Eryn stared at Claude like he had gone crazy.
“My turn? For what?”
“To purge you of that darkness.”
The way that Claude said that made it seem like it was so simple, like the swig of a potion or an elementary recovery spell would do the trick.
“What are you on?! I AM the darkness! All of it is because of me! This entire world was distorted because of my powers! Because I somehow ended up here where I don’t belong and polluted it with a presence that shouldn’t exist!”
Ever since Eryn regained the memories of her previous self, she realized that all the damage involving demons had been caused with her at the center. Her arrival into the world created the very essence of darkness infecting it. Records of them didn’t exist before then, so there was only herself to blame. That was why it would end if Claude simply destroyed her existence with a critical attack. After all, he was able to do the same to the Electi of Mana, right before she swooped in to claim its powers instead. And thus, those powers would then transfer to him if he finished her off. That was the endgame to create a Claude wielding these powers for good instead.
But now, he wanted to do something completely different. His face made it obvious that he wanted to ‘save’ her. To cleanse her of the darkness, as he said.
“That other you isn’t really you though, right? Just because she did all the things that you would’ve done under pressure, that doesn’t mean that you should shoulder her burden. That’s what I’ve come to understand. The ‘me’ that is here isn’t the same ‘me’ from that world. He is not the conqueror, nor is he the destroyer. He is the Electi of Critical, your summoned partner. And that’s what I’ll be, no matter what I may have been at one point. They may have been a possible ‘me’, but they aren’t the ‘me’ now. That goes the same for you!”
Eryn shook her head. “I-I don’t know anymore. How can I tell what is me and what isn’t? How can I live on, knowing that everything that I do is plagued by the other existence telling me how little hope there is for my fate?”
Claude rose to his feet, eyes locked upon her. Drawing her into a warm embrace, he patted her on the head. If only that moment could continue. She didn’t want to think about anything else. The feeling of being wanted always tugged at her heartstrings before the cruel reality forced its way into her once again.
“Then, we’ll just have to separate it from you. With one of my strikes. I just have to hit the one that isn’t you.”
Eryn pushed Claude away. “Impossible! If I can’t tell the difference between my own two selves, then how could you possibly?”
That seemed like a laughable wish upon a star. Claude had the ability to cut through a single signature, but everything that Eryn emitted, both mana and miasma, was painted with her existence. There was no way for him to strike only one side of her and not the other. But just then, another voice had a difference in opinion.
“Hmmm, to think that my dear Eri would hold such stubborn beliefs. It makes me even more motivated to woo the side that has enraptured my heart.”
Eryn’s entire body froze. Only her eyes darted toward the sight of dark-blue hair appearing from behind a corner of a building. The person had a familiar swagger and a charming face that shot a grin at her. She thought she would never see it again.
The words were caught in her throat. Tears sprung from her eyes. The friend before her should have been dead. She had mourned over her fallen body that was unmistakably lifeless. But here she was, the same as she always remembered.
“We summoned her, or rather, Katalina did. The God we met suggested that she conduct the summoning ceremony to call upon the final Electi. Lo and behold, she got Corny as her summon, the Electi of Magic. Can’t say that I can think of a more proper fit, despite her not being an otherworlder technically. I’m not going to question that gacha pull.”
Katalina appeared right after, peeking sheepishly over at Eryn and Claude. With the special eyes that they possessed, thin trails of mana were visibly tethered between the Queen and her new Electi. The summoning happened right after Claude and Katalina returned from their encounter with the God, but it took a while for Cornelius to compose herself and catch up on the events that she missed.
“I take it that the battle is pretty much over with if you two are here,” Claude said.
“Mhm, the combined might of our allied nations is rounding up the remainder and giving them a proper sending off. With no one to lead them, they are no more organized than cornered beasts,” Cornelius responded.
“I see… that just leaves the head honcho here.” Claude pointed at Cornelius before directing her towards Eryn. “Do me a favor and rile her up.”
“With pleasure!” Cornelius responded deviously before slipping behind a shell-shocked Eryn and putting her in a Full Nelson, using the height difference to pull Eryn off her feet. Before she could so much as struggle, Claude went forward and poked her on the stomach, where her core was.
“I need to get a good read. Can you do something stimulating to her, Corny?” Claude said with white, glowing eyes while trying to focus on Eryn’s mana signature.
With that, Cornelius brought her lips closer to the back of Eryn’s head and started whispering various things that caused her face to turn beet red. Despite hearing them loud and clear, her mind tried vehemently to dismiss such vulgarity. Cornelius always seemed to know exactly what to say to stir up her emotions, similar to how Claude’s statements seemed to defy logic at times.
“Ah, I feel something diverging from the core! Keep at it, Corny!”
There was a strange feeling welling up in her body, aside from the discomfort that Cornelius’s intimate ‘suggestions’ caused. That other existence had no equivalent of the close friend she made in this world; she had been killed before they grew attached. Because of that, the ‘other Eryn’ wasn’t as synchronized to the feelings that this Eryn had for Cornelius. The ‘other Eryn’ didn’t know about the suave friend’s gender secret. She had yet to place her full trust in the magic mentor, nor did they spend time in each other’s company when Eryn felt alone and Claude wasn’t around.
“That’s it. Do not be afraid to accept my feelings as well. You have bottled things up for far too long. More than I have imagined.” Cornelius’s soothing voice cut through Eryn thoughts, an ointment to the sudden irritation she felt.
Her time with Cornelius was far longer than it had been with Claude. But the circumstances of their positions kept things in check. Fate had decided to thrust Claude before her to tackle the immediate issues, diverting her attention away from another person also dear to her. And not until Cornelius was lost did that weight crush part of her. In her desperation, she lost sight of certain things. Even many lifetimes of memories hadn’t rectified that. Or rather, it had boxed her in and made her think that only Claude mattered.
As she considered this more and more, the energy of her core began to split – the light of her real self pushing against the existence that came from an alternate path. And Claude could now see it. In his vision, two shades of purple, barely distinguishable from each other, emerged. But it was enough for him to lock onto that signature, the one that didn’t belong. The one that tormented Eryn with all the regrets of a different lifetime.
This was the Demon.
Claude pulled his arm back and readied a Soul Rending Strike. With everything he had, he would tear its existence away from Eryn. He would free her from those shackles now that he knew what to target. That was his answer to fate. He would not give into the darkness nor kill Eryn along with it.
The glow from his knife traced an arc as Claude sent a large wave of white energy forward. The size of it expanded to dwarf Cornelius and Eryn, to make sure that every bit of the other existence would be caught up in it. The look of confidence on his face told them that his critical attack would even end the eternal life granted by the Gods.
But just before the wave hit them, Eryn suddenly kicked off Cornelius, who wasn’t expecting it. Eryn flipped upside down as her arms were still pinned, but the leap flung her soaring above Cornelius’s head, which gave her the needed leverage to slip out of the hold. With her body free, she nimbly rolled out of the way of Claude’s strike.
The others looked at her in surprise, as all signs had pointed to her giving in to their plan. But then, Claude noticed that the darker shade of miasma had rebounded and taken over. Even Eryn’s eyes had reverted to seeing the broken world. It struck a pose to do battle again.
“So… you’re her, right? The other one that inhabits Eryn,” Claude said, instinctively feeling the difference in the air. It didn’t seem like he could talk this one down.
Eryn simply nodded. “The one that you refer to as ‘other Eryn’… it would be easier to think of my existence as such. But I am the one that bestowed such power unto her. I took her in, consumed her, and this entire time, I have inhabited this being.”
Her eyes looked hollow. It made Claude recall how Lamps Magellan appeared right after Godfall. A sinking feeling overcame him, his face contorting with surprise.
“Don’t tell me… you’re the God of Life, and you’ve been the ‘Demon’ the entire time?”
Eryn nodded again, her normal personality sucked dry in favor of this void of humanity. It wasn’t just a different Eryn. She really did seem like someone else entirely.
After the God of Life inhabited the other Eryn’s core, the strange device fired by Lamps Magellan caused a situation that not even the deity could react to. It, too, became a jumbled mess along with the host as they became stuck in limbo for so long. Their existences became fractured, the pieces combining together crudely and creating a different person altogether. It was not until she touched the Eryn of this world that the blueprint of their existences realigned.
“By why come out now? For all the times that Eryn has sought the end, all the planning and execution, why pick this final moment to reveal yourself?” Cornelius asked. The intentions of both Eryns didn’t line up with the God’s current behavior.
Eryn simply pointed her finger at Claude.
“It is because of ‘you’. This girl’s death means nothing to a God. ‘Our’ existence would simply return to the divine realm. But the target of your strike changed ‘our’ very existence itself. ‘We’ felt danger. ‘We’ cannot allow that. Thus, ‘we’ will act.”
The voice that came from Eryn sounded empty, but it carried a weight of command. Like it would crush the humans before it if they pushed forward with cleansing Eryn. However, even threats as grave as that wouldn’t cause them to back down.
Claude glanced over to Cornelius and Katalina, who nodded back to him. Even if it was an actual deity, they weren’t going to simply let it keep a hold of Eryn. They had already prepared themselves to face a Demon, so a God wasn’t much more of a stretch.
“Then, I guess that I’ll just have to strike you down! You said it yourself. You felt danger! That means that this blade can harm you! It can tear you down and bring Eryn back to us! If killing a god is what it takes to save Eryn, I’ll even do that!”
Even if it claimed to be one, Claude couldn’t forgive the fact that it had allowed Eryn to suffer for so long. That it simply claimed Eryn’s existence and replaced her, watching things play out without any intervention until it felt danger upon itself. How irresponsible of a being was that?
If that was what gods did, then what were the Electi to them? Claude had felt it also during his time talking with the God of Critical. Even with all the help given and truths revealed, there was a vibe of suspicion, like things were still hidden from him. Like merely scratching the surface of the full plan, Claude got the feeling that the words were cherry-picked. Perhaps, he was being toyed with, but that didn’t matter. He had to save Eryn regardless.