There was a disturbance that morning. A needling feeling that things were going sideways permeated through the tropical air of Haria. The sun was out already high in the sky, shining brightly over the small island village. On any other day, perhaps it would have felt natural like someone waking up on their first day of vacation. The sea breeze wafting into the huts that the Van Eltia crew had spent the night provided a small comfort during the night. That morning it brought with it a foreboding that he couldn’t shake off.
Mikleo’s eyes fluttered open to the sounds of a raucous commotion coming from the beach. At first, it was the locals asking for whoever had come to their shore to lower their weapons. Haria was an island that prioritized peaceful negotiation; hostility was not welcome, especially not in the morning. The chattering disseminated through the village, and when another party—clearly not from anywhere in the Southern Seas—began to set their conditions to leave peacefully, it evolved into the uproar that had woken the water seraph.
When he turned his head around the room, he had noticed that something was definitely wrong. His mouth was still dry and sticky from sleeping and waking up, but as he opened it and got use to the feeling of his tongue moistening to the salty air, he only called out quizzically:
He remembered what had happened last night almost exactly as it had occurred. Glancing down at his hands, he remembered what it felt like to hold Sorey the way he did, to feel the very essence of his being in the palm of his hand. It was magical but tainted, and he couldn’t begin to think he could face him like nothing happened.
“I…I shouldn’t have done it,” he sighed. Sorey’s pitiful face as he had tried to take care of himself flashed through his mind. “But I couldn’t have just left him like that!”
Mikleo climbed out of bed, the voices growing outside. That’s right—there was something happening outside. As he made his way out to the beach, he processed what he was seeing.
Besides Nenyp, there was another koiship up on the soft white sands that was a bit smaller and colored like fine ebony with silver trimmings. Before it, three important people stood. Two of them wore the regal ivory uniform of the Abbey, a man and a woman, and with scowls. The third looked like a jester of sorts with pinks and purples on her. Behind them, there were at least a dozen exorcists. He got closer and stopped behind a coconut tree.
The man took a step forward, hand on the hilt of his blade yet standing with dignified posture. Platinum blond hair and peridot eyes not unlike Dezel’s, he was the exact stereotype of a higher-ranking officer in the Abbey. The woman next to him held a grand scepter. Like the man, she had long blond hair, but her eyes were like bits of jade. Were they related?
“Cease and desist,” the man ordered rather calmly, which betrayed the ferocity in his eyes. “Ruffians such as yourselves should know better than to steal from the Abbey. If you abide by my order, we shall turn a blind eye on your activity and send you on your merry way.”
The people he was ordering were none other than the Van Eltia crew with Eizen. Edna, and Zaveid at the front. Mikleo watched from afar; his skin tingled. The vapor in the air rested on his cheeks, and he could tell that tension was rising between them.
“And what if we decide we don’t want to?” Zaveid asked cheekily.
“I am afraid that we will have to enforce the order,” the woman said. “Oscar and I are not squeamish. If you don’t do as we say, we will slaughter you and this town for heresy.”
Hushed chatter and panic slowly crept into the crowd. Would the Abbey really aim to destroy the village over one person? Slowly, their eyes turned to the Van Eltia crew and their hostages, angry that they had brought suffering to their village in only a night. Their hushed murmurs told them to simply do what the Abbey wanted.
Teresa stepped forward. Her demands were fairly simple in lieu of the brawl that was edging on beginning. All Eizen had to do was turn over the Sparrowfeathers over to the Rolance authority to be dealt with and, more importantly, to hand Sorey over to the Abbey. Naturally, the Van Eltia crew couldn’t just agree to these terms. They had to bring Sorey back to Alisha, and they had to make sure the pirates that had kidnapped him were given their due time. Then she made one more request.
“Upon handing over the listed parties, you are to return to the Hyland waters and forget this ever happened,” she said with a cocky smile.
Zaveid pushed his way to the front. “Like hell we will! We busted our asses to find Sorey!” he snarled at her.
“And your efforts will not be ignored. If you do as we say, we will reward you with more gald than you could ever hope to amass.”
“Just how shallow do you think we are?”
He couldn’t stand them. He hated how the Abbey looked down on them yet had sought to use other pirates to do their bidding. Was it because they were from Hyland? Was it because they had Sorey in their position? Whatever the reason, it got under Zaveid’s skin easier than anything else for him to treated as just a gold-digging pirate.
There was, however, someone else that was irked by the proposition. Rokurou had been on the brink of joining the Abbey long ago. In fact, he knew someone personally in it, and he felt it on the salty wind that he was there right now. A man that looked like a more extroverted version of himself emerged from the ship. Long dark hair slicked back, chest out in full view—a stark contrast from Rokurou’s daemon-eye-covering bangs and modest samurai clothing.
“Well, well, looks like Hyland really is wimping out, huh?” he thundered. He scanned the Hyland side of pirates before his amber eyes fell on his younger brother. “Oh, Rokurou! I didn’t expect to see you there, but I guess I can’t be surprised. Hanging out with a bunch of misfits instead of securing the life of an official. Tell me, how are you these days?”
Rokurou remained silent.
“Can’t even speak to your own brother? Well, not that I care. I’m here for one reason—hand over the Oracle. Or else.”
“Or else what?” Edna spoke up. “Your giant meathead is going to crush us?”
“Ooh, looks like someone wants to find out.”
Shigure thumbed his blade out of its sheath, but before he could fully pull it on them, Rokurou stepped in front of his comrades. He flashed a glare at his brother with his daemon eye then turned to the Van Eltia crew. Lifting his hand, he said to them:
“Give them Sorey.”
The whole time the Oracle had been standing silently behind them all like a wall protecting him from the Abbey. Hearing Rokurou, a friend, concede to their demands would have broken his heart if it weren’t for the wickedness that had tarnished the air in that moment.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Zaveid bit back. “We’re on a mission!”
“And I’m telling you this so that you live to fight another day!” Rokurou countered. He ordered Sorey to come forward. “Shigure can and will kill you—no matter how strong you think you are.” Sighing, he stared up the at the now afternoon sky. “I hate to admit myself, but this is for the best. We can’t afford anyone dying right now.”
Sorey did as he was told. He walked past Eizen, Zavid, and Edna; the three of them urged that he didn’t hand himself over so easily, but what else was there to do? He only reassured them that he would be alright, but there was still a lingering apprehension that they would hurt his friends. Perhaps his only regret was not being able to say goodbye to Mikleo. The little secret that the two shared wouldn’t come to light, but he nevertheless asked Eizen to apologize to the water seraph for him.
The Oracle approached Shigure, who dwarfed him. Oscar and Teresa scoffed—how could this man force them to hand over the person of interest while they couldn’t? It didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things since they had retrieved him. Still, it was a blow to their pride. They were supposed to be the ones that would bring him in.
“Once I’m on your ship, leave this island,” he demanded. “It’s a simple request.”
“Sorry, kid, but we’re going to need the Sparrowfeathers as well,” Shigure almost chuckled. He drew his sword at Sorey’s neck. “Besides, I don’t really care if you are the Oracle if it means that you intend to defy us. Hand over the pirates.”
Rokurou implored that Eizen follow Shigure’s orders. The Van Eltia crew turned over the crew they had taken hostage. Rose smirked at him, and after they had boarded the ship, Sorey took one last look at them. Mouthing two words, he was escorted onto the ship. Soon, the entrance was closed, and the Abbey shoved out.
Mikleo had watching from far the inn. His heart had sunk far into his stomach when Sorey boarded the enemy ship. All of the effort they had put into find him and making it to Haria—and now what was it all for? Had it really happened like that before his eyes? Was Sorey really gone?
It took every ounce of his being not to unleash the full wrath of the maelstrom within his heart. He had learned of what the altercation had been about, but no matter how much he tried to think about it, the whole event filled him with an inexplicably rage. All that effort was wasted, and nothing was going to bring him back. They had to go after him!
Zaveid had tried to explain to him why what happened had happened and why they couldn’t go after Sorey. Besides the fact that it was incredibly dangerous, the Van Eltia crew was in no shape to sail back into Rolance after the Abbey ship. If they truly got into a fight with them, he was sure that they would be destroyed. If not, they would certainly be seized and hung in gibbets as the tides crawled up the sides of the sea walls in Loegres.
Moreover, Oscar and Teresa were high-ranking Praetors that were permitted to kill anyone that got in the way of their mission. If they had tried to fight them and not considering that Shigure was there, they would have lost more than just a few men. Had they taken on Shigure, though, the entire crew and village would have been wiped out.
“We have to think about the safety of our crew, Mikleo,” Zaveid gravely told him.
“Is Sorey not part of our crew?” he fired back.
“Technically he’s not,” Edna chimed in on the bow of the ship. Her umbrella was open to shield her from the harsh rays of the sun above. “He was merely cargo. You, on the other hand, are part of this crew, so we did this in your best interest, too.”
“That’s utter horse shit!” Mikleo suddenly snapped at her. “Sorey was…We were supposed to bring him back for A-Alisha!”
“And we both know that’s a lie.”
Eizen, Rokurou, and Benwick approached the three of them.
“What are you talking about?” Mikleo questioned her without realizing they had come.
“I mean what you two were doing the other night. It was more than a little friendly touching, wasn’t it?”
Mikleo’s heart stopped.
“A broken heart does foolish things, Meebo. You’ll be lucky if what you did last night didn’t taint the purity in that boy’s soul. If you intend to endanger my brother or his crew, I won’t hesitate to drown you.”
Eizen, unknowing what he had stepped into, shrugged because there was nothing else they could do right that moment. Nothing could be done until they got to Ladylake and relayed the news of what had happened. He hadn’t thought to ask Zaveid to use his magic with him to get him there as soon as possible, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to expedite the journey back. Instead, he called him to his quarters to think about how they would tell Alisha that they had failed at the last second to complete their mission.
Edna also went on her way to calm down, leaving Benwick and Rokurou to ease the shattered heart of the water seraph before them. The latter felt somewhat responsible for this hitch in their mission since his brother had been the one to ultimately coax Sorey into going with them. Not only that, it had hurt to see Rose and her crew willingly go with them. Of course, they would be spared—probably—but it still upset him.
“Mikleo, I—” Rokurou started when he thought Mikleo had calmed down.
“What do you want?” the water seraph snapped back.
“Aw, come on, Mikleo, we’re all trying to figure out what to do now,” Benwick sighed.
Mikleo ignored him, only glaring at the samurai to get some sort of answer from him. Was he going to apologize on behalf of his brother? What could he say to make this any better? It was his brother’s fault that Sorey was gone, and he had conceded to him. He had let him go when it most counted to hold onto him.
“This is all your fault,” Mikleo finally said.
It was his fault. And nothing that Rokurou could say would change that. The samurai, too, was aware that he had crossed his comrade, but still he tried to talk to him. After all, he had to think about his comrades on Nenyp. He couldn’t support them keeping hold of him when it would lead to more deaths than they could afford. Besides, Sorey had taken it upon himself to sacrifice himself for the good of Haria. Everyone was trying hard to keep him safe, but in the end, he decided that it was best for him to leave with the Abbey. Naturally, trying to tell Mikleo all this would only make things worse right now. He had to wait until he was calm again or, at the very least, drunk. But without a surplus of rum on ship, he knew that the water seraph wouldn’t be calm for a long, long time.
Upon arrival to Ladylake, Rokurou had hoped things would get better. He didn’t want to think about how to make amends with Mikleo anymore, but he wasn’t the only one upset with Sorey’s decision and subsequent surrender. When Alisha heard what had happened from Eizen, she was almost bereft. Maltran and Eleanor couldn’t console her as the weight of their lost fell on her shoulders, but it wasn’t true sadness. Rokurou peeked through the mangled and coiling mess of hair that hid his right eye, the crimson iris that could see the wickedness in the human heart. Alisha was saddened by the loss for a different reason. Losing Sorey to the enemy meant that the Abbey had far more power now. Losing Sorey meant that Ladylake did not have that connection to the gods.
Alisha brought everyone to Ladylake’s shrinechurch. Tall and imposing, Mikleo hadn’t recalled ever visiting it before. It was a magnificent building that Sorey would have loved to learn about until he realized that if he had returned with them to Ladylake, it would have been the building in which he and Alisha would have been wedded. At the altar, Lailah knelt and prayed. She had sensed what had happened vaguely, feeling the restlessness that had intruded on the city. Normally, she would have greeted them with warmth and even insinuated to Zaveid that she would have loved to spend the night with him, but with how pressing things had become, it wasn’t the time for such tomfoolery.
“Lady Alisha,” she simply uttered.
“We have yet another problem, Lady Lailah,” Alisha told her. “Sorey…is in Rolance’s hands.” She bit her lip. “I can’t begin to understand what this could mean for Hyland.”
“Lady Alisha, I want you to be honest with me,” Eizen suddenly said. “Why is Sorey so important to Hyland?”
Alisha was only somewhat ready to explain to him why he needed to be with them, but Lailah held up her hand. In that moment, she had prostrated herself like a queen as she recited the legend of the Six Evils and the Counterforce, the double ouroboros that had resulted, and what had happened afterward. It was a sordid one as the position of Oracle was not a light one by any means.
The first Oracle and princess had actually been a human and seraph pair Siegfried and Brunhilt. Much of their history had been shrouded in mystery since the records were stored in Pendrago if they were still in their possession.
“The truth is, that legend actually has a much darker story to it,” Lailah explained. “When the power of the Oracle had been discovered, and the bond between a human and seraph was determined to be something of an amplifier when the Oracle tethered to the gods, Innominat was the god that everyone had worshipped. He had protected the world from malevolence by simply rerouting it away. Over time, Innominat began to hate what the people asked him to do, and the Oracle pressured him to keep working for both of their sakes. He cast his sister from their realm, and once he was free to do as he pleased, he used the malevolence to drive Siegfried to murder Brunhilt. That was seen as an offense against the Abbey, and the Rolance Knights retaliated by executing him.
“After a couple hundred years, the next Oracle arrived in the world,” Lailah continued, her face becoming darker as she spoke. “Innominat had since lost his footing in the world, but when Michael was born, he had a natural resonance with seraphim. He grew up, and while he and his sister traveled together, they came to learn of the position of Oracle in Pendrago. He accepted, and I married him. He was the Oracle for a few years, long enough to see his sister get married and rear a son. But again, Innominat returned and tethered to him. We didn’t know at first; the Abbey said they had sealed him away, but…it appears they didn’t, or he broke free.
“Only a month or two after Muse’s son was born, Michael began to act strangely. As I was married to him both in body and spirit, I felt Innominat within him. I was powerless to stop him, though. Like Siegfried, Michael killed Muse and her son, but before the Abbey could return again to execute him, he took his own life.”
Lailah covered her face with her hands then slowly pulled them away and looked how they trembled. “I could hear his thoughts and feel the agony his heart was in…” She composed herself. “After his death, I was exiled from Pendrago and came to Ladylake, where I’ve been for almost a century.”
“Leading you to be the ‘mother’ of everyone in this city now,” Alisha finished. “Without your guidance, we would be underwater.”
Zaveid glanced off somewhere else; that wasn’t the only reason, after all. Regardless, no one had ever heard the true story behind her, but now that everything had gone to shit, it was the best time to learn. If anything, it alluded to what was to come.
Mikleo felt sick listening to the story. He knew the legend, but he never knew that Lailah had a deeper understanding of what happened. She lived it! Saw it firsthand! What did this mean for Sorey? What would happen to him if Innominat got inside of him?
“We must leave for Pendrago at once,” he hurriedly said.
As he turned for the gigantic, extravagant doors; Eleanor called out to him. “What are you going to do by yourself?” she asked him. There was no plan for this urgent goal. “The only thing you will accomplish is getting yourself killed!”
“I must save Sorey! I can’t let him get executed or kill himself!” Mikleo gruffly said. “We grew up with that legend, but we didn’t know how dangerous the Six Evils were! That monster is going to kill him!”
“Enough!” Maltran ordered them. “Lady Alisha, there is something I want to propose that might help you all,” she then said calmly.
She beckoned them all back to the palace, taking up in a drawing room for everyone to watch. On the chalkboard, she outlined important details that she had been watching:
• They only ever knew the position of the Sparrowfeathers
• Somehow, Pendrago had known to intercept Nenyp at Haria and seize Sorey
• The only way this could have been synchronized would have to be a mouse in the palace
Sorey was ushered into the Abbey by Artorius. He steeled himself, showing no fear or uncertainty with him which might have incurred some sort of reaction. He was the Oracle. He knew that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt him because he was a rare and precious soul.
Of course, Sorey didn’t know who Artorius was. He didn’t know anything about his plans or why he was in Pendrago other than Rolance was having a pissing contest with each other—as Edna would say. And, the biggest thing that he was ignorant of all, the apaths.
“Why were you searching for me?” Sorey finally asked Artorius. He stood before him, the setting sun’s vermillion light cascading on his heavenly form. The man before him was silent even as he guided him to the altar. “Answer me.”
“My apologies, Oracle,” Artorius solemnly said. He turned at the altar, facing the young man. “You are about to undergo something I would not wish even on my own child. It will be painful, but it will only be for a short while.” He stretched out his hand to him. “Please.”
While this ice-cold man had incurred some sort of red flag, Sorey was curious what he meant. Any sane person would avoid working with someone that gave such ominously vague answers, but Sorey wasn’t an idiot. He was happy to have seen Mikleo again, and he remembered what Oscar and Teresa has said if he didn’t cooperate. This was merely another opportunity to get inside information on the ones he could call the enemy. After all, who would dare to eliminate a village because of lack of cooperation?
Still, he had his reservations about complying with him. He didn’t like the tone he had when he dodged the question. That out-stretched hand that invited him to the altar like a blushing virgin was the prologue to something far more nefarious. He couldn’t let anything happen to Mikleo, but what could he do there besides take his hand? It was a gamble, and the odds were stacked against him should anything bad occur.
Outside the Abbey looking in, the small ethereal boy that wandered the streets of Pendrago curiously watched Sorey and Artorius. His peridot eyes stared at the Oracle, and he was drawn to him. He wanted to run up to him and hug him, but the Abbey was steeped in malevolence that would fill him with more despair than he could handle. The trepidation creeping into his heart, he stood there silently praying. He only wished that he would be okay.
Sorey hesitantly approached the altar after taking Artorius’s hand. When he was standing next to him, and the boy saw them turn to each other, there was an unsettling disquiet in the Abbey. Their hands were still clasped.
“Artorius…?” Sorey slowly said in a low trembling voice.
With the butt of his sword, Emperor Artorius sharply jabbed Sorey’s elbow so quickly and so suddenly that it dislocated. Before he registered what had happened, Artorius pulled him forward, twisting that same arm back against the joint and dislocating that as well. Unable to use his right arm, Sorey tumbled forward while holding his arm. He was caught up in the seeping pain too fast for him to notice eight other people in white robes and masks surrounding him.
The first cracks of his voice came out, evolving into horrible bawling like an animal having been caught in a snare. The apaths around him assumed his same position, mumbling indiscernible gibberish before copying his cries. As Sorey unconsciously matched them and they slowed their breathing and quiet their wailing to calm him, his arm surged with new pain. He bawled again, and the apaths imitated him and shared the experience with him.
Artorius watched the scene before him. Little by little, the Oracle grew quiet and numb, the apaths continuing to cry out. “It is time,” Melchior said behind Artorius. The old man was entering alongside Heldalf. A book colored purple with the crest of a forgotten god on its cover was tucked into the crook of his arm. “The Oracle’s subconsciously subdued, do now is the opportune time to place our lord into him.”
The boy continued to watch through the window, witnessing Melchior implant Sorey’s body with the being he feared most: Innominat of the Six Evils. He kept watch every day after that, observing how Sorey’s demeanor had changed, and how they abused him. He knew what kind of black magic this was, and whether it was fortunate or not that the consciousness that had been forced inside of him could feel what his vessel felt, Innominat made himself no stranger to that body.
“Why…do I feel…like this?” Sorey asked. His heart was racing, and he felt feverish. His body tingled, though not by the touch of any of the Abbey. “Someone’s inside of me…!”
“Yes, Oracle,” Melchior answered him on the evening that they had planned to reveal him to the people of Pendrago. “The being inside of you is our Lord Innominat, the most powerful of the gods.” As Sorey squirmed before him, he explained that Innominat had the power to use him like a puppet. He was a consciousness separate from his own, and soon his original mind would be eclipsed by it, sinking further and further into the deep abyss of the subconscious where he would be locked away. “With his power made manifest through your body, we will crush Hyland.”
Before the people, Sorey was allowed to be visible only for the sake of showing the people what happened when they let their emotions control their lives. They beat him in front of them until blood dripped from his skin, and when the masses left with a new fear in their hearts, they shoved him back down and brought Innominat to the top. The next days after that, they showed them the new Sorey whose emotions were subdued, and he was able to withstand the suffering Melchior subjected him to. The people thought this to be strength, and they cried and pleaded for Innominat to be let into their hearts and to wash the pain away.
It was all horrific for the boy to watch. He had to do something. He left the Abbey’s window, rushing as fast as he could through the streets of Pendrago looking for the purest heart he could find. When he came to the Rolance Empire’s gates, he found his envoy.
Meanwhile, deep underneath the Abbey, another woke to the stomach-churning disturbance. She felt it—an unbridle desire for freedom and sadness that shook her blackened heart. She wept for him, knowing on a hunch that his suffering was the cause of the one that had betrayed from the heavens above.
“You poor child,” she sobbed. “I know how it feels. With these chains that old man enchanted, I can’t help you.” Her throbbing demon hand stretched for the door. “But I can only pray that Laphicet can help you. Please, do something…!”