Chapter 121 - Specters from the Past (1)
The light, which was reflecting off the surface of the water, was dancing on the walls of the cave. The uneven surface of the wall had been created by the hands of nature, and a mysterious sight could be seen as the light undulated on the surface of wall.
Leone was watching this sight inside his dream. It was as if he was mesmerized.
However, he was aware. He knew he had never been to this place, and he had never seen this sight in real life.
So where did this memory originate? Was this an illusion created by his dream?
That wasn't it.
This site existed somewhere on this world. He was sure of it.
Someone was speaking from within the light. It was a bleak voice. It was as if someone had squeezed the dregs of darkness. It felt as if one's life span would shorten just from listening to that voice.
How could someone from this world possess such a voice?
Leone wondered about this question. However, when he saw the owner of the voice, he forgot to breathe from the surprise.
A faint light danced above the water gathered inside the cave. The fragment of light looked like fireflies flying through the midsummer night, but one couldn't see where the light originated. They were so faint that they looked as if they were about to be swallowed by the darkness. However, they were like flowers that wilted in the cold winter air before they bloomed once again in season. The fragments of light were beautiful and ephemeral.
In the middle of this view, a silhouette wrapped up in darkness existed.
Strangely, Leone couldn't see his face. The fragments of light in the surrounding brushed by this figure, but he couldn't what was beneath the well-worn hood.
Leone was more focused on his appearance rather than his nonsensical words. The figure was submerged half in the water, so he looked beyond bizarre.
The well-worn robe covered his entire body, and it looked as if something was deeply embedded in its chest. At first, Leone thought it was a sword. However, the end was round. It was a wooden staff with a clear gem transfixed to the end. This wooden staff pierced through the figure's chest, and darkness was emanating from there.
Moreover, there was an oblong pillar made out of silver behind its back. Black chains bound him to the silver pillar, and one could see darkness crawling across the surface to form words. Darkness emanated from the characters as if it was a manifestation of a curse. It made Leone's skin crawl.
Leone asked a question.
"Who are you?"
His words rang like thunder in Leone's ears, and the dream ended there.
The Guardian Shadow's Keeper of Prophecy Leone opened his eyes. He had seen this ceiling for several days, so he was used to it. He blankly stared up at the ceiling, and soon, he realized his body was soaked with cold sweat.
"I hate this. I always have this dream when I'm in a bad spot."
"Do you mean your first memory? Isn't that a good thing? Isn't it proof that you are still alive?"
"Why are you here, brat Jares?"
"When you acted like a lazy bag of bones by not waking up in the afternoon, the young lady pestered me to look in on you. How did you bewitch her? She is a beautiful lady from a good bloodline. There is something wrong about her being enamored with the likes of you."
"I don't act arrogant like you."
Leone snorted as he got up.
He was in a house of a person, who owed him a favor. After suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Reygus, they had requested help from the nearby Guardian Shadows to help them evade their enemies. After losing their pursuers, they had come here to rest.
Jares shrugged his shoulder as if he couldn't understand it.
"You've been going around acting as an agent of justice. You must have a lot of spare time."
"Unlike you, the feeling of justice is still alive and well inside my heart."
"...isn't that a low quality joke?"
"When I see your ugly mug, I can only come up with low quality jokes. Anyways, it is advantageous for us to rescue people when we have the time to spare. Currently, we are reaping the reward for what I did before."
"I can't deny that logic. Should I go around and do some good deeds?"
"With your personality? It'll be impossible."
"I can't dispute that fact. Hmm. What do you think he is, brat?"
"When you say he, who are you talking about?"
"The guy in our dreams. He's probably the guy, who made us into what we are."
"He's a mage. He's probably someone very talented that remained hidden from the world. Moreover, he probably has a very deep grudge against the Dragon Demon king worshippers that can't be washed away...."
"My thoughts are a little bit different from yours."
"You probably tried to come up with an unconventional answer to show off to others. If so, you are barking up the wrong tree."
"...the fact that I can't categorically deny your accusation makes me feel a bit sad. Anyways, what do you think about my theory? What if he's a Demon?"
Jares grumbled. Leone furrowed his brows.
"Demon. What led you to have to have such a thought?"
"No matter how I look at it, all of this couldn't have been created by a human. The Demon race loves powerful souls of humans. Don't they reveal knowledge to humans to lead them to their destruction?"
"Hmm. Then why would a Demon make the Guardian Shadows?"
"Well, I'm not a magician. I'm not too familiar with the Demons.... If you think about it, it might be a very clever ploy. The other Demons have to work on one subject at a time. Instead of convincing one person to make a contract, I think this Demon created a big farm that will bring him a continuous flow of souls to harvest."
"Mmm. I'm not sure what you are trying to say."
"First, the Demon race corrupts humans as they lead them down the road to destruction Let's talk about that point. I'm not sure how they measure how strong a soul is...."
"You speak as if you are some great magician with knowledge about this subject."
"Well, I learned about it, while I studied about magic. Anyways, humans have a vast quantity of desires, and it's a reason why they fall prey to the Demons. When I say desires, there are different types of desires. Most humans desire success in society. Martial artists desire to become stronger. Magicians wants to gain forbidden knowledge that'll put them above other magicians. Those in love wants to possess the subject of their affection. The people with grudges wants revenge..... If one looks at the record, the ones with the biggest desires are the ones, who become tempted by the Demons."
" I see. You've studied hard."
"You should focus on two things. First, a Demon has to have a direct relationship with the fallen. The soul can only be taken by the Demon, who corrupted the human. Secondly, in the process of corrupting the humans, the Demons are negligent in what they give out."
"Hmm. I can see what you are thinking. You think a Demon created a system called the Guardian Shadows by using humans with deep resentments. So you are saying this system is being used to harvest souls that are about to be destroyed?"
"Yes. I call it the farm of ruination."
"It does sound plausible even if this was something you came up with it. Still, how are you defining what 'ruination' is? In a typical story about the Demon race, they are very nuanced in their approach. They make humans abandon morality as the price of success. One by one humanity is stripped away from the human, and it leads to the fall....."
"In my opinion, that is an interpretation created, so it can be easily digested by the masses. Not all relationships that existed between humans and demons were known to the world. In the end, the process doesn't matter. They just need to bring about a result that fits the word, 'ruination'."
"You have a point. If the contract only says 'ruination', the word could be up for interpretation. If you put it that way, your argument does seem to have some merit."
"Even if it is true, it has nothing to with us."
It was the same for all the Keepers of the Prophecy. They didn't care how they had acquired their power. It didn't matter if their power was given to them by a magician using a forbidden technique or an evil magician aiming for their souls. If they could eliminate the Dragon Demon king worshippers from this world, they would willingly hold hands with the devil.
Leone spoke in exasperation.
"How bored were you? You studied about the Demon race to come up with this nonsense. Moreover, even if you theory is true, it wouldn't explain the prophecy."
"I don't know why the Demon race wants the human souls in the first place, so I can't explain that. However...."
"That information is already known."
"This is the problem with a non-mage like you. It isn't as if you are great at Spirit Order either... Why don't you go into a mountain to train? You should train as if you life is on the line."
"If I could have gotten stronger doing that, I would have already become a legendary swordsman."
"I thought you just didn't put in the effort. You should look at Azell Zestringer. He was able to catch a Dragon after training in Spirit Order for half a year."
"If everyone could do what he did, Dragons would have already gone extinct early on. Well, let's stop talking about useless topics. So why do Demons collect human souls?"
"Do you know about the origin story of the Dragon Demon race?"
"They were born from the union of the dimwitted Dragons and the cunning Demons."
"Yes. The answer is right in front of you. The Dragons wanted knowledge. What did the Demons want?"
"Mmm. They wanted the Dragon's power?"
"As expect, you are dumb, brat Jares. Since you were spouting some plausible conjectures, for a moment, I thought you were smart. I was foolish for thinking that."
"The Demons desires substance. They thirst for the opportunity to be able to live in this world as true inhabitants of this world. This fundamental reason makes the Demons act in such an irrational manner."
"In what way?"
"They hate the living, yet they thirst to live amongst the living. This thirst was the impetus for them to join with the Dragons to create the Dragon Demon race... Then they started working on obtaining human souls."
"I understand the first part of your explanation, but you are losing me towards the end. What difference does it make for them to possess human souls? Will they be able to live their lives as humans?"
"That I do not know."
"I just know that Demons get some sort of satisfaction from gaining a human's soul. If you want a more concrete answer, you'll have to risk your life to deal with the Demon race. Or you can steal knowledge from the Black Magicians, who have gained some result from researching the Demons."
"Why did you say steal?"
"For a magician, knowledge is life. Moreover, the Black Magicians have no problem throwing away morality and duty of being a human. That is why one has no choice, but to steal the information from them."
Leone asked a question, while Jares thought about what had been said.
"What do you think about him?"
"He made us..... You aren't talking about him. Do you mean Azell Zestringer?"
"I have no idea. In the beginning, the evidence pointed him out to be the prophesied being. However, if what we learned from Azell Zestringer is true, it isn't too hard for humans to obtain the power of a Dragon."
"You say it isn't difficult, but you aren't able to do it. Maybe you should just fall on your sword in shame."
"Hmmph. Anyways, there were other humans like Azell Zestringer before the Guardian Shadows were created. This is why our initial criteria for finding the prophesied being won't prove that he is a unique existence."
"Unfortunately, you are right. However, he is special."
"He is like a Demon."
"In what way?"
"We don't know his identity, and he is overflowing with knowledge of unknown origin. Moreover, all the knowledge he revealed was being treated as something sensitive in nature by the Dragon Demon king worshippers."
"Hmmm. When you put it like that, I do see the parallel."
"Do you think he is the person mentioned in the prophecy?"
"Have you completely made up your mind?"
"Not yet. However, the more I see of him... I feel a sense of longing."
"Me too. It is as if I've seen him somewhere before. It might be the fact that he looks almost identical to the portrait of Azell Karzark."
"That might be it. However, there is an echo of a longing in side me for him. It is as if I'm meeting a long lost family member."
"Hmm... Did you live so long that you've become crazy? Did you remember something about your family? "
"Unfortunately, I can only remember that my sister's death was incredibly sad for me. Aside from that, I remember nothing..."
Leone let out a bitter laugh. He was sure he had a sister he had treasured. He would have given up his life to protect her... However, he had been helpless to save her as he watched her die.
The grudge he possessed allowed him to become the Guardian Shadow's Keeper of Prophecy. As a price for becoming one, he had lost all memories of her. He couldn't even remember her face.
The only thing left was the occasional sound of her laugh that tickled his ears. This sound was the only connection he had to his memories, and it allowed Leone to hold on to his humanity.
"I don't know what Balseru is thinking."
"I'm not sure either. I've never been able to discern what Alpha is thinking...."
Balseru was the Keeper of the Prophecy, who went to seek out Azell. He was their leader, and he was given the code name Alpha. This didn't mean he was the first Keeper of Prophecy. The very first Alpha had perished, and Balseru smoothly assumed that position. He was considered to be unique even amongst the Keepers of the Prophecy.
Leone was supposed to go, but he had received a severe injury. Alpha had gone in his stead. He went to confirm an important fact. Alpha hadn't moved even when they had mobilized a Dragon to test Azell. So Leone wonder why Alpha insisted taking on this task. However, Leone predicted that the meeting between Alpha and Azell would be an important watershed moment.
"Maybe we are all... The end to our existence might be getting closer."
"I hope you are right. Still, I don't think your expectations will come true."