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CHAPTER 65

ASHEN FATE

There was no light, Lino realized. There was only void, and he was in it, in solitary isolation, cleaved away from the fabric of the living. However, what he found the most strange, was the siege of stray emotions; they were not his own, but were seemingly shoved into him by an outside source. Pain, agony, abysmal loneliness unfitting of the world. He was forced to kneel, holding tightly onto his chest, growing short of breath. As though to answer his silent call for help, the darkness flickered for a moment, and a flash of blinding light attacked him. As he came to, he realized he wasn’t in the silent void any longer; he was in the open fields of swaying grass and chirping birds. Sun burned hot far above, its rays perfectly folding over the nearby lake’s surface. By its edge, on the shore, Lino spotted a figure bending over, dipping her toes into the lake, then immediately pulling back and shaking, seemingly due to lake’s coldness. It was a young girl, not older than eight, sporting oddly colored purple hair and playful expression. Her eyes were starkly black, in contrast to her almost sickly pale skin. She skipped around a few times, as though to warm herself, before trying to dip her toes only for the same thing to happen yet again. Lino looked strangely at the girl who began skipping around yet again. However, halfway through, she turned toward him and paused, tilting her head. Lino’s heart froze for a moment; he knew this was but an illusion and it wasn’t real, rendering her seeing him impossible. Yet, those eyes stared right into his, directly, confusion in them.

“... uh, hello?” Lino mumbled, almost immediately regretting it, nearly slapping himself in the forehead.

“Eh? Big bro, can you help me?” the girl asked. Lino, however, remained seated, too shocked to move a muscle. His notion of this being an illusion completely crumbled.

“Uh... you... you can see me?” Lino asked dumbly, getting up and walking over.

“See you? Of course I can see you! He he, you’re playing pranks on me, aren’t you big bro?” the little girl giggled. “Eshen is too smart for pranks! I’m already all grown up!” Eshen? Lino’s heart froze for a moment, coming to a halt. He stared deeply into the girl, yet could not even see an inkling of that shadow that had trapped him wherever this is.

“Your name is Eshen?” Lino asked

“Yeah... I know, it’s weird. My dad named me that because I’m so pale!” the little girl explained, pouting. “All other kids in the village make fun of me because of it.”

“... they shouldn’t,” Lino said, smiling gently. “It’s a beautiful name.”

“Eh? Really?! Really big bro?! You’re not pulling another prank, are you?” the little girl began skipping around Lino, laughing while tugging at his sleeve.

“Me? Playing prank? I would never! So, what do you need my help with?” Lino decided to play along whatever this was, choosing to see through its end.

“I saw a book in the lake,” the girl said, pointing at the water. “But it’s so cold! Can you fetch it for me? Please big bro?”

“Uh, sure. Where did you see it?” Lino asked.

“Right there!” the little girl pointed at a near-shore spot; Lino immediately saw rather thick and old-looking book, merely a meter or so deep. He casually stepped into the lake while the little girl behind him cried out, warning him of the cold; however, the lake was rather warm, confusing Lino slightly. Deciding to ignore it, he quickly fetched the book and went back ashore, handing it over to the little girl.

“Yaay!” the little girl exclaimed in joy. “I like reading, but... my parents are poor and can’t afford many books. I’m lucky they taught me to read and write already.”

“...” Lino’s eyes grew moist for a moment but he quickly shook it off, reminding himself this was all an illusion. A memory at best.

“Hm?” the book in little girl’s hands suddenly vanished as her eyes glistened strangely for a moment. “Empyrean Writ? Heh, what a funny name. I never read another book that went into my mind directly!” Lino realized what this was at that moment; it was Eshen’s distant memory of her own journey’s beginning, the day she’d gotten the Writ. He was certain the actual event unfolded differently as he wasn’t there to fetch the book, but this was the place and time she’d gotten it. “Did you ever read it big bro?”

“... no.” Lino replied, nearly choking. “What’s it about?” he asked.

“... hmm. It’s kind of confusing. There’s a bunch of random letters I never saw before, and there is this weird voice telling me stuff inside my head. Eh, whatever. Big bro, do you wanna go and play? I know a great spot where a lot of Trickle Tacckers eat at! Did you ever see them play? He he, they tug at each other’s tails, and then they chase each other like whoosh, buum, klaas, he he, it’s really funny! You have to see them!”

Before Lino had a moment to reply, the scenery suddenly changed. The field was gone, and it was replaced instead by a small, stuffy room. There was only a mattress of sorts made from straws in the corner, where a teenage girl was lying curled up. As Lino appeared, she shook for a moment and turned around. Her violet hair was in disorder, her eyes red from crying, her cheeks sunken, lips bruised at corners. A strange glint flashed past his eyes when she saw Lino.

“... big... bro?” she mumbled meekly, slowly getting up. “What are you doing here?”

“... checking up on you.” Lino replied weakly.

“...” the girl stared at him for a moment, fixing her hair afterwards and sitting cross-legged. “I’m fine.” Lino saw all-too-familiar look in her eyes, one he’d seen countless times more in the mirror.

“’s that so?” he mumbled, sitting across from her. “Tell me.”

“... tell you what?”

“Tell me.” Lino repeated, locking their gazes forcibly.

“...” the girl’s expression flexed for a moment, until she finally lowered her head. “My parents... they abandoned me. After I got that book, I began changing. I was able to lift rocks hundred times my weight, run as quick as the wind, do things nobody else was able to. My parents said I was cursed by the Devil, and soon the rest of the villagers knew it like so.”

“... they don’t deserve you.” Lino said, sighing inwardly.

“... heh,” the girl chuckled, looking up yet again. “You think so? I don’t. I am cursed by the Devil. That book is Devil’s book. But, no matter how I tried, I can’t get it out of my head. It keeps feeding me... even against my will.”

“...” Lino didn’t know what to say; rather, it didn’t matter what he said. In the end, this was all but an illusionary memory. Eshen from present was telling him a story, and he was merely a passerby in one girl’s tragic life’s journey. “Endure.”

“Will it get better?” she asked, hopefulness present in her eyes.

“... yes.” Lino lied, smiling weakly.

The scene changed yet again. From the room, Lino found himself atop a barren soil, stench of blood and death permeating the air. He turned around and saw heaps of corpses and a single girl sitting atop of them, sharpening her scythe. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties, her violet hair cut short like boy’s, her body muscular, shoulders broad and calves thickened. She wore simple, leather armor stained by numerous splatters of blood. As though sensing him, she looked up from her scythe and into Lino’s eyes. She seemed surprised for a moment, yet returned expressionless in less than a blink of an eye.

“You seem to find me at the strangest of places.” she said as she began sharpening her weapon yet again. Lino didn’t know what to say; he only knew her story began seeming eerily similar to his own.

“You seem to find yourself at the strangest of places.” he said in the end.

“Heh, I guess I do. You checking up on me again?”

“... I am.” Lino said.

“Do you like what you see?” she stopped sharpening the scythe yet again, looking up. Her expression was cold, gaze distant, almost removed from this reality.

“... in my eyes, you’re still a curious little girl who hates being pranked on.” Lino smiled. “So I suppose my view is too biased to be taken into account.”

“... you lied to me.” she said. “You said it would get better.”

“I did.” Lino said.

“Why?”

“Seemed like the right thing to say at the moment.”

“It wasn’t.”

“I suppose.”

“... I learned it’s not a Devil’s book, you know?” Eshen said. “True to its name, it’s a Writ. One of Seven. And it’s the most selfish fucker to have ever existed.”

“...” Lino said nothing, merely listening.

“I didn’t want to do this,” she pointed at the tomb surrounding her. “But I have to. I can no longer escape it.”

“... I know.” Lino said.

“... no, no you don’t. Not yet.”

The scenery changed yet again, and Lino now found himself in front of a massive, gothic-styled castle. It sprung for nearly mile across, half a dozen spires heaving high up in the air, decorated in great detail. Its atmosphere was beyond depressing and eerie, and not a sound but crows’ cries could be heard anywhere near. Lino braved forward and crossed through castle’s open front doors. He entered a massive hall, all too familiar one. At the end was a throne, and atop the throne was a middle-aged looking woman. She still exuded ethereal sort of beauty, one beyond this world’s, yet air around her appeared so frigid one’s eyes would freeze upon looking at her. She was cloaked entirely in black, from top to bottom, including the thick lipstick and mascara. Lino stopped only a few meters away from the throne, which is when the woman opened her eyes and looked at him. They were even blacker than before, as was her hair, almost completely losing its wonderful violet hue.

“You’ve come.” she said softly. “A bit too late, though.”

“...” Lino said nothing.

“Would it be odd to still call you big bro?” she asked.

“... no.”

“I’ve slept here for hundreds of years. It’s been quite lonely, I have to admit.” she said.

“... I can only imagine.”

“Did you enjoy my story?” she asked.

“Eh, it was a bit cliched.” Lino replied, smiling.

“Heh, I guess it kind of was,” she smiled back, revealing a perfect set of white teeth. “I like it, though. It perfectly exemplifies everything I ever hated about myself.”

“What’s that?” Lino asked.

“My curiosity,” she said. “My weak will. Doing things that, deep in my heart, I never wanted to do. Some among many.”

“He chose wrongly, then.” Lino said.

“... he abandoned me long before today,” she said, sighing. “He realized I wouldn’t be able to fulfill his dream. He realized he wasn’t able to cure the demons in my heart. And... he gave up. It’s rather depressing. The last... person, I suppose, to have ever had my back gave up on me at last. I had nothing. No one. I finally knew what true loneliness felt like.”

“... you didn’t deserve this.” Lino said.

“I did,” Eshen added quickly. “I’ve done many... many terrible things in my life. All in the name of being an Empyrean. To uphold a title I earned by doing absolutely nothing. It’s an empty title, Lyonel. It means nothing. You’re an Empyrean. He’s an Immortal. She’s an Elyisan. It’s all letters with no meaning.”

“Nothing has meaning beyond what we give it.” Lino added.

“Person’s life ought to.”

“It ought to.”

“... maybe you should close your eyes,” Eshen said, shaking briefly. “It won’t be pretty, you know? He was my lifeline for thousands of years. Having that suddenly disappear isn’t easy on either the body or the soul.”

“...” Lino didn’t say anything, but he didn’t close his eyes either, determined to live through it all until the end.

“... you aren’t nearly as broken as I was, Lyonel,” she said, smiling faintly. “Unlike me, you have people who love you and support you. You have people who are willing to shoulder the inferno’s flames for you. And it has absolutely nothing to do with him. It’s all you. Your shoulders inspire confidence, your smile thaws the coldest of hearts. The way you look at the people, the way you understand us... he doesn’t deserve you. You’re too good for him.” her skin slowly began wrinkling, bit by bit.

“Oh, that I know.” Lino said, smiling.

“... you won’t find my Will in the records,” her voice grew coarser, hair turning grayer by second. “I don’t belong there. But,” she appeared to have difficulties with talking as her smooth skin grew dry and folded. “My will is very simple. I had only gotten it by the end of my days as an Empyrean. It was to defy,” her hair had turned completely white, her youthful appearance completely gone. “To defy the eternal war too many innocent had been dragged into. No Bearer is a hero, Lyonel.” her lips thinned out, eyes growing smaller, her whole body growing shorter, nearly swallowed up by the large cloak. “One way or another, we are just broken pieces held together by glue we can never hope to understand.” by the end, there was nothing but ashened corpse, seemingly lifeless and listless.

“... I’m sorry.” Lino said meekly, holding back the tears as the scenery around him began distorting. “You deserved better.” by the end of his words, he was back in the hall. However, there was no Eshen. There was only an old, worn out throne, and a black, tattered cloak sitting there, accompanied by nothing but eternal silence which spoke louder than any word ever has.

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About the author

beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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