Epilogue Three: Slashing
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10 years had passed since I’d first woken into The Zodiac Prison. Since that day Libera had rescued me from a fate worse than death. It had been a decade of hard, dutiful training to become a knight worthy to honor Libera’s name. Throughout those years she had served as my teacher, my master and my family. And to her I was deeply, irrevocably indebted and I lived and breathed for the sake of repaying that debt.

Despite that I was the only one who knew that the one they’d called Tori was truly named Libera, she had coincidentally earned herself another name fitting for who she was. The hero of Stelaris who would venture to rescue any captives, anyone who had been lost to this world. For her endless courage and strength she was named Liberator: The Hero of Prisoners.

✩ ✩ ✩

It was a day where I’d donned my own personal uniform that Libera had designed for me. My garb for whenever I would brave the dangers of the Zodiac Prison to in search for souls to rescue, wherever they may be found.

It was thick and a darker blue and black to blend in with the darkness while in the dangerous halls of the labyrinths. The armor which strapped to my body was a padded surface made to take a hit. My sword had been a gift I’d received from Libera long ago. Fashioned especially for me by Amorette’s own father, it was formed from the very glass of the prison itself; a glass every bit as sturdy as steel. It had been given whatever elemental gems we’d been fortunate enough to find. It was my greatest blessing and my greatest weapon against everything The Prison had to offer me on my travels.

As I’d fastened my gloves to my hands, I’d heard the sounds of another person entering my home. Even without glancing over my shoulder I already knew who had come to pay me a visit. The woman I had spent all of my life growing up with, becoming stronger with. My partner and fellow knight I’d met beneath the moon.

Her white hair was as long and gorgeous as it had been all those years ago. Though she had grown into a breathtakingly beautiful woman, she’d kept the styling she had fancied as a child even to this day. And it suited her as perfectly as it had then.

The white dress she wore had been a recent gift she’d been given as a birthday present from the city’s own tailor who was responsible for both hers and my own knightly uniforms. It was a beautiful white with ornate designs and stitching with ribbons and frills.

When I looked to her, both of us once more blossomed into full smiles at the sight of each other. She stepped inside and looked up to me and into my eyes. Though we had once been so close in height as our teenage years came and went, she’d stopped growing quickly enough and remained around 163 centimeters. The perfect size for me to rest my chin on the top of her head. Which admittedly, I would often do if I’d embraced her at her back.

“You’ll be leaving soon, won’t you?” She’d asked me with a tilt of her head.

“I will. Time is wasting and I can’t let a moment slip if I can. I’ll be going into the Libra Housing as we’d discussed so there should be no reason to worry about me going alone this time.”

“You’ll keep your promise that you won’t go any further, won’t you?”

“I wouldn’t dream of troubling you. I promise that I’ll be good and I’ll return home in one piece. But there’s no telling if just today there are new prisoners to free.”

“I wish I could join you today, but I’d ended up making my own promise to my father.” Amorette lightly shuffled her feet, clearly conflicted within.

“That’s okay. Like I’d said already; you can rest at ease. I’ll be safe and I’ll be back before you know it. I’m not going to be doing anything too reckless.”

“Too reckless, you say?” She leaned to the side and stared up at me with a crook to her smile which revealed she knew exactly what I was attempting to dance around with my words.

“Okay, you’ve got me. I can’t promise I won’t push myself, but I’ll make sure I won’t come back in my own blood. Loveless blood: more than likely.”

“As long as you aren’t going to jump beneath an axe, I’m happy. But I came to visit you for another reason than to wish you well before you go on your way.”

“Really? Why might that be?” She had kept her hands behind her back the entire time and I had truly been curious. But she’d quickly indulged in my curiosity as she’d quickly revealed what she had been carrying in secret.

“Here you go! I’d been worked on this for a while and finally finished it last night!”

A small shield rested in her hands. With leather buckling straps and a more ergonomic form, it was impeccably well made. A far cry from when she’d began taking lessons from her father. She had improved so much to the point of having been able to replicate the special symbol for our knighthood that had been drafted by Libera.

“Since you’re going to be going out alone today, I’d thought to myself that it would be a perfect time to finish it and give it to you. Make sure you make good use of it so you won’t be too sore when you come back home!”

“I can’t thank you enough. You’re always thinking of me and I’m starting to feel like all the care and love will be little too one sided unless I step up and really begin pulling my own weight.”

“Not that I would mind that at all. If you’d wanted that, I could oblige your desires and smother you to your heart’s content.” Another smug smile from her.

“I mean, that’d be kind of nice, but I’d like to spoil you whenever I can too. So I’ll have to give that a no… for now.”

“Then whenever you feel like it.” She danced on her feet after I’d taken her gift from her hands.

I’d faced the mirror once more and equipped the shield to my right upper arm. Though it was only a second having seen it on my shoulder, I couldn’t imagine how I’d worn my uniform without it for all the years I had. It completed the look and style as if it had always been made to go with my garb.

“I can’t thank you enough. So I owe you one. How about I treat you to something special to eat when I come back? Whatever you’d like that we can get our hands on, I’ll pay for it.”

“Don’t mind if I do! Let’s eat a salad with everything available!”

“Sounds like a fantastic idea to me. I’ll be looking forward to it.”

She’d joined me as we’d left the house and walked towards the gateway to Stelaris. All the while we’d traveled that distance, she’d held me close as she’d embraced my arm and chatted with me about her usual thoughts and dreams of Celestia and what it would be like when we were a part of that world.

As I’d prepared to leave on my way, she’d snatched me by my sleeve and caused me to stutter in my step before I could be long gone into The Prison.

“You’re forgetting something important.” She’d said to me with a coy expression.

“Let’s see. I have my uniform, my sword, your gift and all the items for my belt. What do you have in mind?”

“Oh, so you’re playing dumb, are you? Well, I can fix that right away.”

Her arms wrapped around my shoulders and she raised up onto the tips of her toes. Her lips found mine. The sensation was peaceful, gentle and all of it caught me by surprise. I could feel the small traces of unease she’d carried in her heart as she let her fingers sink into my back. But they’d soon released and she’d relaxed herself, having banished those pesky, troubling thoughts from her mind.

She’d continued to hold me near as she and I stared deeply into each others eyes.

“I know you do even better with fighting after you’ve been given your good luck kiss. So you can’t leave without it. You need to be at your best, after all.”

She lingered for a moment, letting her hands trail down my shoulder but her touch eventually slipped away from me. I’d watched as she began into a little gallop away as she’d waved goodbye.

“Make sure you’re willing to pay for extra fruit with that salad!”

True to her word, I’d felt even more ready to face any obstacle head on. My spirits were high as I’d stepped forward and the guards manning the gate shut it tightly behind me.

Although I was brought to an ease by Amorette’s special charm, there was another worry that had continued to fester inside of me. A toxic sensation of dread I’d struggled with for weeks. As the month began, Libera had left to explore the Zodiac Prison with a fellow knight, Orkiam, to keep her company. It was a sudden, unexpected and unannounced departure. And ever since that day the two had not returned. With each passing day my fears complicated and grew even mightier.

But no matter the time that had passed since she had last been with us, I’d refused to back down and consider either her nor Orkiam as dead. Amorette joined me with that belief and held me fast when my faith would grow weak. With her most tender love and care she would always speak to me those words that would rejuvenate the light in my eyes.

She’s safe and we’ll find her. We’ll find both of them. Of anyone you know just how strong of knights they are. And when we’ve caught up with them, we’ll show them how much we’ve improved while they’ve been gone. We’ll all see the sun together.”

“You’re right, Amorette.” I spoke to myself as I’d faced by toes to the depths of The Prison and began walking forward. “I’ll save Libera at any cost. Orkiam, I’ll do all of your lessons you’d given to me justice.”

✩ ✩ ✩

The Libra Housing, as our small team of explorers had come to call this part of The Prison, much like the other sectors, was a place where the glass skies glittered with stars much like Stelaris. But it was an unmistakably dangerous place where Loveless loomed. The Libra Housing itself was somehow much like the city streets of the old home in Celestia I’d known a decade prior. But of course these streets weren’t quite right. They were askew and demented like a nightmare’s perverted outlook on my old home. And every time I would enter into Libra, my skin would crawl as I’d remember just how uncanny it all was.

As I’d wandered forward, each room, each dead end and corridor that was without a single sign of Libera added weight to my heart. Though I would quickly refocus myself and remember the other tasks at hand, the wound on my chest stung fiercely for every momentary lapse of sadness I’d fallen into.

My missions were simple on paper. The two most important being that I’d seek after and rescue any persons who had been imprisoned in any Zodiac. The second: that I’d search for and find any means of escape from The Zodiac Prison.

As I’d come to another doorway, I’d opened it and had no room for anything else but disappointment with my high hopes that it would at last be a peek into the world of the sun I knew. More and more time passed by with fruitless searching until I’d at last happened upon a sight of interest.

A group of people were being escorted through the Housing. Cuffed and chained together, walking in a straight line while their task masters oversaw them. They were surrounded by the enemies who forced them on the way towards what would most doubtlessly be their new confinement. My blood rushed at the prospect. It had been a dozen days since I’d last happened upon prisoners and now was another chance to welcome more people into my family. More people to bring hope to Stelaris and increase our chances of escape. Another spot of hope that I could find Libera.

I drew my blade and followed behind silently, making sure not to leap before looking nor to be caught red handed. If there was a cell I hadn’t known about, then these Loveless would possibly lead me to even more captives. There wasn’t a chance in the world I’d risk such a prime treasure to plunder.

Watching those sordid cretins step on their way so self assured caused my blood to boil. I’d had the same thoughts that would always come to my mind as I’d see their disgusting beings. The same burning feelings came alight.

They’d pushed and prodded the prisoners and shoved them forward through the streets. When one fell, they would forcibly grab them from the ground their face had met with with a hard smack to pulled them back to their legs. I’d gripped the hilt of my sword tighter in my fists as I saw their vile morbidity.

Eventually they’d made their destination. The prisoners were forced into their cage one by one. Thrown to the walls, weapons and blades prepared to smite and destroy anyone who resisted. Their binds were freed but they were left locked away together without hope for release.

When the keeper of the keys prepared to seal the cell shut, my anger at last found its time to be sated.

I stepped out from the shadows and whistled a tune to let them know that I’d stepped into the fray. The rabble of Loveless turned to face me. Though caught off guard, they were quick to raise their weapons to the ready and finish locking the cell. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I’d seen them in stance prepared for battle. I would never have it any other way than that they would be ready to die the hard way with as much resistance as possible.

The spear held aloft by one was broken completely in two by my blade and its shoulder joined the wood in splitting asunder. Blood spattered across the clear glass of my blade and sprinkled my face. The first blood had been loosed. My smile grew as I’d relished the sensation.

Ever since that day when they’d invaded my home those feelings had grown even more intense inside of me. Ever since their leader had killed my parents I’d become addicted to the feeling of their blood sprayed against me. Their gravest mistake was abducting me into their home. They had been in mine for a brief time while the flames danced high and the bodies of my fellow men laid in pools of crimson. They’d brought me directly into their kingdom and now I refuse to leave. Not until the day when every single one of them is slaughtered has come.

A creature holding a scale in one hand and a sword in the other came towards me with a measured, calm step. It lashed out its sword and we’d come to opposition as mine dueled with it. But as I’d crushed its equilibrium with a strong parry, its life was ended as my sword sunk into its ribs. It crumpled to the ground, dying without neither grace nor balance.

A monster whose body was wrapped in chains that were alight in a blaze came towards me to offer me a burning embrace. It grasped at air as I’d ducked out of its path. I’d thought that a sweep of my sword would be the sure kill, but it had been quick to lash out a chain and repel my blade with a singing ring at its clashing. The sweeps and swings followed through in succession and I’d had no other choice but to focus and keep rhythm with its strikes. But as one sweep came out too committed, it was left unguarded and in that very place my sword had found its mark. Through its neck and out the other side, its blood rushed from its body as in two waterfalls before it lost the will to fight.

Yes. I am an infiltrator of their home. They may have had their day, but I’ve had my decade in retaliation. Every person killed and maimed by them will be avenged a hundred times over. There won’t be enough space in this world to bury all of their bodies. The halls will forever be blessed by the dried spatters of their blood.

A wind spell managed to catch me off guard and I’d been pushed back. I’d felt its razor flows slap and slash through me as I’d braced myself against the wall. My armor proved true against its might and I was without a single wound as its fury fell uselessly upon it. When the annoying gale ceased, I’d dashed headlong for the caster and its body barely stood a chance against my sword as it collapsed in half.

These disgusting creatures had wounded me. I was defiled and corrupted by them long ago. The wound on my chest is more than enough evidence of that reality. I had been cursed from the very moment their leader had taken the lives of my parents. They took everything from me.

My last two foes stood before the cage and rooted themselves strongly to guard their abductees. Their axes barred the path forward but it would be of no use at all. They’d be nothing but gashed corpses before the prisoners would be released.

I strode up to them without a fear in my heart while I’d kept my eyes fixed forward on them. Their jointed axe blows missed me and I’d relieved them of their weapons while their arms slapped the ground and painted it the beautiful red of war. Their hands weren’t the only parts of them that would be cast away. Their bodies were hacked to pieces as I’d put in the extra effort to ensure that they would have no chance to raise a finger to a single prisoner ever again.

I’d vowed for the millionth time that I would spite their kind for every minute, every second I had to live until I’d draw my last dying breath. Experiencing the rending pain they’d given me from my wound every day and every night only deepened my desires and built my rebellious spirit to their cause. It galvanized my resolve.

As I’d released the prisoners, I’d had a moment to grieve Libera and Orkiam’s absence among the numbers. The fact that neither of them had been present for the rescue either sent my mind into a momentary grief. But I shook it off before the pain of the wound could touch me.

I’d rallied the prisoners together to follow me to safety. Though more Loveless came as reinforcements, they served as nothing but a meager inconvenience while I’d dispatched them and tore them to bits before they could even think of touching my new family.

It was soon enough that I’d welcomed them as liberated men to Stelaris and let them run free to their new home where they’d belonged. They were all so joyful. So overwhelmed to have been set free from their torture and the malice of their captors. I’d watched their faces and souls be overcome with relief and I’d smiled to myself as I’d recited a single, powerful vow inside of my heart.

All of you monsters. Loveless, perversions of life, your days are numbered.

Eclipse: The demon that took my family from me; I’ll take yours from you now.

Death stalks the halls of your home.