering from the surgery, Ink’s voice is perky and cheerful. It sounds like she’s doing just fine.

“More importantly, I have a question for you.”

“Is it about those people who came by? I dunno who they were.”

Hearing that, Milkit lets out a disappointed little sigh.

“I guess it can’t be helped. You could probably only hear people moving around from up here…”

“No, I could hear them talking. I’ve got really good ears. I was asleep for most of it, though, so I only heard them as they were leaving.”

“So… do you know how many of them there were or anything like that?”

“There was a man and a really old couple.”

“Three people, huh…?”

“That matches the number of glasses.”

“The old people were being really nice to Eterna…”

Ink’s voice has a distinctly lonely ring to it.

Flum has never heard anything about Eterna’s friends in the Capital --- or, for that matter, why she came to the Capital in the first place or who she really is. She looks about Flum’s age but acts like she’s much older, and her skill with magic and what she knows definitely aren’t those of a girl in her teens. On top of that, she knows enough about ‘lost’ medicines and practices to put professional scholars to shame.

“If you’re here, that means she didn’t tell you, huh?”

“She didn’t tell you anything either, Ink-san?”

“She tried to hide it but she was acting really weird. She’s a really bad liar.”

Just like when she talked to Flum a little while ago.

If she’s conflicted, though, that must mean that something big must’ve happened, something she’s not sure she wants to share.

“Maybe we should go ask her ourselves…”

“No, she decided she doesn’t want to tell us. She’ll tell us when she’s ready.”

“You’re really nice, huh, Flum?”

“I just know Eterna-san’s a lot smarter than I am is all. Whatever she decides, she’s probably right.”

“I think that’s really nice of you, though…”

“I agree.”

“C-Complimenting me isn't going to get you anywhere…”

What she says might be true, but for Milkit, just looking at Flum’s embarrassment is enough to know there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.


◇◇◇


Eterna walks the alleys of the East Quarter.

[They say that overcoming the death of a loved one makes one grow stronger --- but personally, I would rather they didn’t die in the first place.]

She remembers what that man had told her just a little while ago.

He --- Daffyd Sharmas --- had brought Eterna’s ‘parents’ Kinder and Claudia with him.

Just as she’d told Ink, they were supposed to be dead, and she’d even seen their graves with her own eyes.

In other words, he brought them back, just like he brought back Satils.

[Once, I had a childhood friend named Suzie. I was introverted and a bit of a shut-in, but she was energetic, cheerful, outgoing… it must’ve been a miracle that brought us together. We promised that we’d get married when we were children, and over the years we naturally fell in love with each other. Even when we were adults nothing changed, and we decided that once we’d both settled into our jobs we’d officially tie the knot. At the time, we were convinced that we had only a bright future ahead of us.]

Everyone lives with uncertainty to some extent or another. There’s a difference in degree, of course, but humans aren’t simple enough to be more carefree the happier they are. In fact, in many cases, being happier means having to fight with ever-increasing fear of losing that happiness.

By the time they regret becoming so happy in the first place, it’s far too late.

As Daffyd talked, Claudia sat beside Eterna and stroked her hair as a mother would her child, and Kinder watched over the two with a smile. That nostalgic feeling uncovered scars Eterna never even knew she had. The happier she became, the more scared she became that she’d lose them again.

[Suzie was an adventurer, you see. She had a real talent with a spear, and before long she’d become A-Rank. There were a great many people who were jealous of her, I’m sure. To me she was just my beloved wife, but unfortunately there were some people who grew jealous because of that.]

Daffyd’s face darkened as he remembered, fixing his gaze on the band on his left ring finger.

[One day she left with a few fellow adventurers on a quest… and she returned in a truly terrible state. Her own comrades, of all people, betrayed her, raped her, and her body… if a passing adventurer hadn’t found her in a ditch by the side of the road she would’ve never come home to me.]

Her face, twisted in pain.

Her hand, clutching that pendant so hard it left a mark in her palm.

Her body, rotting, decaying, reeking.

To him, even the smell of that rot was wonderful.

[Trapped in the depths of despair, her body and I lived together for a time, if you could even call that living. What finally gave me hope again was the teachings of the Church of Origin. After losing everything else, I lost myself in worship, and by the time I’d realized it they were offering me a chance to study the Origin Cores.]

Daffyd had seemed extremely suspicious to Eterna then, but despite the fact that he was her enemy she could tell that he wasn’t lying. His voice, his expressions, his story itself --- everything about him bore the shuddering weight of reality.

[During my studies, I came across a certain realization. I found out that it might be possible to use the Cores’ power to bring my Suzie back to life. I wrote a paper on my findings and presented them to the cardinals, and the next thing I knew I was the head of a project of the same scale as the Children and Chimaera. That was the start of my team and Necromancy. Our goal was simply to return the dead to as they were in life. It might sound a little strange after all my dedication and worship, but after that point I stopped caring about Origin and the Church altogether. All I wanted was my Suzie back.]

Maybe all that made her think that, however, was the fact that some part of Daffyd’s mind was clearly broken. Being enveloped in her parents’ warmth made so much of it feel unreal --- the temptation to just surrender herself to that feeling was that sweet, that soft, that dangerous.

[There are surely countless people out there just like me. I want to save them. From the bottom of my heart, I want to ease their suffering. That’s why I reached out to you and the other enemies of the Church… I realize that was a bit of a lengthy introduction, but I want you to understand what I’m really after and to make you an offer.]

---Eterna isn’t wandering the East Quarter aimlessly. She has a very concrete destination in mind.

Leaving the alleyways, she enters a street just wide enough for a single carriage to pass through. The street is devoid of businesses, and many of the houses in the area are old and weathered with age. An abandoned residential street.

There aren’t any people in sight. It’s the ideal place to board a carriage without anyone knowing.

[Tomorrow morning, I’ll send a carriage to the place marked on this map. I’d love for you to see our research facility with your own eyes. You’ll find that we’ve already saved a number of people and that they’re living there quite contentedly. I hope that by seeing them you’ll realize the value of our work.]

Daffyd spoke of his dream with great zeal. It’d be almost too easy to write him off as a delusional fanatic --- but Kinder and Claudia proved his words right, giving Eterna the same warmth they did in life.

That’s why his words were so convincing and are causing her to falter.

“Tomorrow morning… I…”

Standing at the rendezvous point, Eterna closes her eyes.

If she takes him up on his offer then she’ll be betraying not only Ink but Flum and Milkit as well.

She’ll get to meet them again, though. This time for sure, they’ll be able to live a normal life. She’s been dreaming of that for more than fifty years. Not only that, but if she boards that carriage she’ll be taken straight to Daffyd’s lab. If she decides that it’s dangerous, she can just destroy his research then and there.

That would be protecting Ink. I wouldn’t be betraying---

“...That’s just an excuse.”

She shakes her head firmly.

“I need to choose one or the other. I’ll decide… and I’ll take responsibility.”

Not because of anyone or for anyone’s sake.

She continues to question herself until the sky runs purple with dusk.


◇◇◇


When the sun is just about to set completely, the carriage arrives at Gadio’s house.

It’s time for Tia to return to the lab.

She tells Kereina “I’ll be back, I promise” as she leaves the house. Gadio, fully intending to stay with her until the last possible moment, walks her to the gate hand-in-hand.

There, he meets Daffyd for the first time.

“Hello there, Gadio-san. My name is---”

“So you’re Daffyd Sharmas.”

“Eterna-san also knew my name. I suppose you Chosen really are that impressive, aren’t you? As you say, my name is Daffyd, and I’m the man in charge of Necromancy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

He extends his hand to Gadio, hoping for a handshake. Gadio is tempted to ignore him, but since Tia is right there beside him he reluctantly takes Daffyd’s hand.

“I’m sorry for suddenly reaching out to you like this, but I wanted to make contact with you as quickly as possible.”

“Why?”

“To be frank, the Church’s higher-ups are in a bit of a hurry since you’ve made… aggressive contact with the Children. They want to turn my Necromancy into a weapon, of all things. I need to show them positive results.”

It makes sense --- though his motivations are so innocent and harmless that Gadio feels all the more wary. Because of Tia, however, his doubts aren’t that strong.

The sweet poison is slowly but surely opening holes in Gadio’s guard and heart.

“I’ll be blunt: Is this some sort of trap?”

“No, of course not. All I want is for you to understand me as a fellow widower. Surely you realize that the only way to save someone from the pain of loss is to bring their loved one back, yes?”

Especially after having Tia return to him, the words reverberate strongly within Gadio’s heart. At the same time, though, he starts to loathe his own weakness.

After hating the Church so much, after swearing vengeance, all it takes is Tia’s smile to break my resolve!?

The root of those feelings is Tia herself, however. It’s only natural.

“I understand that you see the Church as an enemy right now. To be fair, the Children and Chimaera are nothing but living weapons with Origin Cores, and sooner or later the Church is bound to abuse that power, but…”

“You want me to spare you because you’re different, is that it?”

“Yes. If you do that, then you and Tia-san will be able to continue your life together right where you left off.”

“So you’re holding her hostage.”

“I don’t mind if you take me as a coward. I truly believe I can save lives with this work, and that I myself have been saved through my new life with Suzie.”

In the end, all he wants is Suzie --- and that gives his words a powerful weight.

If nothing else, Daffyd himself is serious. Talking to him face-to-face makes that alone abundantly clear.

“Today my only objective was to introduce myself to you, Gadio-san, but I hope that you’ll come take a look at my laboratory and draw your conclusions soon.”

“You’re taking me back to your home base?”

“I won’t force you, of course. I’ll come here again tomorrow morning with Tia-san, so please have an answer prepared by then.”

After saying that, Daffyd and Tia move toward the carriage.

“Tomorrow?”

“See you then, Ga-kun!”

“Stop, Tia, this is too sudden!”

He reaches out for her hand, but she denies him.

“It’s already late… I don’t want you to see me when I’m not myself.”

She gives him a sad smile.

Necromancy isn’t perfect yet. She’s not completely normal yet.

Gadio doesn’t want to see her face twisted into one of those horrific spirals. Gritting his teeth, he lowers his hand.

“Even I wish that you two could be together longer. That’s why I’m inviting you. I hope you’ll answer wisely.”

Daffyd and Tia board the carriage.

Gadio can do nothing but watch powerlessly as they disappear into the distance.

“Answer wisely!? Like I could…!”

Giving Gadio a choice despite knowing full well what his answer will be --- Daffyd doesn’t play fair.

“Dammit!!”

He drives his fist into the fence.

He can’t possibly decline if Tia will be there --- but on the other hand, he’s devoted the past six years of his life to vengeance against the organization Daffyd is working for. Love and hatred spiral out of control in his chest.

Returning to the mansion with a bitter expression, he opens the door to find Kereina waiting there.

“Tia left, didn’t she?”

“She’ll be back tomorrow.”

“I see… That’s good news, isn’t it, Gadio?”

She makes the best smile she can --- but hidden beneath that smile is a feeling of jealousy that just won’t go away and joy at her friend’s return, each struggling against the other.


Chapter 9 - Gears That Refuse To Mesh[edit]

When Eterna returns to the house that night, she doesn’t even try to explain herself. The next morning, when Milkit heads downstairs to prepare breakfast, she finds a note on the dining room table.

[Going out. Be back later. Don’t worry.]

Seeing those words written in Eterna’s hand, Milkit rushes upstairs to wake Flum. When Flum reads it, she puts her head in her hands.

“I never thought Eterna would just leave without a word like that…”

She sits on the edge of the bed, trying to figure out what they should do now. Satils alone left her head about ready to burst, so it’s impossible for her to think of a decent plan now.

“Given this timing, Necromancy is likely involved somehow.”

“Yeah, the morning after those mystery guests came in… It can’t be a coincidence.”

Just as Nekt said, the Church has made their move, dividing their forces quickly and efficiently by using the dead.

As Flum continues to think, someone knocks on the door to their room.

“Can I come in?”

“Ink? Sure, but…”

The door opens and the blind little girl walks in, sensing their presences to get closer to them.

“Are you sure you should be leaving your room like this, Ink-san?”

“Eterna told me I shouldn’t, but since she’s gone I don’t wanna just sit there doing nothing.”

“So you heard…”

“Yeah, but before that I noticed her going out when it was still dark.”

“She left that early?”

Milkit wakes up extremely early in the morning --- waking up before then would mean effectively waking up in the middle of the night.

“Where could she be going that she’d want to keep such a secret from us?”

“Hey, let’s eat first. I don’t think we’ll think of anything good on an empty stomach.”

Ink probably only says that because she’s hungry, but it might serve to get their minds off things for a while. They decide to move downstairs to the dining room first.

Descending the stairs, they find---

“Hey. I just let myself in.”

Nekt sits comfortably in one of the dining room chairs, and seeing them he gives them a casual wave.

“Why’re YOU here!?”

Flum quickly steps forward, drawing her sword.

“Hold on a minute there. I thought you might be having a little trouble, so I came to give you a hand. Hey, Ink. It’s been a while. How’re you doing?”

“Nekt… I’m fine.”

Ink answers ambiguously. Nekt lets out a pleased little laugh.

“Didn’t I tell you? Eterna Rinebow is at risk.”

“You knew this would happen?”

“Nah, I guessed. I think the choice was hers in the end. Daffyd Sharmas is soft like that --- though I guess that worked to his advantage this time.”

Gadio and Eterna were swayed by his words precisely because he was so honest and upright with them. His words and mannerisms were one thing, but the most important thing was the ‘aura’ he gave off, something he couldn’t have faked if he wanted to. That alone won their trust.

“Do you know who she’s with right now?”

“Sorry. I told you, we’re not on good terms with Necromancy. Daffyd did take an old couple here yesterday, though, so they were probably her grandparents or something.”

That would fit with what Ink told them about the visitors.

So the visitors were that old couple and Daffyd Sharmas, then…

“But I guess even the Chosen are human in the end, huh? I’ve gotta admit, I thought Necromancy was a stupid idea from the start. I thought just bringing someone to life was a waste of Papa’s power. Boy, was I wrong! I didn’t realize you humans were so absorbed in the past that you’d throw away your futures like that! She even forgot about you and Ink!”

“...I hope you’re not here to invite me to join you again.”

Flum glares at him dauntlessly.

Nekt only scoffs, as if he can see right through her.

“Because you think you still have Gadio Ruskett, right?”

“!? …Don’t tell me Gadio-san, too!?”

She can’t hide her surprise. Pleased with her reaction, Nekt’s look turns degrading as he laughs.

“All I can say is he abandoned that woman who’s so fond of him and her kid. Same as Eterna, huh?”

“That’s impossible!”

“Don’t yell at me, oneesan, it’s not my fault. Not. My. Fault. Glaring at me’ll get you nowhere. I don’t know the details, but he left with some lady in her thirties. Think she was his girlfriend? His sister?”

It was Tia, no doubt about it.

He’s devoted his everything since her death to avenging her --- seeing her alive must’ve destroyed his resolve. Flum could believe he’d leave Kereina and Hallom for her. Some might blame him for succumbing to temptation, but Flum understands how he feels.

“So what’s your move, Flum-oneesan? You’re all alone now, and worse you’ve got to protect those worthless humans with you. Think you can do it? It went well for you last time, sure, but you were only fighting trash like Dane who didn’t even have Papa’s power. Do you really think it’ll go so smoothly next time?”

Flum has a pretty good idea of how strong she is right now. The place where Gadio and Eterna were taken is an active lab, a place with more Origin Cores than she’s probably ever seen before. She doesn’t stand a chance against them --- not against Necromancy, or even the boy in front of her for that matter.

If I’m going to protect them, then…

“Hmmm? You’re really not sure even after being cornered this far?”

Nekt crosses his arms, clearly quite intrigued.

“You can’t expect me to decide so easily…!”

“It’s not a bad offer. I don’t mind if you help me or not, so if you’re going to be so reluctant about it we can just pretend we never had this conversation. All I need is for you to be there, really.”

“This is all part of Mother’s plan, is it?”

“Nope --- this is my idea and mine alone.”

“Wait, so Mother has nothing to do with this? The other Children are also out?”

“Ahh, I guess I didn’t mention that. I’m not asking you to team up with the Children, I want you to team up with me. Mother and Papa don’t care either way, and the other Children don’t know I’m here. That changes things, doesn’t it? All you have to do is nod and you’ll earn yourself a powerful ally, if only for a little while. No risk, high return.”

There’s no way that’s possible. There has to be some reason Nekt is doing this, and any gain for him means a gain for the Church, which is bad news for her.

Milkit clutches at the hem of her clothes uneasily as she watches Flum think it over.

Ink hasn’t moved from the beginning until now, facing the ground with a dark expression. For her, it was probably more shocking to hear Eterna abandoned her than having Nekt suddenly show up like this.

“I guess I’ll take that as a no, then. It looks like I’ll be going alone.”

“Wait!”

She knows she’s playing right into his hands, but she has no choice but to stop him from leaving.

“All you want is to crush Necromancy, right? You won’t hurt Milkit or Ink?”

“You’re one thing, but I have nothing to gain by killing them. I’d rather spend my energy on something more useful.”

He’s likely telling the truth. If he wanted he could kill them all right now, or he could even abduct Ink if he felt like it.

That definitely doesn’t mean Flum can trust him, though. She’ll probably never figure out what he’s really after at this rate.

She’ll have to compromise.

As powerless as she is, she can’t afford to be picky.

“So? What’ll it be, oneesan? Are you going to join me or aren’t you?”

Convinced that he’s won, he gives her an openly mocking smile.

“I…”

After all her worries, she’s just about to agree to his proposal when---

“I’m back.”

A lax, carefree voice comes from the front foyer. A moment later, a certain girl pokes her head into the dining room. All four of their gazes fix on her. Flum, Milkit, and Ink are one thing, but even Nekt freezes at the sight of her.

“There’s a Child here? Uwah, what’s going on?”

Eterna doesn’t act at all fazed, however --- in fact, she’s the only one who manages to stay calm.

“T-That’s my line! Why’re you here instead of with Daffyd, Eterna-san!?”

“Yeah! I thought you talked with him and those old people yesterday!”

Flum and Ink start questioning her in unison.

“Ah. You noticed. Sorry I didn’t say anything sooner. I decided not to go. I already went to their graves and said goodbye, after all. Living here with you is more important to me.”

“Eterna… Uuu… Eternaaa!”

Voice trembling, Ink leaps into Eterna’s arms. Eterna catches her, gently stroking her soft black hair.

“…You thought I left you? Without finishing your treatment?”

“Anyone would be worried if they saw the note you left!”

Even Milkit raises her voice.

“Mu. Never thought I’d get scolded by Milkit. Sorry. I was planning to come right back so I thought that was enough.”

“Where’d you even go, Eterna-san?”

“The next town over. I went to see their graves --- my ‘parents’ Kinder and Claudia Rinebow.”

“You should’ve met them face-to-face already! Didn’t you realize there weren’t any bodies there!?”

“Nn. The bodies were gone. There were signs they’d been dug up. Recent signs.”

Eterna’s gaze hardens.

“Those bastards defiled their graves to get to me. They were finally sleeping, and the Church went and used them for some experiment. They dishonoured the dead. That was enough to stop trusting Daffyd.”

“Kh… You guys are more --- no, just as fixated on stupid platitudes as I thought!”

At the unexpected arrival of Eterna, the tables have suddenly turned.

“Maybe. I’m probably more of a romantic than I think. That’s not bad, though. It keeps life interesting.”

“Ha… You make me sick, seriously…!”

He gives a surrendering laugh, the strength leaving his shoulders. Flum gives him a puzzled look.

“You know there’s no point trying to convince me now that Eterna’s back, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“Shouldn’t you be going, then?”

“Heh… I could take you alone no problem, but I’d have a rough time against the two of you at once, that’s for sure.”

He makes no move to leave, however. If he felt like it he could probably ‘connect’ himself out of there in an instant.

His words giving away no more than they did before, a single possibility pops into Ink’s head. She knows that he wouldn’t admit it even if she’s right, but she can’t stop herself from asking nonetheless.

“Maybe… Did you really come to talk to Flum, Nekt? You didn’t come to see me?”

“Haa!? Why the hell would I do that!? Why would I get all hung-up on a worthless piece of trash like you!?”

“But you feel kinda different… You’re kinda angry, huh?”

“I was just ticked that she wasn’t deciding fast enough is all.”

“No, not that kinda angry… I think you’re angry at someone else. You sounded kinda lonely…”

“Ha, since when did you become my counsellor!? Why would I feel like that!? Until that witch came I was winning!”

“...You’re afraid of being abandoned.”

Eterna mumbles barely loud enough to hear, and he glares daggers at her.

“You can’t prove---”

“Mother abandoned Ink. It felt too sudden to be her love running out.”

Eterna didn’t see it herself, of course, but she heard all about it from Ink afterwards. Until the moment before Ink was abandoned, Mother acted just like a true parent. The second he decided Ink was useless, however, he suddenly started acting like a different person entirely, as if everything before then was only an act.

“Ink’s abandonment had nothing to do with family issues. He didn’t need her anymore.”

As if saying she disagrees, however, Eterna hugs Ink a little tighter.

“So? What’s your point?”

“The Church has three teams for competition’s sake. Necromancy succeeded in bringing back the dead. They’re close to winning. Chimaera is probably doing well, too. The Children are inefficient. They took almost a decade to make you.”

“But they succeeded, didn’t they? I’m living proof of that!”

“There are only four of you. You’re only as strong as Gadio or I, too. You can’t kill demons.”

“...And?”

The more Eterna talks, the more nervous Nekt becomes.

Maybe he feels insulted, or maybe she’s right---

“I don’t think you’re the final version. You’re the Second Generation. There might be a Third and Fourth Generation next. When they’re born --- Mother will abandon you. Like he abandoned Ink.”

Nekt sighs, narrows his eyes, then falls silent. Then, giving them a powerless smile, he gives them a dismissive shrug.

“Seriously… I don’t care how imaginative you are, you can’t just make baseless claims like that. Why should I be afraid of something stupid like that? I’m not a failure! Papa still loves me!”

“You’re bluffing.”

“Just shut up! You could never know how I feel!”

“I know. I’m the same. I was also a test subject.”

“Wha…!?”

Nekt is struck speechless. Even Flum and Milkit open their eyes in shock. Only Ink doesn’t give a big reaction, having heard Eterna’s age a little while ago, but even she’s surprised.

“What do you mean, you’re a test subject!?”

“I grew up in the slums fifty years ago. I never knew my parents. I was abducted and taken here for experiments.”

“Wait, so this house… used to be one of the Church’s research facilities…!?”

“More like where the experimentee children lived. Our caretakers, the research’s team’s leaders, were the Rinebow couple.”

Eterna begins to tell them about what happened back then, giving Flum and the others a summary of what she went through.

How she was part of an experiment to create humans with Magic as high as the demons.

How back then the Kingdom knew next to nothing about human experimentation and countless children lost their lives under the knife.

How Claudia gave her the name Eterna from ‘eternal’, hoping that she would live even a little longer than the others.

How the experiments succeeded, and Eterna ended up with an inhumanly long lifespan and exceptionally high Magic.

How the inefficiency of the experimentation lead to the project getting cancelled and Eterna herself was to be disposed of.

How Kinder and Claudia let her escape, and how she lived alone in the mountains as a ‘witch’ until she returned to the Capital only recently---

Nekt sits and dedicatedly listens to her every word without saying a thing in response.

“We knew it’d all be over if we were abandoned. We tried to be good because of that. Kinder and Claudia were nice, though, so we didn’t have to worry. But if they were like Mother --- we would’ve probably lost our place. Been abandoned. We would’ve clung to any chance of survival --- even an enemy.”

He has no response for that. He simply stares blankly at the wall, lost in thought.

“Hey, Nekt. Something you said earlier kinda stood out to me…”

Flum asks him something this time.

“You said ‘Mother and Papa don’t care either way’, right? Maybe because of what Eterna said just now, I get that Mother is probably focusing on the Third Generation right now. But you mentioned ‘Papa’ --- err, Origin too, so does that mean…?”

“Papa’s really busy right now, but… Yeah, you’re right. Before I came here, Papa didn’t say a thing to me.”

Nekt had let it slip earlier.

Origin wouldn’t shut up because Nekt was busy --- just like Mother, it must be abandoning the Second Generation Children, too.

“I know how it feels to worry like that… To be afraid that the only person you can truly rely on will abandon you.”

“Ugh, now even the slave’s taking pity on me?”

“I’m not…!”

“You’re also pitying me, aren’t you, Ink? Haha, how disgusting! I was only trying to manipulate Flum-oneesan a little… how’d it come to this?”

They can tell that he’s only bluffing --- and because of that he only bluffs more.

Ink addresses him in a serious tone, making sure to keep any pity out of her voice.

“You wanna make Mother happy by crushing Necromancy for her, huh?”

“C’mon, Ink, that’s only assuming the Third Generation even exists!”

“If that’s why you’re here… If you ask nicely, Flum and Eterna might help you.”

“Ha… ahaha, what’s that supposed to be, a joke!? Hahaha, ahahahahahahahaha!!”

He puts a hand to his face, laughing uncontrollably, cackling as if it were the funniest thing in the world.

“It’s all the same in the end! Besides, why would you do something stupid like help me!? I’m your enemy!”

“I’d be fine with that.”

In response to Flum’s words, Nekt’s eyes open wide as he stares at her through the gaps between his fingers.

“What’d you say…?”

“I’m saying I’ll help you.”

“That’s crazy talk, oneesan! That’s going beyond just being nice! Y-You can’t just go saying things like that!”

He goes past anger, half-laughing and half-screaming, but Flum remains calm.

“I’m not trying to be nice. I think I can believe that the Children and Necromancy are enemies, and now I actually know what you’re after yourself. Because of that, I’m ready to join forces with you if you are. After all, I can’t see Mother deciding you’re still useful as being bad for us.”

“But that doesn’t mean…!”

“Besides, we don’t know where Necromancy’s lab is, or where Gadio went. You have an idea, right?”

“...Something like that, yeah.”

“In that case, we have something to gain. Win-win. That doesn’t mean I’m going to trust you, of course, and we’ll still have to fight to the death later, but if it’s only a temporary truce---”

She holds out her hand to him.

“I’m really fine with that.”

Even without being told, he knows that she’s waiting for a handshake to seal the deal.

“You’re all idiots! The hell are you saying… You were this way with Ink, too. How’re you guys so… so…!”

He clenches his teeth noisily, maybe from hatred, maybe anger, maybe envy. Even Nekt himself doesn’t know what he’s thinking, his normal train of thought completely derailed.

Just like Flum says, they have a lot to gain from working together and little to lose. He certainly wasn’t expecting this, though.

Or maybe --- maybe somewhere deep down, ever since he saw her save Ink, he knew that something like this might happen. With everything that’s been happening to him recently, what happened to Ink might just happen to him next. Maybe he was hoping that they’d do the same for him, that he’d be saved in the end…

No…

His pride refuses to accept that, however.

No, no, no…! I… WE are the special ones, the only ones who can really use Papa’s power! Like I’d ever come crying to her like some human child…!

Nekt is still far too immature to understand that there are times that pride can do nothing but hurt.

“So, Nekt, why don’t you---”

“Like I could accept that!! Connection!!”

His face twists, and clenching his fist he uses Origin’s power to ‘connect’ himself with somewhere else and teleport away.

“Nekt!?”

“He’s gone…”

“Maybe it was too much.”

“Just when it seemed like we’d be able to talk with him, too… What a shame.”

In the end, they weren’t even able to ask him where Gadio went --- though that wasn't the only reason they offered to help him, of course.

“By the way, Flum. What’s this about Gadio?”

Eterna doesn’t know about Gadio’s wife or his relationship with Kereina and Hallom. Flum doesn’t want to spill all his secrets there without him, but with things as they are Eterna needs to know the truth.

“The truth is---”

After Flum finishes telling Eterna all that she knows, she replies with an “I see...” in a low voice.

“I didn’t go with Daffyd because I was too heartless to.”

“What are you---!?”

Flum protests, but Eterna cuts her off with a shake of her head.

“Fuu… I was only with my parents for a few years. I lived without them for decades. I said my goodbyes. I left the past behind. Gadio --- he’s different. He still feels for her, tried to take revenge for her.”

“I can understand why Gadio was so tempted, yeah… That just goes to show how much he loved her.”

“We can’t leave him be, though.”

“I wish we’d at least asked Nekt where their lab is…”

“It’s too late for that. We just have to figure it out ourselves now.”

“Yeah, I guess. I think I’ll start by going to his house and checking things out there. Nekt wasn’t lying, I don’t think, but I’d like to be sure.”

“Where should I go?”

“Ink still can’t go outside, so I think you should stay here with her.”

Ink broke her promise and broke quarantine, after all. Especially since it hasn’t been long since her heart transplant, there’s still a chance she could take a turn for the worse.

“I’ve prepared for anything bad that might happen. If I’m with her she’s fine outside.”

“Really!?”

“No pushing yourself, though. Definitely no running.”

Eterna lectures her a little, and Ink nods so vigorously in response she practically bounces. It’s hard to tell if she heard a thing Eterna said.

“There. We can help.”

“Okay… Could I get you to go and have a word with Welthy-san, then? There’s a chance she sniffed something out already. She should be at the newspaper she works for right now.”

“Reach’s sister… Got it.”

After deciding a time and place to reconvene, the four of them leave the house.


◇◇◇


Beneath the Capital, at the end of a labyrinth of waterways, lies a facility that seems oddly out of place with the surrounding architecture. It’s a ruin of times long passed, an ancient and highly advanced civilization --- and it also happens to be the Children’s new hideout.

“Mother, Motheeer! I’m sorry if I did something bad! Just answer me, please! Please…!”

Fwiss of the Spiral Children is on the verge of tears as he pounds on a certain door. Thud-thud, thud-thud --- he isn’t hitting the door very hard but his hands are glistening with blood after being at it for two whole hours.

“Did you want us to kill them after all? I worked really hard when we were moving, though! I did everything you told me to, Mother!”

The weak-willed Fwiss is far more dependant on Mother than the other Children. After Gadio destroyed their old hideout and forced them into hiding down there, Mother hasn’t paid hardly any attention to the Second Generation Children, nor has she even told them why.

Fwiss is at his nerves’ end, terrified that the same thing that happened to Ink might happen to the rest of them.

“I’m back… uwah.”

Nekt ‘connects’ to the hideout, only to find Rook glaring daggers at him from where he sits slumped against the wall.

“Where were you, dammit!?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes. Mother, abandon us. Scary. Bad. Gotta apologize…”

A white-haired little girl clutches a beat-up antique doll to her chest as she reprimands him.

“If apologizing was going to get us anywhere, Mute, Mother would’ve noticed Fwiss by now.”

“Oh yeah? Maybe it’s because you lied and went off to who-knows-where that she’s angry at us!?”

“You’ve got the order all wrong. I left because all this is happening.”

“What the hell were you doing, though? Don’t tell me you’re just like Ink…!?”

“As if I’d ever stoop to the level of those mere humans. Just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean we could ever understand each other.”

“Hmph. As long as you get it.”

To the quiet, mysterious Mute and the rough little Rook, Mother is their whole world. Worse, they don’t see a single problem with their overdependence --- just as Mother had raised them.

“Motheer! Please! I’m so lonely I could die! I’ll drink my medicine! I’ll take my shots like a good boy! Please, Mother… Motheeer…!”

Fwiss’ voice is starting to grow hoarse from all his screaming.

Finally, though, he seems to get through to Mother. The metal door smoothly slides open, revealing him standing there.

“Mothe--- gyagh!”

He grabs Fwiss’ head and drives his knee into the boy’s nose. Fwiss’ head snaps back and he stumbles backwards a few steps. He manages to avoid falling over somehow, but half his face in stained bright red with a vicious nosebleed.

“Agh, hyugh… Mother… Why…?”

“You just don’t know when to shut up, do you, you little brat!?”

Next, he punches Fwiss in the face.

“Hagh… Mother… I only…!”

“I told you, didn’t I? I’m reeeeeally busy right now so I don’t have time for you!”

“Y-Yeah, but I was lonely…”

“You interfered with my research because of something stupid like that!?”

He grabs Fwiss by his green hair and starts slamming his face into the wall.

“I was finally, FINALLY making progress! What is it!? Did you forget that you exist only for my research!? Hmm? Is that it!? Is it!?”

“Abhugh… highu…”

Fwiss’ consciousness begins to rapidly fade, and losing control over his body he wets himself.

Mother, not seeming to care, continues to beat him.

Nekt’s body trembles with fear.

I-I’ve got to do something… But Mother… Mother…!

The Children know they shouldn’t oppose her --- that they can’t. That’s why Nekt tried to get help from the outside.

There’s nobody else there, however. Nobody can stop Mother, not Rook, not Mute, not even Nekt.

“Inspiration! Thanks to those infernal Chosen I finally have the inspiration I needed! Trembling, tingling, like lightning through my brain! Hehe! That, that feeling is still there! I can still feel the high! My head’s ringing with that pleasure, that ecstasy! This is divine inspiration, I can feel it!! Divine, you hear me!? If you get in the way it’ll all come to nothing! Do you want that!?”

“Hyahugh… s-sorr… Hygah…”

“Ahh… hahh… fuu… Really, you’re all hopeless… I love you all soooo much… Why can’t you understand that?”

“I-I lovthe you too… Mother…!”

“Let me work, then. Okay, Fwiss? If you don’t stay quiet like a good little boy I might start hating you.”

“Hygh…! I’m sorry, so sorry…! I’m sorry, I’ll be a good boy, just don’t hate me, Motheeeeeeeer…!!”

Fwis grabs onto Mother’s legs as he turns to return to his room. Looking down at the boy in irritation he kicks him off, and without looking back even once he slams the door behind him.

Fwiss is left trembling on the ground, moaning softly in pain.

“Fwiss…”

Nekt moves to help him up, but stops when he notices something off.

“Uu… fuu… haha… hehehe…! Hehe, hahaha…!”

He’s not moaning --- he’s laughing.

He hasn’t lost his mind.

“Hahh… thank goodness… Mother doesn’t hate me… haha, Mother… this pain… it must be your love…!”

He’s simply happy.

“Ain’t that great, Fwiss?”

“It’s okay. Mother, busy. Back to normal soon.”

“No, everything’s fine. I’m just happy Mother still cares. It’s my fault for breaking our promise! Ahahahaha!”

Nobody else finds it strange. They simply accept Mother’s violence as a show of affection.

How’d it get to be like this?

It’s not as though he had been violent to them before this. The abuse suddenly started after they moved to their new hideout. For some reason, though, they continue to idolize Mother as though he was the same as always.

Nekt is the only one who recognizes that as strange.

Is it because I’m smart? Because I’m more mature than the others?

He shakes his head in response to his own question.

No… I’m the same as them. I’m still under Mother’s thumb. Only Ink was treated as a failure, and because of that she was able to adapt to the real world like that---

She didn’t decide to be different --- she was forced to be. Her own will had no part in it, her thoughts and actions practically scripted by Mother. She was only dancing in the palm of his hand all along.

[You’re going to become the other Children’s big brother, okay? You’re clever, so I’m sure they’ll listen to you.]

He remembers Mother telling him that once.

If all this is according to Mother’s will, if he’s planned everything out, maybe he already knows Nekt reached out to Flum for help.

So everything I’m doing is useless? No… I’m overthinking things. But am I right, or is Fwiss?

Flum had called Nekt’s perspective on things twisted --- but if only among the other Spiral Children, it should be right.

I… I wish I could trust Mother. Ink was just so different, though… so bright and cheerful, like she was having so much fun… Maybe it’s all because she left…?

Nekt’s desires as an eight-year-old child.

Nekt’s sense of self as an eight-year-old human.

Caught between two worlds, he grits his teeth, more confused now than ever before.


Chapter 10 - Past Memories[edit]

“He went to see his ‘dead’ wife. That’s all I know.”

Kereina spits the words at Flum when she visits Gadio’s mansion.

Hallom, clinging onto Kereina’s clothes from behind, looks up at Flum worriedly.

“He didn’t say a thing to me before he left. All I found was a note saying ‘I’m going to be with Tia now’. Haha, it sounds like a suicide note, doesn’t it?”

“Tia-san came here yesterday, didn’t she? Did you see her?”

“Yeah… It was really her, no doubt about it. I’ve known her for a long time, and Gadio seemed to believe it, too.”

Just like Eterna said, it seems as though the people Necromancy brings back are completely identical to as they were in life.

“He’s been mourning her death and blaming himself for six years. I guess I should be happy for him now that it’s finally come to something, but...”

Kereina gives Flum a small, surrendering smile.

“Hey, oneechan?”

“Hm? What is it, Hallom-chan?”

Flum crouches down to meet Hallom eye-to-eye. Her large, watery eyes are pleading.

“Papa’s coming home, right? Papa’s didn’t forget Mama and Hallom, right?”

“Of course he didn’t. I’m sure he’ll be right back.”

She affectionately tousles Hallom’s hair, but her unease doesn’t fade.

“Don’t say things like that, Hallom. We don’t want to bother her.”

“But, but… Hallom doesn’t like it. Hallom wants Papa back! Papa’s Hallom’s Papa! He doesn’t belong to that scary lady!”

“Hallom…”

Tears finally start spilling from Hallom’s trembling eyes, running tracks down her cheeks.

She doesn’t remember her real father’s face. From the time she was born, Gadio was always right there for her. He’s not like a father to her --- he is her father.

“Hey, Hallom-chan? Gadio-san’s really nice, and you know he loves you, right?”

“...Yeah.”

“Try to trust him, then. He’ll be back.”

“...If you see Papa and he says he doesn’t wanna come home, then tell him he needs a time-out for making Hallom sad, okay?”

“Ahaha… Got it, I’ll bring him back here for a time-out even if I have to drag him every step of the way. Okay?”

Greatly relieved to hear that, Hallom’s tears slowly start to dry.


◇◇◇


Not long after that, Flum and Milkit say their goodbyes and leave the mansion.

“I’m glad Hallom-chan started feeling better.”

“She’s just a really cheerful little girl at heart, after all.”

Milkit had never met her before and she didn’t talk much, but when they were leaving Hallom had told her “Bye-bye, bandaged oneechan!” with a big grin.

“Wanna come with me and play with us the next time I visit?”

“Yes, definitely! But before that, we need to figure out where Gadio-san went. It’s a little early, but do you think we should head to the meeting point now?”

“Nah, there’s one more place I’d like to visit first.”

Leaving the East Quarter and entering the Central Quarter, Flum and Milkit head for the Royal Army’s barracks.

As soon as the soldiers on duty spot Flum they bow deeply.

“I’d like to see Otilier-san. Can I go in?”

“But of course, Flum-sama. I believe Otilier-sama is presently in her chambers.”

Laughing to herself bitterly about how differently they treat her now compared to the last time she visited, she steps inside.

Near the entrance she runs into a tall, slender man clad in the same sort of military uniform as Otilier.

“Yo. Yer Flum Apricot, am I right? Otilier’s told me a lot about ya.”

“And you are…?”

“Eh? Don’t know me? The name’s Werner. Jeez, I thought bein’ a Lieutenant General would’ve gotten my name out there…”

“Really? Sorry I didn’t recognize you.”

“Nah, it’s fine. I don’t stick out much, not like Otilier and Herman do. Nobody knows me, really.”

Werner Apeirun, the last of the three Lieutenant Generals alongside Otilier and Herman, is a specialist at fighting with clawed gauntlets. His reflexes are as sharp as his wit and he’s quite adept at operations of a more covert nature.

“Come here ta see Otilier, did ya? Lemme show ya in, then. She should be up to her usual… well, ya’ll see soon enough. Trust me, yer gonna love this.”

“Her usual what…?”

Completely clueless, Flum and Milkit follow him through the barrack’s corridors. Werner stops outside the linen room, however, instead of Otilier’s room.

“Go on, take a peek.”

Whispering, he jerks a thumb behind him into the room.

Flum and Milkit take a stealthy look inside.

There, they find Otilier with her face buried in some sheets.

“Aaaaaaaahh… Oneesama’s scent… Oneesama’s scent is all around me, enveloping me…! Nhahh… I simply cannot get enough…! So bittersweet, like love itself! Why, why, Oneesama!? Why does your very scent feel so sinful…!?”

“U-Uwahh…”

Even Milkit looks repulsed at the sight.

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch10 1.png

“Great, ain’t it?”

“I knew she really looked up to Anriette-san, but… Eh, don’t tell me she does this all the time?”

“‘Course she does.”

Werner gives her a thumbs-up. Flum inches away from him.

“Nfuuuuuuhn, so perfect… what a perfect scent… oohhh, Oneesamaa, Oneesamaaaahn!! Aahhh, being wrapped in Oneesama’s sheets makes me feel as though I’m in her arms --- no, as though I’m inside Oneesama herself~! I’m her child! I’m Oneechan’s little baby~~! Goo goo, gaa-gaaahn!”

“Otilier-san… Why… Whyyy…!?”

Flum grasps her head and moans as Milkit reassuringly rubs her back.

“So ya didn’t know, huh? This’s her true form, so ta speak, so ya better get used ta it.”

As Werner starts laughing, Otilier seems to finally notice them.

“Well, if it isn’t Flum and Milkit. Good day… suu, hahh…”

She walks right up to them, not even trying to hide the sheet still in her hands.

“Wow, you’re not even trying to hide it…”

“There’s no point in concealing it now. To begin with, my love for Oneesama is so utterly pure and untainted I have no intention of hiding it whatsoever!”

“...So yeah, this’s what the rest of us hafta put up with.”

Flum is left at an utter loss.

Deciding to forget everything she just saw, she gets right to the point.

“Uhh… We were hoping to have a word with you about the Church, but…”

“Eh, really?”

“That is the only reason they would come all this way to have a word with me, after all. Don’t tell me you lead them here without even knowing that, Werner?”

“I heard ya guys were friends, so I kinda assumed they just came ta visit.”

Listening at their exchange, Flum quickly realizes they know nothing about Necromancy’s recent actions.

“I guess ya should go see Anriette then, huh.”

“I’m afraid Oneesama’s meeting with Saturchy-sama at the moment.”

“Saturchy? As in, the cardinal?”

“Yeah, Saturchy Ranagarchy. He’s a ‘great’ guy, tryin’ ta patch things up between the Military an’ the Paladins an’ all.”

Why would a cardinal try to make friends with the Military now?

Flum can’t shake a sense of something being amiss, and since they don’t seem to know about Necromancy she’s about to head home when---

“...Oh? It would seem the door to Oneesama’s room just opened. They must have finished their meeting. Well then, shall we go?”

Unable to repress her eagerness to see her Oneesama as soon as possible, she turns and starts leading the way with a spring in her step.

“Ehh!? There wasn’t any sound just now, was there…?”

Milkit is clearly perturbed, but Flum just decides to not think about it.


◇◇◇


As Anriette’s room comes into view, they can see a man and a woman talking just outside. The woman is undeniably Anriette, but the broad-chested man with strong facial features and a big, bushy beard is…

“So that’s Cardinal Saturchy Ranagarchy…”

As Flum mutters to herself the man seems to notice her. He gives her a bold smile.

A shiver runs down Flum’s spine.

“Well, if it isn’t the Chosen! I’d heard that you’d left the Party, but I never thought I’d meet you in a place like this.”

“N-Nice to meet you, too…”

He should be of about the same status as Anriette, but for some reason he feels so much more intimidating.

“Don’t be scared, now. I have high hopes for you.”

“For me?”

He walks up to her and puts a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sure it didn’t take any courage for you, but future generations won’t take notice. History records only the results.”

“O-Okay…?”

“I’m sorry, you don’t understand a word I’m saying as you are now, do you? I know this is selfish of me, but I’ve got to say it. You have my deepest respect. I’m just one of the people that saved, after all.”

“That? Wait, what?”

Flum can’t hide her confusion.

Regardless, Satruchy continues, as if we were purposefully trying to confuse her.

“Thanks to you, Project Reversal was a success. You’re living proof of that. That’s why I’m so happy to have met you face-to-face, you see. I’ll make sure to pass this on to Chatney, too.”

“Project…? Chat… ney…?”

---fssssh.

Static flares through her head.

Something cuts through her memories, an unknown face crawling out from within.

[Project Reversal... study of... ... tablish...]

---fssssssssssshhh.

The static brings with it a powerful headache.

I’m afraid this is necessary if you’re to ‘return’, but you’ll have to be careful to not hurt yourself too badly. It will likely manifest itself directly within your brain as pain. Think of it as an extreme case of growing pains, if you will.

“Ugh… w-what…!?”

---fShSHshsHshSHSh.

The static dominates even her vision, robbing her of all sense of reality.

She doesn’t even know if what’s standing there is Flum Apricot or not.

If she had to say one way or the other, she’s [Flum] but not ‘Flum’.

[Soon, my life will come to an---]

---FSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHH.

As I thought, the pain is just too great for you. The human mind wasn’t designed for this, after all. It’s not supposed to ‘return’. Even so, that she is even trying is proof that she is special. To this world and to Flum Apricot, she is indeed an irreplaceable component, and yet she --- no, THEY are as of yet incomplete. If I had to guess as to whether that incompleteness could bring those two happiness, however, I’m afraid I lack conclusive---

“Hah… agh, ghuu…!!”

Her mind is buried in a flood of nonsensical images and voices. Suddenly having all that information bombarding her senses leaves her completely clueless as to what it is and what it means.

“Master!?”

Her Belt should be dulling her pain, but even then it’s enough that she can’t stay standing. If Milkit wasn’t there to support her she would’ve collapsed.

“Ho? A flashback? I didn’t expect there to be anything left. You never cease to amaze me! Hahaha…!”

Having said his part, Saturchy simply walks away laughing.

There’s no end to what she wants to ask him, what just happened, but her mind’s still too fuzzy to even form words properly.

“Did Saturchy-sama say anything peculiar to you? If you’re feeling unwell it might be best to rest in the infirmary for a spell…”

Otilier worriedly supports her body from the other side. Flum’s face is deathly pale and cold sweat dribbles from her chin to the floor.

“No… no, I’m fine. I just felt a little dizzy is all… ahaha, maybe I’m just not in top shape after all that’s been happening recently…”

She tries to laugh a little, but she can’t put any strength into her strength or expression.

“Are you sure you’re quite alright?”

Anriette looks her in the eyes, a very grim look on her face. Flum gets the feeling that she’s asking about something very different, something at the heart of everything, but Flum can’t even begin to understand what that is.

She simply shakes her head.

“...I don’t know. Really, I know nothing.”

“Dammit, leavin’ a girl half-passed out on the floor… How can he just strut out like that? I guess when ya get ta cardinal ya just naturally look down on everyone else, huh?”

“Come now, Werner, you can’t say what you please about him behind his back. I’ll inform him you said such things about him if I must.”

“Uegh, seriously, not that. I don’t wanna hafta explain myself ta the paladins…”

Flum didn’t feel as though Saturchy was looking down on her though. It wasn’t a scoff or degrading laugh, but rather he was simply happy, deeply content.

What WAS that just now? As soon as I heard about the ‘Project’ thing and Chatney all those weird images started flowing through… no, more like they started flowing out of my head…

Putting a hand to her head, Flum steals a glance at Milkit beside her.

And was it just me, or was there someone in there who looked a lot like…? Ahh, dammit. I can’t remember anything now. Whatever, I’ll just forget this ever happened. Yeah, that’s for the best. I’ve got to focus on asking Anriette-san what we need to know now!

Shaking her head again, she takes a deep breath and stops thinking about what she shouldn’t be thinking about.

They head into Anriette’s office to start on the topic at hand. Just like last time, Flum and Milkit sit opposite of Anriette on the guest sofas. Otilier sits right beside Anriette, resting her cheek on her shoulder.

“So you mentioned having something you’d like to ask us about the Church, but I’m afraid we’ve been terribly busy as of late. We can’t tell you much of anything.”

“I got the feeling that was the case. Is something wrong?”

“Yes --- we’ve received word that the Royal Army is to be officially absorbed into the Paladins.”

“Wha… If that happens, then the King really won’t have any authority left!”

“That’s precisely what they’re after, it would seem. That being said, the King has been a zealous follower of the Church for some time now. I don’t imagine he’s anything more than a figurehead even now.”

“If they stop even pretending and step into the open like that, there’s no telling what they’ll do! Everyone’s already suffering because of how expensive it is to get healing…”

Anriette nods deeply, muttering “Precisely” with a dark expression.

“I’ll buy as much time as I possibly can, but I’m afraid I have my hands full with just the Paladins right now. I won’t be able to help you as much as I’d like.”

“No, just knowing you’re fighting the Church is enough.”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d tell us what you know, however. I might be able to provide you with a little information, at least.”

Trusting in Anriette, they tell her everything they know about Necromancy. She nods seriously as she listens to Flum’s every word.

“Tia Ruskett… That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long while.”

“You know her?”

“We’d fought together a good many times in joint guild-Military operations. I’d heard that everyone in Gadio’s party perished except him, but I never expected that was the work of the Church…”

“Can you tell us anything about Satils?”

“I’ve heard she’s quite the miser. Her businesses themselves aside, she loans money to nobles outside the Capital at exorbitant interest rates and forces them to pay her in raw goods when they fail to keep up.”

“That sounds just like her…”

“She does have talent as a merchant, however. Francoise Enterprises would’ve never grown to its current size otherwise.”

They ask Anriette a few more questions, but nothing else that seems relevant to Necromancy comes up. They’ll just have to hope Eterna was able to get some useful information out of Welthy.

After bidding each other farewell, Flum and Milkit leave the barracks as Anriette watches from her window. As soon as they pass out of sight, she turns to face her subordinates.

“Otilier, Werner. I need you to follow those two and keep them out of harm’s way. Take ten soldiers with you; I should be able to make an excuse for that many.”

She wants to help them, even if only a little. Thanks to Saturchy, she should be able to provide them with at least a little extra firepower.

“Of course, Oneesama! I, Otilier, humbly swear to answer your affections in full!”

“Yeah, sorry, I’m gonna pass… but I guess I can’t, huh? Can’t ya get Herman ta do it?”

“He’s not exactly the most indiscreet man I’ve ever met. You’re far better suited for this.”

“Oneesama’s word is law, Werner. We’d best prepare ourselves.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m goin’, I’m goin’...”

Otilier bursting with energy and Werner letting out an exaggeratedly heavy sigh, they leave Anriette’s office. As soon as Anriette can no longer hear their footsteps, she starts muttering to noone in particular.

“The legacy of the ancients, cloning personalities, anti-spiral matter, the City of the Ark… This is well beyond my power to handle.”

Everything that Saturchy told her was almost impossible to believe --- but then again, so is everything else that’s been happening in the Capital recently.

She didn’t enter the Military for money or power. All she wanted to do was protect her country and her loved ones. It would seem, however, that her motivations are a little too honest and simple.

“I’ll have to do what I can. There are things I’ve got to protect.”

Donning her coat, she leaves her office.

Once again, she goes to face the festering evils and their fanatics who dwell in the Grand Cathedral.


◇◇◇


Flum and Milkit arrive at the park in the East Quarter to find Eterna, Ink, and Welthy waiting there for her.

“Sorry we’re late.”

“Don’t worry about it! We just got here ourselves.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I wasn’t expecting to meet you here, Welthy-san.”

Instead of replying to Milkit immediately, Welthy laughs smugly. She triumphantly holds up a stack of papers.

“Wanna guess what this is?”

“It’s a lead-jer full of people who borrowed money from Satils!”

“Hey, I wanted to say that, Ink-chan!”

Welthy pulls on Ink’s ear and in a moment the two of them are fooling around like old friends. They’d apparently grown rather close while they were waiting.

“...Anyhow, yeah, one of the other journalists brought in this ledger just earlier today.”

It was brought in right while Eterna and Ink were talking to Welthy, in fact. The timing was absolutely perfect, as if the information was waiting until just the right moment to finally come to light.

“We were just talking to the Major General, and---”

“Uwah, you know the Major General!?”

“Well, kinda. Anyhow, she told us about how Satils has people repay her in goods, not cash. Do you think they’re related?”

“Nn. She got the whole forest north of the Capital from one of her debtors.”

“Yeah, a super creepy overgrown forest! Doncha think that sounds preeeeeetty suspicious?”

“Weren’t the goods Satils was sending the Church also headed north, Master? In that case…”

“Yeah… Necromancy’s main facility is probably in those woods.”

Daffyd came to the Capital just yesterday, returned to the lab, then was in the Capital again the next morning. If he’s able to go to and from his facility so frequently, then it must be only a few hours away at most.

“If you want, I can get a company carriage ready.”

“Yeah, that’d be great.”

“Okay! Ah, but it’s a bit too late to go today. By the time I’ve gotten everything in order it’ll be dark out.”

“Forests at night aren’t good. Especially if there’s a research facility nearby.”

There’s no point rushing into things and getting themselves hurt.

I wish we could leave right now, but I guess that’s a bad idea…

“So early tomorrow morning it is, then?”

“Right, I’ll have everything ready by then! Oh, and I’m coming with you, of course!”

“Really? I can’t promise you’ll make it out in one piece.”

“Ahh, don’t worry about it! I’m really good at running away!”

Welthy gives Flum an overconfident wink, which somehow leaves Flum feeling only more nervous.


Chapter 11 - To Where The Miracle Of Life Squirms[edit]

The next morning, Flum and her companions leave the Capital at dawn. It takes them only about four hours to arrive at the forest in question, but the first thing they have to do is figure out a way in.

“It’s a little faint, but I think there are traces of wagon wheels here. It looks pretty narrow, but it should be plenty passable.”

“That’s Rhent-kun for you! He’s the world’s leading expert on carriages, I tell you!”

Welthy boasts to them about their driver, Rhent. He works at a transport company, but supposedly he’s also a coworker of Welthy’s. As a critical part of the Capital’s infrastructure the Church and even the royal family puts them to use, and as such it’s the ideal place for an undercover journalist. He apparently even played a big role in securing the ledger.

“Uwaah, it’s so bumpy~~!”

Ink’s voice bounces and trembles in time with the carriage. Since the forest road is unpaved and in poor repair, it makes for an incredibly unpleasant ride, but fortunately none of them get carriage-sick easily.

“Bweghh…”

...Except for Welthy.

After a little while, however, the bumping and shaking suddenly stops.

“It looks like it’ll be a lot smoother ride from here, folks. It’s not paved, of course, but it looks like it’s well travelled enough that it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“So the entrance was camouflaged, huh…?”

“This forest is only getting more and more suspicious, isn’t it?”

It seems almost certain that the lab lies ahead. The only problem remaining is that they might get ambushed --- but for the next twenty minutes, nothing happens.

“Flum. You can relax a little.”

“Why do you say that, Eterna-san?”

“I didn’t feel any hostility from Daffyd. I didn’t go to meet him but he didn’t try to force me. If they’re not allied with Chimaera and the Children, then maybe they’re not that strong.”

“So they just specialize in bringing back the dead, huh?”

“...I hope.”

“Well, let’s hope you’re right. If that’s the case, then Gadio should be just fine.”

Deep down, Flum had thought that he’d come back on his own overnight, but reality wasn’t that kind.

Yeah, reality isn’t kind. Sara-chan’s hasn’t come back, let alone Gadio-san.

Bumping along in the back of a carriage reminds Flum of that sweet little girl. She’d heard that Sara was with Neigass, but she can’t help but worry.

As she’s lost in thought, however---

“Hm…?”

Rhent seems to notice something from the cab.

“There’s a ton of weird tracks around here.”

“You sure it’s not just a boar or a bear or a beaver or something?”

“No, they’re too big. There’s probably a monster nearby.”

Even if they don’t have to worry about any spiral-faced monstrosities coming after them, it’s entirely possible that normal monsters might still attack them. At the very least, they can’t afford to let their guard down yet---

“I can hear footsteps…” Ink mutters.

Even over the rumbling of the carriage, her ears are good enough to make out other sounds.

“Where, Ink?”

“Behind us to the right. They’re really fast, like DONDONDON! They have only two legs… like people, but bigger. I think it’s a monster.”

Eterna peers out the window, but she can’t make anything out. If she closes her eyes and focuses on the sound alone, however, she can barely make it out. Just as Ink said, the footsteps are strong, heavy, and unsettlingly swift.

“Wait, this sound… Don’t tell me…”

Flum recognizes that sound.

She went through hell once because of that thing --- the Spiral Ogre.

Eterna opens her eyes and running a short distance away, somehow managing to keep pace with the carriage, is an ogre, the spiral on its face pumping out blood with a SPLURURT as it raises its fist---

“Everyone! Get down!”

FWOOOOOOOOOOSH!

A twisting spiral storm punches its way through the carriage, blowing the roof clean off and sending shards of wood flying through the air.

“Kh… Calm down, everything’s fine…!”

Rhent frantically tries to calm the horses.

“Th… That’s a ‘monstrosity’...!?”

Seeing one face-to-’face’ for the first time, Milkit pales.

“Uegh, just looking at that thing makes my skin crawl…!”

Welthy quickly casts Burn Projection to record it as she talks.

Flum, on the other hand, draws the Zweihander and raises it to shoulder height, aiming at the ‘ogre’ with its tip. At the same time, she casts Scan.

CHIMAERA-PROTOTYPE: O
Attribute : Earth
Strength  : 2,552
Magic     : 584
Stamina   : 2,831
Agility   : 1,259
Intuition : 499

Seeing that, she’s certain.

It’s not the same as the ‘ogre’ from back then. It looks the same, but its Core hasn’t gone berserk… They must still have full control of that thing.

It must’ve been specifically ordered to hunt them down. Furthermore, it’s not one of Necromancy’s but one of Chimaera’s.

Going out of their way to make me fight the same thing as back then… this is somebody’s idea of a joke, I bet. It’s even all spiral-faced and ready to fight. But…

She puts aside the question of whether it’s Daffyd’s doing or not.

The important thing is that she kills it before it can attack again.

“Don’t think I’m the same as I was back then! Prana Sting!!”

FWISHK --- a spear of prana flies from the tip of blade, headed for the ‘ogre’s heart.

At the same time, it raises its arm and releases another spiral or energy at her.

Their attacks collide head-on. Without seeming to meet any resistance at all, the reversal-imbued prana spear effortless dispels the spiral and punches through the ‘ogre’s chest, breaking its core clean in half. Having lost its energy source, its massive green body falls tumbling to the forest floor.

Immediately afterwards, Milkit calls out.

“There’s another from the other side!”

“More!?”

By the time Flum turns around it’s too late --- the new ‘ogre’ has already swung its fist. She doesn’t have the time to counter a second attack so soon.

“Ice Shield.”

Eterna takes it on instead.

A wall of ice forms in the air between them, blocking its attack. The vortex of energy bores at it, sending shards of crystalling glass flying, but she repairs the shield with more mana faster than it can carve away at it. No normal attack could possibly break it.

“Water Bullet.”

Next, she fires a shotgun spray of water pellets at the ‘ogre’ from its blind spot behind the shield. The bullets punch cleanly through the wall that the vortex couldn’t, riddling the monstrosity’s body with gaping holes. Its limbs and head fly off, stopping it dead in its tracks.

“I can’t break the Core, but I can do this much.”

“There’s more, Eterna! A whole bunch this time!”

“...What a pain.”

From directly behind the carriage comes a whole horde of ogres. Their pounding footsteps sound like a stampede of raging buffalo, a sound that gives them goosebumps.

“C-Come on, don’t fail me now!”

Rhent shouts words of encouragement to the horses as he urges them ever-faster.

“This is a huge scoop… but I really don’t think I could print this!”

“I’ve never seen anything like this…!”

Welthy and Milkit are rendered speechless by the sight.

The ‘ogres’ run with their backs up perfectly straight, raising their knees high with every powerful step like a pack of sprinters. Every last one of their faces is twisted into a horrible intestine-like shape, spraying and spurting blood with every step.

Then, in near-perfect sync, the entire horde stops and raises their fists.

One big, conclusive attack to end them all.

Against so many of them, not even Flum or Eterna could possibly stop them.

Eterna taps Flum on the shoulder, whispering something into her ear. In response, Flum whispers something back.

“W-Wait, hold on a second, should you just leave them like that? Isn’t, like, a really big one coming!?”

Welthy starts panicking.

Flum and Eterna, however, seem perfectly calm.

SPLURT, SPLURURT --- and with a visceral squelching sound, countless fists are driven forwards.

The spirals all mass together, expanding to the size of a tornado before ripping its way right at the carriage.

Eterna stands up on the carriage seat, and raising a hand she casts a spell.

“Ice Shield!”

A new shield appears, slightly larger than the last. Other than that, however, it’s perfectly normal.

“Uwah, h-here it comes!”

Welthy alone continues to freak out. Ink and Milkit, however, instead put their faith into their respective partners---

Flum touches her hand to the Ice Shield, pouring mana into it.

“Imbue Reversal!”

That itself isn’t anything special, either --- all she does is infuse the shield with mana the same way she does the Zweihander and her Cavalier Arts.

The spiral hurricane uproots trees and carves the ground as it whips closer to them, but as soon as it touches the shield it dissipates like a light spring breeze. Its force neatly reversed, the energy loses its power and cancels itself out.

“Now, the counterattack---”

“Here we go!”

The two of them jump off the back of the carriage and nimbly land in the middle of the road. Eterna then puts her hand to the earth at their feet.

“Frozen Ground!”

The forest floor quickly begins to freeze over, rapidly spreading and slithering its way towards the horde of ‘ogres’ like a mass of countless white snakes. As soon as they make contact, their entire legs freeze up, completely sealing off the monstrosities' movement.

Without wasting a moment, Flum raises her sword.

“Whenever you’re ready, Eterna-san!”

“Just as planned… Imbue Ice.”

Ice rapidly begins to build on Flum’s blade.

Flum had gotten the idea for the new technique after seeing Gadio and Nekt’s battle the other day. Since Gadio’s Strength is still much higher than hers, however, she wouldn’t be able to lift such a massive blade, let alone swing it.

She has one thing that he doesn’t, however --- regeneration.

No matter how badly her arms may suffer, she’ll recover almost immediately.

“Hyuuuuuuugh…”

A low, deep moan comes from the depths of Flum’s gut. Ice continues to amass on the Zweihander, quickly growing taller than the surrounding trees. A symphony of visceral snapping sounds comes from her arms.

“Ooooooooogh…!”

Her moan grows louder, becoming a roar. The ever-growing blade become large enough that those still in the carriage can easily make it out through the canopy. Not only her muscles but even her bones have begun to creak and snap, but with the sheer speed of her regeneration she’s left with only the pain.

“UOOOOOOOOORYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

Then, finally --- she brings the colossal sword crashing down on the horde.

Its name: Jotun Blade.

The ‘ogres’ are crushed from above by the blade’s raw mass, as they’re smashed into the ground fresh shards of ice from the ground shatter and skewer them, and finally the shockwave hits, blowing them and the surrounding forest away. As an attack of Flum’s it was of course imbued with her mana, and every Core the blade touches is obliterated. A thick white steam is blown up from the sublimating ice, and as it lifts no recognizable scrap of the ‘ogre’ horde is left.

There are no survivors.

Not even the surrounding forest and the ground made it out unscathed, crumpled trees and huge chunks of scattered earth having changed the landscape itself.

“Hahh… hahh… hahh…”

“Maybe we overdid it.”

“Hahh… No… this is, good… Trust me, those bastards are stubborn… hahh…”

Shoulders heaving with every breath, Flum laughs.


◇◇◇


Having obliterated their pursuers, Flum and Eterna catch up with the half-wrecked carriage. About five minutes later, they find a signboard hanging by the side of the road.

“The ‘Town of Salvation’ Sheol…?”

Flum reads it, cocking her head to the side in confusion.

“Maybe it’s the name of the village past here?”

“Ehh? That’s kinda weird. There isn’t a village or anything on the map…”

“You should ask him yourself.”

“Who’s ‘him’, Eterna-san?”

Just as Flum asks, the carriage slows to a halt.

“Is everything alright, Rhent-san?”

“There’s someone in the middle of the road…”

A slender man in a labcoat blocks the road ahead of them. If he’s who Eterna was referring to, then he’s---

“Daffyd Sharmas…”

The leader of the Necromancy team himself.

Hearing his name called, he gives Flum a humble smile.

“The gods really are cruel, aren’t they? You didn’t tell me a thing and just showed up on my doorstep. I had no time to prepare a proper welcome for you.”

“Are you talking to me?”

Flum leaps down from the carriage, landing right in front of him. Without another word, she draws the Zweihander and puts it against his neck. It might seem rash, but she’s seen far too much of the Origin Cores and their work by now. It’s only natural that she’s taking the initiative.

“Could you please put that thing away? I hate violence.”

“Yeah, right. We ran into those spiral-faced ‘ogres’ you had waiting for us out there.”

“Wait, you fought Chimaera!? So that explains that impressive sound I heard… This might sound like an excuse, but that wasn’t our doing.”

“You’re right. It does sound like an excuse.”

“We’re no friends of Chimaera here. We’d never stoop so low as to use their weapons! If nothing else, I can assure you that our Necromancy Central Core is horribly incompatible with their Chimaera Cores. If they get too close they might both run out of control. It’s simply not feasible.”

“Don’t expect me to know all your weird lingo.”

“Our Necromancy Central Core keeps the Origin Cores embedded in the dead’s bodies --- the Necromancy Cores for short --- from running amok, effectively lowering the strength of Origin’s ‘transmissions’. The Chimaera Cores are simply the Cores that Chimaera produces and uses. Does that help at all?”

Flum feels a little disappointed at how readily he answers. Just as Eterna said, she can’t feel any hostility from him. Looking at his eyes, even, he doesn’t seem to be lying.

“Where’s Gadio-san?”

“He’s doing swimmingly. I believe he’s with his wife at the moment. Would you like to meet him? He was concerned that those he’d left behind in the Capital were worried about him.”

Flum still doesn’t trust him yet, though.

Welthy finally pipes up from the carriage.

“How about you put your sword away for now, Flum-chan? He really doesn’t seem to be lying or anything, and he’s in a pretty talkative mood so he’d probably tell us a lot about the Church and stuff.”

The other three are likely of the same opinion. Milkit and Ink are waiting for Flum to make the call, and Eterna doesn’t cut into their conversation, having already had a chance to meet Daffyd.

Flum isn’t willing to accept it, but she knows that what Welthy suggests is the most logical course of action.

“...Fine.”

She reluctantly resheathes the Zweihander. Seeing it fade into motes of light in front of him, Daffyd lets out a long-held sigh of relief.

“Fuu… I know full well that you hate the Church enough to ‘justify’ murder, so please know I’m grateful for your discretion. Thank you very much.”

His politeness rubs her the wrong way, but that’s probably only because she’d decided he was an enemy before they’d even met. The others likely see him in a different light.

“Well then, please follow me to Sheol. Feel free to follow by carriage if you’d like.”

Walking in front of the horses, Daffyd leads the way to ‘town’ with the research lab.

Flum reboards the carriage. Milkit gives her a worried look, evidently noticing her uneasy expression. Realizing that, a feeling of warmth spreads through Flum’s chest. She naturally put her hand on Milkit’s head, slowly stroking her silky hair as they get underway once more.


◇◇◇


Finally coming to a break in the trees, they arrive at the entrance of a town. It seems as though it’s not just a research facility that they gave a catchy nickname to. There are houses, workshops, a marketplace, and even parents watching children play. Aside from the unusually large church in the middle of everything, it’s a normal, laidback country town.

Flum and the others step down from the carriage, and parting ways with Rhent and the horses there they head out into the streets.

Even as they walk through the town and see things up-close, nothing seems to be amiss. The only potentially strange thing would be that a lot of the townsfolk seem to stare at Flum as she passes --- but circumstances as they are, it’s only natural that they attract a little attention.

“So that church is the research facility?”

Daffyd smiles warmly at Flum’s question.

“Yes. It expands quite some ways underground as well.”

“I heard Satils was sending you money and that this land belonged to some other noble before, but if there’s a basement, then that means the Church built it, right?”

“Oh, so you even know about that? Quite impressive. As you say, Satils-san is supporting us financially, but all of our research of course belongs to the Church.”

“So then why’s Satils giving you money?”

“We have a contract that states once Necromancy is completed, she’ll have the rights to market it to the general populace.”

“...So we can’t trust you after all. How could you just sell the means to bring back the dead like that!?”

Flum stops in her tracks, raising her voice in irritation. Daffyd turns around to face her, a morose tone in his voice.

“I wasn’t eager to make such a deal, either. The last thing I want to do is treat human lives like merchandise. Without money, however, we wouldn’t be able to continue our research, let alone provide those we bring back a place to live. I had to make sacrifices to realize my dream.”

“Give them a place to live…? Don’t tell me all these people are---”

“As you may suspect, roughly half of this town’s residents were once dead. The other half are their loved ones, the ones whom we’ve saved. Don’t they all look so happy?”

Daffyd’s voice is filled with pride.

Flum and the others take another good look at the townsfolk. To Flum’s eyes they all look the same --- and no matter how hard Milkit looks, how hard Eterna thinks or Ink listens, how carefully Welthy studies them, they can’t see any difference, either.

As they’ve stopped to look, a woman with a large bulge under her clothes runs up to Daffyd.

“What are you doing, Suzie!? You can’t run in your state!”

“I was so worried about you… After that huge noise you just ran off on your own. You should’ve at least taken an escort.”

“She’s…”

“This is my lovely wife Suzie. She’s one of the people we’ve brought back with the Cores, and as you can see she’s pregnant. The baby is due next month, in fact.”

He seems overjoyed, and Suzie blushes slightly. The two of them are the very picture of a happy couple.

The prouder he seems, however, the more disgusting everything seems to Flum. It might just be that she’s got a strong bias against them and that she isn’t being fair --- but who decided logic is always right and emotion is always wrong?

“Suzie-san became pregnant after coming back…?”

“Flum-san, I know that you must’ve been thinking that the Origin Cores were just making it seem as though we were resurrecting people. There’s a new life inside Suzie, however. There have already been successful births here --- strong, healthy, normal babies. These people have rejoined the circle of life. If nothing else, you can’t deny that they’re alive and well now.”

Daffyd’s voice is brimming with confidence and pride. After years of research and years of living together with the people he’s resurrected, he knows the process is flawless.

Nothing Flum says could change his mind. If Flum denies it, if she insists that the several hundred people who’ve been brought back aren’t really alive, it’d mean having to kill every last one of them.

There’s just too many for that.

If she can’t even tell the difference between the living and the dead, then destroying the hundreds of Cores in the dead alone would be too physically and mentally draining.

There’s got to be something I can do here...

“...Ah, it’s Gadio!”

Ink suddenly cuts into Flum’s thoughts, evidently hearing him coming from some distance away.

Flum and the others look around for a moment, finally spotting Gadio leaving a nearby store arm-in-arm with Tia.

“Gadio-san…!”

“It’s so relieving to see that he’s alright, isn’t it, Master?”

“...Yeah.”

He looks more relaxed than she’s ever seen him, however, preventing Flum from simply being happy.

Noticing them, Gadio’s eyes widen in shock for a moment before he approaches them with a somewhat guilty expression.

“So you’re here too, huh?”

“Of course we’re here. Kereina and Hallom are worried.”

“Sorry… I didn’t know how to break it to them.”

“It’s not your fault, Ga-kun! I should’ve talked to them before leaving…”

Tia herself seems a bit guilty for taking him to Sheol without telling anyone. Having weighed her options, however, it would appear as though this was her decision in the end.

“Are you planning on returning to the Capital sometime soon, Gadio-san?”

“Tia can’t live anywhere but here, and I’m not brazen enough to try to split my time between here and the Capital.”

“What do you mean, she can only live here?”

“Ah, allow me to explain that.”

Daffyd cuts in on their conversation from the sidelines.

“Gadio-san, Tia-san, I’d appreciate it if you’d continue your conversation with them later. I’d like to give them a proper tour of the lab first.”

“Yes, that’d probably be the easiest way to convince them. Sorry I interfered.”

He turns to leave, but Flum frantically stops him.

“W-Wait, Gadio-san!”

“Save your questions until after you’ve seen everything. I’m sure he’ll be able to put your mind at ease.”

Without even slowing down, he and Tia walk off.

“That doesn’t sound like the Gadio I met before…”

Ink mutters to herself.

Not only his tone but even his expressions seemed completely different to Flum from the Gadio she knows. He seemed cowardly --- would be a bad way to put it, but he had a sort of weakness she’d never seen on his face before on full display.

“Please don’t be too hard on Gadio-san. Tia-san is a truly wonderful woman. I’m sure losing her was terribly hard on him.”

“Like you had nothing to do with it…! Tia-san was killed by Chimaera. Since you had to dig up Kinder and Claudia’s graves to bring them back, you clearly need a body to resurrect someone. How exactly did you get your hands on her corpse?”

Eterna’s expression changes slightly at the mention of the Rinebow couple, but Daffyd doesn’t seem to notice.

“Even though we’re on poor terms, it’s not as though we don’t have any positive contact with Chimaera whatsoever. I visited a certain research facility of Echidna’s once and she quite proudly showed me a body that she’d treated to keep from rotting. That body happened to be Tia-san’s.”

Thinking back, Daffyd bites his lip. If she’d gone through all that trouble, she must’ve had a special use in mind for her corpse.

“Perhaps she’d been planning on using her body as a component for one of her weapons. Maybe she’d intended to make Gadio-san fight her as a hideous monster…”

“That’s a leap.”

Eterna’s interjection sounds a little sharper than usual. Maybe she was trying to get back at Daffyd for seeming so utterly unrepentant at his treatment of graves, but he still doesn’t seem to care.

Necromancy requires a large number of corpses, after all. He can’t have done it just once or twice.

“I’m afraid that’s the kind of unpleasant woman that Echidna Ipeira is. She was likely the one who put those ‘ogres’ in the woods outside the village. Even if they didn’t kill you, she likely figured they’d at least make you distrust me. She really is such a blatantly despicable woman. She always has been…”

For the first time since they’ve met him, Daffyd makes a hateful expression. Suzie, who had been walking beside him, smiles bitterly at them.

“I’m really sorry. He’s really a warm, gentle man, but not when it comes to her.”

Flum knows full well just how rotten Chimaera is. On top of that, she can’t imagine such horrible monsters coming from such a peaceful village.

Even if he’s with his wife now, there’s no way Gadio-san didn’t check everything out. I guess that means he decided that Daffyd really means no harm, and that all these ‘dead’ people are really back to as they were in life. That, if nothing else, is probably true, but…

As Flum walks through town, however, she can’t shake the subtle feeling that there’s something amiss. Normally just holding hands with Milkit is enough to make her stop worrying about the details, but even still that niggling feeling remains.

Something about those gazes, the way the townsfolk stare at her as they walk, is inexplicably unsettling.


Chapter 12 - Searching For Spirals[edit]

Ignorance is folly.

There are many things in this world that are better off remaining unknown.

This is surely one of them.

Even if he’s nothing but a clown dancing on a stage, what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.

“Why the long face, Ga-kun?”

Tia peers into her loving husband’s face from where she walks at his side. Her face honestly couldn’t be more perfect, as though she’d come right from Gadio’s own dreams. Just meeting her gaze so close to her is enough to make his face heat up.

“From what I’ve heard, everyone seems to think you’re some mysterious, sourfaced dandy-swordsman, but that’s really not you at all!”

“Don’t tease me about it too much.”

“No, I’m happy. I don’t know how I’d feel if you’d become some ladies’ man…”

Just being near her lifts his spirits, as if she were the sun itself. When he lost her, all he could do was stare at the bloody ground at his feet. Just looking up at a sky without a sun would be enough to fill his heart with despair.

“But… I think I might’ve become a bit of a spiteful woman.”

“Why would you say that?”

“I don’t want to ever give you back to Kereina and Hallom. I wish you’d just stay like this, mine forever…”

She wants him all to herself, as would be natural as his wife --- a perfectly natural emotion for normal humans. Nothing inhuman could possibly replicate something so intricate so perfectly.

The true question is, if the sun were to suddenly return to an empty sky, would humans be able to question whether or not it’s real? If it’s too bright to look at, too warm to believe, and illuminates one’s world, does it matter what it really is?

“Tia.”

He calls her name, and she cocks her head to the side with a goddess’ smile.

“Hmm?”

“I love you.”

It may sound as though he’s only dodging the question, but without a doubt, those words are Gadio’s true feelings.

“I love you too, Ga-kun~!”

She blushes a little.

Ignorance is bliss.

Knowledge is but bondage, wisdom and freedom cannot coexist.

Gadio knows that, and as such he has but one wish.

Please, let me stay ignorant, if only for a little longer.

Arm-in-arm, they head back to the house that Daffyd prepared for them. As they chat, Tia almost unconsciously turns back to watch Flum and the others as they head inside the church.

◇◇◇

Right in front of the church’s front doors, Daffyd and Suzie stop and turn around.

“Well then, this is the entrance to our research facility. It’s necessary to show most of you what’s inside if I’m to properly convince you, but I’m afraid that I can’t allow a journalist past this point.”

“Ehh? Isn’t Milkit-chan the same, though? Don’t worry, I can be really tight-lipped when I want to be!”

“Is there something inside you don’t want Welthy-san to see that badly?”

“I’m afraid I simply can’t expose the key parts of our research to the public just yet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, after all.”

Daffyd’s stance seems ironclad. Welthy scratches her head with a troubled expression, finally letting out a sigh.

“...Well, it’s not like I came here just for a story. There’s no point complaining about it so I’ll just have to live with it. I can check out the town and stuff, though, right?”

“Of course. Be my guest.”

“Are you gonna be okay alone…?”

“Don’t worry, Ink-chan, if it comes to it I’ll just run screaming to Gadio-san for help. ‘Kay then, I’ll see you later!”

As if she’d found something she’s dying to investigate, Welthy runs off into town.

Flum can’t help but be a little worried, but since Welthy herself seems to be confident about her ability to run away, she’ll just have to trust her.

“Well then, allow me to show you inside.”

With that, they finally step inside the research facility.

The church itself seems just like any other they’ve seen in the Capital. The walls and vaulted ceilings are a solid white colour, and stained glass windows send colourful shadows dancing across the floor. To their left and right are rows of pews, divided down the middle by the red carpet under their feet. Directly ahead of them is a statue of Origin and a number of depictions of Origin’s holy symbol, the ‘twisted circle’. Nowhere do they see anything that they’d expect from one of the Church’s labs.

Passing through the door at the statue’s left and heading down a staircase at the far end of the room beyond, however, everything suddenly changes. The walls, floors, and ceilings are made of a cold, almost futuristic material that feels similar to metal. The few magic lamps along the ceiling give off large amounts of light, fully illuminating the corridor despite their small number. Flum has seen something very similar before, but the rest of them seem baffled by how something of this scale could exist underground, their gazes darting around curiously as they feel the walls.

“I’ve been curious for a while now, but these labs of yours are made completely differently from everywhere else in the Kingdom, aren’t they?”

“Yes, I’ve heard they’re the product of merging domestic building techniques with those developed by the demons.”

“You use demon stuff? Even though you’re the Church?”

“Just like with herbs. They keep the best things for themselves.”

“I’m afraid I can’t make any excuses. I personally believe that such advances should be shared with the people, but…”

There’s no point in blaming Daffyd for it, though. The Church itself has made it perfectly clear that they’re more interested in controlling and manipulating the people than saving them.

“At any rate, I believe I’ll start the tour from the closest rooms.”

“I’ll head back to my room, okay?”

“Yes, make sure you get all the rest you need, Suzie. You don’t mind, do you?”

There’s no real need for him to ask them, nor do they really have the right to stop her even if they wanted to. Suzie leaves them as they continue to follow Daffyd.

“Ah, yes. Just so you’re all aware, our research involves handling a great number of corpses, and as such this first room might disturb some of you. If you have any aversion to seeing dead bodies, you might want to wait outside.”

With that, he leads them into the mortuary.

The air inside is chilly, and dozens of coffins with glass lids line the walls holding ‘people’ awaiting resurrection.

“Uu…”

Only Milkit seems disturbed by the sight, but determined to not be the only one left out she clings to Flum’s arm tightly, not averting her eyes once.

The corpses are in all manner of states; some are only bones, some have decayed to the point that it’s impossible to tell what they looked like in life, as well as every other state imaginable. According to Daffyd, however, the Necromancy Core will restore them to as they were before death no matter the body’s state.

“We’ve been looking into records of tragic deaths for some time now, and through negotiations with local authorities we’ve been gathering people to bring back.”

“What about my parents?”

Hearing Daffyd talk as though they’ve been doing the work of saints, Eterna narrows her eyes into a glare. Finally seeming to recognize that she’s angry, he frantically tries to explain himself.

“I really am dreadfully sorry about that. We simply had to convince you, so for that case alone we went ahead without receiving the proper approval.”

“If you’d kept sneaking around, nobody would’ve noticed.”

“Yes, but as I explained to you before, your encounter with the Children has the Church’s higher-ups desperate for the weaponization of Necromancy, and as such there is a chance that they might move ahead with it on their own terms. If that comes to pass, we won’t be able to continue saving people as we have been. That’s why we wanted to ally with you as soon as possible.”

We really can’t trust this guy, then, Flum thinks.

They likely brought back Satils only so that she’d keep funding them --- but more than that, Daffyd never showed any intention of calling her to Sheol at all. Instead he worked behind the scenes, targeting Eterna and Gadio behind her back.

“...Well then, shall we move on?”

Daffyd doesn’t make it clear as to whether or not he even notices Flum’s hostile glare as he leads them to the next room.

The next room he leads them to is labelled ‘Core Production Room’. The room inside is dim, but white lights in the ceiling illuminate ten cylindrical glass cases arranged in a circle around a pedestal. Inside each of the cases is a grey mass of something that resembles a human brain.

“A-Are those… brains…?”

Milkit hugs Flum’s arm a little tighter.

“We call it ‘Little Origin’.”

“Little Origin…? This thing…?”

Flum can feel static running through her mind, clouding her vision.

I felt this with Saturchy, too, but what is this awful feeling…? Is this ‘déjà vu’? I’ve… seen this somewhere before…? No, I saw something like this in those Enchide ruins. That’s got to be it…

She doesn’t have any concrete memories, but she can’t shake a distinct feeling of familiarity and a sense that something’s very wrong.

“Little Origin receives the energy that Origin transmits, amplifies it, and imbues an ore known as black quartz with it. The end result is, as you might assume, an Origin Core.”

Gadio had told her that Daffyd would answer her questions, but she never expected to even see how the Cores are made. Even through the static filling her head she’s surprised.

“Should you really be showing us this? Isn’t this one of the Church’s biggest secrets?”

“I’m sure if the cardinals knew they’d be rather upset, but if it’s to convince you, Flum-san, then I have no intention of being particular with my methods.”

She can’t see any sign of deception in his eyes.

“Okay, lemme ask you this, then. What do you mean by Little Origin ‘receiving’ energy?”

“Precisely what it sounds like. Origin’s main body is somewhere else.”

“Its main body… So where is it?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. The Church hasn’t told me anything to that end. I’m sure you can guess, though.”

“Maybe… at the Demon Lord’s Castle…?”

During the Journey it was abundantly clear that Flum was useless, and yet Origin’s ‘prophecy’ half-forced her out of her village and into the Hero’s Party. The Journey’s final destination is, of course, the Demon Lord’s Castle --- in other words, the most likely place for Origin’s main body.

No matter what, Origin wanted to bring her to it. Maybe it knows she’s the only one who can oppose it and it wanted to remove any chance she’d stop it.

“But if it just wanted me dead, there’s no reason to take me all that way. Why would it take such a risk to bring me to it?”

“I’m afraid only Origin could answer that question.”

If he doesn’t even know where Origin is, he couldn’t possibly know that.

That’s doubtlessly Origin’s true aim, however. If nothing else, the fact that her name was written in that notebook in Enchide back when she was just a little girl would suggest that.

Deciding to stop thinking about Origin for the time being, she turns to ask Daffyd her next question.

He answers everything with a smile. The black quartz used in Origin Cores is really only a normal stone, mined and imported from the region south of the Capital. The spherical shape is simply to seal the ‘spiral’ inside it more effectively and securely; the more perfect the shape, the better it holds the energy. The brains used in Little Origin were apparently harvested from criminals on death row.

He answers so readily, in fact, that it almost seems suspicious, but Flum can understand now why Gadio seemed to trust him. Not only does he not keep secrets, but his eyes, his expressions, and even the way he talks make him seem sincere.

“Shall we move on to the next room, then? I have one last thing to show you.”

The group leaves the Core Production Room, only to run into a man in a white labcoat outside. Standing behind him is a woman dressed the same way and carrying a baby.

“Oh, if it isn’t Goen!”

“Daffyd, are these guys…?”

As Flum and the others study the man named Goen, Daffyd introduces him.

“This is Goen Foegan. He works here as my assistant.”

“Hey, how’s it going?” Goen bows lightly, and Flum gives him a curt “Fine.”

“He’s been a good friend and fellow researcher of mine since long before we started this lab, but after losing his wife in an accident he lost all self control and found himself drowning in gambling, alcohol, and debt.”

“Hey now, don’t go telling them my whole life story…”

“Come now, it’s fine. When I came to him with talk of Necromancy he was kind enough to join me, and since then he and his wife Luluka have been invaluable to our research.”

Luluka bows behind him. Her baby’s round little eyes don’t leave Flum for an instant.

“So Luluka-san gave birth to that baby after she came back to life?”

“Precisely, and like all other babies born here he’s strong and healthy.”

Generally speaking, the purpose of all living beings is to pass on their genes. By that definition, the fact that a revived person can produce a child with a living one is proof that they’re alive. Soon, Suzie will give birth, and if that child is a normal human Daffyd’s confidence in his research will approach certainty. Even Flum has to admit that evidence is compelling.

“I’m sorry for bothering you like that, Goen.”

“Nah, it’s important they hear it. See you around.”

The Foegan family continues on their way.

Until the very end, the baby didn’t once stop staring at Flum.

“Past here is the heart of our lab --- no, you could even say it’s the heart of Necromancy itself.” The last place Daffyd takes them to is an imposing metal door in the very deepest part of the lab.

“The only ones who can open these doors are myself and a select few researchers.”

He puts his hand on a small crystal embedded in the door as he talks.

The switch functions on the same basic technology as those for magic lamps, but the level of sophistication makes it something else entirely. It reads the wavelength of the activator’s mana, and only if it matches one of those recorded in its databases does it undo the lock. Since every individual’s mana wavelength has its own unique variations, such devices are used for key rooms within the Royal Palace and the Grand Cathedral.

To put it another way, the contents of that room are deserving of national-security-level secrecy.

“This is the Central Control Room.”

After the door finishes reading his wavelength, it swings open automatically.

The room beyond is far larger than any other room they’ve seen yet, and from the walls hang all manner of cables.

Positioned in the very center of the room is a massive black sphere, its diameter about as long as an average person.

“Is that… an Origin Core?”

“I can see something spiralling inside it…”

“Just imagining its power… ”

“But Eterna, something about it feels kinda tingly… like there’s something familiar here.”

All four of them have different impressions of the room, but all of them clearly feel something. Daffyd nears the core, putting his hand on its surface.

“This is the Necromancy Central Core. With this, it’s possible to repress the will of Origin that lies in the heart of every Core in every resurrected person in Sheol.”

“What would happen to the townsfolk without that?”

“They would lose any and all semblance of humanity, becoming nothing more than flesh-puppets for Origin.”

He speaks as though he’s witnessed it personally.

“Thanks to our research, however, we’ve made it so that it’s possible for them to spend a number of days away from Sheol. Eventually, I’m sure the Central Core won’t even be needed.”

“But you’re saying they’ll be monstrosities without it, right?”

“You’re trying to say that our residents aren’t human, Flum-san?”

Flum nods.

All the dead currently living in Sheol are a hair’s breadth from inhumanity, something on the very brink --- or at the very least, that’s what he seems to be saying.

“That must be because you don’t see them as people but as monsters imitating humanity. Your prejudices are getting the better of you, I’m afraid.”

“Prejudice, huh…? Through all I’ve been through because of those Cores and all they’ve done so far, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of Origin’s true nature. Maybe the Children’s powers make it the clearest --- he ‘revolves’, ‘connects’, and ‘multiplies’. Bringing back the dead seems to me like the closest to multiplication.”

Twisting, linking, spreading --- and with that, Origin expands his influence. Looking at that town, all Flum can think is that it’s one big chunk of bait, full of people practically begging to be controlled by Origin’s power of their own free will.

“True, the Origin Cores have that natural tendency. That’s nothing more than a ‘tendency’, however, and with a little curation---”

“But at the same time, I think that’s Origin’s ‘desire’.”

“Desire, you say?”

“Origin has a mind of it’s own. I don’t know if it’s just intelligent energy or if it has some sort of body, but what’s clear is that it uses its power to twist people, dominate them, and corrupt them completely. It’s a little different every time, but in the end it always turns on anyone who tries to use it and does whatever it wants.”

“Ah, so you say that Necromancy simply hasn’t reached that breaking point yet, is that it?”

Ink, for example, had her eyes removed by somebody --- almost definitely Mother --- and lost her sight. She grew up happy and energetic in the end, but somewhere deep down she no doubt wished that she could see like everyone else. The Origin Core that was in her chest fulfilled that desire by ‘multiplication’, creating those horrible waves of rolling eyeballs.

“The Central Core exists to prevent that from happening, however. Soon we won’t even have to worry about that.”

“...? Um, in that case, why would Origin continue to lend you its power at all?”

Milkit shyly raises her hand.

If Origin is working only in its own best interests, then as soon as it can no longer do that via Necromancy, it would logically just stop giving them energy.

Daffyd confidently counters her argument, however.

“If it could shut off its own power like that, then its power would surely never run out of control. I don’t know what state its main body is in, but I would assume it went through the trouble of starting the Demon War and sending the Hero’s Party to meet it because it has no choice but to do so.”

“So you’re trying to say Origin’s imperfect right now, huh?”

Ink seems to have some idea as to what he’s referring to. Origin might not be imperfect, but she was able to live for nearly ten full years with an Origin Core as a heart. Even if she couldn’t hear ‘Papa’s voice’, she must’ve occasionally felt as though its power wasn’t perfect.

“Currently, only the users of Origin’s power can decide its output and the strength of its will. As you say, Flum-san, it might well be dangerous, but what truly matters is how it’s used. Human ingenuity has found a way to limit the dangers to their absolute minimum --- thus the Origin Cores.”

Flum stares at the Central Core in silence for a long moment.

“...Hahh…”

She sighs, the tension leaving her shoulders.

Daffyd gives her a pleased smile.

“I’m glad you’re convinced.”

“I won’t destroy the Central Core yet, at least. I’m sure you were ready for anything when you showed me your biggest weak point like this, though. That being said, there’s no way I’m leaving here without Gadio-san.”

“I’d say that depends entirely on what he thinks.”

“That’s why I’d like to stay here for a while to convince him. Is that okay?”

“...You’re staying here? Overnight?”

Flum catches a distinct hint of unease in his voice.

“If you say so, then by all means. I’m sure Eterna-san would enjoy the time alone with her parents herself.”

He immediately reverts back to his usual calm smile, however.

“I don’t really…”

“It’s fine, isn’t it? I kinda wanna meet your mom and dad, too.”

“If you say so, Ink.”

“In that case, Master, shall we get a room at the inn?”

“About that --- I’d kinda like to stay here, at the lab.”

All their gazes focus on Flum. Eterna, Ink, and Milkit all look generally surprised, but Daffyd alone makes a grim face.

“Is there a problem with that?”

“No, if that’s what it takes to convince you, then I’ll gladly ready a room for you.”

Flum’s request is equal parts challenge and confirmation. She wants to trust him fully --- but there are still a few reasons why she can’t yet.


◇◇◇


After quickly being shown around to a few other rooms in the lab, Eterna and Ink leave the research facility alone. Eterna is a little worried about splitting up, but she truly does want to see her parents’ faces one last time. They’ve made plans to stay at the lab after dinner as well, and she can’t imagine that Daffyd would suddenly change his mind and attack Flum, but…

“I wonder what kinda people your parents are like? Maybe they’re just like you!”

Ink is as energetic as always, completely blind to Eterna’s worries.

“No. We aren’t related by blood, after all.”

“But you were living together so you might speak kinda the same or something, right?”

“I don’t know about that. Mom’s not weird like I am.”

“You know you’re weird, Eterna!?”

“I speak… uniquely. I’ve been like this since I was little, though. I can’t fix it now.”

“I kinda like it, though! It feels kinda Eterna-y. I always know it’s you!”

Didn’t she just agree with me…?

Before they realize it they’ve arrived outside the Rinebow house. Instead of heading inside, however, she enters a nearby park. A number of children are playing around the playground while their parents watch happily.

“What’s up, Eterna? Aren’t we going inside?”

Ink, walking hand-in-hand beside her, seems to notice they’ve taken a detour.

“I need to mentally prepare myself.”

“Eh… really? Okay. Let’s sit down somewhere, then.”

Eterna finds a bench nearby and sits on it.

Ink hoists herself up with a little jump… and lands on Eterna’s lap.

“Uu.”

“There!”

“Not there.”

Eterna lightly chops the back of her head.

“Ehh, I can’t? I really like this kinda skinship!”

“I know. Whenever I pet your head in your sleep you start smirking.”

“R-Really…?”

Her expressions while she sleeps aside, knowing that Eterna’s been doing that while she sleeps is enough to make Ink blush.

Feeling her little body grow a little warmer, Eterna wraps her arms around her from behind.

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch12 1.png

“O-Oohh… un-Eterna-like skinship…!”

“You said you liked this, so…”

“Ghnunu… I never imagined anything like this, desu desu…!”

“I can stop if you want.”

“No, don’t stop now, desu!”

“Got it. I’ll continue. But why the weird speech tic…?”

For a while, they’re both quiet. Ink’s small body continues to slowly grow warmer and her face starts grower even redder. She must not be used to hugs… though Eterna’s hardly used to it either, and even she starts to blush a little.

“Ink… You smell really sweet.”

“P-Pervert! I-I never said you could go that far, desu…!!”

“It’s rude to call people perverted.”

“Muu, I think just sniffing people like that without permission is really pervy, though…!”

“If you’re going to say that, I’m sniffing more.”

Eterna buries her face in Ink’s hair and inhales deeply.

“Uhehe, stop it, that tickles…!”

“Don’t want to.”

“You’re an adult! Shouldn’t you listen to what kids say!?”

“It’s fine. I look only a little older than you.”

“You big, spoiled, fifty-year-old baby…!”

“That’s sixty-year-old baby to you.”

“That’s even worseee!”

Even so, Eterna doesn’t separate her nose from Ink. She didn’t have any intention of going so far, but it’s a lot more relaxing than she’d thought. Ink’s aroma has a certain intoxicating quality to it that makes Eterna want to make it part of her daily routine… but if Ink heard that she’d probably be mad.

“Well… if it’s really helping you calm down that much, Eterna, I guess I’m fine with it. Is meeting your parents really that scary?”

Voices are far more expressive than faces; even if Eterna’s keeping a straight face there’s a slight quiver in her voice that she can’t conceal from Ink.

“I turned Daffyd down, but I had to think about it. I honestly think it’d be better if I didn’t see them again. I can’t not, though. No matter how old I am, I’m that weak.”

“Hmm… I think you’re more nice than weak, though.”

“I’m not that narcissistic.”

“Okay, I’ll say it, then! You’re really nice, Eterna. You saved me back then, and you’re still with me like this now… You’re the nicest person in the whole wide world!”

“Ink…”

Maybe only a week has passed since they first met, but that’s enough for Ink to tell that’s one of Eterna’s strong points.

Not knowing how to express her feelings in return, Eterna hugs Ink a little more tightly to her.

“O-Oohh? It kinda hurts… but not in a hurty kinda way… I don’t think I could stand this for very long…”

“You’re my ‘present’, Ink. That’s why I want to spoil you a little. If you’re with me, I think I can resist my ‘past’.”

“Ah… You don’t trust him, huh? That Daffyd guy.”

In the end, all her anxiety stems from there.

“I want to. It’s not about him, though. It’s something else.”

“Something else?”

Eterna loosens her grip on Ink a little.

“---Can Origin Cores save people?”

The voices of the children in the playground seem to grow more distant. Some of them probably have Origin Cores themselves.

“I think Flum feels the same thing. Those things are pure evil. Maybe Origin even likes trampling people’s dignity. Even if they can control it, can it save people?”

Hearing that, Ink sounds a little apologetic.

“I’m sorry, Eterna.”

“Why apologize?”

“I was one of the people who used the Cores, but I don’t know anything…”

She seems to want to say that if she could hear Papa’s voice she’d at least be able to tell if it was malicious.

“That’s fine. You could probably only leave the Children because you didn’t know.”

“If I knew, would I be dead?”

“You wouldn’t have wanted to leave at least.”

“I only left ‘cause I was a little curious, though…”

“If you’d done that even a little later, though, who knows what would’ve happened?”

It was a miraculous coincidence that caused Flum to find Ink. That she happened to know Eterna, the only person capable of saving her, was a miracle of astronomical proportions.

“That’s why… if it’s going to end, it should be soon. The longer we wait the harder it’ll be.”

They can’t just sit around waiting for miracles. Even if another miracle did happen, they couldn’t possibly save every last one of the hundreds of townsfolk. All they can do is give them a soft landing, ending it soon and leaving them with only scrapes and bruises --- and that’s assuming that the resurrected people are truly normal, but that’s the only solution that Eterna can think of.

Having finished their conversation, Eterna scoops Ink up off her lap and stands her up on the ground.

She’s finished charging.

Hand-in-hand, the two of them head for the Rinebow house in earnest this time.

“How ironic. We rejected the Kingdom’s experimentation ourselves, and yet we get to meet you again because of it.”

Kinder and Claudia greet them with tears of joy in their eyes.

“Ahh… But I’m so happy I can see your face again, Eterna. Can I hug you again like I used to?”

With that, the family starts their last chance at quality time together.

Enveloped in Claudia’s arms, she can feel her warmth and her familiar scent reaches Eterna’s nose.

For some reason, though, the sound of Claudia’s heartbeat is oddly artificial.


◇◇◇


Flum and Milkit are lead to their room inside the research facility. It’s surprisingly large and spacious, as if it were made to house a family like Goen’s or a married couple.

“It’s so luxurious I can hardly believe that we’re underground. There’s a bath, a washroom… there’s even a kitchen.”

“If it had windows it’d be up there with those fancy hotels you see in the East Quarter. I wish we could properly enjoy a room like this…”

Flum sits down on the sofa and Milkit takes a seat beside her, snuggling in a little to that they’re shoulder-to-shoulder. They naturally hold hands, their fingers intertwining.

“Why did you want to stay here overnight, Master?”

“I just can’t accept it. Ever since I came here I’ve been feeling uneasy, like… ahh, I can’t explain it.”

Not only people’s gazes but their actions, their subtle movements, everything feels just a little bit off.

“Even if I break everything, though, that’s not going to make anyone happy…”

She can’t just ruin everyone’s lives for a reason like that, though. What Daffyd wants is ultimately perfectly normal.

“I’ve never lost anyone that important to me so I can’t say I relate to them, but just imagining a future without you, Master… that alone is enough to make my chest hurt.”

“I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you, either, so I can kinda understand where Gadio-san and Daffyd are coming from. What they’re talking about might seem convincing, but it’s really full of holes…”

She doesn’t have any proof, of course, but it’s a lot more concrete a feeling than just the sense of unease from the town itself.

“If Necromancy really is perfect, then there shouldn’t be any reason for him to want to keep me away. Maybe Daffyd doubts the Cores somewhere deep down after all and he just doesn’t want me ending all his research because of it?”

Suzie’s pregnancy is likely making him feel all the more protective --- but regardless, if he’s completely confident then there shouldn’t be any need for him to worry.

“On top of that, I get the feeling that Daffyd himself is even more prejudiced than I am, only in the exact opposite way.”

“He’s determined to believe that his research is right… If he didn’t, then that’d mean denying that Suzie-san is alive now, wouldn’t it?”

“You think so, too?”

“Maybe I was influenced by the fact that I’m in the same position as you, Master, but I feel as though Daffyd-san is trusting Origin too much to act exactly as he wants.”

His belief is likely rooted not in belief but rather in obsession, an obsession born of his finally reviving his wife and her conceiving his child. On some subconscious level, he’s no doubt convinced himself that he can’t distrust Origin no matter what.

“If there’s some kinda problem with his research because of all the ‘holes’ in his vision---”

“---There’s a chance it’ll go out of control, isn’t there?”

“Well, we don’t know when or if that’ll happen. Everything will probably be fine while we’re staying here, but I guess I should probably put a stop to it before the worst happens…”

If I’m going to do destroy the Central Core, it should be tomorrow --- no, maybe even tonight.

If normal, peaceful days like today could continue for a few years before everything falls apart, the townsfolk who’ve had a loved one returned to them would no doubt want to keep dreaming until the last possible moment. The more time they spend together, however, the harder it will be for them to wake up and the deeper their wounds will be.

“I think you should just break the thing already.”

A voice that belongs to neither Flum nor Milkit reaches their ears.

Calmly turning around to look at the bed, she sees a young boy sitting there with his legs crossed arrogantly in front of him.

“Oh, it’s just you again, Nekt.”

“Hmph. You don’t look very surprised to see me.”

“I had a feeling you’d be showing up sometime soon.”

“Tch, you’re boring.”

Disappointed that they didn’t give him the reaction he was hoping for, he turns away with a pout.


Chapter 13 - ‘I’ Don’t Know ‘Me’[edit]

“I wish you’d be as scared of me as she is, Flum-oneesan.”

The terror of being kidnapped apparently not yet gone, Milkit clings onto Flum’s back as she hides behind her. If she had a little time to prepare herself she could probably hold a proper conversation with him, but with so little warning she cowers instinctively.

“It’s okay, Milkit. He’s not going to hurt us.”

“I know. I know, but… my body won’t listen to what I say.”

“Seriously, are you guys trying to make my solemn dignity go to waste?”

“If you were worried about something that stupid you wouldn’t be here. So what, do you feel like joining forces with us now?”

“Nah. If you end up fighting Necromancy, though, I’ll pitch in.”

In other words, they’re as good as ‘allies’. His wording makes it sound as though he’s looking forward to benefiting from Flum and Necromancy fighting, but as long as he’s not an enemy it should be fine.

“So Nekt, was Eterna-san right? Is Mother working on the Third Generation?”

“What if I don’t want to answer that?”

“Then we’ll just assume that the Third Generation is around somewhere.”

“Same as keeping quiet, huh…? Fine, I’ll admit it, it’s just like that little oneesan said. Mother’s so obsessed with raising the Third Generation Children that she just ignores us now.”

“...And that’s why you’re worried that you’ll get abandoned just like Ink was.”

Nekt doesn’t respond, but he doesn’t deny it.

“If I have a word with Eterna-san and if we can find replacement hearts for you, I’m sure we can turn the rest of the Children back into normal humans, too.”

“You’re telling us to reduce ourselves to that trash’s level?”

“Isn’t Mother already treating you like trash?”

“That doesn’t mean we have to go back to being mere humans!”

“But is that really the only reason?”

“I… we’re Mother’s kids. We can’t live without her.”

“There’re tons of different ways to live in the outside---”

“That’s not what I mean! We were raised that way! Even if we go back to being human on the outside, nothing’s going to change, not to mention the Church’ll never leave us alone!”

Where Nekt once felt total control he can now feel only a pointless, empty powerlessness.

Just like a frog raised in a well, his world is but a tiny fragment of the whole.

“There are countless people who enjoy twisting and defiling the lives of others for their own personal fulfillment…”

Milkit herself grew up in such a fragment of a world.

“...but as soon as you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t rebel against them you’ve lost, playing right into their hands.”

“What, so I should just leave Mother after all we’ve done for each other?”

“There are also many people who might be kind enough to help you. It’s too early to give up and believe that you can’t change.”

“Hah, you almost sound like you’ve seen it happen yourself.”

“Yes, thanks to Master’s help I was able to change. I’m living proof!”

Even with such an example right in front of him, he doesn’t accept their aid. It’s not that he doesn’t trust them --- there’s a different barrier altogether between them.

“You can’t just assume the same thing’ll happen to us…”

He’s locked in a room, away far from everything else. Impenetrable walls surround him on all sides. But maybe he’s only convinced himself there’s no way out.

Somewhere, somehow, there must be a way for him to escape.

Flum stands up, walking right up to him.

“What, you think you can force me to open up or something?”

He looks up at her weakly.

She leans down towards him, sniffing the air.

“What the hell are…?”

He shrinks back in suspicion, but Flum simply furrows her eyebrows.

“Nekt, you reek.”

“...Huh?”

“Are you taking baths regularly? Your clothes look pretty dirty, too…”

“T-That doesn’t matter right now!”

Maybe it not, but Flum can tell that he won’t just give in at this rate. While she still has the initiative she’d like to change the topic to something lighter and brighter.

“Of course it matters. Your new base does have a proper bath, right? I can’t imagine any of the Church’s facilities being that poorly-equipped.”

“Yeah, there’s a bath! We just can’t use it because Mother won’t give us permission!”

“You need permission to even take a bath?”

“That’s how baths are. It’s common sense.”

Nekt seems perfectly confident until Flum and Milkit exchange surprised glances.

“Wait… You mean that’s weird?”

“I’m fairly certain that most households aren’t that strict about bathing rights.”

“Really? Huh… I only really know how Mother does things.”

“Wanna take a bath together, then?”

“Haah!?!?”

Nekt flinches backwards. He normally tries to act like an adult, but his expression at that moment is undeniable that of a child.

“No way! Never! Baths aren’t supposed to be taken with other people, it’s just not right! You realize that means being NAKED, right!? With other people!?”

“It’s not like I have anything to hide from an eight-year-old. You took baths with Mother when you were little, right?”

“Yeah, but that was ages ago! I’ve outgrown stuff like that. If nothing else I can’t let anyone see me naked.”

Baths I can kinda understand, but I wonder why he’s so fixated on the naked thing?

“Is that another one of Mother's rules?”

“...Wait, that’s not normal?”

“No, it’s not normal to expose yourself in front of anyone you don’t know well, and you should only take a bath with someone you’re very close to.”

“So I was right. You guys are the weird ones this time! I’m not taking a bath and that’s final!”

“Okay then. By force it is.”

“Wait, didn’t you just hear me? Get back! I said get back! I’ll ‘connect’ you! Even with Reversal you can’t defend yourself from me point-blank!”

Flum knows full well that he wouldn’t actually use his power on her, at least not as he is now. Scooping up his little body, she carries him towards the bath.

“No, lemme go, LET ME GO!”

“Be right back, Milkit.”

“Good luck, Master!”

Milkit beams at her encouragingly, and Flum returns with a thumbs-up.

With that, Flum and Nekt disappear into the changing room.

“Finally, you put me down… gyah!? Stop it, those are my clothes!”

“If you don’t like it then you can just ‘connect’ out.”

“Right, I can just… wait, I can’t go outside like this!”

“I guess that means you don’t hate this as much as you’re letting on, huh?”

“Where are you looking!? Look at my face! I’M TRYING! TO RESIST! AT FULL STRENGTH!”

“Okay, so your pants next…”

“Hey, stop, if you take that off… agh, dammit, you’re strong for a girl! You’re not at all like when we first --- aah, there they go… uwaaaaagh, my paaaaants!!”

The voices from the changing room are loud, but there’s a distinct hint of happiness to them.

As soon as Flum succeeds in pulling down his pants and underwear as one, however, she suddenly freezes.

“...Eh?”

“Uuu… you’re the worst, dammit…”

“Hey, uh, Nekt… This is gonna sound pretty rude, but…”

“What, you haven’t done enough? Like that’s going to stop you after everything you’ve already done to me…!”

He raises his voice in desperate anger --- but her next words cause him to flush red with indignation.

“So, uh… I didn’t know you were a girl.”

Flum says so at point blank.

She was under the impression that Nekt was a boy. There’s ‘something’ missing from right between Nekt’s legs there, however, meaning that ‘he’ is evidently a ‘she’.

“Of all the…! How could I be a girl!? Just look at me, I’m a boy!”

Nekt, however, seems to be convinced of the opposite as she starts yelling exasperatedly.

“No, I mean, you’re missing a…”

“What am I missing, huh!? I was raised a strong, masculine boy!”

‘Raised’ --- that word provides Flum with all she needs to assemble the puzzle.

“...”

“Why’re you so quiet all of a sudden?”

“...No, nevermind. Let’s finish our bath first.”

Putting the problem off until later, Flum decides to focus on her original objective.


◇◇◇


After getting out of the bath, Flum starts wiping off Nekt’s hair with a towel.

“So Nekt, I’ve got something to talk to you about.”

“After embarrassing me like that you’re still not done…?”

Even in the bath Nekt was determined to get out while Flum was determined to make sure she cleaned every last nook and cranny. They weren’t fighting so much as they were playing around, however, and to be honest as Milkit listened to them from outside she found herself growing a little jealous (though she knows it’s not the time or place for that).

Flum has something important to tell Nekt, however, and with a serious face:

“Nekt… You’re a girl, at least on the outside. Trust me.”

“That again? Look, Mother always told me I was a boy, so…”

Mother did indeed tell him that, time and time again, but he never once defined ‘boy’ for Nekt.

“...As a man, I’ve got to…”

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Nekt recalls what Nekt said just earlier.

There are countless people who enjoy twisting and defiling the lives of others for their own personal fulfillment.

Mother twisted their house, their family as he pleased.

Nekt is starting to realize that Mother is one of those people.

“There’s no way…”

Nekt herself was likely some sort of experiment. Maybe Mother wanted to see if it was possible to use the Origin Cores’ influence to alter someone’s mental state. Maybe he was simply curious as to whether or not he could twist Nekt’s perceptions in such a way.

“There’s no way that’s… Like I could believe that!”

Regardless of the reason, Mother had no right to forcibly alter the identity of such a young child like that.

“I’m a boy! Go on, say it, oneesan!”

Flum is silent.

It’s best to bring the issue out into the open as soon as possible. Nekt is still only eight years old. She has the luxury of choice available to her.

“What’s with you, suddenly keeping quiet like that… You’re telling me you’re serious? You’re saying that’s why Mother said I had to take baths alone… why I could never show anyone my naked body…!?”

She had thought that Mother always had their best interests at heart.

That’s why she believed him.

All Mother’s rules, all his restrictions, were only possible because the Children loved Mother and believed that he loved them in return.

Everything is different now.

“So that’s it… That’s why Fwiss is so clingy with Mother, why Rook and Mute are like that… You’re saying it’s all because Mother wanted us to be that way? That Mother was just toying with us?”

The hurt tone in Nekt’s voice is enough to make Flum’s chest feel tight.

What Mother had given them was a little garden of happiness. If they didn’t know there was a world outside, if they stayed blind to the wrought-iron fences, they would never know pain or suffering.

Sooner or later, though, they would have woken up, realizing that there was an entire world outside of Mother’s ‘happiness’.

Nekt simply woke up a little earlier. Because of that, her wounds will be shallower.

I haven’t just made her suffer… I’m helping her. I hope.

“I can’t say that about everything, but…”

“No, it’s everything. Recently, I’ve… I’ve been getting that feeling. I wanted to trust Mother as family, though, I really did. I wanted to believe that Mother was just doing the best for us, no matter what… Even though I knew it was pointless.”

The truth is especially heavy for her since she’s still at an age where she probably just wants to be spoiled. She must only be able to handle it through her personal strength and her obligation to the others as the leader of the Spiral Children --- no, as their older sister.

“I really think you should leave Mother, for good this time. We’ll support you with everything we’ve got, I promise. Won’t you at least consider taking the surgery?”

“There’s no way I could run away alone…”

Her sense of responsibility is both a strength and a limitation. If she could, she’d leave Mother right then and there, but she can’t just abandon the others now that they’ve proven how blindly faithful they are to Mother even in the face of his abuse.

“Bring them all here and we’ll talk it over together, then. It’ll probably take some time, but I’m sure we can understand each other eventually. We got through to you, after all.”

“Like... like that’d ever...”

“We can do it, just watch!”

“It’s not too late, I’m sure. Ink-san was the same way, and look at her now!”

“We’re not like her… but…!”

She falters, leaning towards Flum’s side ever so slightly.

They’ve made mistakes, certainly, but nobody could expect children who aren’t even ten years old to take full responsibility for their actions.

Flum doesn’t have any intention of letting Mother go, of course. After he not only abused his power as a parent but performed such unethical experiments on innocent children, maybe even going so far as to have ruined their lives, it’s only right that she return the favor and ruin his life.

If nothing else, though, I hope that the Spiral Children can---

“I… I’ve got to think this through. Connection.”

She clenches her fist, and after her face twists into a spiral for a split second she disappears.

“Ah, Nekt! She’s gone…”

“I can’t imagine she went too far. I’m sure she’ll return before too long with her answer.”

“Yeah… I hope so.”

Her last words sounded to Flum as though they were all but a flat-out ‘yes’. Hopefully she’ll be back soon as Milkit says with a positive answer.


◇◇◇


After ‘connecting’ out of the lab, Nekt sits on the roof of a certain house and watches the sun set. She doesn’t even seem to notice when one of the house’s residents comes out, but he definitely notices her. With a little jump he lands on the roof beside her in almost perfect silence.

“Oh, it’s you, Ojisan. You’re pretty nimble for such a big guy.”

She doesn’t seem surprised to see Gadio there at all.

“This isn’t much, really.”

He calmly sits down beside Nekt as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“You came up here unarmed? You’re really underestimating me, aren’t you? We were trying to kill each other just a few days ago and everything.”

“With a face like that, anyone would underestimate you. What happened?”

“What, you wanna give me advice, too? Flum-oneesan’s one thing, but all you guys are way too soft, seriously.”

Gadio might be soft, but more than that he’s feeling lost himself. If he was the same revenge-seeker he used to be he probably would’ve come there to hack Nekt in half.

“You spoke with Flum?”

“Yeah, and because of that I learned something I never wanted to. I always thought I was a boy since that’s what Mother always told me, but it turns out I’m a girl.”

“I see…”

“Haha, it sounds pretty lame saying it out loud, but I kinda took it as a shock, y’know?”

“Anyone would feel that way after having their identity denied like that.”

“What about you, Ojisan? Underestimating me aside, you’re looking a lot more vulnerable than before.”

“I’m starting to lose sight of who I am and what I’m doing here.”

“Just like me, huh?”

“Hmph, I can’t believe I have the same worries as an eight-year-old.”

“Take it as a compliment. I’m pretty smart, surprisingly enough. I bet I could give you a run for your money.”

“Saying that only proves how much you still have to learn.”

Gadio give her a bitter smile and Nekt replies “You got that right!” with a chuckle.

“You saw your dead wife, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So? Did you screw her?”

She gives Gadio a mischievous, bratty grin as she looks up to gauge his reaction.

“Trying to act ‘mature’ like that is incredibly childish, you know. I doubt you even know what that means, given you didn’t even know your own sex.”

“Well, yeah, but… That’s what you do with the person you’ve fallen for right? Don’t go dodging the question now.”

“...No, I haven’t. That thing is unmistakably Tia, but undeniably not Tia.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m sure I’m the only one who could understand it, but I know I’m right. Regardless of how small it may be, when you feel that sort of disconnect, it’s a sign that you’ve made a mistake.”

Similarly, all the confidence in the world doesn’t amount to anything.

If nothing else, Gadio has learned that well, almost too well.

“A disconnect, huh…?”

Nekt feigns disinterest, turning to stare back into the sunset.

“I’m planning on listening to that gut feeling. I won’t force you to do the same, but---”

“What are you, stupid? Why would you give advice to your enemy like this? You and Flum-oneesan are both idiots if you think I’m going to be grateful or anything.”

“It’s because we can’t watch and do nothing. Maybe we’re just as soft as you think. I think Flum also felt such a strong disconnect that she couldn’t not try to help you. But what do you think? Are you content with the path you’re treading? Can you see any other paths you’d rather take?”

“How should I know? …And I hate being lectured to, by the way.”

“I would’ve thought the disrespectful little brat I first met would’ve been able to answer that question in a heartbeat.”

“...I guess I’ll take what you said into consideration, ojisan.”

She ‘connects’ away again outside of the village.

Even after she’s gone, though, Gadio continues to look up at the sky.

“There’s no way I could just look the other way. You, Flum… You both have futures ahead of you.”

He might not be old enough to pass the torch to the next generation yet, but that’s not the only reason why his path will end.

The end of his dream. The loss of the one place he wanted to protect. The death of his love.

As one of the people who learned too late, he’ll never stop telling them---

“Don’t be me.”

Hopefully, they’ll never make his mistakes.


◇◇◇


A little more than seven hours have passed since Flum and her party have entered Sheol. The sky turns orange, and as it slowly dyes purple probably not more than half an hour remains before the sun disappears completely. The forest has already turned dark and the creatures of the night are starting to emerge from their hiding places.

“Forests sure are nice… Even people like me can get around without sneakin’ everywhere.”

Werner watches the townscape from up in a tree. Just as Anriette ordered, he and the other soldiers followed them out to Sheol and are watching and waiting in case Flum and the others need help.

He’s currently alone, everyone else spread throughout the perimeter forest. Since he barely knows Flum it’s an annoying job to say the least, but that’s not to say there’s nothing in it for him.

“I’d love ta see all those hypocrites get eaten alive by their own research --- but how’s the miss gonna handle this, I wonder?”

As he mutters to himself, a nearby shrub shakes.

A woman comes into sight wearing heels and a dress that looks incredibly out of place, her thick makeup completely ruined and running streaks down her face. Walking through such dense woods like that would no doubt harm both the clothes and the wearer, in addition to using a huge amount of stamina. Despite the woman’s deep-seated hatred of such ‘filth’ and that she swats away the surrounding leaves and vines with a vengeance, she keeps on moving straight towards the town.

“Satils Francoise… So that’s yer play, huh?”

Werner makes no move to stop her, nor does he try to get her attention.

“It ain’t any of my business, but don’t get caught now. If all goes well, the miss might even end up owin’ me one!”

As if Werner’s prayer reached the gods, Otilier arrives right after Francoise passes out of sight.

“How is the state of affairs here, Werner?”

“Nothin’ but trees an’ bees. It’s just kinda borin’ here, really. Hey, y’think I could slip back ta the Capital fer a quick---”

“You mustn’t betray Oneesama’s expectations, now. Until Flum and her compatriots leave the town we’re to stand watch, understood?”

“...Yeah, I knew ya were gonna say that.”

He dramatically slumps his shoulders.

Otilier holds out a red fruit to him.

“What’s this, animal bait?”

“It was supposed to be a gift, but I suppose a man as damnably rude as yourself isn’t deserving of such a thing.”

“I mean, just pickin’ fruit off trees at random an’ givin’ ‘em ta people’s a little uncouth, doncha think? What are ya, an onee-sama lovin’ gorilla?”

“Gori…!? If you don’t want it then you should just say so! It’s so rare to see such succulent fruit growing wild… though looking at how red it is I can’t help but think of blood. Blood… beautiful, crimson blood… ahh, I think I’d rather like to see some of the real thing now, don’t you?”

“I get it, I get it! I’ll eat yer damn fruit, just give it ta me!”

He half-wrenches it out of her hands and takes a large bite of it.

“Seriously, I don’t care how rare wild fruit is, it can’t be that---”

Rich, sweet fruit juice fills his mouth.

“---Holy shit, this is good!”

“That’s precisely what I’ve been trying to convey all along.”

“Nah, y’see, I thought ya were tryin’ ta pull a fast one on me.”

“Have you done anything recently that would’ve warranted such retribution from me?”

“‘Course not. I’m the most upstandin’ guy in the whole Capital, no way that’d happen.”

“I daresay you mean the shiftiest. Honestly, I find it hard to believe you can keep a decent eye out like this.”

“There’s nothin’ goin’ on, though. Not even a mouse’s been through here, let alone a person.”

He says it confidently, as if it were the immutable truth. He doesn’t act suspiciously at all, not even a scrap of guilt appearing on his features. Otilier is so convinced despite everything that he’s an ally that she doesn’t even consider that he might be lying.

“Alright then. I’ll continue to leave this front in your care, then, Werner.”

Saying that, Otilier leaves to check on the other soldiers.

“Yeah, just leave eeeeeverythin’ ta me!”

He sees her off with a casual little wave.

As soon as she passes out of sight, his shoulders tremble with an ill-natured snigger.

“Welp, this’s my debt ta Echidna squared away. Now that the party’s finally gonna start, he should be --- ahh, there’s the little bastard.”

Leaving the same way Satils came, a man runs for the edge of the town with arms full of luggage --- Daffyd’s assistant, Goen Foegan. He’s an old acquaintance of Werner’s from the illegal gambling halls in the Capital’s seedy underbelly.

“He hasn’t changed a bit, has he? Sellin’ out his friends fer a bit a’ cash again… Not like I can blame him, though.”

Werner sniggers to himself once more.

Night falls like a curtain, a deep darkness enveloping the town.


Chapter 14 - Paradise Lost[edit]

That night they decide to hold a banquet. Not only Daffyd and Flum’s party but Gadio, Tia, Kinder, and Claudia are supposed to be there as well, shaping it up to be quite the event.

After they’d finished the tour of the lab, Daffyd had told Flum and Milkit that he’d call for them when everything was ready.

“It’s getting awfully late, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, we would’ve started eating a lot time ago if we were back home.”

Flum and Milkit kill time by rolling around together on the bed, but there’s no sign of Daffyd coming for them.

Maybe they’re all so busy with their research that they don’t eat until a lot later than normal?

Just then, her stomach grumbles. Milkit turns to face the source of the sound and Flum goes bright red in response.

“W-We been really busy today, and…”

“Being hungry is a normal sign that you’re healthy, Master. Should I make something light while we wait? There’s a kitchen here, after all.”

“Nah, it’s fine. It’d be kinda awkward if he came while you’re cooking something.”

“But will you be alright, Master?”

“That was just my tapeworm talking. I’m not hungry at all, really.”

It’s only a bluff. Flum has her pride, after all --- not that Milkit especially cares or is at all fooled.

“Fuu…”

The research facility is silent. It’s quiet enough that when they’re not talking the only thing they can hear is the other’s breathing. Everything is so calm and quiet, in fact, that Flum finds herself having to fight off sleep.

“You can sleep if you want, Master. I’ll wake you when Daffyd comes.”

“Thanks… I guess I’ll take a little catnap, then…”

Taking Milkit up on her offer, Flum slowly closes her eyes. She leaves her body up to laziness, about to let go of her consciousness.

[...HY D… EE…]

Just when she’s about to fall asleep, she gets the feeling that she can hear something. Her eyes fly open and she immediately meets Milkit’s gaze, since she’d been watching Flum sleep.

“Is something wrong?”

“There’s… I can kinda hear people talking, I think? You didn’t say anything, did you, Milkit?”

She shakes her head.

It must’ve just been my imagination…

[W… AT… ]

She hears it again.

It’s so faint that she can only catch faint fragments, but it’s a man’s voice.

“So I DID hear something!”

“Really? I’m sorry, I still can’t hear anything.”

Flum hops off the bed, closing her eyes to focus on listening.

[SHOUL… O…]

Again.

The voice this time is a lot higher, like an elderly woman’s.

Determined to discover its identity, Flum heads towards the source of the sound --- the door of the room.

[...BOX… FOR…]

[C… R, CRU…]

There’s definitely more than one voice.

It sounds as though they’re talking to each other.

Why in front of our room, seriously…

She considers suddenly opening the door to surprise them, but before that she decides to put her ear to the door and figure out what they’re talking about.

Then---

[WHY LET HER LIVE] [RIP OUT HER TONGUE] [SHE’S ALIVE, THAT’S ENOUGH] [KILL] [START WITH THE ARMS]

[I WANT HER HAMSTRINGS] [SKIN HER, GOOD] [STUFF HER IN BOX] [SNAP HER SPINE AND SLITHER INSIDE] [IT MUST BE DONE]

[CAN’T LET HER ESCAPE] [WHY NO KILL HER] [NO PERMISSION YET] [MUST CONNECT] [LEAD HER WHERE]

[TWIST OPEN A HOLE FIRST] [ENTER, CONNECT WITH BRAIN] [LET’S BECOME ONE, EVERYONE BECOME ONE]

[WANT SEE INSIDES LIKE MAGGOTS, JUST ONCE]

[KILL THIS ONE, CONNECT NEXT ONE] [CUT OFF] [NOT WORTHY OF CONNECTING]

[MORE BLOOD IS GOOD] [I THINK DISEMBOWELMENT ACCEPTABLE] [WHERE WE CONNECT? HOW OPEN HOLE IN SKULL?]

[THRIFORTOOFIIIVESEV] [NO MAKE US SUFFER]

[AAA, TIGHT, AA, TIGHT] [CAN I HAVE UTERUS?] [START BY CUTTING OFF TOES]

[MUST PUNISH] [EEEEEEEEEE] [I HEAR SIREN] [MUST TAKE]

[SEW TUBES TOGETHER] [D, DD, DANGEROUS]

[STILL NOT ENOUGH] [EEU, REGH, RECCH] [YOU HAVE TO END IT] [TOO LATE, EVERYTHING, TOO LATE]

---There’s not just two of them.

Countless voices endlessly talk over each other.

No matter how generous the estimate, it’d take dozens of people to create such a sound.

“!?”

Flum twitches in surprise, her elbow hitting the door loudly enough for it to be heard from outside.

Everything is suddenly dead quiet.

Listening closely, however, she can hear their breathing.

They’re still there --- dozens of people, blocking their only way out.

How’s that even possible!? There’s not room in that corridor for that many people, and I never heard any footsteps. When? How!?

Or maybe they’re not even human---

[TONIGHT]

One voice.

[DO IT TONIGHT]

Another agrees.

[TONIGHT GOOD] [TONIGHT, TONIGHT] [NO MORE WAIT] [FINALLY GET TO EAT] [WAIT FOR TONIGHT]

The visitors echo each other, suddenly clamouring once more.

“Master…?”

“Stay back!! Milkit, just… wait for me there, okay?”

There’s no place to run. She’ll have to fight. Given their numbers, she’ll have to try to keep them in the doorway so they don’t have the room to maneuver.

In her right, the Zweihander.

In her left, the door handle.

She closes her eyes, taking a deep, calming breath.

Filling her body with prana, she’s ready for anything.

She twists the lever-handle, pushing the door open with a CLACK!

She points her blade at the corridor beyond and all the enemies it contains---

“...Huh?”

There’s absolutely nobody there.

Jumping out and shooting glances left and right, she can’t see a single living thing, not a shadow, not even a presence.

“Um, Master… What did you hear?”

“You really didn’t hear anything, Milkit?”

“Yes, without a doubt.”

“I guess it must’ve been my---”

Flum stops mid-sentence.

She’s been overly cautious about Necromancy from the beginning, but in the end she’s still not sure if that’s just her prejudices. That sense of unease she can’t shake, the gazes of the townsfolk --- is it really all just in her head?

“...No, it’s not.”

She definitely felt one thing that was very amiss.

If that’s the case, then even if only a little, there should be some change.

“There’s something I need to check out. Let’s go, Milkit!”

“I’ll follow wherever you lead, Master!”

Flum grabs Milkit’s hand and takes off running down the corridor.

It doesn’t have to be Daffyd, she just has to ask someone. Their destination is the ‘First Laboratory’, the largest experimentation room in the complex and the place where they’re most likely to find a researcher.


◇◇◇


“So Ga-kun, what do you think of this dress?”

Tia calls out to Gadio from in front of the dressing mirror. The banquet will mark the first time she’ll be formally reintroduced as his wife. Gadio wants to go just in his normal clothes, but she’s determined to make an impression.

“C’mon, Ga-kun, why won’t you answer me? You can see me, can’t you? Oh, but come to think of it you were always bad with this sort of thing, weren’t you? Sometimes a girl wants to wear something her sweetheart picked out for her, though, so---”

Ksh, the sound of metal.

Tia slowly turns around.

“Ga… kun?”

Gadio stands there, black blade in hand.

Expressionlessly. Wordlessly.

He stands there frigidly, as if he himself were a sword, and aims the tip of the blade at her bosom.

“What… what are you doing? Why would you do something like…?”

“...”

“Do you hate me now, Ga-kun? I guess that’s it, isn’t it? We’ve been apart for so long… B-But you don’t have to go this far, do you!? Or wait, you’re trying to startle me, aren’t you? Really, that’s going too far! It’s not funny! You’re starting to scare me a little, so put the sword down, okay?”

Gadio doesn’t say a word.

“Please… Please, don’t do this. I didn’t come back to life for this…”

“Tia.”

“W-What?”

“I love you with all my heart.”

“Then why are you doing this? Because I’m not normal?”

Thinking back on it, she realizes that he’s been acting off ever since he came into the house a little while before. He replied only half-heartedly if at all to her questions about her hairstyle and accessories, too.

She has no idea what changed inside him so suddenly --- but anyone would be heartbroken to have a loved one act so murderously towards them.

Tears begin to well up in her eyes.

“Am I really that weird? Am I doing something wrong?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“So why…? I’m alive again, aren’t I? I thought that I could be your wife, properly this time, and that we could live happily ever after together…! I can’t leave Sheol right now, but I won’t need the Central Core’s support forever! I’ll have my own life back soon!”

“No… No, this is enough. You’re my Tia, alive and well, almost unnaturally so.”

Gadio wishes he could cry, but nothing comes out. He must’ve left all his tears in the past.

The Tia he knows died with his heart on that day six years ago. No matter how strong he gets, he can’t change the past. He can’t do anything about it.

There are some things that are so much easier without a heart, however.

“It was only a slight difference. Because of that faint difference, however, the sort of thing you could never change on purpose… I found out…”

The rhythm of her breathing, the movement of her fingertips, the scanning of her gaze, the pauses in her speech --- alone they mean nothing, each so faint that he didn’t even notice, but all together he can’t possibly ignore them.

“That… Just ignore that. There’s so many places I want to go together with you! I want to see the ocean to the south… I heard that in Farada they have an onsen! There are so, so many places I’d---”

“I wanted to go with you, too!”

He wanted to just cut her down without a word, but having come face-to-face with her like this he can’t do it. He doesn’t want to kill her. He wishes he could live together with her forever.

“I wanted to go see them with you, all of them... but that’s why… that’s why I couldn’t ignore it.”

“Ga-kun…”

Tia’s not the only one who’s suffering. Realizing that, she relaxes her body.

“This is a problem I need to solve with my own two hands.”

“...Okay.”

“Before it’s too late. Before you’re not you…”

“Before I’m no longer me… Yeah. I think you might be right. Maybe only a teeny-tiny bit, I got the feeling that might happen. Maybe that’s what coming back to life really means, huh?”

Tia thinks that she’s Tia Ruskett --- but at the same time, just like Gadio, she got the feeling that something, physically or mentally, wasn’t the same as it was before.

“To be honest, I can’t stop thinking about it. There’s something about the research labs. Someone inside me wants what’s in there.”

“Flum, I bet.”

“I think so. A part of me wants her so badly it can barely contain itself.”

It’s not Tia’s will, that much is certain.

“Daffyd told me that it takes more than just a body to bring someone back, it needs a soul. I think all that I have now, though, is the ‘husk’ of my soul that was left after I died.”

“Husk of a soul…?”

“When somebody dies their soul kind of hollows out, leaving only scraps in their body. I think something else is in that husk now, pretending to be Tia.”

“So Tia in form but not in spirit, huh?”

“Something like that. I want to think I’m really her, but…”

Having admitted it, her body starts to feel suddenly and incredibly uncomfortable. If she was more different, if she was something else with parts of Tia, she might’ve been able to accept it.

This is different, though. Because she was made to be Tia Ruskett, everything felt just wrong enough.

She can’t accept it.

Having rejected her spirit and the Core, her body starts warping, its connections coming apart at the seams.

“Ahaha, you really are amazing, Ga-kun. I can’t be too happy about it, though, even if you are going to let me die as a human, by your hand, than as some monster…”

Tia’s right arm starts violently convulsing, something on the inside struggling to break free with a sickening burbling sound.

“Your arm’s…”

“The limiters on the Necromancy Core’s probably stopped working now that I’ve gone and admitted it.”

He wants to say she’s wrong, to embrace her.

He holds himself back. Knowing that such regrets will only cause him to falter, he kills the impulse.

“I’m sorry for being so selfish, Ga-kun, making you do all this for me…”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m the only one who can properly put you to rest.”

“It was only for a little while, but I had a lot of fun with you. I was really, really happy. Probably a hundred times happier than any wife in the world!”

“I see… I’m… I’m glad to hear that…”

“I guess that makes you… yes, the best husband in the world! If being with you made me a hundred times happier, then that must be it!”

“Tia, I… I…!”

Tears still don’t come to Gadio’s eyes --- but she can tell he’s crying on the inside.

“Fufu… You’re such a crybaby, Ga-kun! But you know, It’s because you’re that soft that I fell in love with you.”

“I… I love you more than anyone else in the world, Tia!”

This is probably the first time he’s been so upfront about his feelings. Gadio was always the shy type, so even when he proposed to her he was hopelessly awkward, but Tia always loved that about him.

Of course, even with a straight confession like that, she’s so happy to hear those words that she could just die.

Then --- Gadio raises his sword, prana saturating the blade.

He can’t destroy the Core. All he can do is carve it out of her chest.

Faltering slows his hand.

Regret entangles his arm.

As if cutting them both in half --- Gadio howls as he swings.

“I… love you…”

Her body splits from shoulder to opposite hip, prana causing the wound to open as if exploding, spitting out a small, black sphere.

“Ga… ku…”

Words of love for him on her lips until the very end, Tia returns to sleep once more, this time never to be disturbed.

The pool of blood starts to expand across the floor.

Sleeping in the lake of blood is a princess in a lace gown, her life more precious and more fleetingly beautiful than any other.

Covered in her blood, Gadio’s hands fall to his sides as he burns that last sight into his mind.

“...Wait for me, Tia. I’ll be with you again soon.”

He doesn’t loosen the grip on his sword, however.

He’s decided, more determined than ever now.

The fight isn’t over yet.

“I can’t go there now, though. There’s one more thing I need to butcher first.”

When he closes his eyes, the name ‘Chimaera’ is waiting there for him.

He hates the entire Church and everything they stand for, but if he’s to have his proper revenge he needs to kill those directly responsible for his friends’ deaths.

There’s a gaping hole in his heart now, but as he calms his breathing hatred begins to fill it. Since he has no future ahead of him, no dreams left, all he needs is that awesome, all-consuming destruction.

Every breath fills his lungs with the smell of blood, and opening his eyes he can see viscera flowing forth from her open gut to stain his wife’s corpse. Seeing her dead like this for the second time, he gets the feeling that he has all he needs.

But then, a single man steps inside that sacred space meant for husband and wife alone --- Daffyd, come to call them for dinner. His eyes almost pop right out of his head.

“What… why… Did you do this, Gadio-san!?”

Gadio slowly turns to face the panicking Daffyd.

“Yeah, I did. Tell me, Daffyd, did you know?”

“What? What are you saying I knew!? No, no matter what reason you may have had, there’s no way you could justify such a heinous act! I thought that you and I would understand each other, that we both went through the hardship of losing our wives…!”

He was positive that they were two of a kind, that seeing their wives die such hollow, pointless deaths would mean that Gadio would accept Necromancy. He had banked everything on Gadio’s sympathy.

Feeling utterly betrayed, he’s furious.

“You loved Tia-san, didn’t you!? How could you do such a thing!? You’re no better than Chimaer--- gh!?”

Without even letting him finish, Gadio grabs him by the collar and slams him into the wall.

“You said you brought them back completely. You said that they’re just as they were. But Tia said that you knew --- you knew that they were only husks of souls in husks of bodies.”

“Y-You’re wrong… We, all of us humans, are nothing but husks! The Origin Cores merely returned the dead to their natural states!”

“No, that was Tia but not Tia. Everyone living in this damned town probably knows the truth!”

“What truth? You’ve clearly lost your mind!”

“Everyone’s just too afraid of waking up from the dream to do anything.”

“What’s wrong with dreaming? A dream that never ends isn’t any different from reality!”

“No! The fear that it might end will never stop haunting them. Isn’t everything already starting to come apart?”

“What on earth are you saying? There’s no way---”

Daffyd scoffs, but before he can finish denying it a low, long siren starts blaring, a sound that itself brings worry and unease.

As they both turn to look outside, a man plasters himself against the window, screaming “Help! Help me!!” as he pounds on the glass with his fist. A moment later a woman, probably his wife, jumps on him from behind and bites into his neck. Her teeth effortlessly break through his skin, and the area around his wound starts spiralling, writhing, and tearing itself apart.

“Wha… T-This is… and the emergency siren…? …Don’t tell me something happened to the Central Core!? Let go of me, let go! I need to go right now!”

Gadio releases his grip on the flailing Daffyd. Face deathly pale, he then rushes out of the house and sprints in a straight line towards the research facility.

“The Central Core is in the depths of the lab… Flum’s in trouble.”

Gadio leaves the house, and a moment later he spots Eterna running toward him with Ink in her arms.

“Gadio!”

“Eterna, that blood---”

“Probably the same as yours.”

“It’s theirs, huh…?”

Ink’s lips start to tremble, voice shaking.

“Eterna… I’m sorry… I’m really sorry…!”

“It’s fine. I should’ve done it sooner, even.”

“Did they attack you?”

Eterna nods.

Of her own free will, she attacked her parents.

After losing herself in that dream for but a moment, all that she’s left with is guilt and regret.

“This siren… from the lab? Flum’s in danger.”

“I was just about to go give her a hand myself.”

The three of them head for the lab together. Eterna would prefer to leave Ink someplace safe, but there’s nowhere like that left in Sheol.

“Uwaaaaaaaagh!! Somebody, anybody, help meee!!”

“Stop, w-why!? It’s me, dear! I’m your wife!!”

“Kagh… agh, guh… t-this is just a dream… all a bad dream… ghu…!!”

Screaming and crying comes from all around them, however.

All at once, the dead have begun to attack the living.

Gadio and Eterna can’t just ignore that.

“Tch --- Hmph!!”

Swinging his greatsword, Gadio unleashes a blade of energy that cleaves a husband in half as he tries to eat his wife.

“Aqua Bullet.”

The pellet of water that flies from Eterna’s hand pierces the heart of a father as he strangles his daughter.

Both of the dead stop moving, but as their Cores are still intact, it’s only a moment before they start twitching and writhing unlike any human could as they resume their attack.

Seeing that, the living finally realize --- everything that they’ve seen there was nothing but a dream.

“Eterna, behind you!”

Hearing an attacker’s footsteps, Ink calls out.

The dead who have finished devouring their partners have started indiscriminately attacking anyone and everyone around them.

Eterna’s floating fishlike device drives itself into her attacker’s gut.

“Ice Lance.”

A moment later, Eterna’s spell emerges from the ‘fish’s mouth --- a spear of ice flies out, blowing the man away as his intestines spill out of the new hole in his stomach.

With that, however, they’ve made it clear that they’re ‘threats’.

The dead seem to come out of nowhere as they surround the three of them.

“Kh… It looks like we’ll have to clean up the mess in town first.”

“Be safe, Flum---”

Filled with impatience, Gadio and Eterna turn to face off against the horde.


Chapter 15 - It Was Wrong From The Very Beginning[edit]

A little before the siren starts blaring, Flum and Milkit find a researcher in the First Laboratory. According to her nametag, her name is Claris.

Flum tells her about what just happened to her in front of their room.

“You heard a crowd of people talking outside your room, but the hallway was empty when you opened the door? Fufu, that’s impossible. You must not be getting enough sleep, Flum-san.”

Claris tries to dodge the question, but Flum can spot a distinct wavering in her eyes.

“You know what’s really going on, don’t you? There’s no point lying to me.”

“I-I’m not…”

She guiltily averts her gaze. Flum keeps glaring at her, keeping up the pressure. Just looking at her face, it's clear that she’s the same kind of person as Daffyd. She should have a strong enough conscience to make Flum’s work a lot easier.

“...Promise you won’t breathe a word to Daffyd-san?”

“I won’t mention your name, at least.”

“Well… to tell you the truth, the test subjects’ mental states have been showing some irregular values since you arrived here.”

“Irregular how?”

“Well, the higher the value the more aroused the subject is, but at the same time it has a profound impact on their physical states as well. Just like any human being, you see.”

“So you’re saying these numbers are really unstable right now?”

“We’d thought that we had solved the problem, but now it’s as if we’re back to where we started.”

“What, exactly, does that mean?”

Claris’ expression clouds over in response to Milkit’s question.

“Their spiral organs throughout their bodies will activate and they’ll become monsters, indiscriminately attacking every living thing in sight.”

Flum knows full well what Claris is talking about. If the values are really that unstable, however, it’s strange that nothing’s happened yet.

“For some reason, however, they’re retaining their human forms and still have a grasp of their sense of self. Since there’s a good chance that it’s just an instrument malfunction, Daffyd-san told me to keep quiet about it, but…”

“That would explain why nobody came to get us for the banquet.”

“Yes, I’m afraid preparations have been rather slow with everything else that’s going on. Daffyd-san just left to call Gadio-san, though, so it should be soon.”

“You can forget about the banquet. There’s no way I’m going to just sit around after hearing that.”

Turning on her heel, Flum heads for the door. Claris grabs her by the arm, stopping her.

“Wait, where are you going!?”

“The Central Control Room, obviously. I’m putting an end to this!”

“Not even you could break down that door. Even if you could, you’d simply turn everyone we’ve revived in Sheol into monsters! It’d be a disaster!”

“Tia-san was able to leave the village for a few hours, wasn’t she? There should still be some time before that happens. You should start saying your goodbyes now, though.”

“The irregular values really might only be an equipment malfunction, and you have no idea how many years it took us to reach this point! Please, don’t destroy all our hard work so impulsively!”

“I’m not being impulsive!”

Flum whips around, rage in her voice.

“Do you have any idea what those Origin Cores can really do? I’ll tell you one thing, they never have and never will save anyone. They warp, defile, destroy, sow misery and despair --- they’re pure evil!”

“Even if you’re right, it ultimately comes down to how they’re used! Even poison can become medicine at times!”

Claris doesn’t have a hope of convincing Flum by repeating Daffyd’s arguments.

The two of them glare at each other. Even Milkit stands by Flum’s side and looks Claris with her best ‘tough’ face.

The mood continues to worsen until the silence is broken by the blaring of a shrill siren.

“Eh… Impossible, why is the emergency siren going off!?”

“Emergency siren? What’s going on!?”

“I wish I knew!”

Just then --- tonk, a small sound comes from the door.

All three of them turn to face the sound, and an irregular tonktonk, tonk follows.

It’s a little too quiet for someone asking to come in --- and besides, the sound is coming from far too low on the door.

“At a time like this…?”

Sighing vexedly, Claris opens the door.

A lone baby tumbles into the room.

“Goen-san and Luluka-san’s kid? Come on, now, you should know better than to come here alone like this!”

She leans down and reaches out to lift the child.

As soon as she touches him, however, her fingers start twisting.

“Eh…?”

With a crackle, her fingers start snapping like twigs as they start warping in on themselves, the destruction rapidly making its way throughout her hands, through her wrists, up into her forearms---

“Agh, aaaagh, w-what…!?”

“Auu… gyagyah!”

Flum looks into the giggling infant’s eyes.

Or rather, she looks into where its eyes should be.

Instead of eyeballs, beyond its eyelids lie twitching spirals of raw flesh. As blood spastically sprays out, long trails of crimson ‘tears’ run down its face.

“T-That’s not a baby…!”

“Claris-san, get away from that thing right now!”

Flum draws the Zweihander, but Claris is still too close for her to be able to attack.

She’s got to get Claris out of there first, but---

“I-I can’t, I can’t pull away! It’s s-sticking to… no, I’m being drawn into it!!”

From her fingertips, she’s slowly being assimilated into the baby’s own body. The horrible twisting has passed through her arms and reached her torso, legs, and even her neck is beginning to deform.

There’s no saving her now.

“I-It hurts… It huuurts… uagh, aaaagh… k-kill me… pleeease! I-I can’t take this anymoooore!!”

“Kh…. Teryaaaa!!”

In response to Claris’ pleading for death, Flum cuts both her and the child in half with a second swing.

Perhaps because Flum aimed for her heart in an attempt to give her as quick and painless a death as possible, Claris’ screams stop instantly.

The ‘infant’, however, seems to shed its skin like a shell as a twisted clump of meat slithers out, more maggot than human now.

“So that’s what the ‘perfectly normal babies’ really look like…”

“They really aren’t human… are they?”

“From pregnancy to birth, and even after that… Origin was just making those chunks of flesh look like real people all along.”

“So then the baby that Suzie-san is carrying is the same… Why would Origin do such a thing…!?”

Origin simply wants to proliferate.

The closer Necromancy nears perfection, the more people use it --- and in the end, the more its influence expands. It must’ve wanted to replicate even human reproduction to that end.

To Flum, however, Origin is doing nothing short of defiling humanity itself.

It’s probably getting some sort of sick pleasure out of giving people false hope like this, isn’t it…!?

“I’ve got to destroy the Central Core right now!”

In the end she’ll probably have to destroy every last Core in Sheol personally, but the key to everything is undeniably the Central Core.

The cause of the siren, the ‘baby’, everything stems from there.

Flum and Milkit hurriedly leave the room, but as they turn down the corridor heading towards the Central Control Room they find a lone woman blocking their path.

“Isn’t that Luluka-san…?”

The woman who had given birth to that child --- no, that mass of flesh.

The maggot-like clump of meat itself is just then slithering up her body.

When it reaches her mouth, it forces itself in. It’s far too big to fit naturally --- with a snap Luluka’s jaw dislocates, her throat bulging grotesquely as it oozes inside her. Finally swallowing it completely, her gut bulges almost as though she were pregnant again.

“You think that you can just birth it out again? Do you have any idea how many thoughts, how many emotions even a child has in so little time…? Just what the hell do you think human lives are!?”

Swinging her sword into the ground before her, Flum unleashes a storm of prana at Luluka. The monstrosity herself is blown away in an instant, but the prana continues to howl at the floors, walls, and ceiling of the corridor, scraping at it with countless blades of energy as the deafening wail of shearing metal fills the air.

Absolute overkill.

Even with the power of a Core, a single ‘normal’ corpse who wasn’t even brought back as a weapon doesn’t call for such firepower. Even then, however, just looking at the bloodstains and scattered shreds of flesh covering the corridor is enough to make Flum’s blood boil.

“Honestly, you’re the worst…!”

As the bitterness spreading throughout Flum’s chest starts to appear in her expression, however, Milkit gently embraces her from behind.

“Ah… Thanks, Milkit.”

“I’m afraid this is all I can do for you, but…”

“What’re you talking about? This is more than enough. Right, then, let’s go!”

Feeling refreshed and revitalized, Flum changes gears and they push onwards.

The Central Control Room is fairly close to the First Laboratory, but lying between the two is the researchers’ living quarters.

When they arrive, the sight is far worse than they could’ve expected.

The corridor is filled with the half-devoured remains of the living, and the dead play with their corpses as they continue to twist and defile them. The floor and walls are stained with sprays of vibrant blood as if a stack of crimson paint cans had exploded, and a powerful stench fills the air.

“Get outta our way!!”

There isn’t any time to get emotional, however. They can do that after the battle’s over. They have to cut straight through if they’re going to crush Origin’s foul ambitions and put any sort of decent ending to the tragedy.

“Fuu, ha! Haaah!!”

Flum swings almost blindly as she runs forward, mowing down everything in her way. The dead are weak enough that a single Prana Shaker is enough to kill them, but there are simply so many of them. Just fighting them would be easy, but since time is of the essence they’re a real problem.

Worse, they seem to only grow in number no matter how many she kills. There’s no way there could’ve been so many of them in the facility. Through gaps in the throng, they can spot a number of dead who aren’t wearing labcoats. They must’ve come from up above.

“There’s so many of them… The path ahead is completely sealed off.”

As if they’ve completely lost any and all signs of intelligence, the dead all crowd and shove at each other, all desperate to reach Flum first. She wishes she could just mow them down all at once, but the Zweihander is too large to effectively wield in such an enclosed space.

I’ll break a wall… no, they’ll just start flooding in from there, too. I don’t think we’ll be able to find a different way through even if we turn back to look for one, and I don’t imagine they’ll thin out enough for us to break through anytime soon. There’s nothing else, though… everywhere else is blocked off except for the ceiling…

There’s only one way to avoid having to fight her way through the dead.

“The ceiling… right over their heads… Got it!”

A strange idea pops into her head, and without hesitation she firmly pulls Milkit closer to her.

“Hold onto me, Milkit!”

“Okay!”

Milkit trusts in Flum, squeezing onto her with all her strength.

R e v e r s a lReverse, oh gravity!

She casts a spell, jumping into the air in time.

Then, she lands safely on the ceiling.

“Eh!? W-What’s going on, Master!?”

“I can’t really explain it, but all that really matters is that it works!”

To her, the ceiling has become the floor. Now all she has to do is run right over all the dead’s heads.

Hugging Milkit a little more tightly to her, Flum sprints straight through to the Central Control Room.


◇◇◇


Finding the heavy vault-like doors open, Flum and Milkit turn into the room --- and twist their faces in disgust at the sight.

The air inside the room is unpleasantly warm, a viscerally raw stench filling the air. The rooms is visibly different from the first time they saw it; the walls are covered in a layer of flesh of a variety of skin tones with some parts simply pink and raw, as if the walls themselves are made of human beings. At some points fingers, toes, hands, even arms and legs sprout out if it, horribly twitching and flailing as if they were somehow alive. In the middle of the room, the Necromancy Central Core is half-buried in the mass of flesh, telegraphing that it’s the heart of the whole disaster.

Daffyd starts a few steps away from the Central Core, staring at something a little above it.

“Doesn’t that resemble Suzie-san’s face…?”

In the whole mess of the human jigsaw puzzle, only Suzie looks at all like she did before. Her eyes are empty and soulless, however, and half her face is hideously spiralled. Her mouth is twisted into a broken smirk. Covering her bulging stomach is a lattice of bulging veins, pulsating unnervingly at a uniform rate.[1]

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch15 1.png

If the ‘child’ inside her is at all like Luluka’s, then Daffyd will surely witness hell itself in a few mere moments.

“Flum-san, whose fault do you suppose this is?”

He doesn’t even turn around as he asks her.

Flum’s voice is firm.

“Origin’s, I’d say.”

In the end, it all comes down to that.

“You should’ve known it’d turn out this way.”

“Heh… hehe… It’s been betraying me all along, then. You certainly don’t mince your words, Flum-san…”

“By ignoring that thing, you’ve only hurt yourself and everyone else. I heard from one of your researchers that you started getting weird readings ever since I came here. Didn’t you know this was going to happen?”

“I wonder… Ahh, but if you were able to realize things were amiss in just a single day, then I must’ve known it somewhere deep down myself.”

Daffyd wasn’t aware of it, however. Until just moments ago, he was still convinced from the bottom of his heart that his research was a success.

“I knew it, and yet I kept enthusing about my vision, deceiving others, dragging more and more people here… and even then, I was in the throes of a blissful dream. I couldn’t let myself accept that my life with Suzie was all a lie.”

That’s why he continued believing blindly in his research. He ignored the seams that were beginning to come undone before his very eyes.

“I should’ve known... hehe, kehehehe, ahahahahahahahahahahaha!!”

---This is the result.

Past depression, past rage, all he can do is laugh.

“Haha… hah… Who would’ve thought that Suzie would’ve been the one to end it all!? Why would she, of all people…!?”

“You should probably move. I’m just about to destroy that thing.”

Flum has no interest, no obligation to hear out Daffyd’s ramblings.

Hearing that, however, he stands with his arms spread out in front of the Central Core, protecting what used to be his wife.

“You can’t have Suzie!”

“Fine, I’ll just go through you!”

Fully intent on killing him, Flum releases a Prana Shaker. The mass of human parts covering the walls sprouts a tentacle made from an amalgamation of arms and legs, however, intercepting the crescent blade of energy.

“Suzie… You saved me… You’re really alive, aren’t you!? I’m sorry I said all those horrible things about you. No matter what you look like, you’re still you! My beloved wife!”

“I guess I’ll have to cut you down directly, then!”

Without hesitation, she charges straight forward at Daffyd. Pouring mana into her blade, she hacks at the tentacle in her path --- but despite only being as thick as a typical log, the Zweihander stops halfway through it.

“Kh, what is this…? I can’t even cut it with mana!?”

Flum stops, and a different tentacle suddenly lashes out at her. Yanking her weapon free, she backsteps out of the way.

“I’m afraid it’s no use.”

Daffyd gives her a broken grin.

“The power stored in the Central Core is tens of times stronger than a normal Core. It may not be designed with combat in mind like the ones Chimaera and the Children use, but the raw power it can emit is quite impressive.”

“Yeah, but in exchange it’s a big, easy target! Haaaaaaaaaahh!!”

If she can’t cut through the tentacles, she’ll just have to hit the Central Core itself.

Jumping up high into the air, she thrusts the prana-saturated black blade out in front of her, aiming a Prana Sting at a gap in its guard.

In a split-second, however, it sprouts yet another tentacle and intercepts the attack easily. It then makes a whiplike strike out at Milkit --- and at the last second Flum manages to scoop her up and clumsily roll out of the way.

“AAaa… AAaaAA… aAAaaaAAAA!!”

“Suzie…?”

As Flum struggles against the tentacles, Suzie starts acting strangely from her perch atop the Central Core.

Her bloated stomach starts throbbing, pulsating --- and finally it splits.

With a flood of sticky blood and mucus, a ‘baby’ falls out of her and onto the ground.

“This… You finally gave birth, Suzie! Ahh, he’s so cute…!”

Daffyd rushes towards the thing lying on the floor.

“Au, ua! Gyagh! Gyaagh!”

No matter how close to it he gets, however, the baby-shaped chunk of flesh ignores him --- its spiral-eyed sights are fixed on Flum.

“Luco… haha. Your name is Luco… Suzie and I chose it for you together. Luco Sharmas. You’re our new family…”

Daffyd himself is too filled with happiness and love to care --- even if his ‘child’ has already shed any semblance of humanity and his limbs have already begun to warp and twist.

“Ahh… You’re so warm. You’re proof that Suzie and I are here, alive, living in this world. Nothing could possibly make me happier than your birth…”

His dead wife revived, and with it the story of their life together finally getting its chance to continue, even going so far as to grant them a child. Even if they’re all beyond salvation, it’s a happy ending as long as he believes it to be so.

“Ahh, Luco…!”

He hugs ‘Luco’ to him and starts rubbing the ‘baby’s cheek against his own, covering his face in the bloody mucus still coating its body --- though that’s not all that begins to stick.

“Ugh, gyugh… hahh… Luco… Suzie and, my son… w-we’ll raise you, well… gagh, aghh…!”

Their flesh begins to cling to each other, merging and fusing, and soon it’s impossible to tell where their individual bodies begin and end.

“W-We’ll, be… happy… t-togeth, ghugh, AAAAAAAAAAGGHH!!”

Finally it seems to reach his brain, sending a pain like a bolt of lighting searing through his mind. He starts spasming uncontrollably, screaming as drool begins to fly from his mouth.

“Master, Daffyd-san is…!”

“Why would he… He has to know that thing’s not his real baby, so why would he go that far!?”

Luco and Suzie are still connected via umbilical cord. The thick blood vessel wraps itself around Daffyd, slowly but surely dragging him up into her body.

“Uu, uaaaaaaaagh… Luco… where are you, Luco…?”

Evidently stricken blind from the shock, Daffyd begins to blindly feel around for his child as his lower half disappears into the mass of flesh atop the Central Core. Seeming to realize that, he starts whispering to himself in a calm, peaceful voice even as his face twists in pain.

“I see now… There’s no way for us to all be together in life. This… this feels nice… it feels like love… Me, Suzie, Luco… I don’t care what form we take, as long as we can all live together as a family…!”

A path that saves noone, an extreme sacrifice that doesn’t even leave Daffyd himself satisfied --- such is his choice.

Apparently focused on absorbing Daffyd into herself, Suzie slows the attacks against Flum to a halt.

“Is that… Is that truly love?”

Milkit wasn’t even looking for an answer to her question, and Flum doesn’t have the experience to talk about other people’s love with any certainty --- but there’s no hesitation in her voice.

“No, that’s not love. I think Daffyd just couldn’t handle it in the end. He just convinced himself that he was happy and committed suicide.”

All Necromancy really gave to Daffyd was time, putting off his eventual death. When Suzie died, he lost his reason to live --- doomed to fail from the very beginning, Necromancy was nothing more than a means of forcibly clinging on to his meaningless life.

“Now that there’s noone left to protect it, I hope the Central Core’s just going to let me destroy it, but…”

Even as she says that, however, she gets the feeling things won’t resolve themselves so neatly.

Just as Flum raises the Zweihander to attack the Central Core, the sound of applause rings out discordantly.

From behind the monstrous Suzie comes a very gaudily-dressed woman.

“Ufufufu, that was quite the nice show you put on for me.”

“Why the hell are YOU here, Satils!?”

“!?”

Flum attacks the instant she lays eyes on her --- but the blade of energy she unleashes is effortlessly and harmlessly intercepted by Satils’ right hand alone, regardless of the fact that the attack was infused with Reversal.

“What a vulgar way to greet someone, Flum Apricot. Unfortunately for you, you can’t possibly harm me now that I’ve assimilated the Central Core.”

“I thought it was weird for Suzie to do something like that on her own… This is all your doing, huh?”

“Yes, I was the director of this little tragedy. Wasn’t Luco’s birth just such a touching scene?”

“Y-You… Why…?”

Daffyd has to muster all his strength just to speak. His absorption into Suzie has stopped at the shoulders --- Satils probably stopped it there.

“You still haven’t figured it out? Everything that happened here today was orchestrated by yours truly. Turning Suzie into that abomination, forcing her to give birth to that disgusting chunk of flesh, absorbing you into her --- I was behind it all! Hyahahahahahahahahahaha!”

In other words, the human parts ‘multiplied’ all over the walls are also her doing. All Suzie did was get sucked in, just like Daffyd himself.

“That’s, impossible… How did you even get in…?”

Only a few people, Daffyd included, can unlock that room. As Suzie herself doesn’t have the authority, it’s a mystery how she got in there to begin with.

Satils seems to truly enjoy answering him.

“Goen Foegan. He’s still got quite a bit of debt, you see, and he’s proven himself quite useful to me time and time again. Ever since he met Echidna he’s been leaking all manner of juicy secrets to us.”

“He’s… selling us out…? So the reason why Chimaera’s been making so much progress recently is…!”

“He must’ve let slip a thing or two about the Central Core, I’m sure.”

“How did this… Goen, you… you bastaaaard…!”

To Daffyd, Goen was more than an assistant --- he was his best friend.

To Goen, however, Daffyd must’ve been nothing more than a convenience.

“Ahh, what a wonderful expression, Daffyd! That’s the face I’ve been waiting for! To be honest, selling your little Necromancy gimmick would’ve been quite profitable, but seeing people like you who can’t seem to live would your petty love and friendship --- guess what? I just couldn’t WAIT to crush your stupid little fantasies!”

“That’s the whole reason you approached me in the first place…? For something as cruel and petty as that!?”

Listening to their conversation, Flum feels a bit of dissonance. No, from far before that, something has been on her mind.

He never once said anything about bringing Satils back to life.

“Wait, so you didn’t know that Satils was brought back to life, Daffyd?”

“Brought back…? Ahh, I see now. That’s why she can assimilate the Central Core… We’ve been dancing on the palm of her hand all along…”

Somebody must’ve snuck out a Necromancy Core and brought her back in secret --- Goen, or maybe his colleagues in Chimaera. The only remaining mystery is how she could live away from the Central Core for so long, but considering that they likely know all about the Central Core there’s a fair chance Chimaera was able to make her a temporary replacement.

“Well then, Daffyd, let’s end the hors d’oeuvres here and head right into the main dish, shall we?”

“There’s still more…?”

“Oh, yes. It’s the most important part, even!”

Satils grins broadly enough that even her gums are visible. Her eyes, expression, voice --- everything about her suggests an amusement akin to madness. She gleefully starts telling her tale.

“Your beloved wife, Suzie Sharmas, was raped, tormented, and even with her dying breath she kept screaming your name, crying and wailing for you to come save her, but you never did. Her murderer’s names were Triet Lanciela and Demiselico Ladius. At the time, the two were so hopelessly mired in debt that they had to stain their hands with all manner of crimes to get by --- human scum in every conceivable way!”

“How do you know that… Not even the guild was able to find them!”

“Do I really need to say it?”

The villainess laughs at him mockingly.

The sacrificial lamb can only reply in a pitiful, quivering voice.

“You… You hired them to kill Suzie…?”

“To be fair, though, they were itching to kill her themselves. That Suzie of yours was really nothing more than an eyesore to me. That bitch was always so determined to side with some ‘justice’ or another, saving even people who couldn’t possibly compensate her and going so far as to try and expose my plots. She only got what she had coming to her!”

Satils shows no signs of regret whatsoever. Knowing full well that her actions are evil, she takes only the utmost pleasure in ruining the lives of people who live for good.

“Seeing her try to crawl away with her broken legs, try to call out for you even though she knew it was all pointless was nothing short of the greatest ecstasy! I made an important realization then: That Suzie wretch must’ve decided to play the heroine just so that I could have the pleasure of murdering her! The gods sent her to me personally! All for my own amusement!”

“That’s why…? You killed her simply because you wanted to!?”

“I have money. I have power. That’s all I need to prove that I’m one of the elevated chosen few that can toy with the weak and powerless as they please!”

“Uu… uaaaaaaagh… AaaaAAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

For the first time, Daffyd explodes with anger at her. This might be the first time in his entire life that he’s felt so much raw hatred for another.

“What a face! Oh, it sends shivers down my spine! It was worth keeping up that idiotic deal with your little lab until now! This! This is it! This is how it feels to have a long-term investment finally pay off, ahahahahahaha!!”

Clearly having waited a long time for this moment, Satils’ shrill laughter fills the room.

“Just how rotten are you!?”

“Oh, but I’m not rotten. This is justice. This is how the world was made to be! And with that, I’m afraid that you’ve fulfilled your role beautifully, but I’ll have you leave the stage now, Daffyd.”

Clicking her high-heels against the ground, Daffyd starts to disappear inside Suzie once more.

“I’ll kill you… I’ll kill yooouu…! I’ll never, EVER forgive you for this…!!”

Even then he screams at her, but to Satils such struggling is nothing but icing on the cake.

“Hahaha!! Hehe, fuhyahahahahaha!! Struggling it meaningless! Flailing is meaningless! Screaming, raging, crying, everything is meaningless! Even that Suzie and your ugly little child are only monsters! Your life, even your death, eeeeverything you’ve ever done is meaningless!!”

“I’ll kill… kill, you… ghu, phugh… g-gill… you…”

As he finally disappears completely into the mass of flesh, they can’t hear Daffyd’s cries any longer.

“Daffyd-san…”

There’s sadness in her voice. Even if he was wrong every step of the way, she can’t help but pity him.

“Haha… heh, hahh… I’m a little tired from laughing so much… Anyways. It’s your turns next, as I’m sure you realize. I may be alive now, but do you have any idea how excruciatingly painful it was, dying like that? I’ll make sure to return that debt in full.”

Satils flexes her index finger and two tentacles rise out of the sea of flesh, whipping at Flum from opposite directions.

Flum takes a step backwards with Milkit, avoiding the attack, but the tentacles merge together where she was only moments before and fly at her from straight ahead with increased speed and power.

“Fu… kh, gh, aaaaaaah!!”

Flum accepts them with the Zweihander, knocking them off-course with a well-timed swing.

Having failed to take down their prey, the tentacles melt back into the walls a moment later as if diving beneath murky water.

“Oh? Is just protecting yourself really that hard for you? I’ve always welcomed such futile resistance. There’s nothing I love more than watching vermin struggle!”

“Don’t go thinking that’s my full strength!”

Rage filling her body, Flum unleashes a Prana Shaker at her.

In response, Satils makes a show of taking the attack head-on.

“For some reason you’re convinced that my body and the Central Core are my weak points, but---”

She emerges completely unscathed and closes in on Flum, seeming to suddenly appear right before her eyes. Spiralling energy starts rapidly building up in her palm.

“---That’s where I’m strongest!”

She swings her arm in a chopping slash, the pent-up energy bursting free.

With her bare hands she copied Flum’s own Prana Shaker --- and what’s more, her attack is far stronger than Flum’s.

“Gagh!?”

Flum tries to receive the attack using the flat of her broad blade as a shield, but the raw force sends her flying back into the wall.

“Come on, now, if you spend all your time staring off into space like that then who knows what might happen to Milkit?”

“I’ll never let you hurt her!”

She kicks off the wall, flying straight towards Satils without her feet touching the ground once. Satils catches the blade with her bare hand, a shrill screeching sound filling the air as the spiral energy and Flum’s Reversal mana clash.

Milkit moves back towards the corner of the room, trying to stay out of their way, but the entire room is covered in human flesh. There’s no real point in moving if a tentacle could come out of anywhere at any time. Worse, the corridor outside and even the town on the surface are likely filled with dead still. There’s no place left in Sheol that’s safe.

“You might have your hands full, but I barely even need both hands to deal with you!”

One hand still clutching the Zweihander’s blade, Satils holds out her palm towards Flum’s head with her other. A bullet of concentrated spiral energy flies out.

Flum leans out of the way at the last moment, but in the process loses her balance.

Satils, not one to pass up a prime opportunity, kicks Flum in the gut with a “Eei!” like a weak little girl trying feebly to kick a soccer ball. She seems to lack both speed and power, but Flum’s body is sent violently flying upwards. Flum crashes into the ceiling, nearly losing consciousness for a moment. Satils then casually jumps up to meet her as she falls, grabbing Flum by the shirt and unceremoniously whipping her full-speed towards the ground.

Right before she hits, Flum activates her Reversal to change her direction and flies right back up at Satils blade-first --- but again, Satils catches her blade with ease.

“My, you’re awfully reckless. Human bodies aren’t that strong, you know. What if the whiplash broke something, hmm?”

“So what!? No matter how many bones I break, no matter how many times I’m beaten down, I’m not letting you leave here alive!!”

“Nfufufufufufu, how very bold of you! You remind me of a yapping little puppy --- though at the moment I’m more curious as to how the other little puppy will whine for me!”

“Kh, Milkit!?”

“Do you really have time to be worrying about her, I wonder!?”

Flum’s attention is averted for just a moment, and Satils takes full advantage of that. The unseen power bursts out of both her hands this time, forcing Flum down into the ground. She practically bends in half as her bones crack and her internal organs are crushed, spewing a fountain of blood as she falls. She hits the ground with enough force to break it, and she can feel the strength of the impact reverberate through every bone in her body.

“Agh… kaphugh…!”

She might have a pain-numbing enchantment now, but it doesn’t null the pain completely. Her body is still completely wrecked, leaving her completely immobile as her regeneration sets about repairing every one of her countless injuries.

It’ll be some time before she can stand again, though --- and after Satils looks down at her and laughs tauntingly, she turns her attention to Milkit.

A tentacle slips out of the flesh of the nearby wall, rapidly closing in on her.

“Ugh… Ghuuugh… I-I won’t… let you… hurt her…!”

Seeing the most important person in the world to her about to be brutalized, Flum manages to call up an unbelievable burst of strength. Every bone in her body is broken, her regeneration far from complete, meaning that she couldn’t possibly stand up --- or so it would seem.

She manages to pick herself up, just barely enough to walk.

“Why, yoooooouu!!”

Flum rushes forwards to intercept the tentacle with her body.

Satils starts grinning widely enough to break out of her face.

“Don’t come any closer, Master!”

Milkit notices Satils a moment sooner than Flum, but there’s no stopping her now.

The entire room starts quivering and shaking, as if something were trying to come up straight through the floor---

“Eh…?”

The floor beneath Flum’s feet starts mounding upwards, and a moment later it bursts, releasing a huge mass of flailing corpses.

In the blink of an eye, Flum is swallowed up completely.

“Masteeeeer!!”

Milkit’s voice can’t even reach her now. She’s gone.

“Hilarious! How absolutely hilarious! I can’t believe she honestly got herself killed trying to save a slave! Ahahahahahaha!!”

As Satils laugh echoes throughout the room, the monstrous mass of bodies begins to assimilate itself into the Central Core. Some of them aren’t even recognizably human, others could barely be called so --- every one of them is different. The only constant is that somewhere on their bodies, they all have a spiral of flesh.

“These are the failures --- the ones who couldn’t even come back to life properly and were locked up deep in the basement. Daffyd was too soft to dispose of even these worthless things!”

He was no doubt planning on saving them eventually.

“But thanks to that, I’ve got even more power at my disposal now. Ahh, you really are pitiful, Daffyd. It’s as though everything you’ve ever done was for my sake! Yes, that’s right! Just as the gods created Suzie so that I could kill her, you were born to give me your life’s work!”

Satils spreads her arms triumphantly, as if she were delivering a victory speech. The dead continue to pour up out of the hole in the ground, adding their bodies in layer after layer to the Central Core. Satils herself begins to melt and join the mass.

“Ufufufufufufu, fufufufufufufu! There’s noone left who can oppose me now. I may as well have a little more fun with you now, Milkit, twisting your face little by little in front of Flum’s very eyes, letting her experience the true despair before --- Ah.”

She suddenly stops dead in her tracks. Seeing her standing limply there as if she’d passed out, Milkit thinks she almost looks like an abandoned puppet.

“Oh… Oh, that’s too bad. I suppose it can’t be helped.”

Satils suddenly sounds extremely put out.

“The plan’s changed, it seems. I can’t kill her. I’m to take her alive.”

“Satils… You’re just like the others, aren’t you?”

“Me, the same as those puppets? Don’t you dare take that tone with me! I’m special --- yes, Origin-sama’s TRUE Chosen! If I wasn’t, would I be able to control the Central Core like this!?”

“The others were the exact same. They all wanted to believe that they were living by their own wills alone when in fact Origin was controlling them all along!”

“Didn’t I just tell you not to take that tone with me!? You’re nothing more than a pitiful insect, begging to be crushed!!”

Driven mad with rage, Satils extends tentacles from all corners of the room, all converging on Milkit to crush her.

Milkit knew that would happen --- but now that even Flum is gone, the only thing she can do to fight back is taunt her with that undeniable truth.

If Satils is telling the truth, then Flum’s still alive, but there’s no way for Milkit to save her now---

“Connection!”

The next instant, the world around Milkit suddenly changes. Instead of that horribly oppressive flesh-room, she’s outside the research facility.

Milkit turns to look at the face of her savior,

“Eee!?”

and seeing a hideous fleshy spiral there she squeals by accident.

Nekt returns to her normal face, pouting slightly at Milkit.

“Jeez, what an awful way to thank the person who just saved your life…”

“I-I’m sorry… Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome. I guess I was too late to save Flum-oneesan, though, huh? Well, given what Papa’s after they won’t kill her, but…”

“It doesn’t want to kill her?”

“Papa’s planning on assimilating her into its main body, after all. If it does that, then it’ll have its hands on Reversal and lose its only weakness. It’ll really be unstoppable.”

“But she’s nearly been killed by Origin’s monstrosities a number of times…”

“The let-her-live side’s got the majority, yeah, but some of Papa still wants her dead and they’re still arguing about it. There’s not just one of ‘Papa’, after all.”

“There’s… more?”

The more she hears, the more the mysteries surrounding Origin seem to grow.

There’s no time left to chat, however.

The earth itself begins to quake as a massive ‘something’ begins to crawl its way to the surface---


Chapter 16 - Crawling Malice[edit]

Up on the surface, Eterna and Gadio continue their fight to protect the living. Gadio crushes the dead with brute force as Eterna and Ink use Fenrir, a giant wolf Eterna made out of ice, to carry the living out of the town and to safety.

The dead continue their relentless assault. It was impossible to tell them apart from the living at first, but their eyes have now turned to spirals and trails of blood run down their faces like tears.

Just as Gadio raises his sword to split the dead in front of him in half --- they all suddenly freeze.

“They all stopped…?”

Eterna seems just as confused as Gadio. Ink, however, clings onto Eterna from where she sits behind her.

“Something’s coming…!”

“Ink?”

“A really, really big thing is coming up from underground!”

As she says it, the tremors grow to the point where Eterna can feel them as well.

Then --- the impossibly large ‘something’ explodes out of the roof of the church.

“What the…?”

A massive tower of corpses pierces the heavens. As they all stare up at it in shock, the dead all over town start to assimilate themselves into it. The tower continues to grow as more and more bodies join it until finally it casts a deep shadow on the entire town through the faint moonlight.

“Is that thing using the Central Core? That woman at the top is---”

As Gadio looks up at the tower, Nekt teleports in beside him. She’d left Milkit in a safe place on the town’s outskirts.

“It’s Satils.”

Satils herself has joined the mass, her lower half sprouting out of the Central Core itself.

She’s abandoned her humanity, utterly and completely.

“Satils? Why would that she-devil…? No, I suppose explanations can wait. Will you fight with us, Nekt?”

“The only reason I’m here is to crush Necromancy, after all… and to be honest, if I just left Flum-oneesan trapped in that thing I know I’d regret it.”

“Flum’s inside that!?”

Ink lets out a little cry as she and Eterna draw closer on the back of their Fenrir.

“Your hearing’s stupidly good as always, Ink.”

“We’ll have to get her out before killing it.”

“Yeah, but… Even I get the feeling that thing’s really bad news. Look, it’s attacking already.”

Having absorbed all the dead in Sheol, it starts falling towards them as if to crush them. It’s over fifty meters tall --- just its raw weight would be lethal.

They scatter in all different directions to avoid it.

DOOOOMM --- the massive pillar of corpses smashes into the ground, obliterating houses, carving away the earth, and sending a massive cloud of dust and debris into the air. Then, countless human limbs sprout out of the mass’ ‘torso’ and it starts crawling forwards.

“First it was a tower, now it’s a millipede!?”

“It’s heading for the evacuees.”

“We’re stopping it here! Hooooooooooohh!!”

Gadio stands right in its path, stopping it with his body.

“You think far too highly of yourself, Gadio Ruskett!!”

Satils’ invisible ‘power’ collides with Gadio’s blade, hitting with all the force of a meteor. He had intended to stay put there no matter what, but that one attack is enough to send him sliding backwards, carving tracks in the ground with his heels.

“Ngh…! You’re still self-aware with a body like that!?”

“I’m not like the others --- not my Core, I myself am! I am one of the true Chosen, blessed with power and wealth by the gods themselves!”

“What nonsense…!”

No matter how idiotic it might be, however, she has enough strength to surpass Gadio with ease.

I’m still not strong enough? I’ll just have to become even stronger, then --- strong enough to have my revenge on Chimaera with my own two hands. I’ve already lost all I have to lose!

The resolve he’d gained from Tia in exchange for paying that terrible price seems to raise his limits higher than ever before, but he still can’t quite match Satils.

“Aqua Golem and Ice Golem. Go.”

Eterna creates two massive constructs of water and ice, and the giants grab onto the fleshy mass in an effort to stop it. As it slows, Nekt follows up with an attack of her own.

“How d’you like this? Connection!”

She ‘connects’ an abandoned house above Satils' head, letting it come crashing down on her.

“Nothing you little insects can do could possibly harm me!”

A sea of fleshy tentacle sprouts out of the tower’s massive ‘back’. Latching onto Nekt’s house and combining to lengthen and strengthen their grip, they swing it like a ball-and-chain to mow down Eterna’s golems.

“You can regret not being able to save your wife as I rip you apart!”

There’s no way that Satils should know about what happened between Tia and Gadio just a short while ago. Whether or not she intends it, however, being connected to the Central Core gives her full access to everything that the Necromancy Cores have experienced.

“Gh, hoaaaaaaaaaahh!!”

The house comes crashing down on Gadio’s head, but he’s too occupied with stopping Satils’ advance to do anything. If he avoids it, she’ll no doubt speed up and slaughter the evacuees behind him.

He has no choice but to take the attack head-on. Several dozen tonnes come crashing down onto his head.

“Don’t think… this is enough to kill me…!!”

He emerges from the attack, barely even flinching. He didn’t use any special technique to avoid the worst of it, nor is he even wearing his armour for that matter. All he did was strengthen his body through prana and withstand the blow head-on.

In other words, he survived it through sheer force of will.

“Fu… fufufu! I’m going to enjoy breaking you! How about this, then!?”

Satils suddenly stops her advance, reaching out to Gadio with countless tentacles.

“Wow, Ojisan’s pretty good. I can’t have him just showing me up like this, though! Hey, Eterna-obasan!”[2]

“I’ll kill you later.”

“That’s quite a temper, but that’s not important. Can you make me a big chunk of water or ice or something?”

“Cocky little brat… Fine. Ice Meteorite.”

Eterna’s irritated, but mid-combat isn’t the time to be arguing. Grudgingly accepting Nekt’s request, she creates a sphere of ice a few dozen meters across and floats it in the air far above them.

“Ink. Tell me I did a good job.”

“There, there… I’m really proud of you, Eterna!”

After watching Ink pat Eterna on the head for a moment, Nekt activates her power.

“Connection!”

What she uses isn’t her ability to teleport things but her ability to bring two things together. The massive block of ice starts flying down at Satils at an insane speed, and the intense shockwave created by its impact is enough to blow the average person clean off their feet. Satils does block it, the ice chunk landing a clean, solid hit.

But---

“Fufufu! Were you just trying to hurt me, perhaps?”

She emerges completely unscathed.

“That’s not fair.”

“Even if she’s got that huge Core on her side, this is just…!”

Unless Nekt is mistaken, Satils isn’t using anything more than the formless raw energy given off by the Central Core itself. Putting multiple cores in a single body would only generate interference, making all of them uncontrollable. It might be possible to gain immense power that way, but the user’s body would literally rip itself apart.

Even with the Central Core’s aid, two Cores should be the maximum. Since Satils herself has a Necromancy Core keeping herself alive, her limit should be just that and the Central Core, and there’s no way that she could generate such raw defense like that.

“Ghugh… This power is…!”

Gadio hacks at the tentacles coming at him, but he can’t even scratch them, and on top of that they each possess an unnatural amount of power despite the fact that they aren’t moving very quickly.

Seeing that, Nekt finally realizes what Satils is doing.

“I get it now… All those corpses aren’t really assimilated into one. It’s not one body with hundreds of cores --- it’s hundreds of bodies linked and controlled by the Central Core!”

“...Translation?”

Eterna fires a spray of ice bullets to support Gadio as she asks.

“It’s still just a horde --- but with Satils as a hive mind.”

“So they could split up and move on their own?”

“Probably, yeah.”

Just as they fear, the mass of corpses splits about halfway down, shredding itself into two bodies. The now-independent flesh chunk grows masses of human parts, its surfaces seeming to billow with flailing limbs as it heads straight for the evacuees.

“She’s probably got all that strength and power because every individual corpse is calling up its Core’s full power independently. If it can split, though, then we don’t even have an advantage in numbers anymore. Maybe it’d be smarter to just back out here…”

“That’s not an option.”

“Yeah, I knew you’d say that.”

Nekt ‘connects’ herself in front of the sub-body.

“It’d suck if you used my attack against us again, so let’s try something different this time!”

She clenches her fist, and a moment later the trees surrounding Sheol uproot themselves and whip towards it. Despite the trees falling like rain all around the sub-body and slowing it down, however, it doesn’t stop its advance.

Eterna rides up on her Fenrir a moment later, extending her hand towards them.

“Hydro Pressure!”

A massive jet of water shoots out of her hand with intense force, not to cease unless Eterna runs out of mana or until she decides to stop.

Even fighting against the current, however, the sub-body continues its advance.

“I’m not done yet… I still have plenty of ammo!”

“I have more mana left!”

The storm of tree-spears and blast of water increase in intensity in response to their owners’ wills.

“Just stop already...!”

“I suppose I can oblige, since you’ve asked me so nicely.”

Satils mutters to herself as she continues to lash at Gadio.

The sub-body suddenly stops, and just as Nekt and Eterna start to relax --- it explodes into chunks of flesh.

“They self-destructed…?”

“No, Eterna, I can still hear a buncha ‘voices’!”

“It split again!”

“It doesn’t need to be that big to kill a bunch of helpless weaklings, now, does it? You seem to be quite skilled at dealing with groups like that, Gadio, so I’ll have you stay here and dance for me!”

“You cowardly…!”

The storm of tentacles keeps Gadio occupied enough that he can’t possibly counterattack, let alone move. The scattered horde of sub-bodies sprout masses of heads and lets out inhuman howls, and like a mass of lunatics, like hunting dogs, like bloated spiders, like deformed caterpillars, they all start swarming after the evacuees in their own hideously lopsided ways.

“We have to stop them.”

“There’s a lot of them, but they should be a lot squishier now! Think of it as our chance to thin them out!”

Eterna causes a rain of ice to fall on them, freezing their various appendages to the ground as she mows them with a follow-up spray of icy bullets.

Nekt connects the dead to each other awkwardly to stop them in their tracks, fuses anything that happens to be nearby to them, sends them soaring into the sky, slowing down the horde with all manner of chaotic attacks.

There are simply too many of them, however; all they can do is keep them from advancing.

“Here’s a little surprise from me!”

Just then, Satils reaches out with a massive tentacle to grab the remains of a house and throw it at where the evacuees have gathered. Gadio, Eterna, Nekt --- all of them have their hands full to the point that they can’t intercept her attack.

As the surviving townsfolk huddle together, their deaths heading right for them---

“Werner, I shall leave that side to you!”

“Yep, got it!”

Two Lieutenant Generals step forwards to meet Satils’ attack.

“Vibration Claw!”

Werner coats his silver-clawed gauntlets in Air magic, causing them to vibrate at an incredible frequency. Just touching those blades would be enough to reduce bricks to dust.

“Bite them into oblivion, Amphisbaena!”

Otilier uses her Genocide Arts to create a pair of giant snakes out of blood. They bite into the rubble, soaking and weakening it with blood before crushing it in their jaws.

“You may leave the safety of these people in our hands! We shall see them out of town and to a secure location!”

They would love to stay and fight, but Otilier, Werner, and even the soldiers that show up after them are severely beaten up, as though they’d been fighting something other than the dead up until just recently.

“The Military? Great timing!”

“Ha, all you’ve done is given me a few more pests to exterminate!”

“I won’t let you do that, Satils! Titan Blade!!”

Gadio grows his sword to massive proportions with the nearby rubble while Satils is distracted and smashes her in the face with it. It doesn’t seem to harm her, but she refocuses on him nonetheless.

“Your persistence is really starting to get on my nerves --- It’s time for you to go see your wife in hell already!!”

When she loses her temper, she stops thinking straight. Gadio’s attacks may be nothing more than annoying, but it’s because of that she can’t focus on anything else. The mass of sub-bodies returns to the main body, responding to her emotions.

“Nekt. Take Ink to Otilier and the other evacuees.”

“Why do I have to save her!? Hahh… fine, I’ll do it.”

“Thanks!”

“Don’t thank me, you deadweight. Connection.”

Without Ink to worry about, Eterna charges at Satils head-on.

Nekt takes Ink to Otilier, who is shocked to see one of the Spiral Children suddenly appear, but without wasting any time explaining she ‘connects’ again to where she left Milkit.

“Nekt-san…”

Milkit is right where she left her, knees hugged to her chest as she hides in a building’s shadows at the edge of town.

“Those Military guys showed up. It’s a lot safer with them than it is out here all alone.”

“Does it look like you’ll be able to save Master?”

“I wish I could say yes, but… It’ll be rough.”

Nekt gets the feeling the fight’s been going pretty well so far, but they have yet to deal any damage to her.

“Satils’ using all those Cores to create some sort of invisible energy field that we can’t break. It’s not just hard, it’s impenetrable. Flum-oneesan’s probably the only one who could stand a chance…”

“I’m afraid not even Master was able to inflict so much as a scratch.”

“Really…? Well, any chance is better than none, I guess…”

“Um… Could you please take me to Master? I want to help however I can.”

“Hah? You’re kidding, right?”

From Nekt’s perspective, that suggestion is madness itself.

“Flum-oneesan’s not just trapped inside that thing physically. I’d be surprised if she can even remember who she is, that deep in the sea of Origin’s consciousness.”

She herself has to fight against Papa’s will every second. Even if Origin’s been ignoring her lately, it’s not going to stand by and watch as she opposes it directly. She’s only succeeding because she’s had to deal with Origin’s will since she was little.

“She won’t come back even if I call for her?”

“C‘mon, no way it’s gonna pan out that nicely. You don’t even know where in that thing she is!”

“I do! I’ve been watching you all fight and I know I saw Master’s arm sticking out of it!”

“Wait, you were able to tell all that through this chaos? From her arm alone!?”

“If you take me there, Nekt-san, I’ll at least be able to hold her hand. Maybe even my voice will be able to reach her!”

“Even if you’re right… You’re good as dead if you go out there. You know that, right?”

Nekt fully intends to intimidate her into giving up on her idiotic idea, but Milkit doesn’t even hesitate.

“Living in an empty world without Master is far more terrifying than death itself!”

She’s ready and willing to throw her own life away for Flum’s sake. Hearing that, Nekt lets out a long sigh.

“You’re not gonna give up no matter what I say, are you? Fine, I’ll take you there.”

These guys are such a bad influence on me, seriously, Nekt bitterly laughs to herself.


◇◇◇


Her mind sinks ever deeper into the sea.

Whooo am I? she asks, and countless voices answer.

[I AM YOU] [YOU ARE ME] [ME MYSELF AND I MAKE YOU] [No more, please] [I’M NOBODY] [I NEED TO BE WE] [CONNECTING IS EVERYTHING] [Let me out] [I only wanted a life with her] [Help me] [AAHH♡]

Losing herself within countless voices, Flum’s grip on who she is and where she belongs grows ever weaker. It feels so easy, so relaxing, but the longer she stays the deeper she’ll sink.

At the very bottom of the ocean lie a number of bodies --- no, ‘husks’. If the water is Origin’s consciousness, then those must be the resentful dead. Maybe a number of the living who were enveloped are mixed in there, too.

They speak to nobody but themselves, raging into that empty world all their sorrows and grudges, their anger and their curses.

[All I wanted was to live with my wife, how did this happen] [All I wanted was to see her again] [I didn’t want to die, didn’t they just grant me that wish] [Give it back, give us back our happiness]

They had taken from them what so many take for granted, trusting Necromancy would put things back to normal. They knew nothing of the Origin Cores. They’re the true victims. Noone could blame them.

As if drawn in by their anger, she continues to sink. Sinking. Ever deeper.

Eventually, she finds herself on the ocean floor with the husks.

Not knowing who or where she is, she basks listlessly in the warmth of the sea.

Her vision starts to blur --- but through that blur she can make out a weak-looking man in a white labcoat lying in front of her, a man who looks oddly familiar.


Chapter 17 - Escape From Limbo[edit]

“There! Her arm’s right there, in that middle section!”

“I’ve got no idea which arm you’re talking about, but that general area, right!?”

Nekt connects herself and Milkit on top of Satils’ massive body. She touches it first to ensure that the energy isn’t harmful to the touch, and after making sure it’s safe she lowers Milkit to the ground.

“Ahahahahahahaha! Even together, you have no hope of killing me! Not a chance! Weaklings like you give the Chosen a bad name!!”

Satils is too busy gloating to Gadio and Eterna to notice them. Milkit falls to her knees as she grabs Flum’s limp hand in both of her own. She doesn’t have a chance of pulling her out, instead calling out to her as if praying.

“Master… It’s me, Milkit. I want to do whatever I can to help you. I don’t want to only receive from you, I want to give back… So please, hear me…!”

Milkit desperately, fervently pours her emotions into her prayer, believing that Flum will come back to her.

Their bond is deep and strong, enough that Nekt watches Milkit with a pang of jealousy.

“Hm…? And what do the two of you think you’re doing?”

It isn’t long before Satils notices them, however. Her head turns 180 degrees as she looks down at the pair derisively.

“Fu… fufu… fufufufu! You’re trying to bring Flum back, aren’t you? Hoping! Praying! Trusting in your stupid little ‘bond’! How wonderful, Milkit! You make me want to crush you so badly I don’t think I can help myself!”

“You’re not gonna interfere as long as I’m here!”

“I guess I’ll have to break the both of you together, then!”

A tentacle reaches out to Nekt, and she attempts to ‘connect’ it towards the ground away from her.

“You think you can oppose me with only one measly little Core!?”

“Kh, she’s too strong!”

With all the power of the Central Core on her side, her strength far exceeds Nekt’s. In a contest of raw strength, Origin power vs Origin power, the outcome is obvious.

“Dammiiiiiiit!!”

Nekt takes a direct hit and is sent flying, smashing through the wall of a nearby house and disappearing from sight beneath a pile of rubble.

The tentacles close in on the defenseless Milkit from all directions.

“Master… Please come back to me, Masteeer…!”

“If praying could do anything, then you wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with!”

“Stop right there, Satiiiiiiils!!”

“I’ll support you. Imbue Ice.”

Gadio beats the tentacles away with a massive ice-coated blade. Not even Jotunblade has the strength to damage them, but it succeeds in diverting them away from her.

Milkit’s safe for a while --- but they’re literally on top of Satils. A tentacle could come from anywhere at any time, and just one could be fatal.

For some reason, however, Satils doesn’t do it --- or rather, she can’t. Flum’s Reversal counteracts and weakens Origin’s power, making it so that the place closest to her can’t be controlled by Satils.

All Satils has to do, however, is extend her tentacles there from elsewhere on her body.

“I’ll stop you as many times as it takes!”

“Out of my way, Gadio Ruskeeeeeeett!!”

“Don’t forget me.”

“You irritating little girl...!”

Gadio and Eterna together beat away all the tentacles closing in on Milkit, however.

“Don’t think the two of you can keep this up forever!”

“That’s where I come in!”

Nekt returns to help in the desperate struggle to keep Milkit safe. She can’t manipulate the tentacles directly, but by latching onto one of them in a bear hug and ‘connecting’ herself closer to the ground she can change their path.

“What’s wrong with you vermin!? It’s pointless! Flum isn’t coming back --- and even if she did, it wouldn’t change a thing! You could never kill me! Surrender and show me some real despair and I might let one of you live!!”

“Master… Master… Master…!”

As if responding to Milkit’s frantic pleas, Flum’s fingers twitch faintly---


◇◇◇


[I…]

It’s impossible to determine who one really is without others, but all of the husks sleeping like the dead at the bottom of that sea seem to know what they once were.

[I want to see her again] [All I want is to spend some more time with her] [I wish I’d never come back to life] [I don’t want to feel that despair again] [I loved her… I should’ve told her when I had the chance…]

They’re only husks. They’re missing their cores, each and every one of them. All they can do is repeat their last regrets, the dregs of their lives as human beings.

The only thing keeping them from losing themselves within the sea of Origin is their feelings for others.

[Master, please wake up! Master, Master, Masteeer…!]

She can hear someone’s voice. Her body twitches, her feelings resurrecting, some instinctive part of her knowing she has to protect that voice.

[Mil…kit… ]

Finally --- she remembers.

She remembers the name of that voice’s owner, and who she is with all she feels for that voice.

[I… Right, I was swallowed up by that big something… Is this somewhere inside that?]

Even though she’s conscious now, she can’t move, almost as though something incredibly heavy is holding her to the seafloor.

[You’re… Flum-san, aren’t you…?]

The man lying in front of her opens his eyes.

[Daffyd Sharmas…]

[I was right. So they brought you down here, too, did they?]

[What is this place, even?]

[I don’t know. Maybe this is somewhere inside Origin, or maybe this is what awaits all life after death]

Daffyd’s voice is weak and powerless.

[To think all these people are here suffering because of me… no, this can’t be all of them. I’m sure there are still some survivors]

[Now that I know everything that’s happening, I can’t say this is all your fault]

[Regardless, it was my foolishness that set this tragedy in motion. I owe you an apology]

[Now you apologize, after going all crazy and killing yourself like that?]

[I’ve had some time to cool my head since then. Ahh… but what should I have done, then…? A world without Suzie is worse than hell]

Flum doesn’t have an answer. The best she could do is wish him luck in finding some new reason to live.

[There’s still hope left for you, however. There’s still someone you have to protect in that world]

[...Yeah, you’re right. I can hear her calling out for me right now, like she’s about to cry…]

[I’m jealous, to be honest. I wonder if Suzie would’ve done the same for me if she were still alive. Ah… but at this rate you’re going to make the same mistakes I did. Tell me, you can change curses into strength, can’t you?]

[I can reverse all sorts of things, but yeah, curses are one of them]

[In that case… I have a request for you…]

[You want me to kill Satils, right?]

[Yes… you’re still alive… you might be able to. If you use my… no, our curses, that is]

As if responding to his voice, all the other husks on the ocean floor open their eyes as one, slowly shifting to look at her. Their regret-filled voices flood her ears all at once. With this many curses, she might well be able to escape.

[Got it. I was just thinking how much I’d love to blow that woman and Origin to pieces. I won’t fail you]

[Thank you… for listening… to our request… I’m so glad… now I can… go meet Suzie… with…]

Daffyd slowly closes his eyes, never to open them again.

A moment later, power starts flowing through Flum’s body, and not in a metaphorical or emotional sense. She feels as though she can move her fingers a little now. Buried within Satils’ body she can feel something small and hard, something that just by holding it seems to raise her stats.

“Ahh… So that’s it, this is…”

She can feel an immensely powerful curse residing within that little thing --- the grudges of Daffyd, the husks of the dead who were betrayed by Origin and forced to kill their loved ones, the living who died in Sheol, all together as one.

Flum clenches her fist tightly enough to bleed.

“Haaaaaaaaaaaah…!”

Ever greater power flows through her veins.

“Uoooooooooooooooooooooohh!!”

She unleashes her newly-gained prana and mana from her body, exploding outwards. The mass of corpses fused over her are blown away.

As soon as she’s free, the first thing she does is bring Milkit close in a tight embrace.

“Mas…ter…!”

“I could hear you from all the way in there. Thanks.”

“I’m so glad… so, so glad to see you’re alright…!”

Eyes brimming with tears, Milkit buries her face in Flum’s chest.

That result, however, is the only thing Satils truly can’t accept. She could never allow Milkit to find a happy ending with her master.

“That power… Where did all that power come from!? You couldn’t even move a moment ago! Her prayer actually made you stronger? That… There’s no way such a stupidly cliched thing could possibly happen!”

Driven mad with rage, Satils combines a number of tentacles together into a drill-like spinning point and attempts to skewer Flum on it. Putting both hands on her Zweihander, Flum blocks the attack head-on.

“How can you stop this!? How did you become so strong!? This doesn’t make sense, this can’t be happening!”

Flum pushes the tentacles back with trembling arms, stepping forward.

“All of this, Satils --- you brought this all on yourself!”

“Stop spouting nonsense! I was flawless, everything was going so smoothly! Everything was going perfectly according to plan!”

“You’ve crushed too many peoples’ lives! Their hopes, their dreams, their love, you destroyed it all just to satisfy your own selfish desires!”

“How is that supposed to make you any stronger!?”

The tentacle-drill starts rotating even faster. The only reason why she can withstand such an attack is because her own Reversal is cancelling it out, matching its power step for step.

“When someone’s future gets destroyed, they create a powerful curse!”

Sheol is filled to the brim with curses. Those loose emotions would normally dissipate naturally with time or maybe create a few pieces of cursed equipment --- if Flum wasn’t there, of course.

“All those curses are getting drawn into this ring, being reversed and becoming my own power!”

All the town’s residents have left this up to her, causing all those curses to dwell in that one symbolic ring. It once belonged to the man in charge --- Daffyd Sharmas’ own engagement ring.

Name: The Wedding Ring of Necromantic Dreams
Tier: Epic
[This equipment lowers your Strength by 1,012]
[This equipment lowers your Magic by 1,072]
[This equipment lowers your Stamina by 1,053]
[This equipment lowers your Agility by 1,088]
[This equipment lowers your Intuition by 1,039]

Her stat total is 12,693 --- she’s finally reached S-Rank.

“This isn’t some coincidence, either! This is the end brought about by you and Origin’s evils!”

Flum pushes the tentacles away and sends a storm of overflowing prana through to hack away at Satils’ body.

“Owowow…! Ahaha, but this isn’t enough to kill me! Even with those curses of yours, you’re far too weak! I told you my main body is the strongest part, didn’t I? All you’ve been fighting against this whole time was weak little corpses! Even with Flum, you can’t even scratch me!”

As proof, Satils’ body and the Central Core are both completely unscathed even after taking a direct hit from Prana Storm.

“Maybe so --- but what if we all hit you together?”

Nekt quickly ‘connects’ all five of them together a short distance away.

“You surprised me. I want a proper explanation later, but I know what you’re after. Imbue Ice.”

Eterna builds up a thick layer of ice on Flum’s sword.

“So that’s your plan, huh…? In that case, Imbue Earth --- and take my prana, too!”

Rocks and rubble form another layer over Eterna’s ice, and over that Gadio adds a prana coating --- Prana Blade.

In total, Flum’s sword is now as long as Satils’ entire millipede-esque body.

“Kh… fu, ghuuu…!”

Accordingly, it’s far too heavy for Flum to lift.

“All together… nfufu, you really think that a bigger sword was all you needed? What use is a sword you can’t even swing, hmm!?”

“Right, my turn.”

Ignoring Satils’ taunt, Nekt ‘connects’ Flum and Milkit far above the Central Core.

Flum understands the plan now. Milkit is left somewhat confused, so she decides to put her faith in Flum and hold on tight.

“Don’t let go of me, okay?”

“O-Okay!”

Then, Nekt clenches her fist again.

“Connection!”

She starts bringing the Zweihander and the Central Core together, and Flum and Milkit start speeding blade-first towards the ground.

“Uoooooooooohh!!”

Adding in the force of gravity, they reach critical velocity right before crashing into Satils.

“I certainly hope you don’t think this will change anything!!”

The titanic Reversal-imbued blade and the Central Core’s protective field collide, the shock wave blasting throughout Sheol. The ground beneath Satils cracks and breaks, leaving a massive craterlike indentation in the ground from the sheer force of the blow. Entire houses are obliterated, leaving not even rubble behind.

It’s still not enough to break through to the Central Core, however.

“Stop trying to play the hero! Slum trash like you isn’t worthy of the title ‘Chosen’! I’m Satils Francoise, the richest merchant in the entire Kingdom! My victory was decided from the very beginning by the gods themselves!”

“Don’t get so full of yourself! Everything you have was taken from others!”

“Yes --- and therein lies TRUE power!!”

The third layer of the Zweihander, the Prana Blade, starts to crack.

“Who cares about love, hope and the future!? Why is Milkit even attacking with you in the first place!? It’s time you grew up and stopped playing Chosen already!!”

It cracks and breaks, and next the rock layer collides with Satils. It wasn’t meaningless, however --- the expression on her face turns pained as she pushes back their assault.

“You don’t understand a thing, do you!? If there really is such a thing as Flum the Chosen, then it’s the both of us --- Milkit and I together as one! We’re one Chosen together, the two of us!”

“What, more of your ‘bond’ nonsense? Are you telling me this is the power of friendship!? How foolish, how utterly, irredeemably foolish!”

Turning her rejection into strength, Satils starts to warp and break the earth layer of the blade.

“That sort of thing only exists for me to desecrate! Am I wrong!? The only thing waiting for you is a pathetic, pitiful death like Daffyd’s, drowning in that ‘love’ of yours!”

Imbue Earth shatters completely, exposing Eterna’s layer of ice.

Flum clenches the hilt of the Zweihander so hard her hands glisten with blood, beginning to bruise from the intense strain. Her arms are so exhausted she can barely feel anything but pain --- but because of that warmth at her side, she knows she can’t let go.

“No, we won’t lose!”

Milkit knows she’s powerless.

Despite that, however, Flum chose her.

She doesn’t know how much help she’ll be, but if Flum so much as asks she’ll offer all she has, everything she is, from the bottom of her heart.

“What makes you so sure? You saw what Daffyd’s love brought him! Even together you can’t possibly break me!”

She doesn’t know what to call that feeling, that emotion --- or at least, she didn’t until just recently.

“That doesn’t matter! More strongly than Daffyd-san felt for Suzie-san, strong enough that we won’t lose to you, I love Master!”

Supporting each other, giving to each other, unconditionally trusting each other, being drawn to each other --- for the first time Milkit knows what to call that impossibly large feeling she’s been trying to name for so long: Love.

“AHAHAHAHA!! What proof do you have!? Don’t make me laugh, I could never lose to that!”

“We don’t need ‘proof’! We’ll prove it to you here and now!”

“I’d love to see you try! Look, that sword that you and your friends all made together is already in tatters!”

The ice is already starting to crack and split. It’s only a matter of time now.

Soon all that will be left is the black blade of the Zweihander itself.

“It’s breaking, look, everybody look! Once that last layer pathetically breaks you’ll have nothing left! No more love, only screams of agony and the sound of my laughter! The end! There’s no happily ever after waiting for you!”

“It’s not over yet! Reversal!”

Flum had thought it might come to this. Satils simply has too much power at her disposal, and she’ll protect the Central Core no matter what. She’d thought and thought in what little time she had, finally arriving at one final option --- reversing the fractured shards of Gadio’s and Eterna’s broken layers back towards the Zweihander.

“Gyaaaaaagh!”

Satils’ entire body trembles as she screams.

“Something in my back… Fragments? The shattered fragments of those other layers came back!?”

She had been so focused on Flum’s attack that she hadn’t thought to guard her back --- or rather, she had gathered everything she could in front of her to defend against the massive blade.

“Such a pathetic little party trick isn’t enough to turn the tables on me!”

The pain is enough to wear on her mind, however. Her wounds begin to spiral in on themselves as Origin’s will swells and grows and her control weakens. Her own Core and the Central Core were kept in a very delicate balance to begin with; that little tap on the scales has potentially critical repercussions.

“I don’t care what odds I’m up against, I’ll reverse them all in my favour! The feelings of the living, the curses of the dead --- I’ll hit you with everything I’ve got!!”

Flum still has one last card to play. They’ve used three people’s mana, Nekt’s ‘connection’, and Gadio’s prana --- but Flum herself hasn’t used any prana yet. She’s on the brink of exhaustion so she doesn’t have that much left, but after the blade comes as close to the Central Core’s surface as possible, she pours everything she has through the sword---

“This is the eeeeeeeeeeeeend!!”

The blade’s tip touches the black crystal’s surface. Mana pours in through the blade, and as the energy starts to reverse itself and the spiral within is thrown into disarray the blade penetrates deeper.

CRACK --- small shards of crystal scatter as the Central Core cracks and splits.

Completely depleted, Flum and Milkit hop down to the ground together.

“We did it…!”

“Yes, we did!”

Eterna rides in a moment later on the back of her Fenrir, carrying them off to safety.

Having lost the Central Core, Satils is nothing more than a corpse --- or so they think.

“The Central Core’s… broken…!?”

Having lost its power source, the mass of corpses making up the massive millipede begins to disperse, collapsing powerlessly.

Satils still has a Core, however --- one that can support her alone, buried in her chest.

“Fufu, ufufufu, but my Core is still in perfect condition! Unlike those worthless vermin, I can still --- hgyagh!?”

As Satils tries to crawl away with her arms alone, she sudden bends backwards, spewing blood from her mouth.

Her body is paying the price for toying with such a terrifying power.

Not only blood but even her internal organs start flowing freely from her mouth like a fountain.

The Central Core, however, begins to undergo changes of its own. When a normal Core is reversed, the negative energy created within causes it to destroy itself --- but with a Core that massive, the energy can’t dissipate so easily, staying in place and drawing in its surroundings like a black hole.

“Agh, gweeeeeeeeeeegh! Ngh, gyagha, gyaghghghghgh…! Igyuurgh, gogh, goghagh! Gabgh, byurgh, bryurugh…!”

After she finishes vomiting the entire contents of her torso, she gets caught up in the vacuum of energy, her body getting ripped to shreds by the sheer force of it, a terrified look of agony plastered across her face before she’s finally warped utterly beyond recognition and sucked into the Core’s depths.

“...Y’know, I can’t say she doesn’t deserve it.”

“I suppose you’re right…”

Flum and Milkit watch her grisly end from the Fenrir’s back.

“It looks like we won’t have to bother cleaning up all those bodies, at the very least.”

Gadio watches as the Central Core black hole drags in the rest of the corpses as well.

“But isn’t Tia-san’s body in with the rest of them?”

“Part of me wants to lay her to rest properly, but as long as her body remains there’s a chance they’ll use it again. This is probably for the best --- not to mention that body was made by Origin’s power.”

All of her insides were regenerated by Origin. Now that she doesn’t have a Core anymore, she’s probably filled with the same mystery meat Luco was.

Besides, I can’t imagine it’ll be long enough before we meet again that I’ll need any memento of her, he thinks, closing his eyes in contemplation.

After the negative energy vortex finally dissipates, Otilier and the others rejoin them with Ink in tow.

“Eterna! Are you okay? You’re not hurt?”

“I’m fine. I’m glad you’re fine, too.”

Eterna embraces her, gently stroking her hair.

“Wow, that was really some fight! Even just watching I could really tell that you guys’re on a totally different level!”

Welthy suddenly pops in, appearing out of nowhere as if nothing had happened.

“You were still in the town, Welthy-san!?”

“Well, yeah! You don’t come across a scoop this great everyday, after all! I bet that if I write up an article on this the Church’ll have a heart attack! I should know, I almost had one myself!”

Evidently caught up in one of the shockwaves, her clothes are battered and beaten and her hair is a frizzy mess.

“I suppose there truly are some of us who can emerge from such a conflict unfazed. I’m honestly unsure as to whether I should be amazed or exasperated.”

“So why are you all the way out here, Otilier-san?”

It’s only natural for her to be confused, given she knows nothing of the Military’s movements as of late.

“Anriette was worried about ya, so she sent us ta follow ya. We were watchin’ from just outside town the whole time.”

Werner answers in Otilier’s place.

“Oneesama’s foresight is truly formidable, after all.”

“She told you that so soon after we went to ask for help…? Thanks for everything, really.”

“I shall ensure your words reach Oneesama.”

Otilier seems bound and determined to push all the thanks onto her oneesama.

“Why are you all so injured, though? I seem to remember you were like that before you even arrived.”

Gadio’s words cause Otilier’s smile to cloud over.

“I’m afraid that we were attacked by monsters at the same moment the dead began to run amok.”

“Yeah, these really creepy things with spirally faces.”

“We were so preoccupied with them that we were late in providing support.”

“Monsters… Chimaera was probably responsible, then. Maybe they were planning on wiping us out together with Necromancy.”

“So Echidna Ipeira was behind it… That woman is rotten to her core.”

Flum remembers hearing Daffyd say much the same thing as Gadio.

If she’s also behind both Goen and Satils as they expect, then she’ll be a cunning opponent indeed. They’ll have to be careful, especially since she seems to have her sights set on them.

“Come to think of it, Satils mentioned a traitor to Necromancy earlier, didn’t she?”

Milkit’s words prompt Flum to remember.

“Yeah, that Goen Foegan guy. He supposedly leaked a bunch of data and stuff to Chimaera.”

“You mean Daffyd’s friend, that Goen?”

“We ran into his wife and child during the fighting, but we didn’t see any sign of him himself.”

“He probably turned tail and fled before things took a turn for the worse.”

“If he left that recently, we might be able to catch him.”

In response to Eterna, Otilier turns to face Werner.

“Tracking people is your specialty, is it not?”

“Wait, me? In these woods? At night? Sounds like one helluva pain…”

Werner complains as he always does. Normally, Otilier would scold him and send him off anyways --- but this time, she feels too mentally drained from the fight for their usual back-and-forth.

“In that case, I shall go myself.”

“Eh?”

“Why the sudden surprise? Didn’t you tell me you didn’t wish to go yourself? I trust you’ll take proper care of these poor townsfolk in my stead.”

“H-Hold up there, I was kiddin’! ...Aw, damn, she’s gone already. Shit, that was a mistake…”

He mutters to himself as he scratches his head, though nobody there knows the true meaning behind his words.


◇◇◇


In less than an hour, Otilier finds Goen and drags him back to Sheol by the scruff of his neck. Immediately after, Werner leaves for the Capital to send reinforcements for the protection of the townsfolk when they head back. The Military normally wouldn’t be allowed such free reign inside a noble’s lands, but with fatalities in the triple digits they have more than enough pretext to overstep their usual bounds.

In the time before the reinforcements arrive with the rising sun, those still in town tend to the wounded, destroy the remaining Cores, and interrogate Goen.

Flum worries a little about the Paladins making a move on them since they’d stopped Chimaera’s plot, but according to Lieutenant General Herman, there’s no sign of any movement on the Church’s end in the Capital. It would seem as though they’re determined to leave the issue as Necromancy and Chimaera’s problem alone. As long as everything ends on a peaceful note, however, the details don’t really matter.

Leaving the rest of the cleanup to the Military, Flum and the rest of her party prepare to leave.

“I didn’t expect you to stick around for the cleanup, even.”

Since Flum didn’t have much in terms of luggage to begin with, she strikes up a conversation with Nekt as they sit on a pile of rubble in the shadows. She’d stuck around to help them even after the battle ended, but she’s been sticking to the shadows ever since the reinforcements from the Capital arrived. She seems to want to avoid meeting the Military face-to-face, although given that Otilier and Werner have already seen her it’s a little late for that.

“If I just up and left, you wouldn’t owe me one.”

“You just don’t want to go back to Mother yet, do you?”

“Yeah… Papa wouldn’t shut up during that whole fight, but it never once seemed to be actually interested in me. It just kept on going on and on about you and Satils. Just like with Mother, it doesn’t look like the Children have any place with it, either.”

It might’ve decided that they’re worthless, not just that it doesn’t want them. Nekt does know at least one place where they won’t be ignored, however.

“I’ll talk it over with the others. It’ll probably take some time to convince them, but I’ll do what I can.”

She seems determined to undergo the surgery to take out her Origin Core and become a normal human again --- though just as she said, there’s a good chance Mother and the Church won’t just let them walk out.

“Just come see us if there’s anything you need, okay? If you’re serious about leaving the Church, I won’t hesitate to help you.”

“That’s good to hear… but I’ll do all I can so that it doesn’t come to that. The last thing I want is to end up fighting them.”

Nekt stands up and brushes off the seat of her pants.

“You sure you don’t want to say goodbye to Ink?”

“It’s not like I’ve left the Children or anything yet. Seeing her clinging onto Eterna and grinning like that, it doesn’t feel right for me to just walk up to her.”

“I don’t think she cares about that sorta thing.”

“Yeah, she’s a serious airhead. Tell her that if she doesn’t want me to make fun of her she’d better work on that.”

Flum can only smile faintly at Nekt’s extreme bluntness. Nekt’s tone then turns a little serious.

“But… I guess I don’t hate her, at least not as much as before. I kept calling her a failure, but that’s only because she was always a step ahead of us. She was pretty close with Mother, and now she’s gone and made a new home for herself… it’s like she showed me a glimpse of the future, y’know?”

“So you’ve acknowledged her as your big sister, huh?”

“I always saw her like that… though I also used to think she was a real failure. I guess that just didn’t come through.”

Her way of showing affection for her was simply too warped and abnormal --- though she herself recognizes that as a way she can improve now.

“So, uh… I guess I’d kinda like to make it official, but…”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Y’know, this…”

Nekt thrusts out her right hand to Flum. Maybe from embarrassment, she fiddles with her bangs with her left hand as her cheeks turn pink.

A little pleased to see her acting her own age for once, Flum returns the handshake.

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch17 1.png

“I’m looking forward to teaming up again already, Nekt.”

“I’m just giving you a helping hand is all. It’s not like I’m one of your friends now or anything like that…”

“I’ll keep it in the corner of my mind somewhere.”

“You’re not even gonna try to remember it, are you?”

“I don’t see a problem with that.”

If possible, Flum doesn’t want to ever fight again --- especially now that they’re seeing eye-to-eye.

“Later, then.”

“See you around.”

“...Connection.”

After exchanging quick farewells, Nekt disappears.

Milkit walks up to Flum moments later.

“Has Nekt-san gone home already?”

“Yeah, but she’ll be back. She’s decided to have her Core taken out, after all.”

Before they meet again, Flum’ll have to find a heart for her somewhere. It seems as though it might get messy and maybe a little illegal, but… well, she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

“Whelp, we’ve done all we can here. Let’s head on back.”

“Yes, let’s --- back to our home!”

The long night has finally ended. Bidding farewell to the town of Sheol and its tragedies, Flum and her party head back to the Capital.


Chapter 18 - The Capital In Turmoil[edit]

After arriving back in the Capital, Gadio parts ways with Flum and the others.

By the time he makes it back home it’s already evening. He passes through the gate, walks up the stone path through the garden but stops as soon as he sees the figure hunched over on the doorstep.

Kereina.

Hearing his footsteps, she looks up at him with a smile. Her lips tremble, tears building in her eyes, filled with a hundred things she knows she has to tell him but at a complete loss for words.

In the end, all she can manage is:

“...Welcome home.”

Her clumsy words drive a stake through Gadio’s heart.

After I abandoned her, after killing Tia and only having my feelings for her grow stronger... I don’t have any right to this.

As he stands silently in his regret, however, Kereina’s expression grows increasingly uneasy.

If he’s going to be ending everything soon, it might be better to cut ties with her now.

He can’t bring himself to do that, however.

“I’m home, Kereina.”

He gives her a gentle smile.

She stands up, walking towards him with unsteady feet before burying her face in his chest.

“Welcome home… welcome home, Gadio…!”

Gadio wordlessly strokes her hair as she cries into him.

His expression seems almost pained somehow.


◇◇◇


“Finally, we’re back!”

As soon as Flum walks in the door, she spreads her arms wide and shouts to noone in particular.

“Fufu, the air here really is quite relaxing, isn’t it?”

Milkit lets out a sigh of relief as she watches Flum, full of energy once more.

“It feels like home now.”

“It really, really does!”

All four of them finally relax, the battles and the hardships finally at an end.

After a light dinner and baths, they head off to their respective rooms for some hard-earned rest---


◇◇◇


As soon as Ink returns to her room, she finds herself seated on the edge of the bed while Eterna embraces her from behind, and for some reason Eterna has her face buried in Ink’s hair again.

“...What’re you doing, Eterna?”

“Smelling you.”

“So you ARE a pervert!”

“It’s rude to call people that.”

“I get the feeling we had this conversation just a little while ago…”

“Can’t be helped. This is habit-forming.”

“Stop it now while you can!”

Ink doesn’t make any move to resist, however. She knows full well that resistance is futile; Eterna’s deceptively strong. She insists that she’s nothing compared to Flum, but she’s worlds apart from a normal little girl like Ink.

“You get like this whenever I let my guard down even a little… keep it up and I might not wanna ever leave you, y’know?”

“A welcome result. It’ll be an all-I-can-smell paradise.”

“Stop it with the smell stuff already!”

“Sniff sniff.”

“No! Stoppit, you sixty-year-old baby! Old maid! Pervert!”

“Gh… A lethal combination attack...”

“You deserve it!”

“...This is what happens to cocky little girls like you.”

“Eh…? Hyaaah!?”

Eterna wraps a watery tentacle around Ink, spinning her around so Eterna can hug her from the front.

“Uu… this is really embarrassing…!”

“Nn. It really is.”

“Why’d you do it, then!?”

Eterna doesn’t respond. She simply squeezes Ink’s tiny body closer to her own.

“...There, there.”

Ink gives Eterna a comforting pat on the head.

“You were really sad, huh? I guess that’s normal, since you had to kill your mom and dad…”

“I told myself I wouldn’t be. When I killed them, even during the fighting, I didn’t feel a thing.”

“So it was after you came back here?”

“This house is filled with memories for me.”

The thought of their faces in that last moment and her memories together start squeezing Eterna’s heart --- squeezing, constricting, threatening to force tears to start spilling out.

“I want to overwrite them.”

“With memories with me? But I thought you had a lot of happy memories here, too?”

“Not those. My memories of Sheol.”

“You sure you want me for that, though? I’m really weak and I can’t even see… I don’t think I’d be able to give you anything good.”

“You’re wrong. Just being with you is fun. Almost too fun.”

Her monotone doesn’t seem to convey any of that pleasure, but Ink hears it loud and clear.

“I guess I’ll just hafta spoil you until you’re feeling all better, then!”

That’s one thing that Ink definitely can do to repay Eterna for all she’s done.

“Thanks. I’ll start by getting my fill of your scent.”

“Why does it always come back to that!?”

Ink tries to squirm free, but Eterna only hugs her more tightly.

Eterna’s days of being spoiled by a little girl show no sign of ending anytime soon.


◇◇◇


Milkit’s bandages rustle as they fall to the bed, and Flum extends her hand towards Milkit’s blushing cheeks as though she’d forgotten what they feel like. Milkit’s warm, soft hand comes to rest over Flum’s, and for a while they sit there gazing into each other’s eyes as they always do.

“Uh… So Milkit. I kinda get the feeling you said something pretty unbelievable during that fight with Satils…”

“Something unbelievable?”

Milkit gives her a blank look.

“Y-Y’know, when you said you… l-loved me…”

Flum’s face turns red, though the reason is completely lost on Milkit.

“Ah, that’s what you’re referring to. It’s the answer I’ve finally found as to what our bond really is.”

“So we’re not partners?”

“I’m plenty happy with that, but I wanted something a little more concrete to describe us.” For the first time, Flum realizes just how subject to interpretation the term ‘partners’ can be.

“After everything that happened in Sheol, however, I finally arrived at my conclusion. Since we were mid-combat at the time, do you mind if I tell you my feelings again now?”

“Eh!? Ah, uh, umm…”

“...I can’t?”

Milkit gives her a look like a kicked puppy. Flum can’t possibly say no to a face like that.

“F-Fine, go ahead! I’m ready!”

“Good. Well, then…”

Milkit takes Flum’s hand off her cheek and redirects it to her chest. Flum can feel her heartbeat through her supple breast.

She then looks deep into Flum’s eyes.

Milkit’s eyes are just as beautiful as when they first met, but since then she’s regained that delicate silver sheen to her hair, her healthy, clean complexion, and she’s even started to fill out a more distinctly feminine figure. Looking at Milkit in full, Flum is struck completely speechless.

Then, Milkit’s soft cherry lips part.

“Master… I love you.”

After being confessed to with such an adorable, beaming smile, Flum’s mind goes completely blank.

She loves me.

Wait, so… love?

Doesn’t that kinda mean not partners in the platonic sense, but… married-couple-type ‘partners’...?

“Wa, wawawa, wa, wa! Wa!!”

Flum turns beet red a moment later.

“‘Wa’?”

“Wait, wait just a second, Milkit! T-T-This is a little too sudden for your master to follow…!”

Flum puts her hands to her cheeks in an attempt to cool them down, but all she succeeds in doing is warming her hands. At an utter loss, Flum buries her face in the nearest pillow.

A sweet scent tickles her nostrils, a smell that isn’t hers.

This smells sooo good, but for some reason my heart’s beating all outta control… wait, this is Milkit’s pillow!?

Her temperature skyrockets, her heart beating violently. Hot blood flows through to every corner of her body.

“Uhiii---!”

Finally prying her face away from the pillow with a strange cry, she buries her face in the mattress this time.

“Um… Did I say something strange?”

“N-No, not really, j-just hearing you say l-l-l-l-love all of a s-sudden was a l-little bit of a shock...”

“A shock? But no matter what, I can’t imagine what this feeling could possibly be except love…”

Flum casts a glance up at Milkit, face still buried in the mattress.

Milkit still seems perfectly composed and natural, not embarrassed at all.

“...Hm?”

Wait… what if Milkit didn’t mean that kinda love…?

“Uh, Milkit… This is just a guess, but…”

“W-What is it?”

“You didn’t mean love in the ‘let’s be lovers’ kinda sense, right…?”

“L-L-L-L-Lovers!?”

This time Milkit blushes, her cheeks turning strawberry pink --- no, the blush even reaches so far as her ears and down to the collar of her maid outfit.

“W-Where did that come from, all of a sudden…!?”

“I-I mean, ‘I love you’ typically refers to that kinda thing, so…”

“Really!? No, um… I-I suppose… you’re right…”

Her voice rapidly grows quieter. After her voice has shrunk to a whisper, she tips to the side, flopping to the bed with her face in her hands.

“I didn’t mean… No, I mean, I really do love you, Master, there’s no doubt, but… ahh, I don’t know how else I should phrase it, though…!”

“T-There’s all sorts of different kinds of love! Like, y’know, the family kinda love or the friend kinda love! If we’re talking about stuff like that, then, um…”

I can’t just let Milkit embarrass herself alone!

With newfound determination, Flum sits up, plants her ball fists on her thighs, and with an expression that can’t quite hide her embarrassment:

“I l-love you, too…?”

Flum’s love definitely isn’t in the familial sense, however, and she gets the strong feeling that it isn’t the friend type of love, either.

J-Just what kinda ‘love’ is this…?

“T-Thank you, Master, but… b-being confessed to is quite embarrassing, isn’t it?”

“I-I’d say they’re both plenty embarrassing…”

“I’m so sorry for making you go through all that, Master. I’m afraid I’m at a bit of a loss, though… I don’t know how else to convey my feelings for you.”

She thought she’d finally found her answer.

Milkit just doesn’t know any other way to express herself yet.

Flum crawls closer to her on all fours, gently touching the hands that cover Milkit’s face.

“Master…?”

Milkit peeks at her face through a gap in her fingers. Flum’s face is still quite red, but she seems a lot more composed than she did before.

Flum smiles at her.

“I like you, Milkit.”

Milkit’s heart suddenly starts beating faster, but at the same time as though it’s being gripped tightly. It’s not unpleasant, however --- far from it.

“Yeah, ‘like’ feels about right, don’t you think? ‘Love’ is a little too heavy…”

It’s still not something they’d be able to say without blushing, but it’s light enough that they can get by without putting too much thought into it.

Milkit’s still blushing more than Flum is, but determined to return her master’s feelings she meets Flum’s gaze.

“Um… in that case… I like you, Master.”

“Ehehe…”

Flum nods a little bashfully, simply happy that they’re seeing heart-to-heart.

“Fufu…”

Milkit smiles in the same way, then repeats herself.

“I really, really like you, Master.”

Flum wraps her arms tightly around her. Simply exchanging that word makes them so happy they don’t know what they’ll do with themselves.

It’s not something one says to family.

It’s not something one feels for a friend.

It’s warm and fills their hearts, a puzzling feeling they just can’t describe, flowing throughout their bodies her round, soft, and comforting.

It’s Flum’s first real, irreplaceable treasure since meeting Milkit, a seed that’ll surely bloom into something beautiful, growing every time she reaches out to touch it.

I still don’t know what to call this feeling, but… I guess that’s fine for now.


◇◇◇


Flum and her friends aren’t the only ones who’ve returned to the Capital. Nekt arrives at the underground base of the Children a little before the others reach the Capital.

“I’m back.”

She was out longer this time than ever before, but she’s confident that Mother couldn’t care less either way. She’s hoping that one of the other Second Generation kids might reply, but the room is totally empty --- or rather, the entire base seems quiet.

“Hey, where is everyone? If you’re all playing hide-and-seek, then who’s supposed to be ‘it’?”

She steps into the next room. As a storage room for books unrelated to research and a variety of toys, Fwiss and Mute spend a lot of time there, but---

“What the hell…!?”

The bookshelves are toppled, the toys crushed and scattered all over. A layer of something red and sticky covers the floor.

Getting the feeling that something’s very wrong, Nekt rushes into Mother’s laboratory. The research equipment lies shattered and crushed, colourful doodles in blood covering the wall. Unlike the storage room, the walls and floors are twisted and warped.

“There was a fight here? But who the hell could fight the Children toe-to-toe like this? Flum-oneesan and the others just got back from Sheol, so---”

A shadow trembles.

Nekt, noticing it, is immediately ready to fight.

A monster that looks a lot like a werewolf emerges --- though Nekt can feel that what’s inside it is something else entirely.

“Chimaera… The Church’s getting rid of us along with Necromancy, is that it!? If only I’d gotten back a little sooner…!”


◇◇◇


Having returned from Sheol with a wealth of information, Welthy publishes her article in the Capital’s newspapers the very next morning. In it, she exposes the Church’s human experimentation to bring back the dead --- it sounds more worthy of a tabloid than anything else, but given the evidence from both Satils’ secret room and Sheol and even the testimonies of the incident’s survivors, it’s more than convincing.

The Church immediately moves to cover it up, but the common peoples’ discontent explodes far more quickly than anyone could’ve expected, resulting in the anti-Church proponents organizing a protest outside the Grand Cathedral before the Church can even blink. Even in the other quarters of the Capital protests and demonstrations break out, discordantly speaking out against the Church. The unreasonable price hikes on healing must’ve pushed the people to the point where this latest reveal is the last straw.

While the priests and priestesses try frantically to keep the madness under control, the pope and cardinals hold a meeting in the Grand Cathedral.

“It would appear that Necromancy has been crushed.”

Pope Fedro Maximus is the first to speak. He sits above them on his throne, clad in gold-laden white robes and a matching mitre. His hair is long and white, his deathy pale skin suggesting he hasn’t been outside in years. Just like his skin, his soft voice and his gentle smile have an utterly inhuman quality to them.

“What a pity. We had high hopes for Daffyd-kun.”

His expression and tone don’t change --- if anything, he seems pleased.

“Human life only exists to be snuffed out, after all.”

One of the cardinals, Toizzo, replies.

“By perishing, he has fulfilled his duty as one of Origin-sama’s devout.”

Tarch continues in the exact same tone.

“He is but a martyr. He may have been a poor adherent to the will of Origin-sama, but death has made him complete.”

Slowanach’s tone, words, expressions, everything is identical to his peers. It’s almost as though a single person is speaking with a number of different voices.

“I believe we have seen his true worth, however. What say you, Saturchy Ranagarchy?”

The fourth cardinal, Falmo, narrows his eyes at Saturchy as the bearded man stares down at the table in front of him. He raises his face, turns to face Fedro, and speaks his mind without a care for the room’s oppressive atmosphere.

“I believe that even without my opinion, the verdict is clear.”

As he speaks, he turns to face the woman standing in the corner. Their eyes meet, and she --- Echidna Ipeira --- puts a hand to her mouth and giggles.

“You flatter me, Saturchy-samaaaa. I don’t know a thing yet, I sweeeear.”

She twists and turns her body with an all-knowing smile as she speaks.

“We called her here today with a certain announcement in mind. We have long sought for the best means of utilizing the power that Origin-sama has bestowed upon us --- and finally, the time has come to declare the victor of this competition.”

Having long awaited that moment, Echidna’s breathing grows heavy and seductive with anticipation.

“We hereby declare Chimaera to be the most fitting spear for our holy war.”

The cardinals start clapping politely, all in perfect sync. Echidna lets out a pleased squeal of “Haaaaahn!♡” in response.

“Please inform Mike-kun that the Children project is to end immediately.”

“It shall be done.”

Falmo, overseer of the Children, readily agrees.

“Please wait, Your Holiness. I’m afraid the chances that man will reject your decision are second to none.”

Saturchy voices his objection, but Echidna follows him up.

“If you wiiiish, I would be more than happy to dispose of the Chiiiildren for you. I daaaaresay it’ll serve as proof of our poooower as well --- two birds with one stoooone.”

“You would use Chimaera inside the Capital!?”

“I’ve compleeeetely perfected Chimaera, don’t worry. Within the Capital, I’d even be able to give veeeery specific orders, and without orders they won’t move a muuuuscle. There’s no chance of losing control whatsoeeeever.”

“Maybe so, but I heard that your mole was caught before he could hand you the key to replicating the Central Core.”

Echidna looks at Saturchy with disgust for only an instant before smoothly replying.

“I don’t know what you’re taaaalking about, but even without that my Chimaera’s production rates and power faaaar outstrip Necromancy and the Children put togeeeether. Isn’t that enoooough to decide which of us is the winner of this little gaaaame?”

She might have a lot of other things going for her, but she doesn’t even try to deny that the Chimaera Central Core is incomplete.

“Saturchy-kun, that’s enough. Cease your squabbling.”

The pope doesn’t seem to care, however, having already decided Chimaera as their champion. All Saturchy can do is hold his tongue in irritation.

“Echidna-kun, we trust you will handle the Children after negotiations break down.”

“It would be an honour, You Hooooliness. If you’ll excuse me, I have some preparaaaations to make.”

They don’t even consider the possibility that Mike Smithy --- or rather, Mother --- might acquiesce. There’s likely no avoiding the Children being wiped out by Chimaera.

Saturchy isn’t worried about that, however.

It’s said that that cornered rat will bite the cat, but the Children aren’t weak enough to be called rats. If they decide to resist, then there’s no telling how much damage the Capital will incur. The pope and the other cardinals know that full well, but they don’t even care enough to think of any countermeasures.

Those inhuman fiends…!

Saturchy can barely repress his indignation.

The Church is filled with such monsters, Echidna herself being one of them. She wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who gets in her way, knowing no restraint. She doesn’t only have no morals, however --- she’s incredibly cunning. He wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already started her attack on the Children, having anticipated the results of the meeting.

It’s practically a miracle that Saturchy was able to rise to the rank of Cardinal with such fiends for company. Perhaps it’s the very inhumanity of the organization, however, that prompted what few decent people are left to lend Saturchy the support he needed.

“As an aside, is it not rather raucous outside the Cathedral today?”

Finally, Fedro touches on the massive protest being held on their doorstep.

“I would appear as though news of the events of Sheol has made it out into the masses.”

“How unfortunate. Might anyone have a plan for silencing the rabble?”

“I have an idea.”

Tarch steps forward with a plan.

“Since both Falmo and I will no longer be needed, what if we were to present them our heads?”

Tarch and Falmo supervised Necromancy and the Children, respectively. Since they’ve already decided to go ahead with Chimaera, they’ve both outlived their usefulness.

“What a splendid idea! As the paradise Origin-sama envisions has no room for humans, it shall also contribute towards the fumigation of this infested land of ours.”

Falmo’s words are brimming with delight as he accepts his own death.

“Well then, Huyghe-kun, we leave the rest to you.”

With only a few short words the execution of two cardinals, normally a massive ordeal, is decided and to be acted upon. Only Saturchy seems to notice the air of insanity filling the room, but all he can do is powerlessly ball his fists beneath the table. As one of the cardinals and a ‘devout follower of Origin’, he mustn’t openly speak against them.

“Justice Arts: Scotch Maiden.”

Huyghe swings his sword, and from across the room Tarch’s and Falmo’s heads fly from their shoulders. Their heads thud against the floor, their bodies slumping out of their chairs as fresh blood rapidly pools on the floor.

“Your hand is as splendid as always, Huyghe-kun.”

“You flatter me, Your Holiness.”

Huyghe is eerily calm and collected for having just killed a pair of cardinals.

“Ah, yes, we had nearly forgotten. You may proceed with the plan we discussed the other day, Huyghe-kun. Dian-kun has already given his consent.”

The pope refers to King Dian so casually, as if he were only another subordinate.

“That means…!”

Huyghe’s eyes glow with glee.

“Yes --- from today forth, the Royal Army will be fully absorbed into the Paladins.”

Fedro makes his declaration with a calm and quiet demeanor, as though he were only commenting on the weather.


◇◇◇


“Oneesama, terrible news!”

Otilier bursts into Anriete’s office without knocking, her face pale.

“The heads of cardinals Tarch and Falmo have been displayed outside the Grand Cathedral!”

“That would explain why the protesters have quieted down so much…”

Anriette looks down at the mob gathered in the Palace Square from her office window.

“Yes, I would imagine they’re attempting to silence the people with this.”

The mob likely weren’t expecting the ready execution of two cardinals. Rather than being content with that outcome, however, they’re likely terrified by the Church’s swift and brutal methods.

“As the Royal Army, we can’t possibly condone such barbarism! Oneesama, we can’t possibly remain silent---”

“No, I’m afraid that’s all we can do. We don’t have the power to resist them.”

“O-Oneesama…?”

Her words are weak, completely unlike the dauntless Anriette Otilier knows.

As she stands there in confusion, Anriette suddenly turns around, closes the distance between them in an instant --- and wordlessly envelops her in a tight embrace.

“Ha… eh? O-O-O-O-O-O-Onee, sama…!? Y-You can’t suddenly show me such passion like this…!”

“I need you to calm yourself and listen closely, Otilier.”

“B-But I can’t possibly! Your scent, your body… ahh, your chest… m-my chest…! It’s no use, my mind is brimming with all manner of unsavory thoughts…!”

“I need you to quit the Military, and as soon as possible.”

“Q-Quit the Military… Eh? You wish for me to quit?”

Otilier’s fever subsides almost instantly.

“Why, Oneesama? Why must I leave your side!? I swore to remain by your side for all eternity --- in life, in death, even in life beyond death!”

“You haven’t changed a bit from back then, have you? It was those same emotions that drove you to enter the Military in my stead, correct? It’s precisely because of those feelings of trust that I know I can rely on you.”

“If you’re so willing to rely on me, then let me stay by your side! Even if it means becoming your slave or your chamberpot, I swear I shan’t disappoint you!”

“No, you’re my trusted friend and colleague --- my equal, the only one I can truly trust to defend the Kingdom at my side. I have no interest in serving a King who abandons his people, however.”

“You don’t mean to tell me… The King has decided to go through with the merger between the Paladins and the Royal Army!?”

“Not a merger --- a complete buyout. I’m no longer Major General, nor do I know what fate awaits me at their hands.”

Military might is the one thing that can keep a country’s land in check. A king without an army could never hope to defend his realm from even ambitious nobles within his own kingdom.

In turning all military power over to the Church, the King is unconditionally handing the Pope the keys to the Kingdom.

“At most only one person could escape before we’re handed over to the Church. Werner and Herman may resent me, but I choose you, Otilier.”

“I… I never wished for this…!”

“I’m sorry. You’re the only one I can truly trust to fight alongside the Chosen.”

“What a truly unfair way to phrase it… You know I couldn’t possibly refuse a request from you, Oneesama.”

Anriette simply gives her a lonely smile.

“I have only one thing I wish to ask in return.”

“What is it?”

“If we succeed in thwarting the Church’s plots and I return to your side once more… c-could we possibly have s-se… n-no, that would be far too sudden. How about a kissh… uuu… um… C-Could you embrace me like this again!?”

There’s such a thing as being too reserved.

Anriette could simply agree with her request, but instead she goes a step further.

“If you return to my side alive, Otilier, I’ll do anything and everything your heart desires --- be it kissing or beyond.”

“Ahh, Oneesama…! It’s a promise, I promise I’ll return to you…!”

Just like when they were children, they exchange a pinky swear with their vows.


◇◇◇


With that, the Royal Army is disbanded, its soldiers adopted into the Paladins --- and their very first joint venture is a thorough ‘screening’ of the new recruits. The ‘useless’ soldiers are brought in front of their peers and mercilessly executed. Over a hundred of them are slaughtered, delivering to the survivors the clear message that they belong not the King but Origin now. The especially rebellious soldiers are ‘cleansed’ through an intensive program of torture and brainwashing. As everything happens behind closed doors, of course, only rumours reach the ears of the common people, but one lone truth escapes: Those who used to lead the Military are gone, having vanished without a trace.


◇◇◇


The morning after the cardinals’ execution, a certain man walks into the West Quarter guild seeking answers.

Flum and Gadio have yet to arrive. Only Ila, having arrived a little earlier than normal, is sitting there at the counter with her chin propped up on the counter.

As soon as she lays eyes on that tall, green-haired man, however, her eyes snap open. He’s a famous adventurer, after all.

“Linus Radiance…!”

He flashes her a pearly white smile and she almost faints on the spot. She has her duty as a receptionist, however, so she manages to stay sitting up.

“Hey. Do you know where I can find Gadio? I heard he’s been coming here lately.”

“I’m afraid the guildmaster hasn’t arrived yet.”

In front of a man who’s just her type, Ila is all smiles.

“I’m too early, aren’t I…? Why’s he suddenly playing guildmaster now, though? They just kinda forced it on him, and he’s been ignoring it until now… ”

He’d just returned from the Demon Realm the night before, and hearing about all that’s happened in the past few days is dizzying. That’s why he decided to ask Gadio, since chances are he would know something about what’s really going on.

“It might have something to do with Flum Apricot being here.”

“Huh? Why the hell would Flum-chan be in a place like this?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know the details, but judging from the salve mark on her face I’d say she caught herself up in something unpleasant.”

“...Slave mark?”

Linus’ expression suddenly turns severe.

OmaeGotoki 03-Ch18 1.png

Ila’s heart skips a beat at his serious face, but he doesn’t even notice.

He thought it was a little weird that Flum would’ve decided to go back home so suddenly.

Finally, everything makes sense.

He wordlessly turns on his heel and heads for the door.

“Ah, you don’t want to meet the guildmaster?”

“Tell him I dropped by. There’s something more important I’ve got to do right now.”

Linus leaves the guild.

“That asshole --- now he’s really done it!!”

He starts running, fast enough that passersby can barely even see him.

His destination --- that assholeJean Inteige’s room in the Palace, where even now he’s too absorbed in his research to care about anything else.


Side Story - Lamenting The Boundary[edit]

The West Quarter is not nearly as well-maintained as the East Quarter, and as such there aren’t as many places for children to play. What it does have, however, is a wealth of empty lots for children to play in --- but one particular lot has a different kind of play that morning.

“Is that all you’ve got, Flum!?”

“Hahh… Hahh… I’m still good to go!”

“Good. We don’t have the time to waste resting!”

“Yeah, Gadio-san!”

Flum kicks off the ground at Gadio, swinging the Zweihander down on him.

Clad in his longcoat, he easily deflects the massive black blade and knocks Flum off-balance with a low kick.

“Kh...”

“I thought I taught you the difference between attacking and charging in blindly.”

As she starts to tip and fall, Gadio mercilessly kicks her in the gut.

“Gaha…!”

The air’s knocked out of her lungs and her consciousness starts to fade for a moment, but the fight burning in her eyes doesn’t go out. Even as she’s sent flying back through the air, she unleashes a Prana Shaker.

She’s striking out blindly again… no, this is a feint. In that case…!

If her attack’s meant for her to buy time to recover, then he’ll crush that and her follow-up attack as one. Instead of going on the defensive, he wraps himself in prana and steps forwards. The Prana Shaker strikes him with a loud crackling flash like lightning, prana cancelling out prana. He arrives in front of Flum just as she hits the ground, before she has the time to raise her sword in defense.

“This is the end!”

He raises his blade.

Normally, the fight would be all but decided --- but Flum hasn’t given up yet. She sticks out her gauntlet-clad right hand to accept the attack. It’s a completely futile defense; even if Gadio’s attack was weak enough to be blocked so easily, she’d lose an arm and would be unable to keep fighting. If nothing else, there shouldn’t be any need for her to go so far in a sparring match.

In the split second before his sword hits, however, Gadio carefully assesses what she’s thinking.

It looks like she’s thrusting her arm out as a last resort, but that’s not it at all. She’s got a plan of some sort. Judging from where her arm is, where she’s applying force --- she’s hoping to deflect my blade, not stop it. She’s determined to keep going, then. In that case!

Gadio doesn’t stop. Sparks fly as metal meets metal. Unable to handle the force, Flum’s forearm cracks like a tree branch right in the middle with a loud crack.

“Master…!”

“What’s going on, Eterna?”

“Her arm broke. Badly.”

Milkit, Eterna, and Ink are struck speechless from where they watch on a nearby bench.

It’s far better to have her arm break than to lose --- in other words, Flum succeeded in deflecting his attack. It still hurts, of course, and even if her sense of pain is dulled somewhat it’s far more than what would be normal for a sparring match. On top of that, she’s still not used to the unpleasantly visceral sensation of her bones breaking. Her entire body flinches, a chill running down her spine as her blood seems to freeze over.

She’ll have to make up for it with sheer force of will.

“Haaaaaaahh!”

Gripping the Zweihander in her left hand alone, she slashes at Gadio. She’s planning on stopping right before she hits him --- but she never gets the chance to.

Gadio’s blade follows through to embed itself in the ground. Using it as a support, he jumps somersaulting into the air, avoiding her attack completely. He pulls his sword out of the ground as he lands, now standing behind her.

“That wasn’t half bad, Flum.”

He doesn’t go so far as to put his blade to her neck, but the result is clear nonetheless. Flum lets out a large sigh, collapsing to the ground.

“That still wasn’t enough…?”

She was quite proud of that last move, but it still failed to hit Gadio.

“Master!”

As soon as the match ends, Milkit runs up to Flum, worriedly looking at her right arm.

“Are you alright? It doesn’t hurt too badly, does it?”

“I’m totally fine! It’s all healed already and everything.”

Flum opens and closes her fist as proof, and Milkit lets out a sigh of relief. A moment later, however, she puffs out her cheeks and takes a rare angry tone.

“You push yourself far too hard, Master! You should learn to take proper breaks on your days off at the very least.”

“Ah, sorry… I just got the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to beat Gadio if I didn’t go at least that far, y’know?”

“A matter of determination, is it? I was surprised to see you sacrifice your arm like that to be certain, but I believe that was going a little too far.”

“Uuuu, of course it was… Maybe I should just stop doing stuff like that altogether.”

“If it was anyone else I’d tell them to stop without a doubt… but if I think in terms of a fight to the death, I must admit your fighting style is effective.”

Milkit finds herself listening to Gadio’s words with mixed feelings.

“Yeah, thinking of how much more experience you have I figured that’s the only way I’d get anywhere.”

“That’s why I won’t stop you. You’ve got to remember the difference between blindly charging in and properly attacking, though. If you take a blow to the brain or heart, not even you could shake it off. I hope I can train you to protect those regions at least.”

“You’re going to continue sparring with her in this state!?”

“Please don’t stop him, Milkit. I was the one who asked him to train me, after all, and I don’t know when we’ll get the chance to do this again. I want to get as strong as I can, especially since that means I’ll be able to protect you.”

Flum reaches out to Milkit’s cheek, her fingers tickling her silver hair as her index finger grazes Milkit’s ear lobe. The ticklishness, her softness and her warmth --- Milkit’s heart starts racing, her face reddening slightly.

“If you put it like that, I suppose I can’t argue… but please be careful from now on, okay? Your pain is my pain, Master.”

“Got it, I’ll watch out for that.”

Eterna and Ink listen to their little exchange from the bench.

“They’re as close as always.”

“Hmm… Haven’t they gotten a little closer since coming back from Sheol, though?”

“It seems like Milkit took a step forward. Maybe she’s more confident after realizing she has the power to save Flum.”

“So they might be taking the step to the next stage, huh? It looks like they’re gonna be putting you through even worse stuff than before, Eterna!”

“Why do you seem so happy about that…?”

In one way or another, Eterna and Ink look to be growing steadily closer as well.

While they’re talking, however, Milkit finishes talking with Flum and returns to the bench. She hates seeing Flum get hurt, but if it’s necessary for her to get stronger she’ll keep watching over Flum to the end.

With that, round two begins.

“Teryaaaaaaaa!”

Letting out a battle cry, Flum starts boldly striking out at Gadio. He calmly blocks, dodges, and occasionally pushes her back. Even after receiving Milkit’s warning she’s suffered multiple injuries since they started again --- if she’s determined to have a realistic fight, then Gadio is determined to not disappoint her.

They don’t have the luxury of time, after all. The Children, Chimaera, or even the Paladins could make their next move at any time. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow --- no, even the rest of today will be peaceful.

That’s why Gadio holds nothing back, determined to teach her all he possibly can while he has the chance. Even if she ends up battered and beaten, she’ll be able to fight with her own two hands should the need arise.

“Cool! Hey guys, come see this!”

At some point a group of children gathered to watch them spar. They get the feeling that watching Flum’s half-suicidal fighting might not be the best thing for their developing minds, but they don’t stop.

Getting to watch a ‘real’ fight up-close, the kids only get more worked up.

“Don’t let him beat you, Oneesan! Show him who’s boss!”

“Don’t lose to that Ojisan! Go, go!”

At some point they start cheering for the battered Flum and Gadio becomes the villain --- but in the end, it has nothing to do with their training.


◇◇◇


Come noon, Flum and Gadio decide to take a break for lunch, each returning to their respective houses. Milkit invites Gadio over for lunch, but perhaps feeling a little regretful for all the worry he caused Kereina during the Sheol incident he refuses.

The only time they really have to talk together, then, is the short time before they arrive at Flum’s house.

“Gadio, you look down. Like you suffered some sort of shock.”

Eterna calls out to him just as they’re leaving the empty lot.

“Do I really?”

“You really do.”

“Well, to be honest, I… no, I get the feeling you’d only laugh if I told you.”

Gadio seems unusually at a loss for words. After a long moment, he seems to have found his resolve.

“Am I really an ‘ojisan’?”

Flum, Milkit, and Ink give him blank looks, and Eterna looks away, her shoulders trembling with a suppressed laugh. Gadio scratches his head abashed.

“No, nevermind. Forget I said anything.”

“Sorry. I won’t. I’ll be teasing you about this for years.”

“You’re just as twisted as always, Eterna.”

“I have a reputation to uphold.”

“Stop swelling your chest with pride like that.”

“Who’re you calling flat-chested?”

“I didn’t say anything like that.”

“...”

“Did you just hurt your own feelings, Eterna?”

“I honestly don’t know what to say…”

Gadio puts his head in his hands.

Finally, Flum steps in to say something decent.

“I think you’re still pretty spry, Gadio-san.”

“You don’t call people who’re actually young ‘spry’.”

“Uu…”

Eterna’s retort renders Flum speechless.

“It might be as Eterna says. Maybe I really am an ojisan… I suppose thirty-two makes me old enough for it.”

“I think you make quite a nice ojisan, Gadio-san. I’m sure men all over the Capital would be eager to hear how you’re aging so well.”

“Yeah, you’re like a… dan-dee? More like an ojisama than an ojisan…?”

Milkit and Ink try to put a better spin on the word. It’s not as though he isn’t happy they’re trying, but still a little too reluctant to accept the unpleasant truth he parts with them with a bit of a shadow over his face.


◇◇◇


Gadio heads from the West Quarter through to the East Quarter. Just as he’s passing through Main Street, however---

“Ah, Gadio-san!”

He happens to run into Kereina there, out on a shopping trip. Clearly very happy to have ‘coincidentally’ found Gadio there, she greets him with a broad smile, her ponytail swishing side to side almost like a dog’s tail.

“I didn’t expect to see you here, Kereina.”

“Yeah, I’m out shopping for ingredients for lunch.”

Gadio naturally takes her shopping bag for her, and she returns a natural “Thanks”.

“Where’s Hallom?”

“She’s playing at a friend’s house.”

“Full of energy as always, is she?”

“Tell me about it. Thanks to your help, she’s growing up strong and healthy.”

“I’m really not doing that much. It’s all because you’re such a great mother.”

“There you go with that modesty of yours again!”

She frowns a little in discontent.

The two walk shoulder-to-shoulder as they always do. Since Kereina’s apparently finished her shopping already, they head straight back to their mansion. They only walk together a short ways, but judging from Kereina’s attitude she seems to think it’s a date --- probably even more so since Hallom’s not there.

Gadio notices her mood, of course. As they walk her glee seems to fly off at him, causing guilt to well up from inside him.

He just can’t help but think of Tia.

“Why so glum, chum?”

“...Well, I was sparring with Flum a little while ago.”

As if dodging the question, he starts with something totally unrelated.

“The kids who were watching us called me an ojisan. I was simply realizing that I’m finally at that age.”

“That’s kinda surprising. I didn’t think you cared about stuff like that.”

“Well, you’re younger than I am, so I’m sure---”

“I don’t… not care, really. There’re a few little troublemakers in the neighbourhood, and whenever they go too far with their pranks I always tell them off, but they always call me ‘old hag’ because of that. Can you believe them!?”

“There’s no need to take them so seriously.”

“Maybe, but you start caring about stuff like that at thirty, y’know? And aren’t you worried about the same thing? Even if I tell you you’re still plenty handsome you’ll still be upset, right?”

“I suppose you have a point.”

“It’s kinda like destiny, honestly. All we can do is age gracefully.”

“Age gracefully, huh…”

Gadio closes his eyes, thinking back.

[I wonder what kind of ojisan you’ll be, Ga-kun?]

It was back before he and Tia were married.

[You’ve got a young face and you’re a little on the skinny side, so you’re probably going to be the cool and collected type. I’ll probably be… mmgh, I don’t think I’ll be the type of obasan that’ll look good with you…]

[N-No, that’s not true! I-I think you’ll be cute no matter how old you are!]

[Really…? Nfufu, if you say so, Ga-kun, then you’re probably right!]

It’s only natural to imagine one’s future self, trusting and believing it’ll naturally come to pass---

“You’re thinking about Tia, aren’t you?”

Kereina’s voice drags Gadio back to reality.

“...We talked about something similar once, long ago.”

Gadio doesn’t even try to hide it. Kereina doesn’t seem to mind as she chuckles a little.

“I guess I’ve gotta up my game or you’ll never look my way, huh? Here I am trying to fit myself to your tastes, but you don’t seem to even notice.”

“I believe you’re a fine woman. In fact, I’d say that you’re far too good for me.”

“There you go again, pouring oil on my fire!”

She gives him a challenging smile, her expression just like it was back during her adventuring days.

“Face it, you’re stuck with me. I’m gonna blow your socks off one of these days! Lessee, how about ten years from now? I swear I’m going to make you fall for me before then. You’d better be ready!”

Having said her part, she speeds up a little to walk ahead of him. From behind, Gadio can tell that her ears are bright red.

A pain runs through his chest.

I can’t possibly let someone as wonderful as her stick around with someone like me. My life’s already as good as over.

“...Ten years, huh?”

He can’t help but imagine what life will be like then. He must not be a perfect revenge machine yet.

“That’s a long ways from now---”

Gadio whispers out to the sky.

The sun’s rays shine on and illuminate all life equally. To him, even that light feels a world away.


Afterword[edit]

The slow life’s dead(hello).


I’d like to extend a warm-hearted thank-you to you readers for picking up volume 3 of 「Omae Gotoki ga Maou ni Kateru to (etc).

My name is kiki, and I am the author.


So, did you all enjoy the ‘Necromancy arc’? There’s a lot of terminology in there that wasn’t in the web novel, not to mention a peppering of certain ominous foreshadowing. Who knows where it’ll go next? Even I’m curious.


Minakata Sunao-sensei’s comicalization is also proceeding quite nicely.

I was like, “Flum’s so cool! Milkit’s weak reactions are so cute! Ila’s surprisingly pretty! Dane’s really shifty-looking! Wait, who’s this!?” the whole time I was reading the second chapter.

To tell the truth, I’ve actually rewritten quite a bit of Episode 1 for the manga version. There’s going to be a few developments that aren’t in either the WN or the LN, and just seeing Minakata-sensei’s drawings of Flum and Milkit is pretty much the best of the best, so if you’ve got time you should check it out!


...And once again we’re at the part where I realize how hard afterwords are to write. I’ve got to burn some space somehow. It’s time for my last resort: Operation Make-The-Characters-Talk-With-The-Author.


Gadio “This is troublesome… An afterword, huh? I’m afraid I’m not very good at this sort of thing.”

Tia “But it’s thanks to this we have a chance to talk again, Ga-kun!”

Gaido “...I suppose you’re right. We’ll have to thank the author properly for giving us this time together. Thanks, kiki!”

Tia “Bye-bye, kiki!”


Jeez, this’s what happens when you force people to write this stuff…


Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who helped make this story into a book proper.

Thank you Kinta-sama for yet another round of great character designs. Not only the cover but the inserts are so full of emotion that I gave a fist-pump of joy every time you sent me one.

Thank you I-sama, my editor, for once again helping me when I needed it and putting up with yet another wordy volume. I honestly wouldn’t be able to do this without you.

And thank you everyone else in the publishing house for producing this book as wonderfully as you have.


Finally, I’d like to offer a thank-you from the bottom of my heart to all you readers.

Thank you very much.

Next time, I'm hoping to write the ‘Children arc’. Until then, farewell!



Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. This illustration was originally included with Luluka, but given that it's of Suzie and describes her it was likely an error.
  2. ‘Obasan’ literally means ‘aunt’, but can be used to refer to any (typically middle-aged) woman. Basically, Nekt’s calling Eterna old.
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