~ Chapter 78: Broken faith or not? (Part 1) ~
[Zoreya's point of view]
Frustrated, confused, in pain... I couldn't bear with my own thoughts as I let the hours pass by me like sand grains in an hourglass. What good was an Apostle to a God of War when they didn't even have the strength to lift their own shield up.
Drinking didn't help either... yet I tried to drown my own thoughts and think about what I could do, for I was so ashamed of my failure, I didn't even have the courage to go and face my own god.
Alas, I was but a human... even if I looked like a woman in her twenties...
“Have you heard? Another village was destroyed by that monster...” an adventurer spoke.
I perked my ears up and listened to their conversation. The two of them were young adventurers, but wore battered armors and brandished a few scars from their journeys. They were the typical sort you could find anywhere nowadays. As they got older, they would request the help of a healer and remove some of them.
“Yeah... Apparently the king is trying to assemble a subjugation party as soon as possible, but so far, none of the Supremes and Godlike Ranks believe this case is worth their attention.” the other man shook his head.
The news laid heavy on their shoulders, and mine as well...
The Darkness isn't worth their attention? Those fools... I thought, but who was I to speak against those who refused to go after it? After all, I was among those who nearly perished at its hands.
Furious, the adventurer struck the table with his fist, nearly spilling his mead “Bah! An entire city needs to burn down to ashes before any of those fools will even think about raising a finger against it!”
My heart clenched. I was also one of those people who was supposed to come to their aid in such unfortunate times, but not only did I not think of it, I also tried to run away from it... I was a failure as an Apostle, and the weight of my own shield proved it...
I gulped down the last drops from my tankard and then got up from my table. I paid the fee to the innkeeper and then retreated to my room.
“Hey lady! What about your shield?” the cute waitress with hair cut short called out to me.
“What?” I asked in my own confusion.
Looking back, I saw Melkuth's Shield, the one item I always carried with me and held onto as tightly as I could even during my sleep, now leaning on the table... forgotten.
“Yes... I'll take it now...” I spoke with a trembling voice as I walked over and lifted it up.
The weight was almost unbearable. Even with my Supreme Ranked strength, I could barely lift it up. Those who didn't understand looked at me with mocking gazes.
Melkuth's abandoning me... I failed... I thought to myself as I dragged myself back to my room.
It had been one week since I last saw Illsyore's wives running after him. Just like I predicted, they failed to stop him. Maybe they died, maybe he captured them... I didn't know, but the rumors about The Darkness' cruelty kept coming like an endless stream of bad news.
At the very least, he was heading away from this place, but I knew that he was merely letting me alive, mocking my weakness.
Entering my room, I dropped my shield on the floor, took off my armor and dropped on my bed. Protection was unnecessary. Even if I died now, it mattered not. My role as Melkuth's Apostle was over. I couldn't fulfill his task. I couldn't kill Illsyore, thus, giving the opportunity The Darkness sought to set itself free.
I'm afraid to face him... I'm afraid... I thought to myself as I took a peek at my shield.
It wasn't The Darkness whom I was afraid of, it was Melkuth...
His rage... his fury... I could only imagine how he planned on punishing me for my mistake. To make matters worse, as the el'doraw said, the Dungeon Lord managed to somehow sway my heart. Although, maybe this was only because he was initially a human?
Do I actually love him? No... I don't even know what it means to love a man... How does it feel? I thought, but I couldn't find an answer to my own questions.
The possibility that I refused to see it was also there, but who could point me on the right path? I was alone... In my mind and in my heart, I was a failure of an Apostle who fell in love with a Dungeon Lord without her even realizing it. To make matters worse, I let loose The Darkness upon this unsuspecting world.
If only I didn't hesitate at that time... One second was all it took... If I didn't... then Illsy wouldn't have turned... I wouldn't have failed. I thought and salty tears gathered at the corners of my eyes.
Thus, I cried...
I cried like a hopeless maiden struck by the tragedy of losing someone dear to her, but the one I mourned for was none other than my past self. The old 'me' was dead, killed by that which many call love, and yet... I didn't regret it that much. All I could do was weep and hope my god would forgive me.
Two days later, the first refugees arrived in this town. They were apparently survivors left alive with the sole purpose of telling their terrifying tragedies to others. What I couldn't understand was what it could possibly hope to gain from spreading such stories, but I stood and listened to them, I realized that all of them had something in common.
The Darkness as described by them was a tall man with crystals the color of blood half buried in his chest and arms. He had long black hair, arms covered in black metal, and a dark aura flowing around him. Yet, there was another feature about him common in all of their stories. It was his crying left green eye.
Is Illsyore still fighting against The Darkness? I thought after I returned to my room.
Shaking my head, I took a seat on the bed and looked at Melkuth's Shield. It was nothing but a ridiculously heavy lump of steel now. Even my body was starting to lose some of his blessing, I became sluggish and tired easily. At least, I still had my youth, for now.
Letting out a sigh, I thought back at their words. That one crying eye was the same as when The Darkness first appeared. The rest changed, but that part of him remained the same. It was the only proof of the former Illsyore. The Dungeon Lord was still hiding somewhere inside him. Maybe he wasn't fighting against The Darkness, but I had the feeling that he was still alive... somehow... somewhere...
Meanwhile, I felt like I was breaking apart. A faith built over decades was shattered only by a few words, proving just how fragile it was. A being who relied solely on the power of her god couldn't even lift her shield anymore. A reward for which many would do anything to obtain it, I, on the other hand, cast it away in a single moment of insecurity. A life's work was turned to dust...
All of these things described me at this moment. I had nothing. I could hope for nothing. I could hold nothing...
I failed... I failed... All those years... for what? For nothing... I failed... my thoughts flowed in such a depressive manner, pitying myself, putting all the blame on my shoulders, and at times... wishing for my end.
With tears rolling down my cheeks, my heart and soul shattered to bits, I fell asleep...
It was a funny dream I had... I saw Illsyore who was smiling. I saw his wives with him, but I felt welcomed by him... by them. Yet, I couldn't go there... I was a broken mess. I had no faith... I had no god to follow... So why should I deserve such a thing?
As I stood far away from them, the road leading to their circle was quickly starting to crumble, and there, by the side of the road, I saw a old beggar. He lifted his hand up and asked for a coin. At that moment, I realized I had no top on. I was literally naked from the waist up and my chest was bare for the old man to see.
Embarrassed to death and with a high pitched scream, I slapped the old man as I hard as I could. I sent him flying. When he was gone, I was breathing hard... and trembling. That perverted gaze of his falling all over my body was... creepy, frightening even.
Shuddering, I tried to find something with which I could cover my chest, but the only thing around was something the old beggar used to sit on. It was covered in a dirty rag. I pulled it off, and underneath it, I saw Melkuth's Shield.
When there was nothing I could do to use to hide my shame, I had his shield by my side. When there was no one to protect me, it always stood between me and that which wished to bring me harm. When I needed hope, it was always there. When I was lonely, it was there. Throughout my life, this shield had been by my side. Like a precious friend and comrade, it protected me, it defended me, it helped me...
But didn't it abandon me? I thought, but what if I was wrong?
Even if it was just a dream, this shield still tried to protect me, to defend me... Be it an old pervert or a monster threatening to destroy the world. Each and every time, this shield had been by my side... until recently.
Did it cast me aside?
I was the one who laid it down while believing so.
Ah~... Such a fool I was... I thought.
In the next moment, I woke up with tears rolling down my cheeks. It took me a moment to realize I was back in my room at the inn, staring at the ceiling. To my left, my shield laid leaning on the wall, waiting for me to walk over and pick it up.
Then I remembered my dream. Leaving that one very embarrassing moment aside, I realized that in my attempt to chase after Illsyore, I laid down my shield, but in doing so, I had forsaken a part of my identity... This was not Melkuth's way. My god had always encouraged people to be who they are and not give in to the eyes of hate of those around them. A man who had lost track of himself can't unleash the true warrior hidden inside of him.
If so... what is my truth? I asked myself as I got up from my bed and walked over to my shield.
Closing my eyes, I touched it and tried to find the answer. It was hard to do so, but if I were to guess, I had wished to be by Illsyore's side while keeping my own shield by my side. It was both an impossible and unreasonable request, but that was my truth.
“Will I now wait for my end in this gloomy room or go forth and ask for another chance?” I asked myself as I opened my eyes.
With a smile on my lips, I knew what I had to do. I picked up the shield and tested its weight. It wasn't light, but it wasn't that heavy either.
“I need to speak with Melkuth...” I told myself, and with a determined look in my eyes, I rushed out of the room, but stopped and quickly returned inside. “That was embarrassing! I walked out without my armor on!”
After fixing my... vestments, I made my way to Melkuth's temple, but when I reached that place, the priests walked up before me and stopped me from entering the prayer room.
“We apologize, but we received word that... well...” they looked at each other while trying to find a way to say what was one their mind.
“What is it?” I asked furrowing my brow.
“Well, we received word that miss Zoreya may not be an Apostle anymore... so we were told not to allow you back in Melkuth's praying chambers...” one of them explained.
I was a bit shocked by what I heard. This could only mean that my god sent word to the other Apostles about my... lack of faith. Despite this troubling news, I did not hesitate.
“As long as I wield Melkuth's Shield, I am still his Apostle! Even if others recognize me or not!” I declared without the slightest sign of hesitation.
“Even so... orders are orders.” they stepped forward with intent of pushing me back.
I let out a sigh and closed my eyes for a moment.
What would Illsy do? No... what would my friends do? I asked myself.
After a moment, I opened my eyes and showed them a smirk.
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