Chapter 216 – Vindictiveness
293 1 18
X
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Width
Reset
X
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

“Had a hunch you were gearing up to ask for the chance to rub things in Anguish’s face,” Rosa said, casting a knowing glance Scarlett’s way.

“Then you know me well in that regard,” Scarlett replied.

The bard smirked. “I’d never have the guts to call you petty myself—too attached to my purse and life for that—but that doesn’t mean the notion hasn’t danced across my mind once or twice.”

Scarlett’s expression soured slightly at that.

Seeing that, Rosa blinked. “Hey, it should be fair game for me to say it now that you’ve already owned up to as much.”

“…That is reasonable,” Scarlett spoke slowly. “…However, keep in mind that I also confessed to having no qualms about acting hypocritically. With that in mind, do you truly expect me not to be bothered when you label me ‘petty’ directly?”

The woman stared at her, then a sly grin lit up on her face. “Why don’t you view it as the perfect chance to patch up those character flaws you told me about, then? Let me be your ever-so-fetching and charming sparring partner—figuratively, mind you—and together we’ll have you in tip-top non-villainess shape in no time. I’ll even do it for free, because, as you wisely pointed out, I’m a veritable saint!”

“I do not recall using the term ‘veritable’,” Scarlett said. “And that was purely only in comparison to myself. By that measure, half of the empire’s populace might qualify.”

“Gee, thanks,” Rosa replied dryly. “Really lends to everything you told me earlier. It feels reassuring knowing you think so highly of me.”

Scarlett fell silent, realizing that her words just now did somewhat go against the sentiment she’d been trying to share with the woman earlier.

After a moment, Rosa let out a soft chuckle, her focus returning to her klert as a few more notes resonated from the instrument. “Well, I think we’ve long since passed the point where I expected you to be a master of motivational speeches,” she said with a wry smile.

“…Returning to the previous discussion.” Scarlett thought it might just be better to change the topic. “Do you think it is possible for me to have a conversation with Anguish or not?”

A contemplative expression settled on Rosa’s features. Eventually, she gave a slow nod. “It should be, yeah.”

“Would it pose any risk to you?”

“Probably not, as long as it’s just talking. I feel like I’ve got a pretty tight leash on her at the moment, strange as that may sound.”

“Talking is all that I want for now.”

There were questions Scarlett wanted to ask Anguish, and answers she needed to pry from the demon.

…Part of her also wanted to indulge in some gloating.

“Then sure,” Rosa said. “Want to do it now?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm. Alright. Give me a second. First, I need to figure out how this works. It’s new territory, and I’ve only done it the other way around before now.” The bard ceased her playing and set her klert aside, then touched a hand to her chest and closed her eyes.

The silence in the room grew heavy. Scarlett watched as the Heartstone in Rosa’s chest emitted a muted violet glow, seeping through the fabric of the woman’s clothes.

For a brief moment, Scarlett felt as though she was perceiving not just Rosa, but something more. A delicate, melodious presence emanated from the bard, reminiscent of what Scarlett had felt from her in Crowcairn. It was flitting and almost ethereal in how it brushed against Scarlett’s senses, before disappearing abruptly.

In its stead, a darker, distinctly sinister aura surfaced, one Scarlett recognized all too well.

When Rosa’s eyes flicked open once more, gone was her usual violet stare, replaced by deep, abyssal darkness.

Anguish,” Scarlett said, her voice tinged with a cold, deliberate edge.

“If it isn’t our esteemed Baroness,” Anguish responded in Rosa’s voice, making no effort to mask the scornful tone. “You must be overjoyed at my current predicament, I presume?”

“Miss Hale seems to think that you do not know me quite as well as you believe, Anguish, but at the very least, you are not mistaken this time.” Scarlett studied the demon wearing Rosa’s appearance. “To think I would live to witness one of the six reduced to such a state. All the while, your domain descends into chaos without a true master, destined to be besieged on all fronts by those who you would call peers. I will not deny that this is a particularly enjoyable moment for me.”

A mocking expression appeared on Anguish’s face. “I suggest you savor it while you can.”

Scarlett allowed the corner of her lips to rise in a slight, mocking smile. “Have faith that I most certainly am.”

The two of them sized each other up.

Anguish’s inky gaze seemed to draw one into a deep, consuming void, her visage still carrying an air of assurance and arrogance, a stark contrast to Rosa’s usually pleasant and carefree features. No matter the circumstances, the Vile would always act as if she was in complete control.

Scarlett expected nothing less. Anguish would probably clasp at her pride as one of the oldest demons and sovereign of one of the six Blazes. Even so, both of them knew who held the upper hand. This time, there were no doubts or uncertainties.

“You should not expect much from hereon, Anguish,” Scarlett said, her voice returning to its usual detached tone. “Though I would have personally preferred your existence to have been reduced to a pitiless, lifeless husk devoid of Authority and awareness, your current plight aligns sufficiently with my purposes as well. Your fate now lies in Miss Hale’s hands. Considering your past transgressions against her, I would not cling to any hope of escaping your current confinement within her lifetime.”

Anguish sneered. “Ever so confident, aren’t we?”

“I have cause to be.”

“Oh? Just as you did when you believed yourself to have me cornered in the citadel? When your precious little Rosalina chose my side over yours? Your confidence certainly has me quavering in this fleshy vessel.”

Scarlett clicked her tongue. “I suppose it would be too much to expect you to ever shed your spiteful nature. No matter. As our previous clashes have proven, your words rarely hold any worth. Rosa’s actions in the citadel might have momentarily benefited you, but the end result still left you in this state, as anticipated from the beginning. I always account for unexpected variables to arise, and take the necessary precautions to prepare accordingly.”

“Oh, yes, your ‘precautions’. Such as invoking my name.” Anguish’s calm demeanor suddenly vanished, replaced by an almost palpable fury that rushed like a flood. “Tell me, how did you uncover it? I eradicated the last pitiful wretch who knew my name millennia ago, along with all the pitiable realms associated with them. And yet, it somehow fell into your hands.”

The room seemed to thicken with the Vile’s anger, her malicious energy pouring out from Rosa’s form and pressuring Scarlett for answers.

But before Scarlett even needed to attempt resisting this assault, the force abruptly stopped, then was pulled back inside Rosa. The Heartstone’s glow became more pronounced, leaving Anguish with nothing but a glare as a weapon.

Judging from the demon’s expression, she was more than just vexed at her inability to act out.

Scarlett felt no shame in admitting that the sight brought her a lot of joy. She offered Anguish yet another provoking smile. “I am sure you would like to know.”

The Vile’s eyes narrowed further, meeting Scarlett’s unwavering stare.

Eventually, Scarlett broke the tension without giving a real answer. “I have a question of my own,” she stated.

The Vile, initially silent and observing, shifted demeanor swiftly, her previous veneer of nonchalance and self-assuredness returning. “I’m sure you do.”

Scarlett studied her carefully.

She wondered whether Rosa could hear them right now. Presumably so, given what happened earlier. That meant the bard would inadvertently overhear any secrets Scarlett was about to reveal, but there was little to be done about it. Scarlett would simply have to be mindful of her words and proceed from there.

“We did not have time to discuss this further in our last exchange, and you were less than forthcoming the time before that,” Scarlett began. “I want to understand more about this ‘Anomalous One’.”

“Still fixated on that, are we?” Anguish replied with a jeer. “Is our Baroness troubled by the notion that she isn’t the supreme authority on all matters? If you wish to learn more, perhaps you should seek out those Hallowed Cabal lackeys.”

Scarlett responded with a prolonged, icy stare. “I intend to have you enlighten me.”

“I would like to see you try.”

Scarlett raised a brow. “Very well. Astarothos.” She uttered the demon’s name sharply, the word resonating like the whispers of a dreadful dream.

Rosa’s face contorted into a grimace, and Anguish grunted as if struck by a sudden wave of pain.

“It is said that a demon’s name can be invoked thrice to command, losing strength with each utterance. Yet, merely hearing their name will always cause them great discomfort.” Scarlett leaned an arm on the table in front of her, tapping a finger against the surface, her gaze fixed on Anguish. “Through Miss Hale, I now have unrestricted access to you, and all the time I need to extract the information I desire. If memory serves me right, this was only the second time I spoke your name.”

Anguish seemed to momentarily attempt to withdraw into Rosa, the black in her eyes fading and giving way to white, but this was stopped as the Heartstone glowed brighter, forcing the darkness back.

“There is no use in attempting to escape,” Scarlett declared firmly. “Now, I asked a question, Anguish. Answer it.”

Before her, the demon struggled visibly against the command as if it were a physical order. Sweat formed on her brow, and with clenched hands, Anguish forced a defiant smile, speaking through gritted teeth. “As merciless as ever, Baroness. To think you would be willing to subject your precious Rosa to such misery simply to get at little old me. With all that knowledge you're hiding, I’m sure you understand that she feels all my pain while we are linked like this.”

Scarlett furrowed her brows. She hadn’t actually considered that. How painful was this for Rosa?

As if to reassure her, one of Rosa’s hands shakily lifted and gave a thumbs-up.

Seeing that, Anguish let out a disdainful laugh and shook her head, even as the pain seemed to persistently torment the demon. “You’ve trained her well, Baroness.”

Scarlett relaxed slightly at Rosa’s apparent signal. Either Rosa was fine, or the bard was indicating for her to continue despite the discomfort doing so might cause her. Scarlett didn’t relish causing Rosa pain, but she wouldn’t squander the woman’s resolve.

She returned her attention to the Vile before her. “I will not repeat myself, Anguish. Speak.”

Though clearly still fighting back, Anguish finally spoke, her voice restrained. “What exactly do you want to know?”

“Start by explaining what an Anomalous One is.”

Anguish gave her a look that could have killed, then closed her eyes briefly. Upon reopening them, her expression was slightly more composed. “Let us dispense with the superficial pretenses. You’re already aware of what an Anomalous One is, Baroness. You yourself are one. One of the only two such existences.”

“You are referring to me and the being sealed by the Seal of Thainnith.”

“Yes. The Cabal’s very own ‘god slayer’,” Anguish said derisively.

“I was surprised to learn that you knew of its ability to defy fate.”

Anguish shook her head. “You use the word ‘defy’ as if that entity has any concern for the laws of this world. It simply exists beyond them — an anomaly in every sense.”

“How does it do that?” Scarlett asked.

She wanted to understand why this element was different from the game. The sealed entity had been present in the story there as well, sure, and the Hallowed Cabal was formed around its existence, but there had never been any mention of it defying some kind of fate or being an anomaly.

“You are asking me a question that not even those imperious gods could answer, little Baroness.”

Scarlett frowned. “You recognized my nature as an Anomalous One just by observation. There is even a term for it. Evidently, you are familiar with this being to some extent.”

Anguish chuckled, as if amused by her apparent ignorance. “Anyone who glimpsed that thing when it first appeared recognized that it didn’t belong. ‘Anomalous One’ wasn’t a term but a title.” The Vile smiled dangerously at Scarlett. “At least until I discovered you. It’s been more than a millennium since it was sealed during the Severance, and I was never foolish enough to approach it myself. Even so, it’s impossible to mistake what you are as anything but another anomaly. You may be different, and it is far, far more subtle with you, yet it is unmistakable all the same. Were any of the gods ever to learn of what you are, they might attempt to do battle against Fate itself to remove you from this world.”

Scarlett’s frown deepened into a scowl. Would the gods really perceive her as a threat? Or was Anguish exaggerating?

If true, how could she avoid them discovering her? She had no idea how much they could actually see. The most prominent god in the empire was Ittar, but she didn’t think he knew of her. However, she did have reason to believe the gods could somewhat sense the fate of this world. If so, they should be able to tell when an outside presence like her is meddling with it.

But then, with the Hallowed Cabal’s own manipulations, perhaps it would be hard to distinguish her actions from theirs.

Even so, the thought of gods targeting her was an unsettling one. Especially given her future collaboration with one of the deacons of the Followers of Ittar.

After contemplating the implications of that for a moment, she addressed Anguish again. “I assume you do not know where this other Anomalous One hailed from?”

“That is a riddle I had expected you to have a higher likelihood of answering, but perhaps I have been overestimating you all this time,” Anguish replied. “Its origins lie beyond any of the realms I am familiar with, shrouded in as much mystery as its existence. Doesn’t that remind you of someone?”

“For once, your estimation of me may indeed have been too generous. That being and I are far from the same.”

At least, she assumed so. Yet, it was true that, in this world, both it and she occupied roles that had been present in the game but diverged here. There had to be some kind of connection there. Was it related to the system in some way?

“…The Hallowed Cabal and Tribe of Sin employ various artifacts that borrow this Anomalous One’s powers, including the Tribe’s Sanctumbrums,” she said, locking eyes with Anguish. “You seized control of one of those in Crowcairn to forge a gateway to your domain. Were you not afraid of incurring its wrath by doing so?”

A shrill laugh escaped the demon at that. “It would indeed be unwise to provoke that thing, even for me. Especially considering recent events unfolding here in the Material Realm. However, those artifacts contain so little of its power that it likely remains oblivious when they activate. I am far from the first Vile who has made use of them over the centuries.”

“…You are certain that it would remain unaware?”

“No, but you might call it an educated guess.”

Scarlett scrutinized Anguish’s expression. She doubted the Vile could lie outright at the moment, so there was probably some basis for that confidence.

However, considering what Scarlett had experienced when she had entered the interstitial space created by the Sanctumbrum in Crowcairn, being pulled into that perturbing void…

Though not entirely sure, she did believe it had been this ‘Anomalous One’ that had brought her there. If that was the case, it had recognized what she was simply from her entering its barrier and acted immediately. It had even attempted to interfere with the system — or rather, it had successfully interfered with the system.

Describing it as an anomaly was probably fitting if it could even do something like that.

“What more do you know about it?” she asked Anguish.

“Nothing.”

Scarlett’s gaze sharpened.

Anguish smirked. “Doubting my word again? I’m hurt.”

“Tell me what you know,” Scarlett commanded, attempting to leverage more of the temporary authority she had over the demon.

Anguish’s expression contorted, offering a resentful glare while frowning. “…Believe it or not, darling, but that is the extent of what I know regarding the Anomalous One. If you wish to learn more, you would either have to speak with that pathetic raggle that worships it or unravel whatever wisdom those who succeeded in sealing it away possessed.”

Scarlett’s forehead knitted together in thought.

So Anguish was telling her to either confront The Angler Man and ask him what he knew or delve into what the ancient Zuver knew about the Anomalous One. Specifically, what Thainnith, the divinarch and half demigod who sealed it away, knew.

The first option was a terrible idea, considering The Angler Man’s ability to literally probe others’ minds. A meeting with him was never on Scarlett’s agenda. As for the second option…

In a sense, she was already pursuing that path. Scarlett had been exploring Zuverian ruins, collaborating with Adalicia Mendenhall and the mage towers to research the subject for a while now. While none of her findings had revealed anything beyond her expectations yet—most notably, she had never seen a mention of the Anomalous One in any of the texts she’d read—perhaps that was to be expected.

Should there be information linked to it, it would most likely have been left behind by Thainnith himself. The most probable repository for that was either the Rising Isle, which had once been a Zuver city. The other option, however, was one Scarlett was already planning to visit, and a location that had been constructed by Thainnith himself.

Beld Thylelion.

18