Take Up the Cross – Chapter 15: A Path to Power

“Is that not an interesting expression you have? For the form that you have been cursed with, a smile such as yours… wouldn’t it be the purest proof that you aren’t a mere boy?”


Adris’ concentration is wrecked by Cethran’s question. Noticing her gaze, they lock eyes.


(There’s a lot of things I’ve told you that you promised to believe.)


Though the woman has shared many of Adris’ secrets, their relationship is tenuous.


(You approve of me because what I tell you is fascinating, because you want to see more, right?)


No matter the danger she represents, a human is still a human. Adris’ epiphany needs certain examination in order to be used.

As the woman shifts while waiting for him, lazily resting her hand on the altar…


(You’re the closest thing I have to a “teacher”, here.)




“Since you’re so interested in truths, why not search for one with me?”


Abandoning all pretense, Adris smiles at this vexing priestess before him.


“… This is not a simple question, is it? Have you some specific truth in mind?”

As if approving of the invitation, Cethran’s words flow straight into the discussion Adris has set without resistance.


(Good, this should actually be easy…)




“If a being from another world wants to live here… How would you describe their chances if they sought a normal path?”


(I need to know if you think the same way.)


Taking a moment to ponder the question, Cethran strokes her covered neck with her pointer finger. Her brown eyes no longer seem amused, only serious.


“… Would it not be trivially easy to expose the unsuitability of a being from this… ‘Xin’ if they tried to blend in? For the lack of a Modus is the single, largest tell, but isn’t it far from the only one?”


Humming a bit, she smiles at the conclusion she reaches.


“One could not live on Zennia as a being from Xin without admitting to their origin… is this the conclusion you reached? Especially in regards to one’s… vitality?”


(Of course. It’s the easiest question in the world to answer if you think for even one second.)


Getting up, Adris takes his cup with him as he walks toward the altar.


“A lifetime of missing knowledge about a system of living which so wildly differs from your own, that even the simplest questions would betray ignorance? Not even the greatest conman could convince a peasant of their provenance. You can’t fake common sense.”


Reaching into his bag, he takes out his possessions to show them to her.


“Everything I have and everything I am, it’s totally foreign. A lie, no matter how small, has to start with some grain of truth. If it isn’t the truth of the person’s words, then it’s the truth of their existence.”


Hearing the woman’s footsteps, Adris finishes his thought.




“Someone who never belongs on Zennia in the first place has no hope of convincing others that they belong. At some point, their ignorance will be known. Even if they have a teacher and the time to craft a perfect story, it’s not one they’ve lived. They will…”


(Grow tired.)




“‘Lose the narrative’, is it?”




A bit startled by the question, Adris wonders how different their viewpoints are.


“That’s another way of looking at it, yeah.”


(Growing frayed and, by extension, losing their story. It’s a cursed life.)


Looking at the sickening splendor of this room, Adris has a revulsion to share.


“Being unable to admit their own thoughts in any form by being forced to blend in with ‘cattle’, this is also what they lose: themselves.”


Folding his arms in front of himself, a boy wearing a silver mask flaunts his own merits.




“I am not cattle. I am a traveler from another world. I am something.”


(I am a survivor! The terror of rich, old men from Urshu to Remi-bi! Unlike these Zennian humans, I have a brain and ambitions. Even if they’ve been…)




Hand to his chest, he suddenly feels a bit tired.


(Having had them put on hold for a bit, I know what I can do, now. Let’s… start over.)




“I see, plans you have, then? How will you choose to live in this world you consider ‘new’ to you?”


With a renewed interest, Cethran seats herself back on the altar. Adris swallows a bit looking at her face, as her eyes are piercing in how much attention she’s giving.

The older woman’s face has gained something like… vitality to it. Having met Adris, she seems renewed.


(… That’s fine. Having someone interested in me… isn’t a bad thing. I usually work best with an audience, anyway. If you want drama to convince you of what I need, then have it.)




Arm flashing out, like Cethran did, Adris grasps the air.


“By my own power and by no one else’s. Much like I did on Xin.”




“Hmm? ‘Like on Xin’? If I recall, did you not mention a certain manslayer…?”


(… Serras was always my…)




“She was my power. A partner I could always rely on… for the most part. I just… misused her.”


It’s a terrible admission, one that hurts him deeply.


“Because I stopped caring about her, it’s utterly simple to see why it happened. Something about those last few years… We weren’t of one heart and mind, anymore.

There were probably many things I did to give her anger cause. Even if she wasn’t a great person… I probably mistreated her a good bit.”


Gritting his teeth, Adris feels anger grow at the image of her.


“It doesn’t excuse her trying to murder me…!”


(That rage will never die.)


“… but it’s not like it matters, anymore…”


(Because I can’t go back-)




“Who tried to murder who?”


The husky voice sounds astonished with this question, interrupting Adris’ own line of thought.


“… What? She did, in the burial chamber.”


Squaring to face Cethran, she is rubbing her chin as her eyes look humored.




“… How fascinating, isn’t it? Considering the way you recounted the fight, isn’t it odd how you didn’t die much earlier?”


Mouth opening to answer her, Adris finds he has no voice, until a question comes out instead.


“Certainly she seemed… off balance? Well, we both were…?”


The swift and sure Adris was nowhere to be seen in that fight, at least at the beginning.


(But, why did she never just show her full strength? Why didn’t she capitalize on my obvious errors?)


Nodding her head as if she understands, Cethran smirks again, getting up to look down on Adris.


“Is that not amusing? Then shall we ask questions in a way that will unite the details currently left disconnected from each other:


If you lost your tempo, then why did she?

If the soldiers came to capture you, then why did she not aid them?

If the soldiers answered to her, then who did they truly serve?

If she was far stronger than you, then why did she hold back?

If she only defended for the most part, then when did that change…?”


Putting her hand on the shoulder that is shaking, Cethran seeks to comfort the uncertain Adris, while her words do nothing but discomfort him.




“If she betrayed you, then why does it seem like she did everything but try to kill you? ‘What was the deepest desire she held in that tomb and what motivated her’?


Who betrayed who?


If you attempt to answer each question in order, you might…?”




Slapping her hand off of his shoulder, Adris staggers back.


(I lost my tempo because I couldn’t understand what was going on, but she knew what was going on because she planned it. Then why was she hesitating? Was it because she didn’t plan to try to stab me right there?)




“Leading Soldon’s soldiers to us is clear enough to prove who betrayed who! Shut up! Xin is dead! I died there! Now, I’m here. ‘Why did she betray me’!?”


Throat tight, Adris is exasperated by the stupidity of the questions.


“Who the fuck cares, anymore!?”


Adris watches Cethran’s eyes narrow, before she chuckles softly at his outburst. The loudness of his voice surprises even him.




(If she wasn’t trying to stab me right there… then why did she do it? … No, fuck off! It doesn’t matter why!)




“Well, as was conveyed to you earlier, true knowledge arrives only with the wisdom to build the foundation for it, yes? Then for now, isn’t it fine not to worry?”


Becoming lazy, Cethran’ gloating face hints at her knowledge of the “why” for these bloody questions.


(… Manipulating old woman, you’re the one who needs to answer my questions, not the other way around!)


Stomping up the dais while pissed, Adris begins smiling when he realizes the way to win against her.


(You think you’re smart? Then follow this.)




“… Going back to the original question, someone from another world doesn’t need to blend in, Cethran!”

Gesturing toward a familiar statue, Adris smiles bravely while basking in his own solution.


“Did you not already prove that? Can’t you see why, fairly easily?”


Cethran is quiet while she looks up, not rising to the open challenge. Only her bright, yellow eyes betray her emotional state.


Pacing about the dais, Adris begins his explanation to this enraptured woman.




“You’re looking at it from the perspective of someone from Zennia, Cethran. Instead, you need to look at it from my perspective! If I want power here, why bother with blending in? Why try to feign that I belong?”


Pointing toward a book…


“She never belonged, did she? Why should I bother, if she succeeded?”




“… You intend to make your otherworldliness a part of your appeal? From your explanations… perhaps you seek power outside of yourself?”


(Of course I do. The only power I have can’t be used by me!)




Raising a purple-covered cross, Adris grins as he lays out his ambition.


“A power that can’t be used by me can be used by another. Thanks to your… ‘wisdom’, I know that oaths can be used to bind others to you. If a cursed cross holds power untapped, then I merely need tap it.”


Pointing his finger at Cethran with a thumb raised, Adris feels cocky as he leads he helps his mentor understand.


“Cethran: these Modi are made by people, yes? Then why not simply make one for yourself instead of choosing another?”


(Though I can guess why…)


With a slight turn of her head, Cethran gives him the Zennian reason.


“… A Modus, when followed by only one and just born, would it not be quite weak? If a Modus is the sum of one’s actions over a grander time, a way of life that is weakest at birth, then what benefit for the average person would an unnamed, untested, and unexamined Modus bring?”


Nodding patiently, Adris agrees with her.

“Exactly. There’s no basis for it, for someone that is born here. So what you need is either time and small increments for growing up with it… or…”


Raising the cross above his head while sweeping his free hand, Adris has the look of a prophet.




A grand and unique action. An event, with participants, so powerful that it produces an immediate effect that immediately binds all involved to its outcome.”


(An inescapable impact that will bloat this Modus with its power!)




“Ho, your expression is truly entertaining, isn’t it? Don’t you seem quite intoxicated with this unshared plot you’ve devised?”

Shifting her legs to cross them in a feminine manner, Cethran approves of his thinking.

Or so it seems to Adris.


“If a Modus is powered by participants and inputs, then I will make others partake in the sharing of power from another world!”

Moving his leg back, he gestures all around him.


“This entire world, right? Doesn’t it linger in this thing you called ‘mystery’, Cethran? No lie can ever be made without a truth, so why not create a glorious scenario from my otherworldliness? Binding the rituals of two worlds, oath and aura investment, could I not create something truly… novel?”


Eyes widening, Cethran grows much more motivated. Her smirk changes to a genuine smile, then deepens back to a smirk that shows lines on her face.


“… Is that so? Building a native barrier between you and this world? Isn’t this actually an elegant design? For this, you intend to create a… ‘mysterious incident’, is it? Yet who will you involve in it? Who can you trust to stand between you and your inevitable enemies…?”


(Trust? I don’t need that. I have…)


“An oath, if properly used, will solve everything. What need is trust?”


Standing before her, Adris is more animated than he’s been in years.


(I’m tired of this powerlessness! This world is interesting and has potential, but I need surety regarding what’s around me!)


Adris has nobody to put between the world and him.


(And it’s not like I can use this cross, anyway. My inner expanse is terribly ruined. If I were to try and claim it, especially as mutated as it seems… I would likely die. But others…)


“‘Between being cattle under Pure Devotion, being a chaotic soldier of war under Battle Pressure, or being a slave of the Alchemaster under Golden Luster, why not make your own path?’ This is a temptation that will appeal to anyone, won’t it, Cethran?”


Laughing, Cethran nods, amused at her dismissal of his idea even as she plays along.


“And who exactly would follow a human boy in a silver mask from another world? Who would shed their Vigor in place of a human who likely has none?”




“Human? Where is the human, Cethran?”


Staring down at her with powerful eyes, Adris firms his mouth and towers over her, putting on his ultimate act with all of his energy and conviction.

When Cethran’s countenance becomes more serious, Adris knows he has the right look.


(There’s no need to hold back for this little joke. I can finally let go…)




“Human? Are you not speaking to a god, Cethran?”




Suddenly at a loss for words, the purple-covered woman simply blinks at him, standing as he is in a pose full of grandeur and awe with the cross held before him.


“… Is that so? … Hahahaha!”




Adris loses his posture completely when the woman starts laughing. Hand to her breasts, Cethran is still chuckling after twelve or so seconds, not sparing another word.


(… Is it impossible-)




“Isn’t that fine!? How vague, yet isn’t the impression correct? No, the base details are perfect too, are they not?”

Quickly recovering, Cethran paces about below the stairs.


“… All of the metrics line up with the truth, yes? The only lie… wouldn’t it be that you’re a god? But no, what god would walk the earth, Mr. Star? On this alone, am I not required to find you lacking?”


(Gods do not walk the earth, is that it?)


“God” has a nebulous definition on Xin.


When Adris thinks of divine beings, in the cosmology of the Emperor’s ascent, there were powerful, quasi-divine creatures that opposed him.


They traveled the broken continents, preaching that men should seek their own fates through their teachings, and that the Emperor’s path to ascension was a lie.

The Emperor had fought these creatures, finally defeating them after routing their armies of followers.


The last living one had been dragged before the Imperial Court…

After denouncing the Emperor, the creature had been put to death. What had the Emperor called them?


You, [ziahlen], will be the first to arrive in the new hell I make, but certainly not the last!”

The Emperor’s purge was, as promised, a nightmare. All adherents of these beings had been beheaded, their remains interred in a special pit along with their ziahlen mentors.




“Do the people of this world have the concept of a ‘ziahlen?’” Adris asks, curious of the difference in faith.

“One who opposes fate?”


And not just fate, but also the Emperor’s ideology and religious beliefs.


(Why was the Emperor so focused on the intersection of viewpoints and light, to produce imagery in shadows? Unreal existences made manifest by the perspective? The mad sage’s door had shining darkness behind it…)


Adris feels it’s a similar theme to this world.


(Is your… unknown and unknowable something born of the same idea?)


The cross and the inheritance must’ve come from a supreme realization the Emperor had made.

Its form seemed to be a boundary between what is perceived and what is not.


That Adris ended up in this queer world when exposed to the Emperor’s vestige doesn’t seem so random, now. To share in that revelation, might…


“Ziahlen (FALSE GOD)? A being that opposes Fate? Is this a jest?”


Cethran’s look is dark, before her lips curl approvingly.


“No, but such a [false god] would be welcome, wouldn’t it? Aren’t all these people complaining about their Fates just waiting to worship you?”

She claps her hands, returning to his original point.


“If you possess the… personage to convince them with, then you shall need to consider the oath and Modus, yes? More than that, what power do you intend to call upon for your little ritual?”


(You’re still not following, I already have almost everything.)


[Oath], which binds people.

[Modus], which enables growth, gives concrete existence.

[“False God”], a persona to impress with and define the core of this pact:


Adris himself.


(A source of power is easy.)


Adris peers at the cross he’s stuck to, a hungry look in Adris’ eyes and a sneer on his face.


(Oh, little cross, I have a use for you.)




Adris’ technique of empowering others with external aura gifted to them is a means of suicide for the one using it if done long enough. Stealing one’s own aura from their internal expanse will destroy it over time. With his inner expanse terribly mangled, he can no longer channel anything through it.

However, Adris had learned that the crafting of aura tools uses similar techniques to his heretical art, the craft of it not even requiring high-level cultivation of aura in order to achieve results.

To devise something that would let him drain this cross dry and transfer it is not impossible, for a ceremony to destroy aura tools exists. Adris, who is a novice at creating them, was taught it…


(But you have to have a way of neutralizing the outflow or it could destroy you.)




“You intend to use this cursed object, is it? Should I warn you once more what will happen when you remove the seal on it?”

Cethran reads his gaze, left curious at being unable to see his intentions without a working knowledge of aura.


(I will shortly go insane and my mind will die.)


Cethran had shared the functioning of this cross-killing wrap. Though he can steel himself against it, once removed the cross will be able to overtake him.


(But I cannot access its source of power without removing it.)


It will be a desperate gambit.


(And I still don’t technically have all of the parts in full. In order to make the oath, I must understand this… unknowable unknown, because I intend to make your god answer for what you’ve done, Cethran…)




“Worry not about that, Cethran. Let me just ask you this: were I to create a ritual like what I have hinted at and bring others into it, would the outcome of such an oath and birth of a Modus be beneficial? Would it be powerful?”


(No, more than that…)


“Would something happen? Will it work the way I want it to?”


Clapping her hands once, Cethran seems appreciative of this question.


“… huhuhu, ‘the way I want it to’? Do you really think merging the knowledge of two worlds will produce a coherent, predictable result? Isn’t it safe to assume that the result will be interesting, no matter what…?”

Cethran shows Adris a face he wasn’t aware she could make.


Her smile has warped into something truly sinister: expectation and fascination, mixed with the smile a human might make when they see the object of their truest desires before them.


She must’ve noticed Adris’ inspection, because her expression changes, reverting to a more stoic appearance.


(I see, you’re just as hungry as I am?)


The mania Adris had felt walking into this chamber has never gone away.

His idea had begun before entering it, but only taken shape after meeting this woman.




And this woman appreciates his idea.




“Where could I begin to speculate? Does it suffice to say that something will happen, regardless of the result?”

Cethran openly eyes the cross’ sealing wrap.

“Though I don’t know what mystery you intend to invoke, the ritual you outlined is clearly a conduit for a great occurrence, is it not? As you said during our discussion, the nature of this ‘aura’ you possess has changed; therefore, it would be correct that whatever flows from the cross will also take a different shape, yes?”


(That’s the problem.)


Adris can’t say what the shape or form or content of the “aura” left within the object will take.

Adris has noticed that everything he is and had brought with him fundamentally changed upon his arrival. Warped and distorted, even this mighty cross is a victim of the transference.


“Well, if that is the case, then are you prepared for my final lesson on ‘mystery’ before your scheme begins?”

Cethran’s husky voice is resolute, unamused now, returning to something approaching reverence as her eyes are firm.


(Whatever she intends to say will be a secret worth sharing.)


“As you say, ‘mystery’ is it? Wouldn’t that be the best description? If the world rewards one thing, then it’s certainly action with meaning and imagination, right?”

Cethran starts her monologue.


Walking up to the organ on the platform, she turns to speak loudly, her voice filling this amphitheater.

“Mystery would indicate an action or principle that has yet to be examined or carried out, possibly? Or one that has been carried out, but lies buried, waiting to be uncovered?”


A brief pause comes, as she looks Adris up and down unexpectedly. The boy doesn’t know how to interpret the action.


“… As long as the oath fulfills your essential needs… your desires… shouldn’t it be fine to leave some things to chance? If mystery is determined by lack of manipulation of its inherent qualities, then aren’t you limited in how you can actively shape the result?

The more you interfere with the shape of this power, this way of life, the weaker it will become, yes? So why not let go?”


Pausing briefly again, she then offers her final thoughts on his plan’s parameters.


“If you are attempting something this complicated, then the result will likely be as you say: an oath coinciding with a newborn Modus, adhered to by at least the ones agreeing to it, perhaps as you desire?

Though this novel Modus would likely be weak, it would still be yours, so isn’t that fine?”

Looking satisfied with their discussion, Cethran speaks the most relevant question.




“Who, then, will you share this gift with, oh false god from another world?”




(That is the biggest problem, as you are not a candidate.)


“Preferably, whoever I bring in should be easily pliable. They have to also be somewhat worthwhile as far as goals. If they don’t have strong desires and equally strong desperation, then they won’t jump at a chance to acquire easy power.”


Adris cannot technically guarantee the kind of benefit from the form the Emperor’s aura transformed into.


(But it should be strong.)


The remnant outflows of it were still strong next to Serras and she had been perfectly quelled by the awakened specter.




“Is it fine to choose just anyone?”


Cethran’s tone is light as she talks, but her eyes are curious at his desired traits.


“Shouldn’t you be looking for… people that match who you are?”


Adris blinks, confused by the question.




“Who cares, as long as they serve their part? I can fit into any role I need to fill that is left over.”


Adris considers it an easy question.


(Leader. Visionary. Adventurer. Tagalong. Supplier. Confidant. Seducer. As long as they don’t betray me, whatever they are will suffice.

I need only take them on the correct path to what they’re looking to become and grow them to their fullest potential.)




It’s not like he’ll ever get good choices. Anyone who jumps at a self-proclaimed god cannot be counted on to be normal in the first place.


This is all that is needed, right?




“… Are you perhaps mad?”


Cethran’s question sounds like an accusation, her expression flat as she voices it.




Adris is confused by the strange tone. This is not a typical response for her.


He opens his mouth –


“No, isn’t that fine, too? After all, we arrive at the truth at our own pace, yes? It’s the job of the priestess to listen, not to judge, right?”


(That’s right. Do your job. I will do mine.)


Adris’ resolution is firm.

He’s learned his lesson from Serras, taken it to heart.


“So long as my goals and ambitions are to enable theirs to come to fruition, then I will never be betrayed again.”


(That was how I lost Serras. I stopped caring about what she wanted.)


“Rather than manipulating them with a lie to destroy them, I will simply be leading them on the correct path… one that’s in line with their own needs. And… I won’t misuse them, this time.”


“You believe that they will follow you? Are you terribly confident with your acting ability, Mr. Star, that you can pretend to be a god?”


Smiling at that question, Adris winks at Cethran.


“The easiest scheme to sell is not the one that makes sense, Cethran. It’s the one that appeals to the wonder and imagination of the other person. Humans… no, sentient beings don’t want facts or inconvenient truths…


They want to be the heroes.

They want to be the villains.


They want to be anything that isn’t a victim.”


(They want power. It doesn’t matter how. As long as they aren’t harmed by it; no, as long as they don’t know they are harmed by it.)


“As long as I present things correctly, I won’t even need to lie to them, Cethran… As comical as it might sound to you since you seek the truth, the average person is perfectly fine with being mislead, as long as they benefit from it and never find out about the misleading parts…”


Smiling beneficently, Cethran nods vigorously at this statement.


“This might universally be the case? If so, then would it help if I knew where four such prospects are currently?”

Cethran offers astonishing new information.


“What? You have people in mind?”


Adris is shocked and a little suspicious. She couldn’t have planned for this contingency, as Adris himself didn’t know of his full plan until talking to Cethran.


“How do you know about them?”


Walking down to the altar with Adris in tow, Cethran pulls out a book from her pack, opening up to a page and giving it to Adris to read.


“When you arrive at the Castillo, isn’t the first course of action reconnaissance? With the mansion’s constant reformation into new rooms, paths, and spaces, how else will you get around without looking?”


(The mansion changes.)


A constantly reforming demonic mansion sounds like an unconquerable hell.


Cethran had provided numerous key details about how to navigate it in their discussion, as well as mentioning some of its dangers, especially those of this tier.


Reading the passage in her book, Adris is pleased with the contents.




Party of four:

Short, tailed, armor-bearing warrior with a two-handed axe, demi-human, unknown gender.

Cloaked and masked scout, lithe and using twin swords, unusually agile, female?

Snake woman wearing elven clothing with a ponytail, using a whip and talks a lot, female.

Short, well-dressed book-holding spellcaster, strange features and body movements, female.


Witnessed fighting imps (LESSER TRICKSTER DEMONS) (M/F), slight advantage pressed by the four until total rout of the party, fast escape.


Location: [Forbidding Quarters] – [Guest Tombs]




(Is this it?)


Adris has little else to go on. Cethran had not mentioned many creatures by name, only that the lower tier was considered much easier to survive in. Of these imps, he knows that they have the power to manipulate minds with lust and attack with magical abilities.


(They lose to them, then?)


“Would they win against you, these imps?”

Adris asks what might be a stupid question, but while his impromptu teacher seems strong, he has yet to see that power exerted.


“Perhaps if I decided to end myself for them?”

Cethran seems amused at the question.


“Weren’t the capacities of these imps properly conveyed to you?”


(Yes, but I don’t know their strength in relation to…)


“The delving party didn’t appear to follow Pure Devotion, especially given that at least one of them is from a monstrous race, so perhaps Battle Pressure? There are alternate Modi, yes? Perhaps one similar to another mentioned in passing?”


“So, they’re like Lycia?”


Adris considers that a danger. If they could turn into super powerful foes when cornered…


“Ah, I forgot to mention, didn’t I?”

Cethran interrupts his thoughts, as if she’s aware of the way he thinks.


“This ghoul you relied upon, to be a Beast of Conquest is somewhat of a rarity, isn’t it? If you were to consider an analogy, the owner of the Castillo or her lieutenants, wouldn’t they be similar champions in presence? Though the scale of power would be totally dissimilar, correct?

In addition, If I said that a [blood-stained ghoul] is a creature created for long-ended catastrophic wars, a monster that only rarely walks the earth now, would that help in creating the proper image of this lady you rightly escaped?”


(Serving three Modi, what was her way of life?)


Adris is suddenly impressed; but, not impressed enough to seek out the crazed researcher again and risk being made into her permanent pet “sibling.”


“Do you think these delvers would be in search of the power I have to offer, Cethran?”

Adris needs to know whether his appeal is likely to find purchase among fellows slayers.


Cethran closes her eyes for a moment, before opening them, loosely lifting her arms to the obscured heavens, finding only the darkness of the hidden ceiling.


“Wouldn’t it be the case in every world? If you offer power and can provide proof of it, then who aside from those too aloof or certain of their own success would refuse you? Isn’t everyone looking for advancement?”


(Everyone desires something.)


Her amiableness at its highest, Cethran’s voice is light as she seems to congratulate him.

“Isn’t this a surprisingly ambitious plan? Yet, the taste of victory already covers it, yes? Do you feel reassured that someone of my resourcefulness will help in something so positively entertaining, as long as it helps fulfill your debt?”


(I see, it’s a spectator’s sport for you. This is your desire? And I have to show you who I am, still.)


Cethran has given him a hint, that “who you are” is defined by what you do.


(Can a Modus be said to be “who?”)


His eyes lingering on the woman as she seems to find value in him, he wonders how much of what she says has hidden messages.


(Perhaps what we do defines us to this unknowable god?)




Adris looks to the wall quickly, something catching his eye. A column looks out of…




“Though should you obtain the power you seek, what then?”


The curious woman’s deep, lilting voice asks a question Adris has yet to consider, interrupting his inspection. Turned back toward her, she acts solemn, even if her expression is almost loving.


“Will you, like so many others, seek Aurumia’s throne to become the master of this place? How about to obtain power within the Castillo and take it outside to carve out your own rule?”


Narrowing her eyes, her voice becomes more accusative.


“Perhaps claim for yourself the female flesh within this mansion, as the slayers are fond of?”


(That’s a dangerous proposition considering what’s happened to me! It’s not… impossible to consider, but no thank you.)


All of the options presented sound horrible to Adris.




“Who wants to rule?”




His flippant question seems to stun her, a stoic face quickly replacing her somewhat tempting one.


“… You desire nothing from the Castillo?”


(That’s not it… How to explain?)


Returning to his aristocratic mannerisms, Adris makes a show of walking towards Cethran.


“How could you misunderstand what true power is, Cethran? Only a fool sits on a throne. This… Alchemaster and every other king… someday, someone will knock them off of their perch.”


(Just like every regent. Just like… the First Emperor, even if it was intentional.)


“No, better than ruling in front of others and becoming their target… is running the show from behind the scenes.”


Shifting to the altar and holding the cross up, he makes a display of wiggling it as his free hand moves underneath it. Miming the action of playing with a puppet, Adris grins as his hand dances and moves along with the cross.

With her eyes locked onto his display, Cethran smirks as she moves her hand to rest near his dancing one.


“Only a supreme fool would seek supreme power. What I want is… power I can control. Power that will never get loose. Power that will bring to me what I want, while making life as easy as possible… Unless I don’t want it to be at that particular moment.”


All he has to do is meet these four people, worm his way into their company, and pry free their ambitions to make them offer themselves to Adris. The hardest part will be finding them and singling them out for “questions.”


(Once I have people in front of me… No one will ever catch me again. I’ll dance around their ambitions and grind them to dust.)


Chuckling, Cethran finally grows bored with his fake show.


“Very well, how laudable your goal is. Well, you’ve told me the parts you intend to use and your objective, but you still haven’t told me the guiding principle or nature of the oath, have you? Nor have you told me who you intend to offer it to, yes?”


Cethran is seeking to gain an understanding of the nature of the Modus he intends to create, as well as how they will be bound to him.




Adris “tsk”s at Cethran, giving a look of a prestidigitator asked to betray his secrets to the crowd.

She raises an eyebrow at the display.




“If you want to know all of that, don’t you have to watch the show? Where do you think I’m going to conduct the ritual at?”




An unused chapel, one heavy with the air of the unknown, is the only correct spot to choose.




“If I give away the truth, won’t it destroy the mystery, Cethran?”







Name: Adris fehl Dain; “Mister Meat”
Titles: Scholar Bound in Madness, Greedy Informant, Lycia’s Little Brother
Race: Xin’El, Emperor’s Child (Human)
Sex: Male
Age: ?? – Young

Occupation: Crossbearer; Charlatan/Swindler; Xin’Reh (former); Soldier of Fortune (former); Bounty Hunter (former)
Discipline: Crossbearer – Cursed Aura User; Spear Veteran (former); Aura Warrior, School/Specialization: Self-Taught (former)


[Tool Savant] – “Adris is a tool-collecting-and-utilizing fanatic. Most men would consider him disgusting for loving tools more than his own partner. Has so many tools that it can be said to be his true power. What does he do when he has no tools left? He seeks to acquire more, obviously!”


[Unknown Protection from Poisons/Compelling] – {A MAN WALKS, HIS STEPS UNWEARIED AND RESOLUTE. NONE CAN STOP HIM.}


[Unknown Mental Domination] – {A MAN DEMANDS. THOSE WHO HE DEMANDS OF, OBEY.}


Disposition: Resilient / Adaptable / Sinner
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: Black
Hair: Black, with strands of White
Skin: Tanned



Cethran Value – “At the very least, you’re not a weakling.”



Cethran Value – “If all men looked like him, it might not be odd for women to think that the gods had painted the world in only the drab color brown? While not ugly, would he not exemplify the idea that ‘normal’ is perhaps indistinguishable from ‘undesirable’?”

“Having properly bathed, at least you can say you smell of roses and sunshine, yes? Perhaps it’s not your body you find beautiful, but your mind?”

“A man with confidence and an audience to make him feel important can shine, where otherwise he would be overlooked like all the other smooth stones by the river.”



“A rather plain-looking man wearing traveling robes, what he carries hidden is far more dangerous than his appearance lets on. A disarming smile, leads to you being suckered. A clever tongue, leads to your sorrow. Possessing quick wit and intellect, hubris and arrogance are certain to follow. Well known across the floating islands of Xin, but not by name, only by reputation. Owed many favors, but not with great joy, and certainly not love. The only person he seems to care about other than himself is his lifelong partner.”

“Lacking power is not the same as being powerless. Even if all you have is your wits and untapped potential, as long as you’re striving to utilize it, making those tough decisions to reach your potential, then you have a chance.”

“Desiring to control everything from behind the scenes, but desperate to dance in the limelight, isn’t this the perfect conflict?”



“Starting over by trying to become a god is certainly a first.”




Name: Cethran
Titles: ???
Race: Human
Sex: Female
Age: 40s

Occupation: Priestess
Discipline: ???




Disposition: Inquisitive / Condescending / Self-Reliant
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown
Skin: White



Cethran Value – “Do you not feel that you can just ask?”



Cethran Value – “Isn’t it a strange thing to ask a woman what she thinks of her own appearance? If you were to ask a woman what she thinks of herself, of the beauty of her form, then isn’t the answer simple: ‘am I not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met, and shouldn’t you remind me of that so I believe it, too?’ Rather than asking a boorish question, why don’t you compliment me, Adris?”

“Perhaps if I am more beautiful now with a fuller smile, it’s because you’ve brought me out of my languishment?”



“What is the nature of a person? If we all search for meaning in our lives, do we ever find it without first understanding who we are, first? Then, if you must ask what the nature of another is, perhaps you should do so only after understanding yourself? At the very least, being at ease within the chapel indicates it possesses no danger, right?”

“To search for answers is a noble goal? Then what goal is more noble than searching for the one answer behind everything…?”



“Do you feel like you got answers from her?”





There’s nothing?



Chapter 14         Table of Contents          Chapter 16