So there's indeed no more troubles with my account, this time it's verified and certain. Thanks to this, I can continue with this account, and put my unedited work on @djenny.floro so I'll be happy if you go get a look there when you have the time.
NB: this is a bi-weekly (Monday, Friday) release!
Image: Courtesy of @Syarrf
Part II - Sieged a Castle (Miwa)
Aurora wore a determined look as she stared at the castle. There was a hint of familiarity in her eyes. The rest of us had been surprised to see an entire castle appear right in front of us. Aurora, however, looked angry.
Kenten raised some concerns about the massive door. By the looks of it, it would require an enormous magical output to break it open, but that would also likely level a chunk of the town.
“The other gates inside will be different, but for this one, a Nova spell should do,” Aurora said, looking toward Yoten.
“But that would open the town up with it,” he answered.
“No, it has magical absorption,” she reassured him. “The spell should only damage the door, and we’ll have to finish it off physically. It’s not going to be easy to advance in there.”
As Yoten prepared to cast the Nova spell, Fuin said, “You seem to have much knowledge of this castle.”
“Yes, I do,” she replied.
“Would you care to elaborate?” Fuin asked.
She shook her head, which seemed to baffle a number of us. I heard a few scoffs and much grumbling about needing to know what we were about to face. I’ll admit I was concerned about what this mission was turning into, too.
She paused for a moment and seemed to be weighing her options. She asked Kenten and Isander if we could withdraw from the castle some distance so she could speak more freely. They agreed. The full Saint Guard, along with Isander and Inoio walked back into the town from the direction we had come. The rest of the Holy Guard remained behind to watch the castle, lest any enemies come pouring out of it.
After Aurora seemed satisfied we were far enough away, she disclosed some critical information to us. She said this wasn’t the first time she had been in one of these castles, and as far as she knew, they all had the same layout. She claimed to know what to expect once inside: hordes of crestfallen, long corridors, miasma everywhere, and sealed doors. Our task was going to be difficult. All the more so with the lesser abyssals inhabiting it.
“I first met Master Kayuki in a castle like this,” she explained. “I killed the abyssal hidden in the castle, and Master Kayuki recruited me into the guild. Since it’s a secret of my temple, he swore to never mention these abyssals or their hidden lairs to anyone.”
Hearing this, Kenten said, “So it’s an abyssal we’re facing?”
Isander laughed nervously. “You didn’t know how much help you were going to need, huh, Kenten?”
“Indeed…” Kenten said. “But you say you’ve killed two of these before, right, Aurora?”
“Yes, I have, but I can already tell you this one is much stronger,” she said.
From the time we were children, our religion and culture had ingrained such a deep fear of abyssals in us that it haunted us the rest of our lives.
Priests described them as the most wretched and damnable creatures in existence. Parents spoke of them either the same way or evasively enough that our childish imaginations had to fill in the blanks.
When we were little, my brother and I used to terrorize each other with stories of how abyssals were going to catch the other one and drag them down to the abyssal plane. I made the mistake of making that threat once in public, and our mother scolded and lectured me for ten minutes in front of everyone about how we shouldn’t joke about such terrifying monsters.
That kind of terror never really works its way out of your psyche. Despite that kind of upbringing, most people were actually pretty ignorant of the details about abyssals. I had never seen one before, and all my knowledge qualified as only tales and hearsay.
Inoio’s face was white. I felt most of us kept our composure well, but no one looked comfortable or completely confident.
“Well, we have a job to do,” Kenten said. “Aurora, I’m assuming the abyssal can detect our presence in there, right?”
“Oh! I have some good news about that!” she said. “I’m an exalted now, and I can conceal our presence. As I can’t use telepathy, I’ll try to be clear in my directions without tipping off the abyssal to our presence.”
“We’ll follow your lead,” Kenten said. “You’re the expert here.”
Before we rejoined the rest of the Holy Guard, Aurora concentrated on the spell to obscure our presence. If the myths and legends were to be believed, we would need every element of surprise we could get in order to defeat the abyssal.
Once Aurora concealed our presence, the rest of us performed quick blessings. Bracelets of pearls appeared on our arms, one for a blessing from each of our gods. Aurora looked on with a hint of envy at our ability to so readily cast group blessings. It was routine for Saints, but not for an exalted.
Blessings completed, Yoten channeled a Nova spell, which the door indeed almost absorbed, but it damaged its central piece which Aurora had instructed him to aim at. Immediately, I sensed the dissipation of the magic holding the door shut, and then Kenten and Isander used spells from the God of War to enhance their physical abilities and destroy enough of the door that we could pass.
Isander ordered Inoio to join us, and the rest of the Holy Guard was to maintain its position outside the castle. They would make sure nothing sneaked in behind us or found its way back out of the castle.
Beyond that door, every enemy was what Aurora had referred to as a crestfallen, but these were more powerful than one Chiki and I slew before. Isander seemed taken aback by how hideous the misshapen crestfallen were. That did not, however, slow him down as he cut the creatures down. After the fight, the area reeked of miasma, which rose like a hot mist from the remains of the slain corpses.
“Crestfallen, huh?” Isander said with a look of disgust as he poked the tip of his sword into the sticky mess that was left of one of the fallen.
“When a heretic has been corrupted all the way to his soul-core, all the fluids in his body transform into miasma, and the more fluids turn into miasma, the closer the heretic becomes to an abyssal,” Aurora explained. “From there, even their skin and flesh turn into miasma, and thus they become an abyssal. Yes, they were crestfallen, Saint Isander-sama.”
It didn’t take long after the battle to realize that the miasma inside the castle wasn’t just coming from the recently slain crestfallen. The whole place was suffused with the stuff, thick and oppressive. It felt hard to even breathe. Aurora seemed to be having trouble moving forward, and I turned to find her new familiar, in half-human form, helping her along.
I asked her if she had been injured. She shook her head and seemed to have some trouble forming words. “The miasma is very thick here,” she said, then panted for a moment. “Each door of sin must be purified by its opposite virtue. And the last door will be the Door of Deceit.”
“So to pass it, you will have to purify it,” Kenten sighed.
“Let me enchant your aura,” Ino said.
“No, don’t do that,” she said, raising a hand to stop him. Her familiar had stepped in between her and Ino, too. “It will wear you out, and it’s not a good idea here. My familiar’s aura will soon have cleansed my body. It just takes time,” she said. Her familiar stood stoically nearby, arms crossed.
I watched the familiar closely, observing it purifying the miasma it hadn’t been able to when it was a mere rat. I couldn’t understand how her new familiar had all these powers, but I understood some divine intervention was responsible for it being here with us in the first place.
Besides possessing powers beyond any I was aware of for familiars, it also seemed to act rather independently, stepping in whenever it sensed Aurora needed its help. I wasn’t sure how much she was even consciously commanding it.
But that wasn’t the only oddity I’d seen all day. I had repeatedly purified and not killed the rat, seen an entire town and castle appear before my eyes, learned of crestfallen, and then killed scores of them. It had been quite the morning.
Initially, when Aurora seemed to know so much about the castle, I assumed she must have received a divine revelation. I should have noticed that her aura hadn’t activated as she told us what lay ahead. Her knowledge of the castle wasn’t based on revelation, but experience.
As frightening as the information she gave us was, I was glad she did inform us, nonetheless. At least we had the whole trek through the castle to mentally prepare for our showdown with an abyssal. I didn’t look forward to it, but it had to be done.
Although I was a Saint, the thick miasma weighed on me. I could function, but the whole atmosphere was tiring. My guildmates seemed to be feeling it, too. I wondered how well Aurora would hold up since she was only an exalted. Nevertheless, we pressed on.
The first hallway we came to was packed full of enemies just loitering around. Unlike the first heretics Aurora had revealed as monsters, these ones did not seem at all surprised by their horrific appearances. In fact, they seemed to have embraced their fallen forms and fought like well-practiced combatants despite their bizarre, disgusting shapes.
After we cleared the first hallway, Kenten paused to survey the area. The rest of our group followed his lead, and Aurora pushed forward some to scrutinize the area, too.
“We’re nearing the Gate of Genocide,” she announced. “Enkha-sama, you must rest and preserve your strength. Tenshi-sama and I are the only ones who can clear the path there because some of the enemies ahead are in fact abducted villagers disguised by the Abyssal of Deceit. If you kill them, you will instantly become a fallen.”
Kenten’s face blanched. None of the others had any way of distinguishing between enemies and villagers. Tenshi didn’t look too sure of his ability, either.
Aurora slowly seemed to lose her balance. She didn’t fall over, but her legs moved in lumbering, awkward steps. Just as I registered that it was the miasma weighing her down, her familiar touched Luxina atop her head and cleansed the miasma around her. Then he stood there for a moment before transforming back into a rat.
“That won’t last long, so we need to move quickly,” she told us. “I will attack only the enemies and pass by the villagers. As we go, can you all finish off the enemies and purify the villagers so they can run away?”
“First sign of you overdoing it, and Tenshi takes the lead,” Kenten said. “As for the rest, it’s as good as done.”
“Well, once I’m done, let’s review the definition of overdoing it,” she said, smirking at Kenten. He seemed reassured that she could still muster some humor.
Aurora inhaled deeply and magic gathered around her body. Then she dashed forward. As she passed by the first disguised villager, Ino jumped into action and purified him. The rest of us helped the befuddled villager to the rear. It was now up to him to make his own escape.
Aurora called on Ten Commands’ Law of Overflow, and her sword transformed into a large, bright pink ribbon. I stopped in my tracks, my jaw hanging agape. Then, using the ribbon, Aurora unleashed a rain of spells from an assortment of elements, targeting only the heretics around her. A sea of injured enemies writhed in her wake.
She did a double-take and seemed satisfied that she had only injured crestfallen, but no villagers. That kind of precise targeting was phenomenal for such a large spell; however, it also meant the spell wasn’t strong enough to kill any of the crestfallen, either. That was fine, though. The rest of us had no problem releasing those sick souls from their misshapen mortal coils.
As Ino finished purifying the villagers, Inoio was staring at Aurora incredulously.
“What are you looking at?” she asked.
“A ribbon?” he replied. “Seriously?”
“Yes. So I also have girly weapons in my arsenal. Do you have a problem with that?”
“He has strictly none,” Yoten chimed in.
Aurora turned to look at Yoten, who was discreetly pointing his sword at Inoio. I moved to Inoio’s side and whispered in his ear that it was probably a terrible idea to make fun of her in the moment. After all, she was at peak combat-fueled adrenaline levels, and he had seen what damage she could wreak with that ribbon.
Inoio kept looking at Aurora, but his expression changed from incredulity to one of knowing apprehension. He nodded as I clapped him on the shoulder and then walked away.
The miasma gathered around Aurora again, and she fell onto her knees. Before I could reach her side, her familiar assumed his half-human appearance once again to touch Luxina. Like before, the miasma cleared around her.
After making sure Aurora was fine, we moved farther ahead. The miasma thickened even worse as we neared the gate, and we could hardly see ten feet in front of us. Still, Aurora moved like she knew exactly where the gate was. She asked Kenten to approach when we were right upon it. He moved to her side, and she pointed ahead.
“It reeks of the aura of the Abyssal of Genocide,” Kenten said. He peered around the area with a look of disgust.
“Well, you don’t know how right you are,” Aurora sighed. “You will need a lot of your energy to purify it. Perhaps it would be good for you and Ankha-sama to do an echo purification to keep some of your strength.”
“Not a bad idea,” he replied.
Even though Kenten and Isander performed an echo purification, the gate was purified at the expense of all of Isander’s energy. Aurora knelt near him and retrieved an ethereal pearl, like one her god would have granted for the successful completion of a mission, from her supply pouch. Without hesitation, she handed it to him.
I was surprised by her generosity. Those things were hard to come by; it’s not like the gods were in the habit of handing out a lot at once.
Noticing the number of pearls she had, Isander, stupefied, asked, “How have you already accomplished so many missions for your god?”
“I’ve done many missions, and my God compensates me well. He has so few followers that we have at least a three-year backlog of urgent tasks,” she explained. “That’s also why he cares so much for each of us. We aren’t exactly expendable.”
Once Isander regained his strength, we continued. Kenten seemed tired, but he brushed off Aurora’s attempts to give him an ethereal pearl, insisting he was fine. I wasn’t sure how long he would be able to keep up that independent hero act. Sure, Kenten was an incredible warrior, but if the first door had been that taxing, I was not looking forward to the other eight.