Terror, sheer, unabating terror.
That was the only thing he had ever felt since this whole escapade had begun, but it had not been for a mere moment, not even for just an hour.
Otto Suwen had been gripped by a continuous stream of terror for the past few weeks, ever since they had left the royal capital with that person. It did not matter to him that The Finest was within the very carriage that he was driving, nor did it matter that they were travelling under the escort of a vast contingent of the Iron Fang. He did not think that any of them could stop him if push came to shove, not to mention if she showed up. Pandora, the woman who looked at everything as if it were just a mockery of what was real, all but the one that she called Flügel, the one everyone else seemed to know as Natsuki Subaru.
He was the monster who supposedly killed the White Whale with a single strike, the beast that had bested the previous master swordsman; not to mention that he then proceeded to slay the strongest magician in the entire kingdom in what was only described as a completely one-sided battle. The more rumours that spread through the caravan, speaking of his strength, the more his fear grew, something only made worse by the fact that Otto was one of the few to have witnessed just how unstable this man was.
But no matter how badly this fear gripped Otto's heart, the look that woman gave him on that day remained burned into his mind, was the man the real threat here? Or was he just something akin to a lure that kept that woman hovering nearby? Just how great a monster could she possibly be with how calmly she could look at him?
These were the thoughts that ran through Otto's mind as he took a bite out of the piece of bread in his hand before tilting his head to stare into the deep crimson of the morning sky, the cool morning breeze blowing his ashen grey hair behind him.
"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!" Otto suddenly shouted out while nearly jumping out of his own skin in fright as three people took a seat on the logs around him.
"Ya really are jumpy today, aren't you Otto-kun? Anastasia chided as she took a seat on a log across from Otto.
"Although I would have to agree that it doesn't present the best image, I think it would be wise for you to consider adopting a cautious stance that is a bit more inline with Otto's, Anastasia-sama." Julius said in a rather respectful tone as he took a seat beside Anastasia. Like Anastasia, Julius held a piece of bread in his hands that appeared to have various pieces of dried fruit and nuts in it, things that Otto's bread lacked. It just went that show that although he may have been spending more and more time around the inner circle of the Anastasia camp, he certainly was not apart of it.
But he could at least take pleasure in how he was not being charged for the bread he had in his hand, nor the feed that his ground dragon was currently scarfing down, something that he certainly could not say would have happened if he had fallen prey to Russel Fellow.
"You didn't grab anything to eat Natsuki-kun?" Otto saw Anastasia turn her head and ask in a voice that was filled with curiosity, not even the tiniest tinge of concern even if the subject matter warranted it.
And there it was, the mention of him, and when Otto's eyes followed where Anastasia was looking his breath caught in his throat for what felt like the millionth time since they left the capital. He wore the same tired and worn black clothes, he dragged his feet behind him as he walked to the point of leaving trails in the ground left soft from the past night's rain. However from the look on his face as his eyes slowly crept up from the muddy dirt at his feet, it was like he wanted the very world around him to just pass him by, a look that reminded Otto eerily of Pandora. Yet unlike Pandora, it was not because he appeared to view the world as fake, but instead because it depressed him to the point that he wanted to ignore it.
"What's the point, I ate last night…. food just doesn't have any taste to it anymore…..eating just reminds me of how things used to be….." His voice sounded tired and empty, his mismatched eyes looked like they had sunken into his face, his hair had become unkept as it grew out.
As Subaru sat down on the log farthest from the others, his eyes immediately fell away from Anastasia as they began to look listlessly at the ground in front of him. From what Otto could see of his face, he was overcome by a look of exhaustion and sadness, he fit the description of someone who was well and truly depressed to the very T.
"Subaru, Anastasia-sama is just looking out for you and with how little food you have been eating as of late, I would recommend that you take up her offer to avoid malnutrition." Julius leaned forward as he spoke, placing his hands on his knee's as he did so. However the problem was not his posture, it was how his voice was filled with the air of nobility. This made of come of as haughty, like he viewed himself as inherently better than everyone else, making his possibly good natured advice come off as a lecture.
"Honestly even just hearing your voice annoys me Julius…" Subaru muttered as just a bit of annoyance seeped into his voice before everyone's attention was suddenly pulled away from the two, but not too far away.
The log underneath Subaru suddenly split in two with the break seemingly originating from where his palm had been, however Subaru did not fall backwards as he stood up in complete sync with the destruction of his seat. Yet as Otto's eyes remained fixed on Subaru who looked like every last bit of joy had been sucked away from him, he felt as if the air had gotten heavier. It was like it was pressing down on the entire surface of his body simultaneously, the force behind it growing increasingly stronger as Otto had to use more and more of his strength to even continue to breath.
"Being around you makes me so depressed…..such horrid memories…" Subaru muttered as his almost lifeless eyes bore down on Julius, the distance between the two closing with every lethargic step Subaru took as the grass around him seemingly bowed as it flattened itself against the dirt.
Julius however was not taking this idly as he instantly jumped into a combat stance, feet spread shoulder width apart and hands clasped tightly around the grip of his sword, ready to draw it at a moments notice. His eyes were trained intently on the figure approaching him as six colour balls of light made their appearance around him, however this look of concentration was almost instantly replaced by one of panic as Julius found himself in a situation where even he was too slow to respond.
"Now Natsuki-kun, no need to get so worked up over what Julius said, sometimes he puts on airs that can rub people the wrong way. Can't we just let bygones be bygones and move past this?" Anastasia had placed herself in the midst of the two as she faced Subaru whilst questioning him, something that did not change his demeanor in the slightest but at least managed to stop his advance.
"ANASTASIA-SAMA?!" Julius hollered out in a panic, only to be completely ignored by the other two presently involved with the current situation.
"The memories of what he did…..they haunt me…I can never just let them go…." Subaru lamented as he looked right past Anastasia and towards Julius, his left hand slowly beginning to raise from his side and towards Julius.
"Julius, apologize." Anastasia said curtly out of the side of her mouth, and when she did not get an immediate response she proceeded to snap her head around to glare daggers at her knight who was only looking at her in complete disbelief.
But this look quickly fell off his face, albeit one could easily tell that he was biting the inside of his lip as he took on the blank demeanor of a servant who was resigned to carry out the order of his lady, no matter how he may personally disagree with it.
"Subaru" Julius then cleared his throat as his eyes met with the discoloured and empty ones that had replaced those of the boy he had once tried to help.
"It was wrong of me to try and guide you against your will, I was out of place to interfere and infringe upon your right to decide your own destiny. The fact that you have managed to come so far despite following a path that I deemed incorrect, it has only shown me how much I still have to learn as a knight. I should never have challenged you as I did before, just as I should never have tried to lecture you as I have done nought but a moment ago. While I try to better myself in this regard, I must beseech you and appeal to your patience and generosity to not be cross with me, and give me the time to mold myself into someone suitable of fulfilling the role that my lady has placed me in. I hope you can forgive me Subaru."
While Julius had started off his apology in a tense combat stance, his sword had slowly fallen to his wayside before being sheathed. However the tension had never left his body even if his stance had changed, just as his eyes had not lost focus on the perceived threat before him for even a second.
The only comment that one could possibly make in regards to the behaviour of Julius Juuklius at this point was that it was vain, his knightly outer shell complied with his ladies request in contrast to how his emotions screamed from within to reject how unfair it was. Meanwhile his knightly persona that he had carefully crafted and refined over the years, to the point that it blended with his inner self to the degree that they were barely distinguishable, had only good wishes for his ladies plan that seemed to escape his own logic.
Yet there was a little voice buried deep within him, a little voice that jeered out a cry demanding that Anastasia's plan blow up in her face, that she be made to regret forcing aside her loyal follower in an effort to appease this madman.
"Everything good now Natsuki-kun? Julius apologized so we can put this spat between you two behind us?" Anastasia asked Subaru as he continued to blankly stare at Julius while standing stock still with all but a single exception, the fact that his arm had fallen back to his side.
There was another change however, except it was one that was far harder to understand, the mysterious pressure that had been bearing down upon all of them seemed to have dissipated. While it was not certain that it had been emanating from Subaru, the fact that it had disappeared alongside whatever had driven him to act so aggressively could not be said to be a coincidence, and it seemed that Anastasia clued into this just as quickly as Otto had.
"Otto-kun, how quickly could ya get us on the road?" Anastasia turned to question the still panic stricken Otto, who was clutching his chest as he sucked in breaths at a blistering rate, a few beads of sweat rolling down from his brow.
"A few minutes! I just need to hitch Frufoo to the carriage!" Otto blurted out as he scurried to his feet, clearly understanding the real meaning of the question.
As Otto frantically ran off to the carriage, Anastasia gently gripped Suabru's sleeve, her eyes directed slightly upward due to the small difference in height between the two as she spoke to him in the least commanding tone she could manage.
"Come on Natsuki-kun, if we leave now we'll arrive in Priestella just past midday."
Subaru did not respond to her in the slightest way, but he followed her nonetheless as she directed him with the slightest tug on his clothing. It was almost like he was some combination of shocked or stunned, yet whatever it was it was not a strong enough emotion to push away the air of depression and melancholy that continued to hang over him.
But as the duo slowly walked past the frozen visage of the finest, Anastasia almost casually looked over her shoulder at him and made one final set of requests.
"Julius, could you swap places with Ricardo for the last bit of our journey? Oh, and when you arrive in the city with the rest of the Iron Fang could you make sure that they get settled into their accommodations alright, I'm just a tad afraid that they may give Mimi, Hetaro, and Tivey a hard time."
Well her voice did not even have the slightest edge to it, in fact coming off more sweet then anything, it still seemed to be sharp enough to inflict yet another wound on the pride and being of The Finest. While he did bow upon hearing her request, he did not turn to face her nor did he utter a single word.
Even though it was clear from this that he would do as she said, and Anastasia was certainly smart enough to except at least a reaction similar to this, seeing it still managed to make the features of her face furrow a bit, as if she wanted to say "oh".
Yet she did not have time to stop, and therefore she did not do a single thing other then continue to walk towards Otto's carriage with Natsuki Subaru, leaving Julius Juuklius alone with his head hung low.
"Do ya think he's finally drifted off ta sleep?" Anastasia asked the large demi human who was sharing the same bench as her within the ground dragon carriage.
"Looks like it, and I ain't exactly surprised that he is given how little the boys been eatin' lately" Ricardo's voice was naturally a bit gruff but he was doing his best to soften it as to not wake the boy that both of them were intently watching.
"I saw him eat a bit at dinner last night, well it wasn't much it should have been enough for that meal." Anastasia said in a hushed voice to the captain of her mercenary group.
"It might have been enough if he'd been eatin' like that at every meal, but I ain't seen him put a single morsel in his mouth in the mornin' or midday since we left the capital." Ricardo then raised his arm to point towards Subaru's cheek, being sure to keep it well enough away as to not risk accidently waking the boy.
"Ya can see from how sunken his cheeks have gotten and how his complexion has managed ta get even worse, the boy seems ta be intentionally stavin' himself ta the point that he ain't got the energy to even stay awake all day." Ricardo turned to see Anastasia intently studying Subaru, only the slightest bit of concern present in the form of a frown as the gears behind her eyes diligently turned, a sight that made a slight smile spread across Ricardo's face, one that Anastasia noticed after nought more then a few moments.
"What's made you so happy?" Anastasia asked as she turned her head to directly face Ricardo.
"I was just the tiniest bit worried ya see that my lady had fallen for the boy, and that was the whole reasons that she's gone to such great lengths to bring him with us to Priestella, not to mention how she asked the Captain of the Iron Fang to keep an eye on him the whole way there." Ricardo almost chuckled as he spoke, Anastasia actually going so far as to giggle a bit before replying in the most sarcastic way possible.
"I'm such a weak hearted maiden Ricardo." Anastasia then placed both her hands above her heart and called out in the most stereotypical damsel voice she could muster. "Oh Natsuki-kun, I've fallen hopelessly in love with you ever since I laid eyes on you, oh please stay with me until our hearts can let out one final beat in unison!" This performance was followed by the two desperately trying to not laugh for risk of waking them the boy laid out on the bench across from them.
"Its good to hear, means he's only coming along for 'that'. But on a more serious note, what are you going to do about Julius, when I saw him before boarding he definitely did not seem okay." Ricardo's voice took on a more serious tone as he brought up the topic of the pain filled face of the knight he had gotten to know since the onset of the royal selection.
"It does make me feel just a little guilty for what I've put him through, when I get the chance after this business in Priestella is over I think I'll talk everything over with him, apologise for how I've kinda marginalized him and all that. Do you think that'll be enough for him?" It was clear from the heaviness besetting Anastasia's face that the issue was actually bothering her a bit more then she was letting on, and with the way she looked to Ricardo for advice it was clear that she was honestly a bit worried about the answer to her question.
"I don't know An-bo, you hit him deep and ya hit him where he is weak, wounds like those tend ta leave a scar…." Ricardo said in a solemn voice as the carriage grew quiet, punctuated solely by Subaru's shallow breaths.
Memories swirled from deep up within him, yet they did not come from some forgotten corner that existed far within his mind, instead they were bubbling up from somewhere deep within his soul. They were confusing, they did not match or align well with either of the worlds that he knew, yet he knew that they belonged to him, whoever he truly was.
Pain consumed his whole body, coursing through ever nerve simultaneously as an unbearable heat washed over him.
All he saw was the yellow and crimson of the flames that engulfed him, all except the outline of the woman in black, the one who had done this to him. He watched her stand completely still, her back perfectly straight as she watched him burn, until he could no longer see even her as the fire consumed his organs responsible for vision.
He did not hate her, nor did he even hate her for he knew that she had not chosen to do this to him. It was that vile thing, the witch factor; it had consumed her to the point of near insanity, it had twisted her to the point that she would gladly kill and torture if it meant that she could be saited.
His legs buckled and gave out, causing him to fall to the ground as the fire continued to eat away at all that remained of him. He could feel his skin bubble and deflate as the thin layer of fat underneath it liquified and seeped out of his body before it itself ignited. He heard it pop and crackle along with the flames before the world went silent as the fire claimed his ears, another sense going to the wayside.
Most people would be completely panic stricken, wild and irrational, and quite reasonably so as dying a violent death, especially one as painful as being burned alive was a very horrifying and gruesome experience.
However he was completely calm, it was not like he had never been set alight before during his long 400 years on this world.
It was not like he had never died before either.
Soon the pain vanished from his body as he lost all feeling, it was no longer possible to say if he was still clinging to life at this point, or if he was back in the emptiness between lives, the place he ended up when he forgot to specify the point in time he would return to. It was a place without life, without anything to see, for the only way something could exist there was if he made it, and why would he make a place like that pretty if he could spend more time in the beautiful world that he was fighting to protect.
It would not take long to figure out however, he had been burned to death like this enough time to know that there was only about three seconds between the point that he lost all feeling and when he would truly die.
And so he waited, if the situation did not change after those three seconds passed then it meant the flames had been extinguished and that she had decided to keep him alive. It was something she had done before, albeit in a different timeline as he had promptly finished the job before things could have gotten any worse.
Not before long he felt sensation return, the subtle bumps as the carriage wheels road over a small stone on the road, muffled stomping of the ground dragons outside pulling the carriage, and a certain heavenly sensation underneath his head.
He could stay like this forever, it was calm, peaceful, yet when he felt a slight bump against the side of his head he was reminded of why he had gone through all that he had to begin with. It was not a hard hit, in fact it was rather gentle as its owner was still rather weak, something that he knew would not be true for long.
His eyes slowly cracked open as the light of the sun streaming in through the window that completely blinded him.
"You looked so peaceful lying there so I didn't want to wake you, but I guess your daughter had other ideas." A soft and almost bell like voice chimed out from directly above him as his eyes slowly adjusted to the light.
She had long silver hair that gently glistened as the sun's rays bounced off of it, her beautiful amethyst eyes looking down intently at him, a smile that still made his heart race even after he had seen it for so many years adorning her face.
"I guess so, we've got a rough time approaching us so I wanted to rest just a little longer, but I guess she gave me the kick I needed to get back on the horse." He spoke rather nonchalantly as he sat up to remove his head from his wife's lap, just as his words reached her ears her expression instantly changed, like what she had just heard was poison to her mood.
The smile left her face as it contorted in concern, sadness hung over her eyes as they followed his every movement, one of her arms left her pregnant midsection to grab hold of his shoulder as he sat next to her on the carriage bench.
"You just returned by death…didn't you?" Her soft and normally bell like was filled with a level of concern even greater that what was shown by her features. It made his stomach churn with guilt, he no longer really cared if he died but he hated how sad it made her when she found out that it happened, it was almost as bad as the few times he had been forced to watch her watch him die.
"Yes…." Was all he said as he looked down to the floor of the carriage, unable to maintain eye contact with her.
"How did it happen this time…" He heard her voice hitch a bit as she said this, unlike him she had never been able to take his deaths nonchalantly.
He hesitated at first instead of responding, he never liked to tell her about his failed loops because of how they pained her, like she felt responsible for not being able to save him, but it was unavoidable due to the promise they had made long ago.
"Burning." He spoke quickly and abruptly in an effort to rush past the topic, yet just like ever time she latched onto it, he could feel her grip on his shoulder tighten as she took in the single word he had uttered.
"Was it painful…." She asked in a voice filled with pain, a tone that only made the guilt he was feeling even worse.
"It wasn't that bad." He said just as quickly as before, secretly pleading that someone would step in to end the conversation soon.
"That's even worse… it means you've gotten used to it….." Her voice was beginning to sound like she was about to cry now, causing him to look up at her now glassy eyes that stared right into his own guilt filled ones.
He hated to see her like this, it was even worse to know that he was the cause of it, it made his heart ache to the point that he could be convinced someone was squeezing it. Even though her reactions were the worst to his deaths, they normally never went to the point of tears being shed, but for the past 8 months her circumstances had been just a bit different.
He reached over to her and pulled her towards him, she did not resist as she almost fell into his embrace, her face pressing into his chest. While one arm remained firm in its embrace, the other gently moved up and down along her back in an effort to comfort her, a task aided by the words that soon softly flowed from his mouth. "But I do it to make sure we'll still be together after all of this, to make sure that the world that we both love so much is still around for our daughter to explore and fall in love with. I love you Satella and I want to make sure we have many more years ahead of us to enjoy after we cross this last hurdle. After we leave the Augria Sand Dunes later today the only death I will experience will be at the end of our long and happy lives together, and that is something I can promise!"
Satella slowly removed herself from his embrace as the small door to the driver's bench opened and a short pink haired woman made her way through to sit on the bench opposite the two.
"Making your wife cry after she let you sleep on her lap, dragging her into an active battlefield while she's pregnant with your child. Flügel's still a deadbeat husband so I guess all is normal." While her wording may have been what one used when on the attack, the way she jeered them at Flügel made them come off as more of a tease then anything else, especially when coupled with the smug smile adorning her face.
"Ram taking things out of context and ignoring key details in order to poke fun, I guess all is normal." Flügel said as he looked towards Ram, a smile appearing on both his face and Satella's as the mood in the cabin began to lighten again.
"I did come back here for a purpose other then teasing and interrupting the oh so romantic moment between you two, but I guess if I had done some cockblocking a bit earlier then our groups combative abilities would be a bit higher…." Ram feigned a sign of disappointment as she finished her statement, to the slight chagrin of those seated across from her.
"That wasn't very nice Ram, I'm still more then capable of handling myself ya'know!" Satella rebutted while almost pouting at the Oni as Flügel just rolled his eyes at Ram, who seemed to be having quiet the bit of fun.
"So you actually think of things other then how to annoy people, I'm honestly gobsmacked!" Flügel jested back with as much feigned annoyance as he could manage, causing Satellla to lightly smack her forehead with her palm and utter "I hope she doesn't pick up on these weird lines" while Ram scoffed, clearly not finished with their verbal sparring.
"HA! At least I'm not the one who's less useful in a fight then their pregnant wife, which on that note is something that still surprises me. How'd you manage to knock her up with the puny micro pecker you must have down there, did you have to use magic to make things reach?" Ram leaned forward just a bit as she took the upper hand in the verbal battle as some real frustration made its way onto Flügel's face, meanwhile Satella's cheeks began to turn a rather distinct shade of crimson.
"I'm right here you two!" Satella stammered out while simultaneously being exasperated and embarrassed, but neither of the two seemed to pay much attention to what she said.
"TELL HER SATELLA, I DON'T HAVE A MICRO PECKER, I'M NORMALLY SIZED!" Flügel exclaimed in frustration as he turned to face the embarrassed Satella with a serious and expecting face.
"I'M NOT GETTING INVOLVED IN THIS" Satella exclaimed, causing a look of desperation to break over Flügel's face as Ram audibly sneered at him.
"That's exactly what a guy who's got nothing between his legs would say." Hearing Ram's jest Satella turned an even deeper shade of red as Flügel turned towards the door that Ram had emerged from.
"You can read the wind….tell her Reinhard, I'm normally sized down there, right? RIGHT?" Flügel's voice was as desperate sounding as his face looked, in complete contrast to the mostly calm yet somewhat awkward voice that returned from the front.
"I can't read the wind's of untruth when I can't see you, but I'll imagine that you are quiet well endowed down there if it makes you feel better about yourself Flügel." Hearing Reinhard call from the front caused Flügel to sink in his seat as the unsaid truth coming from how even Reinhard van Astrea was consoling him set in.
However before Flügel could even try to say anything an incredibly exasperated voice shouted out from the incredibly red half elf sitting next to him, "CAN WE PLEASE MOVE ON FROM THIS TOPIC, AND WHATS WITH YOU TWO AND IMAGINGING THE SIZE OF MY HUSBAND'S PENIS, HONESTLY ITS REALLY WEIRD AND MAKING ME MORE THEN A BIT UNCOMFTORABLE!"
"Well then, what I meant to say before getting side tracked was that although Flügel may be the weakest fighter, the information he's able to acquire through his ability redeems him. So what are we going up against." Ram collected herself as she asked this rather important and serious question.
Hearing this Flügel straightened in his seat and took a deep breath before responding, the atmosphere around all of them that had only briefly been lightened returned to its heavy state. "Greed's alone in her tower, however Pride and Vanity are blocking our way and Melancholy is somewhere nearby."
A silence descended on the carriage as the true gravity of what they would be up against began to sink in, however it was a silence that was broken by the ever optimistic half elf returning to her normal, cheerful self. "It's a four on four fight then, we've dealt with worse odds before, as long as we don't give up we should be able to make it though this just fine!" Satella did a mini fist pump as she looked at the other two, but their now sombre mood remained relatively unchanged.
Between Ram and Flugel it was Ram who spoke up, taking it upon herself to take some air out of the half-elf's sails. "It's not a proper four on four though, Reinhard is the only one of us who's at all suited to handle Pride and we need Flügel to be the one to spring whatever Greed has waiting for us in that tower. Melancholy is a pretty bad match up for both of us on account of her cursed mana, Vanity is a completely unknown case seeing as we've never had a managed to force her into a direct fight." Ram was dead serious as she said this, there was not even the slightest hint of sarcasm in her voice as she spoke, yet Satella did not seem ready to stand down so easily.
"I'll take on Melancholy while you deal with Vanity, we each have an individual matchup that we have the potential to win so it reallllly should not be too bad. I was the last of us to face Melancholy, I had her cornered and would've been able to finish the job had Vanity not swooped in to whisk her away, give me another go and I'm sure I'll have her this time!" While Satella remained invigorated as she stared at Ram, it was her catching the sight of Flügel slowly shaking his head from side to side that ended up taking making her stop and turn.
"Satella, I absolutely am not going to let you face her again, at this point you are probably the one who would fair the worse against Melancholy. Reinhard is the only one here who doesn't rely on magic to fight at all, I have my authorities to fall back on, and Ram at least can dodge attacks though physical techniques, compared to us you rely entirely on magic for offense and almost entirely for defense." Flügel briefly paused as Satella raised a finger in front of his face as if to object, but before she could speak Flügel grasped her hand with his and lowered it before continuing to speak.
"I know you want to say you can do it, and I agree with you, back when you first fought her you would have won if Pandora had not intervened." Satella then immediately took the opportunity to jump in with a quick "So!" as she looked ready to jump to her feet, but Flügel put one of his hands on her shoulder to keep her down and cut her off before she could get anymore words out.
"Its been two years since you fought her, she had only just come out of the ice and gained her authority, which she quite frankly barely seemed to know how to use, relying mainly on her own magic and wielding its effects as an accident or afterthought. You need to remember how the times that her ice shards landed just a bit too close and prevented you from teleporting, how you relied on your dexterity to avoid the next few attacks until you created enough space to use magic again; could you still pull off the same maneuver now in your current condition?" Flügel tried his best to reason with his wife, but to say that Satella was not known to listen to reason when her emotions got involved was well and truly an understatement.
"Just because I'm pregnant does not mean I'm helpless! Well I do agree that I'm not able to move with the same speed as I did then, or do the same aerobatics, I still have my teleportation magic! If I just use it immediately whenever she prepares her own spells then I'm certain I can avoid it!" Satella was doing her best to get her own spirits even higher, to the point that she was starting to seem just a bit frustrated at the lack of faith that Flügel had in her.
"The thing is, is that at this point I'm not sure you would win even if you were not carrying our daughter, you may be in the running to be the strongest yin magician alive, but I don't think anyone is getting past that monster with magic alone. You saw what was left of the lugunican capital after her attack, it was a wasteland filled with the corpses of nearly every soul who lived in the city. She did that while being up against nearly all of the lugunican knights, their entire magic corps, and Marcos himself, and she killed them all. She's gotten stronger Satella, a lot stronger; I won't ask you to sit this one out but please listen to me when I ask you to avoid fighting her today. Let Ram keep her occupied until Reinhard or I are able to come and finish her off, face Pandora instead, I don't want to ever have to see you as a corpse…." Sadness seeped into Flügel's voice the more he spoke until it got to the point wear it sounded like he was desperately pleading with her, but thankfully for him he seemed to have gotten through in the end.
"One condition." Satella said directly in a voice nearly as serious as the one Ram had used earlier.
"Name it." Flügel responded, relief flooding into his voice.
"I want to know what it feels like to be given a lap pillow after all this time." Satella's voice abruptly changed to the point that she almost cooed her words out.
"It's a deal then, first thing when we get home!" Flügel burst out as a smile returned to his face.
"If you two are back to being this sappy then I don't think we have much to worry about, but I definitely am not sitting here and listening to it." Ram snarked as she rose to her feet in order to rejoin Reinhard at the front of the carriage.
"Good luck Ram" Reinhard called out with a wave and smile on his face as his friend stood just a few paces away, about to begin her journey into the seemingly endless sand dunes.
"Come back safe Ram!" Satella shouted with one hand cupped around her mouth with the other extended far above her head waving.
A small smile crept across her face as Ram looked to the two that wished her well before turning into a mocking smile as she turned to Flügel, the one person who had not wished her well.
"What's wrong Flügel? Not wishing your dearest friend well? Are you still secretly an insecure teenage boy who can't say anything nice to a girl unless you want to fuck her?" While Ram's remark seemed to have absolutely no effect on either Flügel or Reinhard, Satella's jaw visibly clenched as she almost self consciously side eyed Flügel.
"Nah, I just wasn't sure if you succeeding and coming back was worth having to suffer through your shitty jokes anymore." Flügel stroked his chin with one hand while looking at Ram, pretending to be deep in thought.
"FLÜGEL!" Satella stammered at him, clearly not happy with the reply he had given.
"I wouldn't worry too much Satella, its just their normal banter." Reinhard had leaned back with his weight shifted onto his hind leg, his arms crossed and a smile on his face as he soaked in one of the many moments that he had grown to love.
"It doesn't matter Reinhard, that type of comment isn't appropriate at a time like this!" Satella almost rebuked the mighty yet humble Sword Saint before turning to Flügel in order to rebuke him as well. "Flügel, you're sleeping on the couch when we get home."
"Flügel's in the doghouse now, honestly I wouldn't even let you stay there, its not fair to the dog." Ram took the chance to sneak in another remark while Flügel was stuck between his wife's very real pressure and Ram's own fake pressure.
"Fuck you Ram" Yet Flügel took the small chance he had to fire a shot back with the vain hope that it might yield him some minor advantage in the utterly inconsequential competition he had with Ram.
"No thank you" However Ram utterly ended Flügel's attempt before it could even begin as she watched Satella's hand clamp down on Flügel's shoulder.
"OW, Fuck…" Satella squeezed Flügel's shoulder with a fair amount of her half-elf strength inducing what would be a normally unignorable amount of pain. However Flügel had to play into this because compared to being burned alive, this was frankly nothing for him yet he was keenly aware that if he did not react it would achieve nothing more then make Satella sad once again.
And so the last thing that Ram saw before he turned and walked into he dunes was a very apologetic looking Flügel doing his best to appease his clearly annoyed and moody wife. She sincerely hoped to return from her impending battle with one of this world's new calamities, if only to spend more time with this circle of friends she had grown to cherish.
But she did not allow this to draw her mind away from the task at hand as she made her way over the dunes for she knew that the opponent that lay ahead of her was strong, and that even a single distraction would lead to her death.
Of the four opponents that they would have to face today, Melancholy was the second youngest, only older than Pride as it was her most recent actions had led to his tumultuous birth when the city he had once protected was annihilated before his very eyes. However despite being young, neither Melancholy nor Pride could be considered pushovers as their authorities were far more combatively oriented then their two older partners.
Ram knew that out of the four of them that she was probably the second worse choice to face Melancholy's cursed mana, as one of her main strengths was her proficiency with wind magic. Had the circumstances been different she recognized that it would have been better for Reinhard or even Flügel to be here in her place; however Reinhard was the only one capable of standing before Pride and Flügel stood the best chance against Greed.
However the fact that Ram realized this would be her greatest strength, all she needed to do was keep Melancholy away from the main fight around the tower until the other three had succeeded. She certainly was not going to play to win, but instead play to not lose, and if she could do that then she will have won.
When she reached the top of the nearest dune however she stopped as she suddenly felt a chill wash over her. Now Ram was completely covered from head to toe as she wore almost knee high boots alongside loose white pants and a shirt all underneath a long white and pink cloak. It was clothing meant to offer protection from the desert sun, and she absolutely should not have been feeling any kind of chill through it all, yet it only took a few seconds for her to see why.
The sand dune opposite her slowly covered in an opaque white frost as a head of silver hair gradually crested overtop of it. It's owners shoulders were slumped forwards as her arms hung limply by her sides, her eyelids were slightly closed as she dragged her feet through the sand in her slow slog forward. Emilia, The Witch of Melancholy looked just as depressed as her name suggested, there was not the slightest glimmer of joy in her eyes as she looked aimlessly at the ground, nor was there evidence of the slightest bit of care in her tarnished white clothes and knotted silver hair.
"Let's see if you really are as strong as I think you are…." Ram muttered under her breath before shouting "AL FULA" as the wind around her roared to life.
Before her eyes a blade formed out of the air itself before hurtling towards Melancholy at a speed that was nigh unfathomable to the human eye, hurtling sand in all directions as it bore down on the depressed half-elf. Yet the second that it entered the region of sand that was covered by frost it was like the very energy that propelled it forward was sucked away as its strength quickly plummeted to the point that when it finally struck Emilia it achieved little more then rustling her hair. However it seemed that this was sufficient to drudge up the Witch's attention.
Her empty and dull amethyst eyes looked up from the sand to stare straight into Ram's before she began to slowly yet deliberately speak. "I just want it to stop….I really want to be freed from the suffering…..They promised to save me if I came to them…why do you want to prolong my torment, why are you getting in my way…" Her voice seemed to alternate between slurring together and sagging into silence as she spoke in a tone full of melancholy while she stared at Ram with one of the longest faces she had ever seen, yet the Oni did not feel a single shred of pity for her.
"If I let you pass then that would only end up condemning our world and with it all of us. If your honestly so depressed then why don't you just cut your wrists open and die, even a certain piece of human trash I know is at least capable of that." Ram spat at the Witch with a glean of disgust in her eyes that bordered on hatred, some rather vivid memories surfacing in the back of her mind as she gritted her teeth.
"I can't do that….Mom would be very upset if she learned that I was hurting myself…..that man and woman took her from me….took all my friends and family from me…and now your getting in my way when I'm just trying to feel better…..it's really just too sad…" A few tears formed and made their way down the eyes of the Witch as a storm suddenly began to grow around her.
It was like the air itself was suddenly consumed by a biting cold as the frost beneath Emilia's feet was suddenly turned into a complete sheet of ice that expanded outward at a rapid pace, quickly covering an area the size of a small city block.
"I had to watch them all suffer while I was frozen in the ice…..I watched those two that you're helping kill them all….why'd they have to hurt Mom like that…..why'd they have to kill all the other Elves….." Emilia continued to lament as two glowing pink horns began to protrude from Ram's forehead, something akin to electric current arching off them as a look of mania seeped into the Oni's eyes.
"I honestly can't wait for someone to hack you to pieces, at least it'll make you shut up." Ram said as a crazed smile formed on her face as her entire being seemed to be focused on the Witch in front of her, to the point that as she sucked in mana through her horns she did not even notice the massive explosion that occurred off in the distance.
Reinhard let out a single long breath as he slightly relaxed his grip on The Dragon Sword Reid, his eyes fixed on the billowing dust cloud that completely obscured his opponent, the result of his first strike. His exhale was not a result of exhaustion, for he had yet to tire and had yet to even face an opponent capable of making him tire.
Instead his exhalation had been one of regret, he hated the idea of facing Pride, he hated having to fight someone who he had once thought of as his friend, he hated the realization that he would have to kill him in order for them to emerge victorious on this day.
The dust cloud created from his strike that could have easily levelled a building slowly began to clear, revealing that Pride was in fact still standing. At first Reinhard could only see his silhouette, revealing that his opponent had his sword raised high in a blocking position, likely the same stance he had used to catch his strike. However as more and more of the dust began to settle, the Warlock's features slowly became visible.
His pristine white robes that he had continued to wear even after leaving the Royal Knights of Lugunica, his elegant movements as he slowly lowered his sword to his side, and his striking medium length purple hair. As Julius Juuklius, The Warlock of Pride stepped out of the dust cloud and locked eyes with Reinhard a smirk crossed his face as an immense sense of self confidence washed over his features.
"Well Reinhard, how many others can say that they managed to endure one of your attacks? I would like to say that I am the first, but it would be rather rude of me to not acknowledge that it was mainly a product of my new authority, my Insurmountable Perfection. I think at this point that it is only fair that you finally acknowledge me as at least your equal until I can show just how much I have eclipsed you." Julius almost sounded like he was boasting as he walked towards the Sword Saint whilst relaxing his completely pristine knight's sword against his shoulder.
"This is my fault Julius, if I had known what you were going through, how you were feeling then I could have helped you. If I had just been a better friend then you would not have been driven to make the choices that you did." Reinhard's voice was solemn and apologetic, each word that left his mouth came from his heart out of a sense of complete honesty. What had happened to his kingdom, his family, had been his fault; they had all placed their trust in him and he had not been their when they had needed him most.
However there was a shift in Julius' eyes and demeanor, like rage itself began to flow into them, like the words he had just heard had been a hot cattle prod. "Why would you do me the indignity of pitying me Reinhard? What have I done to make you think that I would have even wanted your help, all the death, all the destruction, all the suffering had a purpose. Because I experienced it all I was perfected, without it I would have still been some sniveling and dejected former member of the lower nobility without any purpose in life. Now I have a goal, now it is time for my true beautillion, now I will show that I am truly the most perfect being in existence and that not even the Od Laguna can deny me!" The anger in Julius' voice was initially directed at Reinhard yet as he spoke it was overcome by his overarching pride in himself to the point that he may have looked enraged yet spoken in a matter as if orating a performance.
"I'm sorry Julius, there are many I have failed to save since I became the Sword Saint, a long list which includes your own name, but if I let you challenge the Od Laguna like you wish then I would be putting the rest of the worlds inhabitants at risk. I'm sorry but it appears that I will have to kill you today, even if it pains me to do so." Reinhard stiffened his stance and readied his sword to strike again, yet just as he did so he saw a slight frown appear on Julius' face before he nearly blinked right in front of Reinhard with his sword bearing down upon the Sword Saint's neck.
Reinhard instinctively raised Reid to block the strike, utilizing the movements that had been entrenched into his very body rather then relying on his divine protection, even if they were both suggesting the exact same thing. Their swords collided with a resounding clang that felt like it resonated into Reinhard's very chest as he felt his feet be pushed down into the sand below by the sheer force of the blow he had just blocked.
Reinhard shifted his weight and brought Reid down for an overhead strike aimed at the Warlock's scalp just as Julius realigned his own blade to block the attack. The two swords made contact at an angle as cutting edge slid along cutting edge, showering them both in sparks. Reinhard added even more force to his strike as his sword bore down but Julius shifted his weight before spinning out from under the blade as he let it slide down beside him.
With the momentum he had gained from this maneuver he elegantly slashed towards the side of Reinhard's chest, an attack which the Sword Saint was forced to leap away from thanks to his sword being out of position to block. Yet the Warlock of Pride did not fall behind by even a fraction of a second as he instantly closed the gap by darting after Reinhard while driving his sword forward in an effort to stab him right in the stomach.
Reinhard jammed Reid straight down into the ground with enough of an angle to deflect Pride's stab using one hand while pivoting around the blade to bring his fist down into the side of the Warlock's face. It was a strike that would have completely reduced a normal person to a bloody pulp, yet he did not even feel a single one of his opponents bones even so much as creak under the force.
Reinhard suddenly yanked is fist back before once again leaping away to create distance with the Dragon Sword in hand, a feeling of pain resonating through his right arm. Whilst he had been in the middle of his attack, Julius had torqued his body around in order to slash his exposed arm with his sword. While the cut had not been deep enough to cause serious damage, it had managed to draw blood, meaning that now the injured Sword Saint stood before the completely unharmed Warlock of Pride.
This was probably the first time that anyone had ever come out of an encounter with Reinhard Van Astrea with any claim of having the upper hand, and with the smug smirk plastered on Pride's face it was very clear that he knew this.
This stillness lasted only for a second before he dove right back in, a burning focus in his eyes as if he could see how he would kill his injured prey.
"MINYA!" The single word left Satella's mouth as the platinum haired Witch in front of her was instantly skewered by hundreds of purple crystals, which quickly crystalized her body before it shattered into an uncountable number of tiny shards.
"This whole charade is quite vain of you Satella, you should know that there is no point in trying to fight me." The Witch of Vanity spoke in a voice that was completely calm as she seemingly reappeared out of nowhere, completely ignoring the fact that she had just died for what seemed like the hundredth time.
"If nobody ever at least tried when things looked grim then nobody would ever have gotten anywhere would they! I'm confident that if I don't give up then I can win and I want to believe that today will be the last day of this long struggle against you and that mean Witch that you keep helping. Ram, Reinhard, and Flügel believed that I can beat you so I absolutely won't let them down, no matter how far I have to push myself to do so." Satella's voice was confident and hopeful as she gave her reply to the Vain Witch, yet that very witch took this as an opportunity to lunge towards Satella, which the magician skillfully avoided thanks to her teleportation magic.
Each time she teleported a seemingly incomprehensible amount of mana would surge around her for a mere instant before she would suddenly disappear only to immediately reappear somewhere within line of sight. The amount of mana required to pull of this maneuver was immense, to the point that even some of the most skilled yin magicians that tried it had instantly died the second they cast the spell, their od's completely burned up and consumed.
Satella however possessed an unfathomable mana capacity, easily surpassing any other being in existence, meaning that it barely fazed her to use this expensive spell. And seeing that she was being forced to use it constantly in order to avoid Pandora's attacks, it could be said that her mana capacity was paying off all the magic release periods with interest. The Witch of Vanity constantly appeared around her in what seemed like an effort to either grab onto her or at least touch her, each time requiring Satella to teleport away in fear of what it might mean should the Witch make contact with her.
This lead to what seemed like a game where the two constantly teleported around an area of the dunes, Pandora blinking behind, above, or in front of Satella while she teleported away. Sometimes when the timing was especially close Satella would have an opening to get her own attacks in, each one easily killing the Witch, yet each one failing to end her existence permanently.
"Its vain because you only put on an act of being capable of this, yet from what we have seen so far you are incapable of winning against me. By relying on the belief that if you just push yourself further that you will win you are doing nothing more then pretending that you are capable of such a feat that you have no present way of pulling off. You are just lying to yourself so that you may lie to the ones you are close to without guilt; you must understand that you can only keep up this façade for so long. With each spell you cast that fails to end me, with each attack you manage to avoid thanks to your magic you deplete your very finite mana. Given enough time you will become incapable of keeping up the appearance of being able to challenge me, you will collapse in exhaustion and show that you were never truly capable of keeping up with the Sword Saint, Oni God, and the Great Sage. At which point I will force you to watch as I kill your friends once you are unable to interfere; their deaths will be a product of your deception, your lies, of your vanity." The Vain Witch projected her voice directly into Satella's ear before suddenly appearing behind her and lunging for her.
Yet before Pandora could grab hold of Satella two words left the magician's mouth, "Al Vita" which caused Pandora to be instantly slammed into the sand, every single bone in her body being reduced to a fine powder, every single bit of soft tissue having the liquid squeezed out of it as it was flattened.
"You can say what you want about me Pandora, but I am definitely not going to give up, if it turns out that I can't win against you then I will just have to keep going until my friends can come to my aide. Just as they believe in me, I believe in them; even if Ram would scoff at how corny this sounds, I believe that the fact that we work towards a common goal together means that we cannot lose to a group that is only in it for their own personal gain." Satella spoke seriously into the empty desert as Pandora had yet to reappear, however the second the last word left her mouth she suddenly heard a reply echo back into her mind.
"You say that you have a common goal, but your individual reasons for that common goal are not necessarily the same. You may be superficially tied together on the surface, but deep down you are all fractured, the very definition of vanity." While Pandora's voice may have sounded calm, the second that she finished speaking she suddenly appeared directly in front of Satella. The distance that separated them was so small that the only thing she could see was her adversaries face, the wide crystal blue eyes that seemed to see through everything gazing right into her.
But this situation only lasted for a second before Satella blinked away, yet the second her teleportation finished she finally clued into the fact that something was different. She realized that her breathing had increased and that her arms and legs were beginning to feel heavy, her core temperature beginning to rise above where it should be. It felt just like the exhaustion that would follow physical training, yet she had barely moved her limbs over the entire course of the day.
As the cool night air brushed over her warm skin she realized that this is what the onset of mana deprivation felt like, something she had never experienced and only heard about from those with far smaller mana pools like Ram or Flügel.
She knew based on the rather mild intensity of the symptoms that she was still far from running out of mana, but as she exhaled a warm breath it was clear to her that what Pandora said had not been a lie; she had used an immense amount of mana over the course of the day and if this went on much longer she would run out and cause the whole plan to fall apart.
But as the Vain Witch appeared in front of her again she knew that she could not possibly back down either.
"Shamak" The Witch of Greed uttered the word as Flügel instantly ducked as a fireball flew right past his head, burning away the hair on the back of his neck.
"Well I would have to say that I am surprised you survived that as I do believe you are the first one I ever tried that trick on." Echidna spoke in a voice that was anything but surprised as she calmly walked across her study to sit down in a chair as Flügel remained unwavering in his combat stance.
His journey up to the top of the tower had been uneventful as there had not been a single guard or even a single living being between him and the Witch that he currently stood in front of. What had been of some concern however was the fact that he could see the night sky through the window behind her, it had taken him several hours after separating from Reinhard and Satella to undo the illusions that shrouded the approach to the tower itself, time that his allies may no longer have.
"If you're so surprised then why are you sitting down, the Echidna I knew never stopped at anything in order to understand the unusual. Could it be that your old age is finally causing you to have to slow down?" Flügel mockingly called out to his opponent who seemed to have given up on the fight after they had exchanged what seemed like only the most cursory of attacks.
"As you and I have been kept alive for the last 400 years by the same elixir then I think it would be obvious whether I had suddenly started to age or not. As for why I no longer see it fit to fight, then that comes down to the fact there is no longer any point to it, dragging the confrontation out would only ensure my eventual defeat." Echidna placed one elbow on the arm rest of the chair while leaning her head to the side to rest on her knuckles. When Flügel looked into her eyes he saw something that hinged on sadness, an emotion he had not even seen from her after she had murdered her would be friends in cold blood.
"Has the greed that consumed you to the point of murdering the majority of the few people that could stand you finally coming full circle, making you depressed to the point that you want to die because of all you missed out on?" Flügel almost spat this at her as images of the five Witches of Sin flashed through his mind. He remembered the good times in the beginning when they would all meet on the grassy plain, when individuals that were normally labelled as monsters or forced to hide their true selves could let down their guard.
But he also remembered that rainy night when Echidna had showed up at the laboratory right before he planned to leave, when he had several beating hearts forced down his throat before he managed to escape. That had been the day that she had completely changed in his eyes, when the centuries worth of degradation had finally become apparent.
"The experience of discovering what it meant for one to be a Sage far outweighed whatever else I could have experienced had I kept them around, simple cost-benefit analysis, although I would not say that the thought ever completely left my mind. The reason that I know I cannot win is due to the results of the test you had just been subjected to, it is impossible for me to beat somebody who can Return by Death." The sadness did not leave the Witch's face as she said those last few words, but the corners of her mouth turned upwards by just the tiniest bit as she saw the sheer panic that enveloped Flügel's face.
His eyes suddenly began to dart around the room as he searched for anything that could possibly be out of the ordinary, but there was little to nothing that could seem like a threat to him. There was nothing on the walls but books that held endless volumes of hand written notes, many of which were written by the Witch of Greed herself, but not an insignificant amount which Flügel still recognized as having been his own work. Besides those there was just a table covered in a few loose papers alongside a quill dipped in an inkwell.
However before Flügel could examine anything in any closer detail he was suddenly drawn back by the Witch continuing to talk. "If I could still feel angry or hurt I would expect to have felt that way over how you hid the true workings of your authority from me for so long, yet such a thing would be rather hypocritical given how I haven't been exactly open about my tomes function either." Echidna then conjured her Tome of Wisdom from what seemed like thin air before continuing.
"See, should one person make some discovery and then take it to their grave, it is never given the opportunity to truly become knowledge, it is just a secret. But should they tell others or even write it down, then and only then does it become knowledge, and as the name suggests, the Tome of Wisdom contains all knowledge." Echidna then paused as she thought of how to direct the flow of the conversation before deciding to just continue, however abrupt the shift may be.
"The second you told that half-elf about the true power given to you by your authority, I saw it appear on the pages of my book, yet at that moment I had not realized nor tested the full extent of its utility. Every time we met since then I tried to trap you, place you into a predicament in such a way that it would be revealed, so that I could hopefully witness the evidence of it with my own eyes. However until just a moment ago I had failed in doing that, but from what I have just seen I can be sure that no matter what I do, I cannot ever truly win. Should I manage to trap you, keep you on the edge of death so that you cannot possibly hinder my plans then that would only mean that I would be living with a sword hanging above my head. All it would take would be for a single slip in judgment that allows you to end your own life and my progress would be erased. For all I know that's already happened before hasn't it?" The Witch waited for Flügel to answer her question, but when no answer came all she simply posed another one.
"So Flügel, if I said that I wasn't going to fight back, what would you do?" As the question left her lips it was like all the sadness was forcibly sucked out of her face as the look of twisted curiosity that Flügel knew all too well replaced it.
"I just don't get it, why can't you let me be happy, why does this world have to keep doing everything it can to make me feel so bad…..what did I do to deserve this….." Emotionless tears slowly rolled out of Emilia's eyes as she endlessly and relentlessly bombarded the surrounding area with shards of ice.
Ram had to jump, duck, weave, roll and occasionally flip in order to continue to dodge the relentless stream of projectiles that were flying at her constantly. She knew that she was being forced to move closer and closer to where she thought Reinhard was fighting, but she did not have a choice in the matter. The area around where each shard of ice landed suddenly grew cold as all the mana was sucked out of the air where it grew the icy sheet the covered the ground before flowing back to the caster of the spell.
At this point Ram was not even able to counterattack anymore, her magic did nothing to the depressed monster that marched endlessly towards her. On the other hand closing the distance for a physical attack seemed nearly suicidal as she would either be frozen solid or have her body sucked dry of mana before she could even get close enough to strike Emilia.
"I just want to be able to feel good again….like when I was a little girl before I was frozen…..before everyone else died…..why do you have to try and keep me from that…" Emilia lamented as the intensity of her attacks increased once again.
Ram knew that something had to change about the present situation, if Emilia kept pushing her back at this rate then she could very well end up in the midst of either Reinhard's or Satella's fights, and seeing as she currently was not beating Emilia, that would only end up worsening her friends situation as well. But when it came to trying to change the situation herself then everything appeared just as bleak as it currently was taking everything she had to just survive the endless onslaught.
And that was when an idea popped into the Oni's head.
Ram jumped into the air to avoid a cluster of four icy projectiles as she reached down to her feet and quickly slipped her shoes off. Instantly upon landing she rolled along the ground as another barrage of ice flew over her head, chilling her skin as they narrowly passed by.
The second that Ram got to her feet however she mustered all the strength she could and heaved one shoe at the Witch of Melancholy before quickly following up with the other. The two shoes rocketed forward at a speed nearing that of an arrow loosed from a bow.
Emilia was far too slow on the uptake to dodge these projectiles as she lazily made a single row of icicles grow from the ground at her feet in an effort to form a wall to protect herself. The first shoe slammed into this wall and shattered it at the expense of being thrown wildly off course and careening into the icy sand. The second shoe however managed to fly true as it sailed right through the gap and connected with the Witch's jaw with a rather satisfying crack.
Ram watched as Emilia fell to her knees and clutched her face as red suddenly flowed through the gaps between her fingers and all over her porcelain skin. Needless to say the barrage of attacks from the Witch has ceased the second she was struck, but the icy wind around her ramped up in intensity as if to shield her from any further harm while she nursed her wound.
"Who would've thought that someone so strong was actually such a wimp…." Ram muttered to herself as she watched and heard the beginning of Emilia descending into a torrent of sobbing, at which point the Witch of Melancholy looked up at her assailant as if she had heard the comment.
"WHY'D YOU HAVE TO HURT ME LIKE THAT, WHAT'D I EVER DO WRONG, WHY DOES EVERYONE HATE ME! WHYCAN'TYOUALLJUSTDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIE!" Emilia howled at Ram in a state of pure mania as she seemed to have completely lost control of herself, tears pouring out of her eyes as she finally moved her hand away from her face to reveal that the shoe had knocked out nearly all the teeth from the left side of her mouth.
Yet as the Witch repeatedly screamed the word "die" at Ram it was like the air suddenly fell still as everything stopped, at which point Ram could do nothing more then began to move her lips as to say "Oh Shit…" before being caught in the midst of a giant pulse of mana emanating from Emilia.
In that very instant Ram could no longer move her body, a thick layer of ice suddenly froze over every little bit of her skin, the clothe that covered her, and every bit of her insides reachable to the outside air. She felt the ice form all throughout her respiratory and digestive tract as it began to drain every last bit of mana from her body at an alarming rate. It even went as far as to cover her horns so that no new mana could be absorbed as her vast internal store began to plummet.
She could do nothing but watch as the Witch of Melancholy remained collapsed on the ground, wailing while clutching her mouth like a child who had just been hurt.
Ram felt her own consciousness slowly grow dark as it began to retreat within her own body, she had finally lost the fight that she now realized that she never had a chance of winning from the very beginning. Her only hope was that she had bought enough time, and that someone would end the bawling Witch in front of her before her cursed mana sucked her dry.
"You've proven yourself to be too deranged and dangerous to be left alive, so I would have to kill you of course." Flügel spoke in a solemn voice, his own sentimentality prevented him from thinking about the idea of killing her lightly, she was the one who had originally saved him after all.
"Although that isn't surprising, I can't say that I can just agree to that so readily without receiving some kind of compensation in return, I am rather greedy after all." Echidna changed her posture as she spoke, straightening her back to focus completely on the man standing in front of her, her face still completely consumed by the look of greed.
"The fact that you can speak as if there is something that can be considered proper compensation for truly dying only shows just how far you've been eroded by that Witch Factor. I remember a time when it seemed like the only thing you feared was death, how both of us worked tirelessly on a way to overcome it. So tell me Echidna, firstly why do you think that I would even listen to your offer if you've already said that I will inevitably defeat you; secondly what could this compensation possibly be that you'd be willing to die to receive it?" Flügel's whole body tensed even further as he watched The Greedy Witch's grin grow until it could not possibly grow any further.
"It's rather easy Flügel, your beloved wife will likely last only a few moments more before she is overwhelmed by Pandora and your companion Ram is presently having the last bits of life sucked out of her." Echidna almost sneered as she soaked in Flügel's reaction, the sheer panic on his face as his hand instinctively reached for the hilt of a dagger buried in his cloak, but Echidna spoke again before he had the chance to draw it.
"Now Flügel, I would implore you not to do anything rash before we've finished our conversation. I orchestrated this whole situation to play out like a tower of cards, all it takes is for one to fall for the whole situation to come crashing down, but this tower can only be knocked down without sacrifice in a very specific way. Should I give you the key to defeating Pandora then your wife will live and therefore allow for the opportunity to save Ram; but in turn for this I want my compensation, and to ensure that you don't just back out of this once I help you, we are going to seal everything with a contract." Her voice sounded menacing as she intently watched Flügel with her greed filled eyes, yet her opportunity to soak everything in was stolen for her as Flügel instantly voiced his answer.
"Tell me what you want, Satella's life is worth anything that I could possibly give you at this point." And as the Witch of Greed heard those words the grin on her face that could not have possibly grown any larger managed to become just a bit bigger.
Reinhard was violently thrown into the sand, rolling over several times as blood from the wounds that littered his body left a trail of red as he went, yet throughout it all he had ensured that not once did his grip on the Dragon Sword falter.
"My authority is called Insurmountable Perfection for a reason Reinhard Van Astrea, even if you can barely keep up with me when it comes to swordplay, it seems that you are woefully deficient when it comes to other areas." Julius snarked as he walked over to Reinhard and swung his foot out to kick him in the chest.
Naturally Reinhard raised his free hand to block the strike with his forearm only to discover that Julius had instantly redirected his foot in midair, sweeping under the Sword Saint's arm to strike him in the lower chin. His lower jaw was driven into his upper jaw, forcing his teeth together with enough strength to release a long series of cracking sounds as his back molars were all split into several pieces.
"How does it feel to be surpassed Reinhard, to be beaten by someone who was cast out from the knights, how does it feel to finally lose." Julius looked into the beaten and bruised eyes of the Sword Saint, which in turn creaked open to look at him as he choked out words with his blood-filled mouth.
"It feels good…." Was all that he managed to get out.
"HOW! HOW CAN HAVING YOUR PRIDE TRAMPLED POSSIBLY FEEL GOOD? IT SHOULD BE DEGRADING, IT SHOULD MAKE YOU FEEL HORRIBLE, YOU SHOULD HATE HOW WEAK AND INSIGNIFICANT YOU LOOK RIGHT NOW!" Julius nearly screamed out as he bombarded Reinhard with a flurry of strikes from his fists and feet that all managed to perfectly avoid what little defence the Sword Saint mounted.
"For most of my life I was seen as the strongest, the pressure of it all, knowing that if anything happened to anyone it was my fault since I could've stopped it…. It's freeing to finally find someone that can beat me even when I give everything I have." While his body may have felt completely broken there was an odd sense of peace in his voice, like an immense weight had finally been lifted off his shoulders.
"THAT'S WRONG REINHARD, ITS BORDERLINE HERASY TO REFUSE PRIDE LIKE THAT! SOMEONE WHO IS SO STRONG SHOULD BE PROUD OF IT, THEY SHOULD ENDEVOUR TO SHOW THEIR SUPERIORITY THROUGH EVERY AVENUE POSSIBLE. THEY SHOULD NOT JUST LAY DOWN AND DIE!" Julius railed with a look of sheer mania in his eyes as he lifted his sword up and plunged it into Reinhard's chest, a strike the Reinhard Van Astrea did not even attempt to block.
He felt the sword pierce his chest and tear through his flesh, shattering any bone that got in its until it pierced right through his heart before exiting through the other side of his back. Reinhard felt blood slowly pour out of his wound before dyeing the sand around him an even deeper shade of crimson.
"What a waste…" Julius muttered as he walked away from the body of the man who had once considered him a friend, not even bothering to remove his sword from the corpse.
Yet throughout the whole exchange Reinhard's grip on his own sword had not lessened for even a second, not even when he received the lethal blow that ended his life nor after his death.
His body remained still for a few moments, long enough to allow Julius to bask in his own pride and then turn his back, at which point his free hand twitched before rising to grasp the sword that stood jammed in his own chest.
His whole body was on fire, screaming out in pain as it demanded that he cease his actions and just let it die, that was until a divine protection rang out and silenced these calls. Reinhard removed the sword that had slain him as he rose from the bloodstained site of his death like a phoenix.
The Sword Saint who was most loved by the Od Laguna would not perish while the world still needed him, and even if he did it would ensure that he would rise again to continue on as its champion.
"Do you remember what they told us about pride when we learned about the knightly virtues Julius?" Reinhard asked in a calm and collected voice as the Warlock of Pride spun on his feet in disbelief, staring wide eyed at the results of the Divine Protection of the Phoenix.
"It blinds you." Were the only words spoken by the Sword Saint as he raised the Dragon Sword Reid high above his head where a massive column of mana formed around it before he swung it down with every bit of strength he could muster.
The whole world around them seemed to roar in pain at the immense strength of Reinhard's swing, it was a strike that glowed with power, one that would very likely level an entire city if it were to be unleashed in one.
Yet Reinhard Van Astrea suddenly found his blade halted right before it could come down on his opponent.
"I AM PERFECTION INSURMOUNTABLE! I CAN NOT BE BEATEN! I CAN NOT DIE!" The Warlock of Pride screamed as he used the full power of his authority to clamp down of the blade with his bare hands, holding the column of destructive energy at bay only a few hair lengths from his face.
"Perfection does not exist Julius." Reinhard spoke in a voice that was completely calm in utter contrast to the destructive power that he was wielding against his opponent.
"IT EXISTS, I AM PROOF!" Julius' eyes were burning with such rage and mania at this point that blood was starting to leak out around the edges of his iris', yet even so he continued to manage to hold back Reinhard's strength with nothing but his bare hands.
"If you were perfect then your spirits would not have left you." Although it hurt Reinhard to recall his friend's worst moments, he knew that it was something unavoidable, imperfection was the only possible weakness in perfection.
"AND THAT WAS DUE TO THEIR FLAWS, NOT MINE!" Julius screamed at the top of his lungs as he pressed a bit harder against the blade, increasing the distance between it and his face by the tiniest fraction.
"Yet they had stayed with you through your worst moments…" Reinhard recalled the image of Julius' back as he was escorted out of the knight's headquarters after being dishonorably discharged of his duties, his only comfort being the colourful orbs that circled him.
"TCHHHH….." Julius gritted his teeth as the blade pushed its way back towards his face while thin trails of blood began to leak from his hands that were now desperately trying to hold it back.
"We could only have guessed how this fight would have gone had they also been here to help you, but it was your own actions that ensured they couldn't help you. You destroyed your old self; you chose to break the contract." Those last few words drove into Julius like a wooden stake right through the heart; there was a brief flash of realization in his eyes, like he finally clued back into the results of his own actions.
For a brief instant Reinhard could see a glimmer of the old Julius in his eyes, like all the mania and pride driven rage faded away. Yet that image was instantly destroyed by the Dragon Sword finally slipping through his defenses as his hands disintegrated, its blade slamming right into Julius' forehead and completely obliterating him.
The Witch and the Sage stood in the centre of the room, each with one arm extended, palm pressed against the palm of the other, all while the Witch spoke the terms of the agreement. "In exchange for being given assistance in defeating the Witch of Vainglory, and being allowed to freely punish the Witch of Greed, Flügel will pay compensation. This compensation will take the form of partaking in one last experiment, Flügel will enter the Room Between Worlds and employ its functionality at least once, after which he is free to leave and the contract will be considered complete. Should he not enter the room even after exacting retribution upon the Witch of Greed then on the night of the birth of his child he will fall to madness and give into the urge to slay both his wife and unborn child, this feeling will not leave him even after they die." Echidna's eyes did not leave Flügel's for a single second as he spoke, and after she finished he simply nodded as if to show his acceptance, sealing the contract.
"The deal is done, now it is time for your end of the bargain." Flügel's voice was completely serious as he spoke for he knew all to well just how twisted the contract he had just agreed to truly could be.
"Pandora's authority functions on the very idea of vanity and it affects all that she believes is to be vain, that is to say that it is limited only by her own mindset. While its affects are potentially limitless it seems to currently rely on two key factors, she must have 'exposed' the vanity within the object, which from what I have witnessed has constituted touching it. Yet this seems to be more of a mental limitation that she has placed upon herself rather then being a limitation of her authority. Secondly she must have something that she can compare everything to, that being an object that she recognizes as being completely true, albeit with the downsides of that object being immune to her own authority and with her having no ability to change said object once she's chosen it." Echidna spoke in a voice that was completely calm without the slightest hint of malice, like she was more interested in watching Flügel's reaction to her revelations then anything else.
She could clearly see the gears turning behind Flügel's eyes as he processed the information she had given him, and she excitedly listened when he finally opened his mouth to speak. "So your saying that if we destroy whatever is so important to her then her authority will cease to function?"
"That is correct, and I even intend to go as far as to do the deed for you, it would be rather bad if I failed to uphold the contract by allowing the Witch of Vanity to succeed." Echidna then turned towards the single door out of the study while motioning for Flügel to follow after her, which he promptly did.
She grasped the door handle and opened the door, yet when she did they were not greeted by the sight of the plain stone steps that had led up to the study, yet instead they saw the serene view of a peaceful and green forest with only a single yet rather impressive house to break up the view of the nearly undisturbed nature.
This odd phenomenon did not perturb Flügel in the slightest as he walked through the door after Echidna, when they had worked together the use of her door crossing had been a rather common occurrence.
"This is Pandora's childhood house where she was born and had grown up in under the care of her parents. Even though they died nearly 400 years ago Pandora still resides here and religiously maintains it so that it is in the exact same condition as it was when the Witch Factor of Vanity chose her. From what I can tell she goes through the trouble of ensuring that even the tiniest spider web that was in an obscure corner remains in exactly the same condition." Echidna stood and faced the building with her hands clasped behind her back as she waited for Flügel's response as he stood alongside her.
"So you're saying that if we were to walk in and move a single teacup that it would be enough to destroy the truth of it in her eyes?" Flügel turned to face Echidna as he posed his question, however she did not return his gaze this time, instead just choosing to shrug her shoulders.
"I honestly have no idea, but in this case I believe that the safer option is best, Ul Goa." With the two words at the end of the Witch of Greed's sentence the entire building suddenly exploded into flames that were so intense that Flügel's skin felt like it might begin to burn if he stood facing it for too long.
"Now for the rest of our deal." Echidna spoke in a voice that was completely calm and utterly detached from the sheer morbidity of what they both knew would come next as she turned and walked back through the door crossing, which turned out to be utilizing the houses garden shed as Flügel followed closely behind her.
A cool bead of sweat ran down her brow as she tried to catch her breath, her shoulders heaving up and down with each breath as her body desperately struggled to get every bit of oxygen that it could. Her limbs felt like they had been cut open and filled with metal, they were heavy to the point that she was not sure she could even move them.
"There is no need to continue this charade Satella, all that you need to do is to accept the truth of the situation and give into what your body is telling you, you've reached the end of your rope so it is time to finally let go and stop pretending that you can keep fighting." Pandora spoke in a voice that was completely calm as she reappeared directly in front of Satella.
"Just…..shut up….." Satella panted as a spike of shadow rocketed forth from within her cloak to pierce right through the front of the Witch's forehead before dispersing into mist, leaving her body to fall to the sand as pieces of brain matter slipped out through the exit wound.
"Vanity does nothing more then make things more problematic than they need to be…" Pandora slowly shook her head as she bent down to pick up a handful of sand, only to let it slip out through her fingers.
Yet as these grains of sand fell they instantly shifted into the shape of a swarm of insects, each individual grain transformed into a tiny flying bug of a uniquely vibrant colour, and each with a rather sharp yet tiny stinger.
The swarm emitted a horrendous buzzing noise as it formed into a ball shaped swirling mass of insects that hovered in front of the Vain Witch for but an instant before hurling itself towards Satella.
However within a single instant the entire patch of ground around the yin magician was cloaked in a deep shadow that seemed to cascade off her very being, and at the very second that the swarm of insects flew over this shadow, a million infinitesimally thin black needles hurtled out of the ground and impaled every last one.
This defense however immediately dissipated as Satella's face took on the colour of a shade of pale grey, her body weight shifting backwards as she forced her exhausted legs to keep her upright.
But Pandora seemed to have no intent of giving her the slightest opportunity to rest as she followed right behind the now slain swarm of insects, diving towards Satella with her arms outstretched. Time seemed to slow as the two's eyes locked, Satella began to call up for her teleportation magic to take her away to safety before something akin to an alarm bell suddenly rang out through her brain.
She lacked the mana for the spell and if she were to try to cast it anyways she would be forced to burn away at her od to fuel it. This sent a wave of panic through her, distracting her from noticing the similar change in her opponent's eyes, a nearly identical sense of panic.
Satella's next sense was to conjure up the shadows made of raw mana as she had done to deal with the insects, they required significantly less mana than teleportation, and a noticeable amount less then any Al tier spell, but they to were still too costly.
However at this point she was out of time to think and so she simply acted on the first thing that popped into her head. She muttered the word "Vita" as her cloak suddenly became immensely heavier while she finally gave her exhausted legs permission to give out underneath her. This caused her to fall backwards towards the ground, giving her the chance to utter two more words.
And with them the air between her and Pandora suddenly glinted as tiny pieces of purple crystal could be seen hanging within it.
Maybe the Witch of Vanity knew the affects of this spell and for some reason feared for her life for the first time, maybe it was something else entirely unrelated, but one thing was for certain.
Pandora absolutely did not look calm.
Her body passed into the region of space affected by Ul Minya where her body neatly flew right through all the purple crystals, and the second that her she left the region and verged on falling on top of Satella a thousand tiny red lines crisscrossed every bit of exposed skin that Satella could see.
Then without even seeming to notice it herself, she split into a thousand neatly sliced pieces, showering the yin magician with a cascade of bloody human flesh.
Chunks of meat, pieces of skin, clumps of hair, eyeballs, all of it rained down on Satella alongside a shower of blood as the exhausted magician laid back in the sand and desperately tried to catch her breath.
She was exhausted as the last spell had consumed the final drop of mana that remained in her body, there was no longer enough strength left in her muscles to move, nor was there any hope of being able to fight should Pandora reappear again.
But as she stared at the chunks of her former adversary her mind travelled back to what she had seen when their eyes had met. Within the blue sapphires that had only appeared calm in the face of the hundreds of deaths she had faced today had shown a different emotion; in her final moments before this death Pandora had looked scared, lost, and afraid.
And seeing how the pieces that had once made up her body were not disappearing Satella knew why, something had happened to cause Pandora to realize that she was not going to be coming back from this death, that after several hundred years her life was finally going to come to an end.
Perhaps it was due to how she would soon be a mother, perhaps it was due to the combination of Pandora's childish features and her final emotions, but Satella did not celebrate her victory, instead tears ran out her eyes as she realized she had just killed someone who only ever held a child's grasp on the world around them.
Yet just then she caught a glimpse of someone cresting the dunes as they walked towards her, a smaller figure clad in white robes nestled in his arms.
Even if she could not get over the horrible feeling that was forcing tears out of her eyes, she could smile knowing those two were safe.
"So you said that all I have to do is to use this 'Room Between Worlds' once and my end of the contract will be complete?" Flügel asked as he and the Witch of Greed stood before a large, ornate metal door in the basement of the watchtower.
"That is correct, and to do so all that you must do is open the door and enter it before activating the magic sequence that has been inscribed inside." Echidna spoke in a rather matter of fact voice as she stood with eyes completely transfixed on the structure before her.
To say that the door was large would be an understatement as it easily dwarfed the two adults standing before it as it stood precariously in the centre of the room, seemingly leading to nowhere. The only thing on the door was an odd inlay that seemed to be simultaneously majestic and exquisite, yet completely indecipherable, both describing absolute beauty while simultaneously being unreadable. The doors even lacked both handles or anything to lock them, appearing as if someone could just push them open with their bare hands.
"Am I allowed to ask what will happen once I activate it?" Flügel asked as he turned to face the Witch, who did not return the gesture as she remained completely focused on the structure before her.
"The Room Between Worlds has a main and secondary purpose; it is primarily meant as a means of closed loop time travel, meaning that it creates a parallel timeline of our own world where different scenarios can be explored, except that once you leave said world its loop is closed off and destroyed. It could be said to be the product of my challenge against the Od Laguna, the maximum concession I could extoll with a sprinkling of inspiration from what I suspected about your authority. Secondarily it can also simulate an entirely different timeline with rather extreme variable changes and the associated divergences that result from them." There was a slight sense of pride in the Witch's voice as she spoke of her creation, yet also a sense of sadness as the realization that she would never get to experience the fruits of her labour.
"If what you say is true then why didn't you hide away in one of these worlds, its not like you would ever die of old age, so you could've endlessly experienced all the scenarios that you could ever have imagined?" As Flügel posed his question the sense of resignation grew in the Witch's voice as she finally stepped back from the device before her.
"There is no passage of time between the two simulated worlds that can exist within the room and our own." Echidna replied with her own short and curt statement.
"That means…" An expression of shock appeared on Flügel's face as he finally realized the true reason why the Witch had been aiding him.
"I've already indulged in all I could possibly indulge in, there is nothing more to learn, nothing more to experience, and with it, no more reason for my existence to continue." Her tone was somewhat sombre yet the resignation that came with it was almost calm, like there was nearly no struggle within her when it came to making this decision.
"Should I perish then my soul will be taken in by the Od Laguna and cleaned of all it had learned and acquired during this long life of mine. Although I won't be aware of it, it will allow me to experience everything again for the first time, to restore the wonder that I can no longer see the world through." Just as Echidna finished speaking Flügel felt three nearly incorporeal existances fly into his chest in short succession before nestling near his heart among the other five that currently rested there. While he may have only barely flinched at this, it was enough of a reaction for the Greedy Witch to notice.
"And so with that the you and I have become the last of our kind, the last to be able to claim the title of the nine deadly sins. For the sake of how long we have known each other and as my gift for your unborn daughter I will tell you one last thing before we part ways for the last time Flügel. Although not easily done it is possible to destroy the Witch Factors, but to attempt to do so would constitute your own challenge with the Od Laguna. Although it may not like them, it still considers them to be some kind of spurned child that it will protect, and should you fail to destroy them they will attempt to flee out into the world. However by using the Room you can trick them so they don't escape into our world but the fake one, meaning that given enough attempts you can save your baby girl from having to ever face the calamities of the likes of Melancholy or Wrath." Echidna sat down in an old looking wooden chair by the wall as Flügel's vision fixated on the door and the possibilities it offered.
"And you said that time in there does not flow in respect to here?" Flügel posed his question as he awaited the Witch's answer without even turning to face her.
"That is correct, although I would urge you to wait until I have been given the opportunity to fulfill my side of the contract before you leave, lest another individual inherit Greed. Please hand me the knife I gave you when we first met, and just for the sake of my own dignity don't turn around while I carry out the task." Echidna's voice sounded calm on the surface yet Flügel could sense the presence of a dormant emotion that was being forcibly held at bay beneath it.
He summoned an unseen hand and carefully removed the dagger that had remained carefully concealed within his cloak, slowly floating it over t where he had heard her voice and only releasing his grip once he felt her hand grasp it.
"Thank you for all that you did for me Echidna, aside from how we were pitted against each other when you claimed that you would destroy the Od Laguna, and experimenting on me….dammit I wanted to say that our times together were amicable but they really weren't were they?" Flügel tried to speak in a sombre voice as he made piece with the Witch whom he had known for the last 400 years, yet his characteristic jokiness came out at the end, almost against his will.
"Well 400 years is a long time to know someone else I guess; but I only have one thing to say in response, thank you Flügel." And with those words Flügel heard the sound of slicing flesh and splattering blood as he felt the familiar sensation of yet another Witch Factor finding its home within him.
And then he did the only thing he had left to do, he approached the black metal doors and pushed them open before stepping inside as they closed behind him, all without taking a single look at the Witch's face.
"Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end Why won't this end….." Subaru mumbled to himself as he lay on a bed, staring straight up at the ceiling with eyes that were completely empty. He felt absolutely horrible, everything around him just made him more and more upset. It was like his whole body had been drained of every last bit of his will to live, leaving his limbs sluggish and too heavy to move, not that he wanted to anyways.
There was no joy to look forward to, no light at the end of the tunnel, no goal to fight for, not that he had the willpower to do that anyways.
He hated it here, he hated Lugunica, he hated the entire world that had stolen him away from Japan. He had died countless times since coming here, killed, stabbed, sliced, cursed; it was like the world itself hated him, despised him. But originally he had endured it all, he had fought for the companions he had made since he first came here, but they had betrayed him, used him like a tool that could be thrown away at the first sign of inconvenience. That half-devil for whom he had died for countless times had cast him away and he could never have forgiven her for it.
At first he had wanted to go home, he wanted to escape from this hellish trap that seemed to desire nothing more then to torture him, but then he came to a realization, was he even happy back in Japan?
He was not, he was miserable, depressed, dejected, viewed as a failure by parents who had probably already replaced him by now, going back would provide no relief from his suffering. He was trapped, stuck between two points of abject misery, seemingly doomed to endure nothing but suffering.
There was no relief from it, when he was alone he was left with his thoughts and memories, things that taunted him and showered him in misery, leaving him feeling nothing but depression and melancholy. But when he was around other people it was even worse, they were annoying to the point of almost being suffocating, how could he stand seeing others who were not suffering as it did nothing more then remind him of just how bad everything had become.
He could not even stand food at this point, everything he ate here was either a reminder of how he now existed in this horrid world; or it was close enough to Japanese cuisine to remind him of the fact that he had nothing to look forward to if he ever did get back. The melancholy brought on by this extended to the point that he literally could not remember the last time he ate with one single exception.
The day before last he had died shortly before sleeping, returning by death to just a few hours prior, however it had not been caused by something as vicious as an assailant or poisoning. Natsuki Subaru had simply succumbed to starvation and dehydration, and so he had been forced to consume food and endure the melancholy that came with it.
But he did not kid himself, he knew that he would have to eat again in order to stave off death, to avoid being trapped in an infinite time loop where he just woke up to die before being reset again. To say why he desired to avoid such a death would be pointless, for not even he knew the answer to such a question. Existence was torment, death was torment, there was no difference, so why did he care if he was forced to relive the same day endlessly or wake up to a new one, both were just as depressing.
He would ponder this if he could, think on it until he had an answer to the problem which he could act upon. However he was too depressed to act, not to even mention too melancholic to dare to focus in and think about things that made him feel so horrid. This left him to just lay still as he attempted to simply endure the depression of the present that bore down on him, a sensation that was akin to how one would feel as they lay tied down at the bottom of a lake, waiting for the inevitable death that awaited them.
That was until there was a knock on his door.
It was not a loud knock, but it was persistent even though he did not respond to it.
"I'm coming in Natsuki-kun, holler if it's a bad time" The voice spoke in the distinctive kararagian accent that he had been hearing so much of lately, a knock-off of the kansai dialect he had occasionally heard back in Japan, something that he really did not want to hear.
But he could not bring himself to shout at the owner through the door to go away, he did not have the energy to shout, nor even speak, he was just too depressed for that. Depression was the singular thing he felt with one slight exception, there was something buried deep in his heart that called out to him, it demanded to spring out and let the world experience his suffering, to be forced to bear the weight that he carried.
Yet he did not listen to it, even if it had started to slip out on its own before. Natsuki Subaru did not really understand much about it, however he did know that it was tied to Hector, the last one to use him as a tool in aide of their own goal. This was reason in and of itself not to trust it.
There was only about a second wait before she creaked the door was opened rather hastily, sliding it across the frame with such force that it made a clattering sound when it was abruptly stopped by the end of its track.
While Subaru may have heard all of this, he chose not to turn to face the individual who had just entered his room, instead he chose to continue to lay on his bed and simply stare up at the ceiling as he heard the sound of her footsteps as she walked towards where he lay.
However his clear vision of the wooden planks that comprised the ceiling of his room was soon filled by the image of the slightly concerned looking kararagian merchant. Her appearance was slightly different from what he had normally seen prior to this moment, needless to say it was not one that would generally be considered fitting of a candidate for the throne of Lugunica.
Anastasia was not wearing her normal attire and instead dressed as if she was about to head off to bed, replacing her normal dress with a long silk nightgown that hung loosely from her body. Her light purple hair that normally was neatly done and adorned with small starshaped clip was instead tucked behind her ears and hanging loosely.
However from the handful of papers that she held in her hand it was clear that she was not intent on going to sleep anytime soon.
"Ya were still sleepin' when we arrived, so I thought not ta wake you and had Ricardo carry you up here. I had some food sent up here since ya still hadn't come down by dinner but I see that it hasn't been touched…" Anastasia continued to look down at Subaru as she spoke, the tone of her voice changing just a bit towards the end as if to convey some sense of concern, fitting as it matched her facial expressions.
There was a slight pause in the conversation as Anastasia seemed to wait for Subaru to respond, yet even though her face occupied most of his vision he chose to ignore her as his gaze simply looked right past her.
However even if this behaviour added a slight bit of awkwardness to the conversation, the skilled merchant did not let it stop her as she simply began to continue the incredibly one sided conversation. "Since we brought ya all the way here from the capital, I wanted to take the opportunity to show ya something. I had a rider race ahead of us and fetch somethin' for me just across the border in Kararagi, it's a reproduction of a few pages from Hoshin's journal that the Hoshin Company commissioned. I was wondering if ya would take a look at 'em?"
Although Anastasia phrased this as a question it seemed like she had already caught on to Subaru's schtick, and so without even waiting for a response she ruffled some pages in her hands before holding one directly in front of Subaru's face, obscuring about half her own in the process.
"Why can't you just leave me alone…..you drag me here, you drag me there, you keep demanding more and more, will there ever be an end to it…." For the first time since she entered his room Subaru seemed to acknowledge her presence with a few words and a slight shift in his eyes so that they looked directly into the single one of hers that wasn't obscured by the page.
Anastasia may have had the best poker face in the entire kingdom of Lugunica, and it would be a good bet to say that it was probably one of the best in the entirety of all the four Great Nations; however by the slight shift in her posture when his pair of heterochromatic eyes looked into hers it was clear that her armour could be pierced. They were cold, empty, and essentially lifeless looking, they sent such a shiver down her spin that it was impossible not to react at least a bit. The look she received was not one from a common robber, nor a crazed killer, it was one that was just inhuman enough as to trigger an instinctive sense of uncomfortableness, like deep down her instincts were telling her that he was not someone who was safe to be around, regardless of his currently poor physical state.
But Anastasia Hoshin was greedy, so greedy in fact that she would not let some base instinct that seemed to derive from her sense of self preservation stop her from achieving her goal. It was because of this that she nearly instantly steeled herself as she pressed the paper forward just a tiny bit as if to assert herself while doing her best to hold Subaru's gaze.
She watched him as he watched her, neither of them blinking as a pressure began to build in the room. At first Anastasia thought that this pressure was merely a product of the conversation itself, something born out of the intensity of the interaction. However it very clearly became apparent that it was no such thing, instead it was becoming eerily familiar to the sensations he had experienced earlier in the day.
It was like someone had tied weights atop her shoulders before piling more atop her chest, it was getting harder and harder to breath, and with the way it was increasing she knew that it would soon become difficult to even stay standing.
"Can you get that thing out of my face, the handwriting on its own is so atrocious that it makes me depressed…." Subaru let his eyelids slowly slide shut as he spoke in a voice that was empty all but for the sadness that drenched it.
Meanwhile Anastasia had to do her best to not start gasping the second that the pressure disappeared, an event that happened almost instantly once Subaru started to speak, yet even now she could not stop her own curiosity as she saw a small thread suddenly make an appearance, one that she felt she had to latch onto.
"Bad handwriting? This was made by one of the best copywriters in all of Kararagi, what about it makes it look messy to you?" Anastasia carefully turned the papers around so that she could look at the series of odd symbols that had been carefully drawn onto it, even if they were indecipherable to her. As she did this she also made sure to lean back from Subaru's bed, needless to say she was going to play this conversation a bit more like a conniving fox rather then charge headlong into it like she had been doing prior.
"Every single character's stroke order is wrong, it looks like it was drawn rather then written…." There had been a brief period of silence before Subaru had answered, but nonetheless he had answered.
The second his words reached Anastasia's ears it was like a wave of excitement washed over her body, it was like her eyes had suddenly taken on the visage of the stary night sky outside as they sparkled, her face almost uncontrollably broke into a smile. While it may not have been clear for some, in order to critique the writing that appeared to be flawless to the degree that Subaru had just done, one must know what it should have looked like, and that insinuates that one knows the meaning behind the characters themselves.
She was filled with questions to the point of bursting, "what did the page say?", "what kind of writing was it, informal or formal?", "what does the way it was written say about Hoshin?". However before Anastasia could even try to form these ideas into words she was interrupted by a rather loud voice sailing in through the open window.
"WHO DO YOU THINK I AM, TO INSINUATE THAT A BEING AS PERFECT AS I COULD MAKE A MISTAKE OVER WHETHER I WAS ALLOWED TO ENTER THAT SPECIFIC WASHROOM? I AM PERFECT, I AM WITHOUT FLAW, TO SAY SOMETHING AS TO SUGGEST I NEED RULES TO GUIDE MY ACTIONS SUGGESTS THAT I AM FLAWED, THAT I CAN MAKE MISTAKES. I, REGULUS CORNEAS, SIN ARCHBISHOP OF GREED KNOW EXACTLY WHERE I MUST GO TO RETIREVE WHAT IS ALREADY AND RIGHTFULLY DESERVED, MINE! BY TRYING TO STOP ME FROM RETRIEVING 227 YOU ARE INFRINGING ON MY RIGHTS TO CLAIM WHAT IS ALREADY MY OWN PROPERTY, IT IS AN AFFRONT, IT IS A SUGGESTION THAT YOU KNOW BETTER THAN ME, SOMETHING THAT IS SO THROUGHLY IMPOSSIBLE! YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY KNOW BETTER THAN ME BECAUSE THAT WOULD MEAN I HAVE A FLAW, YOU MUST BE LYING, INFRNGING ON MY RIGHTS BY ATTEMPTING TO DECIEVE ME! I WILL NOT BE STOPPED; I REGULUS CORNEAS WILL NOT ALLOW SOME MEASELY EXCUSE FROM A MAN TO PREVENT MY MARRIAGE TO 227!" The voice was so utterly enraged that its owners face could only have been consumed in seething anger, yet what followed the utterly insane rant was not a clever rebuttal nor an equally vitriol infused statement.
What instead followed was an immense crumbling and crashing sound, like what one would hear when a typhoon wave slammed into a building with enough force as to completely crush it under its immense strength. What differed this sound from that of a typhoon wave however was how there was no slow build up of intensity as it got closer, it grew almost instantly louder as suddenly the very floor beneath them was thrown into the air like a bedsheet.
They both seemingly hung still in the air for a second along with an assortment of wooden splinters and debris that had once constituted the building they were in. Subaru caught a glimpse of Anastasia's face, her eyes were wide and her mouth hung open in a mixture of complete shock and utter terror as she found herself in this unpredictable position.
In contrast to Anastasia, the look on Subaru's face had not changed in the slightest, it was still just as depressed as always, and in further contrast to her, he did not even seem to slightly care about the situation at hand in the slightest.
While most of Subaru's vision was filled with the small kararagian merchant, the remained was filled with chunks of wood that had once been the floor below him with the sole exception of the feather filled mattress he had once been laying on only seconds before. Since the impact that had launched them into the air it had both shifted and rotated to the point that it was now beside him and verging on being above him.
This state of time feeling frozen only lasted for a single instant before it suddenly rushed back to what must have been a normal rate of flow. The second that things began to move again Subaru felt himself falling and saw everything fall along with him, with the last thing he saw before blacking out being the purple haired merchant flailing in the air as she fell towards him before colliding headfirst into his skull.
Being disconnected yet connected, things making sense even if they are the product of pure lunacy; that is what dreams are yet what Natsuki Subaru was experiencing now was certainly not a dream.
He was surrounded by what seemed like a brilliant void in space itself, utterly captivated by it to the point that he was able to ignore his own emptiness. However the emptiness that he felt was not something born of an unbalanced mental state, in fact he felt nothing of the likes of pride, envy, or even melancholy, it was more like part of him was missing, things that should have been there for him to be complete were not, and as such he was incomplete.
But this did not seem to matter to him in the slightest as he stood and watched the shadows that filled the void gently swirl and billow. Some of them were an elegant purple colour, while others were a far cruder black. They complimented each other however, the masterful purples with their odd transparency and the cruder blacks that seemed to chase them in their perfection. Yet the path that Subaru existed on seemed to be comprised of the same black shadow as he saw floating in the void, it was like their own achievement had been born out of their imperfections.
Far in front of him stood a tall, black metal door, it was arrayed with intricate metal work that seemed eerily reminiscent of another door that stood so prominent in his mind that it was almost like it was imposed into his very soul. They looked identical to him, every detail of this door that seemed to occupy his whole mind was displayed in this replica that stood before him, every perfection and every imperfection.
Yet there was something that made him feel absolutely certain that they were not the same door, even if it was intangible. The door in his mind evoked a raging flurry of emotions, joy, longing, sadness, and hope; yet when he looked upon this door before him, he felt none of that. To him this door in front of him was nothing more then an imposter that stood as a mockery of the perfect door he longed to open.
"DAMMIT!" Subaru heard a masculine voice that was eerily reminiscent of his own shout out from behind him, almost simultaneously followed by a loud bang against what sounded like a wooden table.
Subaru felt like he should turn around to see who had made the shout, yet when he tried to turn his head he found that he could not. It was like every muscle in his body beside his eyes were ignoring the commands of his brain. He could not walk, he could not talk, and he soon realized that he could not even breathe. However this did not bother Subaru for as he looked down he soon realized that he did not have a body, or did not seem to have a normal one at least.
All that he saw was the faint outline of what should have been him, yet instead of being comprised of flesh and blood, it was made out of a combination of rough golden lights and more crude black shadows. They constantly seemed to be swirling and moving overtop of one another in what seemed like a competition of opposites, yet they maintained enough harmony to never distort that outline that was Subaru's shape seated in a chair.
"The Witch Factors have survived destruction again by the smallest margin, that means that we must go looking for them once again." The man's voice had considerably calmed down from before, however it was almost like there was some hint of dejected resignation in it, like it was a struggle for him to keep going.
"We've gotten the proper approach to this down; you'll be sent to the other side to slowly rebuild your soul while I lay the foundations. It should not take me more then twenty years to do so, by which point she will certainly have found you and pulled you into the closed loop, where you will take over as I try to find the last puzzle piece we need before we can return home. Just remember one thing Natsuki Subaru, never forget why we do this, never forget who we do this for." While the man sounded meticulous at first, his voice began to trail off slightly as emotion seeped in towards the end, giving off the impression that he was speaking more to himself then to anyone else.
Subaru then felt the man begin to push the chair forward, and by extension him as they began to move towards the door at rapid speed.
"When we finally succeed we'll get to smile again Subaru, truly smile once we've wiped those vile things from the face of the earth! Whatever happens, whatever we have to do, is nothing compared to what the world will gain. We just have to suffer a bit longer, just a bit more, but only we have to suffer, and in return the world will be a better place for our little girl!" The man's voice suddenly filled with resolve and hope as he spoke of things that Subaru could not even hope to recall, to him there was only a single thing, that one door etched into his very soul.
The large door in front of Subaru swung open at the last possible second before he collided into it, and just as it did he found himself flying off his chair as it suddenly and abruptly came to a halt. He fell into a black void that was similar to the previous one, except it was utterly empty, devoid even of shadow.
Just as the void seemed to completely consume everything, leaving not even the slightest bit of light nor the tiniest sound he suddenly heard something ring out into the silence as an incredibly bright light bore down right into his eyes.
The light overwhelmed him to the point that he could barely think, yet it took him only a moment to identify the sound, the cry of a infant, and it took him only a single additional moment to identify where it was coming from.
His own mouth.
He did not know how long he was out, how long his senses had been disconnected from the reality around him, it was truly a shame for that period of time for which he had no recollection of was also one where he could honestly say that he did not feel truly horrible. But he could feel now, he could feel a damp stone floor underneath his head, broken bit of wood that scratched, cut and punctured his body; and finally a heavy mass pressing down on his chest that seemed to be slowly shifting yet unable to stand up.
His eyes slowly cracked open to see that the mass on his chest that was trying to move was Anastasia Hoshin. Compared to just prior to their fall she looked like a complete mess, hair splayed and tangled in every possible direction with a patch near the corner of her forehead caked with dried blood, likely from the impact between their craniums that had rendered them both unconscious. Subaru looked into her half closed eyes and did not see any hint of the former sharp look or cunning that the kararagian merchant was so renowned for. Instead they looked foggy, almost clouded to the point that it was debateable that she was even seeing the world around her clearly anymore.
She tried to push herself up and off his chest, except she seemed to be having trouble moving her arms, their movements being both uncoordinated and imprecise, eerily similar to how one's leg would behave after it had lost circulation. Subaru continued to watch her for what seemed like an eternity until she finally got her arms underneath her and tried to push her body up, but before she could create a space to even fit her own small fist between the two her arms started to violently wobble before giving out and causing her to fall back on top of him. Needless to say this was not something expected from the candidate, she may not have been known for feats of strength but she was certainly capable of pressing her own body off the ground under normal circumstances.
However it seemed to be at that moment that she noticed that Subaru was watching her, her own eyes lazily turning to look into his. "Thank you for softening the landing Natsuki-kun…..I'm sorry I can't get up…..my head feels really foggy…" Anastasia's voice sounded distant as she slurred out her words before her eyes slowly slid shut and nearly all movement from her ceased, only her shallow and rhythmic breathing remaining.
Natsuki Subaru's eyes drifted upward to look in the direction that they must of come from, and from this gaze it was made clear just what kind of situation they were in. The ceiling was made of stone bricks that had been carefully cut to form an arch, except the apex of this arch had been torn asunder to the point that rubble and debris from above had fallen through. The only reason that the two of them had avoided being crushed to death seemed to have been Subaru's bed, which remained above them jammed in the hole at a steep angle where it had managed to deflect or otherwise guide the rubble so that it did not come straight down on top of them. However there was a consequences to this, since the majority of the debris had not been able to come straight down and therefore spread out, it had been forced to pile up behind them to the point that the hole in the ceiling was completely blocked. Needless to say this meant that they were well and truly trapped in whatever tunnel, sewer, or catacomb they were in, at least from the perspective of being able to leave the way they entered.
It was not exactly obvious where they were, it looked to be a tunnel of some kind that ran underneath the city, it was somewhat damp yet there was no large flows of water which would eliminate the possibility of it being a sewer. And they were relatively narrow, at most two people could walk side by side with their shoulders rubbing against each other, this coupled with the fact that the walls lacked any kind of cutaways for storage eliminated the possibility of it being a catacomb for mass burial. But with these two options eliminated it left their purpose rather unknown as besides being some generic tunnel there was not any obvious use. However Natsuki Subaru did not particularly care about details like that in the moment, he felt tired and weak, his whole body hurt from the fall and because of this he wanted nothing more then to just close his eyes and go back to resting like he had been before all the interruptions.
His eyelids were about to slide shut when he heard a sound in the near distance, the pitter patter of bare feet slapping against the wet stone floor, and based on how the volume was slowly increasing, the source of the sound was getting closer and closer.
"So disappointing, probably disappointing, almost certainly disappointing; forcing us to reject two meals served up on a silver platter is the opposite of bizarre eating, it is gourmet, it is sanitation but it is not bizarre. But the Gospel promises us gluttony in exchange, so many meals that we could not possibly consume them all, no matter how much we munch and crunch we could not possible overeat enough, no matter how gluttonous, no matter how much gluttony, even nii-sama would see it as glorious ttttttttttsuuuuuuuuuuu." By the time the voice finally stopped speaking its owner was standing right above Subaru, staring down into his monochromatic eyes with its own emerald green ones. He was seemingly clothed in nothing more then a large sheet of rough cloth that he had wrapped around his body with only the absolute crudest of tailoring. His brown hair was long and dishevelled with the sole bit of order being how it was forced into a poorly wrapped braid that went down all the way to his back. However there was one thing that was notable about him above all else, the look on his features was one stuck between mischievous and utterly insanity.
"Nii-sama would call you gourmet, but we don't care about details like that in the slightest tttttsu. We, Roy Alphard, Sin Archbishop of Gluttony representing Bizarre Eating only want to fill our stomach with as much as possible, truly gluttonous tsu!" And with that Roy drew twin daggers from his robe and stabbed directly downward, through Anastasia's upper body and into Subaru's chest.
The second the first dagger pierced Anastasia her eyes instantly shot open, but the second she opened her mouth to scream out it instantly filled with blood, which flowed out of her open lips before she went limp.
Roy had not just stopped with stabbing once, instead he pulled the daggers out and stabbed again and again in a frenzy, covering himself in the blood of his victims in the process as he looked on with a maniacal look in his eyes. Subaru felt every little wound from the knives tear into him, each cut brought with it pain, each spurt of blood brought him a little bit closer to death.
Yet there was a tiny glimmer of hope that seemed completely out of place in someone who had resigned themselves to live in a world that brought him only depression and misery, maybe there was a limit to return by death, maybe just maybe he would die for good this time.
And so he did not even try to fight back, even when the entity that was bound up around his heart, that filled every corner of his body, even as it screamed to be allowed to annihilate the one who was subjecting him to this misery, he did nothing but lay still.
It did not take long for death to come, yet unfortunately for Natsuki Subaru the second he felt himself finally slip away he was brought back to the familiar sight of the manic looking and emerald green eyes staring down at him, daggers in hand.
Yet he still did not move as the daggers plunged into him once again.
It was all just a road block to the true reward that lay ahead, death and the empty void of nothingness that would accompany it.
Yet each time he felt himself slip away he just found himself staring up at those eyes again and again, but each time he still did nothing to oppose it. He soon lost count of how many times he lay there and just let himself die as even the knives that were ripping his body to shreds became reduced to nothing more then an ignorable sensation.
It soon got to the point that he had grown so numb to the situation around him that he was able to just lay there as he was killed over and over again, noticing the injury being inflicted upon him only in the vaguest possible way. However after an unknown amount of time had past he was suddenly snapped back to the world around him, not because of an increase in the pain, but instead because of the fact that it had suddenly stopped.
His eyes slowly creaked open to see the frozen visage of Roy Alphard, his dagger grasped firmly in his hand were it was less then a finger length away from piercing Anastasia's back from where it would travel though before entering Subaru's own chest. Yet the Sin Archbishop did not appear to be moving whatsoever, it did not even look like he was breathing as he remained completely still. The same could be said for Anastasia as he could no longer feel even her weak and barely noticeable breathing as she remained completely motionless atop his chest.
It was only then that Subaru noticed the sadly familiar shadows begin to waft over him from behind as the light level in the already dark tunnel dropped even further as he felt his whole body completely freeze up, he could no longer move even if he wanted to.
He knew who could cause this to happen, it had happened before and he just despised the memories so much, they made him feel hurt, sad, depressed. She was the one who had dragged him here against his will, who had cursed him with a power that only made him suffer. He was completely flooded with melancholy at the thought of having to deal with her again.
When he heard the words "I love you, so why do you let yourself suffer like this…." Ring out in her voice that was still soft and reminiscent of a bell, he had only the desire to gouge his own ears out so he would never have to hear it again.
When he felt a pair of arms reach out from behind him and gently stroke his cheeks, the only thing he could think of was to flay his own skin to the point that he would never have to feel her accursed touch ever again.
And finally when she stepped out in front of him, masking everything around them in shadow so that he would only focus on her, he just wished he could have blinded himself to never have to look upon her again.
Even though Satella, The Witch of Envy stood before him without the slightest hint of the crazed demeanor she had given off during their previous few encounters; Natsuki Subaru could feel nothing but depression towards the displays of affection from the witch who had cursed him.
"Why do you let yourself die over and over again, you have the power to avoid death….why do you use it to keep reliving the pain and suffering….." Her voice quivered and verged on breaking, like how one would sound when they were about to break down and cry but as Subaru could not see her features, he could only guess if she was or not. This was because her whole body with the exception of her hands and lower face were clad in a thick layer of black shadow that was nearly identical to what now covered their surroundings. The sole thing that differentiated them was how the shadows she wore seemed to billow less, giving them a closer appearance to that of cloth then the dark fog that the others reassembled.
Subaru felt the unknown thing in his chest cry out to him with the loudest call it ever had, except this time he could feel that it was just as sad and depressed as he was, almost as if they were now attuned in some weird way. They both decried what the world had done to them, how unfair it had been, how it was out to make them have the worst experiences imaginable. The only difference between them was how it wished to show the world just how heavy the water that dried to drown them was, while Natsuki Subaru simply did not want to go through the effort to do so.
He felt the odd freezing sensation leave his jaw, which he could now move even if the rest of his body bar his eyes remained still and frozen in place.
"What's the difference, its not like dying is any worse then living at this point…." He lamented as he noticed the witch's lower face suddenly stiffen as the words reached her ears.
It almost looked like she was biting down on her tongue a bit to keep her composure before she continued talking. "How could you say that… When I couldn't stand anymore you picked me up and gave me the push to keep going….When I couldn't rest because of just how horrid the world was and how I couldn't bring myself to go another day, you stayed with me until I was at ease and fell asleep….you taught me that no matter what there were things in the world worth loving….you taught me what it meant to feel love. How can you just give up on life like that Flügel….how could you think that I would just give up on you like that….."
Her words may have been exuding her own pain but the only effect they had on Subaru was to fill his heart with lead, it hurt him, saddened him to have to listen to her tell her sob stories. It reminded him about how he had fantasised about being summoned to another world by a cute girl who would love him, yet it was depressing to find out that the girl who ended up doing exactly this would whisper sweet lies into his ear to manipulate him. Enough people in the accursed world had used him like a tool, and as he had no memory of the lies she spoke he was certain that she trying to do exactly that too.
"Liar…." Were the only words that left his lips as he finally released his grip on the accursed thing in his chest as he chose to embrace it instead.
He wanted to show her just how much she had hurt him, he wanted her to experience all the sadness that her actions had plagued him with, he wanted her to suffer just as he had.
At first her face was completely frozen in shock from the singular word that had reached her ears, yet it took only a mere moment for her to look down and realize that the shadows that shrouded her midsection were caving just ever so slightly inwards; and only then was it that she was launched into the side of the tunnel wall with enough force to leave an impression of her body in the stone.
She did not seem physically hurt by the impact that would have easily mortally wounded a normal human, yet it was clear from nothing more then the tone of her voice and what she said that the damage had been emotional, and it had run deep. "What broke you to this point Flügel…."
And it would be those words that would be the last things that Natsuki Suabru heard from the Witch of Envy before her very body itself seemed to breakdown into shadows. The last thing he saw of her was how her lips contorted as she struggled to hold herself together, tears clearly running down from her shrouded eyes as the shadows completely consumed her body before they themselves dissipated into thin air.
The second that this happened time seemed to unfreeze instantly and with it the knives of Roy Alphard once more dug themselves deep into Natsuki Suabru, ending his life again.
"Why does everything have to be so depressing…." Was the only thing to leave his lips the second he returned by death, causing Roy Alphard's blades to suddenly stop in midair.
"So you understand us, you understand the ache we endure, the hardships of giving up a gluttonous meal in the hopes of an even greater feast!" A smile spread across the Sin Archbishops face as the words seemingly danced off his tongue, mania nearly pouring out of his eyes at the thought of finally encountering someone who understood what it meant to bizarrely eat.
Yet this emotion elicited by the one who had killed him an uncountable number of times up to this point did not do nearly the same thing for Natsuki Subaru. Why must others get to feel joy at his misery, bettering their own lives at the expense of his suffering. It made him depressed, distraught to think that the world hated him to the point of using him as a resource for its other inhabitant's betterment. It was like it too just viewed him as a tool and not a person, it was truly a melancholic thought, truly deserving of the moniker "the worst of the worst of the worst".
Roy realized about half a second too late that Natsuki Subaru was nowhere near being on the same wavelength as him, and the cost of that delay was an invisible force that briefly built on his shoulder before unleashing itself to slam him sideways on into the wall with sufficient that his shoulder could be audially heard shattering.
Subaru mustered what little physical strength he had in his own muscles to roughly shove the concussed Anastasia off his chest and onto the floor, garnering only the slightest response from her in the form of a dazed "huh".
Yet just as Natsuki Subaru stood on his own two feet he felt something cold and metallic jam itself into the soft part of his neck. He looked down to see Roy Alphard looking up at him with a serious expression, yet his eyes still gleamed with madness.
"Our feast, our gluttony will not be denied, no matter what." Were the only words to ring out from his mouth in a tone matching his facial expression before he twisted the knife in Subaru's neck and ripped it out.
Subaru nearly instantly collapsed to the ground as he felt the little warmth that remained in his body pour out of the wound, leaving him a few seconds to think as he watched Roy finish off the nearly immobile Anastasia with a single slash of the blade held in his only functioning arm.
There had been many people in this world that had made him suffer, the entire Emilia camp had followed along as its leader used him like a tool and discarded him, Hector had used him like a tool in order to reach the tomb before abandoning him under this crushing depression; Crusch Karsten had used him in a fashion similar to Emilia, as a means to further her standings in the Royal Selection. And now two more abusers had been made apparent, the Witch who had cursed him and dragged him here against his will was lying to him, whispering sweet nothings in an effort to twist him around her finger, most likely so that she too could use him for some goal of her own. And then there was Roy Alphard, who was treating him as some kind of meal coupon for whatever feast he had been promised.
It was just so depressing that he could not take it any longer, even if the blood and very life may be draining out of his body, he would show them all just how much he had made them suffer, he would make them bare the weight that he had been forced to carry.
His eyes may have slid shut as he passed away yet again, only to slide open once again as his curse dragged him back to the world of the living a few moments prior. However when they opened this time they were not the eyes of the uncaring Natsuki Subaru who was depressed to the point of giving up, but the tired and tear filled ones of someone who just could not bare the melancholy anymore.
He looked up at Roy Alphard as he was once again about the plunge his knife downward and without the slightest hesitation focused in on the base of Roy's sternum. Instantly a massive blow from an unseen force slammed into the Sin Archbishop and lifted him into the air, there was no buildup this time, and Natsuki Subaru would leave his opponent no reprieve.
Just as Roy reached the apex of the small arc he had been launched into he was hit in the side by another massive blow that threw him into the wall with enough force that his entire shoulder collapsed on impact with a satisfying crunch. In fact the blow had been strong enough that the stone bricks that made up the wall of the tunnel themselves were deformed.
However just as Roy turned his head to try and make sense of the massive battering he was taking, yet could not see he was hit again, this time in the side of the rib cage.
"Why can't you just leave me alone….." Subaru lamented from his position of lying on the floor with Anastasia on top of him while barely conscious. As the last word left his mouth his focus led to another strike against Roy's ribcage, pushing him further into the wall as a loud crack was heard from the fracturing of the Archbishop's ribs.
"Why does this whole world hate me….." Subaru let out another low and depressing cry as he struck the Sin Archbishop in the same place for the third time, this time sending him clean through the wall as the entire side of his ribcage completely caved into his chest cavity.
Subaru then lazily pushed Anastasia off of him so that she fell to the cold stone floor without anything more then giving him a weak look from her barely open eyes, a bit of blood running down from the small wound at the top of her forehead.
As Subaru sluggishly got to his feet a loud rumble echoed out as the hole in the side of the tunnel he had made using Roy Alphard's body suddenly collapsed and filled with rubble as a tremor shook everything around them.
Subaru suddenly heard another yet smaller rumbling sound as the debris directly behind him suddenly came loose and fell into the tunnel, and with it followed a rush of light and clean air, which was then followed by a group all clad in white dropping down.
The first one to descend was Julius Juuklius clad in the white robes of a lugunican knight, albeit sullen with dirt and dust. He was shortly followed by the trio of Mimi, Tivey, and Hetero who all wore the white uniform of the Iron Fang, who were then followed by Ricardo Welkin who landed with a rather heavy thud as his hand instantly went to his cleaver.
The other four all initially reacted in a similar fashion to Ricardo as they were completely on guard the instant their feet touched the floor of the tunnel; however the second they saw Anastasia lying on the ground in her wounded state, eyes barely open they all rushed past Subaru to her side with expressions flush with worry.
"Anastasia-sama! Can you hear me Anastasia-sama? Julius shouted as he rushed to a kneeling position beside Anastasia, a wave of relief washing over his face when her eyes moved to look at him after he called to her.
"Is Mimi's lady going to be alright?" Mimi called out with a voice tinged with both uncertainty and concern as she did her best to peak over Julius' shoulder.
"Anastasia-sama has a non-trivial concussion, I doubt that there will be any long term consequences but she will need her rest. Until we can get her out of the city could you try to ease her symptoms Kua?" Julius was speaking calmly and with the perfect amount of composure that was to be expected from someone named the finest.
The second Julius' request left his mouth a small blue spirit appeared right in front of him before flying directly into Anastasia's head while Julius removed what looked to be a clean handkerchief from within his jacket and did his best to clean up some of the blood that was running down her face.
This continued for a few minutes before Anastasia began to speak, albeit in a voice that was utterly devoid of its characteristic wittiness and plagued by an unsteadiness that made her sound somewhat unsure about the world around her.
"Thank you Julius, I didn't think the investment of patchin' things up between us would pay off so quickly" A small smile found its way to her face as she chuckled a bit at the end, however Julius frowned as he heard this.
"Anastasia-sama, although it pleases me greatly that you were willing to go through the trouble of setting my immature feelings at ease, as a Royal Knight of Lugunica it is my sworn duty to protect your well being. Your current circumstances are solely due to my own deficiencies, and I would have seen to your injuries with the same level of care even if my incorrect and unfounded assumptions from before had been true. Now please rest while Kua finishes her work, then we will bring you to the rest of the Iron Fang outside the city where you should be safe." Julius' voice started off regretful but soon became even more serious and heavy handed as he almost dictated instructions to his lady, although he did manage to maintain a tone of utmost respect the entire time.
Anastasia however did not seem to be having any of it as she almost instantly tried to sit up, which at first alarmed Julius, yet when he saw the bit of determination that had returned to her eyes he did not even try to stop her, instead placing a hand behind her back in an effort to steady her.
Upon reaching a sitting position Anastasia almost instantly brought a hand to her head and stayed almost perfectly still for a moment before removing it and beginning to speak. "I didn't think I'd still feel that dizzy… But can ya let me know what's going on outside? When I hear ya all talking about leaving the city it makes me think that things are a bit more severe then just a hotel collapsing." Although it was very clear that she was nowhere near one hundred percent, the fog in her head had cleared up just a bit so that the gears behind her eyes could begin to turn again as Kua left her to return to Julius.
"The city is full of scary demon beasts! They run around trying to nom on Mimi and Mimi has to scream really loudly with Hetaro and Tivey to send them flying, but even if their head turns all the way around they just get back up and keep chasing Mimi!" Mimi was shouting out with her normally enthusiastic and over the top personality, to the point that Tivey and Hetaro seemed ready to grab onto her in case she grabbed onto Anastasia.
"The Witch's Cult is in the city, the troops we had with us were killed by the initial strike that took the hotel down, and it seems that the city guard is on the verge of being wiped out. What's more concerning is that ya can hack'em apart but they just get right back up, like the cult's zombifying 'em or something." Ricardo cut in with his own gruff voice to elaborate on what his overexcited subordinate had been trying to say.
"Witch's cult… my memories a little hazy but there was someone down here calling themselves a Sin Archbishop… but our Natsuki-kun managed to handle him alright it seems." Initially everyone's face froze at the mention of a Sin Archbishop being in the tunnel with them, however as Anastasia continued everyone turned to face Subaru, however he definitely was not feeling anything akin to pride at his accomplishments.
There it was, the use of the possessive, how someone would speak of an object they owned, how Anastasia had spoken of him after he had inadvertently saved her life while dealing with Roy Alphard. It was perfectly clear to him know why she had brought him here, for her own protection.
Just like so many people he had met before since coming to this world, Anastasia Hoshin had exploited him as a tool for her own benefit, and the realization of that truth was utterly depressing.
Tears began to pour out of his eyes at an increased rate, how could he have followed her around for so long when she had been doing that to him, it was so bad, so sad that she had been able to use him like that, leading him across the country on a leash like some dog.
"Natsuki-kun are you alri.." Anastasia called out to Subaru before something slammed into her upper chest, knocking her to the ground.
"You used me too…" Subaru lamented as he slammed Anastasia's chest downwards using his authority, causing blood to spurt out of her mouth.
"You're just like all of them…" He called out in a voice bordering on sobbing as his authority completely flattened Anastasia's upper body against the floor of the tunnel, causing a bloody paste to flow out through her sides as they split open.
"Why does everything have to be so horrible…" Subaru choked out while tears flowed from his eyes like small streams, his hands clasped tightly against the sides of his head, the sickening splitting sound of Anastasia's skull as it was crushed like a watermelon being struck with a bat, pink matter plastering the entire inside of tunnel.
The Pearlbatons, Julius, and Ricardo were completely stunned; they had just seen their lady, Anastasia Hoshin reduced to a tract of blood and gore in the space of only a handful of seconds by the very person she had claimed to have just saved her. They stood wide eyed and covered in the splatterings of her remains for only a handful of seconds more before Ricardo decided to take action.
The massive demi humans eyes filled with rage as he roared "MURDERER!" at the top of his lungs before unhinging his jaw to unleash a massive resonance wave that filled the whole tunnel with its destructive mana as it hurled towards Subaru at an immense speed.
However the instant that the mana entered the air Subaru's forearm snapped up in front of his body with a closed fist. The speed at which this occurred was on par with a well trained reflex, yet it was certainly not one that Subaru's mind had trained into his body. But due to this reflex, the second the wave slammed into him the very mana that comprised it was crushed, causing the wave to burst apart like a balloon.
"That didn't do anything more then make me feel worse….." Subaru managed to choke out through a voice full of tears as he let his raised arm fall lazily to his side.
"YOU JUST KILLED AN-BO YOU FUCKER, I'M GOING TO RIP YOU TO FUCKIN' PIECES!" Ricardo roared as he grasped his machete and drew it from the scabbard on his back before charging at Subaru, the Pearlbatons just beginning to come to their senses as they began to move to follow him from behind.
"Just why does life have to be this depressing…." Subaru mumbled while his posture worsened to that of a slouch, completely ignorant of the massive demi-human charging towards him.
However Ricardo barely took one steps before something simultaneously slammed into the back and front of both his knees, shattering both of his kneecaps instantly and destroying the joints to the point that his lower legs were only held to his body by his skin. As he came crashing down it felt like something massive slammed into the shoulder whose arm held the machete, he felt his entire arm instantly go numb as he saw the machete slide out from within his now immobile fingertips.
His body may have been in so much pain that it wanted to shut down, it may have been broken to the point that it should not have been able to move, but his heart burned with such rage that those things were as irrelevant as the morning breeze. Ricardo Welkin had just seen the young girl he had rescued from potential slavery so many years ago die, she was probably the person he had cared for most during his hard life, and he would be damned if he did not give every little thing he had to make the one who killed her suffer.
He reached out with his singular remaining arm and grabbed onto the stone floor before using every single fibre of his substantial amount of muscle to heave his entire body towards Natsuki Subaru with jaws open wide. Yet as he was about to bare down on the boys neck a force exerted on his upper and lower jaws simultaneously, pushing them apart. The skin at the sides of his mouth tore as the angle between his jaws became square; only to be replaced by cracking as the angle became obtuse which was in tern replaced by an empty nothingness when his jaws finally pointed in completely opposing directions.
At that point all it took was a relatively minor use of the Authority of Melancholy to redirect the broken corpse of Ricardo Welkin to the side of the tunnel were it slammed into the wall and fell in a broken heap.
The Pearlbatons had been frozen in their tracks by the sight of the captain being completely destroyed in only a handful of seconds, to the point that they could barely move even when Natsuki Subaru turned his depressed yet utterly unhinged gaze to them.
Hetaro stepped forward just as his chest was crushed in on itself from all sides, chunks of his internal organs being squeezed out into his mouth as he was instantly killed before his body could even hit the ground.
Tivey's cheeks expanded as if he were trying to prepare a solo resonance wave, but right before he could unleash it his head was struck with enough strength to launch his entire body sideways into the wall, the impact with which caused his head to split open as he fell to the floor limp, blood pooling in his now unmoving eyes.
And so this left just Mimi standing alone in front of the Warlock of Melancholy, she did not attempt to run away from him, nor did she try to fight back. The previously energetic and happy demi human just hung her head without the slightest trace of her old self left. Her friend and mother figure who had helped raise her had been brutally murdered right before her eyes, her captain who was the strongest person she knew had just been beaten so badly that it could not even be called a fight. Finally the connection between her and her two brothers which had always been lively and warm since birth was now cold and empty as they lay dead beside her.
Mimi Pearlbaton just looked up at Natsuki Subaru with eyes that could not even cry, eyes that were devoid of anything but a cold and frigid melancholy, eyes that had given up on life.
And so Natsuki Subaru obliged, driving her head directly downward, compressing her spine until it ruptured in all directions. Once this had occurred the soft tissue that had once been Mimi Pearlbaton was easily compacted into a tidy disk that resembled nothing more then a bloody mess.
Subaru stepped over this as he made his way towards the last person in the tunnel that he could see alive, the person who made him more depressed than anyone, Julius Juuklius.
Throughout the whole encounter between his companions and Subaru, Julius had remained kneeling beside the remains of his now former lady, Anastasia Hoshin. His once elegant, white knight's uniform was died a mixture of red and pink from all the blood and guts that had been splattered as she had been brutally crushed to death. In his hand was a long bundle of her purple hair that remained attached to a chunk of her head that had just so happened to land there.
His face was anything but calm, it was flushed and twitched between multiple different expression, it was like he wanted to both cry, scream out in anger, and put on a calm façade all at the same time. It had only been a few hours earlier that she had gone out of her way to bring him to the side of the hotel bar and apologize for not considering his feelings properly in her plan. While he had put on the official stance that it was his fault for not understanding implicitly, inside he had been elated by the thought that she cared enough about him to consider what he had felt, and that he was not being set aside in favour of the stronger newcomer. It need not be said that his respect for her had also grown many fold as he witnessed this stunning display of humility, something he was not used to seeing from the vast majority of societies upper crust.
"Natsuki Subaru, I know I'm going to die here but I want you to know that I only have one regret. I wish I had bashed your head in back when I had the chance in the arena." Julius seethed through clenched teeth as he rose to his feet.
He was a smart man, he knew he would never win this fight and he knew that he it was likely that he would still loose even if he had the entirety of the Iron Fang at his back. This extrapolation came solely from the fact that he had taken on Sloth with the help of a contingent of Royal Knights and been soundly defeated only for Subaru to supposedly defeat him almost effortlessly. In his mind he was once again up against an opponent on the same tier as Cecilus, and this time he knew that Reinhard would not be able to swoop in to save him.
So Julius Juuklius, the Finest of Knights fought not for something like honor, victory, righteousness, or even survival; instead he fought because he wanted to, because it felt good. It was a situation that was ironically similar to why Natsuki Subaru had decided to dual him so long ago in the capital's arena.
Julius' rocket forth towards Subaru while slashing out with his sword that he had already unsheathed. The blade was clade in a brilliant rainbow light as it became imbued with the power of all six of the spirit knight's quasi-spirits, it was one of Julius' signature moves, Al Clarista. This attack which had been known to cut through nearly anything, having broken Cecilus Segmunt's 5th best sword and claimed the life of the 9th Divine General of Vollachia, it was one of the reasons why Julius Juuklius was renowned as one of the strongest knights.
Yet even Julius himself did not expect much from this strike as it hurtled towards Subaru's forearm that had been raised seemingly to shield his head. And to Julius' dismay, yet not particularly to his surprise, when the blade was a mere hair's length from his opponents skin it was shattered into a thousand tiny shards, all of which were launched towards his exposed face.
The bits of metal lacerated his skin, cutting deep gouges and imbedding deep into his tissue as the rocketed forth with deep velocity. However not a single bit of metal came near his eyes as two dense pockets of wind had appeared to nudge them away.
"Thank you Alo" Julius thought to himself as he wasted not a single movement in redirecting the now broken stump of his sword into a stabbing motion towards where Subaru's bowels were located.
"That brings back bad memories…..I could've avoided ever meeting her if that hadn't of happened" Subaru lamented as Julius's right wrist was suddenly reduced to dust by a crushing force striking it from all directions, causing him to drop the remains of his sword.
He wasn't even given a chance to recover before his left foot was crushed and his right femur snapped in several places by a sudden barrage of attacks he could not see nor keep up with. As Julius fell to the ground he grit his teeth in an effort to fight through the pain flooding out from his wounds and into his whole body.
He raised his left arm and pointed a single finger towards Subaru while saying "Al Clauzeria" through gritted teeth, summoning all six of his quasi-spirits which flew around him in a circle before forming a vortex of rainbow light right off the tip of his finger. The vortex then unleashed itself as a beam that hurtled towards Natsuki Subaru before being seemingly redirected into the ground right in front of him where it then exploded outward in all directions, reducing everyone's vision to a wall of white light.
"It makes me feel even worse that you can't just stop and leave me alone…it's just too depressing that no matter how hard I try this world won't let go of me….it just won't let me die and be free of the melancholy….." Subaru's depressed voice echoed through the ringing filled silence, but before Julius' vision could return something smashed into his chest and threw him up against the wall of the tunnel before striking him several times more in the same spot.
He felt a crack in his lower back as his legs went numb before feeling another one in his upper back that completely removed all feeling below his neck, he could not move his arms even if he tried. Although the light still blinded his eyes, he sensed a familiar presence frantically float inside him.
"It's okay Kua, I know I don't have much time left so you don't need to waste your remaining strength trying to heal my wounds." He could sense the conflict within the spirit, the hesitation to fulfill its contractor's request. But in the end Kua chose to ignore him as he suddenly felt the soothing water magic flow into his face, staunching the flow of blood from the thousand tiny cuts that streaked across every tiny portion of exposed skin.
"I have failed all six of you as your contractor as I can no longer uphold our contract; I have failed Anastasia-sama as her protector as she now lies dead before me; in the end the only conclusion I can come to was that I am thoroughly underserving of the title of The Finest. I can only guess that it was my pride as a knight that prevented me from serving all of you, my lady, and the kingdom in a better way." Julius spoke aloud to his spirits as his vision started to clear in the centre, yet at first he thought he saw a familiar face from long ago.
It was the battered and broken face of Natsuki Subaru in the closing moments of their duel, the one that he had beaten in over the last several minutes, the one that looked straight up into his eyes with a combination of rage and envy before he delivered the final blow that had knocked him unconscious.
But the face in front of him was not that one, instead it was the tired and rundown face of a monster, covered in the blood and entrails of Julius' companions and lady. There was no life behind its eyes, just a mixture of sadness and the mania of one whose very soul seemed like it had been violently clawed apart.
He knew that there had been a multitude of opportunities for him to avoid this present situation, he could have not gotten involved with the boy's antics back in the capital in an effort to help him or he could have gone a bit father and ended him as a result of a dueling "accident". He could have presented a more logical argument to Anastasia in order to dissuade her from getting involved with him, or maybe he could have begged and pleaded her to stay away from this unknown monster. And then there was the fact that if he was stronger he could have possibly protected his lady, or at least bought her a window to escape.
There were so many possibilities that were all meaningless now, for the opportunity to act on them had long passed. Julius Juuklius let his eyes slide shut as he tried his best to be at peace, hoping that it would pass onto his frantic spirits through their connection. He had already sated the emotional and immature side of himself by fighting the impossible battle, and so now he would try to die by the knightly code he had devoted his entire life to and yet still failed to uphold.
He would not beg for mercy nor disgrace himself by clinging to a life that had already ended, he would accept his death with all the dignity and elegance that he could muster.
"You always find a way to make me feel even worse, don't you…." He heard Subaru lament as he felt a hand clasp around his neck before everything suddenly came to an end.
Julius Juuklius' body was suddenly twisted every which way as skin tore and bone shattered, coating the surrounding walls in yet a new shade of crimson as the one who was once known as The Finest was reduced to nothing more then a ball of indistinguishable twisted flesh.
"Authority of Melancholy, The Weight of Unbearable Suffering" Subaru muttered as he looked down at his hands as the gore that completely coated the inside of the tunnel slowly dripped down off of them.
However whilst he did so he heard a faint sound reached his ears from far down the tunnel, the clanking and rattling of chains.
It got closer and closer as a figure slowly came into view from the shadows, they were clad from head to toe in a thick rapping of bandages let completely concealed them with the exception of their two amethyst eyes and a few bits of silver hair. However atop all of this she wore a pair of robes that were eerily familiar to that of Betelgeuse's fingers, and from these robes hung a pair of chains that were bound to her wrists and already burned bright with flames that ran nearly their entire length.
"APOLOGIZE, REPENT, CRY, THEN LET ME BROIL YOU ALIVE!" The bandaged woman suddenly shrieked before suddenly launching one of the chains down the tunnel towards Subaru.
"Why can't I just be free from this shitty life…." Subaru bemoaned as he batted the chains against the opposing tunnel walls and away from himself before raising his palm to face Sirius.
"YOU! YOU'RE THE ONE WHO KILLED BY BELOVED BETELGEUSE! YOUR MOLTEN INSIDES WILL BE POURING OUT OF BOTH ENDS BY THE TIME I'M DONE WITH YOU, NO AMOUNT OF SUFFERING IS COMPENSATION FOR TAKING HIM FROM ME!" The woman hollered with her crazed and rage filled voice as she yanked her chains back towards herself and began to wind up for another strike.
However as she did this Subaru got a look at the side of her head between the strands of silver hair, particularly the bump where the bandages were wrapped over her ear. What stood out to Subaru was the shape of this bump, it was elongated like the ear itself was not a normal shape, and there had only been one person that he had met with silver hair, amethyst eyes, and longer then normal ears.
"You remind me of her….WHY CAN'T THAT HALF-DEVIL JUST GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" Subaru screamed out as he clutched his face with his hands, his fingernails digging deeply into this forehead to the point that blood ran down and mixed with the tears pouring from his eyes. But as he fell to his knee's he let lose his authority on the devil before him, crushing her abdomen with such force that blood burst out of her mouth and nose as she collapsed to the ground, barely alive.
However the second that Subaru did this he felt an immense pain rocket up from his own midsection, and he tasted the distinct iron flavour of blood in his mouth. His head tilted down to see that his own abdomen was now a mangled mess, seemingly crushed in the exact same way that the manic woman's was.
"HA, WE ARE GOING TO DIE, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE! BUT DEATH WILL DO NOTHING MORE THEN REUNITE ME WITH MY BELOVED WHILE NOBODY WAITS ON THE OTHER SIDE FOR A MURDERER LIKE YOU! THE GOSPEL, THE HALF-DEVILS GOSPEL WAS RIGHT, I AM JUST MERE STEPS AWAY FROM SEEING HIM AGAIN!" The crazed woman then broke into a series of manic cackles as she lay bleeding to death on the floor, during which time Subaru himself collapsed into a pool of blood, now a mixture that included his own.
He felt what little warmth remained in his body flowing out, making him feel colder and colder as he the outside world flowed into him in order to establish balance. His eyes started to lose focus as they would slide shut only to open again a few moments later as the very sounds around him seemed to become distorted.
At first the tunnel was quiet, even the bandaged woman's laughter had faded to the point that he could barely hear her breathing.
His eyes closed once again.
Then he saw a streak of platinum hair fill his vision before a pair of crystal before the whole world faded to black once again. However even though he could no longer see, he still heard sounds and could still feel the pain radiating out from his lower body.
However then he felt a hand press down on his chest, right above his heart; he could not tell much about it through the ragged clothes he wore, the only thing he was certain was that it was a fair bit smaller then his own.
"Sensei Flügel, please let me help you… if you block my authority then you will die…even if what is going to come next is certainly not going to be pleasant….its necessary to end your suffering….its necessary to make the world a happy place again….." The voice that spoke was not calm whatsoever, instead it sounded worried and almost desperate. It was almost as if the speaker was holding onto their single lifeline that verged on slipping out of their grasp with every single word they spoke.
Subaru heard them open their mouth again but before he could even try to make sense of the words that they spoke as everything in his mind suddenly went blank.
Pandora knelt above the completely still body of Flügel as she lifted her hand from his chest, it was slick with blood yet her focus was not drawn to it due to that, instead it was over what she had just done. Her eyes darted all over her hand as she racked her brain for the reason why her authority had worked.
"Sensei Flügel let me use my authority on him like that, it would not work otherwise, he should be immune to any authority that he doesn't allow with express permission. He told me so and everything he's told me has been correct, Sensei Flügel has never lied… Echidna said that hers never worked in regards to him… he was even able to resist Sister Satella's. But then why did Archbishop Romanée-Conti's affect him normally…." Pandora was thinking out loud in a voice that sounded both incredibly confused and even worried as she tried to rack her brain for the reason as to why she was suddenly able to wield an authority on her Sensei after it had never worked for four hundred years.
"Pandora-sama" An incredibly average voice called her name from behind her as Pandora suddenly snapped back into reality, there were still things she had to do before they could leave this place.
"Archbishop Romanée-Conti is back in her forest having fully recovered from her injuries, back in the state that she should have been in." Pandora's voice suddenly became perfectly calm as she invoked her authority to make the broken body of one of her Archbishops suddenly vanish into thin air, almost as if it had never been there to begin with. However the wounds on Flügel's body that the Archbishop had inflicted were not healed by her disappearance, a result more inline with Pandora's expectations.
"Archbishop Lugunica, please see to Sensei Flügel and make sure he is brought to where he needs to be. It would be truly wonderful if we can complete this ordeal smoothly and not have to rely on the second set of instructions laid out for us. Archbishop Corneas, you are free to leave as Archbishop Batenkaitos is still tending to Archbishop Alphard." Pandora's voice remained perfectly calm as she outlaid her instructions to her subordinates, but the entire time her eyes did not shift away from her hand.
Her eyes did not waver for even a second as the Sin Archbishop of Lust, Capella Emerada Lugunica walked past her to pick up her Sensei Flügel and carry him deeper into the tunnel network. Nor did they shift when Regulus walked over to the hole in the ceiling and reached out to his newest bride, Number 227.
This bride stood out from the rest, but it was not her long blond hair, the fact that she was taller than Regulus Corneas, or her well developed features that distinguished her. It was the fact that she had demi human blood in her veins, resulting in a mouth of razor-sharp fangs which she tried to hide away from the world.
However this was of little concern to Pandora as she continued to batter away at the question of why her authority would work on her Sensei all of a sudden, even the idea that he was secretly helping her did not make sense, because Flügel very clearly did not remember her right now.
Both of Pandora's hands reached up into her hair as she remained knelt on the ground with blood all around her, a look of near desperation nearing mania completely consuming her face. She had been without her Sensei for nearly four hundred years, but now that he was back it was like her entire view of the world was suddenly falling apart.