OmaeGotoki: Volume 2 005 - The Squirming Spiral

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Several hours after the end of the fighting, Flum finally returns home. Milkit is waiting there for her with a passionate welcome-home.

“Masteeer!”

As soon as she sees her master she hugs her and buries her face in her chest. Flum returns her embrace, gently stroking her hair.

“Sorry I made you worry and caused such a mess.”

“That’s… I don’t care, Master, so long as you’re safe!”

Milkit starts vehemently rubbing her cheeks against Flum. Even as Flum starts getting smothered, though, she has a broad smile on her face.

“They truly do get along well, don’t they?”

Otilier pokes her head out from behind Flum, a hint of jealousy in her voice. Eterna, peeking out from behind Milkit, nods in agreement.


◇◇◇


After that, the four of them sit around the dining room table to talk. Flum tells Milkit and Eterna all that had happened to her; about how she was framed for murder, chased by soldiers, made a wanted Flum and finally was nearly lynched by Dane and his men. Otilier has already dispatched soldiers from the Palace Barracks to deal with the cleanup so things should be back to normal soon, but that being said it’ll likely be impossible to fix the public opinion of her completely, so for a while at least she’ll have to tread lightly. Even though it’s unfair, it can’t be helped.

“I didn’t think he’d go that far. I wish you’d come to me sooner.”

“Sorry. I really didn’t this much, either…”

“It’s hardly every day that someone blackmails the guards into doing such awful things. I truly am sorry I let any of this happen.”

Specifically, the guard commander in the West Quarter and a few of his men bought a few child prostitutes without realizing they were connected to Dane --- a badger game, so to speak.

“I’m just glad you escaped with your life, Master.”

“You were waiting here for me the whole time, so I was determined to come back no matter what.”

“Master…”

Milkit’s cheeks redden faintly.

In truth, Flum would’ve given up long ago if not for Milkit.

“The Zweihander’s regeneration also really helped, though.”

“Ah, yes, you can… ‘reverse’ negative enchantments, I believe you said? To be honest this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a use for cursed equipment outside of torture.”

“I only realized it recently myself, so I’m not surprised.”

“I wish I’d noticed it during the journey. You wouldn’t have gotten sold then.”

“Recently I’ve started thinking that it turned out pretty well after all…”

Eterna gives Flum a stupefied look.

“Ah, I didn’t mean I’m glad I became a slave! Definitely not! I’ve just been thinking lately that Reversal is probably the reason I was there to begin with.”

“Nn. It was weird you were there, given your stats.”

“Perhaps the Church wanted to get ahold of your power? Though in that case I suppose it would be far more sensible to simply bring you to the Grand Cathedral directly.”

“There might be a specific reason they need me to go to the Demon Lord’s castle.”

It's still unclear what that reason could be, but it probably isn’t anything good.

“If I’d figured out how to use Reversal during the journey they might’ve limited my actions a lot more… I’m definitely not thanking Jean for ‘freeing’ me, though.”

Even now she’s harbouring a bit of a grudge against him. The next time they meet she plans on beating him to a pulp and hacking him into pieces at the very least.

“Speaking of which, you two...”

Otilier, who had been listening to them talk in silence, has a surprised look on her face.

“I don’t suppose this means you’re suspicious of the Church, are you?”

“...Ah. Umm… That’s…”

Even though the Church and the Military are at odds, the Lieutenant General would be quite close to the king, a fervent believer in the Church. Flum suddenly regrets not hiding their suspicion from her a little more.

“Ah, please don’t misunderstand, I harbour no pleasant feelings towards the Church either. I came to the West Quarter specifically to investigate them, after all.”

“So you’re the same as us, Otilier-san?”

“I’m sure you’re aware of how strained affairs are between us and the Church. Ever since the kingdom unified the continent we haven’t had any enemies save the demons, and following our quite miserable defeat during the Demon War the Military’s power has been constantly on the decline. Since His Majesty has started placing all his faith in the Church it would be by no means an overstatement to say they hold all the true power in the Kingdom now.”

“I hadn’t realized the Church controlled so much…”

Unease fills Milkit’s voice. Otilier replies “I’m afraid so” before continuing.

“As such, the Military is all but blind to the Church’s actions. Even Anriette-oneesama doesn’t have enough authority to stand against them. Despite all that, however, one thing has become very clear.”

Clenching her fists with frustration, she forces herself to keep speaking.

“The Church is conducting all manner of experiments in an attempt to grasp an immense power which they hope to unleash at the Demon Realm. The Hero’s Journey is but a part of that plot.”

Flum looks at the table in front of her and murmurs.

“The Journey too, huh…”

“I thought it was weird.”

The whole setup of ‘a party chosen by Origin’s prophecy’ was fishy to begin with.

“I believe that there must be some clue to the Church’s experimentation somewhere in the Capital. Oneesama is constantly fretting over not being able to expose the truth herself, so I’ve taken it upon myself to put her at ease!”

When Flum had encountered her at the West Quarter church yesterday she claimed that it was ‘for Oneesama.’ It was the truth after all.

Faced with her firm resolve, Flum makes eye contact with Eterna and Milkit, seeming to ask them whether or not she should tell Otilier about the events at Enchide. They both nod in response.

“Actually, Otilier-san, we had a run-in with a creature the Church made out near a town called Enchide.”

“You what!?”

Flum tells her all about what happened there. Otilier listens to her with more concentration than usual, hanging on her every word. As soon as she finishes her tale, Otilier slumps back in her chair and thinks hard for a long moment before speaking.

“I believe that what you found was but one of many facilities that the Church has in place, tended to by one of many research teams.”

“You mean they’ve got more…?”

Flum’s enemy this time is far bigger than she imagined. Otilier had been suspicious of the Church for quite some time now, but she didn’t expect them to have actually created such a monstrosity. Eterna sips at her tea with a contemplative expression. Milkit watches her master with worry.

Silence fills the room.

At that moment they hear the sound of Ink coming down the stairs. Now that she’s got a handle on the house’s layout she can make her way around to an extent.

“Eterna, Milkit. I can hear Flum’s voice and some other person’s, so does that mean she’s back?”

“I’m right here, Ink.”

“Welcome back! Who’s the other lady, then?”

Otilier looks at her, frozen. Anyone would probably give a similar reaction at the sight of her stitched-up eyes.

“T-That girl…”

“I found her being attacked by a couple of Dane’s thugs in an alley. She says she escaped from somewhere, but we don’t know anything more than that so we’re keeping her here for now.”

“Keeping me here~!”

She raises her hands with a joyous expression. In the few days she’s been there Ink has only continued to grow more and more energetic. Her new home must be so warm and novel that she just can’t help herself.

“Ink, over here.”

“...Uoh?”

Eterna walks up behind her, sticks her hands under her arms and starts carrying her back up the stairs.

“Uwah, I’m floating! Eh, I just came down so why’re you taking me back up already? I came down ‘cause I was thirsty!”

“I’ll give you as much water as you want.”

“You mean magic water, right? It feels like it’s coming out of you, so I don’t really wanna drink it…”

“Stop complaining. It’s perfectly pure.”

“It kinda tastes like you, though…”

“It doesn’t.”

They continue talking as they return up to the second floor. Just before she passes out of sight Eterna gives Flum a meaningful look, probably telling her to explain Ink to Otilier. Escorting Ink out of earshot of their conversation like that smacks a little of overprotectiveness, though.

“Flum, so that girl…”

“Her name’s Ink Rieskraft. According to her she’s an escapee of some kind.”

“Even if her eyes were diseased there was surely no need to sew them shut… Do you suppose she was abused?”

“It sure doesn’t sound like it.”

She hasn’t heard anything violent from Ink. The reason she fled was supposedly nothing more than that she a vague sense of dissonance.

“I heard from a friend in the Church that there haven’t been any kids missing from the orphanage, and there haven’t been any requests to find her from the guild.”

“You don’t suppose that she has some sort of connection with the Church’s experimentation, do you?”

Flum gives a short nod. Ink still hasn’t told them everything yet so they don’t know for certain, but looking at her eyes she can’t think of anything else.

“According to her there were also four kids two years younger than her there, as well as a guardian called ‘Mother’ and someone called ‘Papa’.”

“Mother and Papa, you say… They seem to be making an effort to conceal their identities, but I haven’t heard such aliases before.”

“I see…”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of greater assistance. At the very least, I can’t imagine Echidna or Daffyd using such names…”

“Echidna? Daffyd?”

“They’re researchers who spend a fair bit of time in and around the Palace and Grand Cathedral. It’s precisely because of those two that I suspect there are multiple research teams.”

“If you even know their names, then isn’t it possible that following them could lead to Mother?”

Otilier’s response is very calm and very cold.

“Anyone who attempts to follow them is erased.”

“Wha…!”

Flum is struck speechless. Her words aren’t a threat nor a joke; she can probably say that because someone has already disappeared.

“It’s not that simple, regrettably. If it’s possible I personally would like to follow after them, but if the king were to even hear me say such a thing I would surely be executed on the spot.”

“To think even the Lieutenant General…”

“The Kingdom is in such a state right now that such impossibilities are truths. That’s precisely why Oneesama’s at her wit’s end.”

If even the Major General is at her wit’s end, then the Church’s power must be truly great.

“Those two spend a large amount of time outside the Capital, however, so I believe the chances they have any connection to this particular incident are slim.”

“Then why were you looking around the West Quarter?”

“Process of elimination. If the Church is in fact conducting some manner of research within the Capital, the most likely place for it would be the West Quarter with its general state of disorder and plethora of hiding places. Considering their standing, I think it would be most difficult for them to have too many facilities outside the Capital that would require them to enter and leave frequently.”

There are too many people in the North and Central Quarters for a secret lab, and as Sara said if they upset the rich community in the East Quarter the function of the entire kingdom could be affected. If they’re going to hide something it’ll have to be in the West Quarter.

“At any rate, I must admit that finding comrades who similarly doubt the Church is a most pleasant miscalculation on my part. I plan on continuing to investigate the Church as much as I am able to, so might you be willing to continue exchanging information with me?”

“Of course! I’ll always welcome more allies, especially dependable people like you, Otilier-san.”

They exchange a handshake over the table.

Even if Flum has a Chosen like Eterna on her side, there’s still a very real limit to what the two of them can do alone. They might be able to count Sara as an ally, too, but she’s a member of the Church; they wouldn’t want to make her do anything that could get her kicked out or hurt.

Just knowing Otilier is willing to help is a huge weight off her shoulders.

Even though they’ve just formed their alliance, Otilier has a lot of work ahead of her given the recent guard scandal. Flum and Milkit see her to the door, and she’s just about to walk out the front gate when she stops.

“Ah, I almost forgot something.”

She strides back to Flum, and after making sure there’s nobody nearby to hear she addresses her in a low voice.

“It would appear as though there are others looking into the Church’s affairs as well.”

“Others? As in, not people from the Military?”

“So it would seem --- and not one but several such individuals. There’s no guarantee they’re allies, so I encourage you to exercise caution in your investigation.”

Otilier turns, letting her coat billow out behind her as she leaves.


◇◇◇


The sky is dyed orange by the setting sun.

Sara has once again come to visit, but today she’s taking a bath with Ink.

The trigger seems to have been her casually saying “Last time I came for dinner I was back at the church so late I almost missed the bath hours, su.” Ink, hearing that, said “Then you can just have a bath here!” and things naturally progressed from there.

Ink’s adaptability must be quite something for her to recognize the house as her home so quickly.

“H-Hey, that really tickles, su!”

“Sorry, I’m blind so I don’t know what I’m doing. Hehe.”

“Hyaan!? E-Even if you can’t see there’s no way your hands should be there, su!!”

OmaeGotoki 02-Ch5 1.png

Flum can hear the voices from the bath even from where she stands chopping things in the kitchen. She lets out a strained laugh.

“It sounds like those two are getting along just fine… I think.”

“Fufufu, when Sara’s here it really does get quite lively around here.”

Milkit, currently tending to the pot on the stove, seems to be in a good mood --- though the cause isn’t the sounds coming from the bathroom but rather the fact that she’s cooking together with Flum.

“The boar meat should be diced, right?”

“Yes, since we’ll be adding it to the stew. Feel free to make the pieces whatever size you’d like.”

“I think I’ll make them on the large side, then. It’s not everyday we get the chance to eat candy boar, so I want to make each mouthful really count.”

The candy boar is a large, boar-like C-Rank monster. Not only is it large and muscular but its Agility is surprisingly high. It can only charge in straight lines, but it covers its blind spots with wide area of effect Earth Attribute magic, making it a challenging opponent. The ‘candy’ part of its name comes from its tendency to run rampant in sugar cane fields, though it’s also been seen licking sweet sap from trees and knocking down beehives to get at the honey within. Its diet makes its flesh unusually sweet, making it one of the most highly-regarded types of boar meat.

“Wasn’t this really expensive, though? C-Rank monster meat isn’t cheap to begin with, but I heard there haven’t been any candy boars near the Capital for a while…”

“I was told it was near expiration so I was able to purchase it at half price, but it still wasn’t terribly cheap… Do you think it’s too much?”

“Nah, I don’t see anything wrong with it. If there was that much of a discount it was probably cheaper than goat or buffalo, and candy boar’s famous for a reason. Just looking at the raw meat like this is making me hungry.”

“You shouldn’t eat it raw, Master. It’s not healthy.”

“Ahaha, it doesn’t look that good uncooked.”

Their work proceeds pleasantly and peacefully.

As they work Ink and Sara finish their bath. Ink tries to leave the changing room while still sopping wet, but Eterna appears seemingly out of nowhere and catches her in a towel.

“You’re still wet.”

“Food’s calling my name!”

“It’s not ready yet. Sit still.”

Watching them is almost like watching a caring older sister and her feisty little sister… even if Eterna’s more than old enough to be Ink’s mother.

“I just felt an unbelievable amount of youth, su...”

Sara plods over to the table and slumps across it, visibly exhausted.

“If you start talking about youth like that, where does that leave us?”

“Rather than ‘youth’, I would think that Ink is simply a little hyper.”

Ink’s new life in that house has been filled with all manner of new things, each stimulating her curiosity further and leaving her with nothing but irrepressible energy.

“Ahh, it smells so good! I wanna eat!”

“Your hair’s still wet.”

“Can’t we just dry it later?”

“No. I’ll be done soon. Stop moving.”

“Okay!”

Eterna vigorously rubs the towel through Ink’s hair.

Flum’s surprised to see her looking after Ink as much as she has been, but thinking back on their time together in the Hero’s party Eterna looked out for her more than anyone else. Her blunt speech, selfish personality, and witchy appearance may be deceiving, but she seems to be genuinely a kind person at heart.


◇◇◇


Candy boar stew, salad, and baguettes line the table. Everyone sits down, puts their hands together and four people say “Itadakimasu!” at once. Ink follows suit a moment later, copying the others.

Compared to their last meal all together the spread is a lot simpler, but in terms of satisfaction there’s no point comparing the two meals. The stew especially is incredible; with every mouthful of thick broth and tender meat the fullness of the boar emerges to mingle with the sweet demi-glace. Just a little pressure is enough to cause the tender meat to break apart and the juice contained within to gush out and further enhance the flavour.

Mouth full of stew, Flum beams.

Next, she tries scooping a piece of baguette through it, capturing both broth and meat, and knowing full well it’s not the best of manners she opens her mouth wide and sticks it in. The stew bursts free of the bread with every bite and mingles with the slight saltiness of the baguette itself to create a new taste entirely.

“Nn. This is...”

“Iff taffty, fu!”

“I never knew anything could taste so good…!”

Not only Flum but Eterna, Sara, and Ink all dig into the food with relish, eyes (or lack thereof) sparkling. Milkit watches them all with a truly pleased look on her face, happier to see others enjoy her cooking than eat it herself.

Milkit and Flum’s eyes happen to meet.

“Are you enjoying it, Master?”

Flum sticks out a thumbs-up with gusto.

“It’s the best! You’ll be the best bride in the world someday, Milkit.”

“I’d much prefer to have you keep eating my cooking than become anyone’s bride.”

“Let’s compromise, then. From today forth you’ll be my wife!”

“Heh!? Y-You can’t just suddenly… auu…”

Milkit turns beet red.

Flum was joking, of course… mostly.

Chuckling, she carries another spoonful of stew to her lips.


◇◇◇


As everyone relaxes after dinner, Sara asks Flum and Eterna a question with a somewhat nervous expression on her face.

“By the way, you two were travellin’ with Maria-neesama, right, su?”

Maria-neesama --- in other words, Maria Affenjenz of the Hero’s party. As a fellow priestess in the Church, Sara has idolized her for a long time.

“Nn.”

“How was she, su? Was she doin’ okay, su?”

“I never really talked to her much so I don’t really know, myself.”

“She was hiding something.”

“...Secrets, huh, su.”

Sara doesn’t looks surprised, as if she’d known that much all along.

“Unlike me she’s pretty important, so she probably knows a lot about what’s goin’ on behind the scenes in the Church, su.”

“Maybe Maria-san even knew all about that thing we fought outside Enchide…”

“It’s possible. If everyone bishop-level and above knows then it’s certain.”

“Neesama knew about that…?”

A shadow falls over Sara’s face.

To her Maria was always warm and kind, the very picture of a saint, a role model for priestesses everywhere. She doesn’t want to think that she was involved in research that came at the cost of human lives --- she doesn’t want to believe the Church is behind it at all, in fact. On the surface they strive to save human lives, but in truth they only seem interested in gaining ever-greater strength.

“...The more I think about it the less I know who’s tellin’ the truth and who’s lyin’, su.”

“I don’t know, either, and that’s exactly why I’m going to find the truth with my own two hands.”

“The truth…”

The truth is probably even crueler than they imagine.

Nothing they find could possibly be good.

If they stay ignorant forever, though, eventually a day will come when they’ll regret it.

“There’s nothin' for it, su. I’ll just have to do whatever I can, su!”

“Don’t feel you need to. Ignorance can be bliss.”

“I can’t just accept that, su. I won’t be satisfied until I know everythin’, su.”

“I won’t stop you, then.”

“...Yeah, su. Tomorrow I’ll keep on diggin’, su!”

“Be careful, though, okay?”

“You be careful, too, su. I heard Dane’s still at large, su. He might try comin’ after you again with another of his plots, su.”

He was wounded, but nobody that stubborn would give up so easily. The West Quarter’s practically his backyard, after all, so he probably has more than enough places to hide and wait.

“Yeah. The worst part is, though, that even if the Military finds him and takes him in there’s a fair chance he still won’t answer for his crimes.”

“What? Why, su?”

“There’s no proof he’s ever killed anyone himself; he had his thugs do all his dirty work. Since there’s no evidence there’s no case. Otilier was complaining earlier that it’s the sign of someone who’s had a lot of practice.”

“He really leaves no openings, su.”

Flum and Sara both let out long sighs.

That craftiness is exactly what allowed him to expand his influence in the first place. That being said, though, he should’ve taken heavy damage this time. Not only are the guards looking out for him now but he probably has far fewer men under his command now.

Their only real fear is that he’ll do something truly dangerous after being pushed into a corner.


◇◇◇


“Hahh… Hahh… To think that I’d… to think I’d lose to that brat and be reduced to this…!”

One of many safehouses in the West Quarter.

Dane finds himself hiding out there alone.

Given his familiarity with the area it wasn’t difficult to make it that far, but the injuries he’d sustained when fleeing were a lot worse than they looked. Even if they’d only grazed him, the body-manipulating Genocide Arts and the massive spinning sword had enough power that even a ‘graze’ was an ordeal. Worse, they’d hit his thighs; his bleeding was heavy and he couldn’t just rely on the Church for healing magic. He’d managed to prevent the wounds from proving fatal through bandages and the use of illegal medicine, but he’s pale and drenched in a cold sweat. Judging from his headaches and swimming vision, it’ll be a while yet until he’s back at full health.

“Those assholes… I’ll never forgive them…!”

Even now, however, his fighting spirit burns in his eyes. He may have decided to crush Flum on a whim, but his resentment of her only continues to grow.

“I can’t use the Military anymore, but I still have more than enough pawns to crush a little girl or two…!”

Dane’s mind is already hard at work on his next plot --- not something altogether new but the continuation of something he’d set in motion a while ago.

Supporting himself on the wall, he stands up from where he’s lying and starts toward the door with uncertain steps.

This is no time to be resting. I need to muster my men and put my next plan in motion as soon as possible.

Just as he reaches for the doorknob someone on the other side turns it and opens the door. Standing there is one of his subordinates.

“So here you are, Dane-san. We were worried ‘bout you.”

“Ohh, you came to find me! That’ll make things a lot easier. We’ll be moving right away, so… uah..!”

Dane almost falls over, but the thug quickly steps in to lend him a shoulder.

“Sorry about this.”

“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it. So what’s the plan, Dane-san?”

“We’ll gather all the strength we can muster and orchestrate a concentrated attack… no, before that we’ll bring them under my control.”

“I coulda sworn you said that it’d take some time before we could make a move on them.”

They slowly advance towards the safehouse’s exit as they talk.

“All the groundwork is already in place.”

A slightly mad smile plays across Dane’s lips. His breathing is ragged, and his wide eyes seem to glow with hatred of Flum.

“The Church. I’ll make them my pawns this time! This time for certain we’ll crush that detestable Flum Apricot!”

Dane raises his voice dramatically, but his subordinate’s reply is calm and quiet.

“It sounds great, Dane-san… I wish I could see it happen.”

“Huh?”

The thug opens the door leading outside.

Standing there are soldiers from the Central Quarter, the same soldiers that were tasked with cleaning up Dane and the mess he’d made.

“...Don’t tell me you…”

Dane only needs an instant to understand the situation.

“You sold me to the Military!?”

Dane’s former subordinate gives him a faint sneer.

“What’d ya expect, Dane-san, we’re punks at heart. We can’t live on ‘bonds’ or shit like that, we followed you ‘cause you gave us what we wanted. I hope you weren’t expectin’ loyalty or anythin’ like that.”

Not all of Dane’s men have betrayed him, of course. Some of them, especially those in his inner circle, are ardently seeking him out even now, but by now the traitors outnumber the loyal.

“Bullshit…”

“You should learn to face reality, Dane-san. Even you’ve gotta admit that anyone who’d lose to a brat’s worthless. It’s time to listen to the guards an’ live on the straight an’ narrow now.”

“You worthless asshole!!”

There’s no telling what a cornered animal might do to escape. Even though he’s injured, Dane swiftly draws a dagger and drives it into his former subordinate’s right eye.

“Wha---!? GYAAAAAAAAAHH!!”

The man lets out a horrible scream. The soldiers rush forward to restrain Dane, but before they can reach him he’s fired his grappling hook buckler at the rooftops and flies away, the adrenaline running through his veins muting his pain.

“Hahh… Hahh… fuu… I’ll make it… I’ll never let them catch me…! Just you wait, Flum Apricot!!”

His irrational hatred of Flum boils and seethes, fists clenched so hard he bleeds and bloodshot eyes darting around as he runs across the rooftops.

Little does he know that his determination will lead to greater ruin than he could ever imagine.


◇◇◇


The next morning is so peaceful it’s as though the chaos of the day before was nothing more than a dream.

Flum awakens to the sound of cooking down in the kitchen. Rubbing her eyes as she walks downstairs, an aproned Milkit greets her “Good morning!” with a broad smile. She checks the mail and lets out a sigh of relief when she doesn’t see any posters covering the walls.

A little later Eterna and Ink come downstairs. Last night Ink had told them “I’m ten years old now, so it’s way too embarrassing to still be sleeping with someone” and slept in a different room. Everyone there except her thought that her words were just what the average ten-year-old would say, but none of them voiced that thought.

After they eat breakfast, they do whatever they feel like.

Flum still feels sore all over, so the thought of going to the guild doesn’t so much as cross her mind. She sits with Milkit and they talk about trivial things for a long time.

Eterna locks herself up in her room claiming she has something to look up and Ink kills time with her, pestering her on and off.

After lunch Eterna and Ink head back upstairs, but Milkit and Flum head to the Central Quarter on a ‘shopping date,’ which ends without trouble. Nobody comes to visit, so after dinner the four of them get ready for bed.

Just like that, an entire day passes without anything happening, in every sense of the word.

I wish everyday could be this peaceful.

As Flum lies in bed, she finds herself making that simple wish from the bottom of her heart.


◇◇◇


Late that same night, long past the time the West Quarter’s inhabitants have fallen asleep, a man lets out a hoarse scream in a back alley.

“G-Go away… Stay baaaaaaack!!!”

He looks to be in his mid-twenties and is wearing a cloak and leather armour. It wouldn’t be a leap to say he’s an adventurer.

He pulls the handaxe off his back and grips it tightly as he faces his enemy, but he doesn’t have the faintest clue how to fight it.

If it was a person, or even a monster, there might be some way for him to resist it.

His opponent, however, is nothing more than eyeballs.

Not even eye-shaped monsters, his enemies are simply human eyes that roll ever closer to him.

The issue is their number.

Let alone covering the floor of the alleyway in front of him, the mass spans the full alley before him and stretches high above the rooftops. Every one of the dark irises is focused on him and him alone.

There’s nowhere to run.

“Ah, ahh… Aaaaaaaaaaaagh…!”

Feeling his back hit the wall and becoming certain of his death he hunkers down and starts wailing. He wets himself with fear, but his survival instincts haven’t completely given out yet as he starts blindly striking out with his axe.

SQUICK.

He crushes a few of them and sends their clear viscous contents flying, but his impact on the mass as a whole is like throwing a lit match into a bucket of water.

A wetness spreads over his body as the lukewarm eyes start to roll over him. They roll over his toes and up to his knees, pass his knees and roll up past his waist, and just as he thinks they’ll make their way up past his shoulders next --- with a hideous slithering sensation they bury themselves in his flesh.

He feels no pain at all.

“U, ueh, ugh… guh, eeeee…!”

At the strange, ticklish feeling of having the eyes enter his body he starts groaning and he feels like vomiting.

After one of the eyeballs disappears completely --- with a hideous slithering feeling, a new arm sprouts from that spot.

He can feel it. If he tries, he can move it.

It’s a part of him now.

“Ah… aggghhh…!!”

Nothing makes sense.

The man happens to be one of Dane’s most trusted retainers. Confident that he wouldn’t be betrayed, Dane had reached out to him shortly after arriving at a new safehouse. He’d then ordered the man to go intimidate someone with strong ties to the Church and gauge their reaction. The deed itself had gone without issue, and he was just returning to report when it happened.

The moment he found a lone eye lying in the street, however, his fate was decided.

He’d tried to flee as soon as it started to roll towards him, but before he realized it there were so many of them they filled the street. He tried to shake them off his tail, but it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out and he unthinkingly came face-to-face with a dead end. Trapped, he suddenly found himself completely surrounded, they entered his body --- and he grew a third arm.

From start to finish nothing makes sense.

No matter how frantically he searches his memory he can’t even figure out what he’s fighting, and all that time the eyes continue to roll up his body and sink into him one after the other.

The scariest part of it is that it doesn’t hurt.

If it hurt then he might be able to put his suffering into a scream and dispel it somewhat.

“Uah! Aagh! AAAAAAAAGH!!”

There are now two thumbs on his right hand.

Now he has three legs.

His gut seems to be bulging --- it must be because he has two intestinal tracts now.

His heart is beating out of control, and a moment later a second beating joins the first.

His total number of arms has now grown to five.

On top of that, one of the eyes slips into his neck, and ---

“UAAAAAAAAGH!!” “AAAAHH! AAAAAAAAAHHH!!”

He starts screaming in unison with himself. Another head with a face identical to his own sprouts out of his neck like a branch from a tree trunk. His mind starts to cloud, his movements dull, and he loses the coordination required to even crawl.

If this is his punishment for threatening the Church, he’s already paid for his sins in full.

“Stop it! Stop it!!” “Just kill me!” “No, I don’t wanna die!” “At least let me die a human!”

The eyes don’t stop. They continue to endlessly flood over him and sink deep into his flesh.

By the time he reached four heads he lost track of who he is, what he’s feeling --- in body and soul he’s changed into something entirely different from a human in every possible way.


◇◇◇


Dawn breaks, and Dane receives a report that his subordinate still hasn’t returned. Hearing that he sets out to look for the man personally, hoping that it’ll be a good change of pace. Since he was able to meet up with someone capable of casting healing magic his wounds have recovered to the point where he can at least walk without needing support.

“Still no sign of him… Did they erase him? No, they wouldn’t be so sloppy. If they erased him so soon after his visit it’d be akin to admitting their guilt in the matter…”

Phil, the man who went missing, was a rather hot-headed man. He most likely picked a fight, got beaten to a pulp and is lying passed out in an alley somewhere.

“Still, it would be rather interesting if the Church was responsible...”

He’s fully aware of the fact that the Church is corrupt --- that’s exactly why he’s convinced he can control them. Maybe he can foster an addiction in a few of their number to one of the drugs he dabbles in, or maybe he can use a woman to bring a paladin or priest over to his side --- he’ll stain the Church his own shade of black bit by bit until finally his reach extends all the way to the Grand Cathedral.

Even now he has a few members of the clergy under his thumb. Normally he’d take a step back and strengthen his ties to a business or two that deals in drugs or women before proceeding, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s because of that he’s skipped a few steps and sent Phil out to do his work.

“I suppose that was rather risky, wasn’t it?”

If the Church is as pure and good as they make themselves appear to the common clergy then there won’t be any way for him to get a foothold --- on the other hand, if they’re corrupt enough to kill a man so easily it should be easy to slip inside. If Phil’s dead then Dane will of course mourn him, but he’ll be able to say with pride that he was critical in laying the foundation of his new empire.

“...Ah. If I think of Phil as though he’s dead I don’t know how I’ll face him. Looks like I’ll have to search a little more seriously.”

Saying so with a laugh, Dane sticks his hands in his pockets and begins to stroll through the filthy streets.

The back alley is dusty enough that even without a breeze the air is thick with it; if a noble from the East Quarter were to come here it would only be a matter of time before their throat started burning. They say that a fish that’s grown used to filthy water will die in clean water, but in Dane’s case he has no intention of returning to ‘clean water’ whatsoever. If he has the time to spend worrying about his pride and maintaining his public image as the nobles do, he’d much rather be fooling around with his subordinates without a care in the world.

“...Hm?”

Not far from the West Quarter’s church Dane stops and sniffs the air.

Something reeks.

It’s not unlike the smell of a corpse, but there’s no scent of blood in the air. If he had to say it isn’t unlike the smell of raw garbage, but with human bodily fluids mixed in ---

Following his nose, he turns a corner into an alleyway and sees that.

“What on earth…?”

The thing at the end of the alley is odd enough that words escape his lips without his realizing.

Its skin and all its individual parts are unmistakably human --- it has hands that look like hands, feet like feet, and even faces.

None of the parts are where they should be, however, and their number is all wrong.

It resembles a meatball with dozens of arms, legs, and heads --- and it’s alive, squirming.

Dane covers his mouth with his hand. Looking at the disgusting mass, he finds the faces disturbingly familiar.

“Impossible… You, you’re Phil, aren’t you!?”

The faces are all of the missing man.

“Phil, it’s me, Dane! What happened to you!? Answer me, Phil!!”

He rushes forward and starts frantically interrogating one of the faces, but there’s no response.

Instead of a human head it’s more like a nose, weeping eyes, and a toothed crevice from which an incessant, meaningless moaning emanates as it drools.

All the other heads are the same, and not one of them replies to Dane.

“Here you are, Dane… san…?”

One of Dane’s men enters the alley but stops as soon as he lays eyes on the mass of flesh.

“Eeeee!? The hell’s that!?”

“I just got here myself. Come take a look at its faces.”

“Its faces? As in, this monster thing’s? Even if I look it’s not like… wha, Phil!? Is that Phil!?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what happened to him, but the Church is clearly a lot more dangerous than I gave them credit for.”

“Y’mean the Church did this!?”

“It’s the only possible conclusion.”

They’re far worse than Dane had ever imagined.

Who would’ve thought they’d be capable of warping a human being like this…

Drawing a dagger from his belt, he pushes aside the forest of limbs and stabs into the creature’s gut.

“Dane-san!?”

His subordinate starts panicking, but he calmly continues to vivisect the creature and look at its insides. Pulling out the blade, blood and a wealth of organs and other body parts loosely spill out, quickly staining the ground with all manner of body fluids.

Fingers, feet, two throbbing hearts, and too many other parts to name or count fill his vision.

“Two hearts… Do you think something caused his body parts to suddenly start multiplying?”

Covering his nose with his hands and scrunching up his face, he calmly analyzes the thing’s contents. He reaches out to the hearts and casts Scan on them, but they both reveal only Phil’s stats. Ignoring them, he starts looking for something else.

What draws his attention the most are all the human eyes mixed in with the organs.

Sensing something unspeakably off-putting about the eyes, he takes a good step backwards before casting Scan.

punishment
Attribute : origin
Strength  : origin
Magic     : origin
Stamina   : origin
Agility   : origin
Intuition : origin

Dane furrows his brows in confusion at the words before his eyes.

“What the hell is this!? This is nonsense. Hey, you cast Scan on these eyes here, too.”

Asking his subordinate to cast Scan, he turns around --- only to find that he looks somehow strange. His head seems to be stuck on sideways at a ninety-degree angle to his neck.

“W-What are you doing? This isn’t the time to show off how flexible you are. If you have the time to be doing that then you should be doing as I say and casting Scan.”

“U-Uh, Dane-san, I… what’s going on? I can’t really move my head or my right hand… err, I can’t separate them.”

His hand is touching his head --- or rather, looking more closely it’s clear that his hand is embedded in his head up to the wrist.

He had tried to scratch his head when Dane was focused on ‘Phil,’ but his hand suddenly stopped moving and his head starting bending oddly towards the rest of his arm.

“Why’re you looking at me like that? C’mon, Dane-san, what’s happening to me!? What’s going on!? Agh! I-It hurts… it hurts all of a… gh, agh! H-Help me, Dane-san! Dane-saaaaaaaaaan!!”

As Dane watches him, too shocked to move, the man’s condition visibly worsens.

His head continues to absorb his arm up to the elbow, and with a slightly wet crunching sound his skull starts to warp and expand.

His head is bent at such an extreme angle it looks to be on the verge of breaking.

“Ihya, hyara, ghugh, gah, gaghah, dh… hreh, ogh, dhe… gh, guh… gheh!”

With a dull crack, the man’s neck finally breaks. Clear fluid spills from his eyes, ears, and mouth, staining his clothes as he slumps to the ground.

The ‘assimilation’ doesn’t stop there, however, and as Dane watches the man continues to horrifically fold in on himself and absorb his own limbs until finally that man, the subordinate with whom he’s overcome countless battlefields, is nothing more than a putrescent, warped head.

He finds himself frozen in place.

“...What is this? What the hell is going on here!? Are you trying to tell me that messing with the Church is some sort of horrible taboo!?”

By the time he notices the newcomer it’s too late to run.

SPLURT.

Hearing that gut-wrenching sound, Dane slowly turns to face forwards again.

Standing there is a young boy without a face.

A spiral of raw flesh is there in its place.

The spiral squirms and squelches, sending a spurt of something red and bloodlike to stain the front of his once-white shirt a yet deeper shade of crimson.

He stands there motionlessly as he looks at Dane.

“Ha… haha… hahahahaha!!”

Dane lets out a dry laugh, which echoes emptily throughout the alley.

Just looking at the monstrosity is enough to tell.

He has no chance of winning.

Faced with such an overwhelmingly powerful opponent, all he can do is embrace his powerlessness and laugh.

“Haha… In the face of something like this, allies, influence, money… nothing means anything…!”

The ‘boy’ calmly extends a single hand toward Dane.


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