A dark, cloudy sky greeted me as I opened my eyes. I couldn’t move, even to tilt my head. All I could tell was the ground upon my back, my body paralyzed and my vision swimming.
I felt pain. Enough so to understand something dreadful had happened to me, but a wave of warmth and numbness seemed to accompany that. Likely, endorphins were still coursing through my body from the previous battle. I tried to focus my eyes on something to distract from my worthlessness, my sense of being unable to do a thing. Not a single thing.
I bit my lip. That was all I could do to express the bitterness I was feeling. The agony. The regret.
Slowly, the sound of footsteps scraped against the dirt near my head. A figure bent down, its shadow brushing across my face. I could barely make out signs of movement. And then, a hand slid across my cheeks.
Soft, but cold. A strange contrast to the warmth enveloping me. Different from the hard ground I rested upon. And then eyes, fiery red, stared into my own. A dribble of tears fell from her face and splashed upon my forehead.
“I-I never wanted things to be this way… I never wanted to fight. To kill. To force you to do the same… I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Sobs racked her body as she bent her head in apology.
My mouth curled into a smirk, as her tears continued to bounce upon my face. The tone of her voice was so somber, so endearing, that I couldn’t help but fall for her all over again.
The tough mask that she always wore hid a delicate heart. One that people broke over and over again. Clinging upon someone as unreliable as me gave her some solace. Enough to brave her battles. Enough to wake up and face the next day.
And at that moment, the only thing I could do was mouth a few weak syllables.
“I… love… you… E-ryn… al-ways…”
That raspy voice of mine desperately tried to extend my life for a few more moments. Enough to let her know how I felt even after all that we had been through. But my words must’ve sounded garbled, incomprehensible to others.
But Eryn gave me a bitter smile, like it hit her ears as clear as a familiar tune.
“I know, Claude. You’ve shown me time and time again. Even if I doubted you. You tore through it all. You made me believe. You stood by me even with how horrible and despicable I had become. I thought I could handle it all, even with everyone glaring at me in hate but you.”
By now, my vision was starting to fade to black. Even sheer will could not hold back the grip of death approaching. And slowly, I could feel the last breath squeezing from my lungs. But as the noises around me grew ever distant, one statement clung with me to the world beyond.
“But without you, what do I have left in this world? For I have nothing left to lose. It can burn. All of it.”
I jolted awake, my heart pounding as my head turned left and right at the unfamiliar surroundings. A bed, sheets, simple furniture – all signs of a normal home of nobility. That in itself should have calmed me down, but nonetheless, an unsettling feeling pervaded me.
The dream that I awoke from felt so real. But I couldn’t recall why it made me panic like it did. The lingering nerves were reminiscent of an escape from the grasp of death, one of ‘those’ dreams.
Perhaps, it was the fact that my body ached all over and that I could barely muster the strength to even move without straining myself. A wave of exhaustion hit me immediately after this realization, and I flopped backward onto the soft bed.
My nerves felt shot. My eyes were no doubt bloodshot. But try as I might, I couldn’t figure out the source of this dread. The memories in my head felt fuzzy, like it had been a while since I last awoke. Slowly, I meditated to calm down my breathing. That was what Lau taught me to do whenever I got flustered. Being emotional wouldn’t do me a lick of good anyways.
As my gasps slowly shifted to a normal rhythm, retracing what had last happened brought me back to the last battle of Purnesia.
“That’s right… we were on the final boss…”
Storming the capital only to find that Lamps Magellan had turned the entire population into living weapons – things were rather dire until everyone showed up. The combined might of my allies broke through the last defense and allowed me to take on Lamps and the Mad Empress.
The girl that I thought was dead had returned. But now, she was a changed person. Coated in the darkness of miasma, she initially fought with me to help take down Lamps’ grand scheme. And somehow, the Mad Empress, or rather Olivia, turned against him as well.
Everything seemed to work out in the end until… until Eryn killed them both.
A cold chill went down my spine as Eryn revealed that she had played all of us for fools. But then, it was never Eryn on the inside in the first place, but the Demon that we had slayed last time. The Demon possessed a curse where its life couldn’t be ended. Its existence just claimed its next victim after being defeated.
At that moment, I had no choice but to fight her. To stop the plan of creating a utopia for demonkind. But, even that was just another scheme that covered her true intentions.
I recalled striking the core that she held in her hand, which I was deceived into thinking that it was the key to demonizing an entire population. However, the smile of victory that she flashed me in the moments before I lost consciousness told me everything.
I fell into the Demon’s trap.
And now, I was recovering in bed from the catastrophe, whatever it was that happened. My hands began to shake, wondering what it was that I did. And the very fact that I was still alive. This room told me that I had been rescued and cared for. But by whom? Katalina… or possibly, the Demon?
I couldn’t fathom what else it would want from me. Those honeyed words that came from Eryn’s mouth, tempting me with false love, became poison in the end. If the Demon had rescued me, then I was expecting even more schemes to let my guard down.
‘Why would it even want me at all? Another pawn to serve in its army? Lured by lust for Eryn’s body? Did it really think I would go along with something like that?’
But then again, holding Eryn hostage had made me hesitate. I didn’t think twice to cooperate in taking down my opponents with her help. In essence, the Demon had struck me right in the ‘kokoro’.
“Dammit. Am I that freaking easy to manipulate?”
I half expected the other voice in my head to answer that, but strangely, only an eerie silence blanketed the empty room. In either case, my body was in poor shape to do anything. And not to mention, I had neither my items nor my normal outfit on.
Instead, I was wearing a plain night robe over my underwear. Glancing over to my left hand, the wristband that I always wore was missing.
“Shit. There goes everything I had in my Item Box.”
Aside from my ability to destroy most things, the other trick up my sleeve was all the random stuff I possessed in pocket space. Without those, my options were rather limited. Like being suddenly dumped into enemy territory on ‘hard mode’ with absolutely nothing.
“Well… it’s not like I could cook my way out of this mess, now can I? Though… some recovery items would really hit the spot,” I noted, wishing for something to ease the pain. The magic and items in this world made it such that healing was accelerated, making this current situation an annoyance.
For the time being, all I could do was wait and see what was in store. It didn’t seem like I was imprisoned as there were no shackles of any sort. Cautiously, I slipped out of bed and walked over to the window. The dark sky told me that it was nighttime. I couldn’t see any moon in the sky, but a light glow was cast upon the surroundings outside.
‘Ugh. There’s nothing creepier than moving through an unknown place in the dark,’ I thought, having to dread investigating during this time. I didn’t have much of a choice though. There was no certainty that anyone I met during the day would be friendly. And until I found a familiar face, I couldn’t relax.
Hesitantly, I approached the door, tiptoeing to make sure not a sound came from me. Even the faint click of the door handle seemed like a jarring noise among the silence. My eyes glowed purple, scanning the area ahead for any mana signatures, but there were none.
The hallway was dark. Only from the faint light outside did I see where anything was. My eyes quickly adjusted to it as I waited to see if any patrols moved about. After a minute, I took my first step out and gingerly moved down the empty hallway.
I had to keep focused, ignoring the pounding of my heart as it threatened to mask any noise from the surroundings. But it looked like people were asleep. Lucky me. That made it easier to make my way outside to get a better understanding of where I was.
Down a flight of stairs, careful to not let my steps echo, I found the front door of this simple mansion and opened it. Eager to find some way to relieve the tension plaguing me, I had hoped the openness of the outdoors would be the cure for that.
But even the night air held a gloomy atmosphere. There was a strange heaviness that continued nonetheless, even with the door to my cage wide open. I took several steps away from the house, looking around at an unfamiliar town. It seemed normal enough, but the emptiness made it seem like something would suddenly jump scare me.
Even at night, I was used to some measure of activity. There were always soldiers patrolling, making sure nothing strange was amuck. The noise of daily life was muted at night but always around. But here… everything seemed dead. Like I was the only one around.
‘That can’t be, can it?’
Trapped in some ghost town, with no one else around. But then, who was taking care of me? Why was I even here?
In my fear, I abandoned being quiet. I started running, glancing through the windows of the buildings for some kind of mana signature. But every house had its light out, lanterns without the flame of life. Empty husks of a town where nothing seemed to reside.
Why was I here? Where was everyone? What is even going on?
‘Could all of this be a dream?’
I smacked myself in the face. The residual pain from my cheek told me otherwise. By now, the dread of being left alone in such a place with no inkling of why, had me numb with fear. Only my legs, which stiffly pushed myself forward, hadn’t frozen from panic.
Past the empty houses, past the unused taverns and inns, and up to the very end of civilization…
I landed on my butt as I was thrown backwards. Without realizing it, I slammed right into something hard and took a tumble. After rubbing my head, I looked up to see what I had run into.
A blank space of darkness. Not the meadows or forests that I expected to see outside of a town. Simply darkness unending.
I reached forward with my hand as I got up, hoping to make some sense of it. But then, my fingers pressed up against the nothing. The darkness had presence. And as I brought my other hand to feel around, it was in the shape of a wall. A boundary where the town ended, and it stretched for as far as I could feel. Yet, I could see energies flickering beyond it like I was staring through glass.
“There’s no point running, Claude. You are here to stay.”
The voice of someone made me jump. I spun around and pressed myself against that wall. Sure enough, her platinum hair seemed to glow in the night townscape behind her. Her red eyes and dark aura made it seem even more like she was a creature of the night. So much so that I expected fangs from her mouth as she talked.
Eryn had turned into a demon after being possessed by the corrupted Electi of Life. And as I feared, she was the one that was keeping me alive here.
As she lifted her arms up in a pose to ‘welcome’ me, the dark auras of many came from behind the buildings. They filtered out of the houses and formed a line. A line of possessed people that were sick with the presence of miasma. Demonic minions that stood in neat rows behind their master, the girl before me. She commanded them all, for this was her home.
“Welcome to my dominion, Claude. The place where the eyes of the Gods cannot reach.”