239. Interlude - Edithe's Evolution Part 6
Again. It’s happening again.
Edithe stared up into the luminescent night sky: a vast black expanse that stretched far and wide. Wheeling stars dotted this canvas, twinkling their scintillating light into the mountainous landscape below. And just below it, illuminated by the beautiful rays above, was the abdominous figure of a giant insect.
She knew who it was immediately— no, she knew what it was. Everyone did. It was the Primeval Demon that had caused such devastation to the country of Nixa. It left behind in its wake fields of fire and lakes of blood. Now, it loomed over the Valiant Dreamers Company as its wings rapidly beat at its side.
Below it, the Valiant Dreamers were scattered. Hundreds of adventurers had gathered here to siege the Iron Champions Company— they were prepared to face terrible Demons. But not this.
Edithe saw the looks on their faces. They were scared. Afraid. Terror seized them as many fell to their knees, like they were bowing to the Demon’s horrible glory. A few adventurers had been foolish enough to attack Belzu when they spotted it fluttering high above. Their corpses now carpeted the ground, stained with blood.
The Primeval Demon raised one of its stick-like hands, bellowing for all to hear.
“Enough. I no longer have time for any games. I am here for one reason and one reason only: hand over the Sword of Alexander, and your deaths shall be quick and painless.”
A susurration ran through the gathered adventurers as they exchanged confused glances.
“What is it talking about?”
“The Sword of Alexander? Isn’t that just a myth?”
“No, it’s real. But… why would we have it?”
The only one who understood what was going on was Edithe, Baris, Hadrian, Ismail, Gabriel, and… Celine.
There was a pause— in a moment of cold selfishness, Edithe couldn’t help but scan the pile of bodies, hoping that she wouldn’t see her friend lying down amongst the dead. Then she froze. Her eyes widened as a shudder prickled its way down her spine.
She dashed forward as Belzu continued, casting his gaze around the Valiant Dreamers.
“I know it is here. Do not play the fool. Give it to me now, lest I lose my patience and kindness.”
“No, no, no…”
Edithe scrambled over to Celine’s body. She turned her friend over. Blood caked Celine’s face, and her eyes were tightly shut.
The red-haired woman gripped her friend’s shoulder’s with quivering hands. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she hugged Celine.
“Edithe… you’re smothering me…”
She blinked as a muffled voice escaped from under her. Celine cracked an eye open, smiling.
“I’m going to suffocate if you don’t let go.”
Edithe drew back. Then she stared down at her friend.
“Y-your [Aura of Greater Protection] s-saved me... I’d be dead otherwise…”
Celine let out a weak chuckle. Then she coughed and sputtered out blood.
“Still pretty beat up, though.”
Relief washed over Edithe like a warm wave. She let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, as though she just escaped from the depths of the ocean. Then her eyes flickered. She looked towards the other corpses around Celine. Those people definitely were dead. She recognized some faces— not anyone she knew personally. But it still angered her.
She handed Celine a healing potion as a voice thundered from above.
“This is your last chance, Humans! Do not try to flee! Hand it over to me and die!”
Celine drank the potion down gratefully and forced herself to her feet. Edithe helped her up.
“Go to Hadrian.”
“Just do it. Get everyone out of here. Keep them safe.”
The sky bled above as the blue dome was colored crimson. An illusion. One that inflicted fear to everyone there. Belzu shook his bulbous head.
“Very well. If this is what you want to do—”
Edithe screamed, raising the Cane of Retribution. It shone brightly and drew the Demon’s attention.
“Oh, a Human trying to play the [Hero]? How… generic.”
Belzu scoffed, batting a wing in her direction. Edithe narrowed her eyes as a red aura covered her. She glanced around, frowning. It closed in on her— an intense heat that seemed to burn her without touching.
Hadrian shouted as she was engulfed by it. But she didn’t shout. Her eyes flickered. At first, she felt overwhelmed by a terrible pain. Then she gritted her teeth, shaking her head.
“This isn’t real.”
Her pain receptors flared as the aura closed in on her. She screamed through it, bringing her staff back down.
“This is not real!”
And a bright light flashed. The red aura around her… vanished. She looked around, seeing not a blood-red sky above, but the regular night’s sky. Her friends stared at her, blinking. And she turned back to Belzu.
“Your illusions don’t work on me, Demon.”
Belzu frowned— or at least, his bug-face seemed to twist and contort. Edithe pointed at him.
“I won’t let you hurt any more of my friends. I shall face you and defeat you, here and now.”
She took a step forward and stopped.
“But… that’s not even you, is it?”
The Primeval Demon blinked. Then his body melted away into a white liquid. It spilled to the ground and dissipated.
“Hrmph, so you managed to banish the illusion.”
His voice thundered all around them. Edithe turned quickly to Hadrian as he ran up to her. She snapped.
“What are you doing? Get out of here, all of you!”
He hesitated, but the rest of the company began to flee, led by Celine.
“Come on! We’ve got our chance!”
Edithe cast her gaze around, searching for the real Belzu. And from the headquarters of the Iron Champions Company, he ascended.
He looked… different from when Edithe last saw him. No, not like he’d evolved. Instead, he looked hurt. One of his wings was missing a large chunk from its side, and his body was scratched and drenched in black blood. Demon’s blood.
The battle he had with the Iron Champions— no, with the Demons of the Iron Champions— took a toll on him. He spoke in a weary voice as she readied a spell.
“So, it was a Skill that broke my illusion.”
Did Edithe have a Skill that could do that? Surely not— but just because she realized it was an illusion, didn’t mean she should be able to see through it. Belzu was right. She had a Skill. A… new Skill.
[The Indomitable Valkyrie].
No longer was she going to be ruled by her fears and nightmares. She steeled herself before a flying calamity as the Valiant Dreamers fled. The Primeval Demon laughed.
“My illusions won’t work on you, yes. But don’t get too arrogant, Human. For I still have my curses.”
He pointed at Edithe.
“I have slain countless men and women just like you. You are nothing more than another pebble at my feet.”
Edithe braced herself. Her breath caught as she saw a glyph forming above Belzu. She couldn’t help but tremble at its sight alone. No illusion— just pure death. Then she closed her eyes.
“Yes. You’ve killed hundreds of thousands— maybe even millions of us. You, who are so cruel and evil. The pain you’ve left behind. It cannot be rivaled.”
Her eyes snapped open as she stared at Belzu.
“So, all this suffering— all the pain you’ve inflicted? Why not get a taste of it yourself!”
Belzu eyed her.
“What are you—”
“[Vindication of They]!”
Edithe unleashed her spell— her Skill. That which drew from her dead friends around her. Crimson flames of vengeance rose from their corpses, stealing the pain of the dead, and loosing it back at Belzu.
His round eyes grew wider than physically seemed possible as the flames melded together. Ember-motes that coalesced into a shame. That of a giant bug. That of him.
“What is this…?”
Belzu stared at it, his curse flickering above. Even the fleeing Valiant Dreamers turned to stare at the red figure. It hovered over Edithe, the incarnation of vengeance. And it came for that which caused torment.
The Primeval Demon flew back as it descended on him. He tried to evade it, but it moved faster, like a phantom of all those he killed coming back to haunt him. It scorched his skin as its eyes blazed with sacred fury.
It consumed him. Belzu erupted into a ball of flame as the spell consumed him entirely. A terrible screech echoed all around, and Edithe collapsed to one knee. She turned back to the fleeing Valiant Dreamers, looking over each of them slowly. Then she saw Baris, paused, eyeing her. She shook her head, facing Belzu once more.
“Was that enough?”
She hoped— she truly wished it had been enough to stop the Primeval Demon. Alas, the flames wore off, and Belzu was only flaked with some burn marks. He flitted down to Edithe.
His entire body trembled as his anger bore down on her.
“Did you think that was enough to kill—”
“[Ray of Retribution]!”
A golden beam shot out, blasting Belzu. A brilliant explosion of iridescent colors engulfed him. But Belzu simply flew through the smoke.
He took a deep breath.
“Hrmph, not as impressive. Is that all you’ve got?”
Edithe panted as she swung her staff.
And Belzu struck her across the face. She went flying as the [Aura of Greater Protection] around her flashed. A powerful curse corroded the barrier, leaving her to tumble on the ground and roll to a stop.
“Enough. I have taken your most powerful Skill— not a Grand Skill. Not yet. But it’s close.”
He shook his head as he buzzed over to her. He picked her up, and she defiantly met his gaze. The Primeval Demon harrumphed.
“You have the drive, but you lack the power. Even that Skill was nothing more than a reflection of my own power. Nothing more.”
Edithe spat, and he raised one of his spiky hands.
“Not the most elegant last words—”
A glowing sword struck Belzu from behind. He stumbled forward, dropping Edithe. Hadrian rushed to the red-haired woman’s side, only to be blasted by a curse of slowness. His movements grew to that of a snail’s, and Belzu glared at him.
“Another one of you? Die!”
He blasted Hadrian back. The man went flying as Edithe screamed.
The man’s armor fell apart as he spawned on the ground. He was still alive and breathing, but not for long as Belzu loomed over him. Edithe tried to cast another spell—
And a rain of potions crashed down at them. A white gas covered the area as something swooped down, grabbing Hadrian at the last second. Ismail and Gabriel. A [Beastmaster] and an [Alchemist]. The other Diamond Ranks of the Valiant Dreamers.
Gabriel tossed a flurry of explosive bottles at the Primeval Demon.
“That is enough!”
He flapped his wings, dissipating the gas and the explosions. Edithe crawled back to her feet, almost knocked back down by the gust of wind. Belzu glanced around at her and the Pegasus flying above. Gabriel, Ismail, and Hadrian flew around the Primeval Demon, heading back for Edithe.
But the Primeval Demon wasn’t going to let them do that.
“You will all die. [Desecration—”
And he paused. A beam of white light sliced up and cut the night sky in half. A radiant glow that bathed the area with a kind warmth. Refreshing. Edithe felt stronger just from looking at it.
She stood straighter, ready to fight once more, but Belzu didn’t even look in her direction. Instead, the Primeval Demon stared at the light. At the man walking slowly towards him.
“Finally, my prize.”
Belzu’s eyes gleamed as he eyed Baris— as he eyed what Baris held in his hands.
“The Sword of Alexander.”
The Primeval Demon breathed. Baris swung the blade down, and the pillar of light faded away. Yet, the effects stayed. Edithe felt stronger than ever. But she was too confused to act.
“What is he doing?”
Baris challenged Belzu.
“Leave my son out of this! Leave my company alone! And face me!”
“That… that power. Yes, it is as they’ve said.”
Belzu started forward, leaving Edithe alone as he approached Baris.
“Give it to me, Human.”
“I shall not.”
Baris said, voice steady. Then he leapt forward and swung the blade. The earth shook with the attack— it knocked Belzu back, the Demon grinning in excitement as he only focused on the weapon.
Edithe blinked as Baris stood over her. Her eyes slid off him and onto the weapon, admiring the ornate sword. Its hilt was made of gold and adorned with gems. The blade was cut cleanly, glinting and emitting its own soft light. A beautiful light that she could stare at forever.
[The Sword of Alexander: Mythical Grade - ???]
Baris’ voice snapped her back into reality.
“Go and get out of here.”
She looked over at him as Belzu rose back up in the distance, cackling.
There was nothing else Edithe could say. She was too caught in both terror and wonder at the weapon Baris was wielding. But the man hung his head low, speaking in a morose tone.
“A son shouldn’t pay for the sins of his father.”
He took a wide stance, holding the Sword of Alexander to his side.
“A company shouldn’t pay for the sins of its leader.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m asking you to escape with Hadrian and the others. Protect them while I hold this Demon off.”
“Hold him off?”
Edithe blinked as illusions and curses gathered around Belzu. The Primeval Demon multiplied— fake forms that surrounded Baris. The man slashed down, dispelling the illusions.
“When Hadrian wakes up, tell him… that I loved him. That I am proud of him. And I trust that he’ll be a better leader than I ever was.”
Baris readied himself for Belzu’s next attack. Ismail swooped down with his Pegasus, gestuing for Edithe to get on. There were so many things Edithe wanted to say, but the first thing that came to her mind was simple.
“We can help—”
“No, you cannot.”
Baris shook his head.
“Even with this, I am too weak. All of us are. We will die if we face him together. It shouldn’t have come to this, but it did.”
He bowed deeply at Edithe.
“You were right. I have failed all of you. I am sorry,”
With those final words, the red-haired woman apprehensively clambered onto the Pegasus. Baris charged at the Primeval Demon, uttering a battle cry that caused Edithe to shiver.
Belzu welcomed the charge with glee, spreading all his wicked limbs out.
“Yes! That is the power I have sought for so long! It shall be mine!”
They clashed in battle— a blur to Edithe’s eyes. A Level 160 Demon against a lowly Platinum Rank Human. But with the Sword of Alexander, Baris stood a chance. Even if Baris wasn’t a [Warrior]. Even if there was nearly a 100 level gap between them.
The ground shook and trembled before the battle. Edithe stared behind, watching the fighting slowly disappear in the distance. There was a blinding flash of light for each swing Baris took— a light of hope as he held off the Primeval Demon.
There had been a million things Edithe wanted to tell Baris. She didn’t blame him— no, she couldn’t. No one could have expected this. Why was Belzu even here? Wasn’t he too busy ravaging the rest of Nixa?
It made no sense to her.
And yet, this was reality. Baris was… was going to die. Edithe wanted to apologize to him. For the way she blamed him just a few days before. She didn’t mean it— she didn’t want him to die placing the blame on himself.
No, she told herself. You have to hope. Believe. Dream. She watched as the battle raged on from afar, nothing more than flashes of light.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. And… thirty minutes later, the light flickered out.
Baris died as Edithe fled with the rest of the Valiant Dreamers Company. Victory belonged to Belzu, and with it, he won what he was searching for.
The Sword of Alexander was in his hands now.