Darkness enveloped Eryn as soon as she passed through the portal. Her eyes darted between the buildings that were cast in an eerie shadow, an endless night blanketing the town that she made. Here, it was her domain, the only thing she had left, or rather, what she inherited from the Demon.
She forced a chuckle as ‘the Demon’ popped in her head.
‘What a farce. To think that one of Sistina’s greatest threats had been a different version of me all along.’
Granted, the Demon itself had not known it at the time. It simply went about its own agenda, pulling the strings from behind the scenes. A puppet itself to shadows cast upon a cavern wall.
Not until Eryn was surprised by the sudden return of the Demon on the battlefields of Purnesia, did everything click into place. As she felt herself dying from the bullet wound to the heart, the presence of the Demon started invading her core. Instantly, she knew that it was trying to take over her. But before she could resist, a sudden nostalgia overwhelmed her.
The loneliness, the pain, the sense of desperation – all of it, they seemed so very familiar. It was like feeling herself in the mirror, seeing the same Eryn there despite it possibly being a trick.
But then, a dam of memories burst. Another life, an alternate history where things went terribly different, and over a century of aimless pursuit for something missing. Eryn thought it was the Demon’s trickery at first, but everything felt so real.
“Welcome home,” a voice said.
After experiencing so much outside of her little world before, she became afraid. She wished for a time when shadows were the only truth. She wanted to hide within it now, in the darkness.
Like the extinguishing of a magic spell, her resistance evaporated. Tears leaked through her shut eyes that couldn’t be held back… because she realized it too. The Demon had found its missing self. Their cores synced together, and the ugly truth reared its head.
And most of all… Eryn knew that she would have done it all over again. The Demon was her. Every bit of it. The trickery, the cold-heartedness – she wasn’t led on by the darkness. She had brought it into this world herself. Little by little, the world became infected with it as she carried on with her goals, never the wiser.
That was why she was left with no other option. Either she would finish the job before cutting herself off from the world entirely… or she would find a way to end this eternal farce. And that all depended on one person… the one she decided to place her complete faith in. And he had finally decided…
“GET BACK HERE, ERYN!”
His voice echoed through the empty town, built for the sole purpose of raising a sacrificial army. Even when her army was swamped by more and more humans joining in the assault, she barely blinked at the result. They had fulfilled their duty. They had united the world. Seeing even Purnesians joining up arms against them confirmed that.
Eryn turned around slowly, facing the man who glimmered radiantly in the darkness, in her darkness. She knew that he was the only one that could shatter its entire existence.
“I don’t suppose that I can convince you to join me anymore?” A thin smile graced her lips, her eyes looking anxious. But as to what exactly she was expecting, she wasn’t even sure herself. Maybe, she just knew that the end was near. And that would bring comfort either way.
His answer was simple and blunt. No room for argument. No hesitation whatsoever.
“You know, right? About who I really am.”
“Yeah…,” Claude sighed, “some god showed me the whole thing.”
“Then you know that it was me all along. Everything. The trouble I’ve caused every time, I will do it to everyone if I continue to exist.”
“So I’ve decided that if you can’t love me, then there’s no point in being in this world. You’re the only one that can stop me. Only you can shatter the core of an Electi and defeat the curse of life that I’ve been given.”
Eryn walked up to him, staring into his eyes. Even now, they were so caring. He didn’t put up a guard even as she reached over to touch his cheeks with her fingertips. He didn’t have to. He knew that she loved him too much to truly harm him. But as she lunged forward to capture his lips, a hand pressed upon them, holding her head back.
“Sorry, I think I realized that this isn’t the right kind of love. That goes the same for you as well, doesn’t it? Thinking about it now, we never really went on dates and stuff. We never really opened up to each other unless it was needed, rather than when we wanted.”
Eryn stepped back, wide-eyed, before Claude continued.
“I always wanted to be strong so that I could match up to you. Strong enough to save the fragile girl that wanted to shoulder all of her burdens alone. To be accepted by you… all so that I could feel less worthless in life. I clung so hard to that, and when you returned those shallow feelings I had, I didn’t know what to do anymore. I panicked, and this all happened. Part of this is on me, which is why I decided to stop you.”
Eryn shook her head. She didn’t want to believe what she was hearing. Pain ripped through her heart. She wanted Claude to love her. But at the same time, she wanted him to hate her enough to end her life. But there he was, without a trace of ill will, unable to act upon either extremes.
If she could take the middle ground, then she would have long ago. Then, the many years of planning and hidden mourning wouldn’t have been for naught. The needle had to be moved, one way or the other. Eryn bit her lip.
“I’ll kill them… all of them… Until you hate me enough to finish the job. If you don’t end my existence, then my jealousy will take over. Because if I can’t have you, then no one will!”
“Lies. Bold-faced lies, Eryn. You would have done that from the start if you really thought that. But instead, you came up with ways to force the others to ‘ascend’, creating a clear path for me to choose.”
“How could I have any control over what happens to them?” Eryn looked away with a ‘hmph!’
“Because you knew us. You left Saki with me, knowing that I would do the right thing. To give her what she needed to overcome her darkness. You kept the Purnesian side under control during my charge forward of revenge, so that Ludmila could rebel against her ‘Master’. Pulling things behind the scenes, what the Demon has done for many years. Don’t you think I wouldn’t notice how things fell into place?”
“Perhaps.” Eryn looked at me with a smirk. “Or maybe it’s that I wanted to have one final get together before I bring an end to everything. Regardless of my intentions, I am completely serious about destroying the world except for you, even if I have to do it alone. I cannot simply let go like you decided to.”
Eryn drew her sword and pointed it at Claude. A dark, powerful glow enveloped her body and formed more swords of miasma, dangling menacingly in the air above her. If he didn’t have the sense to fight back with his full strength, then she would have to make him understand. To make it clear that there was no longer any hope of saving her. That no matter how much he wanted it, she couldn’t return to the light, not while this existence plagued her.
Claude hesitantly drew a knife, getting into a fighting pose. He would try to disable her and keep her from running off. Throwing the miasma swords at him, Eryn watched as he cut them down easily. A flash of divine white power shone with each impact, causing the miasma to disappear.
Not giving him time to move, Eryn released the spell that she was chanting silently during the previous assault. Like the fiery depths of a volcano, the surroundings began to swelter, and objects burst into flames. The buildings around them flickered as the heat formed a mirage. The very ground glowed a dull red as it started becoming molten.
Seeing this, Claude reared back and released a mighty swing, emitting a swirl of white mana that shot out all around him. Like a tidal wave, the mana quenched the flames as it sailed past them. With a loud puff of relief, sweat dripped from Claude’s chin due to the heat, but that was all it did.
A Fire spell that could melt an entire city, extinguished in one strike. His ascension had granted him a major boost in ability. While he could slice through magic attacks before, there was a certain confidence now that allowed him to stretch far beyond his limits. His critical strike became a canceling touch that bowed to his wishes, letting it touch only his enemies. And in such a wide area too.
That was how it was supposed to be. Claude was the hero forged from his eclectic imagination. And every hero needed a villain to bring about his rise. And with that power and confidence he now had, he could step forward as the leader that everyone else looked up to.
Claude ran forward; his steps making her grow ever more impatient. Eryn watched as he reared back his foot for a kick. But his form was sloppy. She could clearly see it this time that he was trying to pull a feint.
“Soul Rending Kick!”
Sure enough, he rotated his body at the last moment, spinning around to do a backhand slash. His eyes were full of confidence though, and she couldn’t help but hide a smile from the sight.
He was a fool, but so was she. Eryn moved to guard low where her core was, letting the knife aim for the less defended head. She stabbed her sword forward, thinking that he would back off, but her eyes grew wide as it pierced his chest, right where the heart was. Her blood went cold, and she completely froze.
Yet, Claude didn’t back down. This was the best opportunity to shake her where it mattered. His strike went straight across her eyes, extinguishing the miasma flowing from them. When the sting from the blow lessened, she opened her eyes again… and gasped.
“Well, what do you see, Eryn?” Claude asked, hopeful as he lay on the ground clutching the wound. He had pulled the sword out with his last bit of strength.
The pulsing of mana coursed through the surroundings, particularly from Claude. The wound in his chest was right in the middle of a weak point, a fatal one at that. But while lines traced the bloodied area like a web slathered in dew, they looked different somehow. Rather than cracks of an object ready to shatter, they beat with life, holding the different sides together, bubbling energy into them and living with that connection. It fought furiously to repair the wound that had incurred.
“Even when broken, things will try to fix itself, if given the effort. You just have to try, even if it’s hopeless sometimes,” Claude weakly said.
Eryn bent down before him, trembling. She hadn’t meant to stab him. It was a mistake, just like that one time. At the very least, she thought that he would guard against it.
“Go on. You know what to do.” Claude tilted his head back and grimaced from the pain.
“But… I will simply infect you with darkness… after all that…”
“Heh, just try me. And believe. Believe that I’ll find a way.”
Hesitantly, Eryn pushed her darkness-laden mana into Claude, using as strong of a recovery spell as possible. With her powers, she could heal her demonic body in an instant, regardless of nearly any damage. But that was obviously different for Claude. The divine energy within him would clash with the miasma, causing unpredictable results.
But she had no choice, not if she wanted Claude to survive. Just like that time when he was caught in the explosion that ended the war against Purnesia, she had no choice but to use her powers to heal him. Only this time, she didn’t have another medium to balance out the instability. He would take on the brunt of that darkness by himself.
The wound began to seal up, and blood stopped gushing out as quickly. Still, the skin around the area had a deathly purple hue. Not to mention, Claude began to convulse from the extra pain of his own body trying to tackle that energy. But still, he refused to give in. He glared at Eryn, with an expression begging her to continue.
This went on for nearly a minute, until the wound sealed up completely. It was at that point, Claude shouted.
“Soul Rending Zero Point!”
A flash of mana coursed through his body, causing him to jolt like he had been electrocuted. But right after, he lay comfortably on the ground, huffing and puffing like he had just completed a strenuous routine. The miasma was no longer invading his body. It had been canceled out by attacking himself.
“See… I told you that I could do it. Even a broken heart can be fixed if you really try,” Claude sat up, looking like he had regained his strength.
“Idiot!” Eryn swung her fist to punch him, but he caught her hand easily since the very thought of harming him was completely absent.
“Certainly, I was a bit worried for a moment, but no matter. It’s your turn now.”Changing Eryn’s mind was only the first course of his ‘table d’hôte’.