The Beginning of the End
Willem had a few questions he wanted to ask Navrutri. How were his efforts to prevent the impending doomsday coming along? Could they really protect the world at this rate? Did he find a way to wake up all the people in comas?
However, on the way to the Guild, Willem realized that he didn’t even know where to find Navrutri. If he looked hard enough he could probably find him eventually, but that would take time, and Willem wasn’t exactly in the mood for a leisurely game of hide and seek.
Could Navrutri be using True World’s research facility as his hideout? If so, finding him would be quite difficult. Despite the relatively small size of Gomag, the adventurers still hadn’t managed to find anything. The base had to either be camouflaged extremely well, or perhaps hidden underground.
Underground. That’s it! Willem had completely forgotten. There was one place. An underground facility of unknown origin lying secretly beneath the city. He knew its general location. No proof of any connection between that place and True World existed anywhere, but taking a look could be worth it.
… this isn’t reality. This is a spiritual prison. An arbitrarily manufactured dream world.
The only reason this town and these people seem so realistic is to enhance the prison.
Nothing here has worth. No, I must not see worth in anything. That would mean weakening my will to escape to reality. That would be taking one step towards becoming a permanent inmate of this prison.
When we escape, this world and everything in it will disappear. So no matter what happens to these people, it doesn’t matter to me. I accepted that from the start. Or at least I should have.
That Almaria isn’t real. I was going to end up abandoning her soon anyways. It didn’t matter when I lost her. None of this matters.
Willem desperately tried to convince himself time and time again, but it never worked.
Who cares if she’s fake or real? It’s Almaria. She called me father. She asked me to stay by her side. She laughed in front of me. She cried. Got mad. Disgusted. She sulked. Acted spoiled. She showed me her face. That face I should have never been able to see again. She let me hear her voice. Isn’t it obvious that I wouldn’t want to lose her again?
“Willem.” A voice interrupted his thoughts.
Looking down, he noticed for the first time that Nephren was walking alongside him. His inner debate had blinded him that much. He also noticed the snowflakes starting to accumulate on the ground.
“… sorry. Was I making a scary face or something?” Willem took a deep breath, then let it out.
“You were. But that’s not it. Something feels strange.”
Willem took a look around, but didn’t see anything particularly out of the ordinary. He saw a gently sloping path and short staircases connecting it to various other sidewalks. He smelled the scent of spices characteristic to the residential areas in the evening. On the roads, the usual bustling crowds of people hurrying home were — what?
He spotted a few people standing on the roadside. Just standing, as if rooted in place. They vaguely gazed off in various directions: the sky, the ground, the road ahead. But their eyes seemed to lack focus, almost as if they were… soulless.
“… it can’t be.”
Willem ran up to a nearby woman who looked to be on her way home from shopping. She was simply standing frozen in place, with a basket of meat and vegetables still in her hand. The woman didn’t seem to be unconscious exactly, but it looked as if she completely forgot who she was and what she was doing, leaving her in a state of blankness.
Willem tried talking to the woman. He wove his hands about in front of her face. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her violently. No matter what he tried, the woman showed absolutely no response. Except, her lips were moving ever so slightly, as if whispering, or perhaps singing, something. Yet, even if Willem strained to listen, he couldn’t pick up a sound.
Just by having her name called, Nephren understood Willem’s orders and began to move. She went around to all the others in the area, checking their conditions one by one. During that time, Willem quickly ignited his Venom, then, with such force that his shoes left a deep imprint on the hardened ground, he leaped into the sky. As he reached an altitude many times higher than the surrounding houses, he surveyed the area.
This is bad…
Fires had sprung up in a few places throughout the city. He could also hear voices of distress and confusion riding towards him on the wind.
“Has it begun?”
This is real bad. The chaos, whatever it was, had already spread widely, and only continued to advance with each passing second.
“Willem.” Nephren came running back. “They’re all the same. They don’t respond no matter what I do. The people moving around are normal. But they’re starting to realize that something’s happening.”
From what he saw, Willem roughly estimated the percentage of citizens already in that dazed state to be a little less than twenty. However, the remaining eighty percent was rapidly losing their composure at the eeriness of seeing the people around them suddenly cease all movement.
“Some kind of rapidly spreading poison?
No. This is beyond that. It has to be that faction of True World opposing Navrutri. They must have completed their technology to spread a curse widely and indiscriminately. But still… something’s off.
Willem couldn’t explain it very well, but he suddenly felt a certain unnaturalness in the situation unfolding before their eyes.
“Let’s head back to the orphanage for the time being. I’m worried about Aly and the oth–”
An agonizing scream suddenly pierced the air.
Willem turned around.
The woman from earlier had moved. She was now sinking her teeth into the shoulder of a man, probably a relative, who had approached her. Blood spurted out. The woman’s teeth, too weak for the flesh they were trying to rip apart, started to fall out. With pure fear and insanity carved into his face, the man thrust the woman’s body away, causing her to lose balance and collapse onto the ground.
Then, the woman slowly stood up again. In her blood stained mouth, where her teeth used to be, something else had begun to grow in. They looked almost like bluish purple… tentacles.
“Grab every remaining normal person and evacuate to the orphanage!” Willem screamed as he took off running.
He slammed both palms straight into the stomach of the woman, or rather the grotesque thing which used to be a woman, which was trying to assault the man again. Bear Palm, a technique he learned from Hilgram himself. The impact hardly damaged the victim’s body at all; instead, all the force went to sending the receiver flying backwards.
“What!?” The moment his hands made contact, Willem noticed something strange. The woman’s body felt heavy and tough, almost like a chunk of lead. “Are you okay?!”
Ignoring the pain in his wrists, Willem turned to face the man. The woman’s bite must have severed a large artery: blood gushed rapidly out of his shoulder. If they didn’t stop the bleeding immediately, it would be too late. Willem tore off a bit of his sleeve in a panic and ran over.
“A song…” the man murmured. “I hear… a song…” His eyes began to lose focus and stare blankly into the void. “An ashen world… how… nostalgic…”
Sensing the change in the man’s condition, Willem backed away. This is bad. The blood streaming from the man’s shoulder began to bubble furiously. As with the woman, bluish purple things were beginning to grow out of his wound. The man was becoming unhuman before Willem’s eyes.
However, it didn’t surprise Willem one bit. He accepted the transformation occurring in the once fellow Emnetwyte with ease. A human becoming unhuman. The hypothesis which he never wanted to believe was proved right in front of him.
“… no…” Nephren mumbled in shock. “This…”
Nephren must have reached the same conclusion as Willem. After all, she had spent years fighting them up in the sky. Her entire life had been created for the sole purpose of dying in battle with them. Therefore, there was no way she wouldn’t be able to tell. She recognized it immediately, and murmured that name.
“… Aurora… Piercing and Penetrating Second Beast…”
Desperatio, the kinslayer. A Kaliyon which existed for the sole purpose of helping humans slay other humans. The same sword with which Noft Kei Desperatio fought the 17 Beasts. That discovery lead Willem to a certain hypothesis: that the Beasts were no more than remodeled humans.
And now, in a dream resembling the past, he had gotten his proof.
As for the rest of the story, he already knew how it would play out.
Just like the legends told, the Emnetwyte would release, or rather transform into, the Beasts, then rain destruction upon the world.
Overall, its body had the shape of a string. If Willem had to make a comparison, a large snake would probably be the most fitting description.
However, needless to say, it was no snake. Headless and tailless, the creature had countless needles growing out of its body in place of scales. The needles could extend and contract freely, sometimes acting as cilia which propelled the creature through the air, and sometimes acting as razor sharp spears which pierced its prey.
The Aurora, Piercing and Penetrating Second Beast. They were one of the most commonly encountered Beasts on land, but also known as one of the least dangerous, due to their inability to kill more than one person at a time. If a group of three came across an Aurora, at least one or two were almost guaranteed to escape with their lives. None of the other sixteen Beasts were so merciful.
As they hurried towards the orphanage, Willem and Nephren gathered as many still unaffected people as they could. At first, it went well. People responded to their calls and joined them. A few tried to attack them, but none proved to be threats.
When their group grew to around twenty people or so, however, things started to go awry. One of the safe people amongst them, a young boy, suddenly started lashing out at those around him. He had transformed, but still only had the strength of the small child he used to be, so they easily suppressed him. The problem came after that. The fear of knowing that anyone could transform and start attacking his neighbors at any instant tore their group apart from within. Ignoring Willem’s attempts to calm them down, the twenty or so people all scattered.
When they finally reached the orphanage, they found it empty.
No Almaria, who should have been sleeping in her bed.
No children, who should have been locked up safely in their rooms.
Willem and Nephren’s calls received no responses. They checked every room and every closet to no avail. In the short time that they had been away, everyone had disappeared off somewhere. Willem touched Almaria’s mattress, but couldn’t feel even a single drop of warmth, as if no one had ever lay there.
“… haha.” Willem’s body suddenly went limp, and he barely prevented himself from collapsing to the ground. “I see. Whoever made this dream must be a devil after all. I’m betting it’s either an Aeshma or Bufas. They’re finally interfering, trying to break our will…”
“Willem,” Nephren said in a censuring tone.
“… I know. I won’t look away from reality.”
He checked every door and window, but none of them showed any signs of having been opened. Almaria and the children neither left by themselves nor got taken away by some intruder. Theoretically, a kidnapper might have expertly erased all traces of their movements, but there would be no good reason to do that.
No, this disappearance had no explanation in such ordinary terms. The creator of the dream world had at long last directly interfered after keeping so close to reality the entire time. Their goal was to convert Willem and Nephren into permanent residents of this world, so they would need to start rewriting history before the Beasts appeared and killed their prey. Willem’s prediction turned out to be correct.
“If only this Aly turned into an Aurora… I wouldn’t have minded being killed by her…”
After all, once Willem and Nephren returned to the real world, they would just die anyways. He also didn’t exactly want to stay trapped in a dream world for eternity. If he could have at least died after protecting just one promise, his first promise, that promise which he never got to fulfill, it wouldn’t have been so bad. He couldn’t think of a better way to throw away his life.
“Oh, wait. But if I did that, it would mean leaving you behind, Ren.”
“Don’t worry. If you die, I’ll probably just die with you anyways.” Nephren softly wrapped her finger around Willem’s.
“… well now I can’t die, can I?” He gave Nephren’s hair a ruffle like always, and, like always, she dodged his hand with an annoyed face.
Now, let’s solve this mystery. What did Almaria and the children’s disappearance signify? The answer would surely lead them to the last enemy they needed to overcome.
Soon after Almaria went unconscious, the town began to change. One by one, the residents of Gomag transformed into Aurora. But in the real world, Teimerre, not Aurora, reigned over the remnants of the city.
This dream world most likely held the memories of almost all, or perhaps all, of Gomag’s residents. The creator of the world recreated history based off of those memories. Willem and Nephren were foreigners in this world. Their enemy was working to make them permanent residents.
Hypotheses. Wild guesses. Intuition. Things they saw. Heard. Felt. Willem stuck everything into a great pot inside his head and stirred the jumbled mess around.
Could it be…?
Just as a conclusion started to take shape, the doorbell rang, followed by violent knocking on the front door.
“Almaria! Everyone! Are you safe!?”
Suspending his train of thought, Willem looked up and muttered that name. He was safe? A feeling which Willem couldn’t quite call happiness welled up from within his chest.
“Falco! Wendel! Horace!” Ted desperately called out the names of the children as he furiously rang the bell and banged on the door.
“… well, I guess I shouldn’t leave him alone.”
“Nn.” With a nod, Nephren followed Willem out of the room.
“Meanae! Dettloff! Marlies! Nanette!”
Is he purposely leaving my name for last? Willem thought as he opened the door.
Ted, who had been banging the door so hard almost his entire body weight was leaning on it, barely managed to avoid tumbling forward. “Willem! You’re safe!”
“Yeah, for now at least.”
Ted must have fought his way through hell on the way to the orphanage. His ghost pale face hinted at the many horrors he no doubt laid eyes upon.
“What about Almaria and the others!? Did anything strange happen to them!?”
“Ah, well, at the very least, they haven’t broken out into rampages yet.” Willem nodded vaguely.
“Oh thank goodness…” Ted looked as if he were about to collapse.
Willem grabbed his arms to support him, and said, “Enough talk. You must be tired. Come in, I’ll make some tea.”
“Ah, before that, please take these.” Despite not even having the strength to stand on his own, Ted managed to keep up that smile of his as he held out the large leather sheath which he had been carrying on his back.
“It’s only a really low rank one that hardly requires Brave qualifications. I borrowed it from the Guild because I thought it might be useful in your hands.”
Based on what Ted said, he must have stopped by the guild before coming to the orphanage. “Are the guys at the guild safe? What about Lucie!?” The question slipped out of Willem’s mouth.
“… there’s one more thing, or rather person, I want you to take care of.”
Without answering, Ted turned around. Behind him stood a young girl dressed in travel clothes who looked to be around fifteen or sixteen years old. Vivid scarlet hair flowed down her back, and eyes of the same color stared down at her feet uncomfortably.
A strange sense of deja vu tugged at some place deep inside Willem’s mind. He couldn’t brush away the feeling that he had seen… or rather met the girl somewhere before. However, he couldn’t recall where.
“I found her on the streets. There were many others, but she’s the only one I managed to bring here safely,” Ted explained. “Please help her. This is the only safe place I can think of.”
“… alright, alright. Just come in. Maybe you can’t tell by yourself, but you look like you’re going to pass out.”
“No, I’m afraid I must go now.” Ted laughed.
“What are you talk–”
“I hear a song.” Even as tears began to stream down his face, Ted never let that forced smile collapse. “I want to return home. I want to return home. Someone keeps whispering that inside my head. I’m starting to see ashen plains overlapping with the scenery before my eyes. I don’t have much longer.”
“So sorry, but I can’t come in for tea. Of course, I always dreamed about becoming a dangerous man to Almaria, but not in this way. And also, I made up my mind to wait until I get permission from her beloved father. I won’t let this stupid dream or song crush that determination.”
“Now, I must excuse myself.” Ted knocked away Willem’s hands and, using every bit of strength left in his muscles, stood up on his own. “I trust you to take care of the rest.” With that, Ted dashed off. Before long, his figure melted into shadow amidst the evening gloom.
Willem couldn’t get the image of Ted running off into the distance out of his mind. Only now did Willem realize how great of a guy Ted was. In order to protect Almaria and a girl he didn’t even know, he chose to disappear by himself as far away as possible. He must have been tired. Scared. Lonely. Yet, up until his last moments, he never let his weak side show above his manly facade.
Please help her, Ted had requested. Willem would’ve liked to honor his final wish, but how, exactly, was he supposed to save anyone in a world hurdling towards the apocalypse? I trust you to take care of the rest? You’re only level 8! Why… why do you try so hard to act strong…
The red haired girl glared at the coffee cup in front of her with a frown. Or more accurately, she glared at the dark brown liquid sitting inside it.
“Do you not like coffee?” Willem asked.
The girl shook her head, then went back to her staring contest with the mug, showing no signs of putting it to her mouth.
“Should I put some milk and sugar in it?”
The girl shook her head again. Then, she seemed to steel her resolve. With the face of a soldier marching off to her final battle, she lifted the cup and gulped it down all at once.
The girl’s face turned bright red. After returning her mug to the table, she covered her mouth with both hands and let out a silent scream. Then, she started gasping desperately, like a fish stuck on land.
“Looks like it was too hot,” Nephren said as she placed a cup of cold milk in front of the girl.
The girl hesitated for a moment, as if drinking the milk would somehow constitute defeat, but soon snatched the new cup and drained it. After regaining control of her breathing, she said, “… it was hot. And bitter.”
“Do you want more?”
“With milk this time.” The girl held out her empty cup, slightly embarrassed.
She turned out to be a rather strange girl. Willem guessed her age to be around fifteen, same as Kutori. However, her speech and behavior gave off the impression of a much younger age, so much so that she seemed even younger than Nephren, which was pretty hard to do.
She wore traveling clothes, but her companions were nowhere in sight. She might have been travelling alone, or maybe she got separated from them. Considering the possibility that her companions might have transformed into Beasts, Willem didn’t really feel like asking.
And more than anything, her staring. When her eyes weren’t occupied with the coffee mug in front of her, they looked up at Willem, staring intently as if trying to peer deep inside his mind. When he showed signs of noticing, the girl grew flustered and quickly cut eye contact. The stare wasn’t a friendly one, but Willem also didn’t detect any hostility in it. If he had to analyze it, he would put it at a 6:4 ratio of curiosity to cautiousness.
“Is there something on my face?” he asked Nephren, who shook her head.
Hmm… maybe I really have met her somewhere before? Willem ran through his career as a Quasi Brave in his mind but came up empty. Also, he didn’t think he would forget if he ever saw someone with such vivid scarlet hair.
Scarlet hair. An image of Kutori floated up out of his memory. As she lost her memories, a vivid red had gradually taken over her hair. Maybe it was just due to the unstable light of the stove, but the scarlet on the girl sitting before his eyes seemed to closely resemble Kutori’s red. Was that the culprit behind his feeling of deja vu?
“… u-um.” The girl looked up. “You’re… the real Willem, right?”
“Hm? Ah, yeah.” The sudden question caught him off guard, but he managed to answer. “I don’t believe I’m that famous… do you know me from somewhere?”
The girl nodded.
“Ah, did Ted tell you about me?”
The girl shook her head. “I saw you in a dream. It was kind of short, but… sort of… sweet.”
What is that, some sort of new pickup line? Certainly, love forming between a man and a woman in an extreme life or death situation had been a common trope for quite some time, and they were undoubtedly in an extreme situation. But, well, considering the girl’s age, Willem couldn’t get into an even slightly romantic mood.
“Can I ask you something?” she asked.
“Do you remember Leila?”
Of course, being a Regal Brave, Leila Asprey’s fame far surpassed Willem’s, so it made sense that the girl knew her name. However, he found it strange that the girl would suddenly bring Leila up now of all times, and furthermore the word ‘remember’ rather than ‘know’ seemed odd.
“Sure,” he answered vaguely. “Why do you ask?”
“Because she’s an important person,” the girl answered. “Leila is my idol. She’s strong, hard working, and cool.”
Willem fought back the temptation to burst out laughing. Because she was the Regal Brave, the symbol of humanity’s struggle against the other races, the Church always glorified her deeds. She was so overwhelmingly strong that she could defeat a dragon in one blow. She was so kind and noble that she couldn’t abandon the weak and needy. She was so beautiful in her armor that hordes of Borgle would prostrate themselves before her. Etc, etc.
Of course, Willem knew the truth. She took about half a day to defeat a dragon, she wasn’t dumb enough to mess up her priorities just for some weaklings, and she only wore the Church’s armor once before yelling ‘too tight!’ and sending it back. The Leila that Willem knew was uncompromising, blunt, wild, and, more than anything, free.
“And also brave, in the truest sense of the word.” The girl continued her praise of Leila as Willem ran through his memories. “She loved someone, but she hid it. In order to let that person be happy, she gave up on her own happiness. She went without hesitation to a battle where she knew she would die. When I saw Leila, I learned what kind of creatures humans are.”
“Oh? Well that’s good.”
The girl’s phrasing seemed a bit strange in some parts. Did she meet Leila somewhere and gossip about love or something? Leila gossiping about love… Willem almost burst out laughing again.
“I wanted to be like her. That was my last aspiration. When I died and became all scattered, I think those feelings must have remained.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Ah–” As if snapping out of some stupor, the girl’s head suddenly jolted up. “Nothing. It’s nothing, so forget what I said. But remember it just a little.”
So which do you want me to do…
“… who are you?” Nephren asked. “For some reason, looking at you, I can’t keep calm. It feels strange.”
“… it’s probably just your imagination. I think it’d be best to not think too much about it,” the girl said, then gulped down the last of her coffee, which was now about 70% milk.
“Feel better now?” Willem asked.
“Yes,” she replied with a nod.
“Alright. Sorry, but do you mind watching over the house for a bit?”
“Eh?” The girl looked confused.
“We have to go out for a little.” Willem glanced at Nephren. “While we’re gone, I want you to stay here. Can I count on you?”
“Where are you going?”
“There’s someone we need to meet. We’re gonna crash her place and overturn this miniature garden while we’re at it.”
“Then I’ll go too.”
“No, it’s dangerous. The orphanage is safe… well, I can’t exactly say that, but it’s safer at the very least. Since that brat asked me to help you, I can’t expose you to danger.”
“Will you come back here? Can you promise it?”
Willem and Nephren would soon depart to confront the maker of this world. They would either succeed and shatter the dream or fail and perish. Either way, they would never return. Willem would never be able to fulfill the girl’s promise.
“Sorry, no can do.”
At first he thought about just saying yes. After all, they would never meet the girl again, so what difference would it make? However, in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to say it. He couldn’t bring himself to repeat what he did years ago in the very same orphanage.
Willem grabbed the Kaliyon propped up against the wall and tossed it to Nephren. Dindrane, a mass produced model. Although it sat quite a few ranks beneath Nephren’s Insania, it boasted decent all around performance and stability, which earned it a high reputation among the mediocre Quasi Braves unable to wield better swords. The masterpiece of the capital’s workshops.
“Should I really be the one holding this?” Nephren asked.
“I can fight a little bare handed, but you would be defenseless, right?” Willem asked, and she nodded slightly in response. “Well, then let’s get going.” Turning his back to the red haired girl, he walked out the door.
“Wasn’t there more you wanted to talk about?” The flying fish appeared out of nowhere and coiled around the scarlet haired girl. “You finally got to meet him. You coulda flirted some more.”
“No.” The girl shook her head. “I’m not the one with a crush on Willem. I wouldn’t like such a lame guy.”
“You really are stubborn… oh well.” The fish continued to circle around the girl. “Shouldn’t you have gone with them, even if it meant revealing your identity? Our goal is almost the same as theirs. I think some cooperation would’ve benefitted us all.”
“Even if he does hate you as you keep insisting, he’s not the type to lose sight of his priorities. I think we had a fair chance at getting his help.”
“Then why didn’t you ask?”
“… I don’t know.” As she spoke, the girl looked out the window towards the direction where Willem and Nephren had run off to. “When he told me I couldn’t go with them, for some reason, it made me a little happy.”
“Hmm… I see… that’s it.”
“Oh, nothing. Seems like something you would do, that’s all,” the fish said with a sigh. “By the way, how was your first black coffee?”
“Hot,” the girl responded immediately.
Nephren flew through the sky with her illusory wings, while Willem hopped from rooftop to rooftop with his Venom empowered legs. Below, they could see hordes of Aurora roaming the streets.
“The creator of this world is a Beast, not a devil,” Willem said as he sent roof tiles flying. “Until just a few minutes ago, that Beast didn’t exist in this world. It was a human not yet transformed. That’s why it never interfered with us directly, and also why we couldn’t find it no matter how hard we searched.
But, this day has finally come to this world. The curse spread among the people started turning them into Beasts. That’s when the creator started to act. Almaria disappeared because the creator needed her to.”
They could hear screams from down below. People were still alive, although, soon enough, not a single one would remain.
“… I don’t really understand,” Nephren replied.
Willem figured as much. After all, he didn’t really understand the situation too accurately himself. He was simply trying to tie together all the loose ends in his mind in a way that seemed plausible. No deep logic nor conviction supported his words.
“Well, don’t worry about it for now. What’s important is that this world is recreating the events that happened in reality five hundred years ago relatively faithfully. Our reality lies five hundred years in the future in this world. In other words, that which survived five hundred years in reality should be here in this world, now.”
Willem landed on top of the church’s spire, where he had a good view of the central plaza.
“Here?” Nephren landed next to him.
“Yeah, in terms of coordinates, it should be right here.”
“I don’t see anything.” Nephren looked around, but only saw hideous monsters roaming about. “It’s not in the middle of all those Beasts, is it?”
“Of course it is,” Willem answered.
He readied his fists… or tried to, but felt a strange resistance in his body. He knew very well what that pain signified. The dream must be coming to an end. In reality, he was no more than a not fully dead corpse. His bones were shattered, tendons slashed, organs dysfunctional, flesh torn to shreds, and on top of it all, his overuse of Venom had dried up his very life force. His self in the dream world had started to catch up to reality. However, he still had a little more time. After a deep breath, he readied his fists again.
“Follow me,” he said, then jumped off.
En route, he kicked off the church’s bell tower to further accelerate himself. At a speed much faster than a natural freefall, he plummeted towards the small broken fountain in the middle of the plaza. Then, his fist struck the ground. Radiant Dragon Menace. The skill capable of producing enough destructive power to split the earth and smash a waterfall.
Above, the church bell swung back and forth due to the impact from his kick, ringing loudly each time. After a brief pause, the stove paving covering the streets fractured, then began to collapse into the depths below.
Bullseye. The mysterious facility under what used to be Gomag that he explored with Grick and Kutori. The last place in Gomag which remained unseen by the adventurers, or by anyone else, until its discovery five hundred years later by the expedition from Regul Aire.
Ouch. When used by one who lacked the proper skill to restrain the immense current of power, Radiant Dragon Menace caused a nasty backlash. The skin of his right fist had developed a vicious tear, and the bone felt unstable. But, he could still move.
Leaving the approaching Aurora for Nephren to handle, Willem leapt into the darkness below.
A few problems necessarily plague underground facilities, the first being lighting, and the second being air circulation. Without sunlight, fire becomes the only other option, but too much fire makes it hard to breathe. The need for fresh air then calls for a large window, which then makes the facility easier to find. As a result, secret underground bases were never very practical.
On Regul Aire, they could just use crystal lamps…
Useless thoughts passed through Willem’s head, but, to sum things up, it was dark. Very, very dark. He also never learned any convenient night vision techniques or illumination spells. Moreover, he didn’t have much experience exploring Mazes, which the underground facility reminded him of. He may have looked cool diving in head first, but, unfortunately, he didn’t actually have much of a plan.
Beside him, Nephren ignited a small amount of Venom and passed it through Dindrane, causing the fissures in the blade to glow faintly. “Should I make it stronger?”
“No, this is enough.”
The mighty Kaliyon, humanity’s last hope for salvation, being used as a torch. Willem now realized they should’ve just brought an actual torch, but he hadn’t been thinking about the small details earlier. If Grick were with them, he would definitely be mocking Willem.
He pushed open a nearby door and took a look around in the dim light. To put it simply, it was a messy room. Chaotic mountains of paper buried every desk, every shelf, and practically every empty spot on the floor. The countless documents, which included research reports and scribbled memos, seemed to overwhelmingly assert their presence.
Reminds me of a certain reference room, Willem thought.
He tried searching for another path forward to no avail. If necessary, he could force their way forward by smashing another floor or wall or something. However, Aurora could be lurking anywhere, and his right hand still hurt, so doing so would incur great risks.
“… this…” Nephren picked up one of the pieces of paper. “Research material?”
“It’s probably about how to make the curse that turns humans into Beasts, right?”
“Nn… I don’t think so.”
Hearing Nephren’s doubtful response, Willem took the paper. Geez, get better handwriting. “… what are the Visitors?”
Huh? Obviously, the Visitors were the Visitors, simple as that. Long long ago, they filled the great emptiness by creating the world. They spread lush green across the land, filled the oceans with water, and gave birth to the humans and other races. Then, they split their souls amongst the humans and disappeared.
Just the other day, the last surviving Visitor suddenly awoke and, for some reason, became hostile towards humanity, along with her subordinates, the Poteau. Willem and the others managed to defeat them after much sacrifice, then this and that happened until the present.
“The Visitors did not create the world. They merely altered it.” Oh? Well, that’s religious cults for ya. “This world already existed before they visited. Beings, while not exactly living, existed. But when the Visitors came, they did not like what they saw. So they cursed the world and everything within it.”
Wait wait wait. I’ve never heard this before.
“… Willem?” Nephren asked.
“It’s nothing.” He tossed the memo aside. “A theologist might get a laugh out of it, but it doesn’t have anything to do with us right now.”
As he looked around at the mountains of paper once more, the clash of a sword suddenly reached his ears.
“I heard it.”
It didn’t come from that far away. He could clearly nail down the direction of the source. At the very least, someone was there. And more than likely, something was there too. They dashed out of the room and into the darkness once again.
Nephren’s widely spread wings provided enough illumination to safely sprint down the hallways. Along the way, they spotted numerous signs which said ‘no graffiti!’ stuck onto the walls. They appeared to be ineffective, however, as equations, curses, and all sorts of other ominous writing buried the blank spaces in between them.
Humans grew too much. The initial curse will reach its limit.
The Emnetwyte should not have come into existence. Their creation was the first and greatest mistake of the Visitors.
Willem briefly glanced at some of the words as they dashed by.
Visitors! Why did you create the humans?
Look at what your homesickness has brought upon this land! Look what it has stolen!
Screams of agony written in sloppy handwriting lined the walls.
The first thing they noticed were mountains of Aurora, or, more accurately, mountains of severed Aurora corpses. Next, they saw Navrutri sitting with his back against the wall nearby.
“Hey…” Navrutri, who probably sensed the light approaching, looked up. His same old smile spread across his face, but this time it carried none of its usual liveliness. “I was wondering who was coming. How’d you find this place, Willem?”
A deep red stained Navrutri’s entire body below his chest. The flesh on his stomach had become no more than a gruesome clump of blood and guts, likely as a result of being mutilated and pierced by countless needles. He clearly didn’t have much longer.
Willem guessed that his Kaliyon, Lapidem Sybilus, was the only thing keeping him conscious. The elite class Kaliyons all had their own specialized Talents; Lapidem had the ability to forcefully maintain its user’s mental and physical condition as long as it stayed activated. However, it couldn’t clog up opened wounds or stop bleeding. It could do nothing in the face of inevitable death.
“The old curse faded. We needed to curse humanity once more. But we couldn’t. We obtained the corpse of a god. We smashed her soul to pieces. But still, we couldn’t recreate the Visitors’ curse.”
Lapidem Sybilus’ light began to fade. Navrutri’s Venom had begun to wane.
“We can’t do it by ourselves… we need… the wisdom… of the ‘Foreigner’…”
His eyes no longer looked towards Willem. Their gaze became fixed on some faraway place.
“But… we’re out… of time…”
The hand which Navrutri had held out dropped to the ground. His bearded face, that face which always carried his signature jokester smile, twisted into an expression of pain and suffering before stiffening.
“What are you saying all of a sudden? I don’t get it…” Unable to control his emotions, Willem started hurling insults at that lifeless body. “What are you doing!? You can’t die now! You can’t fail now! If you wanted to save us, finish the job! You’re a Brave, aren’t you!? That’s your duty!”
He clenched his fists. He wanted to give Navrutri one last good punch, but, after raising his arm, he gave up. Instead, he picked up Lapidem Sybilus.
“Whatever battle you guys were fighting, it doesn’t matter anymore. The outcome was decided five hundred years ago, and we can’t do anything to change that. But…”
Willem ignited his Venom. The high class Lapidem Sybilus didn’t accept him. The cracks along its blade opened ever so slightly, and light streamed out, but nothing more. In his hands, it was no more than a big, glowing sword, not a Kaliyon forged to help humanity stand against enemies who far surpassed them.
“Should I wield it?” Nephren asked.
Willem shook his head, then turned to face the path ahead.
Amongst the enveloping darkness of the underground facility, he saw faint rays of light pouring out from the next door.