After spending so much time lying and lying to those around him, he hadn’t noticed at all. The ideal dream world that he had always imagined was just another one of those lies. He kept using rationale and logic to convince himself that his old life was what he always wanted. That there was no other choice but to escape from this current world and exploit the powers of a god to lock himself in an eternal paradise.
A man so focused on his goal had forgetten the scenery around him as he steered relentlessly forward. After all, he believed that his intellect should not be wasted on such matters of unimportance.
‘But if they were so unimportant, why do I feel like clinging to them now?’
That was what he asked himself, pressing up against the wall of his dream world. His soul seemed to yearn for something else, like it was never satisfied. His solution of truth had not filled him. Recovering what he had lost still made him hunger.
He balked at the thought that his beliefs would change… but they had. Slowly, over the course of years, without him even noticing.
This world was fun. It granted him experiences that he would have never dreamed of. And even here, he had the opportunity to flex his mind, bend the masses to his whim, and through all that… find someone else to care for.
‘Imagine that… something to fill the hole in my heart.’
He looked back to Maria, the dutiful secretary who stood by his side, always with a snarky remark prepared. He opened his mouth to say something, but it was caught in his throat. Suddenly, he realized that he wasn’t quite sure of what to say.
Even though she was right there, a peculiar distance lingered between them. Time apart had made his heart grow fonder for Maria, but this fondness was undoubtedly over a caricature of what Maria was supposed to be in his mind.
Lamps shook his head. He was a fool to think that an emulation of someone was enough to satisfy him, and he allowed himself to cling upon it like another hapless fool. Almost like that impression of Maria knew his foolishness, she smirked and addressed him.
“Finally, you found something outside of your projections? How intriguing… It’s almost like you were human or something.”
The dream world shook once again. It trembled like the nerves that suddenly overcame him. His body flared up with the unmistakable pain of life. Bitter. Grueling. But somehow, leaving him with a warmth afterward.
“Lie to me, Lamps. Again and again. Don’t you stop now!”
A voice filtered through the quaking. An unmistakable tone that few aside from him had ever heard from the girl. Someone so broken that she had to cling upon a madman to walk forward. She placed her everything in the whims of a lunatic and let herself be swept away by the tides of change.
Her voice carried a longing that he couldn’t reason away. With his ability to read people, there was no denying it.
“How preposterous! That girl becoming attached. She’s better off without me, just like-”
A hand gently rested upon his shoulder, but it was cold and devoid of life. After all, a clone of his memories couldn’t offer him any true warmth. Even if it gave him everything he pictured, the lack of feeling was ever present.
It had always been about Maria. Perhaps, that was why he was so willing to work with Olivia. Somewhere in his mind, he had subconsciously inherited the guilt from his previous life, making sure that the same didn’t happen to Olivia. He would correct his mistake this time, and then, succeed before moving on.
But now, he didn’t want to give it up. Even if it was full of pain and hardship, uncertainty for the future, and riddled with lies, he wanted to cling so desperately onto it. Clawing and struggling was never in his projections, but maybe… that was needed to truly understand.
It finally dawned on him. Living was not so bad. And to fight for it meant experiencing the extent of its worth.
Somehow, he had managed to break free from the dream world. He wondered what stroke of luck had allowed him to regain control of his body over a deity but now was not the time for it. He was staring upon the face of his Master, one part demonic but the other side angelic. He had spent many years imagining how abhorrent it would be from the reaction of others.
“My Empress, you only had to ask. Lamps Magellan, at your service.”
He brought his hand up to touch… the blemished side.
Olivia tried to pull back, but her body was paralyzed with fear.
“Y-You can see now?” She recoiled at the thought that he could see her horrendous features. But then, she received a simple nod in response, his hand gently tracing the horrible scar upon her cheek. Her voice cracked as she responded to his gesture. “Do you not find me dreadful? Or do broken people capture your fancy?”
“My dear, even if you cannot see it, I am far more broken than you ever will be… perhaps, similar things attract. The human heart is a fickle thing. I never understood the blasted thing beyond first impressions.”
Lamps got up from his position and brushed off his suit. He stared at the two others in the room, his opponents who had graciously let him return to Olivia’s side.
“Now, a measure of gratitude should be held for your aid. I’ll make sure the two of you live happily ever after in my paradise. Together, in harmony and free of worries.”
Once again, a massive spike of energy erupted from Lamps, but this time, he was in control. He restarted the ultimate spell, the powers of a god. Since he could take command of his grand plan without sacrifice, the least he could do was to give his benefactors a world that they desired also.
“Tch, a paradise simply given. Aren’t you nice? But won’t that be just too boring?”
“I didn’t return as a demon to simply give everything up and ‘play house’ for the rest of my life!”
Looking at Claude and Eryn, Lamps couldn’t help but chuckle. Hadn’t he just broken out of boredom and was ‘playing house’ just now? Perhaps, they were not all that different to begin with. But for the sake of Olivia’s revenge, he had to-
Lamps fell forward from a swift kick to the butt, his concentration broken. He whipped his head back and stared at Olivia, who had stopped him. Why she had done so eluded him.
But his Master simply shook her head. “We’re done with this plan. I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like it… for what reason?! Have you not craved for revenge?! To stomp through those that have wronged you?!” Lamps couldn’t believe what he was hearing. One simply didn’t just stop a plan so close to fruition!
“At one point, I did. But just look at who we are facing now. A chancellor unlike any chancellor that I have ever known. The wretched duke that sold me off having been slain already. And even a queen in place of a king. Things have changed, Lamps. Even the people that once scorned me here are revering me.”
“Come to think of it. Your name and face seem familiar,” Eryn interrupted. “Are you, by chance, Olivia Oldenburg? I recall your family held the title of Viscount in the Northern Lands of Sistina.”
“Ugh, do not remind me of such a name. One that probably bathed in the riches of selling off their only daughter.”
“Actually, that family fell into ruin soon after former Duke Charlemagne was executed by me. The guilt of discovering that they had fallen prey to the vile man’s schemes was apparently too much for them. Sadly, they are no longer in this world.”
“You mean, even they were deceived like fools?! Like daughter, like family, I suppose. I can no longer point any fingers, for I have done the same. The blood of countless slain, because of my wish for revenge and domination. How pitiful that the sins I carry are even heavier.”
Lamps’ expression went crestfallen. “Then… what has all of this been for? This was for you… all for your sake….”
Lamps wondered how he could have misinterpreted her intentions, which seemed laced with such animosity. All of his ideas had been for Olivia’s revenge, and she had agreed to it all, even the deity summoning. Then, to have her suddenly reject them, like she had cooled down over time…
“Was it? Did you pause to look at how I truly felt? It seemed like the only spring in your step came from your schemes, the only joy from your tinkering. How could I simply tell you to stop? How could I tell a creative mind to end its pursuits, merely because what we had done was ‘good enough’? When you had promised me that we would take on the world together…”
“Then, why do you stop me?! The world will be ours-”
Olivia smacked him again.
“Ours? When the burden of taking hold of it rested squarely on you alone? When you were willing to give yourself up to give ‘me’ the world? As soon as that happened, I didn’t care anymore. I would have been happier perishing in a hopeless fight. I would have taken what little victories and been thrilled… as long as that was what we decided together. But as soon as you decided to give up your life, you were no longer fighting for my sake, but to rid yourself of your own guilt.
“Which is why… it’s over. Purnesia has lost. I will not support a plan that makes me the sole beneficiary. A deity’s power is worthless to me if it will take your place instead. And that is bound to happen at some point. Isn’t that right, Miss Demon Swordswoman?”
Eryn nodded in confirmation.
“The Godfall ceremony calls upon the deity to take the place of an Electi. Even if the human side takes control, that is only temporarily. A strong will is needed to grapple the reins from a god, so it won’t last. Not unless we cut the connection between the deity and the Electi.”
“It sounds like you have an idea of how to do that,” Olivia responded, hope glimmering in her eyes.
“Naturally, what is summoned can also be severed. And we have just the person able to do it.” Eryn shot a glance to Claude, who tilted his head in wonder.
“I see. Then, that is why I shall surrender. My desires have no chance of succeeding by continuing this pointless war.” Olivia threw down her swords and walked up to Lamps, speaking directly to him. “Failure is something we must accept at times. I know you try your hardest to cover up any aspect of it, but by doing so, you will never see the other side. Please, just let it fail. This once. You are not a god, but just a human. A human that I want to stand beside.”
If that was what Olivia wished for, then Lamps could no longer argue. She was stubborn to a fault, but it was part of why she felt endearing to him. This time, he would admit that he was wrong. That he had completely miscalculated, rather than playing it off as something intended.
“Then, since I have not acquired the knowledge of how to break free of the deity that possesses me, please enlighten us as a condition of our surrender. How is it possible to rid its influence?”
If they could remain together, Lamps also no longer cared what future awaited them. With sins so grave upon their enemies, and even their own side, they would likely not come out unscathed. But that was of no matter. Whatever fate had in store for them, being together for it was enough.
I looked all around the room as the tension of battle died down, thanks to an interjection by the Mad Empress herself. Since I had focused completely on trying to take down Lamps, Eryn’s sudden arrival and reunion had been somewhat brushed off. The rhythm of us fighting together once again just felt too familiar… and safe.
Perhaps, that was why I didn’t question why Eryn seemed to know so much randomly about the ‘Godfall’ summoning that Lamps had invoked. More so, the abrupt change in the Mad Empress’s demeanor, causing her to essentially switch sides, took precedence. Not to mention, I was shocked to learn that the Mad Empress had been one of the people that Duke Charlemagne sold off so long ago. It seemed like the ghosts of the past wouldn’t die down so easily.
Now knowing the motivation behind her hatred of Sistina, it was becoming harder to fault them for it, despite all the wrong they had done. Sure enough, they would face the consequences, but no longer from a personal grudge by me. I had done some pretty terrible things when I thought Eryn was lost, and now, some of those ill feelings had evaporated with her return.
Still, the fact that she had died and somehow returned as a demon weighed heavily on my mind. But seeing her act almost normal, all I could do was hope for the best and ask her later about it.
“As far as I can tell, the only one with the capability to sever the two signatures within your body is Claude using his special skill.”
“Eh, come again?” I perked up at Eryn’s mention of me.
“You know, that ‘Soul Rending’ attack or whatever you call it. You were able to save Katalina with it, did you not?”
“That was separating a demon’s core from her body… Do you really think the same thing will work on a god?” I asked, skeptical of its success.
“There’s two signatures, right?”
I stared hard at Lamps, and sure enough, that was the case. Just like it had been with Katalina, Lamp’s core was shining blue. Meanwhile, the foreign signature gave off a strange mix of colors. With the core being white, streams of purple oozed from it. The miasma emitted by Lamps certainly seemed to come from that. Almost like two harmonies fighting for dominance, the purple energy was likely generated from friction between that struggle.
“I suppose that is our only option…,” I said, deciding that I could target that white deity core.
“One cannot carve a path without venturing upon the unknown. If that can strip the influence and keep my humanity intact, then I will put my faith in it. It has been far too long that this vision has looked only upon truth, only to find that it is ever-changing.” Lamps stepped forward and bowed sincerely.
“You will likely lose your sight again.” Eryn reminded him.
“I have caught a glimpse of my dear Olivia. That is more than enough to etch into my mind permanently the one who I have devoted myself to.” A gentle smile, free of his usual jesting hung upon his face.
“To ensure its success, you will need to contain the deity as much as possible. We wouldn’t want you reverting back and causing Claude to miss. So, do what you need to strengthen those bonds,” Eryn added.
Lamps and Olivia looked at each other. They both knew what that meant. The strength of their bond was their acceptance of each other, regardless of how messed up their lives had been. Olivia was the first to wrap herself around him in a warm embrace. And for the first time in a while, Lamps could feel something ticking within himself again. Not just a momentary spark, but a low hum that rumbled with energy.
He didn’t need ‘truth’. If he felt empty, then the sound of another’s beating heart was all he needed. His own heartbeat overlapped with hers – in sync, with the same rhythm and pace.
“You know what? I think it’s time to re-introduce myself. My name is… Allen Reeves, CEO of-, actually never mind. None of the rest is important.”
“Olivia Oldenburg. Charmed.”
Fake names and titles were no longer needed between them. When one truly accepted one another, the disguises that one used to hide the true self could be seen through. Lamps Magellan and the Mad Empress were just another layer that they needed to peel off. A barrier that merely cast a shadow over the bond that had strengthened naturally over time.
Sure enough, I could tell the direct impact of it with my eye skill. The miasma that hovered around Lamps slowly receded until it was concentrated in the white core. That deity’s core dimmed in response, weakened by the mutual strength of the Electi and Master. With such a small, stationary target, I wouldn’t have any trouble hitting the mark. I pulled out a knife, charging up my mana. I was prepared to unleash Soul Rending Strike.
But just before I did, the sound of two surprised cries echoed in the chamber.
The sight of a naked, shining blade pierced out of the back of Allen. The sword itself had skewered through his heart, and also, through the heart of Olivia held against him. Eryn was right behind her, hands on the grip of the sword and a triumphant smile upon her face.
The two lovers cast a simple glance of acceptance at dying in each other’s arms. They had Eryn to thank for giving them that ounce of mercy. Even if her intent had been to deceive everyone all along.