All’s Fair In Love And War – Ch.16

The street lay littered with footsteps from people of all ages, be it young or all, all marching the same way. Indrick and the other of Valerian’s two officers stared from a sidewalk, both with their hands behind them, standing by the western end of the capital. What glances he feared he’d get back in the villa, he now got here, all curious and wondering, all giving away with their expressions what little they must’ve known. Too quick, too suddenly, all they must’ve known about the cultists could be reduced to rumors at best. What thoughts could be in their heads over seeing a paladin next to a monster, however, he could not even imagine.

“It must be weird for you to see this.” Said the dullahan, breaking the monotonous silence past the footsteps. A dullahan of lengthy blonde hair tied into a braid, with the sides tied into a pair of similar braids going towards the back and uniting; neck covered just as Rose’s, with a neckpiece merged with pauldron and armor as if it had achieved a sense of uniform rather than a desperate putting-together of what armor could be found. In response, Indrick only turned to glance at her from the corner of his helmet’s slit; she turned to notice with her crystal-blue eyes, then turned forward again. “Monsters in a city knowing of your presence, rather than dullahans sent out to fight you, I mean.”

“Weird, yes.” He said, turning his head forward again. No matter who it was, every gaze he spotted his way shared such sense of confusion, like looking at an anomaly. And certainly he was in such environment, an anomaly.

“Must be even weirder for one of their boogeymen to be helping them.”

“How much of a boogeyman am I?”

“Well,” she chuckled, “your kin are what mothers scare their children with to make them behave. I should know, my mother used to scare me like that when I wasn’t even ten.”

“Charmed.”

His words paused, a moment he used to gaze ever wondering at the crowds marching past towards the center of the city. Not a single gaze sent his way seemed similar to that of the dullahans, as much as he looked for one.

“Can I ask you something?” Said Indrick.

“Go ahead.”

“The dullahans seemed… happy when they crossed me back when we were setting out. Too happy, almost. Not like the people here.”

Though expecting an answer, instead he saw the dullahan lower her gaze ever so slightly.

“Has anyone else other than you, Victoria, and the paladins gotten out of Acerrae?” She asked.

Silence. An answer better than any.

“I see…” She continued. “There’s been rumors about that as soon as you arrived. No army following her, no mention of reinforcements, nothing but a paladin with her. Nostrum sent an army too, didn’t they?”

“They did.”

“You must’ve gone through great hardships, if your kin managed to escape with our Lady. Greater hardships if all that one could do is escape, instead of hoping for victory… None of us know what you’ve gone through. Most of us perhaps don’t even want to know. But we know you must’ve seen sacrifice after sacrifice to see her through. I’m sure that’s why they were all happy to see you.”

Sacrifice after sacrifice. Those words stuck in his mind, generating thought after thought as he raised his head to look at the lightly clouded sky. The images still felt fresh, as if he still lived them rather than seeing them as a memory of the not-so-distant past. The moment he got Victoria out of the cave, Vandire’s last words to him, Jeremiah’s infinite gratitude. The escape. A mad cavalry stampede, and an equally mad attempt to cut them off. His heart felt hollow upon recalling so vividly the cultists coming from the side streets, and knight after knight crashing upon them in fury and hatred to delay them, cementing their own doom in the process. So many men in quick succession casting out all instinct for self-preservation and jumping into the pyre with courage in their hearts and defiance in their cries, to save the one he had set out to kill. Strange world, that which Nyarlathotep had shaped with her cult.

And yet, at that very moment, he thought of Victoria who had ridden the same horse as him. She who witnessed everything he had seen, and gone through everything the crawling chaos had shown him. Though a great many words he had exchanged with her from Acerrae to the villa, he couldn’t help but wonder how she had taken such sight. Most certainly her own dullahans had been mixed in the cavalry force, throwing their bodies and lives against the endless tide with just as much defiance, if not even more so.

“Umm… M-miss…?”

Wasn’t the dullahan’s voice. Curious, he lowered his sight to find a small girl in front of them, so young and small that she barely stood over half their height. Tears fell down her cheeks, and upon meeting her eyes, she seemed to freeze in fear at his notice.

“Hm?” Asked the dullahan, lowering herself to her height and hugging her knees. At least, it served to snap the girl from her fear, bringing her attention to the dullahan once more. “Do you need something?”

A pair of horns came out of her head, small and hugging her hair, along with a minuscule tail extending from her dress. Strangely innocent-looking for a succubus, he thought, with such long skirt and blouse, and even a ribbon tying the back of her hair. So too did he notice a plushie she hugged tightly, that of a small fluffy sheep.

“I… I lost my mommy…” She said, barely containing herself from crying uncontrollably.

“Lost?” Asked the dullahan, voice losing its assuring tone, signalling a change of atmosphere even Indrick could feel.

“I can’t find her, I don’t know where she is.”

From where Indrick watched, he could see the dullahan’s raised eyebrows hinting as to what sigh of relief she wanted to give. Almost considered himself dumb, to imagine such a small child would know how to use such euphemism.

“It’s alright.” Said the dullahan, extending her hand and ruffling the child’s hair. “You can be sure that she’s still here. We dullahans will help you find your mother, alright?”

“R-really?” She sniffed.

Standing back up, she glanced around and nodded at the first dullahan she saw in gesture to come closer.

“She’s looking for her mother. See if you can help find her.” She instructed as the other arrived.

In response, the dullahan nodded in acknowledgment, before softly speaking to the child as she gently nudged her to leave with her. The small succubus followed, yet not without shooting a curious glance towards Indrick, who followed her with his eyes as the two left. Soon enough. the succubus turned her head forward and walked beside the dullahan, never ceasing to hug her plushie ever so tightly.

“Victoria was right, evacuating the entire city would’ve been a nightmare.” She said, bringing her hand up and rubbing her head.

“She’s been learning well, for a monster.” He remarked. “Say, I don’t think I know your name.”

“Ah, have I not presented myself yet? I am Lily, Valerian’s second lieutenant. You might’ve spoken to his first lieutenant already.”

“Yes, I have. She–“

“Lieutenant!” Screamed a dullahan, frantic footsteps heard before they even turned around to see her sprint full speed to them, arriving in the blink of an eye. “Traitor dullahans are in the villa!”

Eyes shot wide open, without a second of pause before both Lily and Indrick’s petrification turned into a sprint following the dullahan who had just arrived, now heading eastward.

Not even a block away, and the city remained deserted of all civilian life, with all dullahans rushing in the opposite direction the civilians once walked to. A few blocks past that, and they reached the very edge of the capital where a barricade lied on the street, sealing all movement to either within or without. Right by it gathered the dullahans who had been by the street, and in quick fashion both Indrick and Lily made their way through, till they arrived to the barricade and gained vision towards the villa by its slight hill.

Traitor dullahans, as described. Marching about in the villa, carrying out Lord knew what actions, yet as far as he could see, Indrick saw no one else. None of the servants, no Valerian, no Victoria, nobody. Turned difficult to whether it was better or worse to see no signs of life, or to see them fighting on the road. At that moment, however, Indrick hear a particular soft sound, strange to the ear and unable to tell what it was; he turned his helmet enough to see the source, to find Lily’s gauntlets making such noise as she gripped the wooden frame of the spiked barricade; the expression he found on her only served to accentuate it, that of pure indignation and hatred, surprising him over what shock and horror he’d have imagined.

“To see her home desecrated by traitors…” She muttered, voice as rough as it would be in years, gritting her teeth and frowning in equal measure. “Rally up!” She then shouted to those around her, stepping away from the barricade. “Send word to the reserve to hold this barricade, we’re going–“

Silence. Following where she gazed, remaining in place as if petrified, Indrick saw what Lily had seen. There they arrived through the side street, Victoria with a few dullahan soldiers escorting her. Upon arriving, Victoria couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at Lily’s expression; at the same time, Indrick glanced over to the villa once more, before returning his eyes to her.

“Nobody left up there?” He asked.

“Hm? We just left. Something happened?” She asked in turn, marching up to the barricade in wonder and glancing up to her home, to see what all had been staring at. After a moment of silence without expression, she let out a quick chuckle. “Must be infuriating to find none of us there, huh.” She said, though soon enough her smile began to die down, till a sorrowful look reigned as she kept on staring towards the villa.

“Was it really alright to leave it to them?” Asked Lily.

“It’s just a villa. It’d do us more harm if we stayed there.” She answered. Words certainly aimed to reassure Lily, yet those around it felt it as Victoria reassuring herself instead; such lower tone could only give it away. “Lily, you’re in charge of this side of the city.” She then said, bringing her hands up to rearrange her cap as she stepped off the barricade, marching away. “Indrick, let’s go.”

“Understood.” Answered Lily. At the same time, Indrick stepped off the barricade to follow the lilim westward, further into the city.


“And leave the main entrances wide open…?” Asked Valerian, marching beside Victoria who Indrick too accompanied.

“If time allows we’ll block them,” she said, dragging her finger through the north, west, and southern side of the city, where the great streets acted as a wide open entrance, “but with what little time and resources we have you might as well forget about them. The other parts are infested with chokepoints and tight corridors between the buildings, but they can be barricaded the quickest too. Best we can do with the open streets is to leave them unfortified and lure the traitor dullahans to go through there.”

“Then Rose and Lily will get word to skip them altogether. I just hope the barricades actually have a use… those traitors up there still doing nothing just screams ‘siege’ to me.”

“If Acerrae is anything to go by, they wouldn’t need to siege.” Said Indrick.

“Frightening, isn’t it?”

Hurried footsteps. Never a good sign. Southward, directly towards their left, Indrick turned his head to find a dullahan arriving, something Victoria and Valerian soon noticed, prompting the three to halt.

“Traitor dullahans entered the city to the south.” She said, keeping her composure through titanic effort past the panting. “They’re skirmishing our forces as we speak.”

“Indrick,” immediately said Victoria, “think you can help the dullahans against them?”

“Chances are they’re looking for you specifically. Are you sure about sending me to the frontline before the others have arrived? It could be a distraction.”

“The alternative is keeping you here doing nothing and wasting your strength. If it’s a distraction, then you should focus on ending it as quick as you can, so that my dullahans can find whoever’s sneaking about without anything to distract them.”

“Very well.” He affirmed, turning and running past the dullahan southwards. Not a second after his steps had begun, already did he hear Victoria exchanging words with Valerian in such stern tone fitting of a general barking orders, muffled by his own noise as distance grew.


Metallic rattling followed each step, damp stone striking against his boots and stirring the chainmail hanging where the plate didn’t cover, till he slowly came to a halt. Arrival to the southern outskirts had been signalled to his eyes by the dullahan presence ever increasing, some arriving from the side streets in front, other from those behind him. Painfully few to do much, still it seemed a lot compared to how many the army as a whole had. No longer did Variland have the luxury of manpower out of nowhere in such quick, desperate times, it seemed.

Uncomfortable. Without a unit, without an army of his own, no organization did he have, no specific orders to carry out other than ‘go this place and beat people up’. No knowledge of battle lines, of where the enemy stood, or where allied lines were; jumping blindly into the fray, almost. Would’ve been simpler had the traitors not had the ability to pierce his armor from God knows what ambushing places thanks to their elven bows, making a blind jump forward a clear suicidal endeavour.

“Hey, hey! Paladin!” he heard someone call. “Over here!”

Turning his head to the call, he found a dullahan waving her arm up high for him to notice. Several others stood with her far forward behind a corner of the street, as if covering themselves from sigh of those who could’ve been much forward ahead; opposition, no doubt. Without other ideas, he ran her way.

“Did our Lady send you?” She asked. Only then, from so up close to see the rest of her group, did Indrick find a striking familiarity in one of them. It was then that he realized, it was the very same dullahan that had escorted the child who had lost her parents.

“Yes.” He answered. “I only know of traitors and a skirmish. What do I need to know?”

“Group of uncertain number arrived before the barricade could even start in this area, traitors separate from those in the villa. Skirmish ensued between them and our patrols. Traitors must be numbering thirty or so. You… have no crossbow? I swear I saw you with one.”

“Left it and the poleaxe back at the center. Dead weight for now. Plan?”

“Wait for reinforcements. Now that they’re here, we’d attempt to push forward while those groups at the flanks see what they can do. We’ll have to hope they didn’t have enough time to entrench themselves, or we’d have to–“

"Why do you continue...?"

Blink of an eye. Gone. All life, gone. What little color had returned to the world from the storm of Acerrae, so too had it disappeared, replaced instead by a gray extending beyond the clouds overhead, where the sun had disappeared. Not a breeze existed to stave off the dead silence in his surroundings, other than the voice within his head.

Footsteps. Cold, sharp, hitting against stone at such a slow, calm pace, echoing throughout the silence forevermore. A chill on his spine accentuated each repeating noise, coming closer and closer from around the corner, yet as he stared intently towards where it’d appear, he saw nothing. Louder and louder it grew, with each moment making him question, ‘Is it really close, or am I in such silence that it felt so loud?’.

Until, she appeared. The sorceress. The crawling chaos. Nyarlathotep. Lord knew how many names she went by, if she could shapeshift with as much ease as he had seen last time. Still with her eternal smile, yet now with her arms in front of her hugging a small object. A plushie, that of a simple sheep. After coming to sight, there she stood immobile by the corner.

“For how long, rather?” She continued, voice as soft as he remembered it. “Even the greatest ship will succumb to erosion, with no port to return to. What will be your mind’s haven, I wonder…?”

No reply from him. Rather, she did not even wait for one, turning and slowly marching away further south, and yet, the state in which the world around him had been forced into still prevailed. As if she wanted him to follow, he took the first step forward towards her, marching a fair share of distance behind.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Doing what, pray tell?”

“You know what.”

A soft chuckle escaped her as her head lowered ever so slightly, before she came to a halt.

“It’s fun.” She answered, turning just enough to look at him from the corner of her eyes. Silent and immobile, Indrick could only stare from behind the slit of his helmet to soon see her widening her grin, yet with her eyebrows tightening almost in pity. “That’s what you were dying to hear, is it not? An answer simple enough to understand, quick and blunt, without higher reason or purpose to it save for crude entertainment. Something a flatlander could understand the meaning of.”

Her march began anew, turning forward and heading off.

A building, he saw. A simple, small school she walked towards, its doors wide open. Signs of evacuation, unable to even close them, for sure. He quickly resumed his march and caught up with her, till he walked behind at the same distance as before, just as she entered the building.

“You threw so many things at me, and you won’t even tell me a ‘why’?” He asked, crossing the doors himself. Within, she halted, standing by the small carpet at the middle of the school which looked like a chapel; a relic of Old Variland, perhaps, maintained by those few living here before Victoria had arrived, repurposed into what it turned into.

“Curious?” She asked, turning to face him.

“Very.”

“Don’t you remember, Indrick…? Curiosity killed the cat.”

“…Perhaps thus saving the rats.”

Silent for a moment, Nyarlathotep soon lowered her head and slowly shook it. “Of all the times I’ve said such words, you were the first one to find something to go with it.” She said, before turning aside and walking up to one of the small chairs by the equally small tables, to take the sheep in her hands and gently place it down. Then, she reached for her side and detached the hook by her belt, that which carried the damned book in its straps to hang. After a few steps towards him, she extended it to him by the strap.

Without other recourse, he slowly reached and took it. Much to his surprise, no violent imagery had flashed before his eyes, yet desire to open it to find out if that’s what it took seemed to settle at zero.

“Take care of it.” She said. “It’s for the lilim.”

“Victoria?”

“Hah, no. You’ll know when the time comes.”

“…What?” He asked. Yet, Nyarlathotep had disappeared, turned into that old smoke of electrical aesthetic, red and black like that of her cultists and traitors.

Blinking blankly momentarily, he could only stare until the last speck of smoke dissipated. Without anything else to catch his attention, he raised the book by its strapped and looked with eyebrows raised in confusion, before hooking it to his belt as Nyarlathotep once did. Then, his gaze fell upon the sheep, lying ever so comfortable upon the table. Marching a few steps towards it, he took it and stared, seeing a few specks of dust dirtying its celestial white fluff, to which he dusted off. Then, he couldn’t help it but stare at it, looking at it in the eyes as he remembered the child who it belonged to. What thoughts its presence here led to were all but comforting.

“Indrick!!” Screamed a desperate voice from afar; the dullahan he had talked with just moments ago. Snapping back to reality, literally so, Indrick suddenly heard the noises of combat outside the small school. What hell must’ve been raging outside, what numbers must’ve gathered, if rather than a skirmish it felt like a full continuous fight on all sides. How long had he been here? How did he get here from so far in reality, or did Nyarlathotep’s actions drag him out here without him knowing? “Indrick!! Snap out of it!! We can’t get to you, you’ll end up surrounded!!”

The door. When he looked outside, all color, or at least what little there once was, had returned. The wide open doors seemed like a blessing in times needing an escape back to safety, yet at that very moment an arrow flew in from behind. It passed just beside his head, hearing the deafening whistling and subsequent breeze, to then see it hitting against the wooden frame of the door. After a second, it disappeared in smoke. When he turned around to the source, he saw Melanie with her bow coming from a doorway.

“You missed.” He said.

“We both know how little it matters. You’ve denied our offer ever since they first day you met us. The wounds in Makillae, your talk with Nyarlathotep, our subsequent fight… Those times are long gone, paladin.”

“You’re here for Victoria, are you not?”

“We are. For you, too.”

“How do you plan to achieve that, if we’ve both gone through worse?”

“I do admit I’ve made a mistake in how I… approached things. Your kin can withstand injury that’d break any other being, yet only those injuries which happen in quick succession. Even the greatest ship will succumb to erosion, with no port to return to… and though you’ll withstand these injuries for a while, no one is unbreakable. All we need to do is weaken you enough to capture you, even if it takes a hundred arrows impaling against you. Perhaps that’s what will end this madness of yours, once and for all.”

“Indrick!!” Screamed the captain once more, gaining his attention enough to turn his head to the outside.

“They’re waiting for you, Indrick.” Said Melanie, having him turn back to face her. “You can leave. You’ve done quite a lot for those you fight for, none can take that from you.”

“You’re letting me go?”

“I won’t stop you from leaving. I’ve given the order to my dullahans not to shoot you if you stepped out, too.” She said, placing the bow on her back, leaving her hands free. “You still plan on fighting to the very end, do you not? Tell me, how far will you go for those you wish to protect?”

Without answer, Indrick slowly stepped back towards the door. Never ungluing her eyes from Melanie, he saw her not moving a muscle, not taking a step forward, not ready her bow nor an arrow, just staring at him dead in the eye. His steps became quicker, soon turning around to run towards the door, until he was just about to cross it.

“The child is in this building.” She said. With those few words, Indrick came to a halt, just under the frame of the door. “She’s safe. Unturned.”

No words escaped him, only a movement which had been reduced to a mere turn to face her.

“My reinforcements have arrived.” She continued. “By the time you find the child, they’d have reached the front. My dullahans have orders not to shoot you, unless they see you with that child, in which case they’ll prioritize you as a target. Now tell me, Indrick… How far will you go for those you wish to protect?”

With that, she turned and left through the same door she arrived. Left with his own thoughts, torn between decisions and decisions, he couldn’t help but slowly lower his head to look at sheep in the eyes once more.

Never did the noise outside subside. All the contrary, it became ever-increasing at a steady pace, more and more combatants joining the fray with each passing minute. He stood in no man’s land, for however long it may last. He needed to get out. To risk himself, to risk Victoria’s forces losing his strength, to allow the cultists to force him into his ranks, it would spell disaster to the defense of the capital, both tactically and morally.

And yet, a frightened child fearing for her life remained. A monster, no less. Chances were, if he remained he’d only get bogged down, surrounded, cultists claiming both of them. She was doomed, and all that was left there to decide was whether he’d join her, or not. Couldn’t have been coincidence that Melanie didn’t even tell him where in specific she was; a trap she hoped he’d willingly walk into.

But they were all doomed, anyways. What did it matter, if this event would decide whether they fall now, or fall later? A luxury, as if, to take all risks regardless of the outcome. But still, fact remained that he’d be a paladin condemning himself to certain doom, in order to save a monster.

A painful sigh escaped him, filled with agony and irritation to its very brim. Then, he loosened his belt just enough to leave the plushie within, pressed tightly against him so as to not fall despite all.

“What has my life come to…?” He asked in equal emotion, before stepping further into the small school.

Seemed obvious that she’d not be in that very room, leading him to take the door Melanie had walked through. A hallway, short one with a door by the side. He opened it, to find just a messy storage room full of menial objects and cobwebs. He’d barely be able to fit if he closed it, leaving him to know she wasn’t there with a mere glance, closing it back; then, the question of why he even closed it popped into his head, before shaking it off to march forward once more.

Small room. Narrow, rather, running the length of the school’s width. Backside of what used to be the back chapel, with just a few tables and chairs out there, with the walls lined by bookcases filled with papers. Windows adorned its side, allowing sight to the back of the school where so many traitors advanced; some, he even locked eyes with as they rushed forward, yet none did much else, ignoring his presence. Turning his head to the end of the narrow room, he found no signs of the child, but instead a ladder leading up high to the tower of the chapel-school.

Could be there. One way to find out. His steps led him to the ladder, extending his arm and taking grip before placing his sole on the first rung.

Step. Step. Step. Little by little, he arrived to the top. What a mess it turned out to be, as if it was a second storage room where all filth, even by the standards of the one below, had been kleptomaniacally hoarded. Boxes, brooms, dirt, all manner of objects arranged in the worst of ways, as if just thrown there without a care in the world. Lord knew what miserable level of organization existed, to the point where merely rearranging a thing or two would cut in half if not more the amount of space available all around him. Almost, just almost, the piles reached the bell over him.

A heart. No, a spade, connected to a line. A tail, sticking out from between a pile of boxes just enough for him to notice. Epiphany. Smart kid, to make such a mess in order to hide, though he wished not to know how much stamina it had to complete such chaos in what little time she must’ve had available. Couldn’t just give her the heart attack of her lifetime by pulling her out, however.

He took the sheep out of his belt and slowly sat down, seeing the tail shake ever so slightly with each noise his movements caused. Afraid, undeniably.

“Child.” He called as softly as he could. Yet, the succubus did nothing. “You lost your sheep.”

After a pause of nothingness, she began moving. A moment later, she peeked out from a little space between the boxes a little to the side, allowing him to see her teary eyes as streams of tears ran down her cheeks. In that moment, Indrick extended the sheep towards her, still distance to go. She stared blankly, expression unable to be deciphered by him, before she backed off out of sight. After a little rumbling, she came out slowly pushing aside the boxes, crawling with few and fearful movements towards him with disbelief in her eyes, skepticism, paranoia. Little by little she made her way forward, Indrick ever holding the sheep ahead, until she quietly took hold of it. As she looked at it before pressing it against her in such tight embrace, Indrick lowered his arms to rest over his crossed legs.

“Your parents are looking for you.” He said. “We should go.”

She sniffed, erraticness giving away what untold fear she must’ve still gone through.

“T-those people outside…” She stuttered, muffled under her own anxiety, voice almost cracking. “They frighten me… They’ll do things to me…”

“They’ll not get their hands on you. I’m here to get you out.”

“Really…?”

“Really.”

“But, you’re a paladin… Mommy told me paladins are evil…”

Noisier. The world outside must’ve gotten worse. Turning his head aside, if only to pay attention, he figured it time to go since minutes ago; maybe the time had passed, without him knowing. As if the claustrophobia of his helmet asphyxiated him, he took it off, after which a loud exhalation from his nose staved off the monotonous noises of combat.

“Who knows.” He sighed. “Maybe I’m evil. Yet, I had the choice. Leave, or stay to find you. If I’m evil, I’m doing a terrible job at it. Maybe I’m doing a terrible job at being a paladin, if I’m working with the Lady of Variland to protect us all.”

“With… with Viccy?”

“Viccy…?” He asked, turning his head to face her before growing a little smirk. “Heh, what a cute nickname. Maybe I should use it on her, one day. But, yes, I’m on the same side as her for the time being. Say, what’s your name?”

“It’s Minie…”

“Mine is Indrick. Pleased to meet you.” He said, extending his palm for a handshake.

Minie stared caught by surprise, before extending her palm in such fearful, slow speed, before both touched hands. Such was the size difference made worse by his gauntlets, that she could only grab onto a few of his fingers, both raising and lowering their hands once before letting go.

“How did you end up here?” He asked.

“I thought I saw my mommy coming here, and I got lost…”

“Do you think she’s here?”

She slowly shook her head. In response, Indrick could only let out an exhalation.

“We have to go. Those people down there are growing in number.” He said, putting on his helmet and standing up tall. Then, he extended his palm once more. “But, if they want to get to you, they’ll have to get through me.”

Without words, without an unshattered though, Minie only looked at his hand in an eternal moment of hesitation.

“Do you promise?” She asked.

Silent. The question had left him speechless. ‘I promise’, he’d have immediately said, but could he really make a promise he may not be able to accomplish? No, such thoughts were irrelevant; he couldn’t fail her, he couldn’t fail the others, he couldn’t fail Victoria. Any thoughts of failure, he did not have the luxury of pondering; any thoughts of the mere possibility of failure, he needed to cast out. Any chances of success, he needed to secure, even if it meant deceiving himself just to keep his own morale high. He needed to succeed, and for such a task, he needed to discard any thoughts unrelated to success.

“I promise. To you, to the dullahans out there fighting for us, and to Viccy herself, I promise.”

Reassured enough to act, Minie stood up before taking his hand. “Upsy daisy.” He said, lifting her up before quickly marching to the hatch and carefully climbing down the ladder, with only one hand available.

Shattered window as soon as he set foot. An arrow had flown in, startling both enough for Minie to scream and cling onto him. Almost in reflex, he placed his arm over her head, shards flying their way. Without a second to lose, he ran through the narrow room, windows shattering whole with more and more arrows whistling through and impacting against the brick of the opposite wall, until he arrived to the hallway where he remained without giving the traitors line of sight to him.

“You alright?” He asked, to which she could only nod; left silent in shock and horror, traumatic as it was, flowing tears once more. “No fear. I’ve gone through worse, you’ll be safe soon.”

He made his way forward, yet before he could even get out of the hallway, he saw and heard all the windows at the front shattering in equal manner with a hail of arrows. None had been aimed his way, nor would any strike him even by accident; a ploy to strike fear within him and Minie, a successful one if only to show how many bows were aimed at the front to the point no window survived. To run out, it’d be suicide, leaving him standing in the hallway immobile.

Hurried footsteps from behind, followed by shattered glass grinding against the ground; zero chance of anything other than those wishing to massacre him in such slow and painful manner. The little storage room’s door lay next to him, yet hiding would solve nothing; yet, the idea of hiding had been replaced by something similar. He opened the door and marched inside, gently placing Minie down and unsheathing his longsword afterwards, while Minie scurried away into the corner; just in time, for the shattered glass had stopped grinding as the steps echoed within the hallway. Closer and closer, the shadow of a bowman already seen past the doorway, until the very first sign of the dullahan came to sight.

Lunge forward. Bow already at full draw expecting him there, the dullahan let loose. The arrow flew on, yet missed his torso by a mere centimeter, flying into the room and striking above where Minie hid, forcing out a yelp from her in traumatic horror. Yet, in that split second, Indrick had smashed into her and drove his sword with all his might into her belly, ramming her against the wall right before she disappeared in smoke.

Another dullahan came to sight from the hallway’s entry, from the same path the first had come from; heart skipping a beat, he ran into the room once more as she drew her bow, reaching safety before she could let loose. However, he could hear no footsteps of a naive approach; the dullahan only stood there, a smart choice for someone who must no doubt be waiting for reinforcements. Heavy breathing set in, knowing that if another dullahan were to arrive, he’d be unable to do a thing lest expose himself for a shot. Couldn’t get rid of her without his crossbow, however.

No signs of his own reinforcements getting through to him, either.

His knife, however. As he ran his hand over its sheath, he couldn’t help but wonder the chances of it landing on its blade against the traitor, if he actually hit her at all. Yet, that’d be throwing away his only method of leaving on a good note, both for those who’d rather not see him in the opposition’s ranks, and for him should he be captured.

“In that room. Go.” He heard the muttering of the traitor, as more steps drew near.

Now or never.

With sword switched to left hand, and with a quick and firm step, he stepped out as he unsheathed the dagger just enough to use the momentum for a throw; Lord knew what strength and stamina the dullahan had accrued for such long time with her bow fully drawn, enabling her to let loose just as he threw his knife. The blade struck her in the chest, digging through the exposed neck had she not turned to smoke upon contact by such lethal blow. The arrow, as if luck shined upon him, struck the doorframe rather than him, tearing off a chunk of wood before such hit threw it into a harmless direction. Yet, where the knife had gone to was beyond him; it flew in a strange direction after bouncing against the wall, now within the room claimed by the traitors.

“Crossbow! He has a crossbow!” Yet another dullahan exclaimed.

“That’s a knife! Does he have his crossbow or not?!”

“…For Nostrum,” a furious warcry echoed throughout the wind; the voice of a man, so full of passion as to be heard from so far away, wishing to be noticed, wishing to be heard by all, “and for The Order!”

“…What was that?” Asked a dullahan.

“Paladins! Paladins outside! Melanie, where the hell are you?!”

“Outside, now! Go!”

“The slaves of the sorceress seek death, deliver it!” Shouted another man’s voice.

Footsteps and grinding of glass followed, before the school fell silent from noises within. Indrick, almost in disbelief over their timing, stepped back further into the room without a thought other than awe and a thank to fate. His gaze soon fell to Minie’s eyes, as baffled as he was yet still fearful nonetheless.

“We may have a chance of getting out, now.” He said as he sheathed his sword, walking up to her who extended her arms, lifting her up.

“Should… Should we really step out?”

No immediate response; he knew as well as she did, a mere hunch at best. Silent for a second in thought, lowering his head momentarily, he raised his fist towards her.

“We’ll leave it to chance, alright?”

“…Alright.” She answered, extending her own fist.

Shake.

Shake.

At that moment upon the end of the third shake, he opened it palm wide. So too did she open hers in the same manner. Then, they both clenched them into a fist again.

Shake.

Shake.

Both opened it only with index and middle, leaving it looking like scissors.

Shake.

Shake.

Indrick left it wide open. Minie, however, left hers clenched. Paper, beating rock.

“Awawa…” She lamented to herself, taking her hand back before clinging onto him with ever greater strength, rivalling her fear in intensity.

“Indrick!!” Shouted Sigismund’s voice, recognizable immediately from such distance. “We shattered their flank! Take the opening while they’re in disarray, go! Now!”

Seemed like the little game had been for naught, if an outside factor took the decision for them. Minie exchanged one last look into his eyes before driving her head into his chest, and so Indrick took one deep, perhaps final, breath. The open doors of the school lay open for him, shattered glass lining the sides of the room, windows allowing sight within and a path outside with no hope of defending against the arrows to arrive. And yet, it still remained the safest alternative.

“Hold tight!”

First step, then the second, as long and quick as his legs allowed. Running in mad sprint, he dashed through the room’s middle, crossing the door into no man’s land. A hellish scenery of arrows flying one way to the other like the apocalyptic rains of Acerrae, abnormal even for combat, giving away how both sides had decided to throw all they had in that very moment.

“Paladin! Stop him!” A shout could be heard from the side, opposite to that where his men had arrived from.

And then, the arrows flew in.

Struck against the ground, struck against the buildings they flew into, whistled in such deafening noise, a hail of worse-than-death for him, yet still he ran. Exposed without hope for cover, he provided Minie with all he could, a mere shield in the shape of his arm placed to cover her head. For all he had seen the affliction do, he knew not how a child would fare, nor did he wish to find out.

“Cover his retreat! Make yourselves a target if you have to!” Shouted the loyalist captain, the same one as before.

Another arrow, and another, and another, whistling past with such horrifying sound drowning out that of his own boots stamping on the stone road.

Injury. Back. Arrow punctured his armor, piercing the flesh, forcing out a despairing gasp out of his mouth as the blow send him forward to his knee, Minie’s panicking whimpering following through. Numbness. Thoughts of failure seeped through, of how too great of a hail rained upon the streets for anyone to even get him. But still he had a task he had locked his thoughts onto, as if it were an anchor when all else faded in an instant. Arrow still sticking out his back, he still attempted to persevere, using all strength to stand back up as he dashed forward once more. Inevitably, left himself such a tempting target while immobile, another arrow flew in and struck him in the back in the same manner, and then another, pinning him against the floor by sheer force of impact.

A tragic, regrettable end for the knight in shining armor. His reward for saving a child arriving in the shape of doom for both. Seemed like the child understood it all too well, remaining silent and shutting out all semblance of reality around her, keeping her eyes closed with her head tightly against the paladin making such vain effort in protecting her; what she knew would happen, she wished not to think of, enclosing herself in her own reality as if wishing it all to be a nightmare.

Too far away from friendly lines. Too strong opposition for reinforcements to mount a rescue mission for him. Enemy lines drawing near. Shouts for him to get up, drowned out by the silence in his ears brought by the affliction seeping through into him. What a mess…

But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it, Indrick? Such a small child in your arms, protecting as if… it were yours. As if it were one of those children you so dearly wished to come back to, in that great table of your dreams. Quite a funny thought, for someone who needed to accept the possibility of finding no loved one, let alone having a child with her.

Can you imagine it already? The product of your love, afraid for her life, clinging onto you like the one you now hold. In danger, threatened, preyed upon by those you’re fighting against, those who’d grant no mercy even to the defenseless in their quest. She can’t even whimper, the poor thing… and she has entrusted her life entirely on you, as if you were her guardian angel. You can already imagine her repeating in her mind, ‘the paladin will save me, the paladin will save me, the paladin will save me’, even if she once feared you just as much as she now fears those who have struck you down.

And she believes in her own thoughts without hesitation, without doubt, without a single thought of failure the likes of which plague your mind. You promised it to her, after all.

Haa… Look at you, standing back up despite those wounds, trying to start running again forward. Do you think of that child so dearly? Have the natural instincts of a father protecting his child kicked in? The adrenaline, the rush, the tunnel vision erasing all within one’s mind save for the safety of the one in his arms.

Surely it’d have been glorious to see you jumping to your feet in full sprint… but with those injuries of yours, you’re just left barely walking fast enough. Well, maybe it still inspires awe in the eyed of the one you hold. Oh what tales of old must be flashing in front of her eyes with your single-minded determination, of the strength of paladins now in her favor, and not just for her, but to those witnessing your acts too.

Didn’t even notice that arrow hitting you, just now? Ah, of course you did, it almost sent you to the floor again, and still you continue. Look at you, ignoring your own wounds for the sake of an innocent soul! A paragon of virtue, the pride of The Order! True hero of mankind! He who protects the weak, be it human or monster! Not even another arrow can break your strike, choosing to ignore it, even ignoring the numbness of your own armor’s dents digging into your back…

Do you hear it too, Indrick? The screams, the shouting, the loyalists all making such an impressive effort to give you all possible chances of escaping. The paladins too, after such magnificent breakthrough. Reminds you of Acerrae’s last moments, don’t they? Aren’t you glad that, if only for now, no sacrifices of such scale have to be made? Surely you are. Perhaps you don’t even care, perhaps you’re not even listening to the voices in your head.

Perhaps you’re not even paying attention to your surroundings. Tunnel-visioned enough to not hear those fateful steps behind you of so many traitors gaining ground, fearless of injury with how they’d just disappear to reappear later. Not a care in the world, eh? Just keep on running forward, disregarding those shouts of those who pursue you.

“Punch through! Defeat them!”

Well, not that it mattered. I’m sure you could hear that oh so spine-chilling warcry. Numerous of them, in fact. Ever wondered where your paladins were? Haa, there they are, crashing with their full might into the chasers! Shame you can’t turn your head – or don’t want to – to see the not-bloodshed, though I’m sure you can hear it… Almost makes you wish you were there with them, no?

They seem to be alright with it. With you saving a monster child, I mean. They didn’t bat an eye, almost as if it were so natural as to not be worth of the effort of noticing. Don’t let the near-failure get you down, Indrick; they must know, and they must’ve believed it the right choice to save her.

Was it not Sigismund who started having feelings for a monster? Back when the affliction first appeared, when you asked those who had been injured what they felt, and there he was to speak of his situation… Surely it was a monster, don’t you think? With how he had been thrown around in the demon realm with the rest of you, the chances of meeting a human girl would be near zero. You’d be surprised to hear what monster he developed a heart for… Almost the opposite of what one would expect from him. Not a dullahan, but instead someone… softer.

How times change, no? Perhaps your dream can come true, after all. Imagine her, Indrick: Victoria as a caring mother, carrying your child in her arms with the greatest smile in her life. Don’t you want to be there? Don’t you want to be at her side when it’s born, holding her hand, soon to see the product of your love with her and say to her, ‘It has your eyes’? Who knows, maybe she’ll say it to you instead, nobody knows what that daughter might be. With how things have changed in the paladins’ views and tasks, at this pace they might even celebrate it, just as how one would celebrate a friend turning into a father.

You don’t have to say a thing. I see it in you, how much you desire it. I see through your helmet the tears beginning to run down due to that thought alone. Rejoice, maybe you’ll be able to accomplish that soon enough. It’s not like mankind would be one step closer to extinction if you did that, right…?

Snap. Reality. Once more in his own thoughts, mind reclaimed rather than at the mercy of the voices within; a dullahan had pulled out one of the arrows in his back, easing the erosion within his mind just enough to push through the other injuries. Yet, as if his mind returning had destabilized his willpower, he fell to one knee. Safety at last, he thought, leaving the child on the ground for her to run off forward.

“What the hell were you doing?!” Berated the captain.

“What…?” He asked.

“You just stood in place as if you were spacing out, and then walked out there without listening to anyone! Pure dumb luck that the dullahans didn’t decide to straight up shoot you back then!”

“…I did what?”

“Wait, are you telling me you can’t even remember?”

“Minie!” He heard a shout from afar, yet with knees on the ground as well as his hands, he found himself too exhausted to even raise his head. Joyous cries came to his ears as more and more arrows were pulled from his back.

“You know what, no matter. We gotta go now.” Said the dullahan captain, with her and another helping up to his feet. With the other dullahan placing his hand upon herself to support him, Indrick could finally raise his head to look forward, to see a woman with Minie in her arms marching towards him, perplexity and confusion in her eyes; Minie’s mother, if similarities pointed to anything, yet Minie herself sported a smile from ear to ear.

“That’s the paladin, mommy! He saved me!” Said Minie, pointing at him while holding onto her sheep.

“A… paladin…?” The mother couldn’t help but ask, as if the question barely wished to get out of her mouth.

“Are the paladins falling back?” Asked the captain to another dullahan.

“They are, captain.”

“Alright, I want everyone falling back before those things overrun us! Now!”

But as the dullahan aiding him helped him take the first step forward, his leg almost gave in, threatening to send him down once more. Struggling to keep balance, kept on his feet by the one next to him, he took yet another step onward, north. The mother, still in disbelief as she was, just barely found the focus needed to step out of his unstable gait; at least, before another few dullahans pressured them to head north with the others.


Tiredness settled itself, feeling each tingling sensation as his legs took each step. Though he could walk on his own two feet without aid, and with the dents once digging into his back already removed, physical effort built up from days ago granted him no mercy. He could rest for a day, and though the feeling of exhaustion might disappear partly, beneath it all remained a sensation of pain and overwork.

Ariminum. Aquileia. Acerrae. The chase. The villa. Barely bits of rest inbetween, just enough to get him to the next day, yet long-term rest had been little if any at all. With each movement of his legs, he couldn’t help but wish he had taken his halberd with him, if only to use it as support like a staff. Couldn’t say he didn’t see it coming, however; the overworking in a hypothetical scenario where everything had gone wrong, back when he first imagined it. Here he was. Could last for a while longer, in fact; he’d start worrying when his ligaments began aching like knives digging into his flesh.

Victoria must be around. He was already close to the southern edge of the center, where all the people had been moved to; with the southern assault and the eastern threat, it’d only be natural for her to be at the south-eastern edge or so. Yet, as much as he stared around in place, he only saw the infinite cacophony and ruckus of a hasty fortification, an effort to turn the capital into a fortress. Dullahans, surprisingly, turned out to be an absolute minority in the constructions, left instead to the great bulk of able-bodied men and women with dullahan coordination. Too few dullahans in total to defend an entire city, let alone fortify it at the same time.

“There you are!” Said her familiar voice, though at that very moment Indrick couldn’t help but feel a certain warmth in his heart upon hearing them. Was it the act of the voices in his head not so long ago? He turned to the side where he had heard them, and there he found Victoria with a hand on her waist and a slight smirk on his face, smoke around her dissipating. “Had fun?”

“The dullahans should’ve been able to keep it under control, now.” He said, though as his words left his throat, he soon noticed her furrowing brows and her smirk slowly fading. “…Something wrong?”

“You sound awful, what did you go through?” She asked, before glancing at his armor for any hints as to what punishment he might’ve taken. Yet, at that precise moment when her gaze fell on his waist, her eyes shot wide open as her hand on her waist dropped down, face turning pale and left with an open mouth, as if words wished to escape yet were unable to do so. Curious and forgetful, he followed her eyes till he came to see the one object she had been fixated on: the book. “…Nyarlathotep?”

“Yes.” He sighed, taking the book by the hook of its straps and lifting it in front of him. “She only gave it to me. Didn’t say a thing. Didn’t do a thing, kind of.”

“Kind of?”

“She put me in one of those other-world states like the one in Acerrae where I was alone with her. Led me to a building. According to the dullahans, I just randomly spaced out and started walking aimlessly. Almost got caught by traitors.”

“What is ‘almost’ to you?”

He felt it unnecessary to say a word. Rather, he turned around and showed her the full extend of the armor’s damage. The reaction was immediate, hearing her gasp out loud before becoming muffled, to which he found her covering her mouth with both hands when he turned back to her.

“I’m fine, for now.”

“You’re not fine.” She said in return, lowering her hands.

“I am. I can keep fighting just fine.”

“After everything that happened? Your mind must be at its very limit. Your muscles too, judging by how they were screaming at you before we even got here. You might be a paladin specifically trained for this, but you’re still human.”

“If I don’t fight, they’ll keep advancing. You said it yourself, my strength will be wasted.”

Her expression of worry soon faded, replaced instead by a stern, irritated look, eyes narrowing upon him.

“You know what I meant, Indrick. This is neither the time nor the place for empty bravado. You have to rest, or risk your body failing you when you need it the most.”

“Now is the time it’s needed the most. We both know we most likely won’t see the sun rising after it sets. I can rest when I’m dead.”

Silent. Immobile. Victoria breathed calmly with a cold gaze, looking at him in the eyes through the slit of his helmet. Then, she took one step forward towards him, leaving her face to face with him.

“You die on my command. Not before. Not after.”

Time felt as it stood still, as if the silence itself afterwards had drowned out the noises all around him, as if only their own breathing could be heard in the void between them. None unglued their eyes from the other, staring with eyes reflecting such steel will behind them, until Indrick finally closed his.

“Alright. I will rest.”

As if a great weight had been removed from her shoulders, Victoria exhaled a sigh of relief as a warm smile set itself in her expression, stepping back at the same time.

“You sound confident that your authority lets you command paladins.” He asked, tone reflecting not defiance, but simple curiosity.

“Is there anything else?” She lamented. “Nostrum has shattered. Variland will follow suit before tomorrow. The world might as well not exist outside of this city.”

“Right…”

Unsure what to do, he let his gaze fall lower. There in his hand he remembered he held the book still, to then decide to extend it towards her.

“Get that infernal thing away from me.” She said, comment almost feeling off-handed as she stood one step back. Almost wishing to shrug, he brought it to his waist and hooked onto his belt once more. “I’d want to get rid of it, but knowing our luck it’d just find a way to return. Or maybe we’ll need it. Or Nyarlathotep is taunting us before she takes it back… Did she even say why she gave it to you?”

“No.” he answered, taking off his helmet and rubbing his eyes. “She just said it’s for the lilim. When I asked if it was you, she denied it and said that I’ll know when the time comes.”

Her furrowed concern returned as her eyes fell on the book once more.

“What time do we even have left…? The paranoid side of me is starting to imagine that the cultists got another lilim, and are taking their time to bring her to fight us.”

“How bad would it be?”

“Very. I’d imagine it varies with each of my sisters.”

“Are they that different?”

She shrugged. “Were it not for what we are, you’d think we’re completely unrelated.”

“You have my curiosity. Do tell.”

“Well…” She wondered, turning her head to the side to scan the scenery. There she found something, before turning her head to Indrick once more and nodding aside for him to follow. As she stepped off, he followed her with his eyes to find her marching towards a bench by the sidewalk. Might as well be a blessing for his legs; almost joyous, he followed, both sitting down with him letting out a sigh in relief. “I have many sisters. Too many, actually. I’ve forgotten about a few of them, and there are others I’ve never met.”

“I’d have thought you’d be well connected with them.”

“Even if you assume that I was the last one to be born, you’re looking at me having to keep up with twenty-one other lilims, each with their own different interests and lives. Doesn’t help that some might as well live at the other end of the planet, though that’s more of a lazy excuse to not go out of my way to meet them.”

“Had fights with them?”

“Hm? No, I just liked staying in Variland. I get homesick easily. Others are the complete opposite, you can’t even find them if you tried.”

“I see…”

“Your voice gives it away.” She remarked, turning her eyes to see him. “Are you an only child?”

“…You got me. No matter how many times I hear of siblings, it’ll all be alien to me.”

Without a word to say, Victoria kept on looking at him for a moment before bringing her head back to rest by the bench, looking at the sky.

“I can’t imagine how it’d be. I guess that’s just as alien to me. It just sounds so… lonely.”

“And for me it sounds overcrowded.”

A snicker escaped her.

“So, how are your sisters?”

Rather than an answer, she instead turned her head just enough to stare with a smug grin. “Careful with how that question is worded. Anyone else and she’d think you want to hit on her sisters.”

Caught unprepared, he turned his eyes to see her without idea of the meaning behind words, nor of an idea of how to react. Just a second of watching at that smile did the trick, making him laugh to himself as he closed his eyes and sunk his head forward. From then, both shared a laugh stemming less from the worthless joke, and seemingly more from the absurdity of the situation.

“Well let me see here. Who do I start with… Well, Druella’s a given. Lescatie and all that.”

“How would it be if she caught the affliction?” He asked, recovering his composure.

“Things would be so bad that I’m confident we’d have been goners since the first day. If the rumors of her doing that to Lescatie on a pure whim alone that quickly are true, then an afflicted Druella doing that to Nostrum and Variland would’ve taken even less time. The same would extend to the Queen of Hearts, thousandfold.”

“Two whole nations combined, with a lilim defending them too, falling so easily?”

“Druella is strong. Far stronger than I ever will be, perhaps. At my absolute peak with centuries of continuous training, I may have a chance of challenging her as she is right now, but she’ll inevitably grow stronger. The Queen of Hearts, if I ever remember her actual name… Her magic is strong enough to alter reality itself around her; that’s how Wonderland came to be. With how Lescatie and Wonderland are, you can imagine how the lilims in question have to be.”

“Dreadful…”

“I can’t remember many of the others of that caliber. Past the third and the fourth, the next one I know of is the tenth. Mari is her name, but…”

An awkward silence befell them.

“But…?” Pressed Indrick.

“…She’s the type of lilim that likes giving names to her attacks. Take that as you will. Don’t ask me to imagine her with the affliction, she’s already trigger-happy enough with corruption.”

Dreadful silence on his part.

“Thirteenth, Ilassa. Has a kingdom out there in the desert, and sometimes I fear that she’s competition on which one of us all gets to brag about having a full proper kingdom; other than Druella and the Queen of hearts, at least. If she gets afflicted, her kingdom goes with her, and with how she might be into some manner of bondage or the like…”

“I don’t want to know.”

“Nor do I. From there you have… others.”

Once more, silence.

“Don’t want to talk about it?” He asked.

“I don’t know them that much. Maybe at most I can give a name and some irrelevant rumor, but that’s pretty much it.”

“So out of… who knows how many, you only know four?”

“I never had many reasons to find the others. I was comfortable enough here with my own people. Early in my youth my mother sent me with Jeremiah here, so I didn’t have much interaction with the others while growing up either. The few I visited, I did so trying to get some advice on how to run things here. Sometimes I got something worthwhile, other times I left disappointed. After a while, I got all I could get from them, and visits soon naturally came to a halt. After that, I turned full-time to obtaining anything I could from old Order journals and books. They had precisely what I wanted in both quantity and quality.”

“I see… I can’t say I’m not surprised by seeing a lilim so dedicated. Why, then? Your realm had long gotten rid of any person not monsterized or incubized, and you still focused on it. Doesn’t it conflict with your mother’s wish, to stay in your realm instead of turning more people?”

“There are others better suited for that. Thanks to them, my mother granted me the luxury of focusing on what I’m interested in, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Still, she can’t manage her lands alone. That’s where people like me come in. Where the others are the vanguard, we are the rearguard. And… had it not been for that, Variland would’ve not survived first contact with Nostrum. Perhaps I would not even be alive, right now.”

Not alive. Staring down low, he felt it impossible not to keep those words in his mind on and on, hearing them echo. Hollowness set in, a strange sensation within his heart brought forth by the morbid thought of a world where she had died earlier. Perhaps if he had found the strength needed to do so in their first meeting. And yet, nothing came out of imagining it other than a painful sensation plaguing his soul. What for, he knew not. Were she alive or not, things would’ve turned out the same with varying speed with Nyarlathotep’s entrance; were they successful in fending off against the cultist in such far-off hypothetical scenario, however, soon they’d find themselves crossing rapiers once more, ending in either his corruption or her death. And yet, it still hurt as if it would be the absolute greatest failure of his life.

“You are no stranger to corruption.” He said, distracting himself from earlier thoughts. “Nor are you stranger to visiting other lands for that purpose, if Makillae was a sign. If I can guess right, you could’ve very well ended up similar to the lilims you described, and the lilims we fear. What, then, made you so focused in improving your lands in isolation when you could’ve expanded south by just throwing a cloud of demonic energy our way years before this war even started?”

She only stared high into the sky, expression replaced by a blank state. Only one single thought came to her mind:

‘Do your best, and your love will come true. Make your lands the best in this world, and no doubt will a great man arrive to marry you.’

“…I don’t know.” She answered. “Same reason I didn’t do that when this war started, maybe. Just not coming up with the idea in the first place.”

Past a pause, she leaned forward and stood up to her feet, before turning to face where he sat.

“We still have a few hours before sunfall.” She continued. “Rest as much as you can. I promise I’ll call you to the front when the time is right, when we’ll fight till our hearts cave in.”

Staring into her eyes, he left his mind to wander. Then, a deep breath followed before he himself stood up.

“As long as you don’t give me the fright of my life again. The way you said you’d decide when I die… gave me chills.”

A slow smirk slowly set itself on her, soon growing into a relatively joyous grin.

“I’ll take it as a compliment. Go find a bed and nap. This night may be our last.”

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