Human sacrifices were abhorrent things. That there existed a set of beliefs that caused people to end their lives as a gift to the gods and seraphim was so outlandish and unconscionable that it defied Sorey's ability to comprehend. Only something evil would ask for a life in return for a blessing. Only something malevolent and cruel would force another being to murderer their own self as retribution for something that had no equivalent value. How could people not see that? How could they not understand their own worth? It hurt Sorey's heart to consider the depths of desperation someone would have to have fallen to see sacrifice as a necessity. The seraphim had no care or use for the offered lives of human beings. The deaths were meaningless. They only spurred on the growth of malevolence. They did infinite harm and not even a fleeting second of good. It just didn't make sense, and yet certain temples proved its practice. Sorey hurt for a world that hurt so much if had forgotten to love itself.
There was a large difference between sacrificing oneself and sacrificing another, though. If the former left Sorey heartbroken, the latter cut him to his core.
He couldn't see the baby but he could see in Michael's reaction that something wasn't right. Was it a hellion? Was it disfigured and burned? It was Mikleo but Sorey couldn't even begin to put that into perspective just yet as he watched the Earthen Historia tell its tale of the dawn of the Age of Chaos. Something in Sorey's chest opened up and fell to unknown depths as Michael turned towards the alter, Muse's cries echoing without need to confirm that they both knew what the distraught Shepherd was going to do. Sorey knew because the Mikleo he knew wasn't a human. He knew, at some point, he was going to witness his death--had at first thought the flames had been his demise--and that the only reason the man before him would approach an alter rather than hurry to safety was to use it for some purpose of which the outcome seemed only too certain.
He didn't want to watch. He had to watch. He'd collected all the Earthen Historia at Mayvin's urging for just this moment, so that he would know what had happened and why they were in the situation they faced now. This was the last piece of the puzzle. He didn't want to see Michael lay the baby down on an alter warmed by the flames around them. He didn't want to see the dagger raised high. Mikleo was watching though. Mikleo was standing right beside him, unmoving with wide violet eyes and his mouth held slightly agape as he took a deep breath and held it. Sorey didn't want to watch his friend be murdered but his friend was there beside him, watching it happen to himself. Sorey owed it to all of them as the Shepherd to witness the events of the past but more than that he owed it to his best friend to not look away from the sight he knew defined more than just their answer going forth. The dagger came down and Sorey could not keep himself from flinching in sympathy. The baby didn't cry. As much as was going on, it was the lack of crying from the alter that made Sorey's blood run cold. The dagger struck true and the hellion Maotelus followed through with the Shepherd's demand. The scene changed but with every shutter of Sorey's eyes he felt he could still see the dagger stuck firm in the silent, swaddled flesh.
Sorey was still reeling from the horror of it by the time he saw Zenrus come into the story. He didn't need to see proof of Michael's curse--they lived with its repercussions--but to see his Gramps and even the now gone Maisen come into Camlann was just the hope he needed to see to recover from the shock before. He saw his own tiny body and that or his dead mother but was numb to all new information by now. Most of it was things he already knew but never questioned their origin. This was simply the story of how Zenrus adopted him and seraph Mikleo. This was the part where things got better. This was where his own story began.
And then it was over.
Whether they had truly left Lohgrin or not, it felt as though they had returned from a long journey. Sorey felt weary down to his bones even as his mind seemed to come into sharper focus. He knew his answer but he also knew much more than that now. He never thought... he could have never conceived of the events he'd just witnessed or guessed at how they involved the life of his dearest friend. Mikleo looked contemplative if not softly melancholy. And resolute--always resolute. They'd asked to know and now they did. He wasn't going to allow himself to be sidetracked by personal details. And if he wasn't, neither was Sorey.
Mikleo was always a source of strength for him, whether encouraged directly or out of spite. He was always good for seeing things in perspective. They'd talk later. Maybe. If they ever got a moment alone. But as for their duty as Shepherd and Sub-Lord, they were going to be okay to carry on.
Sorey felt prepared to speak with Mayvin. He felt good about his answer, even if he wasn't sure it was much of one. He was going to save Heldalf, though. In the only way he could be saved. Because in the end, the only way to realize his and Mikleo's dream would be to ensure humans were treated the same as seraphim. They all deserved to be saved from malevolence. No one deserved to be turned into a monster.
"Can you carry that burden with you?" Lilah asked, knowing Sorey only too well. He'd never killed before--not anything above the level of food. But he felt in his heart that, if it meant salvation, it wouldn't feel like a burden at all.
Mayvin shook his head, his tone still that of a man speaking to tiny children. "Killing Heldalf isn't a simple matter of ending one man's life in order to save it. What was granted by sacrifice must be reclaimed by sacrifice."
"Whatever it takes, I'll do it," Sorey promised. "I will stand by my answer."
"Is that so?" the Storyteller asked. "In that case, you won't hesitate to prove it." With a sweeping motion, he gestured past Sorey, his finger pointing to just beyond his left shoulder. Sorey looked to find Mikleo standing there, his eyes curious at being singled out.
"Kill him," Mayvin ordered.
Sorey had no idea what was going on anymore. "What? No!" he all but shouted, instinctively moving to stand in front of him. "I'm not going to prove I can accept the responsibility of killing Heldalf by senselessly murdering a friend!"
"Yeah!" Rose chimed in with indignity.
The others were quiet, though.
Mayvin sighed, shaking his head. "You still don't get it, do you?" he asked, looking angry at Sorey's continued ignorance. "Seraphim care nothing for human sacrifice and yet you witnessed Heldalf's transformation as a result of one. Are you implying a Shepard's wrath alone, fueled by murder, is enough to bind the hellion Maotelus to an unfit vessel and grant it immortality?"
Sorey stood silent, not sure what he believed. He knew what he saw and he knew the results but as for the how... It wasn't something anyone ever explained. It wasn't something he could remember from any of his readings of the many histories and lore books he'd grown up on.
"And whom do you think made the boy a seraph? It wasn't Zenrus and Maotelus was already a hellion. What gave the boy new life?"
He didn't like where this was going. He was afraid of where these words were leading.
"Mayvin...," Lilah started, no further words following, though, as she simply hung her head.
"It's a cruel world and I've no time to see that stories are buffered in sweet words and platitudes," Mayvin explained, crossing his arms over his chest. "Good things don't come from evil actions. Being a vessel for Maotelus isn't enough to gain immortality. Heldalf's spirit is tied to that of another immortal's. Something made immortal for the specific purpose of ensuring the curse would be fulfilled."
Sorey shook his head, the feather settings at his ears clicking against the clasps.
"Maotelus would not be swayed by a simple, meaningless sacrifice. Shepherd Michael gave his curse seraphim form which served to bridge the two entities. If you want to kill Heldalf and find the means to purify Maotelus, that bond must be severed. The spirit that binds them must be released."
Sorey continued to shake his head, words caught deep inside his gut and too startled to even try to arise.
"As long as I'm alive... Sorey can't achieve his answer," Mikleo summarized quietly, his voice adding shivers down Sorey's back.
Mayvin nodded. "And the Age of Chaos never ends. But a Shepherd who cannot bear that burden cannot purify Maotelus and through him the land itself. So tell me, Shepherd Sorey: are you the one who will realize our hopes?"
Sorey didn't have an answer for that. He didn't have an answer at all. All he had was a sick, hollow feeling that questioned why they'd ever left Elysia at all.