It was a lot to take in. The fact that I was trapped in some domain created by Eryn, by the Demon that possessed her. Gazing upon the hundreds of demonic minions that stood at her beck and call, I couldn’t help but wonder how long this place had been in hiding.
‘Since we had supposedly vanquished the Demon and moved the capital? Perhaps, even before that?’
Regardless, each minion gave off a thick aura of miasma, not much different to the very first demon I encountered. My thoughts went back to the battle against Stark Mad, a name that had all but disappeared from my mind.
But compared to him, these minions were completely in control. Obedient and loyal, their glowing eyes fixated upon Eryn as we walked past them. It was no different than the airs that knights gave toward the rulers of a kingdom.
“Do not worry. Their lives are in my hands. You have my absolute guarantee that you are my guest here, Claude.”
My eyes shot back toward her. The armor that I was so used to seeing her in was absent. Instead, a casual set of clothing fit for a noblewoman was worn. But I knew that this was just a guise. She was far from defenseless even without her armor. The memories of clashing against her protective miasma were fresh on my mind.
If I tried anything, any number of her servants would tear me apart before I could lay a finger on Eryn. I had no choice but to follow her back to the mansion as the minions parted ways to form a path.
“In case you are wondering, these are some of the people slain in the rife of war. Lost, forgotten, the unfortunate victims of past conflicts. Saving a portion of them was all I could do without revealing myself early.”
Only after she said that, I noticed how the minions consisted mainly of those from Purnesia and Sistina. Cloaked in the purple miasma, they were hardly any different unless I stared hard to see the armor they wore underneath it.
But the thought of Eryn, or whatever form the Demon took at the time, going around and harvesting the freshly slain to be used for kingdom fodder struck a nerve. This drew obvious parallels to what had happened to the citizens of Purnesia.
“How could you do something like that? Do you have no respect for the dead?”
Eryn paused and turned back at my statement. She stared at me whimsically.
“Respect? Look at humankind. Dying early before our objectives can be achieved. Left wanting for something unattainable even upon our last breath. I gave them all a choice. And they answered back that they wanted to live. Nothing more.”
Goals and aspirations. Everyone had them. And there was never any knowing when one’s life would end, burying all the efforts one made to get there. Lingering regrets made those around me cling upon any hope of a second chance.
Even if it was given by a Demon.
As I continued to follow Eryn’s back, I pondered why she was bringing me back in such a way. Surely, she could force me into whatever demonic state and manipulate me as she wished. I had been passed out for who knew how long after all.
But then I questioned whether there was a meaning to her actions.
Unlike the others, I no longer had a strong will to cling onto life. I had abandoned that when I faced off against the ones responsible for Eryn’s death. And then, finding out Eryn was not only alive but had been taken over by the Demon, my reasons for fighting dwindled. Until I was no longer sure what to do anymore.
‘I should be furious that Eryn’s body is held hostage. But why? Why can’t I bring myself to fight?’
The answer was all too clear to me, despite constantly questioning myself – the lingering hope that the real Eryn still existed. Somewhere inside. I wanted to believe that the Demon had her soul locked up and that it was waiting to burst out as soon as I found the chance. But until I could confirm that speculation, my will was diminished.
Perhaps, the Demon knew that. It had inherited Katalina’s memories when it possessed her. There was no doubt that Eryn’s actions now were a carefully crafted imitation of the girl that I loved. And there was almost no way of knowing who was behind that farce.
Eryn led me to the mansion that I awoke in. With her servants opening the doors and ushering us in, we walked right into a reception area for guests. A welcome that was no different from the standard visit to a noble, if it weren’t for the miasma surrounding everyone. The very need to mimic normal society made me further question her intentions.
“Sit, Claude. We have much to catch up on.” Eryn gestured to the couch next to me, which I hesitantly sat down upon. Servants came by and set tea and snacks upon the table between us. “Why must you worry? Even in this domain, the very materials are the same. You won’t turn into a demon simply by consuming them.”
Eryn teased me with a smile, especially when my stomach started rumbling. I cursed my body for being so honest. Given how vulnerable I was while unconscious, poisoning the refreshments at this point seemed pointless.
‘Why can’t I help feeling that I’m walking into a trap?’
As I slowly bit into the cookie that I lifted to my mouth, my nerves felt like I was stepping onto a glass floor that was the only thing keeping me from a horrific drop. As I chewed though, some reassurance came back to me. It tasted like a cookie. Nothing more.
The same was said with the tea. Eryn continued to giggle as the teacup jittered against the plate, all the way to my mouth. But the hot liquid running down my throat also sent a wave of calm.
“Claude, I love you.”
Tea shot out of my mouth at Eryn’s words.
“Was… that so surprising?”
“I- I would’ve been less surprised if you had told me that I just ingested your bodily fluids in an attempt to convert me, like some Witch of Gr-, never mind!”
Eryn shot a raised brow at me. “Even after all I know about you, sometimes your words go right over my head.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?! Even if you’re in Eryn’s body, you were inside of Willingham! Like, do you have no concept of yourself or something?!”
“I do not…”
“Eh?” I looked up at her, my choking starting to calm now.
“I have long been an existence that has jumped from one body to the next, whatever was convenient at the time. It did not matter if I was man or woman, nor what nation the person came from. The body is a vessel, one meant to hold my existence. If I lose one, I simply search for another. My core is immortal, the very meaning of the Electi of Life. I cannot die, and thus, I simply walk upon the earth as the next entity I come upon. I take their memories, inherit their existences, and become one with them.”
“Wait, what about Katalina? You didn’t take her place that time….” I thought back to when she had become possessed. If that were true, then why could I strip it away from her?
“The Queen of Sistina was lucky. Her core was alive and well at the time. Though I could control her body, her soul did not submit. But for this girl…,” Eryn placed a hand over her belly, where the core would be, “she was already dead by the time I got to her. A simple matter of invading a core that no longer had an owner.”
My fist tightened. “Then… she really is gone, isn’t she?”
“In a way, yes.”
Eryn went around the table and approached me. I saw a hand reach out toward my face, causing me to jerk away into a defensive stance. But what I saw was a girl earnestly looking my way, an outreached hand moving forward to touch me gently. Speckles of disappointment lit up her eyes.
“Claude, I don’t expect you to believe me. But I have inherited Eryn Faulkner’s existence. Her memories, her emotions, and her love for you. I see you through the same lens as she saw. And combined with this body, can you honestly say that this all is still a lie?”
“But you aren’t her.”
“But I am. Even if you only consider it a copy. A duplicate with a few added desires.”
“And what desires are those, pray tell?”
“The Eryn in me wishes for you to stay forever by my side… but the core of my existence knows that this cannot be the case. This world, it curses me.” She drew back, her smile growing bitter. Her eyes cast downward in pain. “The power of the Gods, the so-called Electi, it is but a curse. One that separates those who have it from those who don’t. It puts us high up on a pedestal, only to isolate our very existence from the world.”
I wanted to reject that notion, as the ones around me had been doing fine. But just as I was about to say something…
“Claude, don’t think that even you can escape from it! Haven’t you seen the eyes of those that fear you? That wonder if you will turn your knife upon them at the next moment? You may have other Electi supporting you, but what happens when they turn? When the allies that can keep you in check slowly fall and dwindle? Then what?”
Eryn was right. I had only been able to maintain my humanity through the combined efforts of everyone. Those that were strong enough to stop me, those that weren’t afraid to give the care I needed to feel better, and companions that desired to walk beside me, keeping me from tapping into my worst – they were in the minority. Meanwhile, the typical person shuddered at the very powers of any Electi, no matter which side was taken.
Once again, Eryn approached me. She wrapped her arms and pulled me into an embrace. Her body was a bit cold, her normal warmth absent. But somehow, it still felt familiar. The hair brushing against me, the grip upon my back, and the way her breath tickled against my neck – it didn’t perfectly align with my memories, but it was the closest that I would have to Eryn.
“That is why my original existence beckons me to turn you into a demon as well. So that together, we can live free, away from those who persecute us. Away from the whims of the Gods telling us what we need to do and punishing us for not doing so. Let us live in the sin of miasma together, where it is no longer wrong to fall into darkness.”
My back shivered at her words. Eryn had created a closed-off world where we could live without worrying about the darkness that was inside of us. That was the very solution that we were seeking when the war had threatened to make us go mad. Combining her desires with the capabilities of the Demon, this place became the result of it. A utopia for her kind.
I heard a door swing open and click shut behind me.
“Oh, perfect timing. Come over here, Saki.”
I spun around, surprised by the Japanese girl there, decked out in a full maid outfit. My jaw dropped in shock at the cute attire, until I looked up at her eyes, which seemed hollow.
“Master Eryn, I am here to serve,” she said in a monotonic voice.
Eryn placed a hand on my cheek and pulled my attention back to her.
“Claude, anything you wish for, I will make it happen. Your desires can also be my desires. That is why I have created this dominion. This is our bastion of happiness.”