MORE OF THE SAME
Previously: I Give You Everything
Themesong: Wide Awake by Katy Perry
Let’s clear something up from last time. Bleach filler arcs may be less likely to kill you than normal arcs… but they’re never easy and seldom pleasant. And speaking of unpleasant… that’s the shock that faced me when I stepped back into the Warehouse after the end of my Shinigami Tour of Duty. “DEMON’S SOULS?”
“Shhh… keep it down… some of us are trying to sleep.”
“Yeah, well… you can sleep later. Demon’s Souls is the next jump.”
“Yeah? So? We just did stuff with souls. What’s wrong with this one?”
“Demon’s Souls is the first of 5 games by a manufacturer / studio that thinks in Nintendo Hard was for pussies. These are the kind of games where you walk out the door… and die. Then you respawn back in the first room, walk out the door… and die. After about the fifth try, you make it out the door, down the hall, past some undead, and encounter the first boss… and die. That’s the central mechanic of the game… unrelenting hardness. It’s a dungeon delve, city exploration thing where you die a lot. You collect souls as currency and as leveling up experience… and lose them when you die… as well as your human body.”
I went over to the machine and brought up the overview: “Your soul has been bound to the Nexus. Upon your inevitable death (I stressed those two words), you will return there as a phantom, leaving behind your body and souls. As a phantom, you will be much more vulnerable to physical damage. Should you die again before you regain your souls or fade away due to intense despair, your adventures end and you will be sent home. Fortunately for you, no demon of this realm shall consume your soul and any curses placed upon you here will be removed at the end of the jump.”
Lovely. I remember playing a bit of this game and doing a spectacular amount of dying. Also watching my cousin play and thinking… ugh… grim, foreboding, and unfun… so why did I buy Dark Souls again? Insanity. Some of these names sound vaguely familiar. Might as spin for starting location, because it’s all going to suck. I get the Nexus… the underground fortress beneath Boletaria. It holds the souls of would-be heroes in the hopes that one of them can succeed in lulling the Old One back to its slumber. Well, I guess this means I won’t have to find it on my own. A roll of the dice and I’m 25 again… how many times does this make it?
Four Origins… Wanderer, Knight, Magician, Priest. I consider, long and hard… then take Wanderer. I don’t want memories of this place. I don’t want a sense of belonging here… and what’s more, I don’t want the sense of regret and despair that might come with seeing a world I knew so well brought so low. No… Wanderer it is. Whereupon I’m presented with an ethical quandary… The perk “Soul Gathering” was free but not mandatory for everyone. If I took it, whenever I killed someone “worthy” (i.e. powerful) their soul would drop nearby for me to pick up. The souls of the unworthy would simply be automatically picked up. Did I want those souls? What would I do with them? Ultimately I decided that, yes. I’d take the perk. At the very least, I could do my duty as a Soul Reaper and perform a Soul Burial on them… and I might just find a use for this… ability?… down the road.
Wanderers also got “Stable Movement” as a freebie, the ability to run on stuff like Ice or Wooden Beams without falling down. I briefly reconsidered my choice of Wanderer, but after reading through all the capstones… I didn’t think I could, in good conscience, take any of them. They were, to a one, fundamentally evil, using the souls of the slain as power sources. The Wanderer one stripped powers and abilities off of powerful souls for implanting into others (at the cost of contaminating their persona). The Knight one allowed you to turn those souls into weapons and armor. The Mage and Priest ones allowed them to be transformed into spells / miracles. Good lord, this world was horrific.
I wouldn’t have taken the Priest line anyway. The God of this world was not my God and I wasn’t pledging myself to any higher power besides myself. Not after Supernatural. Which left me in an interesting position. I’d never before faced a jump where I didn’t spend a single point on perks. I considered rejecting Stable Movement, since it was all but useless in the face of my other abilities, but decided, in the end, to keep it. It couldn’t hurt and rejecting it would just be being petty. Maybe I’d do better in Gear?
Wanderers began with Leather Armor, a Falchion Dagger (falchions are swords, not daggers, siiigh), and a Wooden Shield. I resolved to burn them all just to get the newb taint off me. Still, I plunked down  (800/1000) for a regenerating supply of Full Moon Grass and Old Spice. Each came with 10 uses, with the Grass being a potent healing item (for both the living and dead) that refilled every other day, and the Spice being a powerful mana restorative that could be used for cooking and refilled every three days. If nothing else, I could alchemy these things into useful items.
I skipped over Turpentine (I could freaking make that if I needed it… and I wouldn’t, since its primary use in this world was setting weapons on fire). I skipped the Grindstone too… my weapons didn’t wear out. Artifacts are good that way. The Throwing Knives (infinite supply) was cheap enough to be tempting… but not that tempting.
The Fragrant Ring, a magician’s toy, was a slow mana regen item, which, honestly, wasn’t that bad a choice… but The Thief’s Ring would make it difficult for enemies to notice me. Both not half bad… but did I really need either. I… didn’t know. Maybe if I found them I’d keep them. Were they Items in the game? I couldn’t remember. The Stone of Ephemeral Eyes was an extra life… that…was more tempting.
But there were 600 point items that tempted me more. The Northern Regalia was a suit of armor and two powerful soul-rending swords named Demonbrandt and Soulbrandt. But I had a Zanpakuto and had already been to Bleach. How often would I be fighting Demons and Ghosts? How soon would it be before I ate those words. The Nexial Shard could be used to make a great underground fortress, with archstones to teleport to the Nexus… and a new shard would be granted 10 years after using the last. Did I really feel the need to build a series of underground megabunkers in every jump? I… kinda did… but not 600 points worth.
But then there was the Storm Ruler, a powerful weapon that, when swing, would cause the very winds themselves to tear my foes asunder. It didn’t require ancestral spirits or a monolith forest to be at full power (as, I assumed, the in setting copy would) and could grow over time (as, I assumed, the in setting copy couldn’t)… and its power could be applied to any melee weapon in my collection.
“Oh that’s just greedy that is! You could spend those 600 letting us import!”
“Zane… I will bop you. This setting is bleak with a capital yerg. You’re welcome to come along of course, but I don’t want anyone being tainted by this place.”
“What about Ahab and Joy?”
“I can’t stop them… but at most they’ll get a freebie. Do you actually want any of those creepy ass powers?”
“Nooo… but… the 300 pointers aren’t terrible.”
“And Soul of Ice does not need a wind attack.”
“And do you really want your SOUL BLADE corrupted by this place?”
“Soul of Ice has that Mjolnir form! It would be perfect!… wind and lightning.”
“Can’t Mjolnir already do that?”
“It can call up storm winds… but not winds that cut enemies apart.”
“Right… you want that power, you’re going to have to disadvantage for it. You can import us with those 600 CP. Look, it even says we don’t get origins so no corruption.”
“But that’s highway robbery! It’s too expensive.”
“What are we, chopped flarn?”
“You are not a Centauri.”
“I know… my hair isn’t quite that fabulous.”
“Look… I’ll think about it. But no promises. Maybe I’ll do Fellow Slayer and bring you along instead. But 600 for no discount 400 for 8? That’s twice as much as I’m willing to pay. And even Fellow Slayer is pricy. This game world is meant to be solo and isolating.”
“Fine… but if you don’t import me-”
“You’ll come along anyway and annoy me just the same. Importing just makes you fit in better, it doesn’t limit who comes and who doesn’t.”
I looked at the Drawbacks. I really did. New Game Plus 7 would allow me to take both the import option and the Stormlord’s Power… but did I really feel like an unrelenting challenge of darkness and despair? I did not. Sudden Surprise [+200] (1000/1200) wasn’t half bad though, making my foes not complete idiots, giving them a modicum of cunning, making them prone to ambushes and attacks from above. I could put up with that. I could also put up with “Barred Entry” which would make every door & window unbreakable (including the walls) and locked and mean I’d have to find a key… or pick the lock… the drawback didn’t say they were unpickable… no… never mind. Sounds like a recipe for frustration. Fuck it.
Storm Ruler’s Power on Mjolnir of Ice… how I want you… but I can’t do that to the others… So Demon Slayers  (400/1200) it is. Too damned aspensive, especially without the ability to buy items. 400 each to Zane, Joy, Velma, Toph, Kendra, Bao, Francine, and… sigh… Cirno. I’d offered the last to Ahab, but he begged off “I think it would be interesting to import to this world as a Priest. I’m willing to take the risks. It sounds fascinating.” I raised my eyebrow and then shrugged, not pointing out that with 400 he’d be a better priest. It was his call.
Velma took the first two mage abilities, “Heightened Capacity” (Improved Intelligence and mana capacity, plus the ability to cast Flame Toss, Soul Arrow, and Water Veil) and “Acolyte’s Knowledge” (You are well-versed in magic and with improved damage capacity when casting spells)… wasn’t much… but smarts and mana-cap are always good to pick up.
Zane, Toph, Bao, and Francine took the priest abilities “Simple Belief” (Once you set a goal, it becomes hard for others to sway you from your cause. As a result your willpower and determination are improved and you gain the ability to use the Heal Miracle.) and “Faith’s Reward” (Your dedication and faith allow you to understand the blessings of God and as such improve their potency. Your willpower has improved and miracles cost you less to use.)
Kendra took Heightened Capacity and Faith’s Reward. I banged my head against a wall. Whyyyyyy? I didn’t bother asking, as I’m sure she had her reason.
Cirno alone took the first two knight abilities “Move Set” (the knowledge of how to handle and use many weapons, but rigidly, as if following a book, yet able to be innovated and improved.) and “Knight’s Honor” (an ‘incredible’ strength boost, allowing her to move as if wearing simple clothes instead of heavy armor. It also came with a lifetime’s training in a single weapon. She picked ‘Big Smashy Hammer’.) Oy.
Ahab did as he’d promised to do and imported himself as a Priest “You are trained in the way of Miracles, blessings from the Lord. Times might seem bleak but you have faith.” which got him Soul Gathering, Simple Belief, and an equipment pack that included Mirdan armor (whatever that was), a halbard, a talisman of god, and a heater shield.
Joy begged off the jump entirely. “I… think I’ll avoid this one.”
“Nothing I want actually. Want nor need.”
“I’ve already got that, don’t I?”
“I… yeah, honestly… but a boost is a boost, right?”
“Give it to one of the others. Petra Maybe. Or Ziggy.”
I considered. With Ahab auto-importing himself, and Joy begging off entirely, I had two additional slots to fill or CP would be wasted, since it couldn’t be banked. At least I was pretty sure it couldn’t. The screen of the VMoD flashed that no, it couldn’t when I asked. So that meant I should invite two others.
I settled on Ziggy and AJ, suggesting the Wanderer’s 100 & 300 for AJ and actually just selecting them for Ziggy. Stable Movement would be good for both fuzz face and swordboy, and the stealth boost of Theif’s Grace (as well as its boost to agility and dexterity) would be invaluable to both kleptomaniacal weaseloid and one who was the second best swordsman among my crew. AJ glowered at me whenever I said that, but he knew it was true. Perhaps it was the fact that I fought for my life every time I bared my blade, perhaps it was merely the CP, or maybe the fact that something in the diminutive Gallade that kept him from going all out against me. It was hard to say, but he seldom gave less than his best in our daily bouts and was constantly inventing new flourishes with which to try and trip me up.
After the imports, I had 400 CP left, and since I really had nothing left to buy from my “OMG Must Have!” list, I snagged Thief’s Ring (Subdue’s your presence, making it difficult for enemies to notice you) and Stone of Ephemeral Eyes (Can only be used in Soul Form and when used it allows you to regain your body. Outside of this jump it allows you to cheat death once before crumbling away forever.) That ran me out of points and, with no small amount of unease, I locked in the jump settings.
How to describe Boletaria… Imagine London without all the charm, at 2am, in the fog. It had the kind of ridiculously overbuilt and convoluted defenses one sees in fantasy art that would cost a fortune to maintain, require crippling taxes to build, and serve ultimately no purpose because the threat either comes from within or cannot be stopped by walls. Or (in this case) both, for Boletaria was full of zombies and demons and mutants… and the Soul Mist that had made them. It was beyond unpleasant. The game fails spectacularly to tell you just how horrible everything smells. It smells like a rancid sewer full of decomposing bodies… because that’s exactly what it is. It is a crumbling ruin, populated by the mad and the dead and by feral beasts feeding on both. The term “Fetid Mire of Misery and Despair” springs to mind.
Everywhere there is danger, and if the monsters don’t respawn in the reality of the setting, more always seem willing to move in to take the place of the dead… and there are phantoms, black and horrible and vicious, that appear from time to time to attack. The great Demons, the “Boss Monsters” lurk around any corner, waiting to catch the unwary, as much prisoner to their own wicked nature as those they hunt. It is a sick arena of dread, an unending spiral of decay. Almost nothing here is reasonable, everything wants you dead. Me dead. It is as if our very aliveness is an affront to them.
And so I stay in the Nexus and send my followers out into the world to explore. I only venture forth when they need me, when they call upon me for evacuation or to take out a boss or a dragon. I am Captain Deus Ex Machina, arriving just in time to deliver the righteous smiting of an unjust and uncaring god.
And I don’t. This world… or at least the parts we see, are so far past saving it isn’t funny. The existential ennui, the bleakness of the tragedy that has unfolded here serves no purpose and I can find no way to make things better. All I can accomplish is to stop this darkness from spreading… but to what end? Who am I saving? Who is there to rescue? The last Monumental? These few half dead survivors? What world would they inherit if I ended this plague of evil once and for all?
Still, thanks to my restraint in not taking Barred Entry, my team has been smashing through doors and barred windows and sometimes walls to find anything anomalous. Books are especially prized, but sane or semi-sane refugees are also welcome. I want more information on what happened here, and why.
What I know is that Boletaria’s King, Allant the Roman-Numeraleth, made a devil’s deal with the Old One to grant his kingdom limitless wealth or some goofy shit like that. It hadn’t worked and everyone had died and most of the defenders had become corrupted, transformed into demons themselves. I know all this because The Maiden in Black and the Monumental, the last of an order of batshit insane monks, tell me so.
The Maiden in Black says it will all be made well if we lull the Old One back to sleep, but she does not say that all who have died or been driven insane will be restored. I do not trust her, and suspect her motives for helping us. I further do not trust her because her thoughts are hidden from me… Have I forgotten how to trust those I cannot scan? I wonder.
The Monumental says much the same, but says that the Maiden in Black was once a Demon and that’s why she can put the Old One to sleep if all the other Great Demons are slain. Five archstones link the Nexus to five parts of Boletaria or neighboring kingdoms (The Palace, the Stonefang Mines, Latria’s Penitentiary, The Shrine of Storms, and a fucked up place called the Valley of Defilement) with a shattered Sixth Archstone leading to the Northern Lands, home of the Giants and grave of, so they say, hundreds of thousands of knights… but if Boletaria could field an army of knights that vast, it already had limitless wealth.
I remember that World Tendency is important, something about how dark the world is… but I have no idea how one would judge that, or influence it for that matter. I do remember that there are something like twenty boss fights in the game, though in playing I’d only ever beaten Phalanx, Tower Knight, Armor Spider, and Flamelurker… the four easiest of the lot. In addition to the normal bosses, there were 2 Dragons in the game and a Primeval Demon in each of the five regions. But who the other bosses might be, I had no idea and that meant scouting and research. And I wanted to know what lay beyond the sixth Arch, which meant repairing it.
One by one, my followers brought me the Demon Souls of Phalanx, Tower Knight, Penetrator, Armor Spider, Flamelurker, Fool’s Idol, Maneater, Adjudicator, Old Hero, Leechmonger, Dirty Colossus, and the five Primeval Demons. They left the Dragons and the Vanguard (the “unbeatable” tutorial demon) to me, as well as the 5 Demons whose power blocked access to the Old One. And the Black Phantoms that kept stalking my companions. Once each Primeval and the worst of the Black Phantoms in each area were dead, I noticed that the Arch Stones to that area were pulsing a definite white, while those areas left to be cleared were dark and inky.
One by one I studied the Souls, trying to determine what had happened to them and if a Soul Burial would fix it or if I had to Spiritbend them first. They resisted both processes, as if shielded somehow from giving up their corruption. The same was true of all the weaker souls that had been collected.
We steadfastly ignored the entreaties of the Nexus dwellers to trade them our collected souls in exchange for their wares… though more than once I found Cirno trying to sneak off with some of our gear to try and sell it to the other would-be adventurers.
Still, there is only so much stalling one can do, and only so much leveling one can accomplish if one is unwilling to allow the corruption of this world into one’s self. I find my curiousity growing, tempting me to experiment upon the Demon Souls, but I won’t. Not yet. Not until I learn more about them. But first, I should complete the collection.
The dragons then. Great beasts, surely. I had to know if their souls would be different from the humans or the monsters. It felt like… putting down a rabid dog. They could not match my maneuverability in the air, could not catch me with their claws, and the fire of their breath only served to empower me. I let them spend themselves, not wanting to cause them pain when I did what had to be done. After they’d exhausted themselves, all it took was a flash of Soul of Ice and I could add the souls of the Red Dragon and the Blue Dragon to my growing collection.
There was a difference there, and it allowed me to see clearer what the difference between the others was. The Primeval Demons’ Souls had no coloration. They were dark as night and without variation. These were the Souls of things that had never known mortality. Others, the Souls of corrupted beasts, were murky, full of emotions without form or edge. And the largest group, the Souls taken from what had once been Men? They were the most beautiful and most distressing, full of sharpness and twisted desire. I had no desire to have them within me… but I was growing to understand why I’d been unable to purify them or give them a soul burial. They were not singular souls… Rather, they were like the souls of the greater Hollows of Bleach, composite. Legion was, for all intents and purposes, a Gillian. A collective of mostly equal parts. All the others were Adjuchas, a single powerful consciousness driving something comprised of thousands, often tens of thousands, of souls.
Taking them apart would not be easy. But I needed the rest of the demons out of the way and this god awful mist gone before I could have the time I needed to work in peace. Vanguard fell first. I don’t know why I remembered him being imposing or difficult.
I took down Old King Allant in an assassination long overdue. Since he wasn’t the Real Allant, I sent in a duplicate me to face him, to draw him out and hold his attention. False King met False Slayer of Demons. It was a good fight. I almost felt bad interfering. But I did anyway, beheading the fake sovereign just as he ran my clone through. I took from that fight the legendary Soulbrandt weapon, which I sealed inside a guarded block of ice within my warehouse. I need a secure weapons locker. Cirno’s tried to steal the thing four times.
Since I had that, I figured I might as well get the other one. Old King Doran, the founder of Boletaria, was haunting some shrine in the capital and would only hand over Demonbrandt if you proved yourself worthy. He wasn’t a demon, so killing him was out, but it was nice going up against someone who had some real skill. No one else in this world offered me much of a challenge, though I suspect that someone with less combat experience would have been in a world of hurt. Dude was fast, but then again, what else would a demigod be? Once I’d driven the old man to his knees and backed off enough to let him gather himself, he passed over the Demonbrandt.
It was then I presented with a special temptation. This guy, Blacksmith Ed, offered to fuse Soulbrandt and Demonbrandt together… but doing so would take giving up The False King’s Soul. I was considering it, probably more than I should have… But then Ed pointed out that what I had was a copy of Soulbrandt, not the original. Which pissed me off waaaay more than it should have. I took out that anger on the Dragon God.
Firebreathing Dragons, Man… not as fireproof as they should be in this world. DG and me, trading fire, back and forth. Good times man, good times. He burned real good, in the end, and I claimed its soul, along with a big old blunt sword called the “Dragon Bone Smasher” according to the Nexus Dwellers. It wasn’t fake. Unfortunately, its special properties were that it protected the wielder against fire. Which was about as useful as kevlar on a tank. Two down, three to go.
The Old Monk turned out to be another simulacrum, though I have no idea who created him, but his attacks were highly predictable, and knocking him off his balance made defeating him extremely easy. In fact, it was so easy that I went right from there to fight the giant Storm Beast they called the Storm King. Flying creature… surrounded by smaller flying creatures. Honestly, if I didn’t need to kill it to get to the Old One, I’d have left the flying monster to fly to the ends of the Earth… But I did, and I couldn’t, and I felt bad about that… Right up until big flappy hit me with his tail and sent me crashing into the forest far below.
Zane was there, holding the Stormruler, clearly mocking me with the weapon. “That thing is useless until we figure out a way to re-empower it.”
“Yeah, but you look silly with twigs on your head.”
“Zane… is there a reason you’re here?”
“Yeah. Cirno found some magical katana in a pit, then got attacked by a crazy guy demanding she hand it over. She’s in pretty bad condition, but we got her back to the Medbay so she’ll be fine.”
I growled, “Where is this… man?” I may not care much for the Ice Fairy, but she’s one of mine and no one attacks one of mine, especially not to steal something from her.
“AJ and Ahab are trailing him.” Great thing about teamwork. I dropped by the Medbay to pat the wounded fairy and pass over some healing grass, then made my way to where AJ and Ahab were.
The guy was some kind of wannabe ninja, dressed all in grey, and had a mind like razorblades and poison. I got from him that his name was Satsuki and the sword was Makoto. I confronted him, ready to read him the riot act and claim a pound of flesh or two… when he dropped, dead, right in front of me. What the hell? I picked up the sword, then dropped it almost at once. Fucking thing was vampiric. I could feel it pulling the lifeforce out of me… fast. Like… How the hell had Satsuki lasted even the ten minutes carrying the fucking thing, fast.
I sealed it away with a sign saying “Warning, Vampiric, not in the good way.”… right after I nailed Monsignor Sky Flappy with it and waited until he fell out of the sky. He was dead by the time he hit the ground. Good thing about being able to fly? No longer being afraid of falling off of high things. Bad thing about being able to fly? Having to fly down to pick up the soul of a dead demonically corrupted Sky Flappy out of a bog.
That left one final bar to my path to the Old One… which was a problem, since that one was the Maiden Astraea… who was a healer and appeared to be a genuinely good person. She, and her bodyguard, Garl Vinland, tended to the sick and ill who resided in the Valley of Defilement. Not only did they seem like decent people, but Garl was covered from head to toe in Dark Silver, a metal said to protect the wearer from Malice and all magics.
Thus, I resolved to see if there was a way to resolve this peacefully. I froze Garl in place, wrapping the water of the swamp around his armor and massive hammer. “Stay there. I just need a word with the lady.” I told him, and I’d meant it. Unfortunately, Astraea didn’t see it that way. She didn’t give me a chance to explain that Garl was merely immobilized, instead assuming I’d killed him. She took her own life. I was a moment too slow, failing to realize what she intended, and for all my speed, I’d never tried stopping someone from suiciding before.
Her soul was unlike any of the others, pure, bright, and brimming with hope, with the desire to create a better world. I stared at it, there in the darkness of that unhallowed place, weighing what I’d done and what she’d done. And then I did what I’d sworn not to do. I partook of this world’s evil. I had to understand what had driven this woman to this place, this Saint to become an Archdemon. I raised the soul to my lips and breathed in the essence of the Maiden Astraea.
Memories flooded through me, lifetimes of concentrated emotions, every drop of concentrated spirit energy a bright or dark, bitter or sweet, experience. So many souls, so much life, the lives of nearly fifty thousand mortals, most of them slain by the Maiden’s followers, travellers come to the valley for immoral purposes, set upon by the madmen who worshipped the Maiden as a living goddess, a saviour… and through it all the power of the Maiden, her desire to do good, her feeling of abandonment by an uncaring God. I knew it all too well. I drank it all in, held it for as long as I could, communing with the Maiden, trying to understand why she’d willingly become a demon, the first mortal ever to survive the transformation with mind and will intact. And, I realized, no longer the only one.
The Archdemons had been a trap. A clever one. The Old One had given his power to 5 others, counting on them to gather souls for it… or to be taken out by someone powerful enough to defeat all 5 of the Archdemons… someone greedy enough to absorb all those souls… and to make a deal with the Old One for even more power. And for that purpose, I had now proven myself willing to do the second and able to do the first. The portal to the Old One’s Domain, hidden in the floor of the Nexus the whole time, finally opened. I felt like I was holding my breath as I stepped through.
The Old One was a blimp, and the Maiden In Black kind of waved him over and he opened his mouth, inviting me inside. Certain it was a trap, but relatively confident I could escape it any number of ways, not the least of which would be giving Old and Gruesome the mother of all brainfreezes, I stepped inside… only to face the disfigured flailing blob that was all that was left of the real King Allant. It took me longer to stop laughing than to kill it… and I wasn’t in a laughing mood. This idiot had killed millions and nearly destroyed the world for greed. I scooped up his soul as well.
The Maiden in Black asked for the Old One’s Soul, saying it would allow her to put him back to sleep. And then I understood. “You are a demon. It’s a power grab. And no. I’ll not do that. All that means is the cycle will repeat. Again and again. Forever. No. Stay where you are, Maiden. I won’t destroy you just to destroy you, but I didn’t come to this world for power. I came for knowledge. And to set things right.”
At last I knew all I needed to know, and there, on that beach, I worked my magic. One by one I shattered the Demon Souls, allowing the lesser souls they contained to fly forth, binding them around me in a swirling vortex, hundreds of thousands of them. I faced the Maiden in Black and said, “Watch Closely. I shall teach you a miracle.”
Then I exhaled, pushing out all the souls I’d ingested, cleansing myself of the taint of this place. That done, and with the Maiden in Black staring hungrily at them all, I pulled the water of the bay up into a spirit crafting, a dance of purification, as I released my Bankai slowly, focusing it down so that every tiny snowflake was a tiny me, holding a tiny Zanpakuto, and then, in the moment of purification, before the mists could bind those souls again, I performed the Soul Burial and sent the population of Boletaria and its neighbors to their final rest.
When the snow cleared, The Maiden stared at me with her eyeless gaze. “What have you done?” she asked, voice trembling.
“I have broken the cycle. The Old One is no more. You are now the only demon in the land. I cannot cleanse all of it, because my time is too brief. If you honestly would do good, teach those who come after me to help cleanse those souls. I have taught you the way. Go now. There is work to be done.”
And there was. Some other time I shall tell you of the work repairing the sixth archstone and my sojourn among the giants of the north. Of forging the Northern Regalia, and of purifying the lands as best I could. But that is for another time. For now… We returned to that beach at the end of ten years. The world had improved… but it was still vastly empty, the phantoms and insane, the twisted of the valley of defilement long cured or destroyed, the valley itself cleansed from the world through acts of bending and stranger magics.
As it turns out, I had not purged myself of all the souls. Astraea herself had refused to go. Two things bound her. One was the fate of Garl, the second a lack of desire to see this world’s God face to face. Garl, we found, kneeling over Astraea’s body, unmoving, starving himself. He resisted medical attention until I called forth Astraea’s presence and she told him not to be ridiculous. This was, after all, a world where death had less meaning. I brought Garl and his sister, the holy knight Selen Vinland back to the Nexus and made them an offer. “Come with me. There are worlds beyond this place. Worlds perhaps worth saving. I cannot promise much… but you might be able to do some good.” I offered my hand and hospitality… and they accepted.
Next: World 39 – Traitor’s Fury
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