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Chapter 79: Dark Clouds
It was raining.
Dark clouds covered the sky, trapping the sunlight. It was so dark that it looked like night had fallen, despite it still being daytime.
It was as if the world was crying along with its people. The raindrops soaked into the people, and the people shed tears which then mixed in with rain and fell to the ground.
The people’s expressions were also grim within the rain.
Everyone was looking down; some of them even fell to their knees and broke into tears.
— The death of Saint Elrise.
The shocking news of it spread in the blink of an eye, maybe even faster than a lightning strike.
It had been revealed that Elrise was not a real Saint. However, considering all of the deeds she had done, there was no way she could be declared as a fake… Thus, the Church created a title above that of the Saint, the “Great Saint,” and granted it to Elrise.
Her funeral was held under supervision of King Aiz and became a state funeral. People from all over the world attended and participated in it.
Normally, the common burial custom in this world was to bury their dead, but nobody dared to bury Elrise below ground. And so, under Supple’s guidance, her body ended up getting sealed, while Alfrea was charged with preserving her body from rot and ensuring it retained its beauty.
Elrise, who lay inside the crystal, looked the same as she did when she was still alive, and one could be tricked into thinking she was just sleeping.
After the funeral, it was quickly decided that Elrise’s tomb would be constructed, and her body would be enshrined strictly inside the church in the meanwhile.
People visited the church and prayed to Elrise every single day to say their farewells to her, before leaving there while crying.
Elrise’s Guard Knight, Leila, visited everyday, and stayed beside her body, praying until the sun went down.
During the first few days, she kept crying and praying until she passed out. Nowadays however, she only had a dead expression on her face, as if her tears had finally dried up.
Even as her fellow knights worried about her as they saw her state and cared for her, Leila only grew thinner with each passing day. It was as if she was anticipating the day when she could go to Elrise’s side.
It couldn’t be helped.
It wasn’t just Leila who was devastated by Elrise’s death. All of the Knights who had served Elrise were ashamed of themselves. They loathed themselves and their own incompetence.
After Elrise had passed away… her will was found on a table in her room.
In there, she’d written the truth about her identity as a fake Saint. And in her will, there was no trace of any blame directed toward the knights who had served her.
“The moment this will is found, I would have likely already died after defeating the Witch, or it would have been revealed that I was a fake Saint and I’ve been condemned and executed.”
The will began with such a heartbreaking resolve that didn’t express even a hint of resentment toward this world and its people.
It would’ve been fine for her to bear some resentment against her circumstances. If treated like that, then it would be normal to begrudge it, even just a little.
It wasn’t Elrise’s fault that she had been mistakenly selected as the Saint. It was the fault of the person who mistook her as one; she was merely a victim in all this.
Yet not a single hint of resentment was written there.
The only thing expressed in her will was her concern for other people… The will started and ended with her defending the knights.
As they read that, those Knights cried.
They cried rivers at their own worthlessness.
…None of them ever noticed her burden. They didn’t even put any effort into doing so.
A heavy responsibility was forced upon a mere girl who wasn’t even the Saint who’d been selected by the world. Yet she kept on smiling without a word of complaint, and kept accomplishing deeds that nobody else could do.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do. There was no way it could have been easy for her.
Yet they merely called her actions “miracles” and were just pathetically grateful for it.
— Without even thinking about how much blood, sweat, and tears she had to spill in an effort to make such things possible!
She must have felt insecure. It probably had been hard for her.
For a mere girl to be forcefully separated from her own parents and forced to play the role of the Saint, there was no way such a thing wouldn’t have been hard.
On top of that, she was even prepared to be executed once the truth about her was revealed… Yet she hated no one, and even cared for Knights and people who pushed her down into that hell.
The Knights were completely ashamed of themselves. They were ashamed of their own existence.
Did any of them ever manage to properly support her?
Did anyone ever manage to find the real her, and to help with the burden she carried, even just a little bit?
…No one. Nobody did.
All of her Knights were merely a group of incompetent people who called her dedication and devotion as a “miracle” and were grateful for it, unnecessarily increasing the burden on her instead.
From the depths of their soul, they all just felt… very pathetic.
Leila likely felt the same way.
No, for Leila, who had always been by her side as her Prime Knight, her self-hatred was probably incomparably even more than theirs.
Before Elrise, who slumbered, people who’d known her, like Fiora and John, visited her body every day and prayed.
There was no distinction at all regarding their rank as royalty, nobles, or commoners; everyone prayed for her to say their farewells.
…However, the figures of Supple and Vernell couldn’t be found among them.
”Hey, Ver… eat a bit, will you?”
“I don’t want it.”
In Vernell’s dorm room, Eterna worriedly put a tray of food beside Vernell as he replied emotionlessly to her entreaty.
Monotone, that was how one could describe it.
There was no emotion at all in his words.
His voice held neither anger at being disturbed, nor any sadness.
There was no light reflected in his eyes, and he was just barely aware that Eterna was by his side.
Vernell’s despair was incomparable to other people’s.
Because Elrise had practically died as his replacement.
Vernell was not at fault. What had happened was just an unfortunate accident; the power within him had merely moved according to the Witch’s will.
Even so, if only that didn’t happen, then Elrise could have at least lived on for just a bit longer.
To begin with, her shortened lifespan was already his fault and now, on top of that, she had also sacrificed her life for his.
Not only had he been unable to repay the person who saved him in any way, but also he ended up being the one who hastened her to her death.
His self-hatred and guilt couldn’t be compared to what the others felt.
Instead, the way everyone cared and worried for him felt extremely painful to him.
I’m not worthy of living at all. Somebody please kill me.
To be jeered at, to be thoroughly denounced would have felt more comfortable to Vernell in his current state of mind.
As a matter of fact, he preferred how Leila had grappled him in her madness when Elrise had died, rather than how Eterna was currently worrying over him.
In the end, Leila had been restrained by the others, but Vernell didn’t feel that her anger was misdirected in any way.
Rather, I should have been cut down back then… he was despairing that much.
Yet here I am still disgustingly alive… I wonder why?
Do I still have any lingering attachments to this world?
Am I expecting that Elrise could be revived somehow?
“Hey, Vernell. I know you have it hard right now, but think about her feelings for a bit.”
Vernell’s roommate, Sylvester LordKnight, who had a uselessly handsome face that often charmed the opposite sex, expressed his concern to Vernell.
Vernell ignored the mob character, who actually was quite a character, and looked outside the window.
Even though the world was supposed to be peaceful now, the rain never stopped.
Regardless of how peaceful it became, no light could shine through to the world that had lost its sun.
“You won’t last if you don’t eat even just a little bit. Supple-Sensei also turned weird and shut himself in his laboratory… I — don’t want this to keep going.”
It’s okay even if I don’t last.
This power won’t let me die anyway.
It would be better if I could just die… He tried to commit suicide several times, but it was all in vain.
Even now, this accursed power still kept Vernell alive. It didn’t let him commit suicide.
His sin wasn’t so light that he could atone for it just by killing himself; it felt like the world was telling him that.
In Vernell’s current state, the fact he was still alive was more painful than anything else.
He looked out the window, up at the dark skies, and he wondered if Elrise’s soul was beyond there.
But it definitely isn’t a place that I could go to, thought Vernell.
For him, the person who drove her to her death, there was no way they could end up in the same place.
…Even so, the sky sure looked dark. It was unnaturally black, and swirling about.
Was this what happened when the world lost its light?
The clouds forming in the sky felt ominous. They seemed to gather about as if they had their own will.
Also somehow, it was like the dark power he felt within him…
As he realized that, Vernell hurriedly stood up as if he was struck.
It wasn’t merely something that just felt like Dark Power.
What he could see in the clouds that were gathering in the sky was Dark Power itself.
The past few days, these clouds continued to gather… Perhaps since the day Elrise died, they’d kept gathering little by little, trying to materialize.
Why didn’t he notice it until just now? Even if the others didn’t, Vernell should have been able to notice it immediately.
…It was obvious. He didn’t even try to notice.
He had stopped thinking since Elrise’s death, and he spent his days ignoring what he saw and heard. That was why he missed such an easily noticeable thing.
He hated his own stupid self.
It was as if someone right in front of him was wielding an axe and getting ready to kill people as he just stared blankly at them.
“What is it, Ver?”
Eterna had a confused expression, as if she didn’t understand what was happening.
Apparently for her, who just recently awoke as the Saint, she couldn’t properly sense this power yet.
“Eterna, bring my weapon!”
“Eh? No! Even though you’re saying that, you’ll just try again to…”
“That’s not it! A battle will begin soon!”
Eterna had hid Vernell’s weapon since he had previously tried to commit suicide with it.
But his weapon was necessary for the battle that was about to begin.
The power that had been building up in the sky was about to reach a breaking point, and it could explode at any moment.
Once that happened, the world would be thrown into chaos once more.
For that to happen to the world that Elrise had strived to protect, even at the cost of her own life getting trampled… that was unacceptable to Vernell, even if he was wallowing deep in his despair.
He should’ve noticed it earlier. Vernell was capable of that.
But this was brought about by him doing nothing all day.
Every single thing has just gone wrong, so much so that he wanted to kill himself if he could.
“Hurry! It’s about to begin! There’s no more time!”
All the soldiers and the knights of Billberry Kingdom, except Leila, were gathered in front of the capital.
Commanding them at the frontlines were King Aiz and the First Saint, Alfrea.
Propheter stood beside Alfrea, and gazed up at the sky.
“Alfrea-sama, we’ve gathered as many of the available soldiers as possible.”
“Hmm, thank you for your hard work.”
After hearing Aiz’s Report, Alfrea thanked him with an unusually tense voice1.
Ever since the day Elrise died, Propheter has sensed that something ominous was gathering.
And it also predicted that it would soon completely materialize.
That was why after Elrise’s death, it warned Alfrea, who had reclaimed her post as a Saint. Through Alfrea’s warning, Aiz was informed and then he worked to gather all the soldiers he possibly could.
“Hey Propheter, what is that?”
“It’s what remains of Eve … I guess”
Alfrea focused mana on both of her hands, as she asked about the identity of the thing that was about to materialize in the sky above.
The reason she already started focusing her mana was so she could shoot a full power attack as soon as the battle began.
She had no intention of holding back.
Toward that thing that was about to materialize in the sky, there was no real guarantee that Alfrea’s all-out attack could even do anything to it.
To hold back in her attacks would be the peak of folly.
Though to be honest, she wasn’t certain that her full power could do the job either…
“Eve… the Witch is supposed to be the World’s Representative. Have you ever wondered why it became an existence that started killing humanity?”
“There’s no way I could know. After all, the moment I was born, Okaa-sama had already become known as a criminal all over the world.”
The First Witch, Eve, was Alfrea’s Mother.
She had only ever acted as a kind mother to Alfrea. But even so, the moment Alfrea gained awareness as a person, her mother had already been branded as a criminal who did villainous acts all over the world.
Before Alfrea was even born, her mother had already gone berserk.
That was why she had no way of knowing Eve’s reason.
“Just think about it for a bit, will you? You know about mana circulation, right? Because this exists, mana automatically replenishes, and magic can be used. Everyone does it without consciously thinking about it. By increasing the speed of mana circulation, one can greatly increase the amount of mana they can contain within them. This mana circulation is quite concerning. As one expels mana outside, the excess feelings… mainly negative emotions within one, will also be expelled from the system along with the mana. The World granted such a self-regulating system to humans to prevent one from going too far and ending up evil. But that means the mana dispersed in the environment also carries negative emotions within it… That’s why if one abuses the use of mana circulation, it also causes other people’s negative emotions to flow into the user and can drive people crazy. Mana circulation that’s done unconsciously expels faster than the user can absorb, so there’s no problem. But if one intentionally speeds it up to grow their capacity, the absorption speed, along with negative emotion absorbed, will greatly outpace the expelling speed.”
“I know about that already. What? Are we reviewing basic knowledge right now?”
Mana circulation allowed one to recover one mana, but if one went too far it could drive them crazy.
It was something everyone knew about.
For Propheter to explain such basic knowledge right now to Alfrea, it made Alfrea feel like she was being treated like she was stupid. She pouted.
“The important part is what I’m going to tell you now. For Eve, I think the balance of her mana circulation was already broken. She was made by the World to be its Representative, so her vessel was meant to carry quite a lot of power. This made the speed of her mana circulation much faster than that of normal beings. Because of that, people’s negative emotions gradually flowed into her… and she lost herself. When Eve died, her soul did go to the afterlife, but the accumulated and condensed negative emotions remained in this world. To put it simply, it is nothing but negative emotions, mana with a consciousness… That is Eve’s remnant. The reason the Saint turns into a Witch once they defeat the Witch is because this remnant forcefully pushes itself into the Saint’s body and corrupts them with this overflow of negative feelings. And the polluted Witch’s heart also becomes like Eve’s, where only their negative emotions remain and move as mana before transferring itself toward the next Saint… For over 1000 years, all those negative feelings have been accumulating, and it has turned into that thing.”
“…Okaa-sama. What a troublesome thing you did…”
“That’s what you say after what you’ve just learned? Perhaps the reason Eve sealed you was because she knew it’d end up like this. That’s why she put you in a state of suspended animation and sealed you, and then waited for the next Saint to be born. It was her last bit of parental affection for you that drove her to do so.”
After hearing Propheter’s hypothesis, Alfrea closed her eyes and recalled her past.
She wouldn’t forgive the fact she was sealed, and she was still pissed about it even now.
But if that didn’t happen, she wouldn’t be here right at this moment.
As she looked up toward the sky once more, the clouds started to form into the shape of a human. The faces of several generations of Witch’s seemed to push out from the clouds before letting out a resentful groan.
Such a horrible sight agitated the soldiers.
“Her mana circulation was in overdrive and she went crazy because she got taken over by the negative feelings. The cycle began with Okaa-sama, who went crazy, and it turned each succeeding generation of Saints crazy too… huh. So in the end, the 1000 years of human suffering in this world were the result of humanity’s own actions. This sure feels unpleasant.”
“The sole exception of this was Elrise.”
Propheter said the name of the girl who had left this world only a few days ago.
As Alfrea remembered her, she pressed her lips shut.
“Elrise likely carried the same defect as Eve. The balance of her mana circulation had been broken since birth. In exchange for a greater mana capacity than others, her heart would be polluted black… There have been several people who carried these symptoms throughout history. Every one of them, without exception, was an arcane genius comparable to Saint. They were all monstrously talented… and without exception, all terrible villains. All of these villains, who weren’t a Witch and yet had their names carved in history, had this symptom. Elrise’s mana capacity was so great that she was strong enough to be mistaken for the Saint because of it. In other words, it is not a talent. Rather, it is an illness that prevents a person from properly utilizing mana circulation2.”
“But, that girl… was such a good person that she never expressed such an evil side to her. So much so that I am surprised that it was even possible for a human to be that good.”
“That’s why I said she was an exception.”
How Elrise alone had still been fine, regardless of how much mana circulation she had done, was something that Propheter still couldn’t understand.
She developed magic that allowed her to execute 24 hours of high-speed Mana circulation. Her mana capacity kept expanding without stopping. Yet for some reason, there had been no sign of her going crazy like Eve had.
There were several possibilities that could’ve allowed for this.
If she were originally so black-hearted that she wouldn’t be polluted by negative emotions, then she might have remained unaffected.
Maybe she was a madwoman from the start.
But it was hard to think of Elrise as such.
Or maybe, she had a unique mentality that allowed her to calmly assess her situation, even as she was being polluted, as someone else’s problem.
But she was a girl who had dedicated herself to reaching peace, so it was hard to think of her as someone who treated everything as someone else’s problem.
Or maybe if she simply had a heart so big that they could accept everything, regardless of how dark these emotions might be…
No, there was no way. If there would be anyone who had such a heart, they would already be a goddess. They wouldn’t be human anymore.
The reason for it was unknown… but, regardless of why, Elrise had managed to reconstruct this world and had even protected it at the cost of her life.
Then, there was only one thing they could do.
“I’ve been wondering why I had to spend 1000 years while sealed … I always thought about it, but I think I finally know why.”
“Heh, what a coincidence. I also wondered why I needlessly had such a long life for over 1000 years, and I’ve also come to realize why.”
Alfrea concentrated her Mana, while Propheter powerfully stepped forward on the ground.
For something that has lasted for over 1000 years to mess with the current world, its persistence truly was unsightly to behold3.
Since the circumstances were such, it was time for them, who had also spent over 1000 years in this world, to end it.
As they resolved to do so, the First Saint and the Prophet hyped themselves up.
“It is for the sake of this era… to protect the world that she sacrificed her life for, I have waited for over 1000 years! Let’s go, you guys! Let’s put our hearts and souls into this battle!”
“Even if you are a no-good Saint, you said it well this time! Yea, that’s right! For such a needlessly long life of over 1000 years, the time to use it is now!”
They acted fiercely to inspire themselves.
And finally, the Grudge that culminated from all of the generations of Witches throughout the history of this world finished materializing.
— Insane laughter echoed throughout the skies.
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