OmaeGotoki: Volume 2 014 - DAWN
Flum heads ever deeper into the church. Maybe because she’s finally killed Dane, her exhaustion seems to catch up to her all at once and her movements are slower and duller than they normally are. It’s about all she can do to drag herself forwards with a hand on the wall for support.
The eyes continue to pursue her. She’s not out of danger yet.
She finally makes it to the door in the deepest depths of the building. Opening it she finds a large room --- and in the center of it sit Ink and Milkit, huddled together.
Calling their names, Flum heads towards them.
Her voice trails off halfway as she realizes they’re not alone.
Standing beside them is a large woman maybe 180 centimeters tall, wearing a one-piece dress and a wide-brimmed hat. Her red hair comes down to her jawline exactly. Something about her strikes Flum as slightly off, though --- her shoulders are broad, her arms and legs are toned with muscle, and her face is unmistakably that of a man’s.
“That voice… Flum? You came!?”
“My oh my, that man must’ve lost, then. He was so confident he could kill you, but he barely seems to have slowed you down.”
Her voice is deep and thick --- he must be a man after all.
“You’re Flum Apricot, aren’t you? It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Mother --- the warm, loving, gentle parent of the Spiral Children.”
“Get away from those two!”
Flum draws her sword and points it at him.
From what she’d heard from Ink, she was certain that Mother was a woman.
“Why would I have to leave the side of my own precious child? Aren’t you the one who called her a monster, hurt her feelings and kicked her out? She doesn’t even want to go back with you. Isn’t that right, Ink-chan?”
Ink makes a conflicted expression as Mother brushes his hand along her cheek. She looks happy to see Flum, but she seems to realize that she can’t be honest about it.
Milkit, on the other hand, starts slowly edging away from them. Mother doesn’t seem to notice --- maybe they really aren’t interested in Milkit, just as Nekt said. After edging away enough, she breaks out into a run and leaps into Flum’s chest. Flum can’t keep herself from embracing Milkit tightly in return, despite knowing it isn’t the time or the place for that.
“Master… I’m so glad you’re safe. I thought I might never see you again…!”
“I missed you, too… I’m so, so glad you’re okay…!”
She can feel her warmth, smell her sweetness. Reaffirming each other’s presence with their bodies, they’re overjoyed to see that they’ve both made it out of their respective ordeals alive.
“Did they hurt you?”
“No, they didn’t do much of anything to me. All they did was prevent me from leaving.”
“I’m glad… when you suddenly disappeared like that I didn’t know what to think…”
Flum thought that even if Milkit was alive there was a chance they had hurt her somehow. She’s completely unscathed, though --- her greatest fear is alleviated.
All that’s left now is to deal with Mother.
“You two really get along quite well. I only wish you’d shown poor Ink the same kindness.”
“...Hey, ‘Mother’ or whatever.”
Separating herself from Milkit, Flum’s expression hardens as she faces Mother.
“If you call yourself Ink’s parent then you know about her ‘power,’ right?”
“Oh my, ignoring my request? Not that it matters now. Yes, I’m the one who replaced her heart with a Core.”
Mother replies frankly. Chances are, he’s the leader of the research team --- a high-level researcher working for the Church.
“That was the second time she was born, you know. It’s a little ritual that all my children have undergone to become mine. Ink-chan and the others are all my real children, and I their real mother.”
Mother is surprisingly talkative. He feels less like a fanatic believer of the church, however, and more like he’s drunk on her own fantasy and so determined to show off his ‘motherhood’ that he just can’t help himself.
“But… I just wanna be a normal human.”
“Human? Why? It’s true that you’re a First Generation failure, but you have something that my other kids don’t have --- the power to become a mother yourself. Take a look.”
Mother points behind Flum. In the open doorway a mass of eyeballs roll over each other as if playing. Maybe because their ‘master’ is in the room, however, they don’t enter.
“Your cute little children are watching, Ink-chan.”
“What you lost, what you want…”
He covers Ink’s eyelids with his large, rough hands.
“...Your desires are multiplied by Origin-sama’s powers so much they flow right out of you. Your children have been answering your will and protecting us all along.”
“No, I didn’t want this!”
“Don’t be embarrassed, now, you did nothing wrong. You’re a great mother, Ink-chan. I’m overjoyed that my own child has become such a wonderful parent… I’m almost jealous.”
So saying, Mother embraces Ink tightly.
The sight is terrifying in a completely different way from Origin’s power.
Flum can’t believe that the ‘love’ he speaks of actually exists.
“I know we’ve just met, ‘Mother,’ but…”
“What is it?”
“You’re really not cut out for parenthood.”
Flum knows she hasn’t seen enough to know for certain, but she’s confident she knows better than Mother at the very least.
Mother can’t conceal his irritation.
“How could you say such a thing!? You don’t know anything about me!”
“You’re ignoring how Ink feels, that’s why. You’re forcing what you want on her and warping her into what you want her to be… That’s not love!”
“I don’t think that either of us can really be the judge of that. You can feel my love, can’t you, Ink-chan?”
He grabs onto Ink even more tightly, proudly rubbing his cheek against Ink’s.
Ink doesn’t seem distressed at all, maybe because she’s used to it, but she doesn’t seem happy, either.
Hesitantly, she opens her mouth.
“You want things to stay as they are, don’t you? You want to stay with me forever, don’t you?”
“Ink’s not going to listen to you after all you’ve said to her.”
“Maybe my words won’t reach her. I’m not just forcing my will on her, though! Ink has a mind of her own!”
Ink grows uncertain. It’d surely be easier to just do as Mother says.
If she does that, though, she won’t be human anymore --- her life will be that of a Child, of a monster.
“I… I wanna be human. I don’t wanna be a monster that hurts people!”
Those words likely mark the first time Ink has even spoken out against Mother.
All kids go through a rebellious phase; even children are human beings with their own free will. All families should work through such times together.
Hearing Ink’s words, however, the smile disappears from Mother’s face.
He stands up, towering coldly in front of Ink.
“I don’t need rebellious children.”
Mother then kicks his own child in the face.
Flum and Milkit are struck speechless by the sudden change in Mother’s attitude.
“A child who doesn’t listen to their mother is only trash. The only thing left is to dispose of you. Even though you were useless I never stopped showering you with love, and this is how you repay me?”
There’s not a speck of motherhood left in his voice.
Flum rushes forward, scooping Ink up in her arms.
“Are you okay, Ink?”
Ink gives Flum a weak smile, calming her down somewhat.
She quickly turns to glare at Mother’s broad back.
“Mother!! Don’t think I’ll let you get away with this!”
He stops and turns around, a fed-up look on his face.
“How scary. I’m still rather bad with kids I haven’t raised myself.”
At that moment, four children appear at his back.
From the left, they’re Rook, Fwiss, Nekt --- and the last one is a white-haired little girl, likely Mute. She likely has the same ridiculous stats and unfathomable powers as the rest of them.
“Oh my, Nekt, you’re hurt!”
“I couldn’t take him down. I swear I’ll make that bastard pay someday…!”
He was supposed to be fighting Gadio, but it looks like he fled after taking a heavy blow to the ‘face'. Judging from the sounds of their battle that she’d heard, he must be quite strong.
On the other hand, Rook and Fwiss only seem to be lightly injured from their fight with Eterna and Otilier.
“Allow me to introduce you to my precious children, Flum. These are the Spiral---”
Mother spreads her arms wide with pride, but Flum cuts her off before she can continue.
“I know. The Spiral Children Rook, Fwiss, Nekt, and Mute, right? Ink told me all about them.”
“...You’re really nothing more than a burden, are you?”
Ink trembles slightly in Flum’s arms. Flum glares at him but he seems unfazed.
At any rate, this situation…
Four monsters, each strong enough to be able to take on the likes of the Chosen and a Lieutenant General, are lined up in front of her.
...is pretty hopeless.
The difference in their strengths is all too obvious. Flum’s the only one on their side who can fight --- all Mother has to do is say the word and the three of them are dead. It doesn’t seem like they have any desire to kill them now, but…
“Oh my, there’s no need to be so wary. According to my little ones, Origin-sama seems to have split opinions about what to do with you.”
“Origin’s… split opinions?”
He almost makes it sound as if Origin was not one entity but many.
Mother smiles cryptically.
“Fufufu, you’ll understand soon enough. At any rate, as long as I don’t know whether you should be killed or used my children won’t lay a finger on you.”
“C’mon, Mother, let’s go already!”
Fwiss grabs the hem of her dress and starts whining.
“We don’t have the time to waste here, dammit. You should’ve decided what to do with Ink a lot sooner.”
“I give all my children equal opportunity --- you know that’s my policy, Rook-chan.”
Mother admonishes Rook, who simply turns away muttering “Dammit.”
“Mother, I gotta pee.”
“Oh no, Mute-chan, we’d better get moving, then. Nekt-chan, could you please?”
“Got it, Mother.”
Nekt stretches out his hand, power swirling as it gathers above his palm.
“Ah, yes, about how to dispose of that.”
Stopping Nekt just before he teleports them, Mother calls out to Flum as if just remembering something.
“To be honest those eyes are nothing but a nuisance, so I’d appreciate it if you’d use your Reversal to break its Core and kill that thing.”
“Don’t you dare talk about Ink like that!”
“I’m just saying things as they are. In fact, aren’t you the unreasonable one here? It’s better for all of us if you don’t try to save it. Not only is it impossible, but even if it lives it’s blind, weak, and without merit. There really will be nothing but trash left.”
Flum grits her teeth.
There’s just no saving some people.
He’s just too self-centered, too unfair---!
“Is that what a true parent would say about their child!?”
“She’s not my child anymore. In fact, you have no right to be angry at me after she threw me away. Well then, Flum-chan --- until we meet again.”
Nekt clenches his fist, activating his ‘power.’
“You’re not getting off the hook that easily!”
Flum draws the Zweihander and unleashes a Prana Shaker at them --- but before it hits them they’re gone, leaving behind nothing but an empty room.
Flum clenches her fists in frustration.
Ink looks up at her with worry.
Milkit watches them from a short distance away.
“Why are you apologizing? It’s my fault, I’m the one who said all those awful things to you.”
“You were right, though. Every night I become a monster, spew out a buncha weird stuff… you’d be better off if I were dead.”
Flum can’t bring herself to say she’s wrong. If Ink lives, there’ll only be more victims. As long as those eyes are still around they probably won’t even be able to sleep at night. For a few days they might be fine --- but past that it’s like telling them all to die.
“In the end I’m with Milkit, you saved me, we talked things out… I was pretty happy. You’ve done enough, though. Let’s end this, okay?”
“Don’t just give up!”
“I didn’t give up! I chose. I’d rather die as a human than live as a monster.”
“I didn’t… I didn’t save you for that…!”
“What’re you going to do, then? As long as I’m alive everyone’s only going to get hurt! You and Milkit, Eterna, even Sara! I don’t wanna live so badly I’d be okay with that. If I can’t live without hurting somebody, then it’d be better for everyone if I died here.”
No, you’re wrong, I’ll figure something out --- Flum wishes she could assert that.
She knows she’s powerless, though.
She knows there are some things that are possible and some that aren’t.
Sometimes, giving up is a valid option.
Ink sits with one knee drawn up, arms spread as wide as her smile.
“...Okay, go ahead.”
Like a spoiled child, Ink pleads for death.
Flum’s lips tremble, her jaw clenches, lets out a thin sob, and finally lets the tears spill down her cheeks.
Isn’t there anything I can do?
If I don’t break her Core, I can’t save everyone.
If I do break the Core, I can’t save her.
Even if there was some way to resolve this mess peacefully, Flum probably can’t do it all alone.
The only cards in her hand are the Zweihander, freezing, Reversal, and prana --- no matter how she plays them she can’t find a way to save Ink.
“If you’re the one who kills me, Flum, that’s pretty nice on its own. It’s kinda like… if you do it, then I feel like I’ll really be able to die a human.”
Her voice is bright, almost cheerful. Her words aren’t to convince Flum, though --- if anything, they’re to persuade Ink herself.
Flum doesn’t want to kill her. It’d be far too irresponsible of her to just walk away, though.
She fought so hard to get here just so she could choose whether or not to kill her. The choice has already been made by none other than Ink herself.
In that case, in the end, if there’s really nothing else she can do --- she’ll kill Ink.
“Uu… gh, ha… aa… aaahhh…”
Shoulders trembling, tears clouding her vision, Flum stumbles forward. The blurry world in front of her is dominated by Ink’s smile. It seems fake, almost painful.
Flum clamps her eyes shut, sending more tears down her cheeks as she presses forward. Even now her legs feel heavy, but she focuses on raising her left, then planting it in front of the other. She can feel her body grow heavier.
Putting her strength into her gut, she takes a deep breath, moving her right leg now. The Zweihander rattles as she drags it along the ground. Sweat and tears drench her entire body.
She’s close enough now.
Gripping the hilt with both hands, she touches the tip of the blade to Ink’s bosom.
She flinches slightly at the cold steel.
“Yeah, this is for the best… But make it quick, okay? I don’t want it to hurt…”
That’s all the strength she can possibly muster. It goes without saying --- she doesn’t want to die.
She might still find happiness somehow --- even now Ink must be thinking that.
Flum doesn’t want to accept a world where a ten-year-old girl has no choice but to die, but --- they’re not given a choice.
Milkit shouts as she rushes forward, wrapping herself around Ink.
“As a slave, I know I have no right to tell my master what to do, but Ink’s the same as us! She’s trapped in a dark place, convinced nobody will be able to save her and she’s given up on everything, even on hope… but surely, somewhere deep down inside, she wants someone to save her! You pulled me by the hand and saved me from that same place, Master. You knew it was impossible but you saved me nonetheless! So, please, can’t you…”
“No, Milkit. If Flum stops here I’ll be too scared to ask later. You know there’s no way, Flum, so please, just let it end here. Just one little thing --- stab, done.”
Ink’s voice is still bright, but is trembling slightly now. If her eyes were open, tears would surely be gathering in them now.
“...Ink. You’re pushing yourself, aren’t you?”
“Of course you are! It’d be strange if you weren’t! You’ll die! It’s only been a few days since you first left this place --- there’s bound to be a ton of things you don’t know, things you want to know! Don’t… don’t lie to me. Tell me how you really feel.”
“That wouldn’t change anything… If I told you, would it do anything except make you sad?”
Of course it wouldn’t --- but just as Ink is selfishly focused on her fake courage, Flum is focused on what is Ink’s true desire.
“Even so, I need to hear you say it.”
She doesn’t want Ink to leave things as they are --- as lies.
She wants Ink to be honest in her final moments --- such is Flum’s wish.
“...That’s not kindness, Flum, that’s cruelty.”
Ink painfully squeezes the words out.
“Don’t you know? It’s obvious. Anybody would want to live somewhere warm and happy.”
Her voice and body start trembling, revealing the weakness she was trying so hard to hide.
“I… I really… Of course I want to live!”
She’s not grown-up enough to hide everything to the end. Once her bluff has been broken once, she can’t possibly do it again.
Her wishes, her desires, her greed --- she selfishly lets it all spill like any kid her age would.
“I’m only ten! I’ve only lived ten years! It’s not right that I have to die already!”
“Why do I have to die? Why did they make me into a monster? Why can’t I just live a normal life!? I don’t want Origin’s power! All I want… all I ever wanted was to be normal…!”
“No matter what I say now, though… I know it doesn’t matter now. That’s why I didn’t say it. If I have to die, I want it to be when I’m ready for it…!”
“You’re terrible, Flum.”
“You’re terrible too, Milkit.”
They’re both fully aware, hanging their heads in shame.
Their responses are a little too quick --- Ink stifles a small laugh. She smiles, not a fake one but a real, genuine smile.
“But… thanks. I feel a bit better now.”
Getting a chance to voice her last regrets, her soul feels a little lighter. In exchange Flum’s burden got a little heavier, but it’s just what she asked for.
“Even if I feel a bit better, though, nothing’s really different now. You’re ready now, right? Actually do it this time.”
Flum’s eyelids droop and she lets out a long sigh.
No matter what, she always comes to the same conclusion.
Kill her and stop the eyes.
Necessity gives her a little courage.
All she has to do is plunge that blade into her chest where the Core rests and destroy it.
That’ll be the end.
Flum will never forget Ink, of course, shouldering the burden of her death for as long as she lives, determined never to let another Ink happen. She’ll use her death as fuel for continuing her fight with the Church. One day, she might even be able to tell the moving tale of Ink’s life and her death.
“Master… You’re not really going to do it, are you?”
It can’t be helped.
It really, truly, cannot be helped.
Even back when they’d first met Ink wasn’t a human but a Spiral Child, controlling powers beyond mortal ken. She never even had the chance to save her from the beginning.
The tale has already ended --- it’s not a matter of killing her or not, it’s a matter of who’ll do it. There’s no need to feel guilty, even.
Just as Ink says, Flum should release her from her hellish life as soon as possible and keep moving forward.
“...Keep moving, forward.”
--- Which way is forward again?
How do I know this is forwards?
Killing Ink and holding her death close to her heart is one route she can take, certainly.
Is that really what Flum wants, though?
Maybe it’s wrong, just as Milkit says?
What the rest of the world may say is one thing, but it’s not the path that Flum Apricot should take --- that’s not what’s right to her.
She had the misfortune of meeting Ink, living with her, and in the end decided to save her regardless of the short time they’ve spent together.
That’s what ‘forwards’ is to her.
Common sense and logic don’t factor into it --- she’ll do what she feels to be right, just as she always has.
“This is wrong… I can’t do this.”
She can’t possibly kill someone she’s sworn to protect.
Could she kill Milkit if she was in Ink’s place?
She’d never be able to forgive herself --- she’d be haunted by regret for the rest of her life.
Nothing lays at the end of that path but waste and rot.
It’d be the death of Flum Apricot.
She can’t bring herself to accept it.
She can’t accept it.
“Yeah, it’s wrong, this is all wrong. I---”
The sword drops from her hand.
Milkit’s face is brimming with pride and hope, seeing the master she’s always known in Flum’s face once more.
The Zweihander turns into motes of light and disappears as it hits the ground.
“Flum… It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. You want to live, don’t you? There are things you still want to do, right?”
“What do you want me to do, then!? Don’t get my hopes up if there’s no way out of this!”
Ink’s harsh voice echoes throughout the room.
“There’s got to be a way… There’s got to be…”
If they’re going to save her, there’s only a few things they’ll need.
They’ll need to break the Core, and they’ll need to find something to take its place in Ink’s chest.
Breaking the Core will be easy --- that’s the only thing Flum can do, really.
All they need is something to be Ink’s new heart.
“There’s got to be an answer. All we need is something to take the Core’s place.”
There probably isn’t anything lying around that could fill that vital role, however.
“Something that can keep you alive that’s not the Core…”
“Umm… Master, what if we replaced the Core with somebody’s heart?”
“Hahaha… C’mon, Milkit, that’s stupid. Who’d do that? Are you saying Flum can do that!?”
“...Eterna-san might be able to do it.”
“Yes, Eterna-san might…!”
“Stop being stupid! Not even Eterna could do that! Don’t think you can fool me just because I’m a kid… I know it’s impossible.”
“We don’t know that unless we ask her.”
“Even if she could, you’d need a heart. How’re you going to get a still-beating heart so quickly!?”
The living heart of someone --- someone they wouldn’t mind letting die.
Flum happens to know just the person.
“Dane’s heart… I think he should still be alive.”
All they have to do is transplant it into Ink’s chest.
Even as she says it, Flum almost laughs. Even if it’s possible, they’d have to find some way of keeping Ink alive during the procedure, some sort of power that could keep her alive even without a heart.
It’s ridiculous, but Flum thinks she might have a lead on that, too.
“Just kill me already! Please, don’t make me suffer anymore!”
Flum looks at the entrance to the room, waiting for Eterna, and Ink raises her voice again.
Just then ---
--- A powerful gust of energy blasts through the doorway. The eyes that were gathered there are blown away in an instant, and from the open corridor comes a familiar trio of voices.
“Flum, you’re alright!”
“We finally caught up. Glad you’re alive.”
“I must admit, though, it really is a shame they escaped on us. Those Spiral Children are even more weaselly than Werner.”
Gadio, Eterna, and Otilier are standing there.
“You’re all okay!”
“I wouldn’t be able to call myself one of the Chosen if I lost to a kid.”
Gadio gives her a confident smile.
“That’s one of the Spiral Children --- Ink, right?”
“Good to see she’s okay.”
“Judging from the mood, however, I’d wager that it’s a little too early for celebration.”
Milkit looks uneasy still, and both Ink and Flum are still wiping away their tears. It’s clear that the battle isn’t over yet.
Eterna walks over to Ink, leans down a little so that she’s looking Ink in the face, and gently wipes away her tears. No sooner than she’s done that, though, new tears spill down her face.
She half-whines Eterna’s name. Even if she can’t see, she can at least tell whose hands those are.
“You know those eyes, right? ...I made them. I’m a monster, I spewed up all those eyes, and I killed a buncha people.”
“This little girl created those eyes…!?”
Otilier is the only one to be surprised. Since Eterna was closer to Ink than anyone, the thought must’ve at least crossed her mind.
“Sorry, Eterna. I didn’t mean to lie…”
“You didn’t know yourself. I know that much, so I don’t mind.”
“But… I can’t control the eyes. There’s probably no one who can. That’s why I tried to get Flum to kill me, but…”
“She couldn’t. That sounds just like her.”
Eterna finishes Ink’s sentence naturally, as if she’d expected as much.
“There might still be a way to save her, after all…”
“There isn’t one!!”
“I want to save you. I can’t if I don’t know what’s wrong, though. All I know is your heart isn’t normal.”
“That’s the problem.”
Gadio answers her.
“All the Children underwent a surgery not long after birth to replace their heart with a Core --- a little crystal that holds Origin’s power.”
“Thanks for the explanation. So if Flum breaks the Core Ink dies. It seems hopeless, doesn’t it.”
“That’s why Milkit and I---”
Even if it won’t work, Flum has to tell them her idea.
“We were wondering if it’d be possible to transplant Dane’s heart into Ink’s body.”
“You really do conceive the most bizarre plans, don’t you?”
“I keep telling her it’s impossible, but she won’t listen to me…”
“Ink-san… There’s still a chance that Eterna-san might be able to do it, though!”
“No! There’s no way even she could---”
Eterna interrupts her.
“I can do it.”
The room falls into silence for a moment.
They all think it must be some sort of joke --- none of them have ever heard of anything like that before.
“There used to be a way to do heart transplants. I think I can do it.”
Sensing that they’re doubting her, Eterna repeats herself.
It’s not just a bad joke.
It might be the truth.
She might be able to do it.
She just might be able to save her life.
“R-Really? You can actually save her, Eterna-san?”
“Did you hear that, Ink? She can do it! There’s a way for you to live a normal life after all!”
Only Ink herself seems to doubt Eterna still. She’s barely able to convince herself that it’s a joke.
Eterna talks to her in the kindest, softest voice she can muster.
“I wouldn’t lie to you. You know that.”
“Eterna… You can really do it, then? You can save me?”
“I’ll do what I can. There’ll have to be a few more miracles, though.”
She can’t say for certain --- but Eterna is confident that under the right circumstances she can make her chances almost a hundred percent.
“Flum. That fleshy thing in the main hall upstairs is Dane, right?”
“Yeah. We’ll just use that!”
“It was still moving, so it’s possible. There’s a difference in weight between them, though, their blood types might be different, there’s a chance she’ll reject it… it could still go wrong. We’ll also need to keep her alive for a while without a heart.”
“That’s… it might sound kinda stupid, but…”
Her heart transplant idea worked --- so maybe she’ll be right again.
“Gadio-san, prana’s basically just life energy, right?”
“You could say that.”
“In that case, might it be possible to keep someone who should be dead alive for a while longer?”
If they can use prana to keep her alive a few hours --- no, even a few dozen minutes should be enough for Eterna to be able to finish the surgery.
Gadio thinks hard for a moment before replying.
“There’s a way to use Cavalier Arts to push the human body past its normal limits. I might be able to do it.”
“I can’t guarantee it’ll be enough for her to survive until the end of the surgery, though. Just having a hole in her chest will eat away at her life, maybe more quickly than I can put it in her.”
“In that case, I suppose I shall have to lend a hand as well.”
Otilier steps forward.
“Genocide Arts is, at its core, about controlling one’s opponent’s bodily functions. In combat I typically use it to dull the enemy’s movements, but if I put my mind to it I can stop bleeding and numb pain as well. It’s surprisingly useful on the battlefield, as you might imagine.”
She seems even more reliable now than she did against Dane’s men.
“So if the two of you work together, you can keep Ink alive long enough for Eterna to work?”
“So it seems. I can’t imagine Anriette would be pleased if she heard about combining Cavalier Arts and Genocide Arts like that, though.”
“Please, Oneesama wouldn’t be that narrow-minded under these circumstances.”
It’d seem as though Gadio has a bit of a history with the Military from his time as an adventurer. Cavalier Arts and Genocide Arts are similar in many ways --- maybe Anriette, said to be the greatest living master of the latter, has some sort of rivalry with him.
“But a heart transplant, huh… I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is it from the age before healing magic became so widespread?”
“It’s technically an ancient surgery. Even now, there should be some people left who can do it.”
“And the Church simply sits back and ignores them, despite their fixation on healing magic?”
The Church aggressively discourages even medicinal treatments --- they’d likely destroy any and all documents on such a surgery immediately if they were to stumble across documentation on it in a ruin.
“Ink’s heart was replaced with a Core. They’ve even done it themselves.”
“...I suppose you raise a valid point. Evidently the Church assumes itself exempt from its own rules.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
It’s common knowledge among the Capital-dwellers --- the Church as an organization is rotten beyond redemption.
“You’re right, of course, but there must be any number of lives they could’ve saved with this knowledge…”
“The Church doesn’t care about human life.”
Milkit, who had been listening wordlessly up until now, uncertainly talks to Eterna.
“Um… I’m aware that I could perhaps phrase this better, but…”
“What is it, Milkit?”
“If you know this much, Eterna-san, does this mean you have some sort of connection to the Church?”
Even Otilier doesn’t know as much as Eterna does, and she’s a Lieutenant General. It’s the natural conclusion.
Eterna sniggers a little.
“Not the Church. A different, older place.”
“I see… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound as though I was suspecting you of anything. I was simply curious.”
“It can’t be helped. I’d ask the same thing in your shoes. ...I’ll tell you about it someday.”
Eterna may be harbouring a great many secrets, but they can trust her. None of them doubt that. What’s important now, though, is Ink’s impending surgery.
“Ink. Since I’ll have your life in my hands I’ll be frank. I can’t guarantee I’ll succeed. If I fail you’ll probably die.”
Her words sound threatening, but they’re the honest truth.
Ink seems unshaken.
“I thought I was gonna die for sure. There’s not a ‘chance I’ll die’, there’s a ‘chance I’ll live’ now.”
It’s miraculous enough just that she has another choice now, a way to change her fate. A first and last chance, born from Flum and Milkit’s refusal to give up and raised by Eterna’s, Gadio’s, and Otilier’s unnatural strengths.
“Did you really think I’d say anything other than yes?”
Her smile is bright, so bright nobody would think she’d be about to undergo a potentially fatal surgery.
Eterna returns her smile, gently stroking her hair.
After that, it’s a race against time.
Eterna returns to the main hall, wrapping Dane’s body in water and carrying it back down to the room in the depths. The sight of him is grotesque enough that Milkit has to cover her eyes --- worse, it’s still twitching and pulsing. They should be grateful Dane’s still clinging onto life, though.
Flum and Gadio start preparing for their respective roles tensely, waiting on standby beside the prone Ink.
“I’ll match your timing. Whenever you’re ready.”
In Flum’s hands isn’t the Zweihander but a shortsword they ‘borrowed’ from Dane. It’ll be more than enough to create an opening for Flum’s Reversal magic --- actually, it’s even better, since it’ll leave a far smaller scar.
She puts the tip of the blade to Ink’s chest.
“It’ll hurt, but try to relax, okay?”
Ink’s still awake --- they don’t have any anesthetic, after all. The best they have is the numbing from Otilier’s Genocide Arts.
Right before they begin, Ink raises her voice a little.
“What is it?”
“I’m sorry I yelled at you and Milkit. You were only trying to help, but I wasn’t being very nice…”
“I didn’t have any reason to be so sure, so let’s just call it even, okay?”
“No, I was wrong. After we get home I’ll make it up to you, okay?”
“...Got it. I’ll look forward to it.”
Ending their conversation, Flum closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and starts gathering magic.
She pictures a sphere of magic floating in her chest, then squeezes it, allowing the energy that spill out to flow through her veins and into her blade.
Her target is the Origin Core. She imagines the blade entering Ink’s chest, finding the Core, pouring magic into it and breaking it. She burns the sequence of events into her brain.
All she has to do is follow the path she’s set --- putting strength into her arms, the blade sinks into Ink’s chest.
Pouring magic into the blade, the energies swirling within the Core start to reverse, and unable to handle the load it splits neatly in two.
Ink can feel something critical disappear from inside her.
“The eyes are wilting…”
The sea of eyeballs surrounding the church dry up, split, and crumble into ash. They’ll never kill anyone ever again.
Without even a moment’s delay, Otilier pours as much blood into her sword as she can before pressing the point into Ink. Putting the maximum amount of blood possible into the smallest wound possible, she puts Ink’s body under her total control. She numbs Ink’s senses as much as she possibly can --- perhaps as a result of that, her eyes lose their focus.
At the same time Gadio puts his hands onto her, pouring a huge amount of raw prana into her. Her body, which had been growing colder by the second, grows almost feverish as she jolts slightly.
“Ah… a, agh…”
Ink’s mouth opens halfway, eyes rolling back into her head as she starts twitching.
Her body must be under a massive amount of stress --- she won’t be able to last long, even under the ‘doping.’
“Hang in there, Ink…”
Flum mutters a faint prayer, and both Gadio and Otilier step away from them.
Finally, it’s Eterna’s turn.
“It’ll hurt even more now. But… I’ll try to make it hurt less.”
She waves her hand and all manner of watery blades big and small appear in the air beside her. A thin tendril of water sprouts from her back and grips one of them.
From there, the tendril’s movements are so quick and precise that Flum can’t follow them with her eyes.
The tentacle moves far more nimbly than Eterna’s own limbs, and as if dancing with the scalpel it cuts open Ink’s chest. After peeling open her thoracic cavity and carefully cutting free the Core from the myriad of veins and vessels connected to it, she connects the major veins and arteries to her new heart and even does the suturing on her own --- what would normally take an entire team of medical professionals is accomplished by Eterna and her small army of tentacles alone.
“Uu… ugh, agh… hah… hih…”
Ink is in such pain that her throat trembles and spasms, as if she’s gasping desperately for breath.
Even if the pain is numbed somewhat, it’s still far more than anything a person could normally handle. The only thing supporting her is the future she’s sure awaits her --- a peaceful life together with Flum, Milkit, and Eterna.
After receiving Eterna’s permission, Flum and Milkit each hold one of her hands, encouraging her to hold on just a little longer every step of the way.
Letting out a long breath, Eterna wipes away the sweat gathering on her forehead with a tentacle. Exhaustion is thick on her face.
After being chased by those eyes for hours on end --- this precise work.
She must be at her limit already, but she can’t lose focus for even an instant.
Eterna herself is motivated by the thought of living a normal life with the girl who had taken such a liking to her.
Dane’s heart starts beating within Ink’s chest.
Eterna closes the wound.
Finishing the surgery, she wipes away her sweat with her wrist this time.
“...Fuu. It’s out of my hands now.”
Saying that, Eterna sits down almost as if collapsing.
Ink appears to be at her limit; with a pained expression on her face she’s on the verge of passing out.
Her chest rises and falls slowly, her new heart pumping blood through her veins.
“She’ll be okay… I hope.”
“I’m sure she will be. Those horrible eyes are gone but she’s still with us.”
“I just hope it stays that way.”
Gadio, studying the ash-filled corridor outside the room, answers.
“Only time will tell.”
“Everyone, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for her.”
Flum bows deeply to the three of them.
“Don’t thank me. I want her to get better, too.”
“Same here. I’ve never met her before, but saving any life is a good thing. I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
“I may have only played a minor role in the grand scheme of things, but I too am rather pleased everything seems as though she’ll be okay.”
They all must be tired after the night they just had, but their expressions are refreshed, their smiles pleasant.
“I get the feeling that I was the only one who didn’t do anything…”
Milkit, on the other hand, seems somewhat down. She desperately wanted to save Ink --- that’s why she’s so frustrated.
Eterna gives her a knowing smirk.
“If you weren’t here Flum wouldn’t be able to do anything. She really needs you.”
Hearing that, Milkit seems to go into shock. Flum, suddenly finding herself under fire, blushes fiercely as she defends herself.
“You make it sound like I didn’t want to save Ink at all!”
“Well, meeting Milkit does seem to have completely changed you.”
“Et tu, Gadio-san…!?”
Flum hangs her head. Eterna, Gadio, even Otilier can’t keep themselves from laughing aloud. Milkit, cheeks reddening slightly, faces the ground and fidgets slightly. Seeing her blush, Flum wraps her arms around Milkit’s slim body.
“Fine, be that way! Just because I need Milkit doesn’t mean you have to make fun of me, though!”
Flum seems almost sulky.
It’s very true that without Milkit Flum wouldn’t be where she is today.
Without even trying to resist Flum, she turns to face her master, whispering in a voice that only they can hear.
“I need you, too, Master.”
Just being away from her for a little while is so hard she doesn’t know how she manages sometimes, anxiety grasping at her chest so hard even breathing is painful.
In that case --- she’ll just have to never be apart from Flum again.
Trying to convey her heartfelt wish, Milkit grasps the hem of Flum’s clothes.
Flum turns beet red.
Eterna smirks at them and Otilier mutters “If only I could do that with Oneesama…” with jealousy in her eyes. Gadio simply watches them, making Flum feel more than a little self-conscious.
“I-It’s not what you think! You’re wrong!”
Not even Flum herself knows what they’re ‘wrong’ about, but she can’t stop the words from coming out. All she succeeds in doing is pouring fuel on the fire, however, and Eterna’s smirk grows a little more implicit.
Flum can’t deny that with every passing day, Milkit takes up more and more of her heart. She’d learned over the past half day just how painful it is being separated from her just for a little while.
Even if they were reunited fairly quickly, it’s as they say --- distance makes the heart grow fonder. Just feeling the other’s touch is enough to put them at total ease, wrapping them in blissful euphoria.
Still red in the face, Flum takes Milkit’s hand from her clothes and wraps it in her own.
If Eterna’s going to grin like that no matter what we do, then we may as well give her a good reason.
Milkit is startled at first, but a moment later she smiles, closing her eyes and losing herself in Flum’s warmth.
“I hope Ink wakes up soon.”
“...Yeah, I hope she does.”
They watch Ink’s peacefully sleeping face.
All five of them believe wholeheartedly that the transplant was a success, failure not even crossing their minds.
The rising sun peeks over the horizon, changing the black sky purple and finally a resplendent orange. Morning envelops the Capital, dispelling the darkness that has haunted its streets for what seems like forever.
All six of them present and accounted for, they greet the new day---
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