“Is that really it?” a voice asked, sounding a little bit disappointed. “I thought it would be grander than that. I’ve seen portraits. And pictures— you know the ones taken for reconnaissance during the Free War? And it made it look way nicer than this.”
Edith turned from where he sat on his horse. He glanced past his four companions who were also looking in the same direction as him, and at the girl who spoke. She was a beautiful young woman, dressed in garments that matched her appearance. And while the lack of armor may have made it seem as though she was unprotected, the dozens of mana crystals engraved throughout her clothing implied otherwise.
“What?” the woman said, taken aback by the staring. She flipped her azure hair back with one hand, and huffed. “I’m just saying, it’s nothing amazing. Every time I am allowed back into Xanderia, I just get mesmerized by how wonderful everything is. This pales in comparison to our majestic Capital city!”
“Saintess Lilith,” Edith finally spoke out, adjusting the open helmet on his head, “I don’t believe we’re here to sightsee. We’re here on official business. At the formal request of both the Free Cities and the Chained Cities in Besha.”
“Fine,” the woman said, pouting. “But I don’t really see what makes this place so special. It’s even got its own title and everything!”
The man shook his head. He grasped at his horse’s lead, pulling it as he did. He took off in a gallop, and his companions followed after him.
“Hey, wait for me!” Saintess Lilith called out.
And the group of six— one Saintess and five Inquisitors— rode down the gravel road, towards the gates of the city up ahead. Together, the delegation from the Holy Xan Empire entered into Boleria, the Free City of Trade.
“—but those Abominations have not once left the city!”
“And you’re sure about this?”
“When can I go? I’m bored. I want to explore!”
“Yes. We were unable to investigate for the first two months due to the dangers surrounding a scouting mission, but after we appeased the Slaves— ahem, the Chained Cities— by outlawing slavery, and no other cities in Besha were attacked by a horde as large as the ones that took Bys, we sent a small group of riders to survey the scene.”
“And what did you find?”
“I bet they were just hanging around the city. Abominations tend to do that. Hey, is there any entertainment in this city? Anything I can do for fun?”
There was a cough. The Bolerian official politely bowed her head to the woman interrupting him. “I’m sorry, Madam…. Saintess. While your conjecture was correct, I feel like your… comments are disrupting this meeting.”
Saintess Lilith sat up, her head snapping at the elderly man who said that. Her malachite green eyes flickered, and she smiled. “Are you saying my presence is not necessary? Am I allowed to leave?”
“No, Saintess Lilith,” Edith ordered, “sit.”
“I’m not a dog!” the Saintess exclaimed in feigned annoyance. “I’m a Saintess of the Holy Xan Empire,” she said, indignantly folding her arms, “I feel like I should be treated with more respect.”
Another Inquisitor— a woman with pointed ears— leaned over to Edith. “Sir, don’t you think we should just let her go? If you want, I can tail her. Keep her out of trouble.”
Edith hesitated. He looked at his companions. The other four Inquisitors seemed like they were getting sick and tired of the Saintess after over a month of travelling. Her constant whining, pranks, and general attitude was difficult to deal with, even for the most disciplined of individuals. They were practically begging him to let the Saintess do whatever she wanted.
The man turned back to Saintess Lilith. She had her head down, with her eyes opened wide, looking up at him. “Please?” she pleaded. “I never get to leave the Gates of Hell. I just want to see something… new.”
The squad leader for the mission saw this, and he wavered. He took a deep breath, opening his mouth to speak—
And that was that. The Saintess slumped over and began to complain, but Edith could not let her do whatever she wanted. Because while his companions may have thought he was simply the leader of their team dispatched to deal with the Abominations, he had another task. A secret one. And it was simple:
Don’t let the Saintess escape.
And as annoying of a job it was, he was not going to let that happen, no matter what.
The Inquisitors spent a night to rest in Boleria before heading off to Bys. They were given luxurious accommodations, sleeping in the best rooms and dining on the best foods the city had to offer. Edith had a little too much to drink, so he went to bed early, and was woken up by a light rapping on his door.
“Ugh, who’s there?” the Inquisitor asked with a groan.
“It’s Hadi,” a female voice said. “I need to speak with you, Sir. It’s urgent.”
Edith got up out of bed, grabbing his weapon just in case. He opened the door, and was faced with the only Elf in their group. Her pale blue skin would have made her blend in with the darkness of the night, if not for the lamp she held in her hand.
“What happened, Hadi? Is it about the Saintess?”
“Yes, Sir. You asked me to keep an eye out for her tonight— in case she decides to sneak out. And I tried, but—”
Edith snapped. “You let her escape?!”
“No! She was just there one second, and the next…” the Elf woman trailed off. “It’s my fault, Sir. I don’t know where she went.”
The man pinched the bridge of his nose. “I— it’s fine. Go back to bed. I’ll find her.”
“You will, Sir? She could be anywhere in the city. How will you…?”
Edith shook his head, turning around as he did. “That’s an order, Hadi. I will handle this.”
“I— yes, sir.” Hadi said, saluting him as she did. Then she left.
Edith shut the door to his room, and rummaged through his bag. There, he found what he was looking for. The Inquisitor pulled out a round object the size of his hands. It looked like a compass at first glance, but when he opened it, it was quite clearly not a compass.
It was a tracking device. Not one that showed the exact location of the person it was tracking, like some sort of radar. And it certainly could not find someone more than a hundred miles away. That level of sophistication required a machine that spanned the size of multiple rooms— something which only the disgraced Scientist Bertrand of the Holy Xan Empire could build. And even then, its range was not limitless and it only gave a general vicinity of its target. Only good for finding where escaped criminals were hiding.
This tracking device simply pointed in the direction of its target. Even more vague, perhaps. But it was useful when you were finding someone close by. And Saintess Lilith could not have gotten too far.
So Edith left his lodging, and began scouring through the streets of Boleria. It was empty. Dark. And very few people were out and about. He saw some refugees, some criminals, and a few patrols of guards. But no Saintess.
He continued heading in the direction his tracking device was pointing him in. Getting further and further away from the center of the city, although the Grand Market of Boleria still hung in the background behind him, too large to simply disappear from view.
The streets did not exactly get poorer the further away he went from the rich palatials that was the domed building. But he noticed a decrease in guard patrols, and an increase in both suspicious looking individuals and beggars sleeping on the side of the roads. Eventually, Edith found himself walking down a dark alleyway, where even the moonlight could not reach.
He heard whisperings. Hushed voices. And when he finally turned around the corner, he saw—
The Saintess talking to a burly man. The juxtaposition between the young, beautiful woman, and the thug dressed in rough clothing, would have made any random person seeing this panic and fear for the girl’s life. But Edith knew better.
“Saintess Lilith, what are you doing?”
The woman jumped. She spun around with a panicked look in her face, as the thug grunted and folded his arms. “Oh, hey Edith. Fancy seeing you here.”
“Saintess Lilith, I must ask, who is this unkemptly man and why are you speaking with him in the middle of the night?” The Inquisitor drew his blade, pointing it at the thug.
“Unkempt— you have a lot of nerve, pretty boy.”
“Guys, guys, calm down. I don’t want to start a fight here, ok? Please?” Saintess Lilith clasped her hands together, and bowed her head apologetically. “I’m sorry for sneaking out, Edith. Let’s just go back. I’m sorry!”
“Hmph, whatever.” The thug whirled around to leave, but Edith did not let that happen.
“I said, stop. Explain yourself. What were you discussing with the Saintess, tell me now.”
The thug growled. “Why don’t you make me.”
Edith hesitated. He was certain he could take on a thousand men like him without breaking a sweat, but he warily eyed the Saintess. If she turned on him— no, she wouldn’t. Even as much of a troublemaker she was for the Church, she would not attack him. The consequences would have been too severe. She has never done it before, so there was no way she would do it now.
So Edith took a step forward, and the thug tensed. But Saintess Lilith jumped in between the two of them, wrapping her arms around Edith’s hands.
“Don’t— I was just bothering him! I wanted to… I wanted to go and have some fun, you know? I was disturbing that man, he didn’t do anything to deserve getting killed for. I’m sorry for causing you trouble, it’s my fault. Let’s go back, please?”
The Inquisitor lowered his weapon slightly, but the thug was already leaving, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. Edith sighed, sheathing his blade. “Saintess Lilith, if you keep behaving like this—”
“I know! I’m sorry, Edith,” the girl said, slightly downtrodden. They began making their way back as she explained. “It’s just, tiring. Trying to be good all the time. I’m always cooped up and watched over by the Church, I could not stand it. I’m a regular person too, with her own wants and needs.”
“But you can’t just do whatever you want, Saintess. You have your virtues to uphold. Breaking them would be breaking your Sainthood vows. You’ll forego the powers the Goddess has given you. Do you want that?”
“I don’t, I don’t.” Saintess Lilith repeated herself and ducked her head. Her face shadowed over. “Edith, is it wrong to want to enjoy yourself?” She fidgeted with the bracelet— no, the shackles that bound only her right hand, keeping her tracked at all times. She tried to pull it out, but it did not come loose. It was enchanted— crafted by the best tinkerers of the Holy Xan Empire to be incredibly resilient.
The Inquisitor paused midstep. He looked at the girl who was still clinging on to him, tears forming on her eyes. “I— why are you asking this?”
“You probably don’t trust me after I already snuck out once. And you’ll probably report this back to the Grand Inquisitor or the Archbishop,right?”
How did she know— Edith shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
She sighed, letting go of him slightly. “I know you’ll deny it, but please don’t tell anyone. I’ll do anything— but just for tonight, I want to enjoy myself.”
“I’m not letting you out of my sights, Saintess,” Edith said simply.
“I know you won’t.” The woman— incredibly beautiful by anyone’s standards— paused, and turned to him. A smile drew across her face, and she leaned over. “And you won’t have to,” she whispered.
Edith gazed upon this sight. Felt her voice touch softly at his ear. And as annoying as he found her— as much trouble as she caused him— he could not help but gulp.
The next morning, Saintess Lilith was in a much more cheerful mood. Edith looked tired, but not unhappy either. Their companions gave them an odd look when they emerged from the same room, but none of them commented on it.
“We’ll be heading for Bys soon. It would be a few more days’ journey even if we travel at top speed. But from the information we’ve gathered, it is unlikely the situation would change even if we take our time getting there.”
“Yes, and since it’s been months and it hasn’t left the city, this Amalgamation is probably a greedier one. It wants to absorb all the bodies it can, rather than try and grow its horde,” Saintess Lilith said nodding in agreement.
All five Inquisitors stared at the young woman in shock, confused by her more amenable personality. She was their expert in dealing with the Abominations, but up till now, she had been… difficult. She blinked back at them.
“What? I’m just saying— if the Amalgamation was not being greedy, it would’ve moved on to the next city after three months, rather than incubate in Bys for another six.”
“I— no, it’s nothing.” Edith frowned. Was it really that easy? But the Saintess just shrugged as two Bolerian officials passed by.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you guys. But I need to use the toilet.” She spun around, calling after one of the Bolerian officials— a brown haired woman in her 40’s— and ran after her. “Hey, wait, do you know where the bathrooms—”
The squad leader just sighed, letting her stop the Boleria officials for a moment. He ignored her conversation with them since they were out of ear shot, and turned to the rest of his companions.
“Once we reach Bys, our plan is to target the Amalgamation. Carve a path through all the other Abominations to destroy it. Without their leader, the regular Abominations would become mindless Monsters and disperse on their own.”
“But what about the surrounding cities?” Hadi protested. “I know most of them have already been razed to the ground, but there’s still some left— both Free and Chained Cities! And Boleria too— they asked for our support. They’ll be in danger!”
“Boleria asked us to clear Bys from Abominations because they felt threatened by its presence so close to their city. And that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Edith said snappishly. “If they want, they can ask for protection from the Holy Xan Empire, but unlike this extermination mission, we won’t be doing that for free.”
There was a logical approach to this. By answering their call for aid, Boleria and both the Free and Chained Cities, would already be indebted to the Holy Xan Empire. But if they were to once again ask for more support, it sets up the possibility of an alliance of sorts between them. One where the Holy Xan Empire held the leverage over them, of course.
And if they did not ask for their support to combat the dispersing Abominations— well, it was always a good thing when your enemies were in disarray. Chaos was a good thing to inflict upon those you did not like. It primed the Free Lands for a possible full scale military intervention by the Holy Xan Empire, if the need ever arose.
Both outcomes were beneficial. Although they were merely possibilities, and nothing was set in stone just yet. Everything was to be done with the best interest of the Holy Xan Empire in mind. And that was all Edith care about— to support his country. To support the Church.
Because, in the whole entire world, there were no other forces as good as they were. And if they could help save innocent lives while gaining a geopolitical advantage over their enemies, wouldn’t that be a net victory?
That’s right. He eyed the Saintess, who was still speaking with the Boleria officials. She caught him looking at her and waved cheerfully at him. It’s the same thing, he thought.
If he could apply that same logic to her— if he could keep Saintess Lilith happy, while keeping her under the control of the Holy Xan Empire— then what was wrong with doing this?
It made sense to him.
The group of six arrived in Bys less than a week later. They had been traveling nonstop, and finally arrived in the destroyed Free City the day before. Of course, they did not charge right in. They made camp a few hours away, and scouted out the area to make note of any discrepancies with the information they had and the actual situation.
To Edith’s relief, there had been no anomalies. Nothing they did not account for even when they were assigned this mission. The Abominations were lurking about in the city. Not just thousands or tens of thousands of them. But hundreds of thousands. And at the center of the Free City of Slaves— at the ziggurat that was the only grand structure of the city left standing— the Amalgamation awaited them. It was not moving.
Just… waiting. Incubating. Growing.
From her seat on Edith’s horse, Lilith whistled. “Well that’s a big one. No wonder it’s taking so long to consolidate itself. It’s almost a quarter the size of the Oligopolis!”
“Lilith, we’ll support you by covering your flank. But you’ll have to take care of it yourself,” Edith said, getting off his horse. He held out a hand, helping the woman down from her seat on the horse.
“Are you sure about this? Can the Saintess really take that thing down?” Hadi asked, voice uncertain.
“I’ll be fine,” Saintess Lilith said cheerfully. “I’ve taken down even bigger ones that crawled straight out of Hell. Although I did do it with the help of the Holy Knights… more Inquisitors… and a supporting army! Still, this is nothing to me. Especially since it’s currently dormant, it’ll be much easier to take out as it is right now.”
“She said she’ll be fine, Hadi. Just follow your orders,” Edith interrupted the Elf with a snap of his fingers. He had been getting tired of her constant questions. Elves, they just can’t listen.
The Inquisitors readied their weapons. Edith drew his sword, as Hadi pulled out a large longbow. Another Inquisitor drew two small sickles, one had a giant war axe, and another carried Alchemical potions alongside an array of mana tools and weapons.
“Look out for the Atrocities. They look like regular Abominations, but they’re much stronger than them. You’ll know when you see one because they’re the only ones that actually glow.” Saintess Lilith drew her spear, grinning as she did. “Now, let’s do this.”
The six individuals ran for the city, straight at the gates of Bys. They were going against hundreds of thousands of Abominations. They were so terribly outnumbered, even with the first group of Abominations they saw. Dead Monsters and dead Humans turned to face them. The blue bulbs sticking out of different parts of their body, pulsing a dim yellow light that was almost invisible in the day.
The Abominations reacted quickly. Thousands of chirp-like sounds echoed as they ran almost mindlessly at the incoming targets. At the small group of Humans and one Elf. Dozens of them led the first charge, going straight for the young woman at the front—
And they vanished.
In an instant, the first rank of Abominations were vaporized. The Saintess continued running past them, red lines spreading throughout her body. She swung her spear again, and there was a flash of light. Another hundred Abominations disappeared, taken out by the Saintess’ miracle.
More Abominations came for her, but this time, Saintess Lilith did not engage them. She ran past them as the Inquisitors came up next to her. Supporting her from behind. None of them were stopping.
“Take out those Abominations,” Edith bellowed.
Hadi began loosing arrows at them. Rapid firing her explosive munitions at the incoming horde. They fell by the dozens with each blast, being torn apart by the volley from the Elf woman. More explosions came from the other Inquisitors aiding her. A beam of energy coming from a mini cannon shredded through the Abominations like it was nothing.
The Inquisitor with the sickles dashed forward. Drawing his two blades, and he began to slice through them like a whirlwind of blades. The Abominations dropped like flies, dying by the hundreds as the Inquisitors engaged them.
“Horrors to the left. And a group of Amalgams are coming from the right!”
From the rooftops, a group of Abominations began hurling what appeared to be yellow liquid at them. They were not like the other Abominations in that the bodies there were inhabiting were more deformed into a single large rotund blue creature. They launched the projectiles out of their body, their core growing smaller with each attack.
Edith raised a gauntleted hand to block it. The yellow liquid sizzled on his armor, as if it was trying to eat through the metal. Edith was certain that it would have worked if not for the mana crystal enchantments on his platemail.
The Horrors continued raining down their projectiles at the Inquisitors from a distance. The Inquisitor with the cannon however, had enough and decided to put a stop to it. He grabbed a potion and threw it at them. The vial exploded right in the middle of their cluster, engulfing them in a large green web of sticky liquid.
The liquid quickly hardened over them, pinning them against the ground. The Horrors tried to move, but they could not break free. As the Horrors struggled to get out, the trap began to contract, pinning them harder and harder against the ground the more they tried to break free. Squeezing them until, eventually, the first Horror went pop, bursting into a puddle of yellow liquid.
The small explosion from the first began a domino effect, causing the other Horrors to blow up one by one, until they were no more than a yellow stain on the roof of the building. The liquid continued to eat through the tiled bricks, as the Inquisitors engaged the Amalgams.
An Inquisitor brought his massive war axe down on the ground, smashing the earth, and knocking the Amalgams off balance. One of them— composed of three bodies, held together by the blue bulbs— tried to swing back at the Inquisitor. He easily blocked the strike and cleaved the Amalgam in half.
The other Amalgams picked themselves up and surrounded the axe Inquisitor. They attacked him from all sides, as he blocked their onslaught. He was being pushed back by the group of them. He took a step back, then tapped the mana crystal.
The Inquisitor’s axe shone, and its tip flashed blue. He spun around, swinging his war axe all in a single 360 degrees sweep. While previously, it took him all his strength to even cut through a single Amalgam. Now, he tore through them like they were nothing. The Amalgams fell, and the group continued.
They were ripping through the Abominations. Edith was not sure how long they had been fighting, but they were halfway to the center of Bys now. Lilith still spearheaded their assault, although she ignored any Abomination that was not directly in front of her. She was not using her miracles anymore— or at least, she was not using any miracles that Edith could see.
And yet, as she ran through the streets of Bys into the hordes of Abominations ahead of her, she never once slowed. It was almost as if she were running unimpeded. She struck down any Abomination that attacked her without any effort. Even the larger ones like the Amalgams were no nuisance to her.
We’re almost there.
Edith knew that. He could see the Oligopolis of Bys right there in front of them. But now— this close to the Amalgamation— it finally sensed them too.
The colossal mass of bodies trembled. Tens of thousands of heads jerked. All of their eyes opening at once, turning to face the threat. Edith saw this, and for a moment, he felt a shiver go down his spine. The sight of a hundred thousand eyes looking at straight at him was bad enough— it would have terrified even the bravest of individuals. But more than that— more than just that fact— they all shone red.
So Edith paused for a moment. And so did the other Inquisitors. Even amidst their constant battle, they found the time to fear this creature. This Amalgamation. But a voice broke them out of their stupor.
It was Saintess Lilith.
“I’ll take that thing out. But I can’t do it if it gets help from those Atrocities over there. Take care of them for me, will you?”
Her voice was as carefree as ever. She glanced back at the team of Inquisitors, giving them a wink as she did. Then she leapt up one of the buildings next to her. Not the regular three story houses that made up the outer city of Bys, but one of the proper buildings that made up the center of the former Free City of Slaves.
Dozens of tendrils stretching a hundred feet each came whipping out of the Amalgamation, striking at the Saintess. She blocked the first with her spear. Then she danced between the subsequent attacks, twirling away from a tendril that pierced through a concrete building and collapsing it.
The Saintess shone. Her entire body once again covered in the glowing patterns, and she thrusted her spear forward at the Amalgamation. There was a terrible shriek, as a red explosion knocked the Amalgamation back. But it still clung onto the ziggurat. Saintess Lilith continued dodging the whipping tendrils of the Amalgamation, sending a torrent of flames at the mass of bodies.
Edith only took a second to take this in. Not just because it happened so quickly, but also because the Abominations around him all reacted as its leader was attacked. All at once, thousands of Abominations abandoned what they were doing, and began running for the Amalgamation to protect it.
The Inquisitors saw this, and tried to stop them from doing so, but there were too many for even them to handle. Edith shouted past all the chitterring and explosions in the background. “Don’t focus on the regular Abominations. Get the Atrocities before it reaches Lilith!”
Edith ran for the nearest Atrocity. The lumbering creature, which was probably once a Horned Ursa, was running amongst the regular Abominations, trying to help the Amalgamation. The squad leader felt himself activating the effects of his sword, and despite still being a distance away, slashed at the group of creatures.
His sword flickered, and a horizontal line appeared where he swung. All the Abominations around the Atrocity fell, sliced in half by some invisible blade. Even the wall behind them fell apart, having been in reach of the attack. And yet, the Atrocity only stumbled back from the hit. It’s abdomen was torn open, but it still seemed mostly fine.
It turned to face its new enemy. At the Inquisitor charging at it. And it struck at him with its claws. Edith managed to dodge the first one, counter with his only swing at where he had injured it. But he lodged his sword inside the wound. He managed to yank it out just in time to block a second strike—
And Edith found himself flying through the air. The Inquisitor landed on the ground with a crack. His armor— the protective mana crystals on it— took the brunt of the damage.
But he was still dazed. He was even bleeding from the head. Edith was in the middle of picking himself up, when he saw the shadow. The Atrocity loomed over him, about to crush him. No, not like this.
He panicked. And it was only thanks to his companions that he survived. An explosion knocked the Atrocity of balance. Dozens of arrows landing on its back. Each sent a shockwave that even Edith felt, but he ignored it, seizing his opportunity.
The Inquisitor brought his sword down on the Atrocity once again, despite hacking at it with all his strength. Once again, his blade pierced into its body, lodging itself inside the wound. But instead of trying to pull it out, he pressed the mana crystal on it.
Once again, Edith’s sword flickered. Almost as if it was winked out of existence for a moment. And when it reappeared, the Atrocity was already falling. This time, fully cut in half by the attack.
“Sir, are you ok?” Hadi ran up to him, laboring with each breath.
Edith tried to muster up a reply, but found that he could barely even speak. If the Elf woman was breathing hard, he did not want to know what he sounded like. He shook his head, and pointed at another Atrocity.
It was coherent enough to understand. Even if Hadi gave him an odd look for it. She nodded her head, and focused on the next Atrocity.
The first one to engage it this time was the axe Inquisitor. He too, tried to use his enchantment to bring it down quickly. And it almost worked. It was nearly a clean cut, right up until it stopped three quarters of the way through the Atrocity’s chest.
The axe Inquisitor tried to pull it out, but it was too far in. Completely stuck. He tried letting go of his weapon to back up, but it was already too late. The Atrocity grabbed him by his arm, and pulled. The man screamed as his arm was ripped off like it was nothing, before being quickly silenced by the next hit.
There was a shout of anger. The Inquisitor with the sickles charged at it, as arrows exploded around the Atrocity. And together with Hadi, they managed to bring it down.
But there were still more. Another Atrocity came running for the Amalgamation, and once again, the Inquisitors intercepted it. They managed to bring this another four down without casualties, choosing to engage as a group rather than on their own. But then three Atrocities came together, and another Inquisitor fell before they could take them all down.
There’s too many of them.
Edith was briefed on what the Holy Xan Empire knew about the Abominations before he was sent on this mission. They knew the capabilities of the Atrocities as these special Abominations that rarely showed up— the key word there being rare.
This? This was not rare. They had encountered a dozen Atrocities at this point. Far too many in this group of a few hundred thousand. Edith was told that there should have only been one in every hundred thousand. Or at least, that had been the approximation from what they encountered from Hell.
It was different here. This was not Hell. Somehow, something created more Atrocities here than in Hell. He did not know what, but now was not the time to theorize. When the Inquisitor with the sickles finally fell, and it was him and Hadi left, he had decided enough was enough. They had to retreat—
A piercing scream erupted through the city. No— not just a single scream. It was the simultaneous screams of tens of thousands of bodies at once. Edith looked in the direction of the noise, clasping at his ears as he did.
And he saw the Amalgamation fall. The Oligopolis of Bys was destroyed, and the titan that stood on top of it had collapsed. Its body— its bodies— falling apart into thousands of pieces. There was a laugh.
“How’s that for an Abomination, you stupid—” Saintess Lilith happily jumped back to the group, only to see that there was only two of them left. “Oh…”
“Saintess, we need to—” Hadi began, only to be cut off by the other woman.
The Saintess cried out, throwing her spear at the Elf woman. Hadi’s eyes widened, and she flinched—
But the spear shot past her. Straight at the Atrocity charging her from behind. The force of the throw was stronger than any ballista Edith had ever seen. It skewered the Atrocity, pinning its body on the cobblestone ground. But it was still alive.
The Atrocity struggled where it laid. It tried to pull itself up, but before it could, another dozen spears rained down on it, covering it like it was a pincushion. Eventually, the Atrocity stopped struggling, as the last spear of ice landed on its head.
“Whew, that was close,” Saintess Lilith sighed, wiping a bead of sweat off her forehead. She walked over to the dead Atrocity, prying her spear of its corpse. “Well then, let’s get out of here, shall we?”
And for once, Edith agreed with the annoying woman.
It was not too difficult for the three remaining survivors to escape the city. After the Amalgamation died, the coordinated attacks from the Abominations stopped. They almost looked confused, as if they were not sure what to do now
Some of the Abominations began to just leave the city, searching for something to attack. While others just stood around, waiting for something to come to it. And certainly, the Abominations that the two Inquisitors and one Saintess came across did try to attack them. But with very little success, as they were dispatched off in seconds.
Finally, the group could rest, although not before mourning their dead. Hadi was shedding tears for their three deceased companions and Saintess Lilith spent some time comforting her, while Edith began thinking up on how to write the letters he’d inevitably have to send back to their family.
It was difficult, and was never well received. He found it to be a hassle, but it was something he was required to do. He eventually gave up, choosing to figure it out the next day.
But after he went to sleep, he was awoken in the middle of the night by some rustling. The Inquisitor sat up, casting his gaze around his tent. “Lilith?” he called out. But there was no reply. “Goddess grace us, is she really doing this again?”
Edith did not equip his armor, although he grabbed his sword and the tracker before he got out of bed. He grumbled to himself as he went over to Hadi’s tent.
“She can’t even give me one day to rest. I swear, when I find her— hey Hadi, did you see Lilith?”
The Elf woman jerked awake, surprised at the sudden noise. “Wha— the Saintess?”
“Yes,” Edith snapped, “that is what I said.”
“Oh, uh, sorry Sir. I have not seen her. Did she go somewhere? Do you need me to—”
“No, I’ll take care of this,” he interrupted her, turning around to leave already.
He heard her call after him, but he was already heading in the direction his tracker pointed him in. He continued for five minutes. And then ten. Only then did Edith realize that Saintess Lilith must have traveled out more than a bit aways.
The man started to run through the forest. Going as fast as he could, hoping he could catch up to the Saintess. If she escapes, the Grand Inquisitor would have me executed, he thought to himself.
Edith found himself in a full sprint as he cursed the woman under his breath. He made it through a thicket of trees, into a clearing—
And found the Saintess whirling around, surprised to see him.
“Edith— how did you…?” she asked, her voice full of disbelief.
“Damn you, Lilith. You can’t just make my job easy, can you?” the Inquisitor snarled. “Where do you think you’re going?”
The young woman took a step back. “I was just, uh… walking? Having a midnight stroll?”
“Don’t give me that shit,” Edith said, clicking his tongue in annoyance. “I’ll ensure the Grand Inquisitor hears about this. And everything else you’ve tried to pull during this mission.”
“What? But you promised you wouldn’t tell about that!”
“I did. But you’ve continued being nothing but trouble for me. So now you leave me no choice.” Edith said, making it quite clear he was not going to argue with her.
“They’ll send me back to Hell duty. They won’t let me leave, Edith. I just want to live a normal life. I never wanted to be a Saintess. Please, I’m begging you— let me go,” her voice came out quivering, almost as if she was terrified.
“I don’t care. It is your fault for causing the Church so much trouble, even though you’re a Saintess.”
“But I was only trying to help— Edith, you’ve got to listen to me. Saint Theron lied in his report to the Holy Xan Empire. He said he killed the Fiend, but he forgot to mention that she had a daughter. And she’s out there right now, last spotted with a group of Dark Crusaders near the Chalstics Confederacy. I just want to find her, before she becomes a threat to us like her mother once was.”
Edith raised an eyebrow. He was pretty sure she just made that up on the spot just so she could leave. “And why exactly would the Saint lie to us? He has been nothing but diligent in his duties, unlike you.”
“Nothing you can say will convince me, Lilith. I’ve put up with all you asked me to do, but this is where you’re crossing the line. Do you want to know why they place you on Hell duty? It’s because of this,” the Inquisitor said, gesturing at the woman. “All you try to do is cause trouble and you neglect your responsibilities as a Saintess. Despite everything the Church and the Holy Xan Empire has given you— despite the powers the Goddess has bestowed upon you to do good— you treat everything like it doesn’t matter. You just want to play. Like a spoiled little brat. I’m bringing you back, and there’s no stopping me.”
“Please, we could go together. Me and you,” she pleaded, her entire body shaking out of fear.
Edith shook his head. “No,” he simply stated, then he grabbed her arm and began pulling her back to the camp.
The Saintess followed him without complaints. Her face was overcast with a shadow, and she let him take a few steps before she let out a wistful sigh.
“I’m so glad you said that.”
“What are you—”
Edith stumbled. Something had pierced him through the chest. He took a step forward, before collapsing to the ground. It was only then did Lilith pull out her spear from his back.
“You know, I’ve been dreaming to do that since we first met. It’s been on my mind for so long, and I have to say, this feels much better than I could have ever imagined.”
“You— how could you…” Edith gasped for air, but he was bleeding out. “You… idiot… you’ll lose…Sainthood…”
The Saintess looked down at him with her dark green eyes, tilting her head to the side. She looked at him callously, almost as if she was watching an insect die. And then— she smiled.
“I won’t. I’ve done far worse things than this, and I’ve never once lost the ability to perform miracles. Nope.” Lilith bent over next to him, bringing her hands to her chin. “I’ve tried, you know? Doing things that would surely make me lose these powers. Things that are considered ‘evil’. And never once, have I been punished by the Goddess for it.”
She paused, then she laughed to herself.
“Well, not unless you count an angry lecture by Saint Justin as a form of divine retribution. But other than that? Not really.”
Lilith stood back up, putting her hands behind her back, as she stepped away from Edith.
“And that’s not the only thing you’re wrong about,” she said, grinning down at him “I’m not on Hell duty just because I cause trouble. I’m on Hell duty because the Church sees me as a danger to those around me.”
Edith’s eyes widened, as the Saintess continued.
“It’s funny. Most people in the Church who eventually find out about their secrets— like the Abominations up until recently— seem to think that that’s all there is to know, and there can’t possibly be more secrets kept from them. They never realize that if the Church can keep a secret from the general public, then they also can keep more secrets from them. Secrets like, say, the Cult.”
She paused, then she brought a hand to her mouth in feigned embarrassment.
“Oops, did I let that slip? Ah whatever. It’s not like it matters to a dying man,” she laughed again, turning around to leave. “I just find it funny that you were told the big secret that I was a troublesome Saintess, and was given the task to watch over me without letting the other Inquisitors know. But never stopped to wonder whether there was another layer you never considered. Because of that, you were so confident I wouldn’t try to kill you, and look where that led you now? Dead—”
An arrow whizzed past Lilith’s face, exploding in the distance where it landed. The girl did not even react as another two came flying at her, only moving her head slightly out of the way from the projectiles.
“Saintess Lilith! What are you doing?!”
Hadi jumped down from a tree, pointing her longbow at the Saintess. But before the Elf could even react, Lilith knocked her to the ground with the butt of her spear.
“Hadi, it’s good to see you. At least I’ll be able to say goodbye before I leave.”
“…why are you doing this?”
The young woman blinked, taken aback at the question. Then she giggled, stepping away from the Elf. “You know Hadi, I like you. You’re such a nice, innocent person. I’m not going to kill you, so don’t you worry about it.”
Lilith lowered her spear, and began to leave. She called back at Hadi, who ran up to Edith and was trying to stop his bleeding.
“Don’t bother trying to save him. Even if you give him a healing potion now, it won’t work. He’s already dead. So don’t worry too much, and ta-ta.”
And perhaps that was true. But as Edith struggled to breathe— struggled to even speak— he gathered all his strength regardless, and with his dying breath, managed to say one last thing.
“You’ll…never…escape.” Edith coughed, blood coming out of his mouth and chest. “You… can’t…run…forever…”
Lilith halted midstep. She slowly turned to face the Inquisitor, looking down at him. And for the first time, Edith saw true emotion in her eyes. True, pure hatred in her eyes.
“I know,” she said softly. She lifted her right arm up, revealing the iron band wrapped tightly around her wrist.
Then with her other hand, she grabbed the tracker and crushed it. Pieces of metal clattered on the floor as the Saintess made her declaration.
“Which is why I’ll give the Church what they want. Then maybe… maybe they’ll finally let me be free.”
And then she was gone. Edith watched her disappear as he died. Hadi tried to bring him back to the camp— to revive him with a healing potion. But it was too late. The man was dead, leaving the Elf Inquisitor alone to bring the news back to the Holy Xan Empire.
That Saintess Lilith had gone rogue.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter