Purple eyes, exuding a devious appearance that I had never seen before.
Even when Eryn killed others, there was always a hint of sadness behind the stony expression that she forced upon herself. In a world where sentencing people to death was just another duty of a knight, one either took joy in it or hid their pain.
And never had I seen the former upon Eryn’s face. Never.
The fact that I saw it now left me with such surprise that I nearly dropped the knife in my hand. Lamps and the Mad Empress had already surrendered, so there was no need to slay them. Tightening my grip on the handle to steel my nerves, I realized something that made my blood turn cold.
“Who are you, really?!”
So blinded by the prospect of the girl I loved returning that I didn’t question if it was a trick. With a single stab of the sword, alarm bells in my mind screamed out that this was a trap. That we had played into her hands somehow.
The grin never left her face, even as the couple collapsed to the ground. Instead, Eryn walked over to Lamps and held out her hand. Miasma surrounded it, creating the shape of a claw. With a swift motion, the claw dug into Lamp’s torso and ripped out a shining blue and purple object. A spray of blood speckled Eryn’s body, but she paid it no mind.
The core of an Electi – still shining with a mixture of Lamps’ and the God of Mana’s combined powers. A fresh, bloody core that had yet to expire from the owner’s death.
“Why, I am your lover, Eryn Faulkner,” she said while turning toward me, so nonchalantly that it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“Lies! Eryn would never do something like this! And this demonic power, how do you explain that?!”
“Just a bit of a transformation, you know.” The thin smile on her face dropped. “And I’m not lying. You see. This is, in fact, the body of the girl you hold so dear. But as for her soul… I’m sure it’s still somewhere in here. But frankly, it is positively a chore to mimic the mannerisms perfectly, don’t you think? Even if I have access to her memories, the very act of it is challenging.”
All pretenses dropped now, ‘Eryn’ casually walked towards me. Her left hand held the Electi core, while her arms fanned out like she was leaving herself wide open. Her saunter taunted me with every step, and her glowing eyes stared me down.
“What’s wrong, Claude? Can’t strike the girl you love? Unable to bury that knife into my chest, knowing that I have her hostage inside? How precious.”
“If you’re not Eryn, then who are you?”
“Someone who has been watching you all this time. Measuring your growth, pulling the strings behind the scenes, and giving every opportunity for you to become the man you are now.”
All this time…
A shiver ran down my spine. That tone of voice. How tempting it sounded as she spewed out those words. They made me think of only one person.
The Demon. The one that possessed the former chancellor.
“You- You can’t be alive! I- we- we cut you down! Burned you to nothingness!”
“Surely, the two of you did. But I am immortal. An Electi that possesses the curse of unending life.” Eryn was now close enough for me to swing at her without stepping forward, but the trembling of my limbs overrode any strength I could put in them. “It was your mistake for believing that I possessed the gift of magic. Where in actuality, I can simply hop from one body to the next, even if my core is shattered. For I cannot die. I am like a disease that infects the core of another. Invading. Taking control. Those are my natural abilities.”
I urged my hand to move, to strike, to do anything. This was the Demon that took over Eryn’s body. I should have felt enraged at it for doing so, but the sight of Eryn in front of me made it hard to fathom.
Because… there was a chance that she was still in there somewhere. And if I struck, then any hope of saving her would become zero. Not to mention that the Demon would simply hop off to another body. Who knew who it would target next?
“There, there, my dear Claude.” Eryn dropped her sword and brought her hand up to my cheek. “I have no intention of harming you. After all, you are my most cherished person. I can’t help but think that, now that I am dyed with this girl’s memories. Having her integrated into my existence has adjusted my goals.”
“A-And that is?” I said, knowing that the answer wasn’t likely going to be good.
“To make this world a paradise for demons of our kind. To aid you in transforming into this perfect form and have you rule by my side. Electi no longer need fear of falling to the darkness. Instead, grasp it. Control it. Make it bend to your own whims. That is what being a true demon is. An Electi is a mere stepping stone toward it.”
Her eyes brimmed with a fanatical hunger behind that purple glow. For the first time, I could see immeasurable greed upon those pupils.
For some reason, my rejection of it renewed my strength, enough to push Eryn away from me.
“Demons cannot be the only path that Electi have. Ludmila proves that. She conquered her fears! There isn’t an ounce of miasma in her now. Just a brilliant, white light!”
Eryn turned away from me, as if a bit annoyed by that fact.
“Indeed, that young girl is a miracle. Truly. But for every light, there is darkness. Those who are unable to bring themselves toward purity, but rather, steep in the chaos. As for one such as you, do you think you can become pure? As someone who has nearly fallen before, do you think the Gods would forgive you? I think not. For I have walked upon this world for hundreds of years without any answer but this one.”
Eryn patted her torso where her core is.
“Stability even in darkness. Dominance of one’s own power.” And then, she held Lamps’ core toward me. “Godfall upon an Electi core. That is the secret to everything. Those that possess the powers of a deity, who take over its will, they birth the existence of a true demon.”
“And you, you somehow absorbed the God of Life? You were granted that blessing?”
“Blessing it is not! A CURSE! A curse that forces me to find new hosts. To continue this lonely path as the world around me changes. What meaning is an eternal life when there is no one for you to share it with? To be the only demon to escape the cycle of aging and dying. And as to the solution for that, it is right here…”
Eryn stared at the Electi core in her hand, the miasma around her building up. The dark energy swirled around the core before being sucked up into it. That was no doubt an ominous scene.
“What are you planning to do?!” I cried out, as if a villain would reveal her master plan.
Unexpectedly, she did. “With the Electi of Mana’s ‘Will of Yaldabaoth’ still active, what do you think will happen if I transmit the miasma to every person that was connected to him? A mana supply, now polluted with darkness, empowering the masses of this nation. Turning them into an existence that rejects the Gods and normal cycle of life.”
‘Oh, bloody F-ing hell!’
The citizens of Purnesia all turning into demons filled my thoughts. It was bad enough that a few people had been turned before. That resulted in the destruction of Engelburg. But the thought of thousands running rampant across the world, it was enough to fill me with a dread that I couldn’t help but act.
Eryn or the world.
I had to choose one or the other. There was no time to think about it. My body already was in motion the moment that realization hit. I swung my knife, filled with miasma, at her. But with a single arm coated with its own dark energy, she stopped it.
“Oh? So you do value the world more than little Ol’ Me. A pity that it has come to this. But I really, really wanted to stay with you. You are ‘her cherished one’ after all. And I would have undoubtedly welcomed you as well.”
“Shut it, Demon! You have no right to say that to me! I can’t let you sully her image anymore!”
I struck with my knife over and over, but Eryn simply blocked them all. I backstepped and launched waves of mana, hoping to catch her in a weak point, but the cloak of miasma around her served as a buffer.
Naturally, she had always been the stronger fighter. Only my Electi tricks allowed me to gain any bit of ground upon her. And now, she possessed far greater abilities after bonding with the Demon.
With a simple flick of her hand, a wall of fire erupted between us, zooming towards me like a tidal wave. A quick slice opened a slit in it, enough for me to jump through, where I was then met with a barrage of fireballs.
Quickly grabbing another knife, I chopped at the air with both hands, furiously batting at the magic projectiles. With each hit, the flames snuffed out in a puff of smoke.
All that time, Eryn just smirked while holding the core in her left hand. I watched as the dark energies continued to spiral into it. What was going on outside? I had no clue. But I had to stop it somehow. At the very least, if I couldn’t defeat Eryn, then I had to tear the core away from her.
Fire erupted all around me, a mixture of orange now almost as bright as the blue glow of the Resonance Stones. But then I noticed, the flames weren’t more intense for no reason. The glow of the stones was becoming murkier due to the miasma. The fire was meant to distract me from the darkening shade of purple that signaled a countdown to doom.
Slice, sidestep, mana wave, dash – I did all I could to close the distance between us.
“Eryn, I’m sorry that I have to do this! I can’t abandon everyone else, even for you! Please, forgive me!”
But the girl before me just smiled.
“I’m sure she can hear you,” she chuckled. “If she could speak, she would probably tell you not to worry, all the while putting on a brave front. But crying on the inside because fate has kept cursing her. Laughing at her for making her lover do the job. Never giving her a chance at real happiness.”
Finally, I got within several steps from her. With all the magic that she could put out, it was wearing down my own reserves. I couldn’t hope to go toe-to-toe with the Demon in such a way. That was why I had to end it quickly.
With my left hand, I swung with the strongest buildup of energy that I could muster, hoping to sever the protection that blanketed her. A final burst meant to blow away the miasma of the strongest demon I knew. A critical hit to drive away the darkness for the one moment I needed.
With a whoosh, the murkiness was blasted away, leaving me to stare right into Eryn’s eyes. Her glowing, purple eyes that could also see the lines of weakness. The very same ones that allowed me to cut everything down. I knew that if she swung at this moment, I wouldn’t live. Her deadly attack power would easily cleave right through the weaknesses and shatter my body.
But because my eyes never left hers, she wasn’t looking at how my right hand moved. It shot a blast of mana right at the core in her hand. My only chance was to shatter the core with a critical attack, to smash it into nothingness so that she couldn’t use it for evil. Even if she cut me down afterwards, someone else would stand before her and take her down. I believed in them.
The sound of cracking was the only other noise that I could hear among the clash of powers, but I dared not look. My eyes had to stay upon hers, willing her not to look elsewhere. Just for this moment. And then, it would be over. My whole journey. My love for Eryn.
But then, Eryn simply grinned deviously.
“Thank you. For playing right into my plan.”
Eryn brought the core before my eyes. It looked like cracked glass that was barely holding itself together, the powers within threatening to burst forth. And with her fingers wrapped around it, she gave it a squeeze.
The very last thing that I saw was a blinding explosion, filled with blue and purple. It seemed like the very energies of the destroyed core were being absorbed into her. The noise buzzed around me so loud, but I had no way to cover my ears. And soon, I could see nothing else.
Eryn had tricked even me. She had lured me into striking the core, as even she was not able to break the thing easily. Our combined might made it cakewalk.
And for what purpose?
‘To claim the power of the God of Mana for herself.’
Deicide. One god claiming the powers of another god. That had been her true objective. The Demon’s true motivation in causing this entire war. Now, the one claiming Eryn’s body possessed infinite life and infinite mana, bringing herself ever closer to being all-powerful.
The sounds of fighting outside the capital had mostly stopped. None of the citizens of Purnesia had been turned into demons as what I had been led to believe. Rather, they had simply passed out as soon as the mana supplying them was cut off.
Outside, an outburst of noise gradually rose in intensity.
“Claude did it! He stopped Lamps! He stopped the Mad Empress!”
Cries of victory erupted through the ranks, and for several minutes, the people cheered as they prepared to go greet their Chancellor.
But then, a burst of light exploded from the capital, eviscerating nearly the entire city. The people stared with their mouths agape as to what they were seeing. Moments later, the light died down. A giant crater was all that was left of where the city once stood.