Eric didn’t say a word. In silence, he paced across the temple. From one spot to another, he would walk, unable to stand. His body shivered, and his heartbeat sped up.
How could he? What could he say to make him change his mind when he couldn’t come up with anything? He had wandered, always running and running like an idiot after the carrot dangling in front of his eyes. It was within his grasp, yet too far to take it. His eyes could only see this carrot he could never get. Everything else, he had ignored. But now, the stick had snapped, and the carrot fell into the mud. Perhaps if he hadn’t been so blind, he might have seen something worthwhile to live for. This world was beautiful. That was undeniable. But he wasn’t, and now it was too late to find anything. He had arrived at a dead-end. Fuck. He was going to die. Yeah, his blood was running out. He was going to die.
“What’s wrong with that?” Eric and the Fylgja turned to Nephthys. She walked towards them, her eyes brimming with determination. Even her voice had become lower. “Why shouldn’t you be afraid? That’s totally okay. Like seriously. You should be afraid.”
“Oooh, he should?” The Fylgja folded its hands and rested its head on them. His voice had abandoned all pretense of politeness and veered into a mockery. “What makes you say that, little girl?”
“We all should fear death. It means we have something we don’t want to lose. His life isn’t empty.”
“Nephthys…” Eric stared at her with blank eyes.
Was there something he didn’t want to lose? But what could that be? He began his search for selfish reasons. That was undeniable. But what if there was more to it? And if it didn’t start that way, perhaps it had evolved in a way that he couldn’t have imagined. Why did he want to travel with Altera and Ragna? He could have searched on his own. Given the craziness of their situation, he might have been better off. Fights against gods, against the Twisted, against Paladins, battles in a realm full of Mana, and who knew what would come next? Any sane person would have stayed away from them. Yet, he didn’t. He wanted to join them, and not just that. Traveling with them was fun. Being with them was fun. But why? Why was he risking his life so much for something he didn’t care for?
“You’re…right," said Eric. “Both…of you.”
Eric stopped to walk and rested his arm against it. Water and air. He needed both. Eric took a deep breath, and multiple smaller ones followed. Air seemed to shred his body. He needed to breathe but had no lungs.
The Fylgja drew a dark line of blood over his eye – creating an eyebrow – and raised it. “What do you mean with that?”
The colors of the sky and the temple mixed within each other, overlapping and losing their contours. Barely could Eric make out Nephthys within this chaos of colors.
Loud…louder…The white noise buzzed in his mind. It buzzed everywhere.
“I…I…don’t deserve it…your power…but there’s…something…I’ve to fight for.”
Nephthys rushed towards him, but Eric raised his hand, telling her to stop.
“I’m fine,” he said and let out a weak laugh that was barely a whisper as his face twisted in pain. “I don’t know why…but being with them...makes…happy. Ragna…Altera…Not just…them…Grendel…Puck too…” He let out a sigh and winced again. “Even…Nephthys. I don’t get it…I want to…stay…with them.”
His surrounding turned white. Eric rubbed his eyes. Nephthys had a reaction, but he couldn’t discern what.
Maybe it was happiness that he had mentioned her? Or was it worry? He couldn’t tell.
Only his Fylgja was visible for him. A red entity within the darkness.
Water…air…He needed...Die…He didn’t…
“You want my power because you are lonely?” the Fylgja asked.
“There…more…” Eric’s knees shook, and his body sank. “Ragna…Altera…can change…world…have future…but…they…I don’t want…be…like us…brother…me…They…reach…goal…continue…”
The white noise screeched in his brain…So…loud…So loud…Head hurts…Hurts…Hurts…So much. Tired…Sleepy…No…Had to stay…
“Another excuse to fill the void in your life.” His Fylgja scoffed.
Eric nodded. He opened his mouth, tried to form words, but only croaks left his lips.
“And yet you still want to help them?”
Eric nodded again.
“Walking someone else’s journey. There won’t be a happy ending for you. Only for them."
“Are these girls you only met a short while ago so important that you are willing to sacrifice your life for them?”
“Yes.” Without hesitation, using all the strength he had, Eric said his answer.
“That is a worthwhile reason. I accept you. Use me however you want.” A grin appeared on the Fylgja's face – different than before. The Fylgja kneeled. “Even if it may be hopeless, I wish that you become happy.”
“Thank…you.” Eric smiled and closed his eyes.
Now, he could sleep. He was so tired.
His Fylgja disappeared; everything was black. His knees gave in, and he fell.
Eric opened his eyes.
Where was he? What had happened? Right…He had cleared the third level.
He stared at his hands. There were no wounds. It was as if the events on that level had never happened. It might be that all physical effects outside the level became null, or his Fylgja had healed him.
Eric looked around. He wasn’t in the temple anymore, and someone had put him in a sleeping bag.
“Thank Twice.” Ragna stormed to him, and before Eric could say anything, let react, she threw her arms around him. Eric hesitated, but then he returned the gesture and hugged her with a smile.
“We were worried that you would never wake up.” Altera bowed and put his hat on his lap. “Here, you might want this back.”
“Thank…you.” He reached for his hat and put it on.
Why he felt like that, he didn’t know, and perhaps he would never find out. But did he have to? When he was around them, he felt happiness. That was all that mattered.
“How did I get here anyway?” he asked.
“Nephthys did,” said Ragna.
“Yeah, she dragged your body all the way till here. Even arranged that you get a sleeping bag. She was super worried.”
“Where is she now?”
“Nephthys had to leave.” All three turned around. Quin had arrived. “You completed your task, and so Nephthys had to attend other duties.”
“Quin,” Altera growled.
“Why are you here?” asked Ragna.
“I’m here to congratulate you. You cleared the first three levels. The first three levels were a trial of your flaws and of psychological nature. By contrast, the next one will be a test of brute strength. I want all three of you to fight the observer who awaits you on the fourth floor.”