Take Up the Cross – Chapter 38: One for All

Spiraling through darkness, four forms are carried with him.


Rather than devouring or raving, the darkness whispers specific instructions to him. Changing with them, rainbow is sacrificed as he’s drawn tight to their bodies.

The tide of sensations between the five becomes visions and voices, as they cease to be separated.





A girl looks at her clawed hands.


The stark white hair against her tanned, dusky skin matches the bodies lying still before her. Shaped like her, they are curled like dead insects, their hands gripping their heads.

Seven lit by blue sconces fill the hallway.


“… E-v-e-ryone?”

Nearly forgotten words call out softly, drowned out by the clomping of metal from the hallway’s entrance. Two figures round the corner, the first quickly pushing the other out of sight.


The man approaching is a paragon of just pride.

A full suit of white armor with absurdly ornate pauldrons match with the long, two-handed axe he holds. A golden emblem of a predatory cat with wings and a bird’s head is central to his blue tabard. Even with his great helm with full trailing mane having its visor lowered, his blue eyes drill through the girl’s malaise and bring her back to attention.


Checking the bodies, he quickly moves towards her.


“… Thank the gods above, you’re okay!” A voice soaked with somber and beneficent piety floods out. “The creature… came this way?”

Lowering her hands, the girl struggles.

“… All… die… because… me…” No fear, only regret, is voiced. “My fault. Evil, me. Total… worthless…”

Losing her will, she sags to the ground.

“… weak.”


A strong hand grabs her shoulder, lifting her up and shocking her from her despair.

“NO! Not weak, girl.”


Forced to turn around by the man in gleaming armor, another girl wearing similarly ratty clothing is curled up on the floor, her legs and arms tight to her. Though breathing heavily and shaking, her red hair and fur attest to her survival at the back of her defender.

“No matter what happened, you did the one thing that makes you stronger than any other.”


Pulling the girl into his embrace, she’s crushed by his armor until she growls and claws at him. Laughing gaily at the resistance, he then sobers up.


“… Girl, only the strongest people in the world can defend another. No matter what fault lies with whom or what, you stood before it for another’s sake. That is a path to redemption.”

The gauntleted hand rubs her head, concentrating on her ears roughly.

“You’re stronger than you think girl, and you’ll need to be…”


Leaning in, his voice becomes cold, clinical, detached, and murderous as her face almost touches his helm.




“… Never forgive it. Let this hatred consume you. Become stronger than all others, so that when you meet it again, you can protect all of them and still put your weapon into its heart.”




Pulling a silvered knife from his belt, it flashes out to aggressively dig its point into her throat. Rather than showing fright, the girl simply widens her arms to protect the one behind her, even if it’s a useless gesture.


“… Good resolve.” Returning it to its scabbard, the knife is thrust now into her hands.


“Never show fear. Never give up. Seek out power where you can take it and remember:


‘As long as you can protect others, you’re already the strongest. As long as they fear you, they are always the weakest’…”


While the hand patting her head is kind, the eyes seen through his visor are clearly disturbed, lacking all emotional warmth.

Denying those eyes, her young voice comes out, rich and full of enthusiasm which is out of place at this grave site; yet, overpowering enough to destroy its lingering atmosphere.




“… Understand…! … Fight!”




Hoisting the other girl over her shoulder, she follows the faceless paladin after he nods.


“Will you ever lose again, girl?”




“NEVER! NEVER AGAIN!” Roaring in response, loud cries echo forever down the insane hallways of this heart-eating mansion.









Rushing about an enclosed stone chamber that’s been turned over, a girl searches uselessly for something. Resembling a forest painted onto flat stone walls, the perfect harmony of nature in this room is now ravaged. Strange paraphernalia like animal statuettes, preserved flowers, and old-looking, leaf-patterned wooden possessions are strewn about.


Losing energy as she slithers back to the center of the mess, she nervously pulls at her hair while shaking.

“… Papa… papa, whe-… whereee… where are you!?”


But, rather than a comforting reply…




“Papa left, you little idiot.”




Turning to stare agape at the door, pearl-colored hair and a deep-purple scaled tail can be seen lounging at the entrance with a slender back to her.


Left frozen at first by the words, the girl finally finds her voice. Teeth chattering…


“… Papa wouldn’t leave without… not without… me… Papa loves me, you’re lying! You’re always lying, because Papa loves me!”

Hurling denials with all her heart as she rushes for the woman, she then cringes at the sneer on the woman’s perfect oval face and white-silver eyes reflecting a cowardly animal.


“Think you can talk back to me, now, do you?”


At the heated words, the girl tries to flee out the door.


Vicious hands lunge at her, as waiting servant wearing tight-fitting, revealing outfits ambush with a snap of the woman’s fingers.

Instantly overpowered, the girl’s mewling is ignored.


“Papa might’ve let you do whatever you wanted, but the moment he left… that ended. If you don’t amuse Papa, he leaves, don’t you know~?”

Slithering away with a bored voice, the girl is dragged in the opposite direction.


“Even if he’s not here, we ever have our jobs. Except… my time is over. Wouldn’t you know that… leaves only one, incompetent runt to continue in Her service.”


Shaking, the girl resumes her feeble escape as the servants crush her head.


“No… Ave… Ave… Ave doesn’t want to, NOOOO!”




“Witless girl. Fate isn’t something you meekly deny and blindly slither away from. No matter how thin your blood is, it is the blood that matters and it is the chain that binds you.”




Taken to another room, the idol is stripped of her airy, green clothing as it’s shredded. Crying as they force a heavy, complex, and esoteric robe with snake designs onto her, her ponytail is brought into a straight hairstyle by jealous hands that yank her repeatedly.


She is slapped until she stops crying, so that makeup and lipstick in their ideal style can be applied after her face is dried with a rough towel.


Brought out before a statue of a vengeful goddess wearing bracers and sitting on a stone throne, the veil they both wear hides only the shaking lips. With the end of her tail held hostage behind the curtains, any resistance will end in brutal agony.


Standing before an assembly of hundreds of snake women, all far more womanly than her, they wear reverent smiles that hide their truly nasty thoughts. Lounging about slovenly, they appear to be awaiting the beginning of entertainment, not services.

Once the snickering starts when the girl mistakenly says the wrong words in a prayer…


The entire assembly’s leering becomes unbearable.

Their judgment inescapable, as the whispers start.


Viewed through the girl’s eyes, the entire assembly becomes a widening, blurry mixture of faces that come near to her to scream horrible insults. With their bodies fading into the mixture of colors that are their scales, the girl sways nauseated as the frightening scene descends into chaos in her mind.


“… Papa.” Whispering herself, too, so quietly that nobody but her goddess can hear…


A single tear is her only escape.


“… help meAve wants to befree, too…!”





“Let the punishment for one who would steal from Lord Aurumia in her own lands commence. May the whole town inflict its ire upon this criminal, thus proving they are not complicit.”


A declaration without much emotion, arrogant and self-assured, but tinged by a deep sadness, is barely heard above the din of the crowd.

The woman locked within a pillory can see the men of the town lining up. Hundreds of them wait, all wearing only their small clothes and baking in the sun as they sweat. Weak muscles pull one last time against her bonds, producing clanking from the locks.


“May she find forgiveness at the end of her utility, should she survive.”


One comes to stand behind her, a dark look on his face that soon turns from a grimace to a hungry look.


“Repay your deceptions and deceits with… a useful body.”


Cries of outrage from the woman are muffled by the gag in her mouth, black hair falling over her face as she attempts resistance that is swiftly ignored.


The woman’s hands bleed as she digs her fingers into them, the stocks shaking as the man powerfully thrusts-




Everyone is submerged




Watching the proceedings from a richly furnished box, the sweating woman is forced to hold hands with her company. Though her complicated blue dress is of a noble style and richly embellished, it pales in comparison to the wardrobe of choice of this supreme dignitary.


Lounging on her very cloaks that have assumed the shape of a chair is a








looking out at the scene with mischievous blue-and-gold eyes. When the man calls out his satisfaction of his conquest to the crowd’s cheers, this girl laughs with a penetrating cadence as the woman flinches at the sound.


“A pleasant and depraved opportunity like this one tarnishes the heart of even the purest man.”

Childlike and youthful in tone, but carrying a presence that far outweighs that of a normal child’s, the short girl stroking the woman’s hand affectionately offers salvation.


“So long as you serve me well in stead of your expired sire, so, too, can you avoid the same debauched spectacle~!” The eternal monster smiles beatifically, pointing suddenly to the show with an energetically shaking finger. “Ah, that one was given something specially made by me. Do you want to bet on the limit he reaches before he…?”


As the owner of this town forces the woman to lace their fingers together, the woman’s other hand secretly grips her chair, crushing her fingers as her breath is stolen by outrage.


“I’ll take ten spurts~. Over or under, girl?”




All the buildings vanish into the fog




An older girl wearing ragged clothing is bleeding as she watches, her palms rubbed raw by the constant squeezing. Watching them take turns, this voyeur hiding in a corner has uselessly bid her time watching the woman in the pillory.


Legs flexing and shifting, she’s ever looked ready to run to her aid.

But, she never finds the moment to move.


Scraping the wall with her fingernails when the last man arriving to the pillory lifts the woman’s head…


“… Uh, she ain’t… ain’t breathin’, m’lady?”




A dreamlike figure peers out of the noble viewing box on stilts, golden hair sparkling in the dying light as she holds a thickly gloved hand to her mouth coyly.




“Then I guess the punishment is over? Good job, my loyal subjects~!


The mayor honorably answered for his crime of allowing this lesser creature entry into my town by reducing himself to interesting parts, with our noble mayoress-in-succession vouching for the citizenry’s undying love for me in his place. Remember the mercy she earned from your virtuous ruler and work well with her to prevent repeats~.”


Waving lightly, the pinnacle of monstrous authority exits the box while yawning into her dainty hand, golden cloaks flowing in the air with the breadth of boat sails. Unlike the young girl, this perfect vermin has never known doubts or suffered from the despair of helplessness.


“Let’s hope none of those gathered here today are alive the next time I’m required to visit to solve a problem, or you’ll wish you’d already passed on.”




The tremors that overtake the girl will never end. Her fingernails are destroyed, as she repeatedly scrapes long after those assembled leave.




As the whole town is… submerged in darkness, all of them crying out in fear, demanding mercy that will never be gifted


Crying out in a dull-sounding, but furious, voice…




I’ll give every last one of ‘em what they deserve…!”





An unrecognized object overhead shines a brutal violet. Round, almost-orb-like, and hanging between unusual, twinkling lights, the majesty it represents cannot be surpassed.

Streaks of fire plunge from overhead, sinister and foretelling of the doom of the world as they arrive from the direction of the object.


A girl’s small hands lift towards this overseeing god, as if reaching up to grab and lift herself to it.


Shaking, gloved hands reveal white skin and doll-jointed wrists as her sleeves fall back.

The smoke rising all around her thins a bit, unveiling the great depression in the smoldering ground she lies in.




“… As tools… perhaps imperfect, after all? … Be that… why?”




A voice indistinguishable from a crystal bell begs a sad question of the hanging orb.


“… This tool… be at fault. Be it possible for a tool to be… fixed…?”




With the quiet words issued, her hands then stop shaking. Falling lifelessly to the ground, the baleful object overhead becomes horrible to view after it ignores the girl’s sad question.

Indeed, the intensifying, streaking fire arriving from overhead at catastrophic speeds result in enormous impacting sounds that further punish her.




“That splendorous paradise… pure purpose found within lost… Cast to a world… where all purpose… be pointless… Crea-tor… one’s ma-je-sty… this tool can-not en-dure… with-out?”


Smoke fills the sky, forming a new age on this world as the destruction obscures the object overhead.

To oppose it, one childish fist raises weakly.


“… This wo-rld sh-all not… diminish this tool’s devotion.”


Finding the last of her willpower, she utters an oath.


“… This tool shall introduce this world to true majesty, should its own be found wanting… If this tool be barred from a Creator’s paradise…”


Eyes close.




“… Then this tool shall make amends… by introducing the unworthyto all of the grandeur of true Art and a Creator’s ultimate wisdomno matter the cost or objection…!”

The explosions cease to be heard as an eternal sleep begins.




“… for Lu-na’s… sa-ke… this wo-rld… it-s st-ain… re-mo-”





(This is not the end. If they think they can toy with me and throw us away after laughing, then they’re insane. We will…!)


Things lost and gained coincided with the closeness of his fellow travelers. A mind awakens as it goes to sleep forever, with the waking world and dream becoming the same thing. Images he can’t understand drilled deep into him, sharing sadness and desperation that matches with his own.




A dark-hearted boy is already planning revenge, however.




A carving at his heart has finally stopped, with the space being filled with a new purpose and sense of self that seems foreign, but acceptable.


(… I will break anyone who wants to hurt us…! Anyone who has ever hurt us!)


With the connecting flow ceasing its rush, the shining cross goes dim again. Feeling core concepts altered, all that was gifted to him is now…


Shaking his head, he disregards the sense of loss.


(They’ll all pay… ending with…!)


His own voice booms, overcoming the deafening shadows careening by.




“‘Everything I hear about her: her opulence; her actions; her cruelty; her ambitions; this damnable mansion. It all makes me want to… destroy her.’”




Nearing eyes of many colors track the boy and his party’s return, the barrier between them that should obscure being completely transparent to her vision. Crashing through the wavering, viscous wall, only four girls appear on the other side, much to a priestess’ surprise.


Chains of gold wrap around a boy, who is pulled towards the shining pillar while still within the world between.





Banners gently wave in this room shrouded by perpetual mist.


Moving about as if objects pass through it, the whiteness clinging to hidden forms curls wisp-like about his own body. A room whose dimensions escape measurement is his destination, with blue-and-gold carpeting of the finest quality and comfort he lies on leading up to stairs ascending to a higher area.

Effusive, sugary scents laced with a touch of deathly poison come from curious blue and golden flowers, ones that curl like churned butter while growing around the banisters and walls without soil. Metallic sconces that burn with a spectral blue flame reveal as much as the white fog will allow.


(Smells like… Fatso’s worst “sweets”!)


The memory of a poisoner matches with the top of the stairs, where a seat of metallic silver resides and morphs as if it is melting. Though it has this appearance, the quicksilver throne never fully collapses, always moving back to something resembling a throne.

A poisonous substance that Adris knows well, whatever can give it life fills him with dread.


Behind it is a large, gold-framed mirror between spiraling pearl columns. Familiar stained glass windows with a golden heart set between them show images. A golden-haired girl in blue points a saber dripping silvered-blood towards a shining, inverted structure of a massive size proudly formed of parapets, towers, and powerful tiers.


Symbols engraved in the heart are familiar as Adris rises with the black cross in his hands, but it is a figure materializing halfway down the stairs out of the air that grasps his attention. Like a ghost coalescing from the cold, suspended moisture, it gives this new nightmare its purest visage of corruption.


“… Old man!”


A youthful girl wearing a whitish-silver breastplate over a sky-blue dress happily descends the stairs while skipping steps. Golden cloaks trail behind her, squirming slightly with their own intent. Unruly, tousled hair like liquid gold shines, with the large smile on her face showing pearly teeth.




Muscles flex with all of their might, as Adris rears back and then hurtles the black cross.




Entrusting himself to a gift he is no longer sure remains, the spinning cross slices through the air in an arc as it hunts its prey.




As her smile freezes, eyes like gemstones, fluid-blue banded by circulating gold, lock onto it. When they do, an otherworldly sharpness seizes the room that warps the very air.


Lifting off the stairs as her eyes stretch to their fullest and her smile becomes a slasher grin, her clothing becomes suspended like in fluid as her form is nailed up to the space she floats in.

Still noble, the insanity written on her face matches her perverse ego becoming the sum of the room. Pressure locks down Adris’ very soul, as the wretched presence vibrates the air and distorts the traveling light.

A shaking thrum in his ears grows with the pressure until…




Everything freezes.

Cross floats and Adris is sealed.




Clothes dropping back down as she touches back on the steps, the girl’s surprised look lasts for only a moment before a childish grin takes over, eyes filling with piercing curiosity.

Descending past the cross stuck in mid-air with a courtly posture and steps, after abandoning the innocent descent…


“Such decisive manners you possess, myth.”


A derisive smile accompanies a prolonged giggle, her face a mask of absolute authority.




“We’ll assume we’ve met by your reaction, but let’s discover when, where, and how, shall we?”




Characters: ???



Chapter 37         Table of Contents          Chapter 39