I flinched at those words. Fully expecting a dark landscape and my greatest horrors, I shivered as I forced my eyes open. ‘What would be waiting for me this time?’ I pondered as I clenched my teeth in preparation.
I waited for the darkness to approach, but nothing seemed to change until the wails of people crying out in pain flooded my ears. Somehow, things felt different…
I scanned around me, seeing that it was the demonized people that were clutching their heads in agony, bumping into each other and rolling on the ground. Turning back around, I could see Saki clearly in front of me, hand against her chest and fighting to catch her breath.
It seemed like I had not been put under the illusion of the ‘Aura de Gigante’ skill while others were. Immediately, I picked myself up and hobbled over to her.
“Saki! You okay? And this, what happened? Why am I not affected?”
Saki simply smiled at me with one eye closed. Blood from her forehead trickled down and kept her from opening it. She pulled up a menu and pointed to the answer.
[Aura de Gracia]
[Power to seek the truth and grace to amend your ways – your presence brings about a reckoning to those who face you. Only then will they know where true strength comes from.]
Those simple lines upon that screen, showing off Saki’s new skill, were all that I needed to understand what happened. Her ability had always been a method of judgment, her powers the executioner.
People inherently feared their own wrongdoings, and this simply brought those hidden sins out before them. And when those secrets were too difficult to face, they were consumed by that fear and perished.
However, something was different about this moment. The aura around me felt light and warm. Turning on my ‘Eyes of Providence’, I was immediately met with a white glow that blanketed and hummed throughout the surroundings. The light collected around the demonized people and extended between the empty space, like trails of feathers. Tracing them to the source, they formed wings sprouting from Saki.
Majestic and ethereal, the sight caused me to hold my breath. Saki’s hunched over form looked almost like she was praying, while a divine light was cast outwards to ensnare the wicked. It took me a moment to snap back to reality and regain my senses. Walking right over to her, I said in jest.
“So, I guess that I’m okay in your book, if I’m not being made to repent for my misdeeds, heh.”
The demonized people around us were crying and screaming, begging for forgiveness from whoever they had wronged on their path to darkness. Some of them were thieves or murderers. Some of them betrayed their families or their country. But the one thing that we were certain of, they held enough guilt to become wicked. The darkness within them was called upon by Eryn, and they had willingly become her minion.
“What? Do you want me to judge you that badly? I need your help to survive. But if we manage to get out of this… I’ll make sure to punish you, for making me feel this way towards you…”
“I guess that’s not so bad of a punishment… but damn, is there even an exit out of here?”
Since Saki’s skill was still active, none of the demonized people could approach us without falling into the illusion of judgment. We had a moment to regroup and think. However, it wasn’t looking good at all for us, even with the breather.
Eryn’s attack had done quite a bit of damage to the both of us. Since neither one of us had any proper armor on, our defensive abilities were only as good as our raw stats. Manageable in a normal fight, but negligible in a sea of demons.
Saki’s area of effect skill was a saving grace, as a good hit from any of the demons would probably be deadly. Given the glass cannons that we were at the moment, we likely wouldn’t last long once chaos was unleashed upon us once again.
And even if I were to take down the ones in the immediate area while they were inflicted, that was only a small fraction of what I could see. The eyes of many more demonized ones stared at me from the horizon, just outside of Saki’s effective range.
I had to fight. Even if I was merely holding onto a freaking wood splinter that I tore off some furniture, that didn’t matter. I couldn’t let the one that took Eryn win. The damned demon had done it on purpose to gain favor from us, and that made me even more determined to overcome this situation.
Ignoring my aching body, I ran to the edge of the affected zone, where the demonized ones stood around cautiously, unsure of how to attack us. Having them bunched up in a row made them easy targets.
“Soul Rending Slash!”
A wave of mana shot out from the splinter in my hand. It crashed into the nearest one in front of me. I watched as he shook and flailed around like he had been electrocuted, before falling limp to the ground. A burst of purple light erupted from him, presumably because his core was smashed.
‘Looks like my mana is stronger than their miasma still…’
Fortunately, their power-ups didn’t make them too powerful, as many of them seemed to be common folk. I still had the advantage in level and training, so my mana could easily overpower the shield of miasma that spewed from them.
But Eryn was a different case. Her level was above mine, even after the kills that I made during the final days of the war against Purnesia. Combined with the extensive training that Pietro gave her, there was no chance that I could even harm her. Even without her ridiculous infinite health and infinite mana cheats…
I continued dishing out rapid fire attacks, picking off as many foes as I could from my position. The downed count grew to ten, then twenty, and continued to creep up. But before I could slash many more and render them into ashes, my mana was starting to dry up.
No equipment, no food, no way to stem the bleeding that was soaking my flimsy nightwear – it looked like my time was going to run out. Just when Saki managed to forgive herself and gain some redemption, we were stuck in this pit of despair. I couldn’t tell if I had even made a dent on the actual numbers. Just how could so many exist?!
My eyes flashed back to her, wondering what she was thinking about as she continued to hold her position. At this point, the demons that were trapped in the attack had already disappeared. Maybe, they found their answer and passed on, dropping the reasons to cling to a life of evil.
But then… I felt another presence, much bigger than the rest. There was no need to doubt who it was. Only one person could give off the sudden chill that came over me. The feeling of overwhelming power slowly marched through the crowd of demonized people. It could only be Eryn.
The entire group parted ways, making a path for her. The sight was truly a marvel, if it hadn’t been so terrifying.
A gown of miasma, flowing around her body, made it hard to tell what was underneath it all. It was like she was on fire, set ablaze like the power consumed her. But a vibrant purple glow from her eyes penetrated through that. Its gaze remained steady and unmoving.
I clenched my makeshift weapon harder, dreading each one of her steps. I had to keep telling myself that it was not Eryn anymore. Only some twisted existence that had taken over her physical self.
I had to fight. I had to push on. I raised my weapon and got into a battle stance.
As Eryn stepped into the range of Saki’s attack, the miasma around her started to extinguish. They snuffed out all around her, in response to the holy power that Saki was now emitting. It countered the darkness, until the body of Eryn was once again visible.
But even then, she stood firm. Her Radiant Light in her hand. The Valkyrie armor that she wore. Even the somber expression that seemed to linger on her face when she was alone and contemplating. The Eryn that I knew was before me.
I hated how real she felt at that moment.
“You’re… you’re not affected by Saki’s skill?” I asked, noticing that she showed no obvious signs of pain. Unlike the others caught in it, somehow, Eryn was not bothered.
“Oh? That? I felt it for a moment, I suppose. But my determination to see this through must have scorched away any doubts.”
“How long have I strove for this moment? How much has been sacrificed for the sake of a simple desire for happiness? That is not something that I expect you to understand. I do not seek redemption from the Gods. In fact, I see them as the very cause of it all.”
Eryn brought up her left hand, letting a dark flame kindle in her palm. Like her normal Fire magic, she was able to command the miasma-like spellcraft.
“This very power is a rejection of the Gods. As I have decided not to follow their path, but to actively fight against it. To steal what power they offer and make it my own. And then, I will finally have what I’ve always wanted.”
Eryn looked at me and clenched her fist, extinguishing the flame.
Eryn raised her sword and pointed it at Saki.
“Now, out of the way. I do not need those who have accepted that power. They are a hindrance. There is no need for ‘heroes’ in my world.”
“You know that I can’t let you do that?” I stepped in Eryn’s path, despite knowing how little it mattered. She simply laughed.
“Switching your allegiance to Saki, now that you ‘love’ her? How pitiful. No loyalty to your previous Master… but I suppose that’s just how people are. Loving people out of convenience. I would have let it slide if you wanted to run back to that dear Queen of yours. But she isn’t an Electi, no pawn of the Gods. You could have made her your own afterward. But this one… she has to die!”
Eryn leapt forward, her sword chambered. I brought my dinky slab of wood up to meet it. Through sheer will and whatever mana I could force into the object, it didn’t get sliced in two when it met her blade. But still, my hand was shaky as it clinked against her weapon. The sheer strength behind her attack made my defense seem minuscule, like trying to hold up a collapsing wall.
My left hand grabbed my other wrist, hoping to brace against the impact better. But even still, my arms were being pushed back. My forehead slammed against them, so I dug in with my heels and pushed with my head, putting my full weight against the blow. And yet, I could feel my feet slide, failing to find a solid foothold.
Even with all that effort, Eryn’s might couldn’t be overcome. After all, she was only using one hand…
A punch from her left fist slammed into my stomach. Instantly, stars erupted in my vision. I hit the ground, and the next thing I saw, Saki peered down at me from above. Her hand stroked my cheek, and tears were in her eyes. I didn’t even need to hear the muffled words from her mouth to know that she had enough.
Saki stood up and walked forward. I could barely tilt my head to see that the two girls were standing face-to-face. Tired and hurt, Saki wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight at all. I wanted to yell at her, to tell her not to put herself forward alone. But she simply looked back at me with a face that told me to stop.
Saki knew that Eryn still had uses for me. That she wouldn’t let me die. Even if I was being handed back to the clutches of evil, maybe someone else would come along and save me. The hope of that was all that she could bank on.
But I prayed. I prayed so hard that wouldn’t be the case. I turned my head up to the sky and begged for something to interrupt them. And then, I noticed…
‘Is that… a portal?’
Up above us, something popped through the entryway. Whatever it was suddenly grew bright with the glow of mana. White, blinding mana like a meteor zooming to the ground. And when it landed, a cloud of dust exploded in its wake.
From within that impact, the light continued to shine, giving off a warm radiance like that of Saki’s. It was unmistakable. Ludmila had finally found us, crashing down to join in the fight.