Episode 153 – Divine Flower
How will you face everyone’s families? How will you be able to look them in the eyes? It was your responsibility to lead them, to protect them, to get them home safely.
Nelaira’s form shook and wetness slid down her cheek.
With both Laica and Aurel gone, their son would become an orphan. Laica had forsaken her noble title all in order to marry Aurel. Neither one of them were close to their sides of the family. Their son would be all alone, with almost no support from anyone.
Even if she returned, locked in quarantine, what could she possibly do?
But, but! Laica is close to her sister! She will take good care of Evin! Nelaira shook her head violently.
Will she really? That same voice whispered. She might want to, but Thayns will surely oppose her taking Evin in. After all, his mother had forsaken her noble status to marry out.
But, even if she can’t directly take him in, she can still support him! Nelaira argued.
How? Financially? As if he’d need money, Purge compensation for members lost in the line of duty is rather high.
Nelaira’s stiff fingers clenched into a fist. He is old enough to take care of himself. He is a strong kid with Laica’s explosive temper. Not easy to bully at all. He’ll be alright.
…maybe. But what about Luki’s kids?
The status of Luki’s wife wasn’t high in the Eeneva family to begin with, and her status in the Eryey family is not any higher. The only reason why they could live in peace so far was due to Luki’s status as a capable healer and Purger.
But after he is gone…
You should know the best how cruel infighting between nobles can be. The voice continued.
At least they still have their mother! Nelaira sniffled.
Her? With that gentle and submissive temperament, their children will most likely be protecting her instead of the other way around. And what about others? You weren’t very close to the other three, but they too had families, spouses, children, loved ones. Just like that, in mere seconds, the scourge mowed them down like grass. And you just stood there dumbly, unable to do anything. Were all your years of killing Tainted in vain?
Nelaira hiccupped, chocking on her own suppressed sobs.
If only she had aborted the mission earlier when they started running out of fasting pills.
Suddenly her eyes opened wide and she slapped her own face with both hands.
NO! She mustn’t fall into this train of thought!
Her decision at the time wasn’t wrong. Going back while they could still go on would have been going back prematurely. She couldn’t have known what would happen if they stayed! If she was faced with the same decision in the future, under same circumstances she would have still made the same choice!
In this line of work, a Tainted could pop up at any point. This was not something she could control. Besides, it was the sacred duty of the Purge to fight Tainted, not avoid them! Even if that meant they would not be able to return back to their families.
That’s why everyone respected the Purge. That’s why everyone felt safe being protected by the Purge. That’s why people felt proud to be a part of the Purge!
Nelaira’s sobs slowly died down as her mind was distracted by a bright patch of red in front of her eyes.
Where am I? What is that? Her line of thought jumped to another track once more.
She didn’t open her eyes all this time because she expected to meet darkness of the tunnel. But then, how come her surroundings weren’t dark?
She tried to concentrate, to process what she was seeing, but her mind buzzed with all kinds of voices, an unsorted mix of memories and sounds.
Her mind lagged and she couldn’t make sense of what was what, she just knew that the image in front of her was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
Focus. She repeated to herself. I must come up with a way to deal with those three. I can’t let them return home.
Yes, that’s right. That was the most pressing matter. Regardless of what happened or what she needed to do, she couldn’t let them return home.
After returning back, wouldn’t these three become a part of Zel’s squad?
Would Zel drink and laugh with people who caused the death of his fiancé without knowing the truth?
All the good times she had with her team flashed through Nelaira’s mind.
How the joked and laughed.
How they spared and jovially pushed each other around.
How they hugged each other’s shoulders spilling their beers as they swayed drunkenly.
How they sang loudly next to the campfire.
All of their slurred voices reverberated clearly inside her hazy mind, singing a morbid little song that was strangely popular among Purge:
10 Purgers on the team, 10 Purgers.
Tainted took one down and passed him around, 9 Purgers on the team.
9 Purgers on the team, 9 Purgers.
Ink made one drown and he spread it around, 8 Purgers on the team.
Would Zel let them guard his back only to get stabbed just as she did? Would Zel be the next one charged with the crime of knowing too much?
Veins in Nelaira’s neck bulged out. Never! She will never let them fool Zel!
8 Purgers on the team, 8 Purgers.
Oh, oh, what a letdown, the captain got cut down. 7 Purgers on the team.
7 Purgers on the team, 7 Purgers.
No way to slow down, no time to come around. 6 Purgers on the team.
Nelaira didn’t know when or how she got up from the ground.
Her eyes dull, she stared at the bright color, her feet unconsciously moving forward.
6 Purgers on the team, 6 Purgers.
Oh, oh, one clown f*cking flew off the ground. 5 Purgers on the team.
5 Purgers on the team, 5 Purgers.
You retard, come back down, stop f*cking around! 4 Purgers on the team.
The red occupied the entirety of her vision, closer and closer, she could almost touch it.
4 Purgers on the team, 4 Purgers.
Tainted started to Meltdown, it’s the final countdown, 3 Purgers on the team.
3 Purgers on the team, 3 Purgers.
Team wipeout, total breakdown. Everyone got shot down. No more Purgers on the team.
She was now standing right next to it and could see what it was.
It was a flower. A stunningly beautiful flower. Her hand involuntarily moved towards it, wishing to caress those soft looking petals.
No more Purgers on the team, no more Purgers.
Oh, oh, go back to town, there more can be found, 10 Purgers on the team.
10 Purgers on the team, 10 Purgers.
Everything grew completely silent and still.
Nelaira’s outstretched hand froze in midair and her previously dull eyes widened in clarity. As if the curtain of fog covering her mind had been cut open with a sharp knife.
What was she doing?!
She quickly pulled back her hand as if it had been seared.
If she touched the flower, she would taint it! She couldn’t bear to destroy something so beautiful. The flower was so stunning that surely even herbivores couldn’t bear eating it.
She looked at her hand. The color was off, as if someone smeared some gray paint over it in random patches. Some parts of it were still skin colored, albeit pale, while others had turned grayish white. Some of her veins were still blue, but others had turned frighteningly black.
Nelaira smiled bitterly. Wouldn’t it be great if people could just chop off the tainted body part?
She would gladly chop her own limbs off if it could get rid of this unholy thing inside of her.
Too bad that Ink wasn’t so easy to get rid of.
If she had chopped off her arm back then, she might have slowed down the progression of the taint, but nothing more. Even if she entirely abandoned her entire body, moving into a Replica, like she often did within the Replica dungeon, it would still be useless.
What had been tainted wasn’t just her flesh but her mind.
One can chop off one’s flesh, but how could one chop off one’s mind?
Even if she kept switching Replica bodies like socks the Ink would further corrode her mind until she turns into a mere shell of what she used to be. At that point, she would be a true Tainted, even if her body wasn’t tainted.
And there wasn’t anything one could do about it.
No matter how much one compressed their Mind towards the center of their body, one couldn’t make it disappear. It merely became a dense veil covering one’s flesh. And as soon as her form had touched the Ink, even if Ink had just touched her uniform and had no direct skin contact, her Mind had already become tainted.
That was the scariest thing about Ink. It could taint life. That included everything that had anything to do with being alive. Mind and mana included.
Only divine things were immune to taint. And she was not divine in any way.
Nelaira closed her eyes tightly, her forehead creased in bitterness. And then she let out an exhale and opened her eyes again. There was no point for her to think about Ink. Or rather, she had no time to worry about it. It would take mere days for her to lose her ability to use magic. Mere two weeks for her to turn into a Tainted.
Before then she had to defeat Lorafiel and the other two, take their beacon, and rescue Aurel and Luki.
With her mind set, and the clearest it had been since the battle, she looked around herself.
When she had lost her consciousness, she had been lying inside the cave of her own making, but now what met her eyes was not darkness but light, not snow but stone.
She was not inside a cave, rather, she was standing inside a relatively large shrine made from dark gray stone that had been frozen blue.
And in the middle of the shrine, right in front of her, stood the most mesmerizing flower she had ever seen. She had to wipe her eyes and shake her head for a whole minute until she was sure that the flower wasn’t a mere hallucination.
It was a species of flower she had never seen before. It somewhat resembled a columbine flower, a lily, and even an orchid, but was neither of the three.
The edges of its petals were colored in the most beautiful shade of crimson she had ever seen, looking like one could squeeze blood out of it with a single pinch.
The red looked like a crown as it surrounded the pure white in the middle. The core of its being was so white, purer than the snow it was growing out of. It glittered under the soft light, its texture resembling the snow that covered the Valley, looking so fragile, so delicate, like it would melt with the lightest touch.
In the center of the white grew multicolored stamen, the tips of which glowed radiantly, resembling fireflies. The lights flickered, grew brighter and dimmer, glittering slowly, making one get lost in their beauty.
Even the filament of the stamen and the subtle veins spreading through the petals seemed to have multicolored glittering liquid flowing through them as if it was liquified magic.
Colored from inside out in various bright shades of green, the leaves of the flower surrounded it as if a royal gown, perfectly enhancing its allure.
The full image of the plant was so vivid, so bright, that it blinded the eyes with its beauty.
Nelaira felt like she had just taken off tinted glasses. Like she was seeing the world in its full, bright glory for the first time. As if all this time her entire world had been dim and gray, and now, she could finally see color.