Chapter 62: Mischief
It all began with a nervous cry from the winged beings. Like a black smog, they flew up, scattering with no direction. In the middle of the night, the sheep and the cattle cried, jittery as they pushed their way out of their hay-filled coops, awakening their sleeping shepherds.
Then came a deafening lull from the once noisy sea, as if no life was within it. The wide ocean gathered strength from the depths. The waters below the cliff bellowed, surging like tidal waves, slamming against the massive rocks.
With no warning, a gurgling rumble echoed from below. The earth split and the grasslands swayed sideways, then up and down. It didn’t stop as it uprooted each grassroot it could find. After a loud cracking sound, fissures divided the grasslands into four parts.
Spared not from the sudden change, the blowing winds screeched, a dreary warning for the denizens of the verdant fields. An eerie shade of green soon shrouded the starry skies. And for the people of the Madlands, it was but an omen. A familiar one. Slowly, the full moons turned bottle green, shaping itself into a sneering crescent.
Below, the beasts of the wild, both big and small, sprinted away from the cliff. A massive exodus had begun. They cried, roaring not to show dominance, but to express their lingering fear as they floundered in search of safety. The birds flapped their wings and cried for safe passage.
“Gaia!” the people of the prairie cried out as their lips quivered. Gritting their teeth, they sprinted to awaken all those who were asleep. The sounds of horns echoed throughout the once peaceful grasslands.
The villagers around the cliff, including the catkins, strutted out of their homes, bringing nothing but their finest steeds, remaining edibles, and little gold. Crevices crawled and sinkholes swallowed the lands like treats, slowly creeping into the villages.
The young and the old rushed away. No one dared to look back, not even the kittens as they focused on their escape. Astolfo and Hild looked for the young princess everywhere, but no one found her shadow. Despite their desire to stay, Gaia had another plan for them. With guilt and shame, they escaped from the calamity, leaving the princess on her own.
The people inside the walled cities threw worried gazes towards the grasslands. In the middle of the night, they strode out of their houses and mansions, ignoring the fact that they were wearing their night wears. They felt it. The quaking lands. A dark omen. They lifted their chin and their eyes met an unfamiliar sky, which was like a rolled scroll of green smoke. The green crescent moon leered at them as a cloud of pulsing black and white crawled towards the towering city walls.
The scent of destruction was near. Everyone had a simple conclusion. Wasting no time, the walled cities blew their warning horns and slammed the warning drums to awaken those who were still asleep.
Not for war. But to escape to the edges of the Madlands.
Victoria and I shuddered.
I had never imagined I’d see such a sight one day. With my feet planted onto the ground, I gaped at the apocalyptic sight that was commonly seen in those end-of-the-world movies. But this time, it didn’t inspire awe, but dread.
Parts of the massive cliff where I stood were no more, as a mysterious force chipped chunks out of the rocky terrain. The pieces of rocks defied physics as they floated beside me before fracturing into tinier pieces. The wave-tested rocks; it was disintegrating and not even sand remained.
But for a mysterious reason, I stood still in their midst, unaffected by whatever I and Victoria had unleashed. The dark hair I had shifted hues, from black to lilac, from mysterious lilac to glimmering white. The dress I wore shone along until I looked like some sort of divinity.
The true Victoria, who I allowed to take over, just like me, stood stupefied. The tangled fury she bore vanished, replaced by a burgeoning confusion.
Tongue-tied, our knees slumped onto the ground as Victoria realized that her wish had caused the madness unfolding before her. The looming destruction didn’t help her at all, as self-blame pulsed through both our minds.
“It’s my fault again,” our lips shivered. The real Victoria’s emotions were all over the place. A mess of fear, guilt, loss, and self-directed anger. “W-Why me, again?”
I immediately called out through the chains that linked our souls. No, it’s not your fault. This is not your fault. Calm down, Victoria.
Then we heard it; a faint giggle. Her voice was like a temptress; soft, playful, but had a tinge of malice.
Amidst the rupturing lands, a dainty hand slithered out of the void, ripping space through an eerie, pulsing white-black ink. The hues. It felt alive. The hand slowly moved forward, and we staggered. Our instinct screamed for us to escape, to run until our legs give up. Yet, we found both our souls and thoughts rooted.
We felt like the abyss had set its eyes on us. Yet, the dainty hands did nothing but caress our cheek, gently, like of a mother. Our minds blanked out as the chilly palms stroked our face.
“Ah, you cute child…” the being uttered. Wintry sweat trickled from our back as the playful voice caught our attention.
Wait, let me handle this. I, Leonora, said to Victoria.
No, a whimper echoed as Victoria cut me off again.
“P-Please stop this destruction. This is not what I want, so please,” our pale lips said, quivering.
“What do you mean, little one? Isn’t this what you exactly wish for?” The being giggled. “Ah, just look at the beauty of destruction. I-It’s so marvelous!”
“N-No, please. I was wrong.” Our lips cried, tears slipping down unconsciously. “I don’t want any of this. I-I don’t want anyone to die because of me again. I didn’t wish for this.”
“I don’t understand but…” The being continued. “But what are you willing to sacrifice, little mortal?”
“I-I have nothing but my soul. So take my soul and leave everyone alone.”
The earth gave out another roar as if it was laughing at the request. “How curious, but granted!” A chuckle pierced through our souls. “So your beautiful soul I shall partake.”
Then we blanked out.
I opened my eyes. The rumbling had already stopped, but I found myself crumpled on the ground, shaking. I groaned, but my voice ended up stuck in my throat. Crimson and blue-colored notifications filled my sight, but I had no time to even check what it was all about. I convulsed as the throbbing pain pricked my entire being.
“Sacrificing, gentle, innocent, but meek. Plus an unfortunate fate.” A seductive voice echoed from the void. “Ah, so pure soul, what a tragedy… I-I can’t get enough of this. Such despair. A magnificent addition to my already perfect soul collection.”
An icy shiver streaked through my entire body. Though the destruction had already stopped, the surrounding lands around the pulsing white and black still ended up like a patch of desert land.
It was so hard to breathe. And I was… empty. So lonely. So hollow. I crumpled myself breathless as I held onto my heaving chest. She had taken away a piece of me.
I tried to stand as tears gushed, but I stumbled butt first. My legs wobbled, refusing to follow my thoughts. With difficulty, I scowled at the void and asked, “W-Who are you?”
“Oh, I almost forgot. My cute little follower is still here,” the being said. “Let’s see. This is our first meeting, right? I really appreciate what you did with those rats. I have a lot of trouble dealing with those ugly failed experiments of mine. Anyway, Let me introduce myself, mortal.”
My heart skipped as if a vicious predator had set its eyes on me. I stared at my hands and found them quivering.
Time slowed. No, it stopped.
“Don’t tense up,” the being laughed. “I’m just your patron god… Gaia.”
“G-Gaia. Gaia.” My heart lurched as memories flashed before my eyes.
“S-So it’s you,” I said, forcing the words out of my lungs as I finally stood up. “W-What did you do to Victoria!”
“Tsk, tsk, so disrespectful. That’s not how you talk to someone like me. You should first grovel on the ground,” Gaia giggled. “Mortals are so troublesome, so let me help you with this.”
Suddenly, I felt the embrace of ‘The Tempest’ and ‘The Tumultuous Wind’ rising forth. A massive windstorm rose and lifted me from the ground, away from the goddess whom I taught as a figment of my imagination.
[You have activated Spirit Eyes.]
I watched the craggy land where my leg once stood, twisting into a knot.
“W-What was that?!” I said, paling. “A-Alistair, M-Maggie? What is happening?”
The wind spirits simply ignored my questions. I could feel the spirit blobs’ attention dead set on the pulsing void. They cautiously glared at the retreating pale hands while pulling me behind them.
“Spirits? So you still have them? Oh, so they recovered just now.” Gaia said, clapping in a slow, rhythmic beat. “Wow, you have such beautiful eyes that I’m having an inch to pluck out to start another collection. Well, as expected of my only disciple! Anyway, since you showed me something rare and I’m a merciful and beautiful goddess, I’ll let your blatant blasphemy slide. And don’t worry, I let you keep those legs. Ah, I’m just too kind for my own good.”
“Wait, you look familiar little one,” the void pulsed, black and white slithered towards Maggie. However, a verdant wind pushed it back, away from the little blob. “I’m sensing a familiar friend. You smell like the divine wind and… hm… that boring Death. Eh, so you’re their little lassie!”
The wind spirits ignored her and spun around me, as if checking if I had suffered harm.
“What happened to Victoria?” I asked, eyeing the pulsing black and white as I clutched onto my chest. Even taking a breath had turned into a chore. My lungs. It’s burning.
“Well.” Gaia let out a laugh. “In exchange for stopping the destruction she caused, I took her soul. Aren’t you glad, my disciple? Now you’re the only soul inside that puny vessel. You can now play with it however you want! I even use a little essence on those strange limitations of yours! I really did you a favor, right? Right?”
“Return her, fucker,” I said, sounding grim.
For a few seconds, silence drifted in the air.
“Hoh, this is so exciting!” Gaia said, her voice echoing like a bell. “A mortal dares to demand a personal possession of mine? Such a first titillating experience! Why do you even want this useless dreaming soul? I think you’re better without that soul. But since you ask little follower, I’ll be much more willing to accede. So what can you give me in exchange? What can you exchange for a little despairing soul?”
“E-Exchange?” My mind churned, trying to remember the notifications from before. “I still have two more gifts, right? “
“Yes, my greedy little disciple, but that was before.” Gaia shook her fingers like a pendulum. “Equivalent exchange is the law of the gods. You earned the right to talk with a kind goddess like me in exchange for those wishes. Actually, I believe this is already pushing myself, so… don’t push your luck, mortal.”
The tempest blob circled, blowing a blast of wind on my face. “Don’t trust her. Mischief will never play a fair game. A liar and trickster. Her tongue wags like poison stings.”
And before I knew it, little Maggie strutted in front.
“W-Wait, don’t Magg-,” I tried to stop her, but a warm wind sealed my lips. Alistair wrapped me shut. I struggled, but to no avail.
Let her, Alistair said.
“You can’t take my dreaming friend!” Maggie said as she hopped midair like a fuming green. “Mom and dad had already approved of my contract with the two souls. You can’t take them away anymore.”
“What a feisty little one, unlike your mother?” Gaia said. “But what’s stopping me from ignoring your puny contract?”
“My mom even saw the twin souls and branded them!” She said. The little blob shone and a black scythe appeared midair.
After hearing the little blob’s words, Gaia turned silent.
Above the sky, the sneering crescent moon crooked. The dark clouds rolled, and the heaven churned. Lightning and thunder drummed. And a strange pulsing dark green shade illuminated the skies.
“Branded?” Gaia’s pale hands pulled a lilac color orb out of the void, dangling it out, allowing us to take a peek.
“Victoria,” I said.
She caressed the orb and scythe-like smoke appeared out of the lilac sphere. And on my palms, another dark scythe slowly appeared.
Breaking her silence, Gaia let out a whisper. “That wrinkly lady dared?” Her voice was faint, but my entire body tensed up. Even Alistair had sensed danger and immediately pulled me farther away.
“Hm, Death,” Gaia said as she played the violet orb in her palms. “This is your plan? Trap me to your stuffy underworld again? W-Wait. Y-You shitty hag!”
Suddenly, she tossed the purple straight towards me. I staggered, shocked, as the orb struck my forehead.
[You have received a soul fragment filled with the essence of destruction!]
“I’ll take my leave, little mortal. Don’t forget to send more believers.” Gaia said, scampering away. “Now, now let’s meet this unwelcome guest.”
And before I knew it, the pale hands along with the pulsing white and black vanished, leaving me and the wind blobs amidst a thoroughly devastated land.