Chapter 196: The Fount of Light (8)
They had been created using the remains of the Holy Emperor.
Eugene had a hard time coming to an understanding. It was a statement far removed from any realm of understanding.
No…. Come to think of it, perhaps it wasn’t that hard to comprehend after all. Eugene was a wizard who had learned magic in the Magic Kingdom of Aroth by studying papers and accumulating magical knowledge.
It was widely known that magical experiments performed on humans were commonplace three hundred years ago. In those chaotic times, black wizards conducted experiments on humans without hesitation. But although human experiments were most common during the chaotic era, it did not mean that human experiments didn’t exist at other times. Rather, such experiments existed in any era, and the experimenters were not always black wizards either.
There were many crazies among wizards, and such wizards often disregarded morals to satisfy their curiosities or magical inspirations. However, whatever vision they had did not warrant lunatic madness, inhumanity, or disregard for ethics. If imagination was all it took, then even Eugene could come up with many ideas that would be frowned upon in practice.
To put it into perspective, magic experiments performed on humans were considered taboo, but the same wasn’t true with experiments on monsters. If one could ignore the hesitation and aversion they felt deep inside their heart, any wizard could simply cut and modify a monster and toy with it. So the idea itself was simple: conduct the exact same experiment, with no changes, and simply replace the monster with a human.
When Eugene contemplated it as such, he could understand everything Anise mentioned all too easily. The first Saintess had been made using the remains of the Holy Emperor. The oldest and highest-value sacred relic of Yuras had been transplanted into the body of a young, immature girl. A rib of the Holy Emperor had been grafted into the first Saintess.
The remains of the Holy Emperor contained a massive amount of divine power that no priest could ever hope to encompass. Regardless of how faithful a priest was to the light and how devoted they were in their prayers, they could never come to possess anything close to the divine power directly contained within the sacred relic.
Thus, the Saintess was made. The Saintess was most appropriately called an ‘Imitation Incarnation,’ and at the same time, she was a sacred weapon capable of producing countless miracles. The Saintess alone could keep in check other religions and heretics that opposed Yuras, and many nonbelievers were fascinated by her existence and converted to Yuras.
“They never lived long,” said Anise.
It was expected. The light of God had been imbued into the body of an ordinary girl through the medium of the Holy Emperor’s remains. Although the Saintess could create miracles, she could never live long due to the burden of carrying the light.
Anise continued, “But the first Saintess represented something great for the ancient fanatics and their lunatic works. They found joy in having created an Incarnation of Light with their own hands, and they were thrilled that their creation would acquire a stigmata.”
The Saintess was an imperfect being. Every time she brought a miracle, a scar not engraved by a human hand would appear on her small body. Although the scar was only about a palm’s length in size, the fanatics never doubted that the stigmata was proof of their faith. Through the existence of the stigmata, they believed that the light was looking after them and that their actions had not been immoral.
“Many more followed after the first Saintess. They were created, and they died. Their remains became sacred relics to serve as containers for the light and…. The remains were transplanted into the next generation of candidates,” said Anise.
The relics of the Holy Emperor were so precious that they had rarely been touched since the creation of the first Saintess. Instead, the remains of the Saintess had taken their place; stability-wise, it actually worked better to use the remains of one Saintess to create the next. The downside was that a Saintess created from the remains of another could not perform miracles the same way the first Saintess could.
As such, their powers were supplemented using other methods.
Yuras had acquired many types of magic during the hunt from the past, but their spoils weren’t limited to just magic. In their reckless hunt for black wizards and normal wizards, the Inquisitors of Yuras acquired the research of the wizards and the corresponding fruits. In addition, many of the captured wizards were tortured and enslaved rather than killed.
With such help, the study of making the Imitation Incarnation made significant progress. In particular, among the trophies obtained from magic hunting, the most valuable was blood magic. By combining blood magic and the results of other pieces of research, Yuras created a method to impregnate the Saintess with more divine power.
The final result was the Fount of Light. As long as new Saintesses continued to be born, the Fount would never dry up.
“In the end, everyone is lying,” said Anise with a smile. “Even the stigmata of the Pope and the Cardinals aren’t directly bestowed on them by God. They are simply artificial engravings copied from the stigmata that appeared on the Saintess, etched by carefully selected priests who would never divulge the secret because they are fanatical and upright in the light. The artificial stigmata do not actually contain any power. However….”
Eugene remembered Anise’s bare back from the past. The scar had deepened and spread with every miracle she had caused. Moreover, Anise was a special existence in Yuras. She was unique even among the many Saintesses that had existed since the far past, and the miracles she produced were by far the greatest.
“I was special,” she continued after a pause. Her voice was clear, but Anise was no longer smiling. “It was like that ever since I was young. During that era, there were other candidates who were unknown to the world, but… I was the most outstanding of them all.”
It had been inevitable for her to be special.
With the creation of the Fount of Light, failures to empower the Saintess became few and far between. However, it was still impossible to artificially expand their limits. In order to create a proper Imitation Incarnation out of a Saintess, it was necessary to use the sacred relic of the Holy Emperor. But although imbuing the power of the Holy Empire’s remains was tried several times since the first Saintess, it never resulted in real success.
So another method was devised. Since it was impossible for the Imitation Incarnation to conceive, an immature fetus was transplanted into their womb instead. After experiencing many failures and utilizing all kinds of divine and normal magic, a child was finally born from the Imitation Incarnation.
The newborn was subject to all sorts of terrible experiments from an early age. Even before she could walk, she was cradled by the Fount of Light, forced to cling to the flickering flame of her life. Then, what little remained of the Holy Emperor’s remains were transplanted into the child’s body, little by little. The bones were ground and soaked into the child’s wounds, and blood modified using blood magic was propelled into the child’s heart.
Thus, Yuras gave birth to an Imitation Incarnation that was close to perfection. She was born with an incredibly powerful stigmata, even compared to the first Saintess, and the stigmata grew more powerful and larger with every miracle that was summoned. Moreover, her very existence deserved to be called a proof of divinity because she could transfer and engrave the stigmata on high-ranking priests and allow them to produce lesser miracles as well.
“I hated this nation,” whispered Anise. “I could never feel any love for it. In fact, I wanted the demons and the Demon Kings to wipe out this country altogether.”
She continued, “If I had lived only in Yuras, I would have lived with such hatred all my life. However…. I was given the opportunity to leave Yuras. Sir Vermouth was chosen by the Holy Sword, and I was chosen to join him on his journey as the Saintess. Hamel, what kinds of things do you think I felt and experienced on that journey?”
Eugene quietly peered into Anise’s eyes. It was difficult to identify any emotions in those still, blue eyes. It had been like that in his previous life as well. Anise never fully revealed herself. Instead, she always buried her true feelings behind her thick, saintly smile.
“...Despite the terrible deeds of Yuras, I felt that God was real. I eventually came to believe that miracles truly existed. I despised my existence and everything about me. Everything was dreadful. But I realized that the world was even more disastrous and pitiful,” said Anise.
She had seen too much… way too much.
“I never wanted to admit it, but in those days, we were the miracles. Sir Vermouth, Sienna, Molon, me, and you, Hamel. We were all miracles. We had the power to save the world, and we did save it, although it was slightly lacking. What we failed to save were… those who were already dead. And you, Hamel.”
Eugene could not find any words to say.
“I’m sure it was the same for all of us. On that journey, everyone felt something, and… everyone changed. I came to believe in and rely on God. I started to yearn for heaven, and I was possessed with the aspiration to lead everyone to heaven as well,” explained Anise.
Eugene didn’t deny it. At some point, the purpose of his journey had changed as well. Hamel did not have a grand ambition of saving the world from the beginning. He simply wanted revenge. Since the world was thrown into shit and he along with it, he wanted those who were responsible — the demons and the Demon Kings — to suffer the same way he did.
But at some point, he began to entertain something more. He began to have thoughts of saving the world. It was inevitable for people to die on the battlefield, but he… wanted fewer people to die. Instead of fixating only on killing the Demon Kings, he began to imagine what the world would be like after the Demon Kings were defeated.
“You….” Eugene let out a long sigh. “You could not go to heaven.”
“...It was too early,” said Anise with a gentle smile. “In truth, I probably could have gone to heaven. The wings on my back… are proof of that. Hamel, so you don’t have to feel sorry for me, and you don’t have to be sad. I chose not to go to heaven of my own volition.”
“Why not?” asked Eugene. There were certain things he could not understand. Anise was strong. Whatever the Holy Empire tried, it would have been impossible to capture Ainse if she had resisted.
“You lived in the Holy Empire for a long time, then suddenly decided to embark on a pilgrimage. So why…? What happened to you? Why did you end up like that? And why is Kristina….” Eugene asked a barrage of questions. He could not understand.
Anise did not give an answer but instead looked up at the sky. The deep darkness of the night was slowly giving way to the faint light of morning. After a moment, her lips parted.
“I tried to disappear,” she said with a smile. “...I went to your grave for the last time, prayed, and made up my mind to disappear. The Pope and the Cardinals implored me to sacrifice myself for the next Imitation Incarnation, but they could not control me.”
If Anise had decided to disappear, no one in Yuras could have stopped her. In fact, Anise left Yuras without encountering any problems, and she arrived in the Nahama Desert.
“I just changed my mind,” said Anise with a smile while shaking her head. “I don’t like the idea of sacrifice, and I did not want to dedicate myself to Yuras, the place I despised. However…. In that desert, on my way to your grave, I was struck with a sudden thought.”
“Hamel, you sacrificed yourself for the world. I know you would not call it a sacrifice, but…. Everyone who witnessed your death saw your action as a sacrifice. You sacrificed your life for the world. You were like that before as well. You always stood at the forefront with a determination to kill the Demon Kings, knowing well that your body would be ruined.”
It was painful for Eugene to listen to her words. He dropped his eyes and clenched his fist, wanting to say something, but his lips refused to part. After a while, he finally managed to speak.
“...There was no helping it.”
The words he finally decided upon after hesitating were unattractive, even in his opinion.
“The castle of the Demon King of Incarceration was terrible. It wasn’t a place suitable for Vermouth to take the lead. The same with Molon, obviously, since he was a complete moron. If someone had to take the lead and open the way…. I was most suited to do so. I don’t want to talk about that right now. Everyone agreed then.”
“Yes. That’s right, Hamel. As you say, someone had to take the lead and open the way, and you’re also right in that you were the right person for the task. And as a result, you died,” said Anise.
“I never blamed any of you for my death. All of you said countless times along the way that it would be dangerous to climb any further. Everyone wanted to retreat and reorganize. It was my choice to reject your opinions. It was my choice to continue forward, and I died because of my actions,” answered Eugene firmly.
“But do you think we wouldn’t be sad about your death?” Anise asked.
Eugene was staring up ahead. The sun was slowly peeking out from its slumber in the distance.
“In the end, you sacrificed yourself, and I ran away because I didn’t want to sacrifice myself. Hamel, I’m quite capricious, and there was no… special reason behind my choice. The sun’s rays in the desert were scorching and bright. To tell you the truth, trying to find your grave was a challenge. Sienna was in seclusion…. Or rather, it was commonly known that she was in seclusion, so I had to wander through the desert, fumbling through my memories.”
Anise chuckled while reliving her memories. “Many thoughts passed through my mind as I wandered for a long time. What if I disappeared like this? It would have been a nasty gift for Yuras, no doubt. But so what? I was a miracle, but regardless of whether I disappeared, Yuras would have created another Saintess, the same as before. Of course, they couldn’t have created a Saintess as good as me.”
If only the world had obtained complete peace, Anise would not have had to contemplate a future without her existence.
“Above all else, however, the biggest reason for my worry was that I knew I would not live on for much longer. I am indeed close to perfection, but I’m not truly complete. I was destined to die before long, to disappear and ascend to heaven.”
If she had not been close to death, Anise would have been without worry, both regarding her own existence and about the future Saintess of Yuras. However, Anise was bound for death before long, and she knew that the Holy Empire needed a new Saintess.
But Anise did not want to cooperate with the subject of her contempt. Since three Demon Kings had been taken care of, she wanted to forego the sense of responsibility she had left. Well, that was what she desired, but on her way to the grave of her sole deceased companion, she remembered how he had run rampant while threatening to kill all the Demon Kings. She remembered the ignorant, mannerless mercenary.
Even at the moment of his death, he had left no will to his comrades. He had not thought it necessary since Hamel truly believed that the rest of his companions would eliminate all the Demon Kings. He trusted that the world would be brought to peace, just as they had all hoped.
But there were still two Demon Kings left in the world, and Anise would soon die.
“Priests of Yuras came to persuade me while I was wandering the desert,” said Anise. Dawn was ascending, and Anise continued with her back to the light, “That’s… when I decided to be fickle. I returned to Yuras with them and took my own life. I had no desire or intention of conceiving an unwanted child like my mother. Suicide was a choice I was willing to make to rebel against this filthy country.”
“...So that’s how… you became an angel?” asked Eugene while staring at her wings.
“Yes,” answered Anise with a smile. “My body was dead, but my soul remained. The Light tried to lead me to heaven, but I refused to ascend. Just like that, I remained in this world.” She paused, then turned her eyes toward Kristina, continuing, “...And I was able to dwell in that child.”
Eugene felt a chill run down his back at her nonchalant answer. Before long, a chuckle escaped from his lips. “You’re truly a snake-like woman, do you know that? Sienna and I always talked about you behind your back.”
“Maybe you don’t know this, Hamel, but snakes are also symbols of regeneration and eternal life,” retorted Anise with an unchanged smile. She showed no signs of displeasure. “I actually did not intend for all of this to happen. I chose not to ascend to heaven… because I thought I was still unworthy. And the reason I could dwell in that child was….”
Kristina was still sound asleep with her eyes closed. Anise approached her and gently stroked Kristina’s cheek, looking at her with a gaze full of meaning.
“...Just as I was special, this child was also special.”
The Holy Empire of Yuras transformed Anise’s corpse into a relic. But rather than transplanting it into the Saintess, they sought to clone the one who neared perfection. Over the course of three hundred years, there were numerous failures. It wasn’t a matter of whether the clone had a soul since souls could be extracted and transplanted. The deadliest and most difficult problem to overcome was the compatibility between the soul and the cloned body.
The failed copies were sent directly to the Fount of Light without even being granted a chance to become a candidate. But the Saintess could not be absent from the world, so Yuras put forth incomplete Saintesses who had been transplanted with the relics created from other incomplete copies. Of course, once they perished, those Saintesses became a part of the Fount as well.
After countless failures, a near-perfect replica was born — a baby abandoned in a monastery. Her soul showed greater aptitude and harmony than the existing experiments. Anise’s relic, which was kept top secret, was given to the replica, and the result wasn’t a failure. The child, a clone of Anise, showed almost perfect harmony with the sacred relic.
The clone was named Kristina and was closely monitored in a monastery until she was ten years old. A single seizure or an incident would have resulted in her removal, but Kristina never once experienced an episode.
Thus, Kristina was taken in as Cardinal Rogeris’ adopted daughter, and she became the only Saintess Candidate of her time.
“In terms of completeness, this child is superior to me. This child… won’t have to prepare herself for death, unlike me, and she will be able to live for a really long time, just like Sienna. Although she doesn’t have a stigmata yet, sooner or later, she will be able to perform miracles without bleeding from her scar,” explained Anise.
“The miracle’s end is not far off,” continued Anise. “Soon, I will return to this child. Nothing will change. She will still be Kristina Rogeris, and I… will dwell in her as a spiritual being.”
“Hamel, don’t feel regret. This is not heaven, but we were able to reunite like this. Although I won’t be able to help you directly, I…. As part of this child, I can bless and protect you on your journey.”
“I think everything has been under the guidance of the light. The believers of light have gone astray, but He still loves all His believers and provides us with the guidance of light. And through this miracle, I was led to you. For you to have been chosen by the Holy Sword, and for the Holy Sword to have not lost its light here…. All of that is the Will of Light. The mission we failed to accomplish three hundred years ago, you will—”
Eugene suddenly interrupted her. “You and Sienna wrote the fairy tale together, didn’t you?”
Anise stopped talking. She slowly removed her hand from Kristina’s cheek, then looked up at Eugene with eyes of disbelief. “Don’t you think that question was kinda inappropriate, given the conversation we were having, the atmosphere, and the whole situation?”
“Should I cry then?” asked Eugene.
“I don’t want to see your crying face,” answered Anise.
“But it’s not like I can get angry either. I did enough of that earlier, and… you said you didn’t want to see me cry. I don’t really want to cry either,” said Eugene. He grumbled while walking up to Anise. “I knew since three hundred years ago that there was something fucked up with the Holy Empire, not that I ever expected it to be beyond any common fuckery. But what can I do about it? That’s just how it was.”
He stretched out a hand toward Anise. “In the end, you died and became an angel. It was your choice not to go to heaven. There is a God, after all, and heaven is real. That’s… enough. The fact that Kristina is your clone and that you dwell in her…. There’s nothing I can do about that either.”
“All of that’s already in the past,” he said while taking Anise by the hand. “However, such things will not happen in the future. Once I kill the two remaining Demon Kings, the Holy Empire will no longer need the Saintess. If they try to create more Saintesses in such a world, I will personally end all believers of light in this world.”
Eugene continued, “What I have to worry about now is whether to take the heads of the Pope and the other Cardinals. I probably shouldn’t. The Holy Empire is too big, and I can’t ignore its forces. I ultimately need them for the upcoming wars. However, I will make sure that they won’t be able to do shit like this in the future.”
Anise giggled while covering her mouth. “That is so like you, Hamel.”
“You haven’t answered my question yet. It was you and Sienna who wrote the children’s book, right? Hmm? So why was I the only one written like a complete idiot?” Eugene grumbled while helping Anise to her feet. He stared directly into her eyes while urging for an answer. “Why did you give me a shitty name like Stupid Hamel? Did you really have to torture me like this even after 300 years? Why am I stupid?”
“Are you really asking because you don’t know?” asked Anise.
“Would I be asking if I knew? No matter how much I think about it, it doesn’t make sense. If you really wanted to call anyone stupid, it should have been Molon, not me.” Eugene truly thought so. Brave Hamel, Stupid Molon — it was perfect.
“Hmm.” The corner of her mouth curled up into a smile as Anise looked up at Eugene. “I see that you’re still the same as before,” she said.
“What do you mean by…” but he wasn’t given a chance to finish his retort. Her lips were suddenly before him and pressed against his own.
He tried to step back in surprise, but he couldn’t. Before he knew it, her arms had wrapped around his neck and prevented him from moving. A tongue slipped in through his lips, and Eugene stared with incredulous eyes. He could only see Anise smiling with her eyes.
“...Phew.” Their lips parted after a while. Anise released her shackles and pushed his chest away. “This is why you are stupid.”
“Please apologize to Sienna for me. I don’t know if she will understand, but what’s she going to do? I’m already dead.”
“Stupid Hamel,” said Anise while slightly stroking her lips with her tongue. “You are, in a way, even dumber than Molon.”
Then she started to disappear.
Eugene’s eyes widened. She was clearly running away. If she had disappeared normally, he would have shed tears of sadness, but he wasn’t in a state to feel any sorrow.
“Hey, hey!” he shouted.
“This is not goodbye, Hamel. I will be protecting you from inside the child….”
“I get it, so apologize before you go!” roared Eugene, grabbing her hand. “Apologize for calling me a bigger moron than Molon! And… and… that, just now, was my first time with this….”
“Oh dear…” muttered Anise while shaking her head with a sincere expression of regret. “Do you think it was a first only for you?”
“Please make sure to tell Sienna. I’m sorry, but that’s just how things are.”
Those were the last words Anise uttered. Eugene stood blankly as her figure crumbled into particles of light. But the light didn’t fade away. Rather, it permeated Kristina.
It wasn’t just Anise, either. The Fount of Light, the source of the Fount, and everything around them scattered into light. The fading light soared into the morning sky, and the darkness of the night was finally laid to rest. It was truly a beautiful sight, but instead of looking up, Eugene just gently caressed his own lips.
“...Huh. Ha… Hahaha…”
After standing still for a long while, he started to laugh dejectedly.