Meaning of Existence
It felt good to sit down after all the fighting they had done so far, but Nel just couldn’t relax. She ended up talking to the developers in the room instead of resting. She discovered exactly why they were so concerned with the galaxy. They were all in charge of the maintenance and progression of the Milky Way and Blair was the project leader. It was called the ‘Apris Project’, meaning that in all technicality, Blair was her god.
But really, Apris was only a concept and not an entity. Everything the spy was taught in her world was a lie- though she doubted her ancestors knew that. There was no ‘sun god’ who married three ‘moon goddesses’ and created Elicoor- it was several ordinary looking people who typed lines of code in their computers. In fact, the landscaping and dungeon creation was maintained between Aire and Oreas- two men who were known by other legends as ‘gods’.
Even the ‘ultimate evil’ god, Folstar was actually a pathetic employee who only worked for a short time because he was too lazy to do any real work. Most of his demon and monster creations were either weak or mentally unstable because of numerous ‘bugs’. In the end, the only evil thing about him was that he unleashed several dimwitted monsters into her world.
Basically, her religion was simplified and explained and that bothered her. Nothing changed the fact that the developers created her and her reality, but it was very disappointing to find out how everything was done. All the magic was gone and the reality of it all made her lose hope.
She was taught to believe in certain things and to act in a certain way. Everything she did was to ensure an honorable death and promise to join those who had fallen before her in the next life. Where would she go now when she died? Would her memories be stored in their computers and live on in there? Was it possible for her to be reborn again? Or would she just simply cease to exist? That actually scared her.
And- the developers only cared about the maintenance of the galaxy more than the individuals. Yes, they wanted everyone to be saved, but only because there was no point in a world without people living in it. They didn’t care about answering someone’s prayer or if two countries went to war with each other. Albel turned out to be right- there really was no point in praying.
But then… Who was the Emissary of Apris who bestowed runology to her people and gave Sirvia the means to fight against Greeton? It had to have been a 4D being, but why did it matter to them if a kingdom was built with their aid? What was the point in receiving the Ten Precepts if it didn’t really matter to the gods how one individual lived their life?
Could it be that Elicoor was nothing more than an experiment to test out runology and the ability for man to follow rules? What was the point in her life now? She had fought for her country and served her queen in the name of Apris. But everything she had done had no purpose. To whom was she serving? Why did she need to fight? Why struggle to do anything if the gods weren’t going to help?
The spy lifted her head when she realized that someone was calling her name. Fayt was giving her a confused look as he wondered why she was still sitting there. “We’re leaving now. Aren’t you ready?”
Ready? To do what? Eliminate creatures bent on killing thousands of innocents because the ‘gods’ can’t do it themselves? …She was being rather unfair- only Fayt and the others had the power to accomplish such a goal. Huh, why weren’t they gods?
“Yeah, I’m coming,” the spy soon replied in a subdued tone as she stood up and followed everyone out of the research lab.
Disillusioned and mentally numb, the spy continued on the journey, even despite her doubts. All she could do was focus on battles to keep her self alive. Life and death was starting to hold less of a significant meaning to her, but she couldn’t change the fact that she was there with the others in 4D space and dying on purpose would only burden them.
Albel seemed to notice something amiss with her almost immediately, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He had tried to pull her aside to talk, but she easily dissuaded him or sidestepped his attempts. She didn’t want to talk at that point. What was there to say- that he was right about religion all along? She couldn’t tolerate his posturing in the state she was in.
But as they neared the terminal, Nel’s inner turmoil lessened some. Of all the 4D people in existence, only Blair was risking her life to help save them. The fact that the Creator sent men to kill her was proof enough of the danger she could be in later. Maybe Blair wasn’t the god she was hoping for, but at least she wasn’t completely useless.
It was likely Blair had no hand in her creation and she probably didn’t intend for her world to become a plaything, but it was obvious that she truly cared about the inhabitants of the Eternal Sphere. For that, Nel was grateful, but she didn’t think she could adore the woman as her goddess. The programmer couldn’t offer any protection- she actually needed it. The spy could respect her, but she couldn’t see herself telling others ‘may the grace of Blair be with you’- it sounded ridiculous.
However, the least Nel could do at that point was finish the mission for Blair and the people of her planet. The Creator was still wrong in killing others and Fayt and the others needed all the help they could get in accomplishing their goal. Her only problem was that once it was over, there was nothing else for her to focus on- she would inevitably go back to thinking of the lie she had lived.
When they reached the terminal, everyone said their goodbye and gave their gratitude to the programmer before heading into the teleporter. It wasn’t hard for Nel to sound a little more cheerful as she told Blair, “We won’t forget your kindness… Leave the rest to us.”
Actually, it was probably vital that she didn’t forget her kindness. Without Blair’s genuine concern, the spy would’ve broken down completely.
“Give it your best shot. Only you can save your own reality,” the grey haired woman called out to them before the door to the teleporter closed. She then turned to the main computer and entered some code. Before anyone knew it, a bright light flashed before them and they found themselves before the Time Gate.
But they weren’t the only ones there- dozens of Executioners were lying in wait for them. No doubt they were left behind by the Creator to stop them from using the uninstaller.
“Argh! These pests are everywhere!” Cliff growled when he noticed them. There were way too many to fight and there was no way for them to find a safe location to use the uninstaller.
Fayt rushed forward with his sword drawn, looking ready to fight. “You take care of the uninstaller, Sophia! We’ll take care of these things!”
“Okay… I’ll give it a try!” she replied as she faced the Time Gate and opened the small device.
It seemed they had no choice. They split up into two teams and took on the Executioners while making sure none of them interrupted Sophia. It was incredibly difficult to face all of them, but somehow they managed to survive. Nel was completely worn out when the young brunette finally declared that she was finished.
In that split second, another Proclaimer was heading for the spy, thinking her guard was down, but the ground started to rumble and the Time Gate began to move. The creature paused in its attack as it looked around to figure out what was going on.
Suddenly a large, dark hole appeared in the sky before a rune formed within it. Many flashing lights began to draw new lines within the rune and the entire thing glowed once it was complete. Nel had to shut her eyes when the light encompassed everything. When she was able to open them again, she found the Executioners writhing in pain as small electric currents ran through their bodies.
There was yet another flash of light and this time, the rune and the Executioners vanished. It was suddenly very quiet. Nel, Albel, and Cliff cautiously took a few steps forward to see if there was any trace of the enemy left, but it seemed they were completely alone. There was a certain stillness in the area that made things seem almost peaceful, but also a little unsettling.
“Did that do it?” Fayt wondered hesitantly, his voice sounding rather loud in the eerie silence. No one could answer the boy in fear that they could be proven wrong. After all the fighting, it seemed surreal to think they were actually gone. But they saw the giant rune with their own eyes and witnessed the Executioners being affected by it. It really was over.
“I wonder what happened to that Owner guy?” Sophia inquired as she toyed with her hair. Come to think of it, that was a good question. The terminal they used was in his office and yet they didn’t see any trace of him. Had he left before they arrived? One would think he would stay around to confront them before they tried to stop his sinister plan.
“Nothing to worry about now. Those irritating Executioners are gone… It’s over,” Cliff replied, happy and relieved that everything really had settled down. He was right- there was no point in worrying about him so long as the main threat was gone.
“Yes. I believe the term is ‘mission accomplished’,” Nel added, allowing herself to feel the good cheer of winning. No matter what came up, at least Elicoor was safe now and Clair and the others wouldn’t have to worry about an attack from powerful enemies. The spy could be at peace knowing that, even with her shattered image of the gods she thought she knew bothering her.
“Yeah…” Fayt agreed with a weary, but proud smile before he glanced at Sophia. “Let’s go home.”
Home? It didn’t really occur to Nel until now that the end of the mission also meant the end of the journey. She had no more reason to travel with Fayt and the others, so she would have to go back to Elicoor. For once, it was something she was dreading. She wasn’t ready to face the farce that was her religion, nor did she think she could live with the idea of continuing to worship Apris like everyone else in her country.
Ordinarily she could deal with such things so long as she had something to do, but she already knew nothing was waiting for her back home. There wouldn’t be enough missions to keep her occupied so that she wouldn’t have to think about it. Nel briefly glanced at Albel as she remembered her promise to deal with the merchants’ guild in Peterny. That mission alone wouldn’t be enough and she didn’t think there was much more he would want to ensure peace remained between their kingdoms.
She didn’t even think Albel would be that great of a distraction- he would only rub it in her face that he was right all along. He probably wouldn’t be supportive or understand why she was so upset. How could he when he didn’t even believe in Apris to begin with?
Before anyone could move, the earth began to shake once again- this time more violently. It caught everyone by surprise and they had no idea what was happening or why. To everyone’s dread, the dark hole reappeared in the sky and the rune soon showed up. It seemed as if it was being rewritten as the lines of light returned.
A small white circle then appeared in the center before the head of a grotesque black creature came through and stared menacingly at them.
“You gotta be kiddin’,” Cliff muttered in exasperation as he desperately tried to remain standing against the tremors.
Nel reacted quickly as she pulled out a dagger and glared up at the new creature. “I think they mean business.”
Albel already had his katana out while everyone else began readying their weapons. The new creature was covered in black and had only one glowing eye in the middle of where the average two eyes on a humanoid would appear. It was very tall with small wings that didn’t seem like they were capable of supporting it. But it didn’t look like it mattered- the monster appeared to have other means of floating and flying.
It was, quite possibly, the hardest battle Nel had fought to date. Then again, perhaps it was difficult because she had just fought against several Executioners and she wasn’t in peak condition. But after losing consciousness many times during the battle and having to revive her comrades with analeptics or fresh sage when Sophia was overworked, it was safe to say that the new challenger was above average. The fact that it took a long time to kill it with seven strong warriors said a lot.
When it was over, everyone was hunched over as they tried to catch their breaths or recover from the latest injury. Had the battle gone on for much longer, there was a likely chance that they would’ve died.
“That was close…” Maria muttered between breaths.
“That wasn’t good. It’s smaller than before, but so much more powerful,” Cliff added while glaring at the remains of the creature. He was making it sound like it was an Executioner. Nel didn’t want to believe that- not after all that trouble of trying to eliminate them in the first place. And- they hadn’t seen anything like it before. None of the Executioners were that powerful.
“Everyone! Can you hear me?”
The party quickly whipped around to the Time Gate in time to see Blair pass through the screen. She took one look at everyone before she placed a hand on her chest and let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, good. You’re all okay.”
That gave the spy some indication that the programmer knew something about what happened. But just what was it and did she know beforehand that it would happen? If so, why didn’t she warn them?
“Blair, what in the world is going on?” Fayt demanded as he, Sophia, and Maria approached her.
“We used the uninstaller, but it didn’t get rid of the Executioners!” Sophia explained to her in exasperation.
Blair’s features took on a dark, irritated look before she crossed her arms. “That’s just it. We’ve been tricked.”
“What do you mean, ‘tricked’?” Nel found herself asking before she could stop herself. Was that creature they fought really an Executioner? Were there more of them? She hoped not- if beasts like that one made it to Elicoor, then everyone was doomed.
“Speak up, woman,” Albel growled next to the spy, also upset that the plan had somehow backfired. Nel figured that he was also worried about home.
Blair’s features softened some, but she still appeared a little annoyed when she explained the situation. The Creator anticipated their move and prepared something that would activate once they used the uninstaller. She referred to it as a ‘security program’ and mentioned that it would summon more powerful forms of Executioners.
“That would explain that new one we fought,” Fayt commented after hearing that.
“You already saw one?” the grey haired woman inquired in surprise. She was also stunned to hear that they defeated it, too, meaning that they weren’t intended to be pushovers. That worried Nel all the more.
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Sophia wondered, worried about the future of the galaxy.
“It seems the Owner is now in the Eternal Sphere. You must try to reason with him… I think the galaxy will be spared if you can get him to uninstall the security program.” What Blair was suggesting was rather far-fetched. The Creator seemed far too arrogant to admit that he was wrong. How would listening to them change his mind and make him see that his creations were more than just programs?
“If we need to uninstall the security program, we’ll do it by force if necessary,” Maria replied casually, sounding confident in her answer. Of course, she had Cliff’s full support on that- in fact it was something Nel could imagine the Klausian suggesting. It was a sound enough backup plan if the first one failed, so the spy was all for it as well. It was better than doing nothing.
Blair didn’t seem to have any protests over the idea either. She simply continued to explain how they were going to find him. She mentioned that they would need a special intervention device in order to enter the space he created for himself within their dimension.
“A special ID?” Fayt intoned after hearing her abbreviation for it.
“To your eyes, it would appear to be a mysterious item that you don’t know how to use. Your people call such things ‘Out of Place Artifacts’- OPAs.”
Nel quickly glanced up at the programmer. She heard that before- back when Maria first detected the Sacred Orb. The IDs could take on any shape and have immense power, but only 4D beings would know how to use it for its intended purpose. Everyone was starting to panic over the thought of having to search an entire galaxy for an object that could look like anything, but the grey haired woman assured them that there was only one she knew about and she could search for its whereabouts.
There was only one ID in their galaxy… Nel knew it was a stretch, but it sounded too similar not to be it. She crossed her arms and took on a contemplative look before she muttered out loud to Maria. “The Sacred Orb- you said that was an OPA once before.”
“Oh yeah…” Cliff said as he overheard the spy. He then glanced up at Blair and asked, “By any chance, is it a silver sphere about this big?”
The Klausian held up his hands to show an estimate of the size of the orb. The programmer checked through her console before she nodded. “Yes, that’s about right… Why do you ask?”
Fayt soon caught on and nodded to her, “It wouldn’t be on Elicoor II, would it?”
The woman took on a quizzical façade before she ran a search. “I found it. It is there! How did you know?”
“We’ve already seen it when we were on Nel and Albel’s planet. They call it the Sacred Orb there,” Maria replied with a relieved smile. Knowing where it was cut down the stress significantly. All they needed to do was go there and convince the queen to let them borrow it. Nel knew that it should be no trouble so long as she was there to vouch for them.
But… the fact that the Sacred Orb was the ID also meant that a 4D being gave it to her ancestors. It only brought on more questions about this ‘Emissary of Apris’ and his intentions with her world. But as sickening as it was to admit- she could see how her ancestors would’ve thought a 4D being was a god. Albel was right all along- they confused power with advanced technology. The evidence was right in front of her and she couldn’t deny it any longer.
“Okay, everyone. We’re off to Elicoor!” Fayt ordered with renewed hope.
“O-KAY!” Peppita shouted back giddily as she jumped up a little.
“And Sophia…” Blair called out before they could try to leave, “When you find the Sacred Orb, YOU must touch it.”
The girl appeared bewildered and confused as to why she was singled out. “Huh? Why me?”
Since IDs were created for 4D beings, only a 4D being could use it for what it was created for. If a regular Eternal Sphere inhabitant tried to use it, the most they would get is a burst of energy- like with Sirvia being able to summon enough water to flood the ancient Aquor capital, Surferio.
But Maria was the one with the power of Alteration- the power which allowed them to enter 4D space, shouldn’t that be enough to make the orb respond to them? Then again, maybe Maria’s powers only worked in the other dimension. After all, they couldn’t reach 4D space without Sophia’s power to connect them.
“I believe it is useless to all of you except Sophia. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think she is the only one who can use it,” Blair finished before she gave instructions to the brunette on how to contact her again.
“Okay, I’ll try,” Sophia replied, trying to gather the courage to do her part for the team.
Blair nodded at her before she gazed at everyone one more time.
“Be careful,” she told them before she vanished back to her dimension.
The last earthquake had ripped apart the land and even damaged their shuttle. Thankfully, the Diplo happened to be in orbit and managed to transport them onto the ship. Fayt immediately gave the order to head to Elicoor II. Mirage informed them that it wouldn’t take long to reach them from their position and that they should get some rest while they could.
Nel was feeling very tired and requested a room that she could take a nap in. But the moment she was alone, the silence got to her and her mind began to drift to the recent discoveries she had about 4D space and her planet. Her religion was a farce and she had devoted her life to an entity that didn’t really offer prosperity and protection. Everything came crashing down on her and it hurt her so much.
She wanted to beat something in or destroy something to let her frustrations out, but she knew Maria wouldn’t appreciate that behavior on her ship. Instead, she lied on the lone bed in the room and just let her pain out.
She must’ve cried for several hours, lamenting over the revelation. She eventually pulled the pillow over her head when a mild headache began to form from the loss of tears. She wasn’t sure how long she stayed that way, but she soon stirred when she heard the door of the room hiss open. She raised the pillow up long enough to see who it was and then lowered it back on her eyes while hiding a groan.
She wasn’t that surprised to see Albel there, but she still didn’t want to talk. There was nothing he could say that would make her feel better. In fact, she believed he could only make her feel worse.
“Sorry, but I want to be alone for now,” she murmured from under the pillow.
“You have some nerve, woman,” he commented with a light growl. “I’m not leaving.”
She was annoyed with how stubborn he was being, but she refused to let it show. Had she not been so upset, she would’ve wondered why he thought she was in the wrong for asking to be alone.
“What’s the matter with you? I do not like being kept at arms length from you,” he continued when she wouldn’t reply. Some part of her was feeling a little bad that she was keeping things from him, but he would only scoff at her if he knew.
Nel couldn’t ignore him any longer when he reached out to pluck the pillow from her face. She quickly reacted by holding her arms over the soft cushion so he couldn’t move it and see her puffy, red eyes.
“Tell me why you are crying,” he ordered sternly after seeing enough of her features to make the connection.
She wanted to deny that she was, but she knew he wouldn’t believe any excuse she came up with. What happened next was most likely due to the frustration. Nel quickly pushed herself up and tried to forcibly move him off the bed. She didn’t care if he saw her face or knew why she was upset anymore.
“You want to know what’s the matter? The 4D beings played around in our world and created my religion. There’s nothing to the war I fought in or the belief I held. You were right, okay?” she yelled in a rush, hating every word that came out of her mouth. When Albel wouldn’t budge, she started beating on his chest just to let out her emotions. Then, in a moment of weakness, she fell forward and buried her face near the crook of his neck, just under his collar. “I feel so foolish for believing in the first place!”
The Wicked One didn’t say anything during the outburst. He just let her do as she wanted with an impassive face and then held her when she began to cry against him. Never in her life did she ever think she would shed tears in front of Albel, though at the moment, she couldn’t care less. Let him say what he wanted- it simply didn’t matter anymore.
“Even I was wrong to some extent,” he eventually replied when her sobbing diminished. “The gods do exist after all, but they are nothing more than pathetic maggots. You were not foolish to have believed in their existence and you have not wasted your life in serving them like the rest of those worms from your country.”
Nel fisted her hands, dimly realizing that she was actually gripping his shirt in the back. Was Albel actually trying to cheer her up? She thought he would’ve reveled in her despair.
“But everything I’ve done was for Apris and the other gods. I fought against your people and killed men in his name,” she whispered harshly against him as she fought against another round of tears.
“I’m sure you don’t really believe that. Even you knew deep down that everything you had done went against your religion. You fought for your people because my country was attacking yours- you knew that if you didn’t stand up against me, then your comrades would die. It had nothing to do with your god or the lies you have been fed- it was all you and who you are.”
The spy slowly raised her head to look at him as he said that. Had she been in a better state, she would’ve denied vehemently of the small doubt he was accusing her of, but he was right. Nel always knew that prayer alone wouldn’t solve anything- she just didn’t think that prayers had no power whatsoever.
“Those wishing charms you Aquarians make,” Albel continued while he had her full attention, “They say that if you weave together one thousand flowers, then your wish would come true. Did you believe in that?”
“When I was little, yes. But I learned that it was just a story as I grew, so I don’t believe anymore,” she replied brokenly as she wondered what the wishing charms had to do with her situation.
“It’s no different from the worshipping of gods. The others around you still continue to craft those chains and wish for things to happen, but not once do they go out and ensure for themselves that their wish will come true. Either someone like you will come around and fulfill their desires for them, or they’ll continue on wishing forever,” he explained, simplifying the scenario. “But you know better than to depend on some flower chain- if something has to be done, you do it yourself. So why don’t you tell others that it’s pointless to make them?”
Nel shook her head. “Because there are some things common people can’t accomplish on their own. Making Palmira’s Wishing Charms is sometimes the only thing they can do and they do it to ease their souls and show support for others who are out there making a difference.”
“Now replace that with religion. Your people prayed for an end of war, but who ultimately ended it? It certainly wasn’t the gods- it was those Vendeeni maggots. I doubt anyone prayed for them to appear, but thanks to them, we were able to work together and drive them away. In the end, the gods did nothing- it was you, me, Leingod, Lasbard, that giant worm, and the fools who saved our planet. And this happened long before you knew the truth.”
The spy didn’t get it. “So? What does that have to do with anything?”
“The point I am trying to get across is that we are the ones who made miracles happen. Let the people pray all they want, but we are the ones who go out there and make their desires come true. That’s how it’s always been and I fail to see why it should be any different now that you know the gods will never assist you.”
He was right- again. Nel had always served the queen and the people- not the gods. The gods were more of an excuse as to why she was serving or why it was right for them to go to war. But in the end, they were all stories like those wishing charms. Nel took up her swords to not only uphold her father’s legacy, but because she knew someone had to defend the people. Somewhere along the line, she knew the gods wouldn’t do anything, but she didn’t want to see it as the truth. Even if the gods never lifted a finger, they still offered something else that everyone needed from time to time.
“There’s more to it than that,” she said after sighing, “I- all of us prayed to Apris because he gave us hope. And now I find that it’s false hope.”
“Think about the wishing charms again,” he suggested. “Were you really that upset when you found out their legends weren’t real? Let the other maggots dream, you should just continue to protect them like you always do. You are their hope.”
That struck her- she never thought of it like that. People were depending on her, even though they were crediting Apris for everything she did. If she stopped what she was doing, then there would be less people willing to protect everyone. Clair could only do so much by herself.
It was then when Nel had her answer- Apris and religion was part of her life, but it wasn’t her entire being. She had her own purpose and could still live without depending on that false hope. She didn’t need religion to function.
Nel felt strangely calm after coming to that conclusion. She was wrong to avoid Albel this entire time- he knew exactly what to say in order to pull her out of her depression and come to terms with her life. Her body began to relax and she allowed herself to rest against him. Her cheek pressed against the damp area where her tears soaked his shirt and her arms wrapped more firmly around him.
“You know, optimism doesn’t suit you, Albel the Wicked,” she replied with a quiet laugh. He didn’t sound like himself at all when speaking of hope, but she appreciated it nonetheless. He had just saved her from a downward spiral that could’ve completely destroyed her.
“Tears do not suit you,” he retorted while glaring at the furthest wall. The spy detected a light shade of pink on his cheeks and knew that he was embarrassed to have said all those things to her. He probably didn’t believe in some of it- he just wanted to pull her back on her feet so she could continue living.
“I know. I think I’m going to be okay now. Thank you, Albel.”
“Whatever.” He huffed before be briefly tightened his claw arm around her in a gesture that was meant to be both comforting and threatening. “But don’t you ever distance yourself from me again, woman.”
“Never again,” she promised half-heartedly, not fazed by the feel of his heavy claw around her waist.
Albel managed to become the second person she was willing to confide in. Never in her life did she think that would happen. Nel was now a different person- she was no longer that cold-hearted soldier she’d tried to portray herself as before the end of the war. She now had two close confidants in Clair and Albel, she was good friends with Fayt and the others, she saw other worlds beyond her own, and she’d found her true purpose in life. It came at the cost of her innocence and the fantasy she was raised to believe in… but was it worth it?
In all honesty, she could’ve been happier if she hadn’t known the truth- though at the same time, she could’ve been sent to an early grave with her reckless behavior. It was going to be hard to live with what she was aware of and co-exist with the devoutly religious. She wasn’t sure which outcome was the better one- both sides held uncertainty. Hopefully, as long as she had Albel and Clair to support and aid her, she could live happily even with the harsh truths of reality.
The gods didn’t matter anymore- she had her reality and she was going to fight to protect it.