The first time Lamps and Olivia discovered that Purnesia possessed an Altar of the Sacred Gods was when they were poking around the black market, not long after Olivia escaped captivity.
“Resonance Stones, huh? Straight from the secret chambers of the castle? And why wouldn’t the Emperor keep an eye on such a treasure, my good sir?”
Lamps rolled one of the two small gems, about the size of a marble, in between the fingers of his hand. Injecting the slightest bit of mana into one, he saw that the other stone started lighting up. Indeed, it seemed like mana leapt between the stones, connected by tiny inscriptions and activated with a mere thought. It amused him how there was no string of mana flowing between them. It was yet another mystery in this world that allowed for energies to simply transmigrate between objects.
“Well, anything that the Empire doesn’t find useful for the time being is fair game. Can’t use the bloody things here, but that ain’t the same on the outside….” Their seller, a small-time guard at the castle, spoke with a hint of greed. There was no shortage of people looking to make a quick coin off nearly anything they could get their hands on. But this shady person, in particular, looked like he had nothing to lose.
Looking for ways to take advantage of Lamps’ genius and near-infinite mana supply, they stumbled upon a rumor. The Emperor’s castle was built around one such legendary altar that worshiped the gods that made this world.
Having only heard of them in fairy tales, Olivia scoffed at it initially. It had been ages since any chosen ones, the Electi, had made their way to divine places. And it was for good reason. The tales spoke of being granted incredible power, as if the gods themselves descended upon the world. However, the key to this power was the sacrifice of the Electi, as they served as the vessel to contain them.
This cost was unsavory; very few were content to give up everything for a god to stand in their place. Electi chose to keep what power they had for themselves, and thus, those altars became nothing more than lost history.
However, where altars existed, a collection of Resonance Stones followed. And it was upon this altar that the beginnings of Purnesia were created. Chased out of their homeland, the Purnesians were literally sentenced to death in a barren wasteland.
By a stroke of luck, the first leader of Purnesia possessed an Electi, one with the gift of mana. He didn’t feel the constant strain of vitality being wrung from his body, unlike the other magicians. But at the same time, he could only use the magical tools of their trade. He could not save an entire population by himself.
However, that all changed when they discovered the ruins of an altar. The area immediately lit up with the shine of mana. It was a beacon of hope that shone brightly in everyone’s eyes. With Resonance Stones, the Electi’s mana could be transferred to all who needed it.
Magic could once again be used to make shelter, force the land to bear fruit, and bring some sense of home to an otherwise dead land. Why the altar was here, no one could guess. But they took it as a sign from the gods to live on.
Eventually, this gift exceeded its lifetime. After the Electi of Mana breathed his last, the new country’s power source died out. But they had known this would happen. They prepared for it by constructing alternatives in its place. They innovated an entire livelihood around harvestable goods. Even in this wasteland, there were still minerals to be dug, oil to be drilled, and the hardiest of vegetation to be grown.
A life of mana had to be abandoned, but the land itself had not given up on them. They were thinkers, crafters, and inventors. And as a result, an empire of genius in salvaging resources arose. And then, all signs of deities were locked away in that castle, the passage of time erasing their existence from the people’s minds.
After learning more about Purnesia’s history, Lamps was utterly convinced that his role in this world was to bring back the greatness of invention and magic crafting together. The Resonance Stones were the key to it all. He was the successor of the man who led Purnesia to survive upon this land. And now, it was his job to take them beyond. Beyond the confines of this barren place, beyond the borders that restricted them.
Just like his home, his ideas would spread across the entire world… but first, he needed someone to stand at the top as its figurehead.
Lamps eyed the human-shaped haze of mana that was Olivia, and suddenly, the gears in his mind whirred fervently. She would be the perfect specimen to raise into a conqueror.
The persona of the Mask, and eventually the Mad Empress, started from that idea. With the proper guidance, Olivia became ruthless and commanding, everything Lamps needed to spearhead a coup of the Empire. With what little Resonance Stones they could obtain secretly, Lamps created weaponry that fed experience back to them when used by others, so much that it only took a few years to reach the maximum level.
By that time, everyone knew of Olivia’s might and Lamps’ unbeatable tools. Taking over the Empire was easy. Convincing the people to follow them was a cinch. They merely had to play into their desires, while withholding his own – that of accessing the altar in the castle.
With the Mad Empress now at the top, Lamps opened the doors to a room that was pitch black at first. But as soon as he stepped forward and let his mana flow, the stones in the room glistened at his arrival. It was like they were welcoming their savior. He felt right at home as the new Electi to power up this Empire that had forgotten how to use mana.
But that wasn’t enough just yet. He had only just brought life to the stones. There was far more to be discovered.
The library in the castle had the answers to it all. The history of the Empire. The activation of the altar. Everything. And Lamps didn’t hesitate to call the deity that had granted him his power.
Standing before the altar, Lamps performed the inscribed ritual to call upon the gods. He had to know.
‘For what other reason was he summoned here?’
He had never relied on any god before to dictate him, because he knew they would never answer. But what if they did? His curiosity couldn’t be contained.
“Blessed Child of Mana, why do you seek us?”
A single voice echoed in his mind. Lamps scanned the area around him. Everything had changed in a flash. So much so that he couldn’t help but think it was a miracle.
He could see again.
A hand among a fog of white reached out to touch him. And like a scared little child, Lamps drew back in terror. Simply being able to see again overloaded his senses. He could have died and been standing in front of God’s judgment for all he knew.
The hand continued to reach out but stopped right before him.
“I ask again, why do you seek us?”
Mustering some courage to don his normal mask, Lamps spat out his intentions. If he was standing before God anyways, then there was nothing he could hide.
“I wish to know it. The truth. Why I’m here. What meaning is it for me to have these powers? Everything. To me, knowledge is everything.”
The hand reached forward once again. A shiver traveled down his spine as it rested upon his forehead and covered his eyes. But after that moment, a flurry of images flooded into his head. Images both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Scenes of his life but played out with vision. Bright scenes to complement the sight missing from his memories. Like a character adapted from a book to a movie, he saw the people he knew for the very first time.
The doctors that saved him, the researchers that fostered him, the sea of admirers for his work… and above all, Maria. The dear, genuine Maria that always stood by his side. From what Lamps knew of beauty, one could hardly say that Maria was pretty. Aside from the cleanliness of professionalism, she was a homely woman, the perfect person to stand in the shadow of someone else.
But to Lamps, none of that mattered. Her appearance meant nothing to a blind man. Even seeing her for the first time didn’t change that. And it certainly didn’t matter as she laid lifeless in his arms after the experiment failed.
‘How did I forget such a thing?!’ Lamps cursed, finding out how he came to be in this magical world. He never once recalled the tragedy that led to his departure from his home. And out of some whim, the god before him had granted a second chance, playing his role until he was strong enough to face his past.
Now, he saw images of the path Olivia and he walked. The half-broken face of a girl who spread fear wherever she turned to. With no sight, Lamps could hardly relate that face to the girl he knew – the greedy but determined partner that merely wanted others to accept her.
It had been through his support that the people now revered her, monster and all. The broken face was no longer a mark of shame, but a battle wound. The girl of nobility who relied on her Charm magic alone, used not beauty but charisma and power to command the room.
But that wasn’t enough. Lamps could still feel a yearning within her normal self. Her mana could not lie about that, even if the faces that he saw could hide it from others. She wasn’t satisfied yet. They had to do more! But what?
“You. You are trying less to be a man, than you are aiming to become a god.”
The words of Maria came back to him. He had never settled for anything less in his pursuit of truth. And now, a god stood before him, giving him that truth, everything that he ever knew. It was then that he decided what he wanted from the god before him.
Lamps prayed with all his might to bring the god before him back. Over the years, he had prepared everything for his arrival. The brightly shining altar was a testament to that. Filled with the mana from thousands of sources, that was all a plan to bring about the Altar of the Sacred God’s original purpose.
The possession of an Electi by the god of their blessing itself. The source of unlimited power that would shake the very world itself.
Lamps would sacrifice himself to give Olivia the chance of ruling paradise. With unlimited mana to support it, ‘Will of Yaldabaoth’ would take control of everything and bring peace to the world. Humankind would no longer need to suffer, but to simply live their days in bliss with the utmost efficiency.
Yes, he was playing God. But he would gladly sacrifice everything for it, himself included. That was what Maria did after all, when she believed in his self-proclaimed miracles.
“Let my sacrifice be the last one.”
The prayer that he offered to the altar was drowned out as the door to the room exploded into pieces. The final obstacle in his grand plan stood at the entrance. The enraged aura from an Electi told him that it was Claude Evers, the Grim Reaper.
He had come to disrupt the ritual. But that was exactly why he had brought Olivia with him.
A light shuffling could be heard as Olivia slowly got to her feet. The abundant mana in the room sped up her recovery. Luckily, possessing two mana signatures helped soften the cuts that the Electi of Critical did. Even if he could blow away one source, the other one quickly resurfaced to a small degree. Enough to make the cuts stop shallow.
Ripping off her helmet, the Mad Empress tossed it casually aside. Coming face to face with the Grim Reaper, she let her disturbing face do all the talking as she gripped her swords in front of her.
Lamps smiled in relief.
“Excellent, I need you to buy us some time. The ritual is almost complete. And then, you shall have your paradise. All yours, the world for the taking.”