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The Tainted sets his eyes on Nelaira. Nelaira is unable to escape but Aurel comes to her rescue. Unfortunately, due to an unforeseen circ.u.mstance, Aurel ends up getting hit by the creature and rendered unconscious. Laica loses her bearing and intensifies her magic, attracting the creature’s attention onto herself. Luki starts treating Aurel, but the creature’s stomp causes an earthquake and the two of them fall into the nearby pit. Laica rushes towards the pit to help them.
Nelaira attracts the creature’s attention by erupting her mana and the team manages to kill the Tainted. At its death bed the Tainted starts twitching and erupts in its last attack shooting out countless air blades. Laica blocks in front of Luki and Aurel to protect them and ends up dying as a result. Unable to block all of the blades, one manages to pa.s.s through and damage Luki’s boots, making him and Aurel fall back down into the pit. Nelaira wants to rush into the pit to save the two but is stopped by Lorafiel, her corporal.
Nelaira decides to descend into the pit alone and gives Lorafiel her luggage and her Beacon. However, she doesn’t give them the diary they found in the village ruins. Lorafiel sends the other two to restrain and search her for the diary.
* * *
Lorafiel gave Nelaira a meaningful look. “You really shouldn’t have continued to translate that diary.”
Nelaira’s heart trembled.
Episode 151 – Loyalty
He must have woken in the middle of the night and noticed she was reading that little diary.
Did he notice changes in her behavior? When did he become suspicious?
Did he translate the diary in secret too, while she had been sleeping?
Did he realize the great secret that diary held and wanted to silence her?
“Are you mad?” Nelaira’s voice quivered with disbelief. “So what if I read that diary? So did you! Do you intend to dispose of yourself as well?”
Lorafiel’s eyebrow rose in amus.e.m.e.nt. “How could the two of us be the same?”
Nelaira let out a livid chuckle: “We are on the same team. We are both working for the Arites. But you are right. We are not the same. You are a hypocrite and I am not.”
“Yes. We are not the same.” Lorafiel nonchalantly admitted. “The difference between us is that I am very loyal…” His calm look turned cold. “And you are not.”
“What gives you the right to question my loyalty to the Purge?” Nelaira opened her mouth to protest vehemently. “You think you can proclaim me as disloyal just because I have served in the Purge for a shorter time than you? My age might be lower, but my loyalty is no less than yours!”
“That…” Lorafiel drawled, “…would have been so much more convincing if the source of all this fiasco wasn’t your disloyalty in the first place.”
Nelaira stomped her feet, trembling with rage, doing her utmost to restrain her urge to strangle the man where he stood.
No matter how she wanted to tear him apart with her bare hands, with the current state of her body she could barely stand, let alone satisfy her primal aggression.
But that was alright. She didn’t need to use her fists. She still had her magic.
She just needed time.
Nelaira opened her mouth to spit out: “You are overstepping your authority! It is not your place to pa.s.s judgment on my misdeeds! If our superiors have an issue with my actions they can distribute appropriate punishment when we return.”
“You wish to return safely?” Lorafiel let out an involuntary chuckle. “Ah, Nelaira, Nelaira. Don’t you know? Forbidden things should forever stay in the forbidden zone.”
He helplessly sighed again. “Disposing of liabilities is so much more convenient outside the Shield than under the noses of Thayns. Especially if the person who needs… purging… is a prominent n.o.ble such as yourself.”
A startling realization made Nelaira’s legs almost give out, all color leaving her face.
Yet, Lorafiel paid her no attention. “Even if they wanted to thoroughly investigate your death, they wouldn’t be able to. After all, they would need to actually leave the confines of the Shield.”
And Arites were the ones that controlled who could leave!
Nelaira’s face twisted into a grimace.
“What? Don’t tell me you weren’t aware of how Purge dealt with threats?” Lorafiel’s left eyebrow jumped. “Judging how you are screaming about me overstepping my authority, I suppose you aren’t even aware what an Overseer is?”
Not expecting her to respond, he continued with another heavy sigh:
“An Overseer is an Arite loyalist with the authority to override the commands given by the team leader. Every Purge squad whose leader isn’t a loyalist contains an Overseer who is tasked with monitoring the actions of the squad and disposing of any threats.”
He stared at Nelaira with clear pity, as if looking at a little wyrm that had been stepped on, struggling underneath his boot.
“Nelaira, Nelaira, you are a Helyot. You didn’t really think that the Arites would let you snoop around the forbidden zone without supervision from someone… who can be trusted?”
Lorafiel shook his head in disappointment, the golden chain of his monocle rattling.
“Don’t tell me you never wondered why I have been accepted into the Purge?”
Nelaira glared at him and spit onto the snow in disgust. “Because you are a rare kind of ingrate?”
Lorafiel didn’t get agitated by her provocation, continuing to speak as if he hadn’t heard her. “There are countless archeologists and treasure hunters that would kill for an opportunity to join the Purge.”
“And you are clearly one of them.” Nelaira’s puffed miserable bursts of ironic laughter. “You know how we call such individuals? Scourges of the common people. Funny, we, the Purge, kill scourges as a part of our job description. The difference is that they…” She pointed towards the black pile of flesh and bone. “… have an excuse for being scourges. And you do not.”
Nelaira sneered at him derisively, but Lorafiel didn’t get offended. He even returned an understanding smile.
“Out of all Purger candidates, my abilities don’t stand out at all. I am this old and yet my rank is lower than someone as young as you. Don’t get me wrong. I’m good at what I do, but I’m nowhere near as capable as that fiancé of yours. And yet, even though I do not excel, I was still accepted into the Purge. Do you know why?”
This time he didn’t give Nelaira a chance to respond before continuing: “Because I, Lorafiel Talath, am the most loyal.”
Indeed. Talath’s were one of the families that had served the Arite family for centuries. They were one of their most loyal followers, revering the Arites as if they were G.o.ds themselves. This wholehearted devotion had earned their family prosperity and status even though they had no special heritage or skills.
Nelaira clenched her fists and turned to Gra.s.s and Scotty. “Why are you listening to the orders of this madman? After years of working together, you should be very clear about my character.”
The two guiltily avoided looking at her in the eyes but said nothing. Lorafiel, too, said nothing for several seconds, as he stared at her with raised eyebrows.
“Are you having trouble keeping up? A ten-man squad can’t possibly have a single loyalist, can it? Overseer or not, what could a single person possibly do? Naturally, when squads are formed, at least half of the spots are filled with loyalists. Scotty and Gra.s.s, unfortunately for you, happen to be among the loyal half of our little squad. And as such are obliged to follow the orders of their Overseer. Which happens to be me.”
Lorafiel chuckled giving Nelaira a look filled with underlying meaning. “That is what loyalty is all about. One doesn’t need to know the reason behind the decisions of their superiors. One just needs to loyally obey.”
“There is a difference between loyalty and blind loyalty.” Nelaira spat out through gritted teeth. “Puppets are supposed to blindly follow, while people are supposed to use their brains to think.”
Lorafiel’s mouth curled up in amus.e.m.e.nt. “Well then, you must not have received the memo when you joined the Purge. What we are expecting from you is ‘blind loyalty’, not ‘selective loyalty’.”
He shook his head again and waved his hand dismissively. “Enough of this. Hand over the diary. Please don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.”
Nelaira made no moves to comply. She stared at the middle-aged man with such intensity one would think she was trying to burn holes through him with her gaze alone.
Her throaty voice came out sounding more like a growl than a voice: “Loyalist this, loyalist that. Can it be that just because you say I need to die, I need to die?”
“Your attempts at stalling for time are a little too obvious, aren’t they?” Lorafiel looked at her with pity. “Is there really a point to this? Stalling for time isn’t beneficial for you at all. You are already spent and won’t heal anytime soon. On the contrary, the more you stall the more tainted you will become. It won’t be long now before your ability to use magic is impacted.”
Suddenly Nelaira started laughing. Her laugh was loud and raspy, without any mirth. Instead of being filled with amus.e.m.e.nt, it was instead infused with unwillingness, fury, and despise.
“You want me to die?”
Her body was weak, her lungs had trouble breathing properly, but there was no weakness in that laugh. Rather, it pulsed with energy and conviction.
“Fine! But others didn’t have to die!!” Her below was so loud it made the trio involuntarily step back.
She heavily stepped forwards. “Because of you Aurel’s lunge served and he got hit!”
They stepped back.
“If not for you, Luki and Laica…!”
She stepped forward once more with a stomp.
Again, they stepped back.
“None of them needed to die!!” Her fury made the air vibrate, her chaotic mana creating air currents as it flew around with astounding speed.
Although Nelaira’s figure looked imposing, her wide, hate-filled eyes unsettling, Lorafiel didn’t feel intimidated in the least.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.” He shook his index finger left and right. “It’s not because of me, but because of you. If not for your disloyalty none of this would have happened.”
His words felt more painful than a punch in the gut.
He spoke exactly what Nelaira didn’t dare to think about.
“It was due to your own mistakes that they ended up as innocent, unfortunate casualties.”
Her reason told Nelaira she shouldn’t think like that.
But her heart couldn’t help but bleed as if sliced with thousand knives.
“If you had obediently accepted your fate, none of them would have needed to die.”
Nelaira’s approach paused and her head lowered. Her dark locks fell over her eyes.
Lorafiel placed his hands behind his back and shook his head, looking as if he was lamenting the cruelty of fate. “It’s such a pity. I was rather fond of Aurel. He was an excellent Purger. Collected, smart, disciplined. Unlike that wife of his. What did he see in her?”
He shook his head again, this time in disapproval.
Nelaira’s head once again snapped up, her gaze almost sharp enough to kill, the sheer fury radiating out of it was almost tangible.
“Oh, right.” Lorafiel expected such a reaction. “You two were close, right? You even became a G.o.dmother to that son of theirs, what’s his name… Evin, was it? Talented kid, I hear he wants to join the Purge like his parents. I’ll be sure to take good care of him.”
Like a raging Tainted, Nelaira lunged towards Lorafiel with bloodshot eyes and gritted teeth. “Shut your mouth! You are not worthy to even utter their name!”
The trio sped backward in response, as if flaunting their superiority in speed as compared to an elibu that can only rely on her boots to accelerate.
“You can rest in peace,” Lorafiel spoke up rea.s.suringly. “I’ll be sure to look after Luki’s kids too. With how many kids he has, surely at least one of them will want to join the Purge.”
He dodged to the side, just in time to avoid the ice spike that erupted from the ground beneath him.
“I have to admit, I wasn’t particularly fond of Luki, he was too… impudent… but the man knew what he was doing.” Lorafiel continued unperturbed as if talking about the weather. “It’s a shame. I’d prefer to not have to go to his funeral. I can tell that the experience will be very unpleasant. With the sheer size of his herd of kids, there will be enough snot and tears to drown a person.”
The image of Luki’s family picture filled with many small heads and wide grins flashed in front of Nelaira’s eyes and she felt the last shreds of her restraint snapping.
“YOU b.a.s.t.a.r.d!!” Her shriek almost ruptured their eardrums as she charged towards them like a splitting image of the Tainted monstrosity that had done so earlier.
Same wild abandon, same bloodshot eyes, same black liquid dripping everywhere.
With every pa.s.sing second, she was looking more and more like that which she lived to kill.
Gra.s.s and Scotty looked towards Lorafiel, seeking confirmation.
“We can take the diary from her corpse.” He nodded. “Whether she is dead or alive makes little difference.”
Coming up in the next episode:
She was no fool. Dying was exactly what they wanted her to do. So, she must do the exact opposite. She must live and make them regret all of this.
Should they enter inside to look for her?
For the first time she thought – could the legend behind this crimson flower be actually true?
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We are done with the tedious things and the following few episodes will be very interesting. Filled with various clues about G.o.ds, Aetherneal magic and the world as we know it.