32. Downtime

Chapter 32


            Before leaving, a new member joined their ranks. Well, actually, she wasn’t ‘new’, but she had never fought alongside them before. Nel recalled how Cliff said Mirage was a powerful fighter, so it was assumed that the Klausian woman could hold her own. Naturally, Fayt protested, as he always did with women wanting to join them after leaving Elicoor, though the spy figured it was more out of concern for the person’s well-being rather than gender.

Perhaps it was wrong of Nel to assume that- after all, the last man to have joined them was Albel and she came along with him. The boy didn’t protest either of their presence, but then he already knew how capable they were in battle. No one, save for Cliff and Maria, knew what Mirage could do.

Furthermore, it seemed no one could really argue. Fayt tried to get Cliff to reason with the woman, but all it took was one stony glance and the large man cowered meekly before her. In all honesty, if anyone could make a man of Cliff’s stature back down, then they had to be fairly strong. Maria wisely kept silent the entire time and only vouched for the Klausian woman’s abilities when asked.

When they arrived on Elicoor, they were just outside of the city gates of Aquios. As feared, the Executioners had arrived, but they weren’t great in number. It seemed that only a few could exist in an area, making it much easier for soldiers to fight them off one by one. Unfortunately, a new Executioner would rise to take the defeated one’s place in a matter of hours. This left the troops to only defend towns from invasion and accompany any travelers that needed to cross between towns.

Living seemed to be more difficult, but it was manageable and there were fewer casualties so long as the army paced themselves. Nel was relieved to find that everyone within the sacred city was well and unharmed, but at the same time, she was a little nervous to be back. There were a number of reasons for feeling the latter- for one, she had not informed the queen beforehand that she would be leaving on a long journey (not that she really had a chance at the time).

The spy also didn’t give a full report on the situation. Clair was the one who had to send a report after listening to her story. The queen might understand the situation and forgive her, but the spy knew Lasselle wasn’t going to let it go. He’ll most likely admonish her for what he would view pretentious behavior for the next several months.

Furthermore- even though she had come to terms with the obvious connection between 4D space and the Church of Apris, it was still hard for her to face it. Aquios was the capital and main place of worship. It would be near impossible to avoid thinking about it- and there was the fact that nearly everyone in Aquaria was very religious. She wasn’t sure if she could pretend to go back to the way she lived before.

Some part of her wanted to reveal to everyone the truth about Apris, but another side didn’t have the heart to. She had a breakdown upon discovering the truth. She could only imagine what impact it would have on the common people and officials- that is if they believed her. Many of the devout would stay in denial or accuse her of being a follower of Folstar.

Several soldiers stared at her as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. She was well aware that some had speculated her death with her first disappearance, but she thought word would’ve spread already that she was alive. Considering that there were many rumors about her, perhaps they decided that her reappearance was yet another one to dismiss. She hoped that the queen didn’t think the same way.

When they arrived at the throne room, Nel approached first, knowing that she should be the one to ask on behalf of the group. It was true that the queen trusted Fayt, but only she could accurately explain the situation without adding the confusing terms. And- she didn’t want to risk Fayt saying anything more about 4D space. She wasn’t sure what Clair might’ve already told her, but the ‘land of the gods’ was knowledge that Aquaria could do without.

“Lady Nel, Fayt, it is truly a pleasant surprise,” the queen greeted as the spy kneeled before her. Her ruby eyes soon landed on her servant before she added. “We were quite stunned to hear of your disappearance, Nel, but we are also glad to hear that you are doing well. Clair has informed us of your travels to ensure our safety. Thanks to you, we were able to prepare for the coming threat.”

The spy sensed Fayt walking over to her side. She glanced up at him and then nodded to give him permission to speak since he seemed to have a question. The boy then looked over to the queen before asking, “Your Majesty, how bad is the situation? Can your armies hold up against the Executioners?”

“We are currently working with Airyglyph to combat these creatures. However, the battle is not going well. In the beginning, we were able to meet these creatures on even ground until the Darkest Night came, followed by the Vile Wind,” the queen replied as she lowered her eyes in concern.

“The Vile Wind? The Darkest Night? What’s that?” Cliff inquired in confusion. Of course they wouldn’t have known anything about it- the events occurred before they arrived in Elicoor.

Even though Nel had seen Clair yesterday, she had to remember that time flowed differently in 4D space. Several days had passed in Elicoor since she went back with Fayt and the others to infiltrate the Sphere Corporation. Judging by timing, it seemed Aquaria and Airyglyph was fighting the first wave of the original Executioners before the Darkest Night occurred. The Darkest Night was apparently as it implied- the night when all of the stars in the sky suddenly vanished for a matter of minutes.

The Vile Wind seemed to have come after, if not at the same time, as the Darkest Night. From what Romeria was describing, the Vile Wind was some kind of pulsating wave that affected the psyches and bodies of wild animals, mutating them to the point of becoming monstrous entities. It also disrupted the flow of runological force into bodies, something only the Holy Mother could see through her eyes. Even though just the animals were affected, humans could soon fall victim if prolonged to the exposure.

“Hmm… This probably happened when we returned from 4D space to use the uninstaller,” Maria explained to the others as she thought it over. “Perhaps this is another result of the security system the Owner put up- or maybe his entering our dimension and creating that pocket of space did something to that effect.”

Nel winced at the mention of 4D space and prayed the queen and Lasselle didn’t inquire about it. It would be better if they dismissed it as the usual technological jargon they were used to hearing from them, but she could see the curiosity in her sovereign’s eyes. Thankfully, Fayt distracted her as he said. “Either way, this is why we have returned to Elicoor.”

“Please explain,” the queen ordered, more interested in that over the strange information she overheard.

Nel raised her hand and waved the boy off in a sign that she would take over. “Yes, Your Majesty. We know who is behind these creatures and most likely the Vile Wind. We are on our way to confront him, but in order to do so, we need to borrow the Sacred Orb and use its power to aid us in this endeavor.”

“The Orb?” Lasselle echoed before his features contorted in confusion. “Are you certain you can use it?”

Had anyone else asked for the Sacred Orb, Lasselle would’ve flown off the handle in outrage and assume that they were trying to swindle the queen so they could lay claim to the great Aquarian treasure. But even the Magistrate knew Nel wouldn’t request such a thing unless there really was a need for the Orb’s aid.

Everyone in Aquaria knew the legend of the Sacred Orb and that it should have the power to drive back their enemies. But it was also widely known that only the Holy Mother or someone chosen by the Emissary of Apris would have the ability to actually use the Orb. Lasselle had a valid concern and Nel wasn’t sure how to reassure him. It wouldn’t be easy to explain to him how Sophia had the power to interact with the Orb.

Fortunately, they didn’t need his approval so she didn’t bother to worry about him. The queen still believed Fayt was the Arrow of Apris and while it sickened the spy to rely on that farce of a religion, it was the only way to convince her to grant them permission to take the sacred treasure without having to explain too much.

Romeria looked to Fayt before she gestured him to come a little closer. When he did, she inquired, “Will lending you the Orb allow you to defeat these beings?”

“…Yes. We will not fail,” the boy replied, staring straight into her eyes to prove his honesty and conviction.

“We have no choice but to ask for your help once again. We may be able thrive for the time being, but we cannot remain trapped within our walls for long. We will lend you the Orb,” she replied regally, placing a lot of trust in the boy.

“Thank you very much, Your Majesty,” he responded with a bow. Nel also stood so she could bow and walk back to the others.

The queen caught her eye and gave a nod of approval to the spy’s decision to continue her journey with the off-worlders. “We are depending on you.”

Everyone bowed before they left the throne room. Albel was the first to leave since he didn’t bother with being respectful to the queen. The party convened outside to discuss what they should do next.

“We already had a rest and re-supplied on the Diplo, so I don’t see any reason why we would need a break right now,” Maria said once the suggestion came up.

“You’re right. We should head over to the shrine and secure the Orb immediately,” Fayt agreed with a nod.

“We should be careful,” Nel warned as she recalled a report made days before she had first left the planet. “I hear they were repairing the traps to keep out common thieves. They should be done with most of it by now.”

Keeping the time differences in mind, she could’ve been gone for an entire month since meeting Fayt and the others in the Kirlsa Training Facility. That would be enough time for the engineers to repair at least half of the shrine. Though little did she know that something had managed to stop the project in its track.


Nel remained focused on the current mission. When they had to go through the chapel to reach the secret passage, she kept her eyes on the backs of Fayt, Maria, and Sophia’s heads. She didn’t want to see the statues and books that once brought her hope and calmed her soul- she didn’t want to be reminded of the link between the 4D beings and the founding of a church that essentially did nothing. While she had come to terms with it, there was still an ache of loss and feelings of embarrassment that she was fooled into believing just as easily as everyone else.

Once they were in the passage, she felt herself relax a little. She soon felt someone brush against her arm and found Albel glancing around curiously. It was then Nel realized that there was a Glyphian in a secret Aquarian path- one that could be exploited and used against her country if someone were to plan it right.

But she didn’t feel the need to worry about that. She trusted Albel and knew he wouldn’t divulge that kind of information to his king. He disapproved of sneak attacks and wouldn’t dream of giving his ruler the idea to employ one. Furthermore- Nel knew he would have no interest in the Orb outside of using it to face the Creator, so she could trust him around it as well.

Things seemed to be going well until they reached the entrance to the shrine. The moment they entered the room, a dark rune similar to the one that appeared in Styx formed on the ground and enshrouded a dormant guardian. Was this the Vile Wind that the queen spoke?

“Not again!” Cliff shouted as he and Mirage quickly moved into formation to encounter the creature as it began to move. There was something off about it- the guardians usually warn intruders with non-threatening attacks before acting in a more hostile manner. This one meant business from the start.

As they traveled through the shrine, they discovered some evidence that someone was trying to repair the traps, but it seemed the beserked guardians chased them off. For the most part, the only obstacle they had to face were the guardians- at least until the reached the last area of the shrine. The Vendeeni never did destroy the maze. They probably forced their way in through another area, but the spy never got the chance to see where and how.

Thankfully, nothing new was lurking in the corridors of the last trap before reaching the Orb. The ancient blocks were constructions from the times of Sirvia. It was powered by runology and trained to only allow the Holy Mother, descendant of Sirvia, through.

“Ah! Fayt!” Sophia cried out in alarm as one of the blocks rounded the corner and began heading towards them.

“This way!” Peppita shouted before she stopped in her tracks. There was another one blocking their only route.

“Damn! Looks like we’ll have to start over again,” Fayt muttered as he waited for the large objects to touch them. Since it was designed to be a humane trap, the worst they’d do was teleport them to the entrance of the area. It was annoying, but they would just have to endure.

Suddenly, the mechanisms stopped in place before they backed away and then disappeared into special holes in the walls. Everyone glanced at each other curiously as they tried to figure out what happened.

“That’s unusual. This didn’t happen before,” Maria commented as headed for the nearest corner to see if there were any others. “They all seem to be gone.”

“It appears someone or something deactivated the security,” Mirage surmised, explaining the strange outcome.

“But who would do such a thing and why?” Fayt wondered out loud before Cliff shrugged.

“And why couldn’t they do this before when we came here the first time?” the Klausian asked with an annoyed tone to his voice.

“Maybe it was Blair?” Sophia guessed as she fingered the strands of her hair in a nervous gesture.

“Hey, that’s right!” Peppita said as she jingled her way over to Sophia and Maria. “Since she’s a programmer, then altering something in our dimension shouldn’t be any problem for her.”

“You would think that, but if that were true, she wouldn’t need our help with the uninstaller,” Maria pointed out before adding, “and she could’ve done something to prevent this Vile Wind.”

That was true. Second best programmer or not, Blair still had limitations. It seemed the Creator was the only one who could defy the pre-programmed laws of the dimension, but it was highly doubtful that he had anything to do with this arrangement.

“Ah, there’s no point in thinking about it, I guess. We’re just wastin’ time,” Cliff said after a while. Everyone agreed with that and soon continued on to the next room.

Nel was also puzzled over the mystery, but didn’t voice anything out. Used to, she would guess that it was the grace of Apris, but that clearly wasn’t the case. There was something logical to explain it, but she had no clue what. At least, not until Albel caught her attention.

“I think I know what happened,” he told her quietly, deliberately trying not to catch the others’ attention. She glanced up at the ceiling when he pointed up and soon noticed the glowing Dragon Rune above them. “They react to those with the blood of Aquaria, right?”

The spy’s eyes widened as her mind registered the rune and Albel’s inquiry. That wasn’t there the first time, so it must’ve been true… but something was off.

“No, this was a shrine built for Queen Sirvia and it should only react to the Holy Mother,” Nel replied, sounding confused. Though it was discovered that Sirvia was actually a descendant of Aquaria and any Holy Mother would also have traces of the blood, but Sirvia took the throne as a separate line away from the original royalty.

At the time, Edyglyph abandoned her people to the invasion of Greeton, so it was in Sirvia’s best interest to claim that she was of another family line to maintain the trust of the people. “I think she abandoned the traditions of your ancestors- otherwise the water dragon would’ve still been the symbol of Aquaria today.”

They had to continue walking, lest they alerted Fayt and the others that something could be wrong, but they kept a good distance close to the back so that they wouldn’t be overheard. For some reason Albel didn’t want them to know about his connection to the first queen of Aquor, but Nel figured she had an idea of why- it was too much and too complicated to explain at that point.

“I’m a little rusty on Aquarian history since I don’t particularly hold any interest in your country, but I would assume that Lasbard’s ancestors accepted the new queen and volunteered their services to construct this temple. As far as I know, only my and Lasbard’s clan should have knowledge of ancient runology that could sense the blood of a particular person within others,” he pointed out.

She didn’t think of it that way- that did seem like a logical conclusion. But did that mean they could’ve avoided this the first time had they brought Adray along? If he or Clair could stop the traps within the shrine, then that would prove Albel’s theory. However, as Cliff mentioned, it was useless information for the time being. They had to collect the Sacred Orb and Albel’s unexpected connection merely gave them a faster route to their destination. At least now she had an explanation as to why the security was deactivated. The details behind it could be saved for another day.

When they finally reached the room, Fayt pointed out the Orb to Sophia to encourage her to try contacting Blair. The brunette cautiously lifted the silvery sphere from its water throne and stared at it apprehensively. She wasn’t sure what to do with it, so she tried calling out to the programmer to see if it would respond.

The girl let out a worried noise when the Orb glowed for a moment, but then she appeared happy as she heard something. “Blair! What a relief! We have the Sacred Orb now.”

For the next minute or so, Sophia talked to the Orb while everyone else was unable to hear Blair’s voice. Nel watched as the girl’s reactions drifted from relieved, to confused, then to disappointment. Apparently the programmer didn’t have good news for them.

“What did she say?” Fayt prodded when she lowered the Orb.

“She said we need to sit tight for a bit,” the girl replied before she explained the situation. Blair still didn’t know the location where they could enter the space where the Creator was. She needed some time to pinpoint it.

“Looks like we’re stuck for now,” Cliff commented as he rubbed the back of his neck. “We have the means to get there, but we don’t know where ‘there’ is.”

As annoying as it was, they really had no choice. They decided to head back to Aquios and rest until Sophia heard from Blair again. Nel wasn’t looking forward to the downtime, but she didn’t think there was anything she could take on that would occupy her. But she had to find something- she couldn’t tolerate being forced to think about the Church of Apris while being stuck in the capital of the religion.


Nel was trapped. She couldn’t leave the castle, nor could she even travel out with the troops to help combat the Executioners. The only soldiers heading out were going to other towns and she couldn’t afford to leave Aquios if Fayt and the others hear from Blair. Knowing them, they would want to leave immediately- and she would, too, considering that their coming confrontation with the Creator determined the fate of the galaxy.

While trying to decide what to do, her mind eventually drifted off to the areas she didn’t want to dwell on. She needed action to keep from thinking, but that wasn’t available to her. Eventually, the spy decided to try a new approach: instead of running and trying to keep busy, she chose to face it head on. She was going to have to get used to attending church despite her lack of faith.

While the Church of Apris didn’t define her life, it was still a major part of everyone else’s. She couldn’t suddenly stop worshiping or denounce her faith to others who desperately clung to the ideals of the church. They would accuse her of being sacrilegious- or claim that the godless Glyphians had poisoned her. She would lose the trust of the very people she wanted to continue protecting. She had to pretend to stay faithful for the sake of her queen and the citizens of Aquaria.

Unfortunately, it was proving to be very hard to sit in during services. As a Crimson Blade, she had special privileges that allowed her to sit as close to the front as she wanted, but she instead chose to sit in the very back of the chapel. There weren’t many attending that day and they stayed fairly close to the High Priestess as she gave her sermon for the afternoon.

It was difficult to hear her that far back, but the spy viewed it as a good thing. She feared that hearing her words would make her snap and speak out against the clergy. It was something she was going to have to control- she couldn’t afford to let the masses know that ‘Apris’ was nothing more than a project designed to oversee their galaxy and that there was a whole other world that viewed them as mere entertainment. If the truth crushed her, she could only imagine what it would do to all of Aquaria.

There would be many who wouldn’t believe her and there would be a precious few who would listen and despair over it. She could see it causing a great divide that could potentially lead to civil war- and that was the last thing she wanted.

But still…it really bothered her to see so many people cling to Apris and honestly believe in the teachings. By staying silent, she was letting them live a lie.

“I’m surprised to see both of you here.”

Nel glanced up to find Maria at the end of the pew and watched as the girl made her way over to sit down. It took the spy a few seconds to register the fact that the girl said ‘both of you’. The spy had been so distracted with her thoughts that she didn’t notice that someone else was sitting next to her. To preserve some of her dignity as a spy, she lowered her head again and discreetly glanced to the side.

Sure enough, there was a thigh clad in a familiar purple color. When did Albel appear and why didn’t he say anything? She figured that he probably wanted to see how long it would take for her to notice him…

“Habits die hard, I suppose,” the spy eventually replied to the blue haired girl’s statement. Her words sounded a little hollow and remorseful to her, but she didn’t let that stop her from adding, “It would look strange if I suddenly stopped attending altogether. I can’t exactly tell everyone what Apris is or that the gods are just ordinary people like us. It would just cause a panic.”

“That’s true,” Maria agreed. “There were several instances in history where enlightened people mistakenly believed that the truth could be handled by the masses. People interpret information differently and if someone took away the order and stability of a known constant, it would be like snatching the ground from under their feet.”

In some ways, Nel envied Maria. The girl also had her set of beliefs and views, but the exposure to 4D space didn’t seem to waver her. Maria was too understanding and she had the ability to adapt very quickly to new concepts. It was like nothing fazed her.

“It’s not easy watching everyone pray to a god that doesn’t really care about them on a personal level. I wonder how the idea the gods would save us came about? I can see why my ancestors thought 4D beings were gods, but the legends I heard as a child don’t match up with what I know now,” the spy added, hoping the girl could shed some of her insight on that. There were many things that didn’t add up and it was leaving the spy with more questions than explanations.

But it was Albel who replied instead of the girl, “I wouldn’t put it past our ancestors to have made up most of those legends. I’m sure the Ten Precepts were actually a fabrication created by someone who wanted to create laws for others to follow, rather than demands from a god.”

“Albel might be onto something. I remember talking to a researcher in the library who noticed that most history books were inconsistent. It is likely that the Church of Apris is a collection of man-made stories to make the truth sound more extravagant.”

A perplexed look came across the spy’s features. Could that be true? Could Aquaria’s religion be a construct of her ancestors and not something dictated by one of the 4D beings? “But why? What would lying to others accomplish? Who would gain anything from convincing people to follow an imagined entity?”

“Kings and Queens, of course. Religion is nothing more than a tool to control the masses,” Albel answered as he shook his head. Nel glared at him, though he didn’t acknowledge it.

“Her Majesty would never do such a thing! She doesn’t need trickery to rule her people,” the spy said to him with a sneer. Maybe she had lost her faith, but she didn’t lose her sense of patriotism to her queen and country.

“I didn’t imply as such,” he defended casually, as if he didn’t care if he was offending her- or perhaps he was expecting her reaction. “Every ruler needs a means to convince people to follow them. My king uses a promise for a better future in order to garner loyal subjects. However, considering how long your country has followed those teachings, I would think your queen has no idea how much your religion is made up.”

Maria gave the spy an apologetic look before she commented, “I don’t mean to take sides, but he’s absolutely right. World leaders tend to use tactics to control people, but not all strategies are the same. Some use fear, others use hedonism- religion can be used to strike fear through threats or inspire hope. The fact is that most people are simply followers and they tend not to think outside of their daily lives. They usually need someone to tell them what to do or what to believe in- and they follow those leaders based on what they offer.”

So that’s how it was- Nel couldn’t deny that there was evidence to support that. The war was a good example of ‘controlling the masses’ as several members of the court from both kingdoms fed information that demonized the other side to the commoners. They took the stories without any doubt to the validity and eagerly despised the enemy kingdom simply because they were told to.

Even so, she still thought it was wrong to trick people like that. Surely the queen didn’t need to employ such tactics… but the spy knew that she wouldn’t have had any troops to aid her had no one built up the rumor that the war was about the freedom to practice religion. She didn’t like it, but it was a necessary evil to obtain help from the people who would otherwise sit still and ponder about why Airyglyph was attacking.

“I suppose honesty never gotten anyone very far,” Nel replied after a while.

“Not necessarily- it depends on the situation and the relationship between leader and follower. I’m honest with my crew because I know them all on a personal level- most government officials don’t have such a luxury and can’t afford to trust people with honesty,” Maria explained, using her experience and prior knowledge to boost her claim.

The spy felt a little better at hearing that it depended on the person and the situation. The queen didn’t have much of a choice and had to be the pillar of strength for her people whereas Nel could be bluntly honest to her subordinates to gain their trust and be able to count on them. The blue haired girl continued to give examples of other government types, most of which sounded terrible. By comparison, Aquaria (and even Airyglyph) was better off and gave more dignity to her citizens.

Nothing more was said as they listened to the rest of the service. Once it was over, Maria excused herself and wandered off into the palace. Nel soon realized that she didn’t know why the blue haired girl decided to attend, or why Albel chose to sit in.

She wanted to ask, but the Wicked One stood up and glanced down at her. “I need your services, woman. I want to get to Airyglyph before nightfall to acquire something that might prove useful on our trip- also, we’re bringing Leingod with us.”

She could only blink. Since when did she agree to anything and why did he think they could reach Airyglyph before nightfall at this hour? The spy tiredly shook her head before she stood up. “What on Elicoor is so important that it needs to be done now? We don’t have much time for side trips and there is no possible way to reach Airyglyph that quickly.”

“I overheard those maggots you call subordinates- they mentioned that a unit of Dragon and Black Brigade members stationed in Peterny to help defend against the creatures. All we need is to go there and borrow some dragons.”

“Okay…” Nel replied slowly as she crossed her arms. She chose to ignore his jab against her subordinates and instead focused on his motives. “Now explain your reasoning.”

“I want to obtain the Crimson Scourge. I’m not certain what connection it has to the 4D maggots, but I know it does possess great power. It would be a great asset to us if I master it.”

The spy’s eyes widened at his words. The Crimson Scourge was one of the three gifts given to Aquaria before she founded the kingdom of Aquor. It had since been in Airyglyph’s possession since Queen Edyglyph fled from Aquor during the Greeton invasion. There was much about the sword that had been lost to history, but she did know that it chose its master and that for the most part it recognized the descendants of Edyglyph as worthy of wielding it. But that wasn’t always the case- some warriors outside of the family line carried the sword when the true heirs of the time happened to be too weak.

“Are you certain you can master it?” Nel inquired worriedly. She knew he was strong, but there was more to a warrior than strength. They say the master of the Crimson Scourge must also be a warrior of strong heart. Even she didn’t know what exactly that entailed.

“…I don’t know,” he admitted as he looked away for a brief moment, “That’s why I wish to go now and find out. I will never be the man my father once was, but I will not have his sword repose in the royal treasury when it should be put to use against this Creator. I have to try and if I fail, then I’m not worthy or strong enough to aid that fool beyond this world.”

The spy sighed some as she conceded to his point. She didn’t think Albel would doubt himself like this, but perhaps he really did need to test himself. It was obviously weighing on his mind and it would continue to fester to the point where he could be too distracted to fight. But where did this come from all of a sudden? Was he also bothered by the 4D influence and had to question if the Crimson Scourge was truly as legends say?

Maybe Albel wasn’t as distraught as she was about the ‘gods’, but he was still just as disgusted with their limited involvement in their lives. There was a chance that the sword was just as made up as her religion… just as there was a chance that its power was real.

“But what would happen if you fail? Aren’t there consequences if you can’t master the sword?” She didn’t want to think that he wouldn’t succeed, but she couldn’t help but prepare for the worst-case scenario. If the ‘consequence’ was just a blow to his ego, then she needed to plan ahead on how to convince him to continue fighting with them. She didn’t think he needed a magic sword to fight the Creator. Having the power that Fayt and the girls possessed on their side was more than enough.

“I could end up possessed by the sword and become like Vox- or it could consume me,” he replied as he turned away and started walking towards the stairs that led towards the exit. But he paused before he could get far and glanced at her from over his shoulder. “That’s why I want you and Leingod to come and bear witness- should I become possessed, I want you to kill me.”

“What?” Nel whispered before she chased after the dark swordsman. “Albel, are you joking? If the risk is that great, then why go through with it at all? You’re too valuable to lose- your country needs you.”

Some part of her wanted to add that she needed him as well, but she held back. Mentioning his kingdom should be enough- after all, she was second priority to him.

“What good am I unless I can prove my worth? This is more about trying to be at least half the man my father wanted me to be. You should know all too well about trying to carry on a memory and a legacy.”

Nel bit her lip and bowed her head until her nose was hidden behind her scarf. She did know- even as she tried to forget or keep herself busy, she knew that everything she had done was for her father’s memory. But wasn’t there some other way?

“Do you really have to obtain the sword?” she inquired as she stopped him from walking out the door. “Isn’t protecting your kingdom and ensuring peace enough?”

“There is a chance that we could end up dead if we fail to eliminate the Creator. If I don’t do this now, then I might never find out if I could truly carry on his legacy,” he replied without looking at her.

“Fine,” the spy agreed in a quiet tone. Albel didn’t want any regrets and she was all too aware of the fact that they had a possibility in losing the battle if they were not careful. He would end up being a burden if he didn’t go through with it, but at the same time, it would hurt the party to lose him. No- it would hurt Nel to lose him. After all that had happened, she couldn’t easily let him go.

“Can I depend on you to carry out what I request? With Leingod there to aid you, you shouldn’t have any trouble defeating me,” Albel said as he finally looked her in the eyes.

“Yes…” the spy responded after a while, her voice taking on a cold tone. “If I don’t, you would be a threat to my kingdom.”

Her violet eyes appeared saddened as she tilted her head up to face him, but she tried to maintain a resolute expression as she added, “I will give you an honorable warrior’s death.”

“If I fail, then I deserve no such honor,” he told her as he shook his head.

“I don’t care- I don’t want to lose you, but I will kill you for the sake of protecting my kingdom. Honoring you will be the only solace I can take.”

Albel stared at her with an unreadable façade before he slowly cupped her cheek and gently rested his forehead against hers. It was a risky move considering those still present in the chapel could look up and see them- or someone could enter through the doors and catch them in the act of the public display of affection. But at the moment, Nel didn’t care- she was living by the moment while it lasted, because the end could come at any time. This was his way of apologizing for the unneeded stress and pain he was causing her and she wanted the comfort.

She only prayed that the gesture wasn’t also their last goodbye.

To the Next Chapter


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