188.2. Interlude - Edithe's Emancipation
“Leave us. I have to speak with Edithe and Ismail in private.”
The Platinum Ranks streamed out. Celine patted Edithe on the shoulder, much to the red-haired woman’s relief. At least that relationship was the same. But the one with Hadrian wasn’t. Now, Edithe was a strategic asset.
“Hello, Edithe, Ismail.”
Hadrian greeted them as the tent flapped shut, and Baris activated a ritual circle. Edithe saw strands of mana weaving into themselves to form a barrier around the encampment to prevent anyone from eavesdropping, be it magically or not.
“What’s going on? Why’d you need to speak with us?”
“Before I answer that question, I need to ask the both of you one thing: can I trust you?”
Edithe exchanged a glance with the [Beastmaster]. Ismail shrugged.
“Sure you can. Don’t see why not.”
He waited for her to respond. She tapped a finger on her chin.
“It depends on whether you deserve my trust or not. If you are truly someone who upholds the values of the Valiant Dreamers company, then I will trust you.”
“You’re making this more difficult than it needs to be.”
Hadrian sighed. He glanced over at Baris.
“Well, does it work?”
The older man produced a scroll from his pocket. Its surface was slightly burned, but it wasn’t completely turning to ashes. Which seemed like a good sign, if that scroll was what Edithe thought it was.
“The Scroll of Lies did not determine any substantive lie in their statements. They told mostly the truth.”
“That’s… reassuring enough, I guess.”
Edithe narrowed her eyes, glancing between Baris and Hadrian.
“Wait, why the secrecy? That Scroll of Lies— it’s a High Grade artifact, is it not? It’s got to be worth hundreds of platinum. Why would you use it here?”
Hadrian took a deep breath.
“I know this may seem sudden, but there is quite a pressing matter I need to disclose with the most prominent members of the Valiant Dreamers Company. That which would change the course of the company war. I needed to know whether I could trust the two of you.”
Ismail took a seat, looking at him expectantly.
“Enough with the exposition: just tell us what it is already!”
Hadrian closed his eyes, speaking as he exhaled.
“The truth is… Baris and I are Vampires.”
Ismail’s mouth opened—
“Oh, I already knew that.”
Edithe nodded in agreement. It was quite obvious with how Hadrian had spoken of Vampires in the past. Hadrian blinked.
“Wait, you do?”
“I told you you were never inconspicuous about it.”
Baris grunted, and he shrunk back.
“Wait, wait, wait. You guys are joking right?”
“Nope. Not at all.”
“I mean, I had a strong feeling about it?”
Edithe had been less certain than Ismail. But still, she thought it was likely. Vampires often hid their bloodline because the knowledge of their heritage would result in… well, people would be afraid of them. After all, with what they could do with their [Vampiric Essence]...
The red-haired woman remembered the Vampire she fought with Salvos and Daniel. How the Vampire seemed to control others. But it wasn’t control over actions, but emotions. They could sway how someone felt, which was not something you’d like to know before approaching someone.
Sure, the Skill itself wasn’t subtle. But still, that didn’t stop people from fearing them and treating them differently. Even if it was no longer of scorn as in the past, being secluded was arguably just as bad. So, they hid amongst Humans, as Hadrian did now.
“So, neither of you held any contempt for either Baris or I? That we could be manipulating you to fight for us?”
“Look, I’ll be honest, I barely even pay attention to what you or the old man says half the time .You couldn’t be manipulating me even if you tried.”
Ismail kicked his legs up onto the table, his shoes scrunching up the map. Shaking her head, Edithe spoke truthfully.
“I don’t believe either of you have ever tried to manipulate us, Hadrian, Baris. And while I am glad that you are… coming out?”
“No, you’re making this sound like something else entirely—”
“I can’t see how this matter is important enough for all this secrecy. Just tell us what this is about.”
Hadrian frowned. He looked over at Baris who simply nodded.
“Very well then.”
Snapping his eyes shut, Hadrian spoke softly.
“The Iron Champions Company is run by [Cultists], and we believe they’re trying to link up with the Primeval Demon in Nixa.”
Edithe paused. Her eyes grew wide, and even Ismail furrowed his brows.
“Are you serious?”
The [Beastmaster] sat up as he asked. Hadrian nodded.
“A few years ago, a cult appeared in Nixa. An unknown cult that no one has ever heard of. They called themselves the Church of Regnorex. They claimed to have direct contact with the Demon King of the Netherworld himself, using that as a means of inducting new members into their group. Normally, such a cult shows up every few years in various countries. They’re easily dealt with by the local company, or some Demon Hunters sent by the nobility of the area— Vampires.”
His eyes flickered as he spoke. Very few nobles were actually Vampires, but most Vampires were nobles. Then he glanced down at the map, at the spot where the Iron Champions Company’s headquarters was marked.
“The Iron Champions themselves investigated the cult. Bulan Dishar, one of their founding members, directly oversaw this investigation. No one thought anything of it— after all, a Diamond Rank alone could’ve wiped out any upstart group of peasants and [Farmers]. But somehow, sometime during the last few years, Bulan Dishar vanished from the public eye, and the Church of Regnorex continued to grow… until they halted all their activities and disappeared.”
Hadrian shook his head.
“We thought the Iron Champions Company had dealt with them and that was that, but as time continued to pass, more and more cults began to form in Nixa. They were small cults, just like the one that summoned the Greater Demon that terrorized Falisfield.”
Edithe drew her lips into a thin line at the mention of Lucerna. Her entire team was slaughtered. Even now, the memory was still there. Hadrian continued.
“But now, we believe that the Iron Champions Company was overtaken by the Church of Regnorex— that Bulan Dishar was murdered by this cult. And they seized control of the company’s command structure. That is why they declared war with us. Their pettiness is nothing more than a subtext for what they truly desire.”
“And what is it they want?”
Ismail cocked a brow. Hadrian hesitated.
“This is… something Baris only told me recently. But the reason why he formed the Valiant Dreamers Company went beyond just for the ideals it upholds.”
Edithe narrowed her eyes.
“What do you mean, Hadrian?”
She stared suspiciously at Baris who didn’t meet her gaze. Hadrian spoke slowly.
“The Valiant Dreamers Company was formed to… protect something. A great artifact of many millennia ago. Items entrusted to various of the most prominent Vampire families to safekeep— one of them being Baris’ ancestors. My ancestors.”
Ismail leaned forward, and Edithe waited with bated breath.
“The treasures of our Immortal King Alexander. The Crown of Alexander. The Sword of Alexander. The Breastplate of Alexander. The Greaves of Alexander. And the Boots of Alexander. Each of these five items were kept separate, told only to be gathered when Regnorex is at the gates of our Mortal Realm. They are to be protected and given to the greatest warrior then, to fend off the Demon King once more. Because they knew he would return once more.”
“Your family was given one of these artifacts?”
Ismail stumbled to his feet. Hadrian gave him a nod.
“The Sword of Alexander. A Mythical Grade Weapon.”
“That’s… look, if I knew how to use a sword, I’d be asking you to lend it to me right now.”
The [Beastmaster] was in awe. But Edithe took a step back.
“So, you’re saying the Iron Champions Company is using this company war as an excuse to destroy this artifact?”
Hadrian closed his eyes, nodding gravely.
Edithe gritted her teeth.
“People are dying, not knowing what they’re fighting for. For a cause they know nothing about. And you want to keep this a secret? This isn’t right, Hadrian.”
“I agree with you, Edithe. I was more upset than you when I found out about this.”
“This isn’t something to just be upset about. We need to act. We need to tell the rest of the company about this.”
Baris spoke up, breaking his silence.
“If word gets out of this, many of our allies and our own members will abandon this war. They will not fight— not for us Vampires, because they’ll believe we tricked them.”
“That’s because you did.”
Edithe glared at him, but he didn’t flinch.
“Why did you have to form this company? Why didn’t you just keep it protected in some vault and hire mercenaries to guard it?”
“I couldn’t afford it, Edithe. My family was disgraced. We lost our lands, our noble titles, our platinums, all because of my father’s indulgence and irresponsibility as a Vampire.”
Edithe opened her mouth. But her face twisted when the implication settled in. Baris didn’t elaborate on what act was committed, but explained what happened next.
“When I formed this company, I had nothing. I couldn’t protect the Sword of Alexander on my own. I needed others to aid me. So, I sought out like-minded adventurers. I instilled the ideals which I truly believed in into each and every one of us dreamers. The very same ideals which drove me to protect the Mythical Grade Weapon, even when I had nothing. Because it was the right thing to do.”
Baris stood, entrenched in his position. Edithe wanted to argue. She disagreed with him. But she knew nothing she’d say now would make a difference. She was upset, and she needed to cool down to properly think this through.
“It isn’t. No— not when you forced this duty of yours upon us.”
She spun around, starting out of the tent. Hadrian tried to bar her path.
“You said we had your trust. You can’t tell the others, Edithe. We’ll lose this war… and with that Primeval Demon—”
“And you have my trust, Hadrian. I will not tell anyone of this. Not now. But my trust in you is waning. And Baris...”
She looked at the older man. His blond hair was almost white, the stress of the company war and his age accumulating on him. His face was wrinkled, creased with responsibility.
“I used to respect you.”
That was all she said before exiting the tent, leaving the three in silence.
Even as Edithe pondered it over that night, she knew it wasn’t right. She knew this was not something that she could just gloss over. She was going to fight, yes. She wasn’t just going to abandon her friends— give up on the company war— now that she knew the truth.
She didn’t like it: she believed that the rest of the company should find out the truth, and choose for themselves whether they wanted to fight. However, she couldn’t act. If she did… as much as she didn’t want to believe it, Hadrian and Baris would probably restrain her— force her to remain quiet until the company war was over.
That wasn’t an outcome she wanted to suffer. Nor did she think it was the best course of action.
Instead, she looked at Hadrian, and she knew he saw what she did. She’d have to convince him. Get him to tell the truth to others rather than keeping it a secret. It was what she had to do to right this wrong. She had to do it… somehow.
Or if not— if that wasn’t possible— she’d have to win the war all by herself.
“...I wish Salvos was here.”