Sitting in front of the entrance of the Undermine with only a flickering flame for company, Boleval was filled with guilt and regret.
I should never have let him go... What was I thinking!
The work day was over and the miners had left, with the exception of the rats. However, Edward was still nowhere to be seen and there were little doubts as to what had happened to him.
He didn’t know a thing about this place! I...I basically killed him...
He could still see Edward’s expression as he walked past him. Full of confidence and determination. He had restrained himself from grabbing his shoulder for many reasons, one of them being that it could very well have been a knocker baiting him. Another one being a strange intuition that everything would be alright.
But he could now see that his foolishness was obvious.
What would people think? That, full of jealousy, he had set the young warrior up for a deadly failure?
And if he was totally honest with him, had he really not been jealous?
Boleval had seen how welcoming his closest friends had been to Edward. He had a class, like them, and powerful one. One look at him and it was obvious that he bound to soon become an important figure and soar into the skies like a dragon.
Unlike good ol’ Bo, who was nothing but another forsaken condemn by Fate to roam the earth like a snake. Belly forever stuck to the ground.
Maybe even Sarn and Lima mocked him behind his back, and could he really blame them if they did? He hated himself for having these thoughts about his friends, but it was hard not to when his very own parents had abandoned him once they realized he had no potential.
Would they stop talking to him? Would the temple expel him?
No potential. So devoid of use that he couldn’t even prevent the premature end of someone who was relying on him.
“Boleval, is that you?”
Startled by the sudden call, Boleval scrambled to wipe his tears. In front of him was standing the sir Ardos, the lead instructor of the temple.
Even more so than the fact that he had made no noise, Bo was shocked to learn that the warrior knew his name.
Then he felt fear. Maybe he had come to punish him for Edward’s death. And if he had, they currently were in the best place to make someone disappear. A body thrown in the well of the mountain would never reappear.
“Is Edward still in the mine?” the instructor asked.
“Yes,” Boleval simply said.
He readied himself for the blows that would surely come. After all, he deserved them.
“I see...” the man mused. “Well, no matter. I came to pick you up. If you’re ready, let’s go.”
Dumbfounded, Bo looked at the tiger as if he was crazy. “But... but what about Edward?”
“Well, I understand you’re worried about your friend, but there isn’t any way for us to find him, is there?” the man said. “Even if I convinced Damian to go after him, there is simply no way to retrace Edward’s path.”
“Aren’t you worried about him? About his life?”
“Well, I have to admit that I underestimated his hunger for growth... however, after talking to your young friend Sarn, I believe he will be fine.”
“You gave Edward a coat made by Sarn, didn’t you?”
Bo frowned in disbelief.
He can’t mean that...
“Young Sarn has been steadily receiving contribution ether since this morning. Apparently even Tamie received a bit. And it can only be from one person.”
Boleval eyes got wide, and he gazed into the gaping entrance of the Undermine.
He is still fighting?
That’s what it was. Utter bliss.
During the dance, nothing mattered. There were only me, Ikun Omi and the destruction we left in our wake.
As we pierced and sliced, there was no doubt that we had no equals. That we were made for each other.
At times, we would spin, and then we became death. When we dodged, we were wind. When we closed in on an enemy, we were as unforgiving and precise as lightning.
But truly, we were the Flood. Unstoppable and unyielding.
Our technique was beyond compare. Our superiority absolute.
Then there was a notification proposing me something. I wasn’t sure what it said, but I had a strong feeling that I should refuse, while something else in me was begging me to say yes. To seize this opportunity to consume more ether than I ever had. An opportunity to finally meet a foe able to dance with me for a long time... maybe forever, even.
That contradiction birthed a battle between the two inner wills. And the pressure from that battle broke my trance.
First thing I noticed was that it was unbelievably freezing cold, despite the clothes I was wearing. I hadn’t felt cold since I had come to this world, so I was deeply shocked by the intense and sharp chill that seemed to seep under my skin. Into my bones.
I was at the forefront of a vast room I could only describe as a church nave. But this was no church with salvation in mind.
The congregation was made of the purple-robed priests I had fought against. There was too many of them for me to count, and they were all prostrating with their hands outstretched in front of them, palms facing up.
Golden candelabra offered a diffused light and made my throat dry from the incense. But incense wasn’t the only thing in the air, as a thick miasma was permeating from the ground and gave everything a purple tint.
It was a silent church without windows, but the walls were covered with living paintings recreating scenes with varying themes. Scenes of carnage, beauty, life, and death.
And behind the altar, in front of which I was standing was a dark purple veil that masking what awaited beyond.
It was torn in a few places and seemed to carry the weight of ages, but even though the air was still, it gently undulated.
I couldn’t tell what was hidden behind, but I could vaguely perceive twisting forms, breaking and taking shapes.
The notification that had broken my trance was still in front of me, waiting for my choice.
You have 1450 glory.
You have been deemed worthy to enter the inner sanctum of a church dedicated to the Keeper of Secrets and last guardian of the host of this dungeon.
Enter Bosom of Stillness?
No, I thought. No, no, no!
The notification disappeared and I took a few careful step backs from the veil. The prostrated worshipers were still ignoring me.
I need to get the fuck out of here.
I had no idea where I was, but I knew it was still in the Undermine. Only much, much lower than I had planned to go.
I opened my status and almost gasped.
Unspent Ether: 3948
How long? How long had I been fighting? It wasn’t as if I had no idea of what had happened and what I had done, but my memories were all hazy and distorted by the thrill of the dance.
I shivered. Anything could have happened during those moments of limited consciousness. Hell, anything could still happen.
I had been an absolute idiot and now I could only hope to not have to pay the price.
In any case, I wasn’t going to use this damned sword again until I was absolutely certain that I could keep it under control.
But then the air shifted and the congregation let out whimpers.
“You have done well coming here. And was wise to know your limits and turn away from the secrets sleeping beyond the veil. But you can not leave. Not yet.”
It was a voice that wasn’t really one, like the one of the Court’s Master of Ceremony. It was feminine and made of an infinite amount of different whispers made in the dark.
I was frozen in place, unable to move.
“Long before your time, a place similar to this one was built by mortals in my name. Their leaders were wise, with minds strong enough to contain my Word. However, that knowledge was not free to roam this realm, as I am the One who seals. In accordance with the tradition, the mortals swore on their souls and took vows of silence. And for a while, all was good. But one of them, with eyes fixated on something he had long forfeited, broke his vow. The one supposed to watch over the sinners had been the one to sin, and from that moment the worshipers were doomed. He corrupted the other leaders and twisted my word. He was Custodian Dylarel.”
There was a hum in the air, and it was slowly rising in intensity. Something appeared on the ceiling over the exit, something that was being ejected from the stone, even though it was struggling to stay inside.
It had a thin bone-white body, with four long arms that ended in bony fingers with nails like claws.
“He was Custodian Dylarel, but he no longer had any protection against the secrets. They corrupted everything he had, and once he had nothing but regrets, they ate away at his sanity. In his last moments, he began stealing children and forced them to take the vow of silence. A pitiful attempt at absolving himself. It caused other mortals to soon storm his church and inflict on him the very punishment he inflicted on children who broke their vows. That should have been the end of his tale.”
The thing in the ceiling finally fell and landed on the ground with a dull sound. As it was laying on the ground, I saw that it had stumps in place of feet. It was facing away from and had all its hands covering its face where the mouth should be.
It was gagging and made disgusting sounds as it tried to keep something inside.
“One of his victims, however, perished with considerable hate. Enough that they birthed this dungeon and became its host. They partly recreated me, the object of their faith, in an age in which I no longer exist and recreated the Custodian. But his presence impedes my attempts to regain my strength.”
The thing that I now knew was the Custodian had managed to stop the gagging and was now turning its elongated face toward me. It was eyeless but had several small holes on both sides of its head. Sharp teeth were cutting through its tightly closed lips.
Using its lower pair of arms, it started dragging itself toward me.
Dylarel the Heartbroken Betrayer.
“I can smell your blade,” said the whispers from beyond the veil. “It has the stench of my own rotting kind and it grants True Death. Kill Dylarel.”