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Thread: [Quest] Lost Singularity - Fimbulwinter

  1. #1461
    The Long-Forgotten Sight Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    I mean the alternative is becoming kindling lol
    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  2. #1462
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    For what it's worth, choosing "4" as Maria's choice may very well lead to Javier's death, regardless of whether he defeats Mummu or not.

  3. #1463
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Bird of Hermes's Avatar
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    4 & 2.

    Shine on, crazy diamond.

  4. #1464
    Time to burn some dread Daneel Rush's Avatar
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    (BGM)

    To have ESP is to have an additional sense, with its additional neurological pathways. It is to perceive the world in a different way. The nature of the mutation leads to varying degrees of psychological alteration—it is foolish to expect something that does not interact with the world the same way as an ordinary human to behave like an ordinary human.

    Ricardo Schrerer’ ESP is “tremorsense,” the ability to perceive vibrations in solid matter. It is nothing particularly impressive amidst the vast catalog of psychic abilities. The challenge that comes with an additional dimension of perception is dealing with the additional sensory input, and the moral implications of access to information unavailable to ordinary humans. In the case of Ricardo Scherer, he is armed with the perfect weapon to bear with the burdens of his ESP: unshakable faith. His devotion to God and duty is his support and his compass, on which he can reconcile his tiny shard of ‘transhumanity’, if it may even be called that.

    No amount of faith, however, can protect Father Scherer from the sensory overload produced by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or the likes of two buildings falling from the sky.

    That is why the churchman now rests on a bed, his brain shut down into the peace of unconsciousness. Marco Ahrens carefully wipes blood seeping out of the priest’s nostrils.



    “Will he be alright?” asks Oliver Drake, who along with his wife was rudely woken up by the aforementioned falling buildings. The STRIFE agent takes a good look at the local jeweler, and the puffs of vapor of his breath quickly condensed in the air. The man looks like he really needs his sleep, but there will be none of that for now, it seems.

    “…probably,” he says. “His brain needs to take a break.”

    “I think we all need to take a break,” Oliver retorts. “You alright? Haven’t seen you catch a wink.”

    “It’s fine. I’m built different.” And somebody has to keep watch in Maria’s absence. “How’s Alicia?”

    “Trying to get back to sleep, but…”

    It is hard to even think of sleep when the ground shudders, explosions rock in the distance, and the sky is shattered and aberrant. When they know the ones who left hours ago must be fighting yet another battle. When they don’t know if the battle is going to ever reach them, or they will just die all of a sudden, ignorant of just what claimed their lives.

    “I didn’t know it would be so frustrating, to send others off to fight while I’m here safe and worthless.”

    “Not everybody can be a warrior, Mr. Drake,” Marco posits. “Not everybody should be a warrior. And even if you aren’t, you already proved you’re willing to fight for what matters.”

    “Well, yeah, I can do at least that much,” Oliver declares as if it were obvious. And perhaps to him it is. “Whoever wants to harm Alicia has to do it over my dead body.”

    Marco chuckles at that. It is nice, indeed, to be so in love.

    “What about you?” The Valpo then asks. “What matters to you?”

    Taking one last look at the unconscious priest, Marco pushes himself to his feet, standing tall and straight to gaze at the shattered sky beyond the small bedroom’s even smaller (and shattered) square window. He minds not the terrible, chilling breeze seeping in through such a small space, right on his face.

    “I’ve already well overstayed my welcome. No homunculus is built to last for 70 years, not even one built by Black Sun Alchemy. The senostatic treatments that preserved this body for so long no longer work. No matter what, I will not leave this city alive.”

    There is no sadness in his gruff, serious voice. This is a man who has come to terms with his own end a long time ago. The fact he already died once probably helped.

    “The only thing that matters to me by this point is a good conclusion.”

    (BGM STOP)


    *** ***


    The battle in the streets of Valparaíso has reached something of a lull. There is no rampaging flame nor all-destroying blackness flooding all-too-wrecked surroundings. This allows a tiny fly, a minuscule thing that should not even be alive in this cold, to carefully creep unseen across the shattered pavement to reach the girl lying still. When it touches her skin, magic happens.


    *** ***


    (BGM)

    “So, what now?”

    Liria is alone in the dark. Her world has become an utterblack in which only she exists. The ocean of vermin that used to surround and engulf her were far from good company, but now it just feels too lonely in this vast immensity of nothing.

    She is alone. She is completely and truly alone. Or at least she was, until the fly made it here.

    Standing on the tip of her nose, it looks unsettlingly large, claiming so much of her field of vision. However, she has been in the company of all sorts of creepy crawlies for so long that she is well past disgust or repugnance. If anything, compared to some of the other things that have crawled on, slithered on, and even penetrated her, a fly is almost cute.

    This is the first time one of the critters talk, though. The voice…feels familiar, but her thoughts are so foggy she can’t…

    “What…?”

    “We really don’t have time for this, Liria. I’m asking you if you want to keep fighting.”

    Fighting…right, she was…fighting?

    Flashes of something—memories? Feelings?—strike her like physical blows. It is all pain, desperation, futility, and hopelessness. Was that really a battle? Or just a one-sided slaughter?

    “Damn it…”

    In her solitude, she sobs. It would be easy to blame Javier for picking her and her useless skillset, but that does not take away the frustration, the sheer disappointment at being so utterly, despicably useless.

    “…no. Javier had a good plan. The two of us had possible ways to pull that thing out of Nomikata.”

    “You would have to take it into yourself.”

    “Can’t be worse than how it is right now. But…Assassin’s gone.”

    “Isn’t that a good thing?”

    Nina closes her eyes. It doesn’t make much of a difference; she just doesn’t see herself or the fly.

    “…I…there were still things I wanted to do. Old affairs to resolve. Besides, that girl…

    “…Liria, sometimes I think you’re too good a person.”

    Liria disagrees. If anything, the feelings that drive her regrets are black and muddy.

    “But, that’s alright. Leave the rest to me.”

    “Caster…? What…are you gonna do…?”

    “Who better than a writer to come up with a miracle?”


    *** ***




    (BGM)

    “Look at this!” Elisabeth speaks probably the loudest she ever has, gesturing at the sky above them. “Is this what you want!?”

    Isolde does not even know what ‘this’ is.

    “That over there is ‘Isolde’. His win is my win. And you guys are all fucked.”

    “Is it, really? You seriously think that thing is on your side!?”

    Elisabeth’s insistence builds up the other Hexensoldat’s confidence, allowing her nasty grin to grow a bit larger.

    “Like-I-said, it’s Isolde, and Isolde’s the only one I can trust—”

    “Can you say in full confidence that you wouldn’t betray yourself?”

    Isolde does not answer immediately, and that in itself is an answer.

    “Sh-shut the fuck up!”

    “No, you shut up,” speaks the person apparently forgotten by the other two.

    Isolde never really stood a chance. Even the weakest Servant is still a Servant.



    A single of Caster’s hairs splits into threads of golden light that capture Isolde, holding them tight and forcing them to fall roughly on the ground.

    “You…bitch…!” Isolde growls in their bindings. “Let! Me! Go!”

    “Please be quiet for a while,” Caster retorts, drawing a cuneiform sign that lingers on the tip of her finger. When it touches Isolde’s head, they shake as if jolted by electricity before dropping unconscious. Caster sighs, looking down at the figure she can see with nothing but pity, before turning to Elisabeth.

    “Thank you, child.”

    “Are, are you alright?”

    Caster finds some humor in the question, or perhaps on the one asking it.

    “You know they couldn’t do anything to me. More importantly…”

    She takes a good look at the youngest of Enheduanna’s ‘daughters’.

    “You…you’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”

    For a moment, it looks like Elisabeth is going to burst into tears right then and there. However, she forces her lips to stop trembling while shaking her head.

    “I…I’ll be fine. It’ll be fine now,” she claims, as if trying to convince herself. Caster smiles, for this is better than nothing.

    “I would Project a new eyepatch, but I am afraid it would not last long.”

    She pauses, well aware that ever second wasted could mean the end of Javier and Liria. However…

    “So? You could destroy Isolde now,” she proposes, gesturing at the figure at her feet. Elisabeth shudders.

    “I…I don’t…”

    “P-Please don’t kill us…”

    Both Caster and Elisabeth shake in surprise at the unexpected voice.



    Their large eyes stare pleadingly at their younger sister.

    “I don’t want to die…I…understand, I lost…” Dejectedly, they turn their gaze away, staring at the chilly floor on which they rest. “I wanted my wish, but…I really, I really didn’t want to…hurt anyone…”

    “I see…” Caster muses, quickly trying to figure out why a person who should be unconscious isn’t. “You compartmentalize the two parts of your chimeric soul. That’s how you can project the other Isolde into others to take control of their bodies. That’s how your magecraft works, isn’t it?”

    Elisabeth stares at her sibling, her sole visible eye wide in equal parts confusion and fear, unable to quite get just who or what is talking to her. Unfortunately, Caster is out of time to converse with these children.

    “In any case, your issues are yours to face. Whatever conclusion you reach is yours and the other girls’ to decide. There is nothing I can do for you; I have my own conclusion to write, right now.”

    Caster walks away from the two Hexensoldaten, the air around her rippling and glowing rich gold as she summons the notebook she hid in a space separate from this world. The modern era quickly taught her the convenience of pen and paper over clay and stylus. The medium does not matter; what matters is the story.

    To use her Noble Phantasm, she first needs to write a story, but there is no rule stating she has to write it right before using it. This notebook contains the stories she has prepared beforehand, just in case. Of course, she has one for Liria’s sake.

    This is the story of the person that became Liria Colhuán’s Servant.


    *** ***


    (BGM)
    This is an ancient tale. This is, indeed, a very ancient tale.
    A tale like many in this long-gone era, yet nevertheless a tale worth telling.
    A village ever sun-kissed, plagued by drought.
    Hunger brought disease, desperation, violence and death.
    Parents saw their children die. Children saw their parents die.
    Vultures and dogs fed on bodies too emaciated,
    And in their hunger, they turned on the living as well.

    It was the last of the elders who thought of a path to salvation.
    He knew of a certain relic: the corpse of a holy man, untouched by time.
    Its presence in their hapless village would beckon the blessing of the gods.

    Yet, they were impeded by their own beliefs.
    To touch a corpse was forbidden, its holiness no exception.
    The death of a holy man is always the triumph of evil—so they believed.
    Its unchanging presence would beckon benediction, yes,
    But it would also attract all malediction towards itself.

    Thus, they chose a sacrifice. A lone soul to bear the pollution.
    A pristine young maiden would bear the flood of evil.
    The child alone carried the holy corpse to the newly raised shrine,
    And that shrine became her prison everlasting,
    For only she, now bearing the taint of breaking taboo,
    Could look after the relic carrying the village’s hopes.

    It proved all for naught; the drought unceasing, the hunger unending.
    They were quick to blame the child, assuming she mistreated their treasure.
    They wished her dead, but dared not approach her polluted form,
    So, they sealed the shrine, and left her to starve.

    The maiden did not know, could not know.
    Dutifully looking after the relic that damned her, even as her body faltered.
    Nonetheless she thought, for even one so young may question her fate.

    “Even if the others are also hungry and thirsty, they still have each other.”
    “They can love each other, hold each other, suffer together.”
    “If I am to die, why can’t I die in my mother’s arms?”
    “Let me be with mine. Let me return home.”
    The girl died thinking this, with no other company but one dead long before her.

    That evening, as the earth cooled down, a lone viper slithered its way into the village.
    Sneaking into the girl’s family’s hut, it eagerly pursued the lost maiden’s mother.
    The family head, as expected, crushed the snake’s head with the end of his cane.
    It is then that healing rain began to fall, to much rejoicing.
    The villagers celebrated heartily, well into the morning,
    Yet the rain would not cease, pouring far more than the soil would drink.
    The dry riverbed rapidly filled, and then flooded, erasing the village from the face of the earth.

    This, too, was only as expected.
    For no righteous god would grant blessing to those who would destroy a child’s life.

    This tale is the work of Sîn-lēqi-unninni.
    There are many such stories, but this one is penned by her hand.
    Blessed be great Ishtar, who has bestowed her with grace.


    *** ***
    This is not the real story.

    Caster has changed it, all the way to the ending, for her own convenience. Adapting it to her purpose.

    By changing the story, she changes the legend. By changing the legend, she changes the Servant.

    This is the privilege allowed the one who compiled the first great heroic epic.



    Ša Nagba Īmuru
    From the Deep Arise Myriad Fathomless Stars
    .”



    *** ***


    (BGM STOP)

    FOUND YOU.

    Javier Lucero is the only one who could, perhaps, have done something about it, but he is too slow to even realize what is happening. He, too, does feel the rising flare of magical energy somewhere in the distance, potent enough to be perceived even by those ungifted with such canny perception. However, he cannot give it meaning before ‘Isolde’ acts.

    A single outstretched hand emits a beam of concentrated destruction.


    This is all it takes.


    *** ***



    (BGM)

    Elisabeth shrieks. A more muted gasp escapes little Isolde.

    Ah, a direct hit, as expected.

    Caster…doesn’t really feel much of anything anymore. There is a vague feeling of falling, but she feels not the impact with the ground as her body is already breaking apart into loose magical energy and spiritrons.

    It matters not. She has already achieved what she intended to do, with full awareness that using her Noble Phantasm would allow Mummu to pinpoint her location.

    This is good. Please, beloved gods: let me be the sacrifice.

    She, who never fought in life, could not be expected to come out unscathed from this battle, while two young people with their whole lives ahead of them bleed and suffer to survive.

    Let my existence burn in the altar of this conflict, so that those two may live.

    She does not know how far extends the effectiveness of this nigredo. For all she knows, it might outright remove her from the Throne. Albeit unlikely, she would not mind much. Just a single one of their lives is worth at least that much.

    Young Javier, the excellence you seek will not come from that flame. I pray you find the wisdom to pursue your true self.

    There are voices nearby. She feels magical warmth like gentle rain on her skin, but this is not something magecraft can fix. This is her end, and she welcomes it.

    Dearest Liria: live. Fiercely, desperately, pathetically, beautifully. Live with everything you have. That is enough. Therein lies true beauty.

    She was a mere priestess, who happened to complete a rather ambitious project. For whatever reason, that was enough to place her name amongst the exalted. It was her way with the stylus that elevated her to the Throne, not the heart willing to offer her life for the sake of a young man and woman.

    Her life was the smallest of prices. Her stylus made the miracle.

    Beloved goddess…it was the greatest of joys…to bask in your presence…

    To exist in this frozen world was its own reward. In death, as well as in life, she was privileged to serve glorious and most beautiful Ishtar. Oh, if only she could brag about this to somebody. Oh, if only she could render this tale into words, herself a mere side character, so fortunate as to witness such terrible and wondrous events. Oh, regret, you are truly the most loyal companion of man.

    …my goddess…I wish you…a conclusion worthy…of your everlasting radiance…


    *** ***


    “…thank you for your work.”

    The Maid’s quiet voice draws a number of faces towards her, but she says no more. They are quickly torn away by the shifting sky outside the window, so none of them disrupt her quiet solemnity. It is sheer coincidence that Senta’s gaze lingers on her enough to notice her clasping her hands together, and her eyes closing in silent prayer.

    No goddess would pray for one of her servants. Then again, this woman here is no mere goddess.

    (BGM STOP)


    *** ***




    Streets of Valparaíso
    Day 04
    Evening Phase – 13
    Sheer cold (-31°C/-25.6°F)

    Javier’s Status
    Health: Poor
    Sustenance: Optimal
    Warmth: Good
    Stamina: Stable
    Magic circuits active.
    (BGM)

    THAT MAKES ONE LESS NUISANCE.

    Caster is dead.

    I have no way to ascertain this, but I feel with profound confidence that Caster is dead.

    Caster is dead, and I did nothing to stop it. I can only grit my teeth, because cursing at this asshole will only feed its ego.

    What…am I supposed to do, then?

    I…I just found a vast world. There’s still so much I want to see. So much I want to learn.

    I want to be there for Liria, no matter what path she chooses in the end. To believe in her, the way she believes in me.

    I want to pester Fiore until she acknowledges my magecraft. I don’t care two bits about Helena Blavatsky, but I want to be a good mage. A capable mage.

    I, I promised Ortrud…it’s just an idea, but perhaps, perhaps there’s a chance to give those two hopeless sisters a life to atone for their mistakes, to build something good and fruitful.

    I…I still have nothing for myself, but, but…I want to be here. In this world. I want to be the man Father Scherer has always believed I can be. No, something even greater than that. I want a life I can feel proud of when it ends.

    So, I have to fight. And I have to win, as Javier Lucero. I can’t lose, neither to this guy, nor to the flame.

    And to do that, now that everything I’ve tried has been fruitless…I have to try something completely different. That’s common sense.

    Spoiler:


    “I mean, you have a Fire affinity, don’t you? Isn’t that by definition more compatible with Linga-Śarīra?”
    …yeah, no. Linga-Śarīra is unthinkable. It would take me years, if not decades, to learn that spell. It’s several orders of magnitude harder than Sthūla. It’s a level of theosophic mastery I cannot even begin to imagine.

    Impossible. Not even worth thinking about.



    …but, there’s worth in trying out the external path, even if not the whole way to Linga. Enheduanna was right: flame is something that spreads outwards, not something to be contained inwards. It is true that I already have things like Fireball through which I emit flames, but a Śarīra spell is different. Sthūla is the ideal expression of the body, of the vision of the ideal form that normally belongs only to the realm of the hypothetical.

    I can’t go all the way to Linga, but…how about a partial casting? Projecting only what belongs to the divine flame? But, then how do I keep it from doing whatever it wants? That’d just be the same as Sthūla

    …no, wait, I’m thinking about this the wrong way. I’m thinking too close to Linga; that’s too ambitious. I have to think of an external casting, but closer to Sthūla.

    …a body. A body suitable for the flame. Sort of like casting Sthūla not on myself, but on the flame itself. An intermediate body…a spiritual body…well, shit, I think I got it.

    …I can do this.


    Whatever ‘Isolde’ is doing, it’s taking its sweet time. The giant just stands there, doing whatever it is doing without a care in the world. Above us, the scintillating cracks keep spreading like webbing as if to fully cover the whole sky. They shine like crystal, their own light endlessly refracted by other cracks to build a kaleidoscopic scene that becomes harder to look at by the minute.

    I close my eyes.

    That broken sky is beautiful, but it is also wrong.

    It is not the sky of our world.

    I don’t know what ‘Isolde’ is trying to do to the world, but the result will definitely won’t be ‘our world’. I have to stop this.



    I have to burn that sky.

    (BGM)

    I remember the me from a few years ago. Nowadays I can cast Sthūla in a heartbeat, but it wasn’t always like that, of course. The first time I cast it successfully, I needed a whole ten lines; my longest ever incantation—a sequence of lines that somehow switch my mind and my body into the right state for the spell to work.

    I have to remember that feeling. I have to remember those lines…and then turn them inside out.

    “Body, Prana, Eidolon, Kama rupa. Manas, Buddhi, Atma.
    I am complete. I am human.”

    The sevenfold design of man is the very core of Theosophic Human Alchemy. A perfectly laid out path towards theosophic enlightenment, encompassing both the physical and the transcendental; that which can be concretely conceived by human minds, and that which can only be vaguely imagined.

    “This truth I now present to the world.
    So that it may wonder at the ideal form.”

    Yes, not an ideal hidden within, but displayed outwards. A shape worthy of the ideal; that is the objective.

    ‘Isolde’ has noticed what I am doing—of course it has; it’s not like I’m being subtle. If it attacks me right now, it’ll all be over. However, it already made its warning: it is expecting my move, with utmost confidence that it can take on whatever I pull off.

    We’ll see.

    “Ever growing, never hidden.
    I am the truth of all creation.”

    As above, so below. The secrets of heaven are the secrets of man. Everything follows the same sevenfold principle. That is the fundamental conceit of theosophy. That is why, hypothetically, mastery of Human Alchemy should naturally lead to Cosmic Alchemy. Failure at this is not a failure of the system, but failure of the alchemist.

    The flame pulsates inside me, as if aware something is about to happen. Yes, if everything is connected by the same principles, then communion with this flame is not something demanding struggle. It should be something natural.

    What is humanity? What is divinity? What does the difference matter? We’re both part of the same World.

    “The truth of all creation has always existed in me.
    Now, I give it shape, never to be contained.”

    Shape. That is the keyword. The difference. This is a spell that taps into something beyond what exists in my physical body, or even my magic circuits.

    This is magecraft of the soul. The greed of theosophy magecraft: reaching for the unreachable. Giving shape to the fathomless.

    I guess that’s why it suits me.

    This is not a miracle only I can experience. This will be a miracle to be showed to the entire world. Let them witness the ideal shape born of my soul clad in smoke and magma.

    Just like that ‘Isolde’ is placing a new layer on the sky and the world, I’ll place a new layer atop myself. I will create not a ‘better’ me, but ‘a me that is more’.



    “A new shell manifest atop myself.
    Mine shape is the shape of the gods.”


    *** ***


    To its credit, ‘Isolde’ reacts promptly to the buildup of magical energy, almost reminiscent of a Noble Phantasm, except that it seems to come from below. It releases a swift barrage of six beams of collimated destruction, six times the doom it set upon Caster.

    It is too late, however.

    (BGM)



    The world is already exclaiming in exultation.

    Their corrector is here.

    Status Change
    Health: Poor -> Stable
    Warmth: Good -> Superb
    Stamina: Stable -> Optimal
    Magic circuits active.


    *** ***


    This is…I see. I feel things I would not be able to perceive with my ordinary senses.

    The earth hums, and the perception of the things on the ground I would normally have to consciously request from it now shines clearly in my mind. But it isn’t just physical perception. It is not just feeling the hum of the earth, or the beat of the flame. I feel…a distant sensation of pain and anger. A quiet lamentation.

    The land is suffering.

    It demands restitution. It demands correction.

    I understand now, what the flame truly wants.

    Not yet. Not before we deal with everything else first.

    Saying the flame agrees would be a mistake. After all, right now we are sharing the same ‘shape’. Thus, there is no debate to be had. Because we are one.

    I am surrounded by smoke, both that of me and that which is not of me. Dark-colored beams pierce through the smoke pointlessly, the ones that happen to strike my ‘shape’ bear no effect as expected. Alright then, I did not cast this spell to hide in the smoke.

    I step forward. It is almost like walking on air, for I do not need to apply force on the ground, and the ground does not need to push back against me. I move forward because it is my desire to move forward, and the World’s desire is for me to move forward.

    To fight.

    ‘Isolde’ has no means to show emotion on what passes for a face in that body. Yet, the orbs that seem to fulfill the role of eyes, glowing like the centers of two galaxies, appear somewhat larger for a bit.

    …THE FUCK ARE YOU?

    Me? Who else? Is such a simple change of ‘shape’ enough to confuse this guy?



    “Javier Lucero.”


    It repeats its barrage, streaks of darkness crashing on my ‘shape’ of flame and smoke without effect.

    WHY…AREN’T YOU UNDONE!?

    “It didn’t work before. Why are you expecting it to work now?”

    There is no point in explaining. This is a ‘shape’ for the flame. In other words, this ‘shape’ has the same properties as the flame. The magical energy that makes those beams is simply burnt to nothing on contact. Anyway, I guess it’s my turn.

    I pat the ground with my foot, and the ground answers my gesture with enthusiasm.


    ‘Isolde’ only gets a gasp of surprise before the ground opens under his feet, releasing a violent vortex of flame and molten rock. That gasp quickly becomes a scream, but…it is lacking. There is no pain in that scream, only fury.

    DO NOT MOCK ME!

    The thing cosmic howls, its already-dark body covered in flaring, dancing darkness. That’s right…this is an ancient Mesopotamian divine spirit. Of course it has melam.

    YOUR PATHETIC FLAME AND MAGMA CAN’T HURT ME! YOU CAN’T HURT ME!

    That’s where he/she/it/whatever is wrong. I can hurt it. I only need a single step.



    BUAGH—!

    It spits out a strange sound when my ‘shape’ of smoke and flames charges into his, the meeting both fiery and explosive. Its body almost twice as large as my own flies half a block away, crashing harshly and crudely into the ground, like a discarded wet rag. Needless to say, I give no respite. I pat the ground again, and again the response is immediate and ferocious, engulfing my enemy in a localized eruption.

    WHY!?

    ‘Isolde’ howls a question to the heavens, before the eruption explodes outwards as it is consumed by an outpour of darkness. The giant prowls out of the depths of its own alchemical miasma, its eyes like cosmic flames blazing vividly.

    WHY CAN YOU OVERPOWER MY NIGREDO!?

    “Because you hold no authority here.”

    That is my answer. The ground shakes gently as if humming its agreement.

    “And you may call it ‘conceptual destruction’ or whatever, and it may resonate with whatever you are, but in the end, you’re just using magecraft. Nomikata’s magecraft. And that’s not invincible.”

    Enheduanna did mention it: this ‘singularity’ is separated from the rest of the World. In here, the imposing sovereignty of Man upon the planet is weakened. Even if Enheduanna has usurped this land from both Man and World, in here the ancient powers long subjugated by the growth of mankind can fight back.

    DON’T GIVE ME THAT CRAP! I…I AM PRIMORDIAL! I AM THE BEGINNING, THE FOUNTAINHEAD OF IDEAS!

    “No, you are not.”

    My rebuttal is immediate. Of course it is. Isn’t it obvious, that now that I hold this different ‘shape’, I see the world, and this creature, with different eyes?

    “You’re a vestige. You know, Maria did explain Servants to me. If a Servant is a single page of the book that is a figure larger-than-life, then you’re at most a single word ripped out of that page and crudely pasted on the book of Seigi Nomikata.”

    Noxious smoke seeps out of the cracks left behind by the two micro-eruptions from earlier. It dances, and swirls around, as if wishing to become one with my ‘shape’. Or perhaps it is already part of me. Debris jumps and trickles off the heaps left behind by ‘Isolde’s disastrous building drops. Indeed, the ground still shakes, its rhythm my heartbeat. This is not my doing—it is merely the land responding to my presence, to our agreement, our covenant.

    I didn’t ask for this power. It was merely a coincidence that me of all children born that day in Araucania received the divine flame. We can work together only as long as we share a common enemy and purpose. But, while we are together, like this, as one, it would be too much of an embarrassment for me to lose.

    Right now, right here, I can’t lose!

    “You’re not welcome here. You’re not wanted here. You don’t belong here. You won’t receive any kindness here. The only thing you have left here, is to burn.”


    *** ***




    “Hmm…” Enheduanna murmurs unheard and unnoticed, her eyes closed as she goes over everything that is happening. She does not need to reevaluate anything, of course. She cannot be disrupted by something at this level.

    “I know this feeling,” Sakura begins, speaking of the presence that seems to be flooding their very surroundings. “This is Javier, isn’t it?”

    “It feels different, though,” Fiore posits, and Senta nods at this. “It is…fearsome, yes, but I do not feel targeted. There is no pointed hostility.”

    “The scent of divinity is not as…what’s the world I’m looking for, pupper?”

    “Hmm…” Garmr seems to be pushing his brains to the limit as he considers Maria’s question. “…juicy?”

    “…nope, that’s definitely not it.”

    “Mother, the hell’s going on?” Ortrud asks the obvious question, walking over to stand next to Enheduanna, who vaguely acknowledges her presence with the barest of glances.

    “…my former student has achieved Anuṣṭhāna-Śarīra.”

    Archer and Ortrud, the only two who understand that sentence, both widen their eyes in obvious surprise. The Maid turns around to face the others, to whom obviously that concrete explanation meant nothing.

    “Theosophists recognize the existence of something called Linga: an imperishable metaphysical ‘body’ that does not degrade and is inextricably attached to every individual soul. You could state that the objective of the theosophic mage is achieving the death of his Linga, for that would be synonymous with the soul’s immortal communion with Akasha.”

    She explains without being requested to do so because she is an instructor at heart.

    “What my student has achieved is a partial materialization of a Linga. Projection magecraft, to put it simply.”

    “No, no, but…” Fiore seems to have a bit of an issue grasping the idea. “Is it really that straightforward? Believing something exists doesn’t mean it really exists.”

    “You could say the same about the soul,” The Maid counters.

    “No, but, even if we have no way to interact directly with it…” Outside of True Magic, of course. “There is plenty of indirect proof of the existence of the soul.”

    “This is not the time nor the place to go into detail, but the theosophical model of man vastly expands the possibilities of what can and cannot be done with and to the soul,” Enheduanna declares. “It is a preliminary step in the direction mages will have to follow when the traditional ways of magecraft are rendered inert.”

    Nobody has a reply to a blunt reminder of the inevitable end of magecraft, which allows Maria to redirect the discussion back to a more productive direction.

    “Who gives a fuck how it works! Is he gonna be okay? This isn’t gonna fuck him up even more somehow!?”

    “Oh, no, not in the slightest,” The Maid calmly replies. “His circuits will be strained by the effort, of course, but this was in fact a very good idea to manifest the divine flame without affecting him.” She turns to Ortrud to her right. “I would assume he got it from you.”

    The fourth Hexensoldat does not seem particularly proud or happy, her brow deeply furrowed in concerned thought.

    “No, how can it possibly be safe if it’s a partial Linga…!” Her normally narrow eyes grow like Ping-Pong balls upon reading the twinkle in her creator’s eye. “You said he partially materialized a Linga, not his Linga…!”

    “Indeed,” The Maid says, acknowledging her daughter’s insight with a nod. “To safely manifest the flame and overcome Marduk, he has rendered himself clad in the Linga of a god.”

    A dark chuckle from the High Priestess turned divine.

    “How blasphemous.”


    *** ***


    DON’T YOU FUCKING TALK BACK TO ME!

    “Leave my land alone!”

    I respond to its punching the ground with a firm stomp. Whatever it intended to do by infusing its magical energy into the ground, I will stubbornly deny with the flame. This land has suffered enough.

    Its magecraft rendered into a nothingness completer than its nigredo, ‘Isolde’ howls in crazed frustration. This is neither Nomikata’s nor the ancient spirit’s personality. This madman—or madwoman—is Senta’s, Ortrud’s, and Elisabeth’s sibling. Unsettling, to say the least.


    ‘Isolde’ makes an ample, circling motion with both arms before thrusting them in my direction, unleashing a scouring blast of pressurized air.

    “That only fuels the flame, you know.”

    Indeed, tongues of flame lash out in glee, swirling around me before trailing downwind off my ‘shape’, consuming the dust and debris raised by my opponent’s magecraft. However, by the same it all settles down, ‘Isolde’ is missing. It has disappeared again.

    Right, I never figured out why its ‘teleportation’ or whatever is not nullified by my flame. Obviously, Caster’s idea was mistaken in some way. Even now, the land tells me nothing. It is as invisible to the soil of these hills as it is to me. As if I had been fighting an illusion the whole time. As if it never existed.

    Well, if the land can’t tell me where it is, perhaps the air can. And even if it doesn’t…


    Volcanic smoke pours out of my ‘shape’ almost as if alive, a single colossal black amoeba spreading in every direction, filling every nook and cranny. I have to be careful not to let the smoke settle on ground level, for Liria’s sake. No matter what, the moment ‘Isolde’ appears, he is fucked, because physics.

    Ah, it appeared. Right behind me, of course. Time has slowed down—the land’s perception is instantaneous, but my movement is not. I won’t be able to react in time; if it strikes at my back, it will score a hit. But that will not happen.


    Volcanic smoke is loaded with particles, all of them charged by incessant friction with each other. When ‘Isolde’ appeared, it created a differential in the distribution of mass inside the cloud, and therefore a change in the distribution of charge. Thus, lightning. It’s not even magical.

    AAAAAAAAAA-GHA-GHA-AH-GAHAAAAAGHCK—!

    See? It hurts. No matter what that body looks like, in the end it is the body of a human. I can only pray that, if Seigi Nomikata’s still there, he does not share in his usurper’s pain. Speaking of pain, here’s some more fire.


    I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off a proper Ekhtros until I thoroughly cripple this guy. So, I won’t stop here. I’ll attack more, and more, and more, until this bastard’s not a threat anymore…

    …ah.

    It disappeared again, the asshole—

    I AM THE HAND THAT SHAPES THE PRIMORDIAL MUD! AND I WILL FUCKING DESTROY YOUUUUUUUUU!!!

    It’s put some distance between us. The more it looks like its legs are struggling to bear its weight, the louder it becomes. I’m more worried about what floats above his right hand. It is too tiny to be seen at this distance, but the light it emits is unmistakable.


    This one is smaller; if I had to guess, it’s about as small as one of my nails, but it is still worrisome. The other egg was not that much larger, and it enveloped the whole sky—wait, that just now was a spell incantation!?

    IF WIND DOESN’T WORK, THEN WHAT ABOUT WATER, YOU LIMP-DICKED PIECE OF SHIT!?

    Holy shit!


    The egg explodes into a veritable deluge. Just like Berserker expressed his nigredo as flame, this asshole has manifested it as water! It’s the very opposite of the primal, life-birthing sea; an apocalyptic flood meant to wipe everything clean—

    “Guh—!”

    It hurts! Fuck, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it huuuuurts! Goddammit, the simple idea of water putting out fire is enough to make this much of a difference!

    Status Change
    Health: Stable -> Poor
    Stamina: Optimal -> Good
    I won’t drown, but my ‘shape’ will break apart at this rate! I can’t even tell up from down anymore; this flood will just drag me all the way into the frozen ocean—

    “Bugh—!”

    That was my back impacting the ground—wait, the ground! If I reach…I have to reach…yes!

    The tension spread throughout my body eases down the moment I feel myself sink into the ground, past the concrete and into the packed soil and rock at the base of Valparaíso’s hills. I feel more than hear the onrushing water in its persistent, all-devouring flow. It is as if cleaning a crime scene by flooding it with acid. The rubble of fallen and shattered construction is being removed, rendering the city’s coast a clean slate. The black deluge seeps into the soil, and the land’s whimpers ring clear in my head.

    That’s why I have to stop this monster, right here, right now!



    GUAAAAGH—!

    Yeah, guess this ‘Isolde’ didn’t expect me to surge out of the ground itself. Or an uppercut, for that matter.

    While ‘Isolde’ rolls and squirms on the ground like the worm it is, my own legs wobble and I need a moment to regain proper footing.

    Not yet. I’m not done yet. I still need the adrenaline. I still need this ‘shape’. This can only end when that asshole struggling to stand up over there is defeated!


    *** ***


    (BGM)

    “I’m sorry. There’s really nothing I can do for you,” Liria speaks alone in the darkness. She knows, however, that the girl can hear her. “I mean, you’re dead. You died ages ago. It sucks, but it is how it is.”

    The tragedies of life cannot be amended in death.

    “I know, you missed a lot. There must’ve been things you wanted to do. Things everybody else got to do, but you didn’t.”

    “I get you. Really, I do. That’s why you’re the one who came, right? That’s why you’re my Servant.”

    These are two people who were made to do something they did not quite understand, and by the time they realized something was wrong with their situation, they were already inextricably bound to it.

    “You know, I don’t think I would mind you living vicariously through me. Seriously, if I’m going to stop my current ‘career’, having fly wings and limbs is as good a reason as any. But I don’t think that’s how it works, right? Once this whole mess is over, once we defeat that maid bitch, you’ll have to go, right?”

    The girl is nowhere to be seen, but her presence can be felt in the buzzing of flies; in the slithering of snakes; in the skittering of insects, the croaking of frogs, and the squirming of maggots.

    “My mother turned me into a whore. I had it easy compared to you. Your family, everybody you knew agreed to turn you into a demon for the sake of the greater good.”

    Assassin was gone; unmade by that spirit’s nigredo. She does not know how Caster pulled off this miracle. She cannot know. Nevertheless, Assassin is here again. This reencounter must have a meaning. It must achieve something.

    “You’re a demon who can only pollute and destroy things. There’s no changing that. But, that doesn’t mean we have to be a calamity. That doesn’t mean we can only do harm to the world. That doesn’t mean we cannot make somebody happy. That doesn’t mean I cannot be happy.”

    The vermin swarm around her; a fluttering, hesitant dance. What Enheduanna summoned through her as the catalyst is not some unfeeling system that can only follow a natural directive. It is a human being, who in damnation saved the many, and engraved herself into eternity by carrying the name of an archdemoness.

    “There’s no fulfilling your wish here, but…wouldn’t you rather feel that you coming here wasn’t a complete waste of effort? That you actually achieved something good? Something worthy? That you’re not just the demon? That you are still you?”

    The sounds rise, an ominous, incomprehensible crescendo. Yet, she feels no trepidation. She knows the girl. She understands the girl. That is nothing special.

    Afte all, they’re both just plain, ordinary women.

    “Come on. Let’s fly together.”

    (BGM STOP)


    *** ***


    …ALRIGHT. FINE.

    Something changes.

    (BGM)

    It’s the sky above us. Its scintillating, kaleidoscopic ‘vibration’ (for lack of a better word) has stopped. Whatever ‘Isolde’ was doing up there, it has stopped.

    I DON’T NEED TO TAKE OVER THIS SINGULARITY. YOU. I WILL CRUSH YOU FIRST. YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU’RE TRYING TO PROTECT.

    Its words are accented by a loud rumble of thunder. The sky flashes almost blindingly, as if lightning had followed the thunder. But it is neither lightning nor thunder that fills the air.

    The sky is breaking. It groans like creaking metal as the pieces of space split by the cracks are forced against each other like tectonic plates. At the apex of the sky, where all the cracks meet, the darkness of nigredo begins to spread like an unholy stain in the heavens.

    I DON’T NEED THIS DETESTABLE PLACE, AFTER ALL! I’LL JUST DESTROY IT ALL! ERASE IT ALL!

    “As if I’ll let you!”

    In this ‘shape’, fireballs come out as a mere act of thought. I let loose a ball of flame the size of a car, but ‘Isolde’ just…grabs it. No, it has used nigredo to define a space void of inertia, other than the one ‘Isolde’ itself will place on it, and so it can throw it back at me!

    “As if that’d do anything!”

    The moment I use to dismiss the fireball before it hits me is the same time ‘Isolde’ uses to disappear and reappear to my right, ready to break my neck with a knife hand. However, the same dismissing gesture of my hand can be stretched to intercept the massive dark limb. We remain like that for a moment; a quiet meeting of strengths and glaring. In this ‘shape’, we are equal in both strength and speed, I’d say, not counting its ability to disappear and reappear instantaneously.

    Suddenly, its pulls instead of pushing, slithering its thick arm around my own as it outstretches a leg to hook around my heel. What is this, some sort of Judo bullshit?

    Sorry, but I only know how to fight like a sailor. And sailors, you see, we fight dirty.

    A lame gasp comes out of the giant when its footing is disturbed by the ground beneath his feet shaking and rising unexpectedly. As ‘Isolde’ over-leans forward, I am the one in a position to grab its outstretched arm to fling it with a Judo throw. Of course, the ground on which it lands cracks not due to its weight, but in response to my will, spraying ‘Isolde’ with a geyser of molten rock and noxious smoke.

    RISE, WATERS OF THE BEGINNING! FLOW, ORIGINAL IDEA!

    Its fury and conviction eclipse the pain I inflict. I’ll give ‘Isolde’ that; you’re a tough cookie to break, but you’re still an asshole I gotta put down!

    The localized eruption is put down by an outpouring of black, sludge-like water released by ‘Isolde’ almost like sweat. I have to leap away, but there’s no safe higher ground in this part of the battlefield smoothed clean by the earlier deluge. That’s why…!

    YOU CAN FUCKING FLY NOW!?

    “What’s so surprising? It’s only natural for flames to rise—oof!”

    The fucker just propelled itself straight at me; I barely dodged in time, but my right arm feels like I bumped it hard somewhere. Right, wind magecraft.

    The diminutive egg in its right hand expels a whip of black water, but that amount of liquid is not a threat.

    “If it’s that much, I can just boil it!”

    ‘Isolde’ clicks its tongue at the easy dismissal of its magecraft, but does not hesitate to propel itself again with Nomikata’s wind magecraft. So, we’re doing this with melee combat, then.


    I grunt as I intercept its Muay-Thai knee jab with both arms, and I’m not fast enough to grab the leg before it pulls away for a left hook. Unlike me, ‘Isolde’ does not hover, instead constantly pushing itself in the air with magecraft, granting his attacks additional momentum. My own advantage is my smaller size; I duck and weave around its attempts to punch me and grab me, but it’s nigh impossible to take the initiative from this guy. It doesn’t help that I don’t have the support of the land up here, so I block instead of dodge its next kick, letting it me push me back down to ground level now that the black flood has settled.

    YOU THINK I DON’T SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING!?

    As ‘Isolde’ descends after me, the cosmic egg-thing expands into a globe of black sludge-like water large enough to surround its huge form. Above ‘Isolde’, the darkness at the apex of the sky keeps slowly expanding, the very air creaking and shimmering in surreal ways as it seems to bend around the edges of the growing dark. Is that some sort of black hole?

    Damn it, I can’t waste more time playing with this guy; I have to deal with that thing up there!

    DIE ALREADY!

    It charges at me at the speed of sound, and I know that dodging by lifting myself back up into the air will only open me to a new attack. So, I take ‘Isolde’ head-on, meeting its charge with my own, wreathed in the heat that will boil the water without it bursting on me.


    Status Change
    Health: Stable -> Poor
    Stamina: Good -> Stable
    We both howl our loathing of each other as our hands meet and clasp and challenge the other’s. Water becomes steam that blows away my smoke as it smothers us both, and then fire meets darkness in a muted explosion that hurts neither. The ground cracks beneath our power, and the sky above groans as it is twisted and torn.

    And then the zombies appear.

    WHA—!?

    Truly, neither of us sensed their approach until they were already there, swarming ‘Isolde’ from every direction, tackling it and piling themselves on it like reckless rugby players.

    “Javier!” An all too familiar voice calls out right before monstrous arms wrap themselves around my torso and pull me away. “Huh, you look like you’re made of smoke, but I can carry you after all. Weird.”

    She is right there, next to me. She’s alive. She looks fine, if a bit…different.

    Assassin of the Black Sun – Final Ascension Art

    “…you look like the kind of superhero children will never love.”

    “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately, Javier?”

    IS THIS SOME KIND OF BAD JOKE!?

    It almost bears no mention—the zombies are thoroughly unmade by a blast of dark-colored magical energy.

    “Still didn’t work.”

    “Nope, it worked just fine. They did what they had to do,” Liria counters. “More importantly, can you do something about that shit up there?”

    I glance up at the “hole” in the sky.

    “…I think so.”

    Liria nods, her eyes now a full, vivid red, utterly inhuman. If anything, the globe looks more like an insect’s many faceted eyes, a lot like the adornment she now wears on her head.

    “Alright, then leave this idiot to me and go save us all.”

    “Can you win?”

    She chuckles, and it sounds strangely comforting. She is alright. She is really alright now.

    “I already won.”

    “Say no more, then.”

    I acknowledge her conviction, letting my body rise off the ground and soar into the sky as if weightless like a flame.

    She trusts me, so I will trust her. I’m not so full of myself to claim something stupid like “I’m the one who has to beat Isolde!”

    Stopping the calamity in the sky is far more important.


    This darkness that will destroy everything if left alone, I will end it here and now! I can’t think about holding back here; I gotta put everything I have on this! It’s just a spell of humongous size; I just have to burn the magical energy that sustains it! Even the strongest acid can be boiled; even a Holy Grail will melt if thrown in a sufficiently hot flame!

    I’m not throwing any fireballs; the flame is thoroughly concentrated around my ‘shape’, which is also the flame. I’ll just charge straight on!

    I don’t need a divine appointment to choose to protect my world! I’ll just do it because I can!

    “AaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”




    *** ***

    Quest Master's Note: The Servant profile of Assassin has been updated. Caster's profile has been completed.

  5. #1465
    Time to burn some dread Daneel Rush's Avatar
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    (BGM)

    Liria looks up at Javier’s ascending form, well aware that their enemy is doing the same.

    “You don’t get to go after him, you know.”

    Mummu lets its face fall to glare at the young woman.

    UNGRATEFUL BITCH. I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU GOT THAT DEMON BACK, BUT YOU SHOULD’VE STAYED DOWN.

    “Didn’t feel like it, after all,” Lira retorts. “And nobody asked for your self-centered compassion. Did you feel like being a little nice to me because I’m a whore? Because I also know how it feel to be fucked by somebody who doesn’t give a shit about you?”

    SHUT UP.

    “Or maybe you thought doing that made you a good person, as if you can tally up good and bad deeds on some sort of moral ledger?”

    SHUT UP!


    “You do remember I’m way faster than you, right?” Liria retorts not quite loudly enough, swaying to let the beam streak past her lithe form before taking to the sky with her dipteran wings. Indeed, while both Javier’s and Mummu’s speeds are equally superhuman, Assassin’s own speed, albeit nothing particularly special compared to the top Servants, is still in its own category compared to the one who has usurped Seigi Nomikata’s body.

    “Look, I really don’t have time to play around, so I’m just going to get this over with,” Liria declares as she gracefully lands on the ground smoothed out by Mummu’s earlier flood. Mummu’s body tenses despite seemingly not having anything resemble muscle fibers anymore. It is obvious it does not like Liria’s newfound confidence, almost bordering cockiness.

    “I’m gonna ask you a favor, Mister Spirit or whatever the hell you are,” she continues, stretching her right arm in its direction and resting her thumb on her middle finger.

    “Please don’t die. We’re still trying to save Nomikata, you know.”

    STOP IIIIIIIIIIIIIITTT!!!!!

    Mummu yells as it feels the rapid buildup of magical energy, all the while conjuring small globules of viscous darkness around its great form.

    It is all too slow.

    It is too late for that.

    Liria’s setup was complete long ago.

    The flick of her fingers is not even necessary.



    Ātarǝ Sāma Nasupāka
    World-Polluting Corpse Bomb
    !



    *** ***


    Club Alemán – Rooftop, Salvador Donoso 1337, Valparaíso
    Sheer cold (-31°C/-25.6°F)



    (BGM)

    Enheduanna looks almost bored as she gazes at the fireball rising higher and higher, set on a collision course with the great gaping darkness spreading from the apex of the sky. Truly, she is witnessing the limitations of a very inferior manifestation. The only reason the void expands so slowly is because it is built on a foundation of the Nomikata child’s orthodox human magecraft. If it were the real thing, the authentic primordial power, this whole city would already be submerged in a Sea of Logos.

    In the space of a blink, she
    divines
    calculates
    all possible conclusions based on the developments thus far and the present unfolding before her eyes. In the time of a single breath, she decides her next course of action.

    There are plenty of ways she could address the current issue—it being the fact that the original has deprived her of her Holy Grail. Well, there are plenty of those to go around, but why should she keep exhausting her own resources? No, that spirit’s
    Zizna Zizna
    Egg of Creation
    will make a suitable replacement.

    So, the problem can be reduced to how to reverse its current form back to its pluripotent egg shape. The obvious way would be her Noble Phantasm, but does she really want to hurt herself like that? Furthermore, it would be too flashy; the dancer would notice and try to get in the way. She would rather not have to deal with that right now. She is working with the advantage that the people in the building seemingly have already forgotten that she can manifest in more than one place at the same time. They keep a close eye on the Enheduanna in the event room with them while unaware of the one on the rooftop.

    Truth be told, the Herald is most likely aware of the second Enheduanna. He just does not care enough to bring her up to the others.

    Now, she could just use her magecraft; wield the Word to fold the Egg of Creation back into its original four-dimensional shape. That is well within her abilities, but it might just take more time that she has at her disposal. It would be pointless if her former student just goes and destroy it before she is done.

    Therefore, the best solution is of course—


    *** ***




    Isolde gasps.

    Elisabeth freezes, both her instinct and her knowledge betraying her as she loses to sheer terror. She cannot see what Isolde sees, but she can feel it. She can feel her.

    Right behind her.



    “You fear me so much,” says The Maid in a thoroughly neutral tone. She is not questioning, nor lamenting, nor taunting, nor mocking, nor criticizing. It is nothing but a statement of fact.

    Somewhere in the distance, “Marduk” screams agony that almost makes The Maid shudder. Assassin has stopped holding back and unleashed her fearsome Noble Phantasm. Even she would not want to suffer that flame of impurity.

    “Worry not,” she continues, her lovely hand settling over Elisabeth’s right eye. “You are of no further use as a Grail. So, I am merely taking back my sword.”

    No warning follows that cryptic declaration. There is only a flash of light that erupts out of the gaps between The Maid’s fingers. When she pulls away her hand, it is holding something of shifting reds and golds. The Maid finds herself alone, with two unconscious girls on the cracked floor in front of her. That is to be expected, for they looked at something beyond their minds’ ability to tolerate.

    The sky burns bright.


    “…good,” Enheduanna whispers to nobody, blazing red eyes visibly pleased by the spectacle. The streaks of incandescence spreading in every direction, the complete manifestation of Javier Lucero’s newfound communion with the divine flame, shine beautifully on the thing The Maid holds in her hand. The light scattered as iridescence strikes and burns the surfaces around her, and this very light, the burn marks it creates, and the shadows rendered in the places the light does not reach; they all stretch, bend and turn with minute motions of the priestess’ hand.

    Enheduanna is writing cuneiform with lights, shadows, and burn marks; rapidly filling the walls, floors, and the very air around her with ancient graffiti of indescribably denseness. If the magic of her era was the magic of the Word, then she has assembled an unspeakably complex spell in mere instants. These are “Divine Words” in the truest sense of the term: Words as wielded by a god.


    *** ***




    la nabu
    Nigredo

    Day 04
    Evening Phase – 14
    ERROR (?? °C/?? °F)

    Javier’s Status
    Health: Poor
    Sustenance: Optimal
    Warmth: Superb
    Stamina: Stable
    Magic circuits active.
    (BGM)

    My enemy is nothingness. The absence of existence, concept, matter, and possibility. This is the emptiness before creation; the nowhere in which only a creator may not-dwell. It is nothing, so there can be nothing in it. Therefore, my presence here is a travesty, an aberration it must correct.

    It encloses me, envelops me, seeking to crush me from every direction. Yes, it is crushing.

    It is nothing, yet it has weight. It is my presence, my awareness of it, that gives it weight that it should not have. It is what and how I perceive it, and that in itself distorts it, diminishes it. It should be the perfect, utter void. Because of me, it isn’t.

    However, this nothingness is not the apex predator. It is prey. It is something that precedes the World, and therefore has no business existing in a World realized. The World pushes back against the expanding absence, and now I am the World’s instrument striking from within. Even if surrounded by the encroaching nothing, I still have the home advantage.

    “Gh…!”

    I push outwards, pouring out flame into the false void. In the end, magical energy allows this impossibility to exist. It is that energy that I need to destroy. It is that energy that turns absence into presence, that gives the void around me mass and crushing pressure. I push against invisible walls, shedding flame instead of sweat, feeling nothing but heat and ache and ever tighter pressure…!

    …as if I’ll die here! Burn, burn, just fucking burn everything…!


    Abruptly, there is something else filling this void along with me. A light all too familiar, that I did not expect to find here, but I’m somehow not surprised. Perhaps I was a fool for thinking she wouldn’t involve herself in all this.

    Just as suddenly, the symbols of her ancient language appear in front of me, written in golden radiance. Simultaneously, the pressure around me seems to recede, as if the very presence of these symbols filled the void and even inflated it. The great dark becomes even less of a nothing and more of a something, its identity all the weaker as it becomes more and more defined.


    I…cannot explain it. It is as if she is physically here, in the form of these symbols. These symbols of light are no different and no less than the person—no, the goddess herself.

    You have weakened it enough; I can handle the rest. Your effort is better spent saving the Nomikata child.

    There is no room for discussion in the voice divine. Even if I do not agree, she will just do things her way. Her light envelops me as powerfully as the void before, if not more. As if daring me to try to challenge her as I did the void. I have no intention to do that.

    Neither waiting nor expecting any resistance from me, her light becomes a force that pushes me away from the void in the sky, and I let myself fall, a living meteor on a collision course with the ground.


    *** ***


    Streets of Valparaíso
    Sheer cold (-31°C/-25.6°F)



    (BGM)

    Mummu is on fire. It is a black, dirty fire, different from the black flame wielded by the Sovereign of the Black Sun. It is crisp and loud as if mocking and ostentatious, its lively dance as chaotic as it is rambunctious. It feeds not of oxygen or magical energy. What Liria ignited was her enemy’s “pollution.”

    The spirit screams, unable to articulate anything other than an ever-stretching monosyllable of unceasing agony. Liria watches in silence, not being one to enjoy the torture she is inflicting. It is unholy flame, the very opposite of Atar. This flame is wrongness itself. Rather than burn, it infects. It does harm not through combustion, but through the spiritual degradation of whatever it touches. It is a flame that destroys not matter, but identity and meaning and integrity, rendering the useful into worthless and the normal into aberrant. That which is engulfed by this unholy flame becomes something that can no longer persist in this world.

    Liria does not want to kill her enemy, nor does she want to dismiss the flames too early and give it an opportunity to attack. No, the battle must end right then and there.

    Above her, streaks of flame spread across the sky like fiery rhizomes, and a single golden star shines on the very center of the dark hole. The gold emits its own beams, and both beams and flames strike and scatter upon contact with each other as if bearing some kind of solidity. The result is a rain of motes of flame and light in every imaginable color, floating and fluttering at the whim of the wind, yet somehow Liria can see some kinds of patterns—or perhaps her mind is just creating patterns where there are none.

    And then The Maid appears, and for once her presence does not claim all attention like a black hole. Liria almost heaves, struggling to keep her stomach from emptying itself, swallowing back the searing mix of drool, bile, and gastric juices. Her minimal body hair stands on end, and her muscles tense to restrain her haywire flight instinct, but not enough to prevent the goose bumps.

    “What…what in all fucks is that thing!?” Liria asks about the object in The Maid’s left hand, her eyes never leaving it as if expecting it to leap at her throat any moment now, yet unable to focus her sight on it, as if her brain refused to perceive it out of sheer, instinctual fear of it.

    The ‘Sword’
    “Think nothing of it,” Enheduanna says dismissively, waving the ‘sword’ around like it’s nothing special. She looms over the fallen Mummu, still engulfed in black flames; its initial shaking, howling and rolling now reduced to shudders and whimpering. It has been completely defeated by weaknesses of its own creation.

    There is only one reason Enheduanna is there: because, while both Javier Lucero and Liria Colhuán possess the means to separate Seigi Nomikata from the one possessing him, neither can reverse the utter reconstruction of his body into a form no longer of flesh and bone. If they released Seigi from Mummu’s control, he would be left in a body he would not know how to sustain or even hold together. He would die in an instant.

    Of course, that raises the question: why does she even care?

    “I am not doing this for you, boy,” she says, more to herself than to one who cannot even hear her words. “Every single day your life continues is a triumph over your loathsome father. That is all.”

    Before Liria can even think anything else, Enheduanna slices the air above the fallen, groaning Mummu. Liria brings a hand to her forehead struck by sudden migraine as motes of light bounce explosively off the ‘sword’. Even with her eyes closed, the shifting light, flame and shadow remain burnt in her retinas for a moment, creating a clear, distinct image in the utter dark.


    “The rest is up to you, Assassin. Do as you must. Show me that man is willing and able to save its own.”

    The departure of the mind-crippling pressure of that ‘thing’ allows Liria to open her eyes. The Maid no longer holds anything, and no longer looms over a cosmic giant. The burning figure hunched in a fetal position is none other than Seigi Nomikata.

    “This is not about you, piece of shit goddess,” she grumbles as she too approaches the defeated enemy, a wiping gesture of her hand dismissing the flames of her Noble Phantasm.

    “Damn you…this was…this was supposed to be easy…”

    “Your mistake was believing you had a chance to win inside my territory,” The Maid retorts to Mummu’s lamentation, her face matching her eyes that show no compassion.

    “How...shameful…to be looked down on…by such a fool…”

    Something crashes some distance away—a living fireball that strikes the ground with a blast of quickly-dying flames.

    “Javier!” Liria hurries there, leaving the two not-quite-Servants alone for a moment.

    “There is no logic…no purpose…nothing to be gained…from loving them…”

    “Well, there is your mistake,” The Maid replies. “There is nothing rational about love. But it is worthless to explain it to one fundamentally incapable of experiencing it. Besides, why are you talking about logic in the first place?”

    Her smile bears almost childish mischief.

    “Everybody knows it was invented by the Greeks. It didn’t exist in our time.”

    (BGM STOP)


    *** ***




    That…actually didn’t hurt. That’s nice. This is what it means to have the favor of the land, huh.

    “Javier! You…” Liria stops her hurried approach right next to me. Great legs, by the way. “…look alright?”

    “Yeah.”

    I’m already getting up.

    “And if you’re here I guess things worked out for you as well.”

    “Well, yeah, but that one’s shown up.”

    Ah, there she is in the flesh. And Nomikata’s body back to normal. I assume that’s her doing—no idea how Liria could pull this off. For all we’ve fought, his body looks…not really battered. If anything, he looks more like he’s been ravaged by disease: pasty, unhealthy-looking skin; sunken eyes and cheeks; even his hair seems to have lost luster. He looks…smaller, in lack of a better word. Horrible as it sounds, I’m reminded of those starving Africans you only see on TV.

    We have to do something, before the cold kills him.

    “Teacher, if you came all the way here, you might as well release Nomikata yourself.”

    “I have yet to hear the enemy’s name,” Enheduanna points out. “I cannot do anything as long as I can only recognize it as Marduk.”

    ‘Cannot’, she says. There is no guarantee she would actually do it if she could. That is the folly of counting on a god’s kindness for anything. Alright then.

    “Liria. Together.”

    As I expected, Liria can tell what I’m thinking. Her confident smile is the best support.

    “What…” His voice is like rubbing dried leaves together. He sounds like his throat will break if he speaks too much. “…can you…even do…?”

    “Javier’s gonna use his flame, and I’m gonna use my right arm. It’s up to you to decide which one you’re gonna resist,” Liria explains. “I recommend you just let Javier burn you. Being absorbed wouldn’t hurt, but I don’t think you would enjoy being wrecked by pollution inside me.”

    Yeah, what she said. Sorry, but I’m out of mood for quips or one-liners. I’m just getting this done and over with.

    Ekthros.

    (BGM)

    Separation magecraft.

    I will remove everything within ‘Seigi Nomikata’ that is not ‘Seigi Nomikata’.


    *** ***




    “Ah, I guess this is it for me.”

    Naram-Sin has been brought low. Resting on one knee, his hands clutch the shaft of his thick lance to keep himself somewhat upright. He pants, even if he is in a place without air or the need for it. He long discarded his armor, reducing it to magical energy necessary for his self-preservation. After that, the dark storm that threatened to ravage everything that is ‘Seigi Nomikata’ lashed through the protection of his divine radiance, eating at his undergarments and then at his skin.

    By the time the dark storm is replaced by the black flame, Naram-Sin’s powerful nudity is stricken with blackened lacerations from which spiritrons seep out instead of blood. To his partial relief, his divine radiance boosted by that of his Noble Phantasm does a much better job of repelling this unholy flame than it did the scouring nigredo. But, it is too late by now.

    He does not have enough to handle what comes next: the vivid, all-destroying flame. If the nigredo was a skin-flaying sandstorm, and the black flame a soul-wracking infection, this lively flame is nothing but what it looks like. It is fire, heat and consumption. Eagerly tearing through the darkness, ready to reduce everything to ashes. Naram-Sin has no way to know that his ward is supposed to be spared this flame, other than his intuition and the knowledge that this flame appeared several times before, always lashing against the storm aiming to erase Seigi Nomikata.

    However…

    “It’s too strong…” Lancer whispers as he glances up at the flames licking his melam. More precisely, himself aside, Seigi is too weak by this point. The flame meant to save him might just consume him along with everything else.

    Lancer struggles to turn his body to take a look at the young man he’s been protecting this whole time. For a moment it seems he might be looking at a corpse, but they are in a nonphysical realm, so death would not leave a body behind. The redhead only moves his eyes, feebly trying to express something through his weak gaze, his body already frozen in a fetal position. He looks pathetic and pitiful, but Naram-Sin knows better.

    “You’ve endured this far…” He says, wishing he had more strength to express his admiration and encouragement. “Good man. As a king, I am to reward you.”

    He lets go of the lance, allowing it to stand tall as the last line of defense. It is the might divine weapon granted to him by the Queen of the Underworld, so it is mighty enough on its own. It is humiliating to crawl on his knees, but an emperor must be pragmatic. This is not the place nor the time to worry about his image. Around them, the firestorm rages, held at bay only by the spear’s degrading radiance. Not for long.

    There is no questioning in his mind, no doubt as to whether he will make it in time. The emperor doesn’t bother with such worthless thoughts. He remembers the words of his aunt, whose wisdom he keeps close to his heart.

    Aunt’s Wisdom


    “There is no use for concepts such as ‘could’, ‘can’, ‘might’, or ‘not’. Those are the hallucinations of a mind clouded by uncertainty. They are as relevant to the true shape of things as the concept of ‘not-sword’ is to the reality of the sword held by your belt.”
    She could have summarized that whole speech with “just do it,” but Naram-Sin long realized his aunt was incapable of being concise. Regardless, he took the words to heart, and simply did things without questioning himself. Better to do and fail than fail because he did nothing.

    For whatever reason, the flames grow more rambunctious and ferocious, falling upon the dome created by the weapon’s melam like a tidal wave. Naram-Sin releases an embarrassing whimper as he is struck by a powerful heat wave that sears his exposed back and pushes him prone. In front of him, Seigi is too far gone to voice his pain; he just tries to make himself even smaller, as if the flames might fail to find him that way.

    “I still…can…!” The Servant brought to his utmost limit squeezes out both words and strength to push just a little bit further…



    …and then a new sound fills this nonphysical world.

    From the opposite direction—from the depths Naram-Sin pulled Seigi out seemingly so long ago—, something squirming, frothing, and inchoate gushes out of the darkness. It is shapeless, and it might be colorless, barely distinguishable from the infinite darkness of this non-world. Yet it roars, a sound that cannot exist in a world of the physical, for it comes not from mouths or lungs. Perhaps it cannot be even be called a sound, yet it reverberates, the last cry of shapeless souls, battered and mashed beyond recognition or individuality. The ‘sound’ like whale song, like the creaking of bending metal, like the breathing of the ghost of a child whose throat was slit, like tidal waters crashing against molten rock in the Hadean eon, crashes against the flame just before its source.

    “This is…”

    Indeed, it is the ‘sea’ out of which Naram-Sin pulled out the ‘Seigi Nomikata’ in front of him. It is the mud of souls, thoroughly broken and abused by the physical body’s usurper without Lancer’s divine protection. Like a single, slimy monstrosity, it crashes against the flame in hopeless struggle.

    It is useless. The many rendered into one cannot win. The broken amalgamate is too battered, too ravaged to win. The flame devours.

    For a moment, Naram-Sin watches in muted awe, struggling to make sense of what he is witnessing. Is this merely the last stand of these desperate souls, broken beyond rational thought? The maddened struggle of rats thrown into a furnace?

    This changes when what Lancer takes for its back bulges and shifts into something resembling a shape. For a moment, he thinks he distinguishes the figure of a girl. He thinks there is a plea in her outstretched hands, and urgency in her rough facial features. He believes he knows what ‘she’ wants, and he would be a poor excuse of a man if he denied a lady such a simple request.

    “Do you see it, my man? There’re so many who care for you, after all,” he says, right before—


    —he pierces his own chest with his bare hands, literally forcing open his ribcage.

    “Guh…! Here…have…my Saint Graph core…!” He gasps out as he reaches into his innards with his right hand. “It will be…a fortress…for your soul…!”

    So that, even if everything else in this non-world becomes food for the flames, ‘Seigi Nomikata’ may yet live.

    “Ah…” What remains of ‘Seigi Nomikata’ feebly outstretches an arm in a hopeless attempt to reach out to the mud of souls.

    “Don’t…be sad…” offers Lancer. “They’re just…going to…where they should’ve…gone long ago…ghrruagh!”


    Lancer gasps his last gasps as he rips his spiritronic heart out of the depths of his ribcage. Promptly, the unraveling of his existence accelerate, no longer only out of his wounds, but his entire corpus breaking apart from the edges inwards. The stout lance creating a protecting dome for the two men also shatters, but the mud of souls takes its place, acting as a final barrier keeping the flames away.

    “I…don’t know…if you’ll remember any of this, but…”

    Disintegrating fingers present the Saint Graph core to ‘Seigi’. Upon contact, the young man is slowly absorbed into the core, its worthless shape in this non-world broken apart into a stream of spiritrons.

    “…send…my regards…to that beautiful dancer…”

    It can hardly be called ‘saving’. Naram-Sin knows very well that, even if this works at all, he is just sending ‘Seigi’ back to another battlefield, in which their opponent is a god.

    “She wields…both the Dance…and the Word…! Tell the girl that…even if she can match her Dance…she can’t defeat…her Unconquerable Sword…unless she overcomes her Divine Name…!”

    ‘Seigi’ is gone, stored inside the Saint Graph core. Behind Lancer, the flame smothers out the ‘sound’ and devours it source without pity or mercy. Satisfied, Naram-Sin of Akkad allows his unraveling form one final smile.

    “Yours is not a battle…of magic or power…it’s a battle…of conviction…”

    Thusly he ceases to exist, consumed by worldly flame. Satisfied with a job well done. Call him not a fortunate man.

    He is the last great man of glorious Akkad. Of course he would get things done.



    “Was this what you wanted, venerable Aunt…?”


    *** ****


    Streets of Valparaíso
    Sheer cold (-31°C/-25.6°F)



    (BGM)

    It is…kind of anticlimactic. This guy can’t move or do much of anything anymore, so I just have to burn it. I let Ekhtros rampage freely, focusing on the concept of “the human, Seigi Nomikata.” The flame comes from the World, so it can figure out what is part of Nomikata and what isn’t. It will be my poor control that brings harm to the guy, if it happens. So far so good, though.

    Liria and I trade glances, and then we both look at the dangerous third wheel in the scene. If Enheduanna is gonna pull off some sort of treacherous move, now would be the perfect time.

    “Hey, Maid,” Liria addresses the other woman, not bothering with trying to sound friendly. “What’s with the passed out Nazi girls over there?”

    “They saw the sword,” The Maid replies as if that made any sense. But, by Nazi girls, she means…?

    “Elisabeth?”

    “Yeah, and the other one I think’s Isolde?” Liria responds. “They’re unconscious; I’ll have my corpses bring them. By the way, Javier, how long do you intend to stay like that?”

    “…ah. Right.”

    I honestly forgot this isn’t my real “shape.” Rather, I’ve laid an additional “shape” over my own. Looking down at Nomikata, it seems like the enemy is gone now—anything I didn’t burn was absorbed by Liria, and if she did absorb anything at all, she doesn’t seem particularly bothered by it. In any case, there’s no reason to stay like this any longer, even if I might never be able to reproduce this feat again. Only the future knows.

    With a long exhalation, I take off the “layer.” Just like that, I return to my natural self. The flame is not content, of course, but the time for it to fulfill its main purpose is yet to come.



    “Well, that was an experience—whoa!”

    “Javier!” Liria rushes to help me before I fall backwards—even on my knees, my legs seem unable to bear the weight of my body. Welp, that’s it for the adrenaline rush.

    Javier’s Status
    Health: Poor
    Sustenance: Optimal -> Stable
    Warmth: Superb -> Stable
    Stamina: Stable -> Poor
    Magic circuits active.
    ”Whoa…I’m, I’m really done for today.”

    “Damn right. You owe me at least a goddamn drink for this,” Liria jokes (or at least I hope it’s a joke). She then turns to Enheduanna. “If you’re gonna kill us now, please make it quick and painless.”

    “You are not my opponents,” The Maid replies completely seriously. “That one is coming in a hurry—ah, there she is.”



    “You fuckin’ biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch!”

    I don’t think she even noticed us. Liria has the mind to grab me and the unconscious Nomikata and jump out of the way. God, I do owe her at least a drink, after being spared the Maria-shaped meteor that fell upon the scene in a golden blaze. Enheduanna, too, dodged it, although I never really caught her moving. I guess she just “teleported” away when I blinked.

    “I recommend serenity,” Enheduanna says to nobody who would listen. Maria’s going full-throttle, charging at the living goddess with a ferocious storm of strikes. I can’t even see them; I can only see the streaks of gold left in their wake, and feel the gusts of wind raised by her sheer power. Maria I perceive as through a stroboscopic camera, blinking from place to place faster than my eyes can register her movement as a continuous event. Both Maria and Enheduanna disappear within a maelstrom of golden radiance, countless streaks coalescing into a single shining veil accompanied by Maria’s furious yelling.

    And then, the veil of light shatters like an egg as Maria jumps—is knocked?—away. Enheduanna has not moved a step, and bears not even a scratch. To my eyes, it seems Maria has just wasted her energy.

    “Goddamn it!” Maria shouts. “Stop reading my every move!”

    The Maid shakes her head.

    “Have you learned nothing from the one whose power you wield?” She scolds. “If that is the best you can do tonight, then restrain yourself and stop wasting my time.”

    Two more people land like big damn heroes; one in between the two women and one in front of Liria and I.



    “Senta sent me. You are alive!”

    Well, yeah, thank you for noticing—Liria, now why are you the one hiding behind me?

    “I…Assassin’s really not good with dogs, alright?”



    “Girl, I applaud the eagerness to do battle, but restraint may be the better option here. You almost got your friends caught in the skirmish.”

    Archer uses the right words, to his credit. It is now that Maria seems to notice the rest of us. I can see the surprise turn into guilt turn into self-loathing.

    “Damn it…” Her sword breaks into motes of magical energy when she throws it away. “Goddamn it!”

    “Maria!” I’m already moving to her side when she falls on her knees, embracing herself for reasons very much different from the cold. I’m halfway there when I remember that it is my power that is keeping Nomikata from freezing.

    “Liria, Herald! Please, bring him here!”

    (BGM)

    Kneeling in front of Maria, I find her muttering to herself. There are plenty of reasons to worry about that.

    “I’m Maria Westinghouse. I’m Maria Westinghouse. I’m Maria Westinghouse…”

    Noticing me close by, she hurriedly grabs and squeezes my sleeve like the drowning man holding to the lifesaver’s ring. She looks…small.



    “I am Maria Westinghouse…right?”

    “Oh, Maria…” Without thinking, I take her trembling hands in my own. “We’re here. And you’re here, with us. You’re our Maria.”

    My savior in this singularity shakes her head with all the uncertainty of a girl her age.

    “I know…I, I want to believe that…!” She gasps out, not daring to look up at me. She doesn’t want me to see her face. “I, I get it; I’m not supposed to fear Ṣāltum, but…I, I just got so…I felt like I was on fire, and I just had to chase after her, and I…I’m not…this isn’t my bloodlust…!”

    Her breaking voice squeezes my heart. This is the girl full of jokes and curse words with whom I shared my chili con carne. She doesn’t deserve this.

    “Maria…!”

    The dam breaks. Perhaps it is because she already let them break once on the church rooftop that it is easier to do it again. She sinks in my chest to cry loudly and unabashedly. Good gods, is this the price this girl has to pay to save the world? If so, why place the burden on one so young? It is pointless to blame Saver; that one merely does as it is meant to do.

    It is the Herald who kneels next to me, bringing Nomikata for me to keep him warm with my Alambique. This is really an awkward scene, what with me resting a hand on the unconscious Brit with a Japanese name while the other holds Maria. Hell, Shielder looks like he wants some sort of reward for fulfilling my request. Wait until we meet Senta again and ask her for headpats or whatever.

    “So, I take you aren’t gonna kill us?” Liria asks the mountain of a man who walked next to her as if to detach himself from the scene.

    “One does not dine with their opponents to battle them to the death straight away,” Archer declares. “That can wait until tomorrow. If anything, the proper thing for me to do tonight is a good woman.”

    “It’s all tainted in here; nothing remotely good,” Liria retorts, patting her abdomen over her womb for good measure. She further makes it a point of displaying her monstrous limbs to the man who, admittedly, does not seem to look at her with the slightest bit of lust. “Why not try asking that maid over there?”

    “That is a terrible joke, Assassin,” Archer declares with a frightfully neutral face. “I may not be the King of Heroes, but even I know the folly of dallying with that one.”

    I wish I had the time to amuse myself with their banter, but Maria’s still here, still wrecked by her identity crisis.

    “Maria…you’re really Maria. You think that Saver would cry like this?”

    “I know…” Her voice comes out muffled through my thick winter clothing. “I know, but…”

    Yeah, there’s obviously no doubt that the person in front of me is Maria Westinghouse, until Saver goes and takes over. She has already taken full control at least once that I know, while Maria was out of commission. Can she do it again? Will she do it if given the chance? Who knows what that demon is thinking? She seems fine with letting Maria handle things thus far, but how long will that last? When the time comes for the decisive battle, will she let Maria handle it, or will she demand to face her archenemy herself?

    As I submerge myself in my own doubts and concerns, a shadow looms over us. I feel Maria tense in my arm even before she looks up, inhuman eyes glaring searing hot daggers at the newcomer.

    “What do you want?” She growls, her voice animal rage and boiling vitriol, just before catching herself. She blinks, and when her eyelids part, her eyes are back to normal, and her face is a mask of fear. Maria is afraid of herself, or the demon inside her. Of the demon’s hostility that flows in her blood.

    “You do know I can relieve you, girl,” Enheduanna points out. “Say the word, and I will sever your connection with the dancer.”

    It takes a few moments, but Maria’s pained expression settles into something firmer, more steeled, even as her body relaxes. Half-snorting, she surrenders again on my chest, resting the side of her face on me.



    “And you would just love that, wouldn’t ya?” She begins. “I already know how you think, Ishtar. If you can just break my contract with Saver, why not just do it? You’ve had plenty of chances to catch me defenseless. But no, you want me to plea for it. You want me to beg you to do it. You want me to surrender.”

    Maria shakes her head, her forehead rubbing my jacket as she does so.

    “You’re not getting that from me.”

    “Hmph. Such familiar obstinacy. It flows in the blood, I see.”

    Again, Maria’s body goes taut. She seems to hesitate for a moment before speaking again.

    “Answer me honestly, Ishtar.”

    “Have I ever lied?”

    “You know what I mean!” The girl in my arms hisses. Somehow, it feels as if the entire world has gone silent, and there is nothing else but the exchange between these two women.

    “Did you kill my grandma?”

    “…no, I did not. But her death was nonetheless my fault. More importantly…”

    Enheduanna drops on one knee. Now neither of us needs to look up to meet her intense red eyes.

    “Lend me your hand, former student.”

    (BGM)

    “Eh?”

    “This one,” she says, gesturing towards Maria, “will not trust me if I start shaping the Word. So, I will have you do it for me. Lend me your hand, and call upon the divine flame.”

    “What are you planning, you wicked goddess—”

    “Humans always complain that gods do nothing for them; why are you complaining when a god chooses to do something for you?” The Maid challenges Maria.

    “Because you can’t be trusted!”

    “You trust your partner, your teachers and your commanders. Trust is a human conceit. Faith is transcendental. Now, hand.”

    Taking the hand that is not keeping Nomikata warm, The Maid makes it so that only my index finger is outstretched. I can guess what she’s going for, so I summon the flame, and let her move my hand to use the flame as ink to write cuneiform in the air.



    Maria
    In a distant flame
    …?”

    “Your name makes a good job of describing you right now, child,” Enheduanna comments before pushing the words of flame with a lackadaisical wave of the hand. The signs seem to crash into Maria’s chest, making her shake at the sudden impact before scattering. Even I feel the lingering warmth left behind, so I can only wonder what Maria feels as I try to read her widened eyes and her mouth locked in an O-shape.

    “What the…?”

    “So, you feel it; the warmth of that flame. Do you think the native gods of this land would give their benediction to a heathen demon? Of course not.”

    For a moment I worry when Maria pushes herself away from me to hold herself tight as if trying to keep herself from exploding or something. However, there’s something like a smile on her face. Like she’s not sure whether she’s even allowed to smile. Whatever that flame is making her feel, it is probably good.

    “That is the gift of the native gods to the human who is fighting on their side.”

    “This is weird…” Maria murmurs before looking straight at me. “Javier, this is weird! I…the scent of your divine flame…all this time, I didn’t like it! It felt…disgusting, unpleasant somehow! But, now that I feel it, right here,” she says, patting her chest. “It’s just warm! It’s warm, like a blanket wrapping my heart…”

    “The dancer is not a thing that can usurp your humanity, unless you so desire,” Enheduanna posits. “The original me spoke to you as well, did she not?”

    Maria turns quickly towards The Maid.

    “How do you know what she—”

    “I do not,” Enheduanna interrupts. “I do not know what she said to you or to anybody else. But you would do right to yourself by not forgetting her words.”

    With that, she stands up, looking at somewhere in the distance. It is the group of the missing four: Senta, Ortrud, Fiore and Sakura arrive, naturally much slower than the Servants. The Herald emits a happy yip and hurries to report to his Master and get headpats or whatever.

    “It’s not fair.”

    The Maid and I turn to look at a Maria who is again struggling to keep tears from spilling out.

    “What’s the point of all this?” The American darling challenges our enemy. “You can’t…you’ve ruined this city! You hurt so many innocent people! And now you’re doing nice things!? As if…” she wipes her eyes with her forearm. “As if we would forgive you!”

    No, no, Maria. You said you know how she thinks, but you really don’t get it.

    “Forgiveness has nothing to do with this,” The Maid calmly explains herself, using her ‘teacher’ tone; patient and tolerant towards the girl who did not partake of the conversation during dinner. “I do not deserve, and I care not for it. I merely do what I must, true to my nature.”

    Maria frowns, and I catch the barest “no, that doesn’t…” before she catches herself and apparently goes for a different angle.

    “Even helping your enemy?”

    “Declaring yourself ‘my enemy’ implies you believe you can defeat me.”

    It is a roundabout way to say she does not think of Maria as her enemy.

    “I will repeat myself for the last time: I merely do what I believe to be right. I encourage everyone to do the same.”

    “Even if it means opposing you?”

    “That only means I have to show you the error of your ways.”

    Thusly Enheduanna deems the conversation finished and leaves us be; me, and a Maria deep in thought who apparently doesn’t care much about resting on my lap. Whatever.

    (BGM)

    At the same time, a pair of zombies appear carrying two more Hexensoldaten. It appears, however, that both are awake, and very quick to get away from the zombies the moment they have their feet on the ground. That must have been an awkward sight to meet upon regaining consciousness.

    “Isolde!” Ortrud hurries to meet her sibling.



    The artifice of this latest crisis is a diminutive girl with The Maid’s hair. Amongst the homunculus girls, this might be the one I would believe to be her offspring.

    “Ah…” Unlike The Maid, though, Isolde’s voice is surprisingly, maybe deceptively frail, like spiderwebs. Certainly nothing like the ‘Isolde’ I just fought. “O-Ortrud…you, you are well.”



    “Not because of you,” Senta quips, catching up to her sister, the Herald close behind. “Isolde, did you heal that bitch Hilde?”

    “Ah…” The shortest of the homunculus siblings looks clearly uncomfortable, turning her head away from her sisters.



    “Senta, knock it off for a bit, will ya?” Ortrud warns, much aided by her hoarse voice. “We can talk about Hilde later. This comes first.”

    Ortrud rests her hands on Isolde’s shoulders. It’s only then that I and the rest of us can notice that her arms are trembling all the way to her shoulders.

    “Isolde,” she begins, her voice doubtful, awkward, and clearly uncomfortable. This is clearly a struggle to her. “We should’ve done something, anything. We can say whatever we want about his mind control or whatever; if we hated our lot so much, we should’ve struggled. Even if we had to bit our tongues off to break out of his control, we should’ve fought back!”

    Isolde is startled by the words, but she quickly finds herself and shakes her head spiritedly.

    “N-No! Ortrud, you did nothing wrong! You couldn’t do anything! I, I’m the one who…” Again, she drops her head, gritting her teeth to keep her emotions inside. “I could’ve helped you, but I…”

    Ortrud snorts and awkwardly pats the smaller girl’s shoulder.

    “So, you’re a selfish bitch like the rest of us. Honestly, that’s kind of a relief. Feels more like we’re actually siblings.”

    “Like hell we’re just gonna gloss over the mess just now!” Liria is swift to complain. I really, really can’t blame her. “What the fuck was that!?”

    “Like-I-said,” Ortrud remains calm and non-confrontational. “We can talk about all those things later. Hopefully not out here in the wind and the cold.”

    It’s still cold indoors, but I get her point. Not like I can say anything, anyway; I’m the one who has the flame to keep me warm.

    Naturally, by now Fiore and Sakura have reached me, or rather Maria, the latter taking the burden of comforting her off my hands (and my lap) while the former focuses her attention on Seigi Nomikata, quickly going through pulse, breathing, and pupil check.



    “What…happened to him…?” Fiore wonders, clearly appalled by his disastrous appearance. Well, yes, these are not ordinary circumstances.

    “It’s…a hell of a story, to be honest.”

    “And you’ll be telling me all of it,” declares the physician. “Guess I’ll have to go with magecraft for this. But he can’t stay out here, exposed to the wind.”

    “Right.”

    And that is the scene right now.

    (BGM)

    Maria has apparently regained enough spirit to push Sakura’s coddling embrace away, much to the older woman’s disappointment. Fiore seems to be immersed in deep concentration—right, she did say she’s going to need to perform some magecraft. Enheduanna and Archer have detached themselves a bit from the scene, watching us while exchanging words that cannot reach my ears. And the four Hexensoldaten (plus Senta’s hound) talk about God-knows-what; I only can see that they look awkward as fuck, like a bunch of introverts who hang out online and are meeting IRL for the first time. By any chance, is this actually the first time those four have a normal conversation together? Just what kind of shitty-ass life were they living thus far?

    …ah. The Fourth Reich thing, right.

    My eyes fall on Seigi Nomikata; a life thoroughly broken in a matter of hours.

    “Sorry, man. I don’t really know what I’m apologizing for, but sorry.”

    We did our best, and it’s a miracle he’s still alive. A miracle I don’t even feel like celebrating, looking at him. Will he ever open his eyes again? Should I have just, dunno, put him out of his misery?

    Oh God. Oh God, no, just thinking that makes my stomach hurl. I…sorry, man, but I’m not strong enough to do that. So, you’ll have to bear with our desperate attempts to restore you to health.

    A sudden weight on my back; Liria has chosen to sit down as well, resting her back on mine. Ortrud is approaching; further back, Senta looks like she’s struggling between doing the same or staying where she is to keep a sharp eye on her sisters. There’s clearly a lot of distrust in there. Elisabeth looks like a puppy scared of every single person in this scene (never taking a hand off her right eye, by the way), while Isolde looks…tired. Just fucking tired.



    “So!” Ortrud regards me. “How does it feel to wear the linga of a god?”

    How did it feel? That’s…a tricky question. I mean, in a way, it didn’t feel any different. I was still me. Just…more me. Like, a me who is exactly like me but also happens to be very good at, dunno, drawing, but replace drawing with godly volcano powers. It felt…comfortable? Uplifting?

    “Unexpectedly…wholesome.”

    For whatever reason, the answer makes Ortrud chuckle that raspy, hoarse chuckle of hers.

    “Well, aren’t you impressive. I dunno what else to say, so…good job, the two of you.”

    …huh. Somehow, I wasn’t ready for that. Now I’m blushing like a fucking teenager who got a smile from the girl he likes.

    “Um, sure, thank you.”



    “Caster, too,” Liria brings up. “She did her best. Assassin’s still here because of her. We won because of her. Because she was ready to give her life.”

    “…yeah.”

    Spontaneously, the back of my head meets Liria’s as the two of us lean back. Caster…we owe her. A lot.

    Ortrud looks at us with hands on hips for a bit before plopping herself down on her butt, resting her chin on her hands.

    “Goddammit, sticking with you people is doing weird things to me. I don’t know what to do with all these…feelings and stuff.”

    It’s a learning experience.

    “Welcome to Life,” Liria and I say in perfect unison. Chuckling ensues. Ortrud doesn’t join, but the way she looks at me activates neurons I never imagined would trigger in this frozen hellscape. Not for long, however, for a sudden movement somewhere else grabs everybody’s attention.

    (BGM)

    “Senta!” It is my turn to speak in unison with Ortrud, as we both call out to her sister, who…is actually doing something rather surprising.

    “What do you want?” She demands in a dark tone, facing her approaching ‘mother’ while standing protectively in front of Isolde and Elisabeth. Heck, those two are staring at the back of her head like they’re looking at some kind of cryptid. Garmr naturally responds to his master’s initiative and snarls next to her, not even a hint of his rather dopey personality in this eager attack dog.

    Enheduanna…if she is bothered by this blatant rejection, she does not show it. Actually, now that I think about it…

    “What the hell happened on your side? First she showed up, then Maria came all ready to fight and stuff.”

    Maria is on one knee, staring at the scene over there seemingly unsure of whether she should prepare herself for combat again.



    Sakura, who was apparently testing Nomikata’s weight (Does she intend to carry him? Wouldn’t that be better left to Maria or Liria?), gently places him back on the ground.

    “Shielder said he caught a ‘bothersome’ scent,” she explains.

    “A scent that ‘reminded him of the Allfather’s spear’,” Maria says while clenching her hands in phantom irritation. “When I heard that, I just…I saw red.”

    “Senta realized that Mother probably had a second body acting outside, and blondie here just charged through the door and left,” Sakura adds.

    “It might be that thing.”

    We all turn to Liria.

    “She was holding it for a while; she used somehow to fix Nomikata back to his normal body. It…it kinda looks like a sword, and she calls it a sword, but not really? Rather, I couldn’t really tell…”

    Maria blinks, hard. Her eyeballs shake in their sockets seemingly without control, as she looks at everywhere and nowhere. For a brief moment, she’s not really here, but she comes back soon enough.

    “…well fuck. That’s not good.”

    Over there, Enheduanna extends a hand, presenting a small object.

    “It should last for a while. Until you acquire a real one,” she explains, offering the eyepatch to her youngest.

    “What’s the trick?” Senta inquires.

    “You know Structural Analysis; examine it yourself.”

    Clicking her tongue, Senta quickly takes the eyepatch and hands it over to Elisabeth.

    “Mother—no, Enheduanna,” Senta continues. “We’re gonna live our own lives now. Without you.”

    The high priestess in the maid costume nods politely.

    “You do that.”

    With that, she turns away, positioning herself so that each and every single one of us can see her, and vice versa.

    “Before I leave you for the night, a number of things. Firstly, Elisabeth.”



    The artificial girl, already wearing the new eyepatch (as plain a black eyepatch as any) freezes behind Senta.

    “Like I said, you are no longer usable as a Grail, at least not without a significant investment of time and work. I have no intention to force you on a workshop table, so this is where we part ways. From now on, nobody but you gets to decide the course of your life. I pray you make the best of it.”

    With one last nod, Enheduanna completes the emancipation of her daughter, and promptly moves on.

    “Scion of Yggdmillennia. If you intend to manage Nomikata’s recovery, listen well: the boy underwent a complete transmutation of his existence. His physical body will not heal. Neither will his magic circuits nor his psyche. His major problem is that the connection between his soul and his body has been severely weakened. That is what must be restored so that the soul can properly reaffirm the physical body and the mind. Therein lies your challenge.”

    Wide-eyed Fiore nods slowly. It is obvious that her mind is already hard at work.

    “Lady Edelfelt,” The Maid continues, startling Sakura who clearly did not expect to be part of this. “The first heiress is outside, incensed by her impotence and worry.”

    Close as I am, I can see Sakura’s lips tremble. “Luvia,” she whispers, and her face blossoms to its fullest beauty.

    “She is in danger,” Enheduanna then adds, and Sakura goes livid. “Marduk has many plans, and many instruments. His shadow looms over her, and over the entirety of the Association. Perhaps you will be able to pull her away from a war in which she has no stakes.”

    Her attention remains on our general direction as she moves on to somebody else.

    “Ortrud. This is yours.”

    Something like a briefcase appears in a swath of golden light. It is, however, a very thick, sturdy-looking one. The military type; the kind of thing in which movie villains store their bombs. Ortrud gasps, and Senta, too, looks surprised, her eyes turning from her mother to the briefcase and back.

    “My gun!” Ortrud exclaims grabbing the heavy-looking bag like a child their new teddy bear. “I thought I lost it to the magma!”

    “Ortrud,” Enheduanna calls again, quickly shifting to ‘teacher voice’. “How do you assemble the Venus rune in the Irminist system?”

    The question comes completely out of left field. Needless to say, the rest of us are lost. Ortrud seems to need a moment to shift gears and really catch what she was just asked.

    “Uh, um, that’s…that’s a trick question, right? I’d say most people who know the runes would say it’s a double-Hagal, but it’s actually Hagal plus Eh.”

    “Good,” Enheduanna acknowledges with a congratulatory nod. “You learned well.”

    “Uh, yeah; Wiligut doesn’t care much for it because it’s a ‘feminine’ rune assembly or whatever, but it works pretty well with the Fourth Ray. Its main use is to block and trap symmetrical flows in the human body, so I theorized a spell to freeze the circulation of air in the lungs.”

    Scary. She’s combining Wiligut’s runes with her theosophy, and it’s scary.

    “But, mother, what in the world…?”

    I think Enheduanna looks away from Ortrud for a moment, just barely. Maybe I’m full of shit, but I think she looked at me…?

    “It might prove useful in the near future, or it might not,” she answers cryptically. “Regardless, it would do you good to keep your runic knowledge close to mind.”

    “Huh…sure…?” A very uncertain-sounding Ortrud mumbles in vague agreement.

    With that, Enheduanna centers her gaze on Maria.

    “You…and I mean all of you, still have a number of obstacles to overcome; Archer here being one of them. But make no mistake: my plans have not changed, and I have already made adjustments to make up for the loss of Elisabeth. If you wish to break this singularity, if you wish to free this city, you must defeat me.”

    There it is. It might be an unnecessary ultimatum, but her words carry weight nonetheless. Maria tightens her jaw, trying her best to meet Enheduanna’s serene, severe gaze with firm determination.

    Enheduanna makes a half turn, gesturing towards the rising slops of Valparaíso’s hills behind her.

    “I shall wait in my temple at the highest elevation in this singularity. If you do make it there alive, I will accept your challenge, and fight you with everything I have. That is all. I wish you fair rest.”

    And just like that, she’s gone, departing in a dance of scattered motes of golden radiance, like a statue of gold dust breaking apart. An invisible weight leaves with her, lightening the atmosphere even if it does feel kind of colder without her around.

    (BGM)

    “Mister Nomikata should be on a bed,” Fiore quickly interjects, pulling the rest of us out of the strange vacuum left by Enheduanna’s departure, and bringing us back to reality.

    “Ah, right, I can take’im,” Maria proposes, her Servant strength creating a rather silly-looking scene of the girl carrying a larger male like a sack of potatoes—at least it would look silly if Nomikata looked healthier. “I can go ahead and reach the church faster.”

    “Archer!” Sakura calls out to the man who was making to leave as well. “Are you still on her side? Are you still going to fight us?”

    “Yes,” the powerful man easily replies. “I still need her to fulfill my wish.”

    “But what…” Senta hesitates for a moment. “What guarantee do you have she will…?”

    “She will,” Archer declares. “Because she does not care for it. Whether she fulfills it in a way that wholly matches my desire remains the main issue, but that is a problem for the future me. And to be honest, I don’t think I care that much for the small details.”

    “So yes,” he continues after turning his back to us, already walking away. “If you wish to reach her temple, you will first have to get through me. I hope you are ready.”

    He stops mid-step, however.

    “And you, young judge appointed by the native gods,” he addresses me, turning his head just enough to look at me from the corner of his eye. “Well done. If you survive, I will make you part of the court of my new kingdom.”

    The lamest “uhh…” leaves my lips as the powerful man walks away, quickly disappearing in the dark of night, only partially lit by the night sky now restored to its gloomy normal inside the singularity.

    “Good for you,” Ortrud teases. “I bet his court is all into polygamy and shit.”

    Liria snorts, muttering something about subtlety or its lack thereof. In any case, there is no further reason to remain here—other than me being absolutely fucking tired—, so we all rise to our feet and make to leave as well.

    “Javier!” Senta walks in front of me at the same time Ortrud leaves to stand closer to her other two sisters. It’s like they’re switching the role of guarding them, both for their safety and ours. “You, you’re alright…right?”

    “He’s perfectly fine,” Liria retorts as she walks past me, her fly wings shaking for whatever reason as she nears Maria.

    “I’ll have you know I’m actually very tired.”

    “Oh, man up and get moving,” Liria counters before regarding Maria. “Maybe I should carry him, girl. I mean, I don’t think I can fly carrying him all the way, but—”

    “Still faster than you,” Maria declares, and she’s probably right. “By the way, Liria, I don’t know how to say this kindly, but you look like the most poorly designed superheroine ever.”

    Oh, for fuck’s sake. Sure, sure, Liria, smirk at me.

    “How does it feel, having the same mental age as la gringa?”

    “Shut up. I’m an adult.”

    “Adults don’t go around declaring they’re adults.”

    “Shut up.”

    Liria laughs, and the sound fills this frozen city with life, if only for a moment. We’re the center of attention, and for a good reason. While Maria seems to have an idea of what amused Liria so much, Senta is completely lost, especially when Liria bumps my chest with her monstrous right hand.

    “But we’re getting there, Javier. Both of us. Little by little.”

    Little by little indeed.


    *** ***


    Quest Master’s Note: Just to make things clear, there aren’t that many choices left for your guys to make, and none of them on what’s left of the current day, so we’ll be on fanfic mode until the start of the last day.

    Additionally, Assassin’s profile is now completed, and Mummu’s complete profile is now available in the second post of this thread, just like the others.
    Last edited by Daneel Rush; September 17th, 2022 at 07:40 AM.

  6. #1466
    Time to burn some dread Daneel Rush's Avatar
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    Beyond Their Sight – 13

    Church of Saint Aloysius de Gonzaga, Templeman 990, Cerro Alegre, Valparaíso
    Sheer cold (-31°C/-25.6°F)



    (BGM)

    Carrying Seigi Nomikata is no effort. It would have been no effort to carry a healthy one, but the one in her arms is so small and so still that the only challenge is not holding him too tightly so that his feeble body does not break. The large main doors to the church are still blocked, so she has to sneak through the rectory behind, pushing the door open with her butt. For all the time she’s spent in this place, she still is not well acquainted with the building’s layout, so she doesn’t know at first glance where she can take the convalescent man. So as to not disturb anybody who might be sleeping, her steps are slow and careful, watching out to not bump Seigi’s head or feet on the walls of the narrow hallways of the rectory.

    “Seigi!”

    Maria has no response, no reaction, to the look of utter dismay on Marco Ahrens’ face. If anything, the outpour of emotion in his expression and his voice stuns her into stillness. In a moment, the man is right there in front of her, but he only has eyes for the pathetic figure in her arms. He does not know what to do with his arms, stopping himself from taking Seigi off her for the same reason she is being mindful of her own superhuman strength. Marco takes in the horrendous sight: Seigi’s thoroughly sunken cheeks and prominent cheekbones; his lifeless, greyed skin; his overall loss of muscle mass making him look smaller and so very much weaker.

    “What…what happened to him?” He finally asks Maria, his voice a gasp of utmost pain. The kind of reaction she originally expected from Sakura, who apparently is acquainted at best with the British man. Getting it instead from the normally-gruff-looking ‘Marco Ahrens’, however, is not that much of a surprise if she thinks about it.

    “I…don’t really know the details,” she admits. “Javier and Liria freed him from the body-stealer, but he ended up like this…” Unhappy with her words drifting off, Maria mentally shakes herself. “The others are on the way. Let’s get him to a bed and look after him until Javier and Fiore arrive.”

    “…right, he can keep Seigi warm, and Miss Forvedge…”

    Maria can guess the question in his mind. Fiore Forvedge may possess the knowledge of both medicine and magecraft, but can she do anything about this?

    A minute later, the pitiful figure rests on a bed, thoroughly covered by blankets, so much so that Maria fears their combined weight might hurt him. Marco paces like a caged animal, torn between watching over the redhead and suffering by the sight of his current plight.

    “This…this shouldn’t have happened,” he posits, his gruff voice tinged in lamentation. “This is my fault.”

    That right there is a sentence that makes absolutely no sense to Maria.

    “No, no, no, how the fuck did you arrive to that?”

    “He shouldn’t even be here!” says the man who looks like he’s trying his darnedest not to break into tears. “He invited himself here and came along with Lily!”

    It is only his remaining sense of tact—his awareness of other people at rest in the same building—that keeps Marco from striking the wall with his fist.

    “I…I never thought that was a good idea, I…should have voiced my disagreement more firmly…! I…I…”

    “Look, man; he’s an adult,” Maria counters, gesturing towards the figure on the bed, so still one might suspect rigor mortis already in effect. “You can’t tell him what to do.”

    “But, he didn’t know…! He wasn’t prepared…!” For whatever reason, the man goes taut and still on the spot. “No, no, that’s beside the point.”

    Maria does not react when Marco’s gloved fist strikes the doorframe, his own willpower finally dispersed.

    “Lily wanted to keep this to herself; she almost didn’t bring me. If anything, we should have brought as many people as we could! At least Raz, Velius and Shirou; STRIFE’s best.”

    He throws his hands into the air in sheer frustration and regret.

    “Hell, Sesshouin was actually here a week ago; she should’ve just stayed! We could’ve even brought Nina and Elliwyn if they were up to it.”

    “Look, man, you can think about what you could’ve or should’ve done as much as you want, but that’s not gonna get you anywhere.”

    “I know…!” Marco all but shouts. “I know, but…”

    It is a wounded man that falls on his knees, too afraid to even take Seigi’s hand, so he can just grip the edge of the bed until his knuckles whiten.

    “I’m sorry, Seigi…I’m so sorry…!”

    Maria can do nothing for this man. She has to bear with the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach, unable to make anything better while just as unable to simply walk away.


    *** ***


    Church of Saint Aloysius de Gonzaga, Templeman 990, Cerro Alegre, Valparaíso
    Day 04
    Evening Phase – 15
    Sheer cold (-31°C/-25.6°F)

    Javier’s Status
    Health: Poor
    Sustenance: Stable
    Warmth: Stable
    Stamina: Poor
    Magic circuits inactive.
    (BGM)

    The trip back to the church is atrocious, for the most obvious of reasons.

    “Fuck, it’s so cold!”

    I’ve been so pampered that the flame that I forgot how cold it is when my circuits are off! Fucking hell, this is horrible! I’m too tired for this shit!



    “Language, Javier,” scolds the former mage Fiore Forvedge, even as she, too, is visibly struggling with the cold, holding herself as she walks as fast as her legs and the irregular, partially frozen concrete allows.



    “It’s not like I can carry all of you, anyway,” Liria says, being the only one unaffected by the weather. “I wish I could’ve gone ahead like Maria, you know. It’s really stupid cold.”



    “And you wanted me to lose the magical uniform that keeps me warm, just because it’s Nazi,” Senta to my right then adds. “Stop living in the past, I say. I’ll stay warm and comfy.”



    “If I were a Jew, I would I say I am entitled to hit you right now,” declares Sakura while wearing a somewhat misaligned smile.



    “Or a Roma,” adds Elisabeth.



    “O-or a h-homosexual,” the somewhat hesitant Isolde completes.

    Senta makes a strange, not-quite-a-wince kind of face and turns to her (Older? Younger?) sister.

    “Too soon?”



    “Too soon,” confirms Ortrud, nodding sagely before gesturing towards Liria and me. “Being relieved that these guys are alive and well is no excuse for dumb and thoughtless jokes, Senta.”

    “You’re the last person I want to hear that from!” Senta allows herself one bout of loud retorting before settling down and moving on. “So, what’s the plan now?”

    “Mister Nomikata’s life is the priority,” Fiore declares, accepting the slightly grumpy Senta’s new direction for the conversation. “We need to do everything in our power to ensure his safety.”

    “Not to sound like a downer, but can we even do anything?” Liria wonders.

    “We have to try,” Fiore insists. “I will know more after I do a proper structural analysis. Miss Senta, I think I heard Enheduanna say you can use that spell as well.”

    “Yeah, sure, I’m in. Ortrud, you should know that one too, right?”

    “Yeah, yeah. And no offense, Senta, but I might be more useful for this than you.”

    “I’d guess as much; I work better with people who’re already dead. Keeping people from dying is not really my thing.” Senta certainly does not look insulted as she turns back to Fiore. “But, Fiore, if what Mother—um, Enheduanna, if what she said is true, and we all know it is, then…”

    “I know.” Fiore’s face looks uncharacteristically…hardened. She is not pleased by her current thoughts. “There might be nothing we can do. I’m…a physician, not a spiritual healer. If the core of the issue is the body-soul connection, then…”

    “Wait,” Liria interrupts. “You explained the basics of magecraft to me. According to you, magecraft can only do anything that ordinary humans can also do with enough time, effort and resources. So, how the hell do you ‘heal the soul’?”

    “By doing fulfilling, satisfying things,” Sakura answers instead. “Enjoying music that touches your heartstrings. Spending time with your loved ones. Reading a book that makes you think. Learning a new, interesting skill. Indulging yourself with a slice of chocolate cake. Loafing in a hammock at the beach.”

    Now I want chocolate cake. And a hammock.

    “The simple things that enrich your life and make it worth living,” Fiore summarizes. “Needless to say, Mister Nomikata is not in a state to revitalize his soul in such ways.”

    “And this frozen city is not conductive towards such activities,” Sakura adds, to be followed by Ortrud.

    “Alright then, we don’t have a spiritual healer, nor a convenient mage with the super rare Soul affinity. So, like Senta said: what’s the plan?”

    There’s…something about the way she said that. Weird as it is, she reminded me of Enheduanna. She sounded like she is not looking for an answer; she is expecting it.

    “…we’ll see when we examine him,” Fiore replies. She sounds bothered by some reason. There’s something I’m not seeing here. “But I guess…I do have a bit of an idea.”

    “Good,” Ortrud retorts, nodding in apparent satisfaction.

    The terrible march in the wind and the cold continues with no apparent end in sight. Was the church this far? Well, we’re traveling uphill, which doesn’t help.

    “Uh, um…” Elisabeth shyly raises a hand as if she were in a classroom. “Have you all forgotten that Isolde’s here?”

    Senta and Ortrud almost grind to a halt, shaken by the admittedly rather straightforward comment. The small, quiet, blonde Hexensoldat also turned her head towards Elisabeth, perhaps not expecting her name to come up.

    “…right, you are a healer, aren’t you!?” Ortrud all but shouts on Isolde’s face.

    “Y-Yes!?”

    Light seems to return to Fiore and Sakura’s faces.

    “So, can you…do something about Mister Nomikata?”

    “Um…” Isolde actually takes a step back, visibly uncomfortable by the attention. “P-Probably, b-but…not before tomorrow…”

    “Why not?” Sakura demands to know.

    “Because she’s already spent today’s healing juice on Hilde,” Senta answers instead. A pitiful looking Isolde confirms the answer with a nod. Is this really the person who almost killed me?

    “We can work with that,” Fiore declares, and Sakura nods.

    “We just have to ensure Seigi survives the night.”

    “Ah, but…”

    Everybody turns back to Isolde, who hides behind the taller Elisabeth as if each pair of eyes were a laser sight on her.

    “What is it, Isolde?” The girl with the eyepatch speaks calmly, comfortingly, maybe even motherly.

    “She…She will wake up…and she won’t…”

    “Who? What is it?” An impatient Liria insists, but Isolde only makes herself even smaller. It is up to Elisabeth to give us an explanation.

    “Isolde is both Isolde of Ireland and Isolde of Brittany, the Blanchmains. Let’s…let’s keep walking; I’ll explain on the way.”

    And explain she does.

    “The one with us right now is Isolde of Ireland, the healer. The other Isolde, Blanchmains, can jump into other people’s bodies and take control of them. That one is unconscious; Caster knocked her out before she…”

    “Usurpation magecraft…” Fiore comments. “Isolde of Brittany wanted Tristan’s love, which belonged to Isolde of Ireland. She wanted to replace her in his heart; that’s why she told him the sails were black, that she was not coming to heal him, and this made him die of despair.”

    “No, b-but, what do you mean she’s two Isoldes?” Liria asks, her voice rather elevated in tone. “Like, multiple personalities or some shit like that?”

    Ortrud shakes her head.

    “No, it’s more complicated than that. And Isolde goes by ‘they’, by the way.”

    “Tha-thank you…” Isolde murmurs weakly at her—I mean, their sister.

    “Multiple personalities would not explain her two extremely different types of magecraft,” Elisabeth continues. “It’s like she has two Origins, two elemental affinities, and two Sorcery Traits.”

    “Tha-that’s impossible…” Fiore begins, but her voice trails off. I can guess why. We all know who made these Hexensoldaten.

    “She calls me a ‘chimeric soul’…” Isolde reveals, and this seems to get Fiore’s brain juices flowing.

    “Tetragametic chimerism! That’s…she made a homunculus with not only sperm, but with two zygotes that she then fused…? It’s true…we don’t know what happens to the soul in such a process…but tetragametic chimeras remain single individuals; there’s not really a split like this…just what did she do; it’s a line of magical research nobody to my knowledge has ever touched…”

    “You’re slipping, Fiore,” an amused Sakura warns, and the woman struggling to stay a ‘former’ mage gasps cutely.

    “Oh! Ah, I…um…I’m terribly sorry…” Fiore and Isolde look equally shy as they glance at each other. “Isolde, you identify yourself as ‘they’. Perchance, does that mean you are…?”

    “Fiore.”

    There is no ignoring Ortrud in this moment. Her single word in that voice was a warning, exacerbated by the hardness of her face.

    “Ah…I’m sorry, if it’s too intrusive.”

    “No, it’s…okay…” Isolde responds, not sounding like it’s okay at all. I have a vague idea of what’s going on, and I know better than to insist on it.

    I still have questions, particularly about this other Isolde, and on why that spirit possessing Nomikata called itself Isolde as well. Then again, apparently its true name was Mummu. With that name, I too would want to change it to anything else.

    At long last, we can see the church further uphill. Thank all the gods out there; this is really getting rough. It’s hard to breathe—

    “Javier, are you alright?”

    “Senta, you’ve already asked me that,” I respond to the bespectacled girl’s worry. It’s such a shame her face does not quite work for projecting worry. “Do I look that bad?”

    “Well, you’re not a godly effigy of flame and smoke anymore,” Liria points out with good humor.

    “A what?” Sakura murmurs, but is mostly ignored.

    “But seriously, you do look like you’re gonna drop,” Liria finishes, looking like she’s challenging me to say otherwise. Well here you go.

    “I’m tired, but I’m not that tired.”

    “But you’re hiding your pain, aren’t you?” Liria counters. Damn her. “That thing beat you up before you transformed or whatever. I’d be surprised if you didn’t have a broken bone or two.”

    “Javier!”

    I think everybody is startled by Senta’s exclamation. She sounded very much like I would expect my mother to sound like if she found out I was hiding a broken bone.

    “Whoa.” Ortrud voices my exact thought.

    “Fiore, can you help me with this idiot when we arrive to the church?”

    “Yes, of course,” the physician agrees. “What exactly are you thinking?”

    “My magecraft works on dead organic matter,” Senta explains. “If he has broken bones, I can fuse them back together and let his natural healing processes do the rest, but I can’t work through the skin.”

    “Ah, you want me to open him for you.”

    Wait, what?


    *** ***


    (BGM)

    “This is bizarre.”

    People are not supposed to be able to see their own ribs.

    “Be quiet,” Senta growls. “It’s already hard enough with you breathing and moving your goddamn ribcage.”

    “I can make it so he stops breathing, too.”

    Please don’t joke like that, Ortrud.

    The rectory rooms are small, as is often the case in such buildings—at least that’s what Ricardo once told me. This one is just over three meters in width, just enough to fit two single beds against the walls and a gap between them just smaller than the beds. I am on one of the beds, receiving the magical ministrations of Senta. On the other bed, Fiore is working on Nomikata, with Marco Ahrens watching from behind her shoulder. Speaking of Ricardo, apparently exhaustion caught up to him and he’s currently hibernating in his room. Honestly, who can blame him? The Drakes are also asleep in another room, or at least they were when Maria went to check on them. Liria claims she still has enough fuel to pull off the first night watch round. Even if she’s lying, the Herald’s with her, much to her apparent chagrin. I think Senta did that on purpose.

    So anyway, Fiore actually opened me so Senta can deal with my broken ribs. Let me tell you, it felt quite morbid to use my own magecraft to heat up and sterilize the blades I knew Fiore was going to use to slice my flesh open. Fortunately for me, Ortrud can use her own magecraft to shut off pain perception, so I’m very much awake and watching Senta shoving her hands in my ribcage to literally glue my ribs together with magical energy.

    “Alright, then,” Senta declares as she pulls her fingers out of, well, me. “The rest is up to your body’s natural healing—ah, thank you.” She dumps the bloodied gloves into the trash bin Sakura holds out to her. Fiore really went through the effort to stock up on medical supplies at some point, maybe even before we found her.

    “Wait, you done already?”

    “What, you want me to poke at your innards a bit more?” Senta’s joke feels especially dark because of the inextricable wickedness in her smirk.

    “Lewd,” Ortrud adds because of course she does.

    “Fiore, please tell me you’ve got sutures in that bag of yours.”

    “Of course, but let me take care of that. Please take a lot at Mr. Nomikata here; I am very rusty, so I do not quite trust my analysis. I would like to compare results.”

    “Sure.”

    Fiore and Senta thus switch places and roles. There’s a lovely smile on Sakura Edelfelt’s face as she silently watches the scene. I hope she’s not the type to get a thrill out of watching Fiore closing the incision, or something creepy like that.

    “The fuck is this? Ortrud, take a look at this,” Senta blurts out mere moments after she casts the spell they call ‘structural analysis’.

    “Not the language I’d use, but I am glad to see it was not my mistake,” Fiore retorts, not looking up from my torso on which she is working.

    “No, seriously, what the hell’s this?” Senta insists, waiting for Ortrud to catch up as she, too, performs the same spell. It is interesting to see, however, that while Fiore apparently only needed to concentrate and rest her hand on Nomikata’s skin, Senta murmured a brief chant with a bunch of monosyllables that sounded like complete nonsense to me, and Ortrud pulled out what seems a glassless monocle with Germanic runes engraved on its rim. Magecraft’s really quirky, huh.

    “This guy…” The more voluptuous sister murmurs as she looks through the (iron, I think?) ring. “He’s got some weird shit attached to his metaphysical structure…whatever the hell this is, I can’t make heads or tails of it.”

    “Don’t look at me,” Sakura complains when Fiore gives her an inquisitive look. “We’re acquaintances, yes, but I don’t know that much about him. Certainly not about incomprehensible things attached to his soul.”

    “It’s not really attached; it’s got a death grip on him,” Senta sorta-kind corrects. “It’s like a black box storing his soul; I can’t even get a glimpse of it.” Ortrud nods at this, thus revealing she’s in the same situation. “I don’t think it’s making things worse for him, though. I just don’t know if any treatment we come up with can’t reach him through that thing.”

    “So, Isolde’s magecraft will not work…?” The words come from Elisabeth, who is standing right outside the plenty-cramped room, along with her blonde sister.

    “I’m sorry…” a contrite Isolde apologize for some reason. It feels an automatic, all-too-ingrained response, and I’m sure everybody else can tell as much.

    “Isolde, no, you don’t have to…” Elisabeth half-speaks in the voice of one who still doesn’t know how to talk to the person next to her.

    “Then what are we going to do?” Marco Ahrens, who has remained quiet this whole time, finally opens his mouth to voice obvious dissatisfaction. “Do nothing and hope for the best? You’re giving up?”

    “Calm down, Otto,” Ortrud strikes, using the same name I’ve already heard used by other people. “We get it; you’re worried sick, but barking at us isn’t going to help anybody.”

    With that, she turns to Fiore, still working on closing my skin and flesh tightly.

    “What about your other idea?”

    “I…I’m not confident of the feasibility…”

    “Come on, girl.” Ortrud all but throws her arms to the air. “I’ve seen enough to know you’re the smartest person in this room. You’ve had something in mind ever since Mother—I mean, Enheduanna, gave you her advice. The only thing keeping you silent is your worthless prejudices.”

    “What’re you talking about…?” Sakura wonders, not quite pleased with the tone Ortrud’s using towards her friend. Fiore, however, seems more tired than upset.

    “If you’ve figured out that much, doesn’t that make you the smarter one here?”

    “Nuh-uh. I’m the slutty one. But I’m not the kind of bitch who steals other gals’ shticks.”

    “Pfft.” Senta snorts across the small room, rolling her eyes all too tellingly.

    “Alright, try sitting up, Javier,” Fiore proposes, but I’m really, really comfortable on this bed.

    “Do I have to?”

    “Man up, Javier.” Senta sounds a lot like Maria when she says that. “You don’t get to relax and sleep before the rest of us.”

    (BGM)

    “God, but I’m so fucking tired…” I whine to no kind ears while doing as told, pushing myself to a sitting position on the bed. Naturally, the wound now sutured and bandaged complains, but not nearly as much as I’d have expected. That might just be Ortrud’s magecraft still at work, though. Really not looking forward to tomorrow.

    “I…have been mulling on something Enheduanna said,” Fiore then continues, her gaze shifting between Ortrud and me. “She said theosophy expands on what can be done with souls.”

    Wait…is she…expecting me to do something about Nomikata?

    “No, no, I…I’m as stumped as you are; I wouldn’t know where to begin to deal with whatever happened to the guy—wha—!”

    Oh, wow. This…I hafta say, this feeling’s quite something. They’re probably…no, definitely at the top.

    “Oh, come on, my man, you’re smarter than this,” Ortrud one-sidedly declares after hugging me from behind, letting the back of my head rest on her bosom while pointedly ignoring Senta’s hawkish stare. “Think again.”

    I’m tired; I don’t want to think, goddammit. I could just fall asleep right here, right now, but alright.

    So…that Mummu guy performed an alchemical transmutation on Nomikata’s body; that’s how he turned into that cosmic giant or whatever the hell it was. For a while there, Seigi Nomikata’s soul was forced to reside in a body thoroughly incompatible, which inevitably damaged it. Now the warped soul cannot reaffirm the proper form of Nomikata’s body, like a corrupt file in a computer. The body-soul incongruency persists; at this rate, his soul will just degrade beyond the point of no return.

    Ergo, the solution is to reaffirm that body-soul connection. Strengthen it, so that the soul kicks back into gear as it realizes that, yes, it’s back in its proper body.

    Strengthen…revitalize…enhance…enrich…restore the record of the soul using the record of the body?

    “The record of the body…”

    “There you go,” Ortrud whispers in my ear, sounded as delighted as if my achievements were her own. Credit where it’s due: that was rather hot.

    “You want me to use Sthūla-Śarīra on Nomikata?”

    “Wait, wait!” Senta raises her voice. “Isn’t that what makes Javier’s flame go out of control? And let go of him already!”

    “He won’t be using it on himself, Senta, and I’ll let go if you come here and take my place.”

    Senta goes stiff like some sort of uptight school headmistress. By the way, aren’t you people getting way ahead of yourselves?

    “Ortrud, I can’t use Sthūla-Śarīra on other people; that’s not how it works.”

    “Why not? It’s just Reinforcement.”

    “It works because I’m using it on myself! His body will just reject my magecraft if I try!”

    “I…don’t think he’s in a state to reject much of anything right now,” Sakura idly comments, glancing down at Nomikata’s pitiful form with no little compassion.

    “Javier.” It is Fiore, who is seated on the edge of my bed after gathering the used tools and wrapping them in a towel for later cleanup and/or disposal. “Have you ever tried? Using your spell on another?”

    “N-no…”

    “I see…” Fiore seems to be musing on something. “Then, how can you know it will fail?”

    “No, no, don’t pull that one on me. If it fails, it might make things even worse!”

    Really, what if attempting to tap into his cellular memory only exacerbates the warping? I’d just be pushing him straight into the afterlife!

    “Please clarify something for me, Javier,” Fiore says instead. “Do you fear that you will fail to perform the spell?”

    “Wha—no, that’s not it, I can cast Sthūla in my sleep, but—”

    “Then what reason do you have to fear failure?”

    “Like I said, using it on another person’s a whole other can of worms!”

    “Why tho?” Fiore counters. “It is just an alchemical process, right? A distillation process is always the same, no matter what liquid you’re trying to distill. And you yourself said you would never fail the casting.”

    Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, Fiore Forvedge, appealing to my pride. That might actually have worked a few days ago.

    “Look, it’s one thing when I try new shit on myself, but I can’t just go testing things nilly-willy on somebody else!”

    “Ouch,” Ortrud mutters very quietly. Senta has gone deathly still, dropping her gaze and hiding her face behind her incredibly long hair.

    “No, it’s fine, I…I just…dammit…”

    Before I can say anything, Senta jumps to her feet and scrambles out of the room and out of sight. Ah, crap, I just blurted out something thoughtlessly again, didn’t I?

    (BGM)

    Coincidentally, Maria and Liria pop up from the opposite direction, creating a second crowd alongside Elisabeth and Isolde.

    “What bit her?” Maria inquires, glancing in the direction Senta left, while a seemingly more perceptive Liria mirrors the remaining Hexensoldaten’s worry on her face.

    “Shouldn’t you be standing watch?” Sakura asks of the younger-looking Servant.

    “I’ve got familiars taking care of that,” Liria counters. “And it’s not like anything could escape that dog’s nose.”

    If this were a movie, then something definitely would sneak past the Herald before it’s over.

    “Javier,” Ortrud speaks as she stands up, relinquishing the privilege of her pillowy bosom. “I’m gonna be rude and speak for both Senta and myself here: I say you go and give it a try. I mean, yeah, it’ll probably suck if it doesn’t work, but I won’t think less of you if you fail, and I don’t think Senta will, either.”

    She shrugs.

    “If we are allowed a new chance after all the fucked up shit we did for the Fourth Reich, then so are you. All those nice words you spoke back at the dinner table? Those apply to you as well.”

    She slaps my shoulder exactly once.

    “You accepted us messed up girls, so now you’re stuck with us returning the gesture. So go with what you believe is right. We’ll accept it.”

    With that, she leaves after her sister, but not before instructing Elisabeth to stay here with Isolde. No matter what, she’s making sure her blonde sibling is under constant watch by a majority of people. Fiore’s right: she’s scary smart, or rather, aware. She doesn’t lose track of anything.

    “Uhh…some consideration for the ones who just arrived; what the hell’s going on?” A confused Maria inquires.

    “There’s a proposal for Javier to try his theosophic alchemy on Seigi here. We’re deciding on whether to go with it, but I think it’s too risky to try something Javier’s never done before.”

    “You didn’t fight so hard to get him back just to lose him in a magical mishap,” Elisabeth adds to that in her surprisingly low, quiet tone. Isolde nods.

    “I…I can heal him tomorrow…probably…”

    “There’s also that ‘black box’ or whatever you’re saying it’s…containing his soul?” Marco brings up. “We don’t know how Javier’s magecraft will interact with whatever that is.”

    “I…do not have an opinion,” Fiore admits, looking up at me. “I cannot force you to do something if you’re afraid of what might happen, and it is true there are additional variables we know nothing about. If you believe waiting for tomorrow is the better option, I will accept it and do my best to ensures Mr. Nomikata survives the night.”

    “Sorry, but I know shit ‘bout magic and stuff,” Liria then says. “I don’t even know if whatever’s wrong with him is an ‘imperfection’ I can take with my right arm.”

    “No!” I’m the first to exclaim, along with Fiore, Sakura, and Maria.

    “That would just be shifting the problem to somebody else,” Fiore explains the obvious reason letting Liria do that would be the shittiest of ideas.

    I can almost feel the cloud of uncertainty floating in this room. Sakura, Elisabeth, Isolde and Marco make for a substantial ‘don’t push my luck’ faction, while Liria and Fiore are more on the neutral spot. That would make Ortrud and Senta the ‘give it a try’ faction, but they’re not here to convince me to put my wariness aside and give it a go. If anything, a part of me wants to go after them and make up for my thoughtlessness. Fuck, it’s one step forward, two steps backs with me, every single fucking time.

    Get a goddamn grip, Javier Lucero—

    (BGM)

    “Get a fucking grip and just do it.”

    Goddammit, I really should’ve seen that coming.



    “Hear me out,” she begins, first challenging Isolde. “Lil’blondie, you say you can fix him tomorrow, and let’s say I believe you. Can you assure me that other you is gonna agree to that?”

    “Um, I…” Isolde’s nonexistent defense crumbles beneath Maria’s intense gaze, making her face fall thoroughly.

    “Thought so.” Maria nods to herself. “So, let’s go with the guy I know doesn’t want to kill redhead here.”

    “But, Maria,” I insist. “Isolde’s an actual healer. We don’t even know if my magecraft will actually do what we hope it does.”



    “Ah, so now you choose to lose faith in that magecraft you’re so proud of?” Maria sounds more amused than anything. “Come on, Javier.”

    Despite the small, crowded room, Maria seems to effortlessly saunter her way to poke my chest with a single dainty finger.


    “I trust ya. I believe in ya. I know you’ll do your damnedest to get this done. And I trust that flame of yours won’t get in the way. So believe in the me that believes in ya.”

    A…strange silence follows, with Maria looking up at me as if expecting something. Whatever it is, she’s not getting it, so she looks for it in the eyes of everybody else.



    “…really? None of you gets the reference? Fuckin’ ignoramuses…”

    …what the hell, Maria?


    Choice Time
    So…what's the move here?

    1. Let’s do this. Let’s try Sthūla-Śarīra on Seigi Nomikata.
    2. No. It’s too reckless, even for me. Let’s wait for tomorrow and hope we can work something out with Isolde.
    3. Write-in.

    Quest Master’s Note: Yeah, so I changed my plan. Sorry about that. Please vote.

  7. #1467
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six SpoonyViking's Avatar
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  8. #1468
    Persona rajvir's Avatar
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    Maria and the others convinced me I'd say.

  9. #1469
    So Many Ideas, So Little Time SleepMode's Avatar
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    Risky as it may, I’d rather give it a shot than leave the chances under Other Isolde.
    The Act of dozing off in the afternoon is a luxury indeed.
    Coffee would be nice, though.

    [Collection of my Servant Sheets]
    Now Revamped!

  10. #1470
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    I just don't want Javier to disappoint his girlfriends so soon, that's it.

  11. #1471
    As a certain Sith Lord would say:

    "Do it"

    I choose 1

  12. #1472
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Bird of Hermes's Avatar
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    I thought I voted but BL glitched out.

    1.

    Lets go

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