52.0 Grayscale_Chapter 17: Shadow

He’d been getting on my nerves lately. He wouldn’t come to the cafeteria, stayed late after class, and always forgot about our plans for the day. So I decided to go to class after all to find out what was wrong and that’s when I saw her.

Black hair. Piercing blue eyes. Shallow cheeks and thin lips. She was tall, had a perfect smile and an hourglass figure.

When he talked to her, he smiled for real. Not the fake grins and smirks he gave me. No, this girl was special. She got through to him in a way that I had never managed to. I walked out of the room immediately; the sight of those two gushing over each other in the back seats was too much for me to endure.

It was confusing not because I didn’t know why I felt this way but because I knew exactly why. I wasn’t an idiot. I could tell that I was jealous. I could tell that I’d fallen for him. I’d fallen for the idiot stalker with a creepy smile and annoying attitude. Ironically, seeing him with that Saar bitch was what made it hit home.

So now I stood by, watching that blue eyed bitch take on the Dark Goddess and get her ass handed to her. A part of me – a small part – wanted to help her. But there was a bigger part of me that wanted to see her gone. Besides, she was from the Dusk Alliance so it was easy to ignore her. All I had to do was let the Goddess take care of her.

But I was aware of two things. First, if she died here, I would feel guilty. After all, I could stop it easily. All I had to do was consider her a part of my party and the Goddess wouldn’t be able to touch her without my permission. So if she did end up dying, I’d have to live with the knowledge that I could have saved her with a thought but hadn’t.

I could probably live with that.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. I wasn’t the only one here. And more importantly, that idiot obviously couldn’t stay out of it for long. Further proof that he liked her, I suppose. Sure enough, he jumped out like some sort of knight in shining armor, ready to save his precious princess.

Almost made me hurl.

Which in turn made me miss what they were saying.

“…Falling for an assassin from the Circle. Now isn’t that lovely?”

What?

Everyone froze.

Realization dawned on Runir’s face as he turned to look at Saar. She looked back at him in confusion. Lunaris’ smile grew wider.

“That can’t be… they told me he’d be at the back of the class,” muttered Saar. “You were there. You were the only one there. You have to be him. You have to…”

“Look, I have no idea what’s going on but maybe we can clear this up if we all take a step back,” said Runir, raising his arms a little.

“No,” said the Goddess. “This little assassin’s going to get what she deserves. And well… I can’t just let you leave after everything you heard.”

She prepared a revolving sphere of darkness, constantly collapsing in on itself and sucking in the air around it. The walls were creaking from the pressure and even I felt myself slipping on the ground.

Crap, guess I’ll have to get involved after all.

As much as I hated the girl, I couldn’t let her get ripped to shreds. At least, not until I did that myself, of course.

I sighed inwardly, forced myself to resist the urge to let her die and changed my plans to include her. Needless to say, I was planning on beating her up but that should have been enough to prevent the Goddess from being able to hurt her.

But nothing happened. The walls kept creaking and my foot kept slipping. The Goddess hurled her attack at them and it whizzed across the room. Runir pulled Saar close and jumped out of the way.

Why didn’t she stop? Is it because she didn’t know? Maybe the attack would have fizzled out as soon as it reached Runir.

Maybe.

A sense of unease crept up my chest. I decided to try again. This time, I forced myself to think that even trying to attack either of them would be interference.

The Goddess’ expression didn’t change as a dozen black holes appeared around her. She swept her hand and they rained down on Runir and Saar.

I panicked.

“Stop!” I shouted. “Don’t interfere.”

The spheres stopped rotating and froze in midair, the pressure ceased and the air settled down. Lunaris turned her head to look at me and chuckled.

“You’re…” she began. “Strange, why didn’t I notice before…” she muttered.

Saar’s eyes widened in surprise, making me smirk. See, I can stop a Goddess with words, bitch.

“Yes,” I replied. “Now let them go and come with me.”

I turned around, expecting her to follow me.

“No.”

Huh?

“Come on, don’t interfere,” I said, without turning around, my heart beating louder in my chest.

This was wrong. This world had rules. The Goddesses couldn’t interfere with the Hero’s plans. That was Fate’s decree! She knew who I was but she wasn’t listening. Maybe she couldn’t interfere but wasn’t obliged to do as I said?

“Fine, stay where you are. I’ll come back later.”

I took Runir by the hand and tried to pull him along. He dragged a confused assassin with him but I decided to ignore her for now. We almost reached the door when black tentacles shot out of the shadows from either side.

Runir pushed me out of the way and barely managed to dodge the tentacle that pierced the air above my head. Saar swung around with a dart in her hand. She flung it at the Goddess who knocked it out of the air with a condescending smile.

“Annoying,” growled Runir.

“Agreed,” said Lunaris. “Hurry up and die, my tea’s getting cold.”

The Black Holes frozen in the air suddenly started revolving again and whizzed towards us. There was no time to react, they were too close to dodge!

But this didn’t make any sense. She was a Goddess and I was the Hero. She couldn’t attack me. This’ll fizzle out. It won’t hit me. It won’t.

Time seemed to slow down. Runir’s mouth opened but I couldn’t hear him because of the roaring in my head. Saar hadn’t even registered that we were about to be hit.

Damn it, why the fuck were you trying to kill the Goddess when you can’t even react to her when she’s serious? Damn it Runir, why did you have to fall for an idiot?

All I could manage to do was close my eyes. If I was right and she couldn’t hurt me, then I could walk right out of there. But if I was wrong…

I felt my stomach lurch. A force hit me on my stomach as I braced for the worst.

“Are you all right?”

I blinked my eyes open. Amy stared at me with a concerned look. Zoe looked on while hanging on her shoulders. Kai stood in front of us, facing the Goddess expressionlessly. I’d almost forgotten that they were here too.

Runir breathed a sigh of relief before slumping onto the ground. He muttered something about dramatic rescues. Saar stood frozen in the center of our group, her eyes flitting from side to side. But the most surprised of all, was the Goddess.

Her hand was still in the air, stuck in the motion of ordering our deaths. She looked shocked but there was something strange too. I couldn’t quite tell what it was.

“Oh, great Goddess,” said Kai sarcastically. “We are terribly sorry for interrupting your tea party. Please don’t mind us and continue.”

The Goddess recovered from her shock but she was still wary. Then, she noticed something in the corner of her eye and looked towards me. Her eyes widened even further.

“You too? What the hell is up with this group…” she muttered in disbelief.

“Well then, if you’ll excuse us,” said Kai, grabbing Runir’s hand and ushering us all towards the exit.

“Stop!” shouted the Goddess, enraged.

Tendrils of darkness shot out of the floor, small Black Holes whirled towards us, and blades of dark energy slashed at us from every direction. Amy was the first to react, creating a wall of fire in front of us to hold off the Black Holes. Surprisingly, the wall managed to endure the crushing pressure of the Goddess’ attack.

Runir took out his sword to parry the Void Blades that tried to pierce through us. I collected myself quickly and used Earth magic to block the Dark Tendrils beneath us. Kai stood there, shielding Zoe. Saar just stood there with her mouth agape, which, despite the situation, made me feel a twang of pleasure.

The Goddess launched another set of Black Holes, which managed to break through Amy’s wall of fire. This time Runir and I launched a set of Diamond Cannons that collided with the Goddess’ weakened attacks and managed to disperse them into clouds of smoke.

“So you were with Circle after all?” asked Saar, turning to Runir.

He frowned. “No. And once we get through this, we’re going to have a long discussion about joining evil organizations.”

“Evil?” said Saar, chuckling. “To think that I’d be so bad at reading people. First I mistake you for a comrade and now it seems I mistook you for someone with a decent moral compass.”

“Look, we don’t have the time to discuss this right now,” urged Runir, as the Goddess prepared another round of attacks.

“Runir,” I said, cutting through their useless conversation. “Why can she attack us? What about Fate?”

Realization dawned on Saar’s face as she stared at me.

“You’re the – ”

“Yes, I’m the Demon Lord,” interjected Runir.

I briefly felt the desire to attack Runir but ignored it. He’d obviously said that to protect me and stick to the roles we had taken up in front of Zoe. Citizens of the Alliance would attack me immediately if they found out that I was the Hero, after all.

Saar stared at him quizzically. “But the Demon Lord is dead?”

“Can we have this conversation later?” urged Runir as he parried another Void Blade that had tried to creep up behind us.

“Right,” said Saar, taking out a dart. “But if you’re the Demon Lord, why can she attack you? I know for a fact that she wants you dead but there was a reason she used Azroth to do her dirty work for her. She can’t interfere with the Hero or the Demon Lord, or their parties right?”

“Yeah well, someone needs to tell her that,” said Runir.

“We need to get out of here and regroup,” I said, watching Amy blast a ball of darkness out of the sky with several smaller balls of fire. It was impressive that she could go toe-to-toe with the Goddess but it probably couldn’t last.

“Enough!” shouted the Goddess, obviously annoyed that she hadn’t finished us off yet. “Wrath of Cresilin!”

Her eyes filled with an inky darkness as her aura changed completely. The walls shook violently as the Goddess unleashed her full power. She arched her neck and looked down at us from above. She waved her hands and Black Holes rained down at us.

“Three Diamond Cannons to the right, A wall of fire to the left,” shouted Runir.

I immediately cast the Earth magic and three giant balls of diamond crashed towards the onslaught of Black Holes. Amy cast a Fire wall to our left and Runir cast an Earth wall to our right.

This would be so much easier if I could use Light magic.

As the attacks collided, Runir shouted another round of instructions. Not for the first time, I found myself impressed by his Ability. But as we fought the Goddess I noticed two things.

First, Saar was looking at me with a strange expression, the dart in her hand quivering as if she was considering throwing it at me.

Second, even though Zoe was magic as well, Kai was standing in the center of our group, doing nothing. He wasn’t fighting, but he looked tired. He wasn’t hurt, but he seemed to be in pain. I only managed to notice this for a second before my attention was needed elsewhere but I still managed to cry out:

“Kai, why the fuck aren’t you doing anything?”

I parried another Void Blade. It was getting harder to fight off everything the Goddess was throwing at us. We were forced to run around now, dodging Black Holes trying to suck us in or blades trying to slice us in two.

I heard someone take a long, deep breath and managed to see Kai with his eyes closed and his face towards the ceiling. He breathed out, gave me a weak smile and said: “All right.”

He waved his hand and muttered something. Runir stopped parrying the Void Blades. I stopped dodging the Dark Tendrils around me. Saar’s dart fell on the empty ground. Amy’s flame wall subsided.

It was gone. It had all disappeared instantly. All of the magic in the chamber just plain disappeared.

No one said anything. Probably because no one knew what to say. Slowly, I turned to Kai. Runir and Amy were looking at him too. Zoe was looking around frantically, confused why everyone had stopped fighting. Saar blinked.

And the Goddess froze.

“So…can I have a cup of tea? I could really use one right about now,” said Kai, with a weak chuckle.

“What is this…” said the Goddess as she cast an elementary Shadow Ball in the air.

Kai muttered something and it fizzled out. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He turned and began ushering us to the exit. “Anyways, it seems we’ve overstayed our welcome. We’ll drop by for tea some other day. Bye!”

The Goddess didn’t give up. Dark Tendrils, Void Blades, Black Holes, Purgatory, Vanta Cannons. Everything in the Dark magic arsenal, she tried to use them all. But they fizzled out before they could come anywhere near us.

We reached the exit and left the chamber. I still don’t quite remember how we got up the stairs but there we were; in the clearing outside the cabin. Kai brought up the rear so he was the last to step out of the door.

“Kai…” said Runir.

“Shush, we better get out of here first. I’ll explain everything as soon as –”

“No, you are going to explain everything right now!” demanded Runir. “That was a Goddess. A Fucking Divine Goddess. And you reduced her to a little girl with a tea-set. With VanDrake you said it was a one-off thing and you freaking collapsed – or pretended to collapse, more likely – but now you’re perfectly fine after all of that?”

“Oh, so you’re wondering why there wasn’t any backlash?” asked Kai. “Some sort of sacrifice that I have to pay to use my Ability.”

“For starters, yes. We can get into the details later.”

“And what about the rest of you?” asked Kai, turning to us. “Do you want to ask this question too?”

I found myself nodding without even thinking about it.

“I see,” said Kai. “But you’re wrong. I did pay a price. A big one, at that.”

“I don’t see you flopping on the ground,” said Runir.

“But you do see me getting heckled by my so called friends,” said Kai. “I gave up a lot of things to get us out of there.”

“Like what?”

“Like the ability to travel with you.”

“And why wouldn’t you be able to do that now?” I asked.

“Because –”

“No! Don’t go, Kai!” wailed Zoe.

Kai looked at her sadly. “Don’t worry, it’ll be all right.”

“Kai.”

He turned to face the speaker.

“Who are you?”

“Does it really matter who I am, Amy?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Fine,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I’m Kai.”

“Don’t try to joke your way out of this!” I cried.

“Look, I’d be happy to discuss this but we have a guest with us, don’t we?” He gestured towards Saar. “Don’t want her to feel excluded.”

Saar stared at him. “How did you –”

“Okay, fine, I’ll tell you everything but can we please leave this place before – ”

The cabin’s roof exploded into a cloud of dust, splinters and shadow.

“…before that happens.”

“You!” The voice of the Dark Goddess thundered across the clearing. Her eyes seethed with fury but there was a hint of caution in them. Her hair flew about wildly, and her clothes fluttered in the wind. She floated in the air like the divine being she was, a mass of darkness roiling around her at all times.

“Are you upset that we left your tea party so suddenly?” said Kai. “Sorry but I’m more of a coffee person.”

The Goddess glared at us for a while but then the wind around her settled and the darkness dissipated.

“All right then,” she said.

“Oh so you’re letting us go? Thank you very much, come on everyone,” said Kai as he tried to drag us out of the clearing.

“Sure, you can leave but first, why don’t you introduce yourselves properly? I don’t even know your names,” said the Goddess, with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

I had a bad feeling about this.

“Sure,” said Runir. “I’m Rurin, this is Kai. That’s Joey and Amia, and the idiot over there is Rose. Oh and the assassin’s Saar. I think.”

Did you really need to call me an idiot?

“No, I meant who are you really,” said the Goddess, innocently.

“What do you mean, you know who we are. You’re a Goddess, you can see our names,” I said. “Aren’t those the names you see above us?”

“Yes I can see them, more or less,” she said, her eyes flickering towards Kai’s head for a second. “But I know who you are and that is not the name you should have. Your strength doesn’t match your status values either.”

Shit, what’s she trying to pull? If she reveals that I’m the Hero, Zoe and Saar will …

“You know who we are, so please don’t interfere.” Runir stressed on that last word through gritted teeth.

Did he know? He’d probably guessed it already of course. This Goddess didn’t play by the rules of Fate. If she could interfere enough to attack us, then she could probably out me too.

The Goddess grinned, this time sincerely.

“No, Lunaris, don’t!” I heard someone cry.

“Don’t worry, I can keep secrets,” began the Goddess. “I don’t mind not saying your name but I would appreciate it if you answered a question for me. It’s a simple one, don’t worry.”

My stomach churned. A sense of great foreboding arose in me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Amy’s mouth open and Kai’s eyes close.

“Why is the Hero traveling with the Demon Lord?”

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