---- One Week Later ----
Religion in this world is remarkable. The entire world was unified under one faith. I’ll admit, in a world full of swords and magic, the legends people here spin up feel a little more realistic than the ones back on Earth. Not only were the gods fallible, but they were also mortal.
The requirements to kill a god was to use their own Champion’s weapon against them. A little cliché, but no doubt fabricated to glorify the so-called Champions. Religion is used to control society. With self-proclaimed god-killers amongst the clergy’s ranks, people would think twice to oppose them.
An intriguing quirk of this polytheist faith was that the gods are claimed to be former humans. This was well thought out.
It placated the common people, reassuring them by making the gods appear as relatable as possible. Something that was always foreign in the religions of Earth. Our gods were always omniscient. Always omnipresent. Here, they felt a more intimate connection to their deities. They had a shared humanity. Another reason for shunning demihumans, then. I hadn’t heard of a demigod’s existence in the pantheon. Demihuman God. This was confusing.
I asked around and discovered that everybody believed in these deities’ existences. The overwhelming majority followed the Goddess of Light, with a few worshipping the rest. I should seek out this Pope Lux and congratulate him. He’s done a much better job convincing the population of the existence of gods. Double points for making his sect the most popular one. Being able to control that many people is a dream of mine.
Thankfully, Julia was an exception. She doesn’t worship any deities. Not an atheist per se; she undoubtedly believed of their existence. She just doesn’t bother associating herself with any factions. When I asked about her reasons, she avoided the topic, so I just left it at that.
Regardless… Fated to oppose the Goddess of Light, huh. No wonder people avoided me like the plague. The curse of darkness was a great big neon sign stuck to me that read “I’m a heretic. Fuck your god.” As an atheist, it was an amusing thought that I was destined to oppose something non-existent. Even if this goddess did exist, I would hold no grievances against her.
Chalking up my black hair and black eyes to the Evil Goddess seemed a bit of a stretch. Why would a curse of darkness be bestowed by a deity that embodied light? I wasn’t going to bother wasting my time pondering paradoxes. The scriptures here were probably dreamt up the same way as in my own world: By some man sitting in a cave with pen and paper in hand, high on mushrooms.
I had to find out myself, then.
I was going to introduce something from home to this world. The scientific method. I am looking forward to studying magic. I’ll be creating my very own branch of science from square one. Hopefully, Mr Vetter gets me some research material soon. He should come by tomorrow with a report, per our agreement.
I found myself in the dining room. I stood behind Julia, who was unenthusiastically eating her breakfast. Acting as her personal maid, I had to make sure that she was always attended to. I had gotten a little possessive of my duties… I got annoyed at another maid when she refilled Julia’s glass before I could. My emotions were a little tumultuous when that happened. Maybe it was a pride thing.
Again today, no discussion between Leonard and Julia. This man was going to lose his wife (to me) if he kept this attitude up.
Oh, it seemed Julia had finished her food. She set her cutlery down.
“My Lady,” I offered my hand. She took it and stood up from the table.
“Thank you, Kuro. Let us prepare for work.” She looked back at Leonard once again, a conflicted expression on her face. He was too busy with his concubines to notice her gaze.
“Of course. We shall depart immediately.”
Today was going to be eventful. Julia was hosting a tea party, and she was going to let me accompany. If there was one thing that I was sure would happen at a tea party, it would be gossip. Lots of it. The perfect intel-gathering situation had fallen into my lap.
The only problem was, I was going to have to serve tea to people other than Julia. That somehow irritated me more than anything else. I needed to get my emotions under control.
POV: Juliana Von Wickten
Everything was prepared. The large garden alcove is set up. On the table, a three-layer plate rack was set. An assortment of canapés and a jug of imported juices were prepared. This meeting would be important, nothing could go wrong.
As a duchess, I had a duty to my subjects. Today’s guests would be such people. The noble wives of our vassal counts would be attending.
The butler appeared from beyond the bushes, escorting the honoured guests behind him. I curtsey, Kuro beside me doing the same.
“Welcome to the Wickten estate. I hope you’ve had a pleasant trip.” I begin. They reply with the standard noble procedures of rattling off pleasantries and flattery, as one should in this situation. I notice their eyes occasionally flick to Kuro, an uneasy atmosphere settling over the gathering.
“Ah, this demi over here is Kuro. My personal assistant.” I introduce her.
“It is an honour to meet you, nya.” Kuro bows deeply towards the guests. The guests’ eyes blooming with realisation. No doubt our previous conversations about raising a pet coming to the forefront of their minds.
“That’s right, Kuro here is the product of all your wonderful suggestions.” I beam. I feel a little bad for leaving Kuro out of the loop, but appeasing the visitors comes first.
“Well, let’s not waste any more time.” I led the noblewomen over to the alcove, taking a seat at the head of the table, assisted by Kuro.
We indulge ourselves in the snacks prepared by the cooks, and side-track into some idle chatter to lighten the mood. We all knew rebellious cells were beginning to appear in our lands more frequently. This was a temporary distraction of such pressing matters. No doubt, that would be today’s main topic of discussion.
After several minutes of formalities, I decide to address the elephant in the room. I clear my throat and check that I have the attention of everyone on the table.
“As we all know, our lands have recently been overrun by miscreants challenging our rule. Firstly, I would like to praise you all for being able to eliminate all dissenters swiftly and efficiently. Their foul conduct is treason towards our Kingdom, and should be snuffed out wherever it springs up.” I receive a round of nodding.
“However, this conflict will not be short-lived. Over this past month, I have gathered information detailing such dissenters. Something troubling has been brought to my attention. These rebels have been receiving funding and resources from an anonymous group within our own borders.” A hushed whispering quickly swept the table. I raise my hand.
“Please, please settle down. I have sent agents out and they are in the field as we speak. The fact that we know that these fools are being assisted is testament to their investigation abilities.” The uneasy atmosphere quickly dissipated and a relieved one soon took over.
I noticed Kuro shifting uncomfortably behind me, clearly unnerved by the prospect of the duchy being overrun by lawless upstarts. I smiled at her.
“Don’t worry, Kuro. I’ll make sure the organization behind this transgression will get their due punishment.” Looking at her reaction, my little spiel did nothing to assuage her fears. If anything, she had gotten more anxious.
I hate to see her like this. Seems like I’ll have the agents investigate faster.
I’d like to think I had a pretty good idea of who was funding these rebellions. Looking up from my desk, I saw Mr Vetter sitting across from me, notepad in hand and eager to begin his report. I stifle a groan at this man’s eccentric scheming.
It was a step up from confronting the Wicktens directly, but I still question how beneficial these rebels really were to the lowest caste. This man in front of me was the only bridge between me and the outside world. I couldn’t let him go to waste.
“Mr Vettel, as your superior, it is only fair that I warn you of this. It has come to my attention that my Lady has been investigating rebel supporters in her domain… I hope you are not one of them.” He flounders a bit, before shaking his head vigorously.
“T-That is preposterous! Of course not, Lady Kuro! Why would I waste my resources on such harmful ventures?” I blinked. Did I misjudge him? “Those fools spreading violence and despair would only drive the sovereign rulers to come down harsher on the common people! My goals are to help my people, not destroy them!”
I wasn’t expecting this, he had a half a brain.
The question then was, what did he spend his ill-gotten gains on? Our unwritten contract specified that as long as I did not pry into his personal matters, the same courtesy would be returned to me. I sighed. As long as he wasn’t a liability, I can rest easy. I nod in acceptance.
“You may start your report.”
“At once!” He flips open his notebook and begins listing off all the contacts he’s hired. Very mundane stuff. I don’t care who works for me if the end results are the same. He pauses, remembering something.
“Ah- Just a question, if I may?” I gesture for him to continue. “Those that I approached wanted to know what this organisation was called. Does this have a name?” I sigh again.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call this an organisation, no? From what I’ve heard, it’s just one branching chain of contacts that can transfer messages and goods between each other. I decide to humour him. A taunting grin spreads across my face.
“As one fated to oppose the Goddess of Light…” he gulped, “wouldn’t a name paying homage to the Evil Goddess be fitting, nya?” Saying her name is akin to taboo in this world. As one that supposedly destroyed the world and ruled its ruins, it is a befitting ending to her story. Wouldn’t it be funny for people to work for the goddess once again?
“How about… The Order of Etris. Music to the ears, right?” His face contorted into a blend of horror and outrage. He opened his mouth, but before he could object, I stared daggers at him.
He cowered under my scrutinizing gaze. “I have no problems with the chosen name, Lady Kuro. However, I am afraid there will be a limited pool of future recruits I can draw from.”
“Not a problem. Those who don’t join an organisation based off name alone have no place in the trade.” He nodded solemnly. I couldn’t care less if he agreed or not. All he needs to do is go along with what I say. I think the name was perfect.
I can be sure that those that join hold no prejudice against myself. The name also acts as a safeguard. No sane person would go around saying they work for a company called The Order Etris. It sounds like a cult. This way, the organisation would enjoy the benefits of being hidden from the public eye.
“Uh, moving on,” Vetter continues, “I’ve managed to source a supplier of books that won’t be found on the market.”
He’s got my attention.
“He doesn’t have any dark magic grimoires in stock, but I have managed to source the other books that you have requested.”
I groan in disappointment. I was hoping for a big find… perhaps I was too optimistic. It was only his first week on the job. It’s a miracle that he’s managed to set up all the necessary groundwork whilst searching for lost texts.
He reaches into the bag of ‘teaching materials for the lesson’ and pulls out two thick leather-bound tomes.
“This first one,” he hands over to me, “contains all publicised research on the nature of magic.” Publicised, huh? That means that there is private research yet unannounced to the world.
“This next one has been smuggled out of the Holy Armlight Academy. It’s comparable to their syllabus. It lists all the first-rank spells a student should cover in their first year. It did not come cheap, my liege.”
He handed the second one over more carefully than the former, almost reverently. I hadn’t heard of the Armlight Academy, but his reactions suggest it is a very prestigious institute.
“This will do for now. Keep searching for the dark grimoires.” He bowed, no doubt to mask the tick of annoyance that appeared on his face. I looked towards the time crystal mounted on the wall. It was glowing an early blue.
Time was an interesting concept here. They didn’t have clocks in the traditional sense. They used some sort of crystal that cycles through colours throughout the day. It was convenient as every crystal ‘magically’ emitted the colours, in sync with each other. I should acquire one for research purposes.
The convention was to say, meet upon red, or meet upon yellow. It was great for general timings but horrible for precision timekeeping. I don’t think they have the concept of seconds, minutes, or hours. I had heard of these crystals being embedded in rings. Something that rings could not do cheaply in my world was timekeeping on a finger.
Vetter is scheduled to meet me twice a week ‘upon late green till early blue’. Which roughly correlates to ‘from 6:00pm to 7:00pm’. It was time for him to leave.
“I look forward to your ny~ext report Mr Vetter.”
Ah, I almost forgot. I should have a style1AN: Styles represent the fashion by which monarchs and noblemen are properly addressed. CEOs don’t exist in this world; businesses were run by one person. The owner. There are no executive officers to be the chief of.
Hmm… as the founder and head of the Order of Etris, a suitable title is required to address me. Well, might as well roll with the religious cult vibe. Heh. “As liaison of the Evil Goddesses’ will, I bring judgement down onto those who have turned their backs to their true ruler.” It is only natural, as one gifted by her Holiness Etris that I am bestowed with a title deserving of respect…
Vetter’s hands reaching for the doorknob stopped and he turned to look at me.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You will address me as the High Priestess. Do not mention my true name when dealing with others.” He pauses to ponder for a moment.
“It will be done, High Priestess.” With that, he left the room, a quiet click echoing throughout the room.
What did I just say?! My cheeks flush red and I cover my face. High Priestess… I can’t I gave myself such a chuunibyou title. I just went against everything I’ve ever believed in. I abandoned subtlety for flamboyance.
What’s worse, I had gotten worked up over my fabricated motives. Fabricated motives. I couldn’t care less who the people decided to worship! At that moment, I distinctly remember not feeling like myself.
Something took over.
My slip from reasonable thought went undetected by myself. My mind rationalised it as just playing along with what I had. I believed that I was acting. Calling myself High Priestess as an atheist is the height of audaciousness.
There was only one explanation.
The curse of darkness.
It had warped my thinking into one of a fanatic zealot’s. Bring judgement? True ruler? Fuck that. All I wanted was some books and information. I would not allow this organisation to turn into a national security risk. I had no plans in being hunted down to every corner of the continent.
High Priestess of The Order of Etris.
With a title like that, I’m pretty sure that he’ll be recruiting followers, not employees.
Hold on. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Followers can be paid less, and have greater loyalty to me. What’s done is done.
By my authority as High Priestess, none shall openly oppose the Church of Light. We shall bide our time and build our strength in the shadows. When the time is right, we shall-
I did it again. It’s laughable how irrational my thought process becomes. If you’re gonna gift me, my dear goddess… I hope insanity is not the only thing that comes with the package.
Mr Vetter, please find that grimoire soon.
My sanity rests upon your shoulders.
POV: Juliana Von Wickten
The butler had come by to inform me of Mr Vetter’s departure. Kuro usually stays in her office for a while longer after he leaves. She’s so studious.
I find myself in front of her door. The room I had assigned to her had quickly become her personal quarters over the week. She rarely allows others inside, Mr Vettel and me being the only exceptions. I’ve heard rumours of an unfortunate maid once finding herself the subject of a memorable reprimanding after she entered the room without permission.
I knock twice before entering.
“Kuro~” I push the door open. What greeted me wasn’t the usual jumpy welcome I was used to. Instead, Kuro remained seated on her desk, head lazily resting on her cheek. She turned her head towards me.
“Ah, Julia. Hello.”
This was strange. I’ve never seen Kuro act this reserved before. She seemed, tired. She was normally full of energy and spirit.
“Julia, what will happen to me?”
Eh? What does she mean by that?
“With Mr Vetter just now, I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t thinking properly. My head was… fuzzy.”
Ah. Another life lesson then? I am a little angry. I thought I had told Mr Vetter to keep his hands off Kuro. It seems he will need to be reminded again. I circled over to her and placed my hand on her silky hair.
It had become a habit of mine. Running my fingers through her hair and rubbing her ears helped me relax. Kuro seemed to relish in the sensation too, so it was a win-win.
“Kuro. You know, Mr Vetter is a nice man… and I’m sure he didn’t mean to cause you any discomfort.” A confused look appeared on her face.
“As a beastkin, your senses are stronger than mine, especially your sense of smell. You were probably aroused by his scent… You’ve been spending long perio-”
She pulled away from my hand and leapt out of the desk, scrambling as far away from me as possible, as if the words I just spoke were noxious.
“A-a-attracted to Mr Vetter! T-That’s completely wrong, nya! You’ve got completely the wrong idea Julia!” She shook her head vigorously.
Hm? I had it wrong?
“Well? What was it then?”
She shifted uncomfortably around, twirling her tail between her fingers. That would look nice with a ribbon on it. A white bow would complement the fur nicely. Maybe a little bell to go along with it?
She continued twirling for a while, before letting go and looking back at me with a forced smile.
“Ignore it please, don’t worry yourself about me, Julia!” she glowed. A quick turnaround.
I’m not convinced… I’m still worried about her. I’ll have somebody discreetly observe those two next time. Kuro’s always acts peculiarly after their lessons.
Hmm… Things are starting to get interesting down there. My little Kuro is scurrying around keeping herself occupied. Honestly, she has exceeded my expectations. In what little time, information and help she’s had, her accomplishments confound logic.
On another note. Hehe. I guess the shock of hormonal imbalance from being female, adolescent and a demihuman is starting to kick in. I hadn’t thought of that. I may have been a little too cruel. She had a little emotional uproar just now. What really amused me though, was that she blamed the so-called curse of darkness for her outburst. Pfft-hahaha!
At the time, I couldn’t help but roll around kicking my legs at her performance. You will address me as the High Priestess, she said. High Priestess! I couldn’t believe it! It was too hilarious. In her former life, she hadn’t been too in tune with emotions other than… well… whatever she felt back then. Is sadism an emotion? I guess the satisfaction from it is.
She must be feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. The mental strain may not show itself directly, but it will leak out in one form or another. It just so happens that she slips into a crusading devotee persona. *Sigh* I wish she worshipped me instead of my dead sister. At least then she would be privy to some more of my blessings.
That bitch Cereus is getting what’s coming to her. I can’t wait to see the look on her face if Kuro is the one to finally fulfil the ‘prophecy’. Too bad I can only watch from here. I don’t have enough worshippers to materialise down there. She’s managed to monopolise almost every available believer on the Unified Continents. Her influence is unbelievable, definitely surpassing my sister's in her peak. Damned newgods.
What did they call that on Earth, again?
That was it.
“Cereus, you're a power creep!” I shout into the void. I hope her divination skills are sharp enough for her to pick up my sentiment.
And, I think that's how the term is meant to be used.
21st century human jargon is not my strong suit.
Completely revealed Votes: 14 18.2%
Partially revealed Votes: 18 23.4%
Misdirected Votes: 29 37.7%
Completely hidden Votes: 16 20.8%