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[Bloodstained Aubade Anthology] Briar of Fensalir


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#1 Saralen

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Posted 15 December 2016 - 10:21 PM

Hello all, :p_hi: it's been a while since I promised a rewrite, but I finally got it down pat. In cooperation with ROCKheir, we present the Bloodstained Aubade Anthology, the first of which is the Briar rewrite, which was previously spelled as Brier.

 

The anthology consists of two works, the Briar of Fensalir, a light novel-esque fanfiction, and Tears from the Bragaful, a doujin graphic novel. There might be more planned, depending on reception, inspiration, and time constraints. Reviews are appreciated. We hope you like our humble tribute to the sixteen year old game that kept 40 million* playing.

 

 

Standard Disclaimer: Ragnarök Online is owned by Gravity Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of GungHo Online Entertainment, Inc., a subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp. Ragnarök original concept is owned by Lee Myung-Jin, and Dive to Dream Sea studio, published by Daiwon C.I. and Tokyopop. Norse mythology is public domain.

 

Additional Disclaimer: This story may or may not reflect the state of iRO (and kRO) in many ways; this includes internal politics, customer service, certain actions, etc. Any resemblance you see on particular characters or guilds in the story with actual players and actual (well, virtual since this is all just a game) guilds ARE INTENTIONAL (with permission for the most part, except in certain cases when players are too famous and just play a role by default)! To avoid infractions, their identities have been concealed with different names, although I think most of you would recognize them as dead-ringers.

 

 

*Accounts, not players. Numbers do not reflect current time in-game population across all official servers.

 

Edit: Chapter updates will now happen weekly every Saturday unless there are personal emergencies. In which case I might either ask ROCKheir to post for me or it will get delayed until the week after, depending on circumstances.


Edited by Saralen, 11 February 2017 - 12:45 AM.

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#2 Saralen

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Posted 15 December 2016 - 10:22 PM

Table of Contents

 

Prologue

 

Reginleif Arc

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX


Edited by Saralen, 25 March 2017 - 09:44 PM.

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#3 Saralen

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Posted 15 December 2016 - 10:24 PM

Prologue

 

The thousand years war of yore, according to the legends, found an indescribable peace to follow. The uneasy truce between gods, men, and demons was set in place; to what cost, only those not from the world of men know. Some say that it was men and their hubris which caused the war in the first place…

 

In the thousand years after, the fragile peace that existed had caused man to lose sight of sin, and the age of the After War developed arrogance and fury among themselves…

 

Not even the signs of the times when the demon god Surt broke through 600 years early nor the strange darkness from the realm beyond Hel’s domain alerted the world on its path to accelerated destruction.

 

The war will come again, few people still believe. For destiny as the heavens ordained it is absolute. Existing past their time, the gods are in a desperate bid to continue their rule, and all the worlds will come against them. Demons of legends desire the domain that comes from God.

 

Beyond the throes of this hopeless fate, heroes of men rise, and forgotten legends spread, and yet again humanity seeks what even the broken ages have sealed away. The promise of wealth, power, and glory that comes with the nature of the artifacts of the past is tied to that destiny that repeats itself.

 

 

Yet there is hope…

 

At one time when truths turned to history, and history turned to legends, humanity had forgotten the light that was once carried beyond the fate of fates, for the brief peace of a thousand years was the concerted proof of the destiny beyond the foreordained calamity known as The Final Destiny of the Gods.

 

What truth will come from the words of gods and stories of men about destiny?

 


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#4 ROCKheir

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 01:26 AM

I really should start working on mine after seeing your preface. xD


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#5 Saralen

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Posted 21 December 2016 - 09:41 PM

I really should start working on mine after seeing your preface. xD

 

You better. :p_laugh:


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#6 Saralen

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Posted 21 December 2016 - 09:44 PM

Reginleif Arc

 

I

 

 

Our holy Allfadr, you alone know that what are seen with the eyes are fleeting, for in yours given, now known true wisdom by what is seen with the heart. Have pity on the wretched children of Midgard, and guide us to the paradise of Valhalla, so that we may worship you with the saints, and be removed from evil.

 

---Revised Fadr-var prayer, circa 549 A.W. Council of Geffen

 

“Sister...Sister Leiden?”

 

Father Bamph considered speaking louder, though stopped himself when he remembered he was inside the Sanctuary. ‘Sometimes even I get carried away like an outsider,’ he ruminated while observing the solitary woman prostrating and keeping her head low on the floor. Approaching closer, he was about to call out her name when someone hooked his arm and took him aside.

 

“Let her supplicate for her wishes. There are more urgent matters to discuss.” A younger Priest beside him said, trying to coax him to another hall, “how long do you intend to keep her here? It’s been more than two months; you know what happened too,” his companion lowered his voice while keeping his negating tone “all I’m saying is this isn’t safe. The Church is already at odds with the kingdom, and you want to stoke the fires?”

 

“Biscuss,” the older priest sighed, “you were once an Acolyte under me.” He hated pointing out his seniority in the clergy, but sometimes it was necessary to keep the seeds of heterodoxy from taking root. Truthfully, there was no one he could trust more than his younger assistant, but Father Biscuss was right; the temporal power of Rune-Midgard and the Holy-See of the Odin Orthodoxy have had recent disagreements, some severe and delicate. Still…,“I have taught you many times that we will not forsake those who seek guidance and shelter from the outside. Criminals, prostitutes, and vagabonds are welcome to seek us out in refuge as with any noble, foreigner, and citizen.”

 

That seemed to have placated and shamed the younger Priest into silence. Father Biscuss watched his superior walk closer to the woman, stooping to tap her on the shoulder and rouse her from her “mortification.” He didn’t like this, not at all, but Father Bamph was right. To do anything less would be virtuous. Placated for now, he went on his way back to the office not paying them another thought.

 

“Get up, Sister Leiden,” Father Bamph said very gently “you don’t want to be confused for a hallucinating drunk, do you?”

 

The woman stood and heeded the old Priest’s concern. Gratefully returning his concerned smile, she said, “Father, please don’t call me ‘sister.’ I am merely a laity under God; ‘sister’ is someone who is part of the clergy. You can just use my name, Father.”

 

“Yes, and it was a sad day when you chose a different path from being an evangelical instrument of God, Seirin”, he said in reply using her given name. “With a name like that, you’d be easily confused with the late brother of Sir Windsor. Why don’t you use your baptismal name instead?” he offered as a suggestion.

 

To that she said, “just ‘Leid’ is fine, Father; my baptismal name still has ‘Seirin’ in it, and I’m still able to evangelize, just through a different way without ordination.” Seirin, or Leid, closing her navy blue eyes again in concentration before taking his forearm “I’m still waiting for my daily verses, Father. I hope you haven’t forgotten.”

 

Ah, that’s right. The daily verses were their “tip of the days” to strengthen faith. He had forgotten, and decided to just say what came first to his mind and rolled off the tongue, “Blessed are those who die heroically in battle, for theirs is the seats of Valhalla.” He hoped for her to find contentment and solace in that, but her look of deeper concentration and uncertainty told otherwise.

 

“I never understood that one.”

 

That was unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome. Whenever he would give her a daily verse, she would get into a lengthy discourse of said verse, enough to fill out an entire treatise. If she had been any other member of the laity, he would’ve asked her to elaborate, but her thoughts were impossible to know. He tried. Still, he did not want her to be too bothered, and sought to distract her instead. “Have you finished your chores?”

 

It worked, and the laywoman had all but forgotten, smiling sheepishly, “all but the gardens and the grounds, Father. I’ll trim those rose bushes now” she ran off, but looked back for a short while with a respectful bow and smile, “Until dinner then, Father.”

 

The old Priest watched her as she walked out the door, and looked back to the altar in contemplation.


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#7 Saralen

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 03:19 AM

II

 

Cold wishes warmed by your hands~ I’m still waiting for you here~,” I sang. This is going to be my next hit, I can tell! Sister will be so proud. :p_hi: I’ll sing it to her first then she’ll give me lots of snuggles and cuddles. That should make her finally go home. The idea was so exciting that I ran for the church.

 

There she was, my cute lovely sister :p_idea:, tending to roses? They’re making her do chores again? Sister doing hard labor is so annoying. They shouldn’t make a lady do that. Actually, they shouldn’t make my sister do that. Making her do chores means less time with me! :pif: Why can’t they cut their own roses or mow their own lawns? My poor sister. Why can’t she just come home? Oh well, at least she’s here, safe and sound. Sneaking closer, I made sure to be very extra quiet to not disturb her, before pouncing and covering her eyes with my hands. “Guess who?”

 

She grinned and then laughed. I like it when sister laughs. “Is it my vewy cute and adowable twin bwother?” Sister turned around and hugged me, and gave a peck on my cheek. Hooray, I got a kiss. I gave her back another kiss before she let go, turning around and cutting another rose. Aww. “What are you doing here, Hsui?”

 

“I’m not allowed to see my sister anymore, especially since she wouldn’t go home?” I pouted. Leid turned back and set her basket of roses aside and touching my face. I leaned into her touch, my cold, pale skin against the rosy flushed warmth of her hand, and closed my eyes. I missed this. I missed her. At least I know she’s safe from whoever or whatever it was that wanted to hurt her. Her silence assured me.

 

“Soon, I will go back home. I promise,” I sensed some hesitation while she twirled a lock of her corn silk blonde hair, a contrast to my own muddy brown “it’s just not safe yet.”

 

“What about our new house?” When I came back two months ago, I had the deed to a new house in Alberta. I bought it as a present for her. She always loved the sea, but our shack in Izlude just wouldn’t be good to live in forever.

 

“It’s your house, Hsui, not ours,” she said “I don’t think your destined wife-to-be would be too pleased sharing her home with another woman, even if it is her sister-in-law. Plus, I’d rather not be a guest in my own home.”

 

A great idea came into my head, “why don’t I marry sister instead? We’ll be together forever and ever!” I hugged and cuddled my sister while she put down her rose basket then petted my head and giggled.

 

“You say the cutest things. Come here, you little rascal.” Waaah.

 

She gave my head a short rub like a noogie and kissed my forehead. Wow, how did I get so lucky? I must be very kissable today. Eager, I puffed up my cheeks hoping she’d kissed them, and she did. I can’t bring my sister to the house, but at least I can get her out, even for a little while, “shwister, can we go on a date today? Pwetty pwease?” Leid looked hesitant, but I was laying on our special little language a little thick, so…

 

3…

 

2…

 

1…

 

“Oh, alright,” hooray! I get to go on a date with my cute sister “I suppose it wouldn’t cause any harm to be outside the Sanctuary’s area for one day,” she said, holding my hands and giving them a soft squeeze “but we can’t stay outside too long, and we are not going too near to the city guards or notice boards.” She smiled and gave me another peck, this time just to the side of my lips. “Give me ten minutes to get ready.”

-

 

“When the bird goes ‘coo coo coo’ that’s when I know I want a well baked cookie too~”

 

Ah, I love the sound of applause and cheers. After a low bow, I took my trusty green whistle and blew on it. I’m surrounded by friends, and my sister is with me; it couldn’t get any better than this. That little concert was fun, but I needed to catch a break, so I sat down on the grass and patted the ground right beside me. The air on South Prontera Field was always lively with people, but sister didn’t seem to like the idea at first when I told her where we were going for a date. I didn’t understand because she usually loved outdoors and nature, but she agreed after some pouting and puppy dog eyes.

 

After a while, my friends crowded around me, but sister sat down close by, not fully in the circle but just a few steps away. They were still hooting and clapping when one of the guys came up and spoke up, “hey, Hsui, who’s the girl? Is she your girlfriend?”

 

“No, she’s my twin sister, you dingus. Isn’t it obvious?” I glared, but I guess it wouldn’t be. My sister is too beautiful to have a body double, but I come a close second as her twin at least. The beauty she has is just too limiting for this sinful earth. Why, she- “ow!”, my sister glared at me after getting closer and jabbing me on the hip, but why? Leid crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at me. Waaah. :p_omg: Another stern glare made me shrink before I finally got it. She didn’t like me saying mean words, even if they’re not really mean and meant for friends. “Sorry.”

 

Their reactions were silent. I know, I’d be in awe too if I could be twins with the most beautiful woman in the world. Then they all pealed with laughter, with one guy, I think his name was Cyril, exclaiming, “No! She actually looks normal and alive. Does that mean she’s also a living dead?” Oh. That’s…true. How can I even look like my sister? I have dull brown hair, deathly pale skin, and my eyes aren’t even normal. They made me look like I lived in Niflheim instead of being anything similar to my loving twin. Can we even really be called twins? Maybe I’m just not cute enough to be beside Leid and that’s why she wouldn’t come home. :p_sad:

 

Suddenly, their laughing dies out and I wondered why. Leid appeared in my line of sight the next second, grappling a knife in her hand. Where did that come from; her pocket? She’s going to stab him! I ran after her to make her stop, and tell her that it’s okay, but not one step when they raised their weapons…and she went past them.

 

She stabbed the knife straight into the Argiope’s head, but not before wounding it’s left feeler. Someone must have stepped on a dead branch and summoned it. It was a usual occurrence in the south field. Sister grunted and pushed her knife in, and I knew the short battle was in the bag. I closed my eyes and waited while I heard bug juice gush out. When I opened them again, I saw her put the knife back in her pocket, brandished back into its small case and her skirt pocket. That was awesome! Go sister! Go sister! Go sister! I ran and gave her a hug and she returned it. Aww. But is she okay? What if poison got to her? I definitely heard some bug juice spray at her, and her dress looks messy now.

 

“I’m okay, sweetie. Big sister’s tougher than you think.” Her eyes were now dimmer than before, but she smiled, so that was okay. I love it when sister smiles; it makes her look more lovely. After that, she went to Cyril and stood on her toes to be taller. “Please apologize to my brother. Your words were unnecessary and will deprive you of grace, I am certain of it.”

 

That whole stunt must have intimidated Cyril, because he came up to me and apologized. “Sorry, dude” before saying more softly “Baldr’s boots! Your sister is scary as faen, pal.” She was not! I stopped myself from jabbing him because sister was staring at me, but one day… All I could do was nod and sat back down, blowing on my trusty green whistle again. Sister sat down too, same as she had awhile ago, but her legs were leaning outside the circle now. This date just became horrible. :p_sick: I should have taken her somewhere else.

-

 

“Oh, here. I know how much you love my homemade milk biscuits. Eat them slowly because I won’t be able to bake anymore until I have more ingredients.” Leid took out something from her pocket. It was a checkered pink and violet cloth tied with a striped ribbon. I unwrapped it and inside were the biscuits she made for me. Aww. I’m never eating these and going to save them forever and ever.

 

It was true what they say, time flies when you’re having fun. The sun set too soon. I need more sister lovey-dovey time. Everyone started leaving and soon we had to go back before dusk. Sister was very clever. She avoided guards by scaling the city wall. :p_omg: She took me to the room she was staying in at church, but not before picking up the basket of roses she left in the shade. Who were they for? Are they for another man? Noooo! I told her other men were bad and want to hurt her, like that jerk ex of hers. The only good thing he ever did was show her how other men can be mean and hurtful. Hmph.

 

“These roses would make a wonderful centerpiece for the table. The beggars and orphans would love them. I always tell them to take one home, but maybe there’s not enough.” Oh. My sister is so kind and generous. She really is too beautiful for this sinful earth. :p_love: “Too bad it’s not blooming season anymore though.” Are those people dumb? They don’t need to worry about some dumb old flower. They’ll be in awe of the sight of my marvelous everlasting sister. Sister’s loveliness and charm were so distracting that flowers will wilt because they’re jealous.

 

“Hsui? Hsui? Midgard to Hsui, are you there, Hsui?”

 

“Aaah?” Oh no! I missed whatever sister was saying. :sob:

 

She giggled –giggled!- and rubbed my head again. Her hand felt so good :p_hi: “I said you’re free to join me and the orphans for dinner. I feel that it would do them good to see someone else who survived and grew up from being a war orphan…that, and I missed you,” she said that last part with a blush while looking away. Awww. My sister misses me! I scooped her up and spun her around. “Hahaha~” that melodious laugh is the muse of my songs “okay Hsui, you can stop now. If you don’t, I’m not letting you stay over the night.”

 

Ahhh…noooooooooo! I forgot. I guess I was having such a good time I forgot to tell her the other reason why I came to her. I slumped and wanted to just roll on the floor and cry. Sister wants me to stay over the night but I can’t, because tomorrow…

 

“Silly, I already know. You leave tomorrow for more adventures, this time in the east continents. You wrote that in your last letter before you returned.” Leid held my hand to keep me up and kept her toothy grin, “just wake up early tomorrow. I promise I’ll be up even earlier to see you off in Izlude. The night-shift city guards are especially lazy,” she said before humming something, a familiar melody “If you miss me, just hum that berceuse I made for you, okay? I gave it to you, so no matter where in the worlds you are, it’ll remind that I will always think of you, because I ‘wuf’ you.”

 

I wuf you too, shwister. I hug her tight and glomp her to the floor while she laughed and kept petting my head.

 


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#8 Saralen

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Posted 11 January 2017 - 09:47 PM

Note: the above chapter does not reflect the reality of the story, with some exceptions :p_laugh:


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#9 Saralen

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Posted 11 January 2017 - 09:59 PM

III

 

 

Seirin could swear if her mouth dropped to the floor she wouldn’t feel a single crack. The sight before her was just too unreal and disconcerting.

 

Riiiiiiiidiiiiiiiiiii, Pagliiiiaaaaacciiioooooo~.”

 

Her expression belied contradicting sympathy and disbelief on the dramatics unfolding before her and she didn’t know what to do, so she settled for just burying her face in her hands. Why was she here again?

 

Sul tuo aaamoooooore infraaaaaaaaaantooooo!

 

Oh right, she wanted to experience the Kafra Centenary Festival, which by its name, celebrates every 100 years the Kafra Corporation continuously existed, roughly to be believed the same year Aldebaran was founded. Sure, it was unsafe to be seen outside, but she wouldn’t miss this for the end of the world. She certainly never heard of such a shrill tenor though, but a part of her kind of expected it, considering the singer.

 

Riiiiiidiiiiiiii del duuoool, che t’avveleeeeenaaaaaaa il cooooooor!

 

Stray pieces of confetti blew just past her, probably from another stall or exhibit. The bell then rang three times as the clock tower of Aldebaran struck the third hour of afternoon.

 

The Maestro on the stage plopped white pasty paint on his face, making him more look like a funny ghost than a sad clown with his hay-colored strands, but it has its charms. With that, the “curtain”, or whatever it actually was when outdoors, drew to a close for intermission.

 

Worn down from the unbelievable performance she’d just seen, Seirin stood and donned her borrowed wimple, discreetly trying to stretch out her muscles from the atrophy of sitting still too long. She’d love to watch the rest of the opera, but there was still so much to be seen, to be done, and she couldn’t wait another 100 years just to do the things she missed at this festival. Excusing her way out from the rest of the remaining audience, she walked out to the aisle and caught the eye of the main actor who had come out of the stage side. He met eye to eye with her as he waved his hand in greeting. “Hey, Le-” Ack!

 

The laywoman forced herself to smile at the Maestro immediately, but it must have come out awkward that his smile dropped halfway. She tried to remedy this by slowly raising her hand in return but found her wrist held tightly.

 

Seirin? Seirin Leiden? Is that you?”

 

Eh? Her nerves were shot by the sudden approach, awash with fear and panic, but she managed to calm herself down and look at her “captor.”

 

Cal?” A familiar face, one she hadn’t seen in a long while. I...wow, it’s been a long time. Where are your men?” She looked to his side, finding no one accompanying him. How strange. “What are you doing around here? You only ever popped up on days there is WoE, special events or not.

 

WoE, a colloquial slang for War of Emperium. Formally promulgated last year in February by the late king and General Ministry. The War of Emperium was a total hit with the adventurers of Rune-Midgard, becoming what adventurers call ‘endgame.’ However, it wasn’t until a week after the Renewal Reformation Law was implemented that Cal came out of the woodwork, into the scene as a rising star, first as the beacon of independent, grassroots guilds, then involving himself in the internally infamous Alliance Wars, going back and forth between indie and allied. He defied convention on so many ways; with such feats, many idolized or scorned him. How Seirin and he knew each other was a different story, however, but needless to say her persistence back in the day won him over as a “friend”, complete with dubious implication.

 

You- you’re…,” he raised his hand, reaching out to her in bewilderment as though she was different from when they last saw each other, before setting it back down. She couldn't think of anything to say to him, and so did nothing except to tuck back in a stray lock of her hair. He was never one for conversation, in fact, she had once bluntly said that he sucked at it. He immediately said something to remove the awkwardness between them, “I just checked Nuernberg’s treasury for the day. Are you still interested?”

 

Good old Cal, straight to the point and always blunt, but…

 

Not here, not now. Follow me.” The laywoman took his hand and glanced at the Maestro one last time, who smiled at her again. She raised her other hand and waved a goodbye to him, before leading the leader (heh…) away to a more secluded spot, a coffee table near the north bridge. Both sat down facing each other. The question before hang in the air for a while, before Seirin found herself speaking, “No...I, I don’t. I’m a sworn mendicant now. I have no money to my name, and everything I beg for goes to the Prontera Sanctuary.”

 

The statement must have shocked him or not sunk in, as he did not say anything, until he actually just laughed. “I can’t even. You, Seirin Leiden,” he paused when Seirin interrupted him with a “shh” and a finger to her lips but still he continued “you, the shrewdest, most opportunistic and greediest person I know, who only talked about diamonds and needing more Zeny, are poor as dirt.”

 

First,” Seirin responded while raising one finger “I am not ‘poor as dirt.’ If I were, that would actually be a good thing. Second,” another finger raised “why are you here in Aldebaran, Cal? Don’t tell me it’s because of the Kafra Centenary Festival. You have never been one for special events, even to celebrate Yule in Lutie. Whenever you appear it was always just in the agit realms, never actually in the cities, and after that you just skulk and lurk about God-knows-where.”

 

I’m bored,” he said it with such conviction that he stretched out the “o”, reminiscent of the Pagliaccio awhile ago, and his mouth was turned downward wide open with a loud sigh. This was the respectable guild leader of the ChaoticCalamity guild? Seirin felt sorry for him and his boredom, really she did, and she even understood it, but it was still uncharacteristic of him to just saunter into a crowded town with when there was nothing to gain. She was about to ask him to clarify before her head throbbed and she was forced to rest it on her hand, lowering her wimple to cover her eyes from the heat of the sun. “Ahh…”

 

This did not surprise him, though there was some concern. Seirin?”, he asked, before taking out a bottle of white potion and panacea from his armor just in case “Is it an attack? Are you tired?”

 

No, no, I, ah, haven’t had an attack in two months. My vision isn’t blurring either. Put those away, you know they don’t help. It’s probably just the heat.” Seirin cleared her throat and interrupted him just as he was about to speak, you don’t have tell me. Your reasons are your own, I’m sure. Whatever they are, let’s just enjoy the festival for the rest of the day. You go that way,” she pointed over his shoulder “and I’ll go this way” she changed with her thumb pointing to her back.

 

He understood those words, mixed with dismissal and apology, and turned his way. Before he left, he asked her one more thing, “are you also still bored?” but he did not wait for her answer and went on his way.

 

I’m grateful only to be alive. You won’t understand that yet,” she answered ruefully long after he was gone.

 

-

Roughly around the same time inside the halls of Prontera Sanctuary, Father Bamph was bowing before an altar where a cup stood nestled in precious cloths. His eyes were closed and his hands were folded in prayer; his forehead creased with urgent fervor over the many petitions he must pray. The time of troubles and tribulations that were destined to come, the billions of souls that would be lost, the hardheartedness of those who refuse to understand. However, his prayers did not stave his attention from noticing that someone was behind him, and had been for quite awhile. “Biscuss, what is it?”

 

Is there really no other way? If we could just ask the crown, or the General Ministry, they would gladly send adventurers our way.” The younger Priest had been waiting to say something, standing still trying to wait for the right moment. His face conveyed of much trouble and deep thought.

 

Father Bamph did not get up, but bowed even lower before the altar until he was kowtowing to it as his forehead touched the floor. “It’s already beyond our hands, but that is the way God has meant it. The crown would sooner help themselves than us. There is already friction between the temporal and spiritual spheres of this world.”

 

But the younger one would have none of it, and bravely stepped forward. “If we only surrendered to their wishes, they would come to our aid! As we speak, the royal families are conveying together to plan out about the approaching events, and more of the clergy’s potential are dwindling everyday. We have plenty of Crusaders and Paladins, or we could ask from the Chivalry for Knights to aid us. What is just one loss?”

 

Biscuss!” It was that which Father Bamph finally bellowed, his loud voice echoed throughout the entire chapel. “Hold your tongue. You don’t know what you are saying. Showing anything but mercy would be against our creed.” That was enough to keep Father Biscuss from saying anything more. Silence followed, before the older Priest continued, come kneel beside me, Biscuss. We have a lot to pray for.”

 

Father Biscuss obeyed, and knelt too before the altar. “What are we praying for, Father?” The title felt strange, as he has not called the older man that after ordination.

 

Salvation, Biscuss. We are praying for salvation.”


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#10 Saralen

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 11:23 PM

IV

 

~A few days ago…

 

Has the state of emergency been lifted yet?” Father Bamph looked at the younger man, his face serious rather than the usual calm and inviting demeanor. “The crown saw it fit to exclude us from the investigation though clearly we’re at the center of it. His Holiness and I wish for the case to be resolved before rumors and fear spreads.”

 

The other spoke with an even monotone, “no, Father. My informants from the palace tell me that the Crown has no plans of lifting the declaration in the foreseeable future.”

 

By informants, I presume you’re speaking of your doubles working for the palace.”

 

We don’t speak to each other during our jobs. It’s a common courtesy drilled into our family. There is someone there who is known for her tongue in taste and gossip,” the agent spoke, removing his sunglasses and hanging them by the pocket of his dress shirt.

 

The older Priest took his words with a grain of salt, taking note of the agent’s red hair, “So that’s how it is. An entire family would fall apart without trust; were that even a family that raises entire generations as a lucrative espionage and security ring that sells their services even to opposing sides.”

 

We do what we must to put bread on the table,” the agent returned neutrally, though there was some underlying wounded pride “one relief is that we do not hand our services to extreme factions as most mercenaries do.”

 

May Odin bless your family for being sensible and wise. On the matter at hand, it’s been three months since the disappearances started. We are approaching a critical time in our history, and we don’t need those who could help vanishing like this and being found dead the next day,” not one to mince words, Father Bamph sighed and picked up a paper on his desk, scanning its contents. “As I see it, we have no choice but to conduct our own investigation without alerting the Crown. The names on this paper worry me. To date, there are 34 missing within the last month and 6 the first week of this month alone. It’s alarminf that some of them are very familiar.”

 

The agent approached the Priest closer and pointed to all the names, skimming his finger throughout the list. “With all due respect, Father, they should. All of those victims have two patterns in common.” And one by one, he began to recite all the names and details.

 

With each passing name, Father Bamph paled. It was one thing to read it, but another to have someone tell him about it. The gravity of the situation was very dire, but he made sure to pay attention to each name, remarking every once in a while if something was off.

 

Remove Edith Schweiz from the list. I know with certainty that Sister Schweiz had no link to the disappearances. I’ll have one of the clerks make a separate profile and file it in the Sorin Investigation.”

 

I noticed that at some of the dates, 2 would disappear at the same day. I remember on August 8 that Sister Aohara was together with Sister Solahilde, the same day both disappeared. Remove Aohara Satsuki, Shang Weiyu, Lucia Magallhaes, and all expatriates from that list. I have a feeling that those five were only victims due to missionary work with their partners as converts. Keep Ju Yi Jeon of Payon on the list.”

 

Frederick Cohburg and Nicolai von Schonnbrun…it’s troubling how they died unusually from the rest of the victims. May God bless their souls and accept them to Valhalla. An Acolyte and a Priest, but the others so far are all High Priests or Archbishops. Are they also the only males in the whole list? If so, remove their names.”

 

After all the names and details like age, job class, and date of body recovery were done, Father Bamph sat down and closed his eyes in deep thought, before looking at the agent and commenting, “I’m surprised Brother Moohae didn’t encounter this sort of problem, or had he?”

 

The agent was as stoic as ever, putting his shades back on before tacitly replying, “I have no direct sources of information on that regard, but there is hearsay from St. Capitolina that at least five Champions were successively found dead, and as with the list, the victims all died of poisoning except one which died of strangulation and all were female.”

 

Tell me, were the poisoned victims showing any unusual side effects? Skin marks or anything of the sort?” Unsettled, the old Priest asked his agent. Everything hinged on this answer. The silence between both men was heavy with carefully masked fear and apprehension.

 

None of the victims...except the Canoness Balthild, the former superior of Cardinal-elect Germain. She was also the highest ranking victim on the list, which I’m sure you’re aware of, Father. She had strange marks on her back, like that of...feathers. Unfortunately, there is no more information due to the canon law stating…”

 

“…that no one under the counsels may be autopsied.” Father Bamph continued for him, standing up and turning to close the curtains of the window but not looking back after “the names on the list were some of the most prodigious clergy in terms holy and spiritual power.”

 

The agent had not been able to pick up on it, and his neutral demeanor broke for a moment when he asked, “if that were true, Father, how come the Archbishops Fiona and Dania were not targeted?”

 

Both have gone and already disappeared into obscurity, but I doubt that was why. Popularity in the eyes of the laity has nothing to do with power, my son. If you were to remove the expatriate converts and males, and include the Champions’ casualty, you’d see that all the intended victims were clergywomen”, resigned to exhaustion with a sigh, the Priest continued “not just ordinary clergywomen, but those exclusively under the vows of the counsels, at least for those who are Priest-class. Non-adventurers. Even Sister Sorin and Sister Yuufa were unqualified for the vows. Only the most gifted were ordained to take on the vows. The counsels belonged to the mid-tier and high-tier echelons of the clergy. The disappearances were not random, but after you confirmed the marking of the canoness’ body, my fears were realized. I have a feeling who the next victim will be, but I’m not sure of the perpetrator yet. I need to know for certain, someone needs to investigate and guard the potential target if it’s not already too late.”

 

Just say the word, Father, and I would be on my way to uncover the matter.”

 

No, it would be a loss to send you or anyone else in this case. Your talents for espionage would do no good if the offenders really are who I think they are. As for this matter, I can only think of one person who could do this now,” he said, before growing quiet once more and pinching the bridge of his nose “the time of hiding has come to end, and mercy to the ones who come in the path of the ‘Stellar Spear.’”

 

~September 21, 999

 

Frowning, Seirin couldn’t help but feel out of place while listening to the cantata outside. Was it karma or something for sneaking out some days ago to see the festival? What bothered her the most, however, was why she was summoned. She just knew what was going to happen, right after another black suit (a.k.a. agent) told her that Father Bamph wanted the “Stellar Spear” back. Some part of the back of her brain couldn’t help but wonder what she had even done to earn such a strange moniker, one of the noms de guerre that preceded her and had (unwillingly) adopted as a title. But the even bigger question was that what had happened that Father Bamph had invoked her service once again. It’s not like she would have refused but…

 

The sight of her old armaments and armor on the altar was unnerving, and here she was in civilian clothes as an asylum refugee. Today seemed to be the last day though.

 

“Marshal Leiden,” the title made her want to shrink, crawl under the Priest’s desk, and just die; she was never one for formalities, especially from her elders “I think you already know why you have been called here.”

 

Dumbfounded, all she could do was reply, “no, Father.”

 

“You also do voluntary work here, yes? You took it upon yourself to be an assistant mentor to Acolytes, though you knew nothing about the way of the clergy. You also had a brief stint at being the chorale master. Your most notable task, however, was being the all-around groundskeeper”, Father Bamph said, waiting before determining that the young woman really was stumped “such as the chores of gardening…interning and undertaking.”

 

Preparation for the rites of the dead? Yes, she had at least buried or cremated ninety, maybe a hundred, dead in the span of time she had been under sanctuary. It was the least she could do, but what did that have to do with anything?

 

“What I say in this room must not leave these very walls”, and so the Priest explained the entire event, the disappearances, the investigation, and the conclusions. With each passing sentence, Seirin’s face became graver with her flushed coloration becoming paler. Nevertheless, she absorbed it all in with a steady countenance. What caught her attention however, were his last words, “I feel that Sister Bonnie’s life is in danger, if it really is ‘them’ are perpetrating of this heinous crime. I didn’t worry about it before, but now I must.”

 

Feeling a bit withdrawn rather than scared, Seirin asked him, “why me?”

 

It was Father Bamph’s turn to sigh, and with serious lamentation, he told her the entire situation at hand. “Sister Bonnie and her family should have arrived back here in Prontera 3 weeks ago for resettlement. We were in correspondence, but she stopped answering letters the week before she was due to move back,” he paused then continued “I had thought she was only preoccupied with packing arrangements. Now we may have waited too long. I sent an Acolyte two days ago to check on Sister Bonnie’s old residence; I thought it safe since it was in a relatively populated part of the city, but he has since not returned. I don’t know if she is still alive, but only you would be able to find out due to your close involvement with the affair…and out of all the Crusaders and Paladins who became Royal Guards, you were the only one who remained within the fold of God than serve mortal men.”

 

A short brief pause, before his hand landed armor lay in waiting,“so I am now asking you, will you resume your duties as the arm of the Church, Marshal Leiden?”

 

Seirin didn’t hesitate for second and approached the altar, picking up the long forgotten Imperial Spear and Hallowed Long Horn. She waved each spear, trying to see if the feel was still the same as the day she “retired.” Here she was, safe inside the walls of the Sanctuary. Would she be willing to risk losing it all and then some for her love to the faith? She did not even have to ponder on such thoughts while her fingers grazed over the Imperial Shield. “I-”

 

“Father!”

 

The two were interrupted, shock on their faces as a gasping young Priest was leaning and grasping the doorway, out of breath and stricken with what could only be fright. Father Bamph walked over and steadied him, casting Heal and a few standard buff spells. “What is it?”

 

“There…there’s a…a commotion at the culverts! You…haah...need to see. Another one…an Acolyte…”

 

Drawing out the worst possibility, Father Bamph looked back at Seirin. The ex-adventurer stared back and spoke at last, “go. I’ll follow soon. I can’t resume my militant duties in civilian clothes, can I?”

 


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#11 Saralen

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Posted 10 February 2017 - 11:25 PM

Writer’s Commentary: In the previous chapter, the player of whom Cal is based from is pretty obvious, at least if you’re into the WoE scene. In reality, he’s somewhat more taciturn, but he can be a tad melodramatic if his hair isn’t pulled at once in a while to bring him back to reality. He and I are not as close as Seirin and Cal are, if you can call that “friendship” between those two fictional characters “close.”

 

I think I once wrote before how I tried to analyze the calendar system of the game, and stuck to the Gregorian Calendar model due to the existence of Zodiac items, and Kiel Hyre’s letters validating the existence of “August.” As for the year numbers, it’s more complicated than that. Midgard is a pretty big world, and not everyone is on the year 999. You’ll see what I mean in the future. Of course, being such a story where all the details aren’t there without the past, there are chapters which jump back and forth in time. In relation to episode, it’s basically “one episode=one month” to coincide with the manhwa (e.g. Episode III Comodo occurs for all of January 998). Sub-episodes can last from a week to fifteen days depending on length. The only exception is Episode I, which lasted longer.

 

First post has been edited to inform updating timetable.


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#12 Saralen

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Posted 25 February 2017 - 12:12 AM

V

 

 

A crowd was gathering around the guardhouse of the culverts. On their faces were disgust, pity, and sick fascination. At the center of it all was a body, rotten and oozing out death. Its decomposed state was so advanced as expected of the environment it was stored in, a damp sewer filled with detritivores. The body was far gone into putrefaction. However, it wasn’t so far decomposed that the stench warded off enough distance, and anyone could see the odd marks on the deathly pallor of skin.

 

Unlike the marks of poison Seirin had seen before, this one wasn’t as intricate. There were no particular patterns, just smoky curves that showed up on what was left of the face. However, Father Bamph was right and upon seeing the entirety of the corpse, she knew beyond a reasonable doubt that the ones behind the murders of the Gaebolg crown princes were responsible for this crime as well, and the kidnap-murders of exceptionally powerful clergywomen most likely. The question is, why the women? It was an undeniable fact the men were stronger than women, both in terms of physical and supernatural capability. The pope of the Orthodoxy has always been a man too. The highest ranking victim, the canoness Balthild, had 27 names above her when it came to the hierarchy of the high-tier echelon, all of them male. But now was not the time to ponder.

 

Stepping closer, she looked at the finer details and saw the seminary frock, torn and bloody; the victim was an Acolyte. She couldn’t help but pity the boy. A teenager on the prime of his youth, snuffed out from life by fanatical believers, simply a minor who is still exempted from the sins of adulthood. She stooped and let her right hand touch the forehead of the deceased. An overwhelming rage and sense of despair coursed through her, but she held it down. The spirit did not depart, too wrapped up in becoming a shadow, drowning in anger over unjustifiable death. Seirin stood straight and turned back to the crowd. “Okay, people, disperse, nothing to see here.”

 

She looked at Father Bamph, who was close by at the entrance to the culverts, trying to subtly hint at the urgency while keeping herself collected outwardly. Better to deal with this now than when authorities arrive; after all, it wasn’t easy scaling the city wall. “Father, may I perform the rites of the dead?”

 

At first he was confused, before the old Priest shook his head sadly and replied, “I don’t think that’s possible, my child. You may have the best of intentions, but only the clergy are allowed to perform the full rites. Even if you could, it’s far too late to administer because they can only be used on people still alive.”

 

This didn’t faze her at all, and instead only made her persist on the idea. “I’m not going to conduct ‘viaticum’; all I ask is that I’d be able to pay my last respects to a dead man. I may not know him but he deserves to be mourned over.”

 

The Priest wondered what she meant by paying last respects, but he also felt pity on the dead boy. ‘I should probably do so as well.’ The tattered clothes and strands of hair were a dead giveaway as to who the victim was, and he felt all the more guilty for it. In front of him was the decaying body of one of his charges, the Acolyte he sent to the Imbullea residence. Finally, he relented with a nod and stepped some distance out of respect, reminding himself later to personally see the body’s internment.

 

With approval won, she took off her greaves and sabattons and knelt down, pressing her hand on the decaying scalp, inspiring recoil and fear from the crowd that Seirin couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “If you had dead sons or daughters you’d embrace their cadavers even under threat of pathogen exposure! Shame.” Holding it close, she hugged the corpse and rested her chin on its shoulder, whispering something. It seemed as though it was a consolation, like one friend to another, a lover to beloved, or a mother and child comforting. Rubbing it’s back, she finally raised her hand back to its head and grasped it, closing her eyes and murmuring.

 

All at once a cold draft fell upon them all and blew over and was gone the next. Not letting go, Seirin looked up to Father Bamph, who walked closer after prompting. “It’s alright now. This one won’t have to go travel Yggdrasil alone in despair.”

 

What do you mean?”

 

Seirin continued to hold the corpse, this time loosening her hold. “That cold wind was Lady Hel. She came to personally deliver him to Niflheim.”

 

Confounded by her words, the Priest couldn’t help but ask, “but why? There’s no peace or light in Niflheim. He will never find rest surrounded by death and cold.”

 

No, he won’t even notice. His soul is finally resting for sure. I can only assure that this is a far better outcome than Hel has for sinners,” she finally completely loosened her hold on the corpse, looking to the west in the direction of the sun “this is the best I can do for him. He’ll be asleep until the end of the world.” She made shushing sounds and petted the scalp, soothing what was no longer there.

 

Wait.

 

The Royal Guard felt a chill wisp around at her feet, far colder than the lingering dew of the grass. A sense of dread enveloped her as she felt her hands hold at the patchy back skin and push the body away.

 

Something didn’t feel right.

 

Quickly getting up and dropping the body like a hot potato, Seirin ran and took Father Bamph and some other close by curious civilians by the arms and ran away from the immediate radius. “Get down! Father, we need Kyrie Eleison, now!”

 

With fast reflexes, everyone was soon protected by barriers cast by the Priest, including himself and the Royal Guard. Father Bamph tried to move the group farther away, but the crowd remained unmoving in morbid curiosity until they were pushed away to a fair distance from the immediate vicinity of the carcass.

 

Lifting her spear from the dirt, the young woman turned back to the body and watched in disgust as the head just exploded into rotten chunks of flesh, followed by the right arm. The loud snapping followed by sudden spurts of coagulated rotten blood. No doubt the poison fermenting the liquid tissue and creating lethal contagions. The murderers were clever. The sight was enough to finally inspire panic and the crowd to disperse even further though. “God! Now they move of their own free will!”

 

Damn!” Leid watched in agitation as the body continued to spurt out black necrotic rot then distort its collapsed form into an impossible shape, wincing when she heard the spine crack. The rot landed on the grass, which shriveled up immediately until there were bald spots on the ground. “I need a Mage-class here, pronto!”

 

None stepped forward to the task while she tried to keep the oddly moving body at bay while its left arm shriveled up and imploded, causing more of the rot to gush out from the corpse. “Well? A Mage-class!” Another shot of rotten blood nearly erupted toward Seirin, but the barrier kept it out, though she knew it won’t last long, and with Father Bamph without combat experience…

 

One finally stepped up and got closer still a good distance away. “Ki-Kiino was my friend. I was with him just before he left to go to the west district. I should have gone with him.” A Mage with a sad look on his face came forward. “Maybe he would’ve been alive today if he didn’t go alone.” He stared with great sadness at the mutilated decaying corpse, but was snatched by the wrist.

 

No time for feeling sorry, boy. That thing isn’t a zombie or undead, so I don’t need to kill it with holy spells. The poison just configured the body to act like a time bomb,” she looked at him sternly while also trying to convey sympathy “I need you to cast Fire Wall while I force your friend into the flames. You have to make it the strongest fire you can, okay? Can you do that for me and him?”

 

But I-”

 

I know, believe me. It’s a big sacrifice and to see this happen before you is hurtful.” She grabbed both his arms and looked at him straight and unwavering. “But your friend –Kiino, right?- wouldn’t want you to endanger yourself or others. He needs you to be strong for him right now and set his body to rest. Can you do it?” The Mage hesitated for a second, but Seirin smiled when she saw determination in his eyes. He would do it. “Good boy, now, when I give the signal by raising my shield up to my shoulders, I need you to cast Fire Wall 40 yards due north, but if I raise my spear in perfect horizontal at shoulder level, evade and cast Fire Wall 50 yards due east.”

 

Now that that was taken care of, she put back on her greaves and shoes. With that, she approached Father Bamph, who understood and invoked all the buff spells in his arsenal.

 

How much longer do you have?”

 

Knowing the city guard, ten minutes. If they find me I’ll be arrested. But ten minutes is plenty of time already if War of Emperium can be held for two hours in a week.”

 

You understand that you’ll no longer be protected under the name of the Church?”

 

I live for the Church, Father,” she smiled, not out of pride, but assured acceptance in the task at hand “I am a servant of God and the Church. Even if it forsakes me and cuts me off, I will always be a part of it.”

 

With that, she was off. The crowd scattered further as the mutilated corpse “walked” its way with Seirin meeting it in strides. Brandishing her Hallowed Long Horn, she met the impact of its torso, bone for bone. Tossing her shield, she launched it flat from her hand and let the aerodynamics take over, striking the body as more black blood came out and the shield came back. The dead thing moved erratically, sometimes towards her, sometimes away, sometimes in a beeline; taking along with it the poisoned rot that spilled and withered the grass. Seirin swung her spear, hitting the hip bluntly and inducing wounds to open, making more spill by the second. She set her shield to the ground as the fluids splattered and successfully avoided contact. Striking her spear on the ground, the Royal Guard tried to steer the body a certain way, and it went on for about a minute. “Overbrand!”

 

Shortly after, she raised her shield to shoulder level with arm forward, staring down at the ground she struck again, she walked forward and kept using the same skill to push the body north until, finally, it met its fiery end.

 

The stench of death was absolutely disgusting, but she stood there straight, out of respect as the impromptu cremation occurred before her. Raising her spear diagonally in respect, the body writhed as the Mage and Father Bamph stood beside her to also gaze and silently mourn the lost of a charge and friend. The skin peeled off and the two turned back, but Seirin watched on, unwavering with a hard look and determined to pay last respects. She would have gone on, but flinched when she heard a very loud crack. What was that?

 

It wasn’t the crack of bones, but sounded like stone instead. She approached closer and at once struck the stomach of the burning corpse with her spear. A cursed ruby fell out, followed by a red gemstone. Before she could approach closer, the gems cracked into smaller shards, and cracked again and again until the dust burned from carbonation and heat exposure. With sharp eyes, Leid watched the magic catalysts dissolve into smoke. In two minutes, the body burned until only the toenails, charred ribs, and splinters of what had been the femur remained. However, she was too preoccupied with what she had just seen. Father Bamph came close and sprinkled holy water on the ashes as his own last respect. “Now I know what caused it. Combining preternatural forces with mortal poison…”, she paused before turning to the priest, explaining her conclusions “it’s not the same strength as infernal toxins, but still an effective imitation. Using living tissue to create a dangerous carbon and methane-based pathogen is already lethal enough. Whoever made this was out for total biological warfare. Even the smartest Geneticists are too primitive to ever figure out how to cultivate a proper widespread plague.”

 

Their discussion was cut short however, when she heard running coming from the direction of the city’s west gate. The authorities and guards must have been alerted already. Turning quickly to the crowd, she said, “tell the guards when they arrive to dig out the ground that the blood dropped on and burn it. Do it fast before the contagion mutates enough to become airborne.” She took the Mage who helped her and presented him, hoping to dissuade anyone who saw her. It was a mistake to have gone out without wearing any headgear or eyeshields. “This Mage is the savior of today. He defeated the ‘zombie’”, Seirin said, unable to think of a better term for the time bomb body “and cleansed the plague that would have razed our country to ruin.”

 

She then dashed off while the crowd was distracted among themselves over the incident.

-

 

Around half an hour later, Father Bamph walked in from the west gate, only to be distracted by a “pst!” from the left. He followed the sound until he found himself in an alleyway between a house and the city wall. Seirin then showed herself when she determined it clear, plucking off a leaf from her armor and let it float down the pavement. “That was close. I almost got caught by a city guard. It got way too close for my head to be on a silver platter for the royal families.” She was wearing the standard Dip Schmidt helm, concealing her hair and eyes from others. Ugly, but safe.

 

It’s not anyone’s fault, Father. The only regretful thing other than the murder was that we could not give the body the respectful internment it deserved,” the Royal Guard consoled. However, it wasn’t very long and they had to move. She knew that today’s events had triggered an alarm among the city guards, preventing her from moving freely for the rest of the day at least. It was best to get reprieve and rest in the Sanctuary for now.

 

Along the way, she managed to talk and expand upon her own conclusions to him. “I don’t think the disappearance victims have the same kind of poison. If there were, we would’ve had a pandemic on our hands now. Most likely, this incident was used as a warning.”

 

That itself alarmed him; if what she said had any truth to it, then, “to whom?”

 

I don’t know, but if you deploy it as another mission for me, I’ll be sure to find out.”

-

 

Late afternoon, and Seirin couldn’t help but stare at the hole she dug on the ground. It was a makeshift cenotaph, unmarked and will become a heap of dirt when dug again. She pulled out something from her pocket, making sure to wear some gloves. It was a piece of femur. She had managed to snatch a fragment of bone before leaving the crime scene, and gave what little she could do for a funeral.

 

She was back in her civilian clothes, and prayed before the hole as the wind swept across her blonde hair. Finally done, she put the dirt back. Father Bamph decided that she would wear civilian for the rest of the day to remain inconspicuous, before she was to be briefed tomorrow for her first mission since “retirement.”

 

What will you do now?”

 

Seirin looked to her right, greeting her unexpected guest, who raised his hands in prayer over the mound of dirt. “Father…” Joining in prayer, she recited litanies for the repose of the victim, and when that was over, she asked, “may I take a walk to Izlude? I want to see my house and fix everything needed before I leave. I’ll be careful not to get caught by the city guards.”

 

Unexpectedly, the Priest nodded in consent. “I don’t see why not? After the trials you had to endure, you deserve to see your home, at least.”

 

Thank you.”

 

She left him there, and he looked to the ground then the sky, “the trials haven’t even begun, have they? What will happen to us in the end when even children are being killed?”

 

The shades of the setting sun and cool autumn wind felt nice and consoling. Seirin’s smile fell, just a bit, as she wrapped the scarf around her a little tighter and brought it down to her arms as a makeshift wool shawl.


Edited by Saralen, 11 March 2017 - 02:49 AM.

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#13 Saralen

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Posted 25 February 2017 - 12:16 AM

Writer's Commentary: Hoo boy, where do I begin? Okay, last week, I fell ill and was near critical care. Fortunately I'm okay now. I passed on the responsibility of posting to ROCKheir and even sent him the document, but I don't know what he's doing now. He suddenly just disappeared without a word since last Sunday. So that's the reason there was no posting last week.


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#14 Saralen

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Posted 04 March 2017 - 06:37 AM

VI

 

In the heavens the sound of pipes spread out, but a bird that can’t fly crawls and finally is crushed to pieces on the ground.”

 

---Illusion of Valkyrie Angehilde

 

~September 22, 999

 

Glancing one last time at the mirror, Seirin twirled her cornsilk locks and gazed into her soft blue eyes, satisfied with her appearance. Still she lingered just a bit longer looking and couldn’t help but ask her double, “what are you doing?” Of course, this question was only met with silence even as she stared at herself harder. “Okay, I can do this. I am the ‘Stellar Spear.’ Above all, I am a servant of God.” She finished her ensemble and pinned the Sanctuary Emblem on her outer armor. “There, ready.” Finally satisfied, she went out of the bathroom and looked around her shack, approaching the coffee table/dining table/kitchen counter and picked up a small blank card written weeks ago.

 

See you at Yule.

–Hsui

 

“You’d better,” she said to the air, pocketing the card in her inner armor. With all that done, she opened the door and went out, breathing in the cool morning sea breeze and listening to the waves lap against the harbor. “Ah, still smells like fish. I can’t believe it’s been over three months since I’ve been in my own home.” Seirin resisted the urge to twirl around like a young child, and settled for holding her arms close against the cooling autumn air. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but it was bright enough to be a dusky blue and the lamps were still lit, around the hour before civilian shops open. The cobblestone square of Izlude was a calm gray and she inhaled deeply once more, exhaling out and leaning on her door to stretch her legs. She took something out of her armor; it was a pink card that had “Cafra” written on it; either a misspelling or a horrendous mistranslation. She had been prepared to tear it, but just as she was, she stopped. “Oops, almost forgot.” Going back inside her shack, she took out a wooden sign that hung on the doorknob and a spare nail, before punching it on the front door with her gauntlet. In all capital letters, the sign said:

 

NO TRESPASSERS, PEEPING TOMS, AND/OR WEIRDOS ALLOWED!

 

“Perfect. Time to get back on the road.” She tore the pink Kafra Card she had in half and waited as it dissolved into thin air and a LV10 agil scroll materialize into her hands. She unrolled it and skimmed over the content, feeling the mana course through her mind and down onto her limbs. Charged with magical energy, she caught herself in a jogging stride, and broke into a full sprint after crossing the bridge that connected Izlude to the mainland.

-

 

She arrived right at the city walls within minutes, staying a fair distance away from the south gate, observing behind a nearby tree before picking up a rock and throwing it against the wall near the guardhouse. The city guard barely paid attention and yawned, no doubt still tired and unused to such an early shift. “Probably someone new,” she muttered to herself. Judging it was reasonably safe, she walked right in through the south gate with the guard none the wiser. Yesterday’s events seemed to have been forgotten, with no extra security in sight. Weird, but blessings are blessings. Not wanting to push her luck, she quickly ducked into an alleyway and skulked through the south district towards the city square.

 

Soon sprinting around after entering the south post of the city square, she had carelessly collided with something as soon as she made a sharp turn on a corner. The Royal guard clutched her head, reeling in from the impact and rubbing her scalp. “Agh! What was that?”

 

Seirin opened her eyes, and saw that it wasn’t a what, but a who. Still clutching her head in pain and rubbing the forming gash with a wince, she realized that her helm had fallen off. Looking around for it, she saw feet and low-flowing cloth, an ornate hemline, and he eyes soon looked to a younger woman with strange clothes. She must’ve been the one she collided with! “Oh God, I am so, so, super sorry about this”, would have been the first thing she said, but what came out instead was “wow. This is…actually my first time seeing a Shaman-class. Are those tattoos real?” Seirin then covered her mouth, feeling very mortified at her blatant lack of tact.

 

A Knight with red hair came not long after to the Shaman’s side and helped her up while a blue-haired Assassin helped Seirin. They must have been the Shaman’s friends. The Royal Guard couldn’t help but be flushed and stutter at her insensitive remark. “I-I’m sorry about this. I should’ve -uh- watched where I was going. E-excuse me,” she said, picking up her helm and about to dash away.

 

“Wait!”

 

It was the Shaman, and she was holding onto Seirin’s hand before letting go and turning to the Knight. “Ales, I need to tell her something, and ask something too. The others can go ahead and look at the bounty boards.” The Knight, Ales, nodded in response and stood aside while the bluenette Assassin went on his way. Once the three were alone the younger woman approached Seirin closer not letting go of the Royal Guard’s gauntlet. “Are you okay?”

 

“I should be the one asking you that, uhm…Miss…?”

 

The Shaman didn’t answer with her name, holding tighter at the Royal Guard’s hand with cool steely eyes. “That feeling inside you, you don’t feel its hurting?”

 

“Uh…,” the older woman tilted her head to the side, confused by the words the Shaman just said “what?” Did she cause some sort of concussion because of the collision?

 

The Shaman laughed softly and lowered her head, trying to find the right words. “No, I think…never mind. But, what happened all along was unnecessary, but if it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have met Ales or the others. I’ve learned to accept that. You still have to find out for yourself what it means, though.” Now it seemed she was more talking to herself than to Seirin. Were Shamans always this, eh, eccentric?

 

For her part, the older woman looked longingly at the street nearby. She was so close to the northern district. She really needed to get to the Sanctuary, and soon.

 

“Sorry. It’s the first time I actually felt this…excited. Yeah, excited, I think that’s the right word for it, right, Ales?” The Shaman looked to her Knight companion, who in turn seemed a bit flushed and nodded in response. Turning back to Seirin, she said, “I don’t know what to do about it. We’ll meet again.” The Shaman smiled at her, but it soon melted into a taciturn expression before becoming a full frown, “but now you need to hurry. That person you and the Priest are looking for, her attachment to this world is barely hanging on alongside two others. She’s on the other side of Mt.Mjolnir, right?”

 

Those words left Seirin unnerved, but who was she to argue with a Shaman? What was more alarming was that the words were most likely true since all the necessary details were there. She needed to hasten. “Thank you. I need to be on my way then.” She nodded in gratitude and ran for the Sanctuary’s direction to inform her superiors of this recent development.

 

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Back to the odd couple, Ales watched the Royal Guard disappear into the dusky streets of the city then turned to the Shaman. “What was that all about, Sierra? Do you know her?”

 

The Shaman, Sierra, stared at the same direction where the Royal Guard disappeared before embracing the Knight’s arm. “No, I don’t, but her pain is the same as mine. She just hasn’t accepted or rejected it freely,” she said, pausing thoughtfully before continuing “it’s painful, but it’s also what will make her realize the meaning to being human, even if growing strong from that torment within her would take a miracle. It’s just a matter of taking fate into her own hands.”As she ruminated on this, her own hand intertwined with Ales’ and she smiled up at him. “Come on, we have to look at the bounty boards too and earn money, or else the others will leave us behind.”

 

“Okay,” Ales returned the smile and kissed the Shaman’s forehead in comfort, holding her close from the cool bluster.

-

 

Seirin finished detailing her short-lived encounter with the Shaman to Father Bamph. The words the Shaman spoke were troubling and they wasted no time to prepare a blue gemstone to personally warp her to Geffen.

 

“Are you sure you don’t need backup?”

 

“Father, you know as well as I do that I’m the only one up to the task. If the perpetrators of these crimes really are Freyjan-aligned Assassins, then anyone less experienced than me would die; and I would never entrust the life of an innocent to ‘endgamers,’” she huffed at that last word, silent passive-aggression lacing her tone.

 

The older Priest sighed, knowing how much she was right. All the low-tier Archbishops (i.e. Adventurer-Archbishops) were somehow someway more interested in providing support as a medical wing to guilds than doing their actual clerical duties to the Church; something he had since accepted, albeit unwillingly. “Why did you never try to reach the highest pinnacle of your power as a Royal Guard though?” he couldn’t help ask. He was curious as well. She may no longer be an adventurer under the General Ministry’s directive, but nevertheless she used to be one.

 

“And look like I have a urinary tract infection? No thank you,” she laughed while stockpiling the provided supplies for the mission, remembering the golden fountain of pee coming from those who really pushed their limits. A ranked white slim here, a green herb there. “Besides, I wasn’t interested in attracting attention, even as a veteran ex-adventurer. Okay, I’m ready.”

 

Father Bamph dropped the blue gemstone and crushed it with his heel, muttering a spell as mana erupted from the ground in white bursts and Seirin stepped in. “I wish you luck, child. May the glory of Odin descend upon you.”

 

“And with you, Father.” Before fading out along the stream of mana, she covered her mouth and held down the bile. “I really dislike warp travel.”

 


Edited by Saralen, 11 March 2017 - 02:49 AM.

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#15 Saralen

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Posted 05 March 2017 - 08:59 PM

Writer's Commentary: Updated with illustration. Credits to kokeshicat. Hope you're doing well, wherever you are. I couldn't post the illustration nor update the ToC because WP has some serious firewall issues...


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#16 Saralen

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Posted 11 March 2017 - 02:52 AM

VII

 

The physics of spatial distortion most likely dictates that nausea is a must-have side effect of traveling between two points without kinetic energy exertion; at least, that’s what the Royal Guard believed. She barely held down the bile in her throat as her feet materialized on the cobblestone streets of Geffen. Relief, however, was not to be had as her head turned up. There, for all to see, was a colossal plume of black smoke rising to the sky visible from the northern quarters of the city. It was so large that the fire must have been burning for quite a long time and grown into a full-fledged forest fire. Horror left her mouth open; that forest fire was anything but natural for sure. She could feel it, the killing intent.

 

Seirin hurried down the crowded streets in the midst the commotion, sweating profusely at what was happening right before her. Before she could even ascend the ramp from the tower district, a guard stopped her on her tracks when she collided with something. “Halt!”

 

“Ow...” The Royal Guard rubbed her nose in pain, muttering something about how her helm protected her eyes but can’t pay for a nose job. “What’s the meaning of this?” Her hand reached forward, stopping mid-air upon the feeling of touch pressing on something. It was a force field spell, a variety of neutral-element magic not taught to adventurers. She turned to the city guard and grabbed him by the collar. “Do you see that? There’s a fire! I need to go there. A friend of mine lives up there,” she begged hastily, making sure to preclude Bonnie’s name to prevent compromising the mission. She took to heart the words the stranger she encountered awhile ago said. Judging from that Shaman’s words, she didn’t have very long to save them, if she wasn’t already too late.

 

The city guard remained composed and professional despite the fearful outburst, irritatingly so that Seirin had to hold back the urge to snap that beak in his mask to see if it twanged. “Ma’am, we are aware of the fire, and have alerted the proper authorities on this matter.”

 

“What authorities? You are the authorities!” She felt a migraine coming on and dizziness, but slowed her breathing to calm down and exhaled. “Oh, I don’t like this,” she muttered. Two other city guards came close to their colleague, most likely curious about the hold up from the “civilian” disturbing him. Here they were, twiddling their thumbs awaiting commands from the higher-ups while there were more important things to think about, like the fact that a mother, son, and a dog were possibly being immolated to charcoal?

 

Then again, she couldn’t really blame them. They were following orders, and she knew all about following orders from superiors. Seeing how she reached an impasse with this matter, the Royal guard conceded, “fine” and decided to back down, ducking behind an alley to carefully think of her next course of action.

 

“Okay…I need to go there, but there are a lot of guards, and just breaking through them would be bad. There has to be another way, but what?”

 

Yes, what?

 

After the viceroy’s mysterious disappearance two years ago, Geffen relinquished its administrative autonomy back to Prontera, putting the city under the direct control of the crown and effectively became another satellite like Izlude, albeit unofficially. The city’s defense corps and guard were relegated to the Chivalry’s jurisdiction, and if they had control here, there was a chance she would be recognized. The idea left a sour aftertaste in her mouth. Plowing her way through the three guards would be an unnecessary jeopardy, even if it was a high-priority reconnaissance/search-and-rescue mission; in other words, “showing the Orthodoxy moving independently without royal consent is clearly not an option.”

 

Formulating a plan even under pressure was usually her expertise. It came with the notoriety of being the “Stellar Spear”. Unfortunately, those stratagems usually didn’t account for live liabilities. Whenever she was deployed for missions, it was usually alone, and on the rare occasion she did have a party, it was usually with adventurers who are autonomous and can take care of themselves in the face of a boss. “Ah...” a large boom came from the north. Explosives? “screw it! I’ll just wing it! Sometimes the best plans come in the spur of the moment.”

-

 

“I think I was too impulsive. Come on, brain, think.” So it turned out the best plans rhetoric wasn’t always true, and unfortunately it wasn’t true for her now.

 

Geffen was fortunately spared from the massive conflagration. The entire city was situated on the delta of the diverging Ifing River pouring out into the bay. With human intervention (magic) its immediate perimeter was also secured with a constantly pressurized pillar of air. The outside couldn’t be said the same, however. Mt.Mjolnir’s entire west face and the forest below were ablaze. Even if she did bring her teleport clip or fly wings, what were the chances of not landing right atop a fire? “Certainly smaller than being burned alive,” she begrudgingly muttered to herself.

 

“God, it’s so hot. Please, send rain.” Her body was charged with heat that she had to tear up another Kafra Card to take out a glistening coat, carefully applying it on her armor. If she didn’t, she’d be cooked in it from the sheer heat the metal conducted. “Damn, I’m down to five. Where am I?” Seirin coughed as the smoke and embers covered the air, making sure to stay low and stooping time to time. The smoke was so dense, however, that her sense of direction was shot without the sun’s visibility and hindering her mental faculties. “Just walk in one direction. Before this, I was going north. Come on, Seirin, you can do this.”

 

The fire’s crackling was very loud, and she made sure to stay away from blackened trees that looked like their structural integrity were ready to give out; for as best as she can with limited vision anyway. Her hands were itching to remove that heavy thing on her head, but taking off her helm would only be a hindrance and leave her eyes vulnerable to the debris. “Oh, God, please help me now.”

 

Her prayers came to a halt when with one step she found herself careening straight into the river. “Oh shiiiiiii–” With one splash, the current took over and dragged her, although not very far. Struggling to reach shore, she kept a lookout even as the black ashes reached her line of sight and kept blocking most from view, but not to the point of blindness when found what she was looking for. Right above her was a wooden bridge, the wooden bridge connecting the rift from the west face to the rest of the mountain. Swimming her way and waddling her arms around to turn course, another sight had been waiting for her, one she expected but dreaded to see all the same.

 

The islet where Bonnie’s house stood was roaring with merciless fire. Aptly, it could be considered ground zero to the blaze. The burning smoke itself could not conceal the sight before her. Every blade of grass was being reduced to embers among the ashes. The blades of the mill had fallen off to the ground save for one that still burned on its fiery glow. The entire house was on the verge of collapse.

 

Unable to think of anymore plans, she swam to shore and stood, her cold coated armor and body keeping her from bursting into fire as well. The door of the home had since long been a charred plank, one she effortlessly kicked open. “Bonnie? Kaanu? Are you here?” From the inside, the place doesn’t look as though it’s been disturbed recently, other than the fire burning it all down. How had the city guards nor their higher-ups arrived yet?

 

Looking around the room, her question was suddenly answered in the feeling of a wet and warm sensation on her arm. A very red one that came from above. She set her sights on the ceiling and nearly fell over in shock. Above her was a severed arm, hanging on a beam by its bent elbow. The long black sleeve was reminiscent of a Geffen city guard’s uniform. “Oh f-”

 

A thump came from the other room.

 

“What the?” Seirin shook herself from the mortifying sight and sfocused on the source of the sudden sound, stepping closer to the door. Closer now, the sound of a dog’s barking was faint, but it was there. “Kaanu’s dog!” she ran over and kicked the door open with her heel. What she saw was far too horrible, more than the burning house itself.

 

She had arrived too late. She should have heeded the Shaman’s words and gone straight here instead of reporting to Father Bamph first. There were so many things in her mind, but the most prevalent that came to her lips were, “how could this happen?”

 

Right in front of her was a sitting ashen immolated husk, womanly in shape. The wrists were fatter than the rest of the forearms, showing that it had been tied down to the chair it sat on and effectively immobile. Even more pitiful, somewhere not far from the feet of the husk was the collapsed form of a pubescent boy, face down. Below him was a small puddle of coagulated and boiling blood. What was more disturbing was how it was around the head more than the body. Kaanu died from blunt trauma to the head, most likely to the face, a cruel death.

 

There was a more serious matter to attend to though. She knew she wasn’t alone. The whimpering of a dog, and the footsteps of boots, loud even in the cracking roar of fire. “Let the dog go. Please.” Focusing her gaze, she saw a man holding said dog by its jaw. She also saw the glint of a katar hovering by the bloody dog’s neck and the scimitar on his waist. What caught her eyes most of all were the strange marks on his face and the Freyjan crest on his buckle. It was an Assassin, no doubt a defector from the Arunafeltz chapter. He slammed the dog again to the wall, the small creature whimpering in pain, before picking it up again. Looking at his unexpected guest, he pushed the edge of his katar on the dog’s neck.

 

And was met with excruciating pain.

 

Seirin panted, shaking her hand after such a straight and precise throw of her Hallowed Long Horn. “I don’t think I made myself clear. I want you to let the dog go, willingly or unwillingly. Eitherway, I’ll pin more than your arm to the wall for what you just did.”

 

The dog was down on the floor, barely breathing before Seirin felt the mana surge through her and invoked, “Heal!” The dog fell to exhaustion as soon as its wounds closed, tired but alive. After that, she lifted her helm to look directly at the pinned Assassin, still struggling to pull her spear from his hand off. “I don’t believe nor condone in killing people, even sinners and heretics. But there’s a little known clause in one of the natural laws of God. If someone commits a crime so severe he is damned, let his life be forfeit. Were you the one responsible for the disappearances and murders as well?” Glaring at the man who kept silent despite the pain, she commanded him, “don’t lie. I can sense the killing intent of your soul and the screams of those who you hurt.”

He did not dignify her with an answer to her question, but rather said, “so it’s you” while glaring with hateful eyes.

 

“What?” Unrelenting, she brandished her Imperial Spear this time around and charged at him. “I won’t mince words with you. You only have yourself to blame for making this difficult. There would be no redemption for you, not even in Niflheim.”

 

All the while struggling, the Assassin finally freed himself from the spear, now running for her, tossing the weapon into the fire and shouting out his battlecry, “for the glory of Freyja!”

 

The two traded blows with their armaments. She blocked his katars with her spear and shield; however, the trouble was she could not disarm for him. She lacked an opening. “Damn.” It was hard to see or concentrate with the whole house on fire; she was practically aiming blind with her spear. “Damn you, show yourself and fight me like a man, Assassin!”

 

Her challenge to him had been a costly mistake. She felt a nipping sharp edge pierce just above her left breast, narrowly missing her heart. The wound inflicted on her right away sent her screaming from the festering pain. The Assassin’s katars were laced with poison, top grade at that, though not like the one from the culverts nor the disappearance victims.

 

Steeling herself from the pain, she stayed close to the sleeping dog, waiting for the next attack from the obscure smoke. The poison coursed through her blood, toxins flooding her body at an alarming rate. Scooping up the collapsed dog on her shield and placing it on her back, she ran where the Freyjan Assassin threw herLong Horn and grabbed at it from the blaze, hissing in pain. The feeling was not as drastic, but she knew she couldn’t stay in the burning house a moment longer, not with the glistening coat starting to wear off. Feeling warm, the flames tinged and licked at her skin. However, standing on attention while carrying the dog on her back with her shield had been another mistake, and soon she felt a sharp stab on her right shoulder.

 

Her back was turned, and his weapon dug deeper. At this point, she knew she was at his mercy, and as an Assassin, he likely knew where the vital organs and their blood vessels are. The poison coursed faster, but still she stood straighter and bore the brunt of the pain pain as the Royal Guard quickly turned and nicked at him with her Imperial Spear. After doing so and the Assassin evaded from a fatal strike, she raised the Long Horn and thrust it in one go right into the wound of her chest, screaming in agony as the Detoxify spell spilled into her body, its medicinal magic neutralizing the poison slowly.

 

“Not good, I need to end this a.s.a.p.,” Seirin winced, clutching at the sore cut on her chest. Closing her eyes, she tried to heighten her senses as she trained herself to do, honing in on the Assassin’s position. A misstep on the crumbling charcoal floor, and then she raised her Long Horn, parrying his quick swipes and agile strikes with the spear as she tried to find an opening while defending her back. The wounds on her still weren’t healed, but the poison had at least been countered. She was ready for this.

 

But how does she use the smoke to her advantage? Assassins were masters of stealth. Out of her element, with the entire retreat is bound to collapse any moment now, her heart ached as she felt the moment’s duress. She needed to get out of here alive and complete her mission. She looked back at the dead bodies of Bonnie and Kaanu and felt for the soft, tired breathing at her back. They were dead. Her mission had not been to save them, but to see if they were dead or alive. It was a completed mission; nothing more could be done, simple as that. She approached the bodies, touching their heads and muttering something. “Surrender isn’t always defeat.”

 

She could hear the closing approach of the Assassin, and did the only thing she could do. She kicked at a burning wall for an opening and fled, looking back at the burning house only once before jumping into the water. “Forgive me. May God give you rest from your sufferings.”

-

 

Have you read the reports?” Father Biscuss looked at his older contemporary, holding a folded file encased in Malayan paper. “The Freyjans are on the verge of declaring war on us despite their reassurances of a ‘peace treaty.’ That prized agent of yours only confirmed what we’ve feared. We need to report this to the Crown!”

 

“‘Agent’ is a brash term, Father Biscuss. I may be one of her superiors but I am not her Grand Commandant Master. I have no control over the actions of our militant branch, least of all the ‘Stellar Spear’ nor the ‘Reticent Hospitaller.’” Father Bamph stood up from his chair, stooping to pet the new dog said militant “donated” to the Church, before walking over to the window and looking out at the starry autumnal night sky. “I have many regrets in this life, even as a Priest; one of them being the tragedy brought upon poor Sister Bonnie and her family. It consoles me that Marshal Leiden’s assurance of their souls finally resting might be true.” A short pause, but he spoke again without turning back to his younger partner,do you have regrets, Father?”

 

I fail to understand what this has to do with the fact that we’re about to enter war. Father Bamph, if we fail to act now, our entire way of life could be in danger! You read the document; we need to prevent another religious war.”

 

Are you really so small-minded that you refuse to have faith?” The older priest retorted in a calm yet testy tone, “Marshal Leiden herself confirmed that the Freyjans mean no harm, and that they officially declare peace for and from all of Arunafeltz. I choose to believe that and we will continue our diplomatic missions to them, and they to us. It would not be so hard to believe the Hardliner faction survives rather than embroil our countries in war in place of inter-faith dialogue. Go in the adoration chapel and pray for forgiveness on what you just said.

 

Unable to respond back, the younger Priest only bowed in silence before walking out.

 


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#17 Saralen

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 07:12 PM

VIII

 

~September 30, 999

 

Three stacks of files sat on Father Bamph’s table; not just any files, but her completion files. All were chronologically and alphabetically arranged, just the way she liked it; that would be interesting, but really, “what am I doing here?” The last time the Royal Guard had been here, it was just a few days ago interning ashes into a niche dedicated to the Imbullea family. No tears fell then, but it was all awkward and uncomfortable and to be honest she’d really rather not talk about the experience. She spent the entire time after that ordeal in meditation and fasting to silence some bothersome thoughts. Being in church not on a Sunday did not bode well for her mental aptitude considering the line of work she was in.

 

She noted the absence of Father Biscuss from the meeting and thought it strange. She did see him outside minutes before, but when she greeted him, he didn’t respond. Perhaps he didn’t hear her? Bringing up the peculiarity, she asked, “Father Biscuss isn’t here?”

 

“He’s having struggles with his heart. I intended to send him to Brother Moohae to initiate some sort of spiritual enrichment since nothing I tell him comes through anymore, but he turned that down too,” the older Priest replied, opening another one of the Malayan envelopes and reviewing the file inside.

 

For her part, Seirin didn’t seem to think much of what he just told her. If she did, she was concealing it awfully well. Looking on straight ahead to Father Bamph, she waited for his next word.

 

What he asked for next was something she should have expected from the back of her head, though it escaped her foresight. “Marshal Leiden, how long has it been since you’ve done a solo mission?”

 

Seirin resisted the urge to flinch at the formality, and instead focused on her confusion. It was a very carefully worded question, so what was he asking, exactly? Unable to determine the appropriate course of action, she opted to answer him in the denotative,“last week, Father. I was tasked to find Bonnie as a search and rescue mission…search and recovery more aptly, if you remember.”

 

The Priest was silent for awhile, taking her answer in. He looked back down on the files before him before clearing his throat and elaborating, “forgive me. There’s no way around it so I’ll be direct for our sake; how long has it been since you’ve done paramilitary operations?”

 

Paramilitary operations? “My entire adventurer career was all paramilitary operations,” she nearly laughed. For all intents and purposes, she was currently a civilian. After formally(read: forcibly) retiring from being an adventurer, her status was relegated back to that of a civilian; but even before that, her name wasn’t even encoded in the new registry of Royal Guards due to unusual circumstances. Additionally, the state doesn’t recognize any of the monastic militaris ordinis of the Odin Orthodoxy, designating them as “private armies” instead. Basically, her entire career from the time as a Crusader onward was unusual due to her allegiances, circumstances, and interests, but still seemed normal for what adventurers go through.

 

“Especially those of the covert variety?”

 

And that was the clincher…covert variety? He can’t possibly be saying…

 

Sitting down to take a breather from the sudden realization of the Priest’s words, she looked at him uneasily as he kept opening more Malayan envelopes and rereading her past reports. “With all due respect, Father, yes, you’re one of my superiors, but only the Grandmaster can designate me to a black-ops mission, and he’s…”, she trailed off, tapping her fingers together and looking away.

 

Father Bamph finally put down the file and looked at her, his old smile worn from the stress taking its toll on him. “You miss him, don’t you?”

 

If Seirin were to be honest, her Grandmaster was certainly someone worth remembering. He was a kind man who taught her much, but his prized pupil was someone else not of the Order. The so-called “Iron Block of Prontera,” though she never met the guy. All the same, she appreciated him. As Father Bamph mentioned, the Grandmaster was also her immediate superior and the one who oversaw her designations to missions, especially black-ops. “More than almost anything,” she agreed with unwavering honesty.

 

“Almost?”

 

Seirin’s cheeks colored slightly as she elaborated, “my brother is first and foremost in my mind, Father.” Still, already knowing where the meeting might be going, she’d rather get to the point rather than dallying with trivial history and toeing the line for the sake of unnecessary propriety, “protocols were already broken the moment Grandmaster Roch disappeared. Though they weren’t termed as covert, we both know what I did in Arunafeltz and the Ash Vacuum last year were anything but S.O.P. With all due respect, Father, it’d be better to just cut to the chase.”

 

Father Bamph stood up, pushing the three files stacks on his desk towards her.

 

Schwarzwald Investigation.

 

Arunafeltz Investigation.

 

A third one she did not recognize, but the thinnest among the rest. The lack of any label on the envelope only proved that it was the only one not hers. She liked to keep organized, and that included labeling reports.

 

Reaching for the unnamed file, she barely even touched the envelope before Father Bamph held it down with his own hand. “You should read the other files first.”

 

Confused, she obeyed and opened the first file, reading its contents. Nothing unusual. It was still just as she wrote it, dated at August last year. It detailed her sojourn into the four cities of Schwarzwald after Juno. The report chronicled the events at the Temple of Odin, the ruined city of Juperos, and many more in the following spates of returns throughout the country. The most recent entry was just around a month after her exploration of Verus and the conclusion of the victims investigation per special request from Sir Windsor of the Prontera Chivalry. Anything else that occurred in Schwarzwald thereafter and before her “retirement” were unwritten due to unprecedented events that followed after the infamous Banquet of Heroes celebration.

 

Putting it down, she picked up the Arunafeltz Investigation file and reread it as well. It too was just the way she wrote it. The divide of the Freyjanity, the hostage king, peace on Arunafeltz, the boy in ice, etc. Why was Father Bamph bringing up her past mission files? Still, she did not question and just picked up the unnamed file again, but was stopped for a second time.

 

With his hand pinching the file closed in between them, the Priest asked her, “do you know the ‘Great Disaster’ that befell this city, before the General Ministry started to recruit more?”

 

“Wasn’t Prontera invaded by a giant spherical airship and undead?” Flashing images fighting against undead city guards and trying to find four(?) surviving citizens swept through her mind. “I wasn’t there at that actual time, but I retained vague memories when I slipped into another chrono-spatial instance.”

 

“Yes, it was around that time that Rune-Midgard lost its greatest treasure, and effectively our advantage.” Sliding the file with his hand across to her, he encouraged her to take it and watched as she opened the envelope and looked at it.

 

The Royal Guard read it slowly, making sure not to skip any details. Her eyes traced over every detail of the photographs. The files inside contained some photographs and two pages, barely a report at all, even by her concise standards, but the details were more than enough to be quite jarring. “This is-”

 

“Terra Gloria,” he supplied, nodding his head once to validate her thoughts “unfortunately we had to trim it down after the Crown intervened on the recruitment edict with many revisions, so it’s no secret that the even the royal families stand to lose when it comes to matters like this. What we could keep secret were the facts that the kingdom lost the treasure. That’s how we were able to stave off external attacks,” Father Bamph said with a grave tone as he sat back down, watching as she kept reading what little was written on the file.

 

Her eyes landed on a photograph that showed a giant pillar erupting from below. Beneath the pictures were written: “Vault of Prontera, 997 -Spiegel.” She tried to remember that incident, but recalled something quite different. A very bulky armor and a bearded jaw, but the rest of it blurred to nothing before her memories led her to another slip. There was a fiery-hair and also a begrudgingly well-endowed woman, and...a black monster, very hazy, but the head area was pointy. “Unholy monstrosity” were the words she said in that foggy time, but couldn’t quite trust herself to remember it all perfectly. The more important question though was why did that memory appear, especially when looking at this particular photograph? Her encounters with the royalty in the vault about the missing Terra Gloria and those vague memories from the chrono-spatial distortions, were they related?

 

“The affairs of the Crown are no longer of any concern to me,” she said carefully “if the Crown noticed only when the city’s been rebuilt, they’re far too late to the party, aren’t they? My services are for God and Church, not the Crown. Why am I reading this?” she asked with genuine confusion. There wasn’t any biting sarcasm, just slight fatigue and curiosity. “And what’s this?” She pulled out the picture of a familiar tall pillar and showed it to him.

 

“That was where the kingdom’s piece of the heart once stood.” Father Bamph replied with a sigh, closing his eyes as he relayed the information. “Throughout the years, the crown also had their own covert efforts to collect pieces of Ymir’s Heart. As you know, the Midgard continent is the known center of the world. It stands to reason that this land is also dense with pieces of the heart. The kingdom managed to collect plenty of pieces, although a few went ‘missing’ along the way” he continued, emphasizing on the missing part, “whatever piece was acquired, the Crown accumulated it in an underground vault at the castle. As you know, each piece has the potential to grow into a whole heart; to accelerate the process, the pieces the kingdom had were all gathered into one place and connected together, like a puzzle.”

 

“So Terra Gloria is…”

 

“I don’t know if it’s the same since I never heard it called that, but the royal families were particularly careful and crafty about this sort of thing. The pillar you saw in that photograph were what you could say as veins and arteries of the assembled heart.”

 

“Oh, ew!” True, but she’d seen worse things. She picked up the picture again after dropping it in repulsion and asked, “then, where is the heart?”

 

Father Bamph cleared his throat “I was getting to that. During the ‘Great Disaster’, Prontera was invaded by the undead. It was kept secret and there was a lot of damage control, but that event marked the divide between the Kingdom and the Orthodoxy. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the one who masterminded the invasion and theft of the heart was the valkyrie Himmelmez.”

 

“Dead Man’s Valkyrie...” The epitaph sent dread through her body, but it still didn’t feel right. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembered it wasn’t the notorious necromancer that held it. What she remembered instead was after–before(?)-, glimpses of blonde hair, tanned skin, a lot of regret. Who? Who was it?

 

Her thoughts were interrupted again as he went on, “yes, the Freyjan valkyrie.”

 

That sent her shell-shocked. How did he-…? Even mid-tier clergy didn’t know about that. She only made the connection herself by pure coincidence. However, she didn’t let on. Of course the fact was obvious. The Freyjanity had a long-standing tradition of selecting 12 elders as congregation prefects, unlike the Odin Orthodoxy. Their selection came from the idea that Freyja had 12 valkyries at her disposal, something that was casual catechism for the average Freyjan. Know one’s own enemy, someone once said. If even Father Bamph, a mid-tier clergyman, knew this, relations must still be tense, if not tenser than it ever was. Wanting more insight, the Royal Guard tuned back in the conversation and let him continue his way.

 

“-if the hardliner Freyjans knew that their goddess’ valkyrie had stolen the heart from the kingdom, they would’ve invaded by now and mined the continent into the earth, or stop infiltrating when what they want is now gone. We still have the advantage of surprise.”

 

Seirin didn’t like where this was going. The Heart of Ymir. To talk about the most powerful divine artifact in the world, it could only mean she was walking into something dangerous. However, the soldier within her wouldn’t back down and so she pried further, “I still don’t understand; even if this is all about Ymir’s Heart now, what does it have to do with the abductions and murders? Surprise for what also, exactly?”

 

The older Priest stood up and took the file from her and set it down, looking down at it. “We need you to infiltrate Schwarzwald and Arunafeltz to make any observations on what pieces they have and what they do with it. From your reports, we will decide on which courses of action to take accordingly. It won’t be right away. I just need to know if you’ll agree, and have you on stand-by until the decision is finalized on our end.”

 

“I am not going to steal heart pieces for national security!”

 

“And you’re not going to, nor is anyone else” he assured her, “we’re only going to coordinate what we should do to keep them at bay, and perhaps to launch dialogue if needed.”

 

Seirin, however, thought it was still a bad idea, and instead put forward her own idea of arranging an elite troupe, comprising of the best Priest-class and Monk-class adventurers instead. The mission was too dangerous, even as black-ops reconnaissance.

 

He would not be swayed though, so Father Bamph raised his hand to stop her and proposed his idea again, this time with sound reasoning. Looking at Seirin, he told her, “My child, you endlessly proved your undying loyalty to the Church. You need to be the one to go. There is no one else willing to do such a mission that has a tremendous burden. Do it for the glory of God.”

 

That last sentence sent her to silence, and she sat on the chaise in the room, deep in thought. The Priest was kind enough to let her think on it and leave her be patiently.

 

Finally, she stood up and said with a shaky sigh, “alright.” Pausing briefly, she continued on and shook the Priest’s hand “I’ll do it, but I have one condition.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“If I become mad from ambition in acquiring the pieces-”

 

“I-”

 

“Don’t patronize me,” Seirin retorted, before lowering her tone and groaning “we both know, Father, that the higher-ups need me to find, and possibly steal, some pieces as well. They need the pieces as an advantage externally and internally.”

 

He couldn’t deny it, and nodded, allowing her to continue.

 

“I want someone to be sent to kill me if I become mad with greed and ambition,” she said with absolute certainty.

 


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#18 Saralen

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Posted 25 March 2017 - 09:43 PM

IX

 

Dreams will always fade to memory and eventually be forgotten, but those feelings will carry over to the future believed in by the dreamer.”

 

--- Miryia Kant ca. 1100 M.C.

 

~October 3, 999

 

Visitors lately, she believed, didn’t have the courtesy to even knock. A heavy hand will break her poor shack’s door, and she really loved her shack, much as it needs demolition and rebuilding, so she regretfully left behind her re-fried tilapia fillet with rye bread. “Keep your shirt on, I’m coming!” she hollered hurriedly before patting her stomach and looking longingly at the food “so much for nutrition.”

 

Opening the door, she took one glance at her night visitor and yanked him inside by said shirt. “Try to be more inconspicuous next time, would you? Do you actually want the Crown to find me?” the Royal Guard scolded, running to a cupboard and getting a towelette, tossing it over to the redhead in a black suit. “What kind of man shows up in front of a someone’s home in the rain on a black suit with shades on, at night, anyway?”

 

Her visitor took it gratefully and wiped the rain from his face before putting it down the nearest table and said, “Father Bamph wants you in the office, within the hour, if possible.”

 

“Direct to the point; I like that.” Seirin went back to her table and tore the bread down to the middle and stuffed the tilapia fillet in before noshing it down within a half minute. She turned to look at the agent and stared, waiting. “Well?”

 

The agent held out his hand to lead her out. “Ready to depart, Marshal Leiden.”

 

“Oh, God. No. Please, never, ever, ever call me ‘Marshal’ in my own home; I am a waif, a waif! For God’s sake, turn around! I’m not going to give you a peepshow, no matter how strictly professional you black suits claim to be.” She slapped his hand down in embarrassment before taking something else out of the cupboard: her armor. Looking at it with pride, she held it up to fully appraise it, before remembering she wasn’t alone and saw the man looking at her with confusion. “What? I am not going to do black-ops missions in civilian clothes.”

 

The agent turned around, a faint blush on his cheeks while he heard the sound of a skirt falling to the floor and some metal banging against a stony surface. Not a minute sooner that she was already at the door, right in front of him. “How did you-”

 

The Royal guard looked back to him, holding up a rolled piece of paper in one hand and grabbing him by the wrist with the other and opening the door. “Agil scrolls. You said Father Bamph wanted me there within the hour right? I’ll have us there before you can even finish reciting the Fadr-var” After hanging up her sign on the door, they were off into the rain.

-

 

“Based on these old documents, we have reason to believe that there is a piece of Ymir’s Heart somewhere in Glast Heim.” Father Bamph pointed to an old, yellow parchment that one would expect from old yellow parchments, tearing corners, faded ink, and holes. “It’s good news. We don’t have to look far, but also bad, since Glast Heim is, well, cursed, but I’m sure you’re already aware of that, Marshal Leiden.”

 

“Please stop say- actually, never mind,” Seirin relented, taking the paper from the Priest and skimming over it with proper precision “this is a forwarding document, from…480 years ago? Huh, what does this have to do with my summoning at night?” she asked. From what was on the document, it dictated and accounted for every piece of coin, ingot, and speck within the royal treasury to be transferred from the Prontera Palace to the new capital of Glast Heim. The paper dated at the year 520, and according to the attached inventories notation, to be the last of the ongoing freights, containing the most valuable treasures of the kingdom back then. It was all listed down and her proficient reading didn’t seem to spot anything that would warrant a late night mission. “I see that Rune-Midgard was rich even back then, but why is this relevant now and what does it have to do with Ymir’s Heart?”

 

Father Bamph didn’t answer her question, his own nose also buried in another book from the pile on his desk. Reading over it again, she took notice of the small addendum within the fine print, finished off with the identity of the note’s writer, someone named Heinrich. “Now why does that name sound familiar?” Consulting a history book that was also on the table, it turned out that the person known as Heinrich was the defense minister and head adviser to the king of the time, and according to the added personal command, an unknown item is to be sealed within a box of cedar locked with steel chains, and that a specialized unit of the king’s soldiers will escort another person designated to bring the box personally to His Majesty.

 

The name was something that brought uneasiness, and the Royal Guard felt something tick inside her mind, strands of light bluenette, maggots, a stench of death and horrific laugh, but her thoughts of it were diverted just as fast when she saw Father Bamph opened another old tome in her peripheral vision.

 

It was a book, lying next to a smaller pile of yellowed parchments. Inside the book were what looked like diary entries. The Priest put it down on the table and read each word carefully, summarizing as he went along. “It’s an old journal by a Knight named Nour, aMorrocan. It says here that on this date most Knights were commanded to gather in the throne room when the king was presented with a chained wooden box. He felt a surge of power when the king opened it, and started to feel different from that day on. After that, the king asked the courier if he ever looked inside, who said no. The king took out a sword and…sliced the courier’s head clean from his shoulders. As expected from the Mad King Schmitz.” Father Bamph flipped the book to the end, and nearly threw it down in shock the next second.

 

“What is it?” The Royal Guard asked in alarm. Upon closer inspection of the book, Seirin found the last page to be torn except for the topmost part were the numbers five, two, and nine were written, but what appalled her more was what had been on the end cover. There were clumps of wispy black hair bound together powdery coagulated blood, what looked like to be a half of a broken distal phalanx with dried tendons, and something else…

 

Immediately after recoiling herself ,Seirin reached for her back and spun the handle and vamplate of her Hallowed Long Horn, driving the spear down the cover of the book, chanting hastened and loud words. “Vade retro Loki et Surtr! Nunquam suade mihi va- Gukh!”

 

The force threw her back leaving the incantation incomplete but her spear held on, pinning down the book as a wave of malicious intent stole and dimmed the flickering light of the room and looked as thought it was struggling to come out from the book. “Damn!” She looked sternly at the Priest as she ran back to the book and drove the wedge of her spear’s tip deeper. “What on earth are you waiting for? Father, you need to purify and lay to rest the owner of these remains. I’m not part of the clergy so I don’t know the first damned thing about exorcising dark malicious energy. And if you don’t mind, hurry!”

 

Snapped out of his shocked stupor, Father Bamph immediately took to the nearest bookshelf, snatching and holding up a Bible then spat out, “MAGNUS EXORCISMUS!” At once, beams of light rose from the floor, enveloping the entire table and the nearby area where he stood. The book squirmed, writhed, and groaned as if it was alive, like Ridewords, but there were no teeth. The pages flipped backwards at erratic speed as the holy spear was driven deeper into its back cover and the holy light dispelled the oppressive malice. Soon the remains disintegrated into the light, and the book was cleared of any blood stains and bone, leaving only yellowed worn pages and a cover with a hole on it. Seirin picked up the book, holding it by the corner with her mouth downward in disdain before helping the Priest gather his bearings, who asked, “What happened?”

 

The Royal Guard dusted herself off, feeling disoriented as well at what just transpired. Going over to the table, she put the book down and began explaining at what just happened while fixing the disarranged files, the light in her eyes no dimming.It was a soul, well more like, the splintered fragments of a soul, and it had been the last vestiges of self-control that were slipping away. I think that those remains and the soul shards were Nour’s. Fortunately the exorcism worked, but not so much as destroyed as it displace the evil energy.” She paused momentarily, trying to find the right words before continuing, “‘it’, whatever it actually is, was trying to consume the soul pieces and the magical energy around this room to get stronger before you dispelled it, Father. Sadly, from what I can gloss over through the small vestiges of memory and will, Nour died in a violent struggle that was insidious and malicious, binding the spirit to this world because of ‘unjustified death’ and was still too weak-willed that it succumbed to whatever that evil thing was. I don’t know what happened to the rest of Nour’s spirit; it could probably have moved on a long time ago to the afterlife, or more likely still be corrupted.”

 

Another pause, and then she spoke tenderly with such genteel “Niflheim is the fragments’ final destination. You can rest at ease; what splintered consciousness of Nour’s in those parts are sleeping and will recover as a whole, either on it own though it will take prohibitively long amount of time, or when the rest of the soul has been exorcised and sent. It will continue sleeping even in Niflheim. It won’t experience the pain of damnation because it’s a pitiful and innocent soul that was merely the victim of Glast Heim’s curse.

 

“You...told it to rest?” Still a little worn down and disbelieving from the excursion, Father Bamph walked over to his chair and plopped down, catching his breath, confused. “How did you...even know all that, Marshal?”

 

Seirin looked at the older man, a bit flustered and unsure with her blue eyes shining in confusion, “I-I don’t know. It just seemed that way.”

 

After the excitement died down, a realization entered the Royal Guard’s mind and she marched over to the table. She started to acknowledge what her mind had been trying to prod into her consciousness. Her concentration peaked as she reread the records from awhile ago, finally stopping when her sight landed on a particular appellation from awhile ago.

 

Heinrich.

 

More memories stirred, this time of what happened in her intermediate past mixing with a fog in her head sealed memorials that involved Glast Heim. Very few survived the ruination of the once glorious city, and one figure in particular came to her mind; Heinrich, the first Royal Guard and right hand man of the Mad King Schmitz.

 

Glast Heim.

 

Adventurers would go there to seek the forgotten treasures of a fallen dynasty, or to strengthen their power. Any Priest-class, Geneticists, or others, each had their own reason, assuaged by the will to grow stronger or profit. In her case because she was adverse to hurt living things (unless struck first), she would spend her time fighting in Glast Heim to hone her skills and experience. It was the land forsaken by gods and men alike, the downfall caused by the hubris of a man who wanted what was impermissible. Deeper in her mind, it brought on strange feelings, recollections of a sense of thirst then blood, and hate, lots and lots of hatred, yet strangely, also heartache. Then back to her recent memories, like the piece of saintly cloth, an old worn-out shield, and the lucid words of a shade.

 

But Heinrich. Could it be?

-

 

“You’re telling me that a man from 470 years ago is responsible for the safekeeping of the gods’ most powerful divine artifact? And he’s the reason why Crusaders and Paladins become Royal Guards?” Father Bamph sat down, disbelief on his face. If she hadn’t gone through it herself, she wouldn’t have believed it either. On her honor and holy vows, she spoke the truth to him, and he knew it. “Why didn’t you write this in your reports?” Rather than angry, he was genuinely curious.

 

Seirin bowed her head and looked at the floor, unable to answer. Perhaps it was negligence or unintentional omission on her part? Unfortunately, she remembered far too well the tensions back then; beating Heinrich at his own contract, finally taking her vows freely, and then…She winced. The additional duress and her illness at that time must have made her forget.

 

Father Bamph continued on, his forehead creased as he tried to process this information. “It doesn’t matter. Could this be the work of demons? How Glast Heim fell was already suspicious and even church records have been bleak at best on the matter. If your memory is right then a heart piece must be in the old capital; you need to go and hurry to the palace to interrogate him.” He leaned back on the chair and stared at the ceiling in contemplation, before taking out the tome they looked at before and giving it to her. “Take this. It disturbs me that a man who once served as a retinue centuries ago had been responsible for the militants of the Church turning their backs on God and serving mortal men instead, and that he’s even still alive today. I’m not too sure he’s even human at this point, Marshal. Take vigilance on confrontation.” “He sat back down, a thoughtful expression on his face then asked, “the problem is though, how will you get in without being arrested?”

 

With a relaxed smile, she assured him, God will take care of it. One way or another, nothing is impossible through faith in God.”

-

 

“Maybe I should have prayed for the rain to stop first.” Seirin looked down at the moat below and wondered what fishes lived within, or better yet, what carnivores lived in it with them. Looking across the western wall, she knew the moat was far too wide to sprint and jump, and the incline on the other side was too steep and slippery. Not to mention her armor was too heavy to swim across in, and a night swim on the home of those who want her dead? Looking to the sky, she steeled her nerves and sighed, “Haaah, God, if I am to succeed this mission, it is your will.”

 

Determined now, she took cover under a nearby tree and unclothed her armor, leaving her only in a black sports bra and boyshorts in the cold rain. She left her shield on the ground as well, albeit hesitantly, taking only her two spears and an extra sword she brought along as a precaution. Within the next moment she threw her two spears across the moat with all her might like javelins; the Long Horn and Imperial Spear embedded into the wall with success, the former atop the latter. She smiled with pride, happy that her unusually high dexterity paid off. “Now, how do I get from here to there?”

 

Her bare feet didn’t have any time to agree with her brain though. Not a second later did Seirin immediately slip into the deep waters of the moat, the mud making her fall and coating her back as she slid right in. Rising up to the surface, she wasted no time in swimming to the other side despite the cold rain. She tried not to pay any mind at the fact that she felt something nip at her toes. Pushing her limbs to the limit, she could almost touch the other side but felt her foot unable to move suddenly. Diving down, she couldn’t see anything in the watery darkness. The water was too murky to let any light from the moon or palace through. Tugging with her leg, she could feel something bind at her ankle. A rope, a submerged trap? Swimming deeper, she felt for the bind on her ankle; fortunately, it was something soft and squishy, a tough underwater plant leaf, most likely. She tore it halfway and swam to shore, hanging on to what she can of the palace brick wall’s crevices and cracks.

 

Barely able to hang on, she used her sword to launch herself into a precise momentum from the wall and wet steep ground to reach for the Imperial Spear, lifting herself up and distributing her weight evenly on the precarious makeshift perch. The rain washed away the grass and mud that stuck to her skin, helping lessen the weight and slipperiness. “Looks like I’m going to spend all night trying to wash my underwear after.” Shifting her balance, she stood on her spear and reached for her other one, displacing her weight against the wall evenly and grasping her Long Horn, taking her time before she swung her body like using her sword and the spear above as an axle, and with nimble reflexes managed to find herself sitting atop her Long Horn.

 

However, that left her with a dilemma. It was only recent that she focused on training her core than her strength, so her flexibility wasn’t all that developed yet. It meant leaving her Imperial Spear behind. “Ah damn! That’s the best weapon in my arsenal too,” the Royal Guard groaned when looking at its double-eagle heraldry, and sighed in acceptance. “That’s okay. If this is the way God wants it, even if it means losing a weapon I worked so hard to get, then I’ll accept it,” she told herself, although laughing right after because those words were just too ridiculous and unbelievable “like Hel!” As if on cue, the Imperial Spear finally loosened its puncture and fell into the moat, making Seirin laugh. “Oh f-” The loud rumble of thunder coursed through the sky and lightning struck the nearby tree she stood on awhile ago.

 

“I could just retrieve it later. Sorry!” she screamed to the sky. Her laughter stopped when she felt the spear she sat on also sink. “Fuuuuu-” Grabbing hold of the edge of the wall, she used the spear to springboard herself. “Just one chance. Gah!” And successfully grabbed the top, supporting herself and scaling up with her feet, finally standing on the palace turret.

 

Reaching down and proud of her own success, Seirin snatched her Hallowed Long Horn from the wall before it too fell, and shivered from the coldness of the rain. More lightning and thunder followed after. “The god Thor must be in battle. Such troubling times we’re in,” she said before turning to the stairs of the turret. “Let’s get this done.”

-

 

“For a place where Crusaders would gather, this place is far too empty for my liking. The Crown may want me dead, but even I wouldn’t wish such lax security on them. Where are the palace guards?” Looking around, Seirin squeezed at the lock of her hair to remove excess moisture. The dark, cold halls were devoid of any presence, not even a ghost, only herself. She didn’t know whether to be grateful because she was traipsing in the castle practically wet and half-naked, or cautious because of that feeling in her gut telling her to take to wing and flee.

 

Raindrops from her skin fell to the floor, nary a sound still as the what little illumination came from the lightning flashes and city lights outside. There was no Max von Shedough, and to her relief, the odious man Rebarev Doug was also absent from the premises. That relief was short-lived, however, as what unsettled her more was the fact that even if Heinrich wasn’t found yet, she felt as though she was being watched. Maybe they all retired for the night and went home?

 

After walking and turning the next hallway, the militant found a lone door at the dead end of the wall. Quickly approaching it, she tried to turn the latch but found it locked. It was either risk breaking one of her remaining weapons to open the door or find a key, but that decision didn’t take long anyway. The latch opened with her spear’s edge; after all, bone was stronger than steel, what more a brass lock?

 

What lay inside was an unpleasant reality. If she didn’t know any better she’d believed she somehow step back in time again, but no. There were signs of a struggle. She was able to make out puddles of dried blood with tufts of brown hair and scalp on the floor from the brief flashes of lightning. Brandishing her spear, she kept her guard up as much as she could for her current lack of a shield. Courage nearly left her with the boom of thunder though. “God!” the Royal Guard gasped, holding her chest and trying to calm the tempo of her heart. “Calm down, Leid. You can do this. It’s natural to be afraid, but also faithful to be brave.”

 

Kneeling before the blood, skin, and hairs, she felt a lingering spirit in the room, but not too strong. It’s departing on its way and headed for Valhalla. Intervention from her wasn’t needed. A brief illusory scene and radiant light from somewhere unknown gave her a sense of comfort. “I see. He bravely died in a battle for his life, but something else happened that ennobled his soul from Niflheim’s reach.” Unfortunately, she couldn’t speak to spirits except those bound to Niflheim, so when she saw the disappearing soul of Max von Shedough walk into the guiding light, that oddly had a faint feminine shape (valkyrie?), she could not ask who killed him. Before she could pay respects as he disappeared, she heard a loud clang, and though trying to keep brave, felt her heart beat just a little faster than before as the sudden warmth of light also faded just as fast.

 

Groaning at her limited vision, she relented. “Fine.” Blinking a few times, she moved her hand closer to her face, then to her left eye, then her right, plucking out the contacts from her eyes and hid them by the fringes of her brassiere. Adjusting fully to the darkness, her sight followed the direction of the sound, and she picked up a metal dish from the floor. Seirin stooped and picked it up, observing its dirty, ashy contents, tracing the dust and pinching it with her fingertips. It was wood ash, and a sense of relief filled her. With her luck she expected something like burnt bone, nail, or any body part from the poor victim of fate. Like before though, her relief was short lived and she suddenly felt chills run down her spine.

 

A gust of cold wind blew through her back that moment. Unlike the comforting coldness of Lady Hel, however, this one was purely infernal and malicious. Looking directly behind her, Seirin saw a mirror and a small table adjacent to it. It was still too dim to see for the militant to see her reflection, so she came closer. Upon closer observation, she saw on the table were a half-melted candle and a small book. With no matchstick, she squinted closer, relying on further eyesight adjustment to examine her reflection before somehow the candle lit up on its own with a dim fire. “Huh? In a room with no wind?” placing her finger near the flame, no heat came from it. “Whatever’s here is definitely preternatural.”

 

Gathering her wits about her, she looked around were she stood while backing herself onto the wall. “Show yourself, whoever you are! Demon or malicious spirit, come and fight me! I’ll expel you in God’s name.” Nothing answered but another thunderous roar from outside. When nothing would clearly show itself to her, she turned to the mirror. Looking closer at her reflection, the Royal Guard saw herself; only, it wasn’t her reflection. Rather, it was actually her reflection, but it was her as she preferred to have forgotten altogether. She hated it, looking at the coquette’s smile, the hair, the eyes. Faithless, worldly, abnormal. A scream nearly escaped her, but she held it back at her throat and chastised the reflection.“You’re not me. You can’t be me. I’ve changed everything.” Seirin’s hand reach out, and when her finger touched, the mirror followed her movements, and then it didn’t.

 

The smile distorted to an arrogant smirk and blood dripped from the reflection’s gums. Her hair was no longer the ideal cornsilk blonde, and her eyes flashed with a vehement scarlet fury. She drew back in recoil and stared aghast before the reflection disappeared and became normal. “What the Hel was that?”

 

A new reflection showed up not a moment too soon, however, and someone else’s for that matter. Someone else who should be dead. It was a face she had once seen, months ago when she was still willing to go far with her adventurer career. Before her, on the other side of the mirror was a very handsome dark-haired man. He had a discolored scar on the left side of his face, and wore the garb of a male Royal Guard. Seirin wasn’t fooled by his appearance, however, and saw the nicks and dents of his armor. As she listed them all in her mind, the reflection seemed to distort in shape, until she looked at his face again and bit down a scream.

 

The man’s eyes had been gradually hollowing, and soon it was just black emptiness. His mouth opened and blood poured from every orifice of his face, the eyes sockets staring at her while crying tears of blood, as with the ears, nose, and mouth. Her eyes dropped quickly to the book and she turned it over. The title on the cover said “Rune Royal Family Book”.

 

“I know this. If this is here, then the Mad King…oh no!” She had been familiar to its contents, privy to its existence after the tedious selection of the next king among the seven prince candidates. Her gaze drifted up again and now it was a misshapen, skinless abomination.

 

“Stop it!” Having had enough with its twisted appearance as the last straw, she punched the mirror straight on, shattering it into numerous little shards and running with the book in tow, jumping out through the window and into the castle grounds below, not looking back. Luck was on her side as no palace guard had been patrolling. There was no time left to lose, and she ran faster on realizing it, scaling the wall much more easier and jumping into the moat. “If what I confronted tonight was a mere forecasting of the forces and magics involved, I need to get to Glast Heim quickly, but I can’t do it alone.”

 


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