Take Up the Cross – Chapter 86: Hangman and Sinner

I try not to do prefaces or ask things of readers, but I need an answer for this question if you’ll take the time to reply:


Are the ero scenes working? If they’re not good/interesting, I’d rather know so I can plan for the future.

I’m trying to improve as I learn, so that’s all I need to know, if I’m on a good path. If you have suggestions, I take those, too.


Poll is also up: ‘Who is your favorite character thus far? (multiple choices allowed)’


Poll Here!


If your favorite isn’t listed, just tell me who it is!

On to the show!





“Feet free of the table.”




A stern demand is issued before the royal enters his suite.

Through a scrolled doorway held open by his grandson, Rainart Drache sweeps past and aims for a high-backed chair behind a silvered, claw-footed desk.


Adris intends to follow at first with Lycia at his back…


(It’s not just the old man!)


Until the massive rush of pseudo-aura flows through him, leaving his spine colder as he searches for the source.

Not able to tie it down to only one, multiple objects within the room leak palpable energies just by existing.

One is a crystal orb seated upon the desk, with a resplendent, deep-blue color with a purple trim at its holding base. It sits among a tidy clutter, a central piece of a filing system which can be known only to the desk’s owner. Even looking into it from a distance causes Adris to feel like his sight will be sucked away.


(But if that’s classified as benign, then… those are…)


Various weapons hang on one side of the room as well. Bracing himself and entering, he’s given an impression of accursed powers contained within all of them. Styled much like the slayers’ weapons, they hang asleep and bound by spiraling cloth strips with sewn runes.


“… Dangerous toys.”

Lycia’s own placid, independent confirmation causes Adris to nod, willing his body to be free of their influences as both creep forward.


While the weapons take up the left wall, the right is a repository of information heaped the likes of which Adris has only seen within the Castillo.




Stacks of scrolls and metallic slates fill a long piece of dark-wood furniture, custom-made to specifications matching Drache’s interests. Created to surround a central, framed axonometric plan, the various shelvings and sectionals bear names familiar to Adris.


(“Upper Tier”, “Middle”, and “Lower”; “Wondrous Works”; “Decadence of Gold”…!?)


These sections contain parchments equal to what Adris can guess is their exposure to them. Each section named relates to the central subject of the dresser and curving sectional shelves, bringing Adris before it without his better judgment halting him.

Running his hands over the glass, Adris realizes he’s never seen transparent glass this thin and flawlessly made. Beneath his palm, the colors of gardens, Tree of Life, decadent exterior, and great red tower seem almost drawn from reality outside.

So vivid they are that it explains the immense wave of “magic” Adris can taste, even from beneath glass with protective-looking runes carved into the surface.


(These look almost like ones Neesiette showed me?)


“… Is it a perfect representation of the mansion?”

“Should it not be, given its origin?”


That smooth question brings Adris’ eyes to the written details along the border of the image lit by the floating fairy light above, which list similar names to the ones on the shelves.


(Some are different… many even I haven’t heard of. “[Pillars of Zenith]”? “[Fox Den]”? These aren’t listed on the map…)




As his finger stops, it’s left on the parting note of the maker.


“‘As proof of My greatness, let this stand as testament to not only all men’s eternal desire for endless wealth, but also unattainable beauty. Know My Work and Succumb.’ How ‘amusing’ she always is…”


(I know only one bitch this haughty.)


“I see. That thing…?”

Letting his hand fall to his side while grumbling, Adris slowly turns back to their benefactor.

“… ‘Thing’, is it? I will not contest such an apt description.”

Seated already, Drache taps the desk while awaiting Castile’s efforts.




While the grandson is cheery, the grandfather is even more unnerving when finally comfortable before the great window at the back of the suite which lets those inside view a large swath of the city and cliffside.


Petripolis is quiet now below them with the festivities ending and torches being extinguished.

The Castillo above matches it, faking sleep while others plot its doom.




Shinetown Downer or Ulysses Whiskey?” A hopeful question from the top slayer beside a small, corner bar piece brings a sad grunt from the old man.

“One drinks neither at this time of night, Castile. Goldberry for myself, Hanook Red for Ms. Lycia, and Furtive Fool for the ‘novice’.” Writing down those names on a scrap sheet as he speaks them, the stingy old man then grinds his teeth before turning to look at Castile.


A raised eyebrow ends Castile’s smile for a moment, before the cocky fellow clicks his tongue, setting a small, but expensive-looking, bottle down and retrieving a different one.

Rouvelt Blue?”

“… Don’t sully the room by becoming ‘excited’ from imbibing too energetically.”

“Haha, I have to save all my energy for later, grandpa!”

“… As you say.”

Shaking his head, Drache leaves the grinning grandson to his choice bottle of blue liquor, jotting down the information before he turns his attention back to the now sitting guests.




“Welcome to my private office, the beating heart of Slayer’s Call.”

Though genteel enough, there’s a finality to his statement.

It doesn’t specify whether the entry is good or bad for Adris and company, and the dour man seems un-inclined to breach the subject himself, choosing to study the two of them instead.


Though Lycia’s face is tight and her body still primed to act as she repeatedly fidgets her right leg, Adris’ hand is calm as he places it upon her thigh to bring her consternation to him, instead. That beautiful face of hers closes its eyes before smiling at him.


(“Really? Here? Now?” Why not, if it makes you stop acting like a cat on fire? Calm down…)


Slapping it off, Lycia sighs before turning her smile to Drache.


“Wooo~w, to show someone as unrelated, and dangerous, as me your very impressive office… is this okay? Won’t the slayers be mad I get what they don’t…?”

“Every slayer has been within at least once, and only because I will it. No jealousy shall befall any of my chosen guests, so long as I walk this world.”

At the almost sarcastic quip, Drache only attempts to reassure her of her safety. Lycia unconsciously calms at this assurance, before she clicks her tongue and amps up again.


(Smooth, but she’s not an easy woman.)


Rather than rebut him, Lycia just whistles at the room’s ostentatious wall paper, repeated golden shield designs with a green dragon contained within, before going silent.


(Stop worrying. We’re perfectly safe.)




Though Lycia still feels deep within enemy territory especially around Drache, Adris has been not only anticipating this meeting, but also planning for it.

Pining for it, even, as he nods at Castile when the friendly man gives him a purplish, fizzy liquid in a crystal cup.

With one sip, Adris confirms that the taste is bizarre.


(It tastes like bubbling root juice with… sugar? It’s not bad…?)


Alcohol is evident, no matter how little, leaving Adris feeling brighter.

Licking his lips, Adris coughs once, leaving Drache focusing his eyes on the boy with great expectation.


(If you’re waiting for me to make the first move, then why not? I have nothing to hide, anymore.)




With all of the evidence he’s recorded, intelligence he’s procured from various sources, and secrets of the Castillo gathered like plucked insects from a vicious spider’s web, Adris has zero reasons not to have a frank meeting.


(Especially when I can only profit off of my preparations!)




“As Master of the Call, you are no doubt here to test me, since you’re obviously aware of my great achievements.

My name is ever the same: Starr, the One and Only, pleased to finally formally meet you.”


Setting his drink down after draining half of it showily, Adris folds his hands before him as he smiles, letting the fairy light glint off of his mask just right.

Lycia puts her hand to her face, rubbing it as she mutters “… so it’s not just me he acts this way to?”


“… As you say; though, you may not understand the meaning of such a test until it’s too late if you maintain such a braggadocious manner, boy.”


With a sterner tone, the man calmly retrieves papers from one corner of his desk, spreading them out for his eyes to flit over as Castile comes to stand behind his grandfather.


(It doesn’t matter if you dislike me. Actually, since we’re naturally inclined to clash, I’d rather be rivals or nemeses!)


The moment he met the old man, he felt intuitively that they could never find something likable about the other. Such a constantly dismissive glare the man gives Adris proves it, no matter his interest.


(That is fine. But: you absolutely must approve of my standing by the end of this discussion!)


“Though sparingly done since the early days, let us confirm that you did indeed receive the letter… I sent.”


When Castile perks up at the man’s tapping, Adris pre-empts him with a flick of his wrist before either can act.




A once-sealed envelope made of oiled hide flips expertly over to the man’s desk, landing on a stack of papers without disturbing them.


“If you want to confirm the obvious, I’ll be awaiting more interesting questions.”


Leaning back as he closes his eyes, Adris gives a slight smile that invites speculation about the brutal arrogance he shows.




The room is quiet, leaving him laughing internally at the occasional creaks of the old building.


(Ahaha! Yes, this arrogance is the key! Turn your inquisition on me, and I will respond with absolute confidence to your charges! You only drag yourself deeper into my mystique…)




Knowing Cethran, Adris has taken a gambit.

Though he is outwardly calm, there is still a question lying at the center of Adris’ devastated heart.


(“Is Cethran an essential conspirator set against me in this Grand Game or simply a chaotic voyeur who starts wildfires to witness the resulting burn?” I must know! I cannot last any longer unless that evil creature’s nature is made more obvious!)


“… Grandpa?” Castile’s questioning voice has a slight urgency to it, prompting Adris to examine the result.




For a moment, the eyes that turn up to Adris look haunted.

But, only for a moment.


“… The letter is quite… authentic.”


(You know it will be when she is the tenderer of it!)




The ghost? Big ass priestesses are always nice, but I couldn’t get her name. No one else can, either…!

Honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to, now. That smile seemed a little off?




“Of course. Cethran sends her kindest regards.”


A wild shot in the dark, made with all the subtlety Adris can afford as his heart beats hard enough to pop out of his chest, earns Adris…




A raised eyebrow with only the barest movement of the man’s lips sputter his true thoughts.

“… Cethran?”

“The name of the carrier along the last leg. Apparently her efforts never became known to you.”

“I should think not, considering… no, it’s fine.”


The barest lie he can think of is thrown out, desperate to walk back from a troublesome dialog if he continues. Returning his shock to the letter, Drache quickly folds it up and hands it off to Castile.


Lycia smirks while glancing at Adris, earning his inner angst.


(Stop listening to my heartbeat! My Talent does nothing against Lycia… What’s your next move?)




In the game that Adris and Drache are playing, one mutually known between them, Drache’s first hurdle is cleared with not only ease, but a direct attack to the man’s stability.

It’s a stab at an old heart, hopefully lighting a fire in it.




(Cethran is a wild tile. She handed off something exceptionally valuable and dangerous to me as a way to manufacture change in Petripolis. This man is aware of its true importance, while I am not. Therefore, we can only proceed if he unleashes his obsession for me!)


As Castile walks over to the hanging architectural drawing of the Castillo, Drache’s focus is upon it as he sips his own amber-colored drink.


(Is that honeywine!? I… I want some…!)


Reassuring himself that honey exists nearby in quantities, Adris refrains from shifting out of his plan as Castile places the envelope to the glass.




Instantly, the gigantic Tree of Life begins to sway.


Colors jump out even more as the gardens join it, with the sounds of wild life and worse calling softly from the wall.

A face with two, long bars set into the east tower, a sight Adris could not see from the east wing, resembles the “clock (MECHANICAL TIME KEEPER)” that Adris was taught of by Neesiette when he asked about automatons on Zennia. As it starts to move, the distant sounds of a metallic mechanism proceed like…




(Clockwork! What sorcery is this painting!?)




At the top of the left wing of the mansion, a glowing dot appears.

When the dot appears, the roof vanishes along with its mighty towers, gilded parapets, and hazardous walkways. Revealed beneath are hallways, rooms, and named sections.


The dot is found within a swirling blue void which is superimposed over a name which ends in [-wing] when it’s come to life.




“Began at the top!? How!?”

Castile’s pitched yell breaks the tense silence as he slaps the dresser, eagerly following the dot as he leans in to watch.


As Adris swallows hard, the dot follows a familiar path.


It traverses hallways, stopping once, before arriving at an area called [The Waters of Lotan], before the building morphs with much of it vanishing to reveal the second level.


“Secret transfer point!? In reverse!?


At a place called “Pools of Repose” the dot reappears, then travels to…





The large man claps his head while shivering, watching a dot hesitate for a bit at a spiraling staircase before entering it.

“Ah.. brother, I’m sorry you had a bad…





As the dot continues down, it stops only once or twice for a split second, before arriving at the [Chapel of My God].


“… How the fuck.”

“In this rare moment I agree with you, Castile.”

“Evil kid, you shouldn’t be here at all.”


Even Lycia can’t help herself from mumbling as she watches this spectacle.

While the dot remains there, both men stare hard at Adris as they wait for it to move.


(The fidelity of the artwork surprised me, but its purpose doesn’t.)




“‘How the old man knows how far we’ve all been for rewards’? Good question, ~NOVICE~! You’ll find out!




(“Because he can find out” guarantees that there is a way.)


Castile’s expression is one of youthful excitement, filled with a deep feeling Adris cannot identify no matter how expert he is at reading others. Rather than envy or hatred, the top slayer appears almost hopeful.


Drache displays an emotion Adris can read easily.

It’s one Lycia and Adris have displayed many times.


(The old man’s struck a gold vein.)




As they continue watching in silence, the path matches Adris’ own.

Both Castile and Drache show interest when Adris reverses his course, returning to the Main Mansion. [There Be Rabbits Here] as his path causes Castile to whistle, while Drache only nods knowingly, shifting a piece of paper into view.




But when Adris returns to the Chapel…


[Chapel of My God] begins to sag, with the letters in their strange runic forms beginning to streak, running the ink down the map as the lit space revealed starts disappearing into a growing, inky darkness.


A memory of the world dying before his eyes, and of an Emperor and darkness which accused him of terrible crimes, revives.




Before the dot disappears from view.

The map flares up with eye-searing golden light for an instant, causing the viewers to shield their eyes while gasping.




A moment later, the dot returns to the unnamed area, departing soon after.




As the dot returns to the [Guest Tombs] for the surviving Adris to recover, the name never returns to the Chapel.

Instead, darkness fills it once more, removing it entirely from the map.




What did you do?

Unable to resist, Lycia breathes this question in his ear while leaning over, prompting him to sneer at his own audacity to hide his thoughts.


(I didn’t do that! She did it…)




As his own memories record, the mansion is traversed to [Dining Hell], then outside, then out the main gates.


With the show finished, Castile sits on the desk, drinking with earnest religion. Drache finishes his first glass while nodding his head, examining more documents with the practice of an Imperial Court bureaucrat before clearing his desk of those.


(I made the first move. Now… is your reveal. My grandiosity is laid out, so let’s hear your thoughts.)


“Let us assume that you are a legitimate slayer.” Beginning plainly, Drache steeples his hands to lean his face behind them.

“From there, I will gain authority to dispense with the resolution of this meeting without appearing cruel.”


(Chilling logic, but sure.)


Adris remains pleasant as the man issues a veiled threat, giving no signals except to nod approvingly.


“Excellent. Then, let us recount the difficulties inherent within the past week and more.” Rising from his seat, Drache takes up his cane and walks to the Castillo drawing.


When he taps the end to the glass, the drawing changes.




“Within the Wondrous Works, haven of the intellectually damned, the refuse of a failed invasion rotted away while awaiting the completion of their tribulations.”

“It was fine, by the way. Despite their rancor, the researchers always have novel questions and surprising hospitality!”

A rough grunt follows up Castile’s addition to the old man’s words, causing Castile to sigh and swagger back to the small bar.


“By itself, this is a common occurrence deserving no attention, save for one fact…” Turning toward Adris, the man’s eyes are wide as he leers.




“… and keep in mind, boy, that facts are the only truths, and all that is relevant…”


(But creative truths are so much more entertaining.)




Segueing into a quiet threat, the old man returns to his prior topic.

“… that despite capture and total pacification, infighting among the heathens erupted due to the activation of yet unseen-before guardians of that tortured realm. Using this to escape, the slayers caused mass destruction before eventually succumbing once more.”

“They did, grandpa! I managed to lure a charming woman to a personal contest of wits and—!”


A sharp rap on the glass shuts Castile up.


“… Yes, I am exceedingly aware of your misbegotten virility!

… Such an event is a novelty by itself, but as I said regarding ‘coincidences’…”

As the two finish their next verbal spat, Drache points to the Chapel.


“‘Why is the door stuck shut, old man? Usually we rest up in that scary place!’” Lightly mimicking a slayer’s voice, Drache moves to a hallway with rabbit motifs.


“Three entire teams within days after the abyssal breakout reported mass rampages by white rabbits, once confined to [White Tail Run]. Now, the hallway has seemingly vanished. How coincidental.”


Pointing to the front entrance of the Castillo, with its enormous doors which only giants could open, the man grows acidic.


“Statues are now… missing. All of them.”

A sidelong look at Lycia prompts something that she understands intuitively.




“[The Handmaidens of Greed] have been awakened, yes.” Still placid, Lycia sips her wine while staring out the dark window at the cliffside that’s invisible in the darkness.


“… ‘It’s a secret~!’ would be be a nice answer, wouldn’t it? But the honest one is… no one knows.”


Both sound dire before Drache awaits Adris’ chance to add his input.




Only smiling conspiratorially, Adris hold out his cup for a new pour.


(No, please continue. What is your intelligence network like?)


Offered a demonstration of Drache’s abilities, Adris is enjoying his show.




“These Handmaidens represent a threat not seen since the beginnings of the darkest years of past, and yet…”

“… They attack everyone, even us!”

Finishing his sentence for him, Lycia sourly confirms information that still confuses Adris.




(Why would that insane maid attack an imp of the Castillo? So far, my only guess has been… “these maids are serving the Alchemaster’s true will, which is to punish everyone who forgot her insane, original orders never relayed to me.”)


In the world between, her true goal was to make everyone understand what they’d done wrong.




“Aptly named…”

A room called “Dragon’s Dining” is infinitely familiar.


“… a slayer named Mantecado returned with news that said dragon has awoken, claiming full control of its [Demesne] and pressing Castillo servants into its cadre.”


(And I know what he told you…)


“‘So Mantecado just appeared back at the Castillo while drinking, right, and took the time to pick up some hunnie-bolds when, no lie, this dragon just wakes up for no reason, right?’ Such a story as reported left… ‘inconsistencies’.”


(I would imagine! Was that really how you told them, you buffoon!?)


Adris maintains his facial stability while continuing to drink, as Drache shakes his head.


“Unable to identify how he came into acquisition of the female kobold ‘pets’, a feat unseen in the history of the Call, he also could not explain how he escaped from an ancient [Kin of Destruction]. More so, after these ‘disconnected’ events occurred in the same week, the security of the Castillo has been bolstered beyond all efforts seen previously.”

“… Right. It was hard to get out with people crying about ‘darkness that attacks you in the halls’ and ‘mad maids that rape and slaughter’.”

Sharing in the dissatisfaction, Lycia strokes Adris’ left hand with her cold one, causing his skin to crawl while his dick shifts in response.


(Not now!)


As he drinks, the Master of the Call grows terser and more spirited.


“From Castillo to Petripolis, this wave of calamities spreads without abatement.” Walking to the window, the man curtly gestures to the dark night outside.


“‘A great ‘sickness’ spread through Centennial Street recently, sending men and women into fits of sexual tremors…’

‘A droning in the night skies of Petripolis kept the citizens in a panic, fearful of a Castillo invasion, before it suddenly ended…’

‘And, most troublingly, a naked Castillo attack on the Granescian delegation took place in front of the townspeople while a slayer was present.’


All of these things represent more troubling ‘coincidental’ incidents.”


Letting these things soak in, he walks back to his seat, sitting down with great aplomb before leaning forward again to try to unnerve Adris more.


“What a strange set of occurrences.”

“… As you say.”


Calming, Drache then curls his finger toward Castile.

The man obediently comes to the desk, sitting on a clear spot.




When Drache taps the desk, the feeling of fake aura floods into the room more strongly. A crystal light projects outward onto the desk from the blue orb, forming a line with various statuettes appearing beside it.


These ephemeral pieces, which bring to mind past events they’re representative of, are calmly moved around by Castile, with floating names appearing to denote incidents.


The one at the far end reads “monster attack on lumber importer.”


(That’s tonight! News travels fast, especially with few survivors…)


Noticing Adris’ attention to the end, Drache continues.

“So strange they were that I sought to grasp what connected them, as something obviously did to my mind. Though seemingly having no relationship at first, one thing unified them:


the timing inherent in the occurrences.”




Understanding the events perfectly, Castile accurately lines up all of Adris’ movements. From start to finish, his whole existence is covered.


(It follows my advance perfectly. I cannot cover my tracks when they’re already made, and trying to would only create more tracks.)


Even with the aid of the cross and the Emperor’s bizarre curse, Drache…




“Following from the timing and nature of events, it became obvious that a single entity was responsible for all of them. Determining that entity should’ve taken more time… however…”


Sliding a hand through the pieces, they disappear into puffs of blue smoke as his eyes narrow.

The hand on his cane tightens, while he raises his chin in dissatisfaction.


“Why did I immediately settle upon ‘a new, dark force has descended upon Zennia’?”


(Because the curse identifies me by my vocation.)




A final parting gift is both anonymity and a very revealing sign pointing at him, depending on how it’s viewed by the sleuth.


“From that thought alone, I knew that a terrible hex was being played upon me as well, for that thought refused to leave its perch and fly away no matter how hard I shooed it. Nor could I connect this ‘dark force’ to anyone it might match, no matter how long I pondered after accepting it as inherently true.”


Rising from his seat, Drache strides around his desk to tower over Adris.


“‘But why stop with only calamities? Perhaps all events are linked, instead.’ Which other… incomprehensible event do you think fits within the timeline of these others?”

“The arrival of an intrepid novice slayer, one who catches the attention of everyone in the Call?”

Finally catty, Adris chuckles while the man stamps his cane.


“… As you say.


Drache goes to the dresser, retrieving documents which he offers to Adris. Looking through them, the boy notes that they’re all…


“Attestations and interviews. Knowing ‘who’ the culprit or representative of the culprit is makes it trivial to trace ‘how’. It began, curiously, with one question aimed at someone very close to me.”


That black cane hits Castile on the shin, causing the slayer to grunt while his cheeks flush with embarrassment at the abuse.


“‘What think you of this novice, Castile?’”

Meekly, the man responds while turning away.

“‘I don’t know, grandpa, I haven’t figured him out yet…’”


(… I see. Castile tried to protect me.)


A man who spoke of brotherhood was willing to prove it true even before the wrath of his own kin.




“But, Castile can see through people using his Talent, which means that he would have to have figured me out if you had guessed correctly, so he must be lying?”


That musing question earns a blank look of shock from Castile, before the man turns unusually sheepish.

Drache only nods approvingly at the logic.


“Well, brother, I’m not going to lie: you’re absolutely right!”

Shut up, you fool. Don’t wind it out! And he’s not your kin!”

“Grandpa! He’s already figured it out. Miss Lycia has, too, by her own look.”


Thoroughly unamused, Lycia nods slowly before speaking.


“A divination Talent, one which lets you see the true character of a person. You’ve… known this whole time.”

Her growl at the end only sets him laughing.

“It’s a little more convoluted than that, romantic even! At least to me… By seeing someone’s name and title, I can intuit a lot concerning their nature. I told everyone to play along with whatever you were doing, then when it was fun and benign… to respect your privacy.”

“I won’t be thanking you.”




(I was doomed from the moment Castile saw me in the Works. Thank you, my fortunate luck.)




Thankful he committed to this resolution now, Adris only remains silent while letting Drache explain everything for him.


“Once this manchild revealed the left-off truths about the first incident, they all logically formed together in sequence. The events unlisted so far are minor ones in comparison, but one was shocking enough to be remembered with detail when I could think of nothing else to place upon you, Novice.”




Pink escaped from inside of the Castillo after entering it on a fool’s errand, seemingly in victory and having acquired a teammate she trusts and obeys.”


This sole piece resembling Kol bears a wonderful, floating title while appearing, causing Adris’ stomach to burn.




(If I’d just… if she’d just fucked off…!)


“That was pretty outrageous! The ‘Tomboy Terror’? Listening to someone!? Even I noticed that…”

Castile picks up the piece, watching it as it crumbles after leaving the light.


“The important point was that someone did collect the ‘bounty’ for the rasselbock, though Pink would not lie regardless.”

“Why is… Pink such a large clue? Why is it strange for a girl who isn’t a slayer to defer to another?”

“That’s actually a… sad story.”


Castile pipes in again, a hint of longing to his words.

Even Drache, with fire in his soul and stone to his heart, softens at the question before answering.


“When I first met that arrogant, brick-headed pup, it was at the beginning of her annihilation of the entirety of the Slayer’s Call.

A banner day, it was.”

“… The… what?”


Usually composed, Adris stumbles in his thoughts. Something trips in his brain, linking their unusual fear of Kol to his misgivings about their power versus hers originally.


“If you want the long story, I’ll tell you, brother, but the short of it is… slayers in the first days weren’t very strong. When Kol walked in was on the second day, when we’d just barely figured out the basest aspects of how slaying works.”

“Indeed. For their effect was so devastating that it invited outsiders to follow, a lonesome kobold girl trooped into the Call. Half naked, starving, and brutish, her words could barely be understood. Avoiding the rest, she came before me as if drawn by instinct.”


Smiling a bit at the memory, Drache, for once, looks something like a grandfather as his eyes twinkle.


“To this esteemed man, she demanded only one thing: ‘help, strong, now, mansion, revenge.’”

“… And… you did…?”


Rapt as he relates the tale, Adris hears about a Kol he’s never known, a weakling that could hardly feed herself.


“I told her simply: ‘power is not given, it’s earned, therefore demonstrate your suitability and, like them, it will be given’. To that order, she nodded at me, turned around, and…”

“Thrashed all of us to death, yeah. But it didn’t stop there. Every time we tried to attack her after that, she’d… well, she… would…”


Nodding his head while frowning, Castile suddenly has the urge to refill his glass after shivering.


“… All of them?”

“There was barely anything left of her by the end the first time, but she either savaged them or forced them all to flee. It satisfied both my request and warmed my heart.”


(You must really hate your own subordinates if you rewarded Kol for flaying them.)


“For that she earned… special dispensations. Unfortunately, she’d ever failed to live up to her tutelage, until…”


The scene of Biske being devastated and cast into the black abyss below the stage replays through Adris’ mind.
Such horrors she exuded far surpassed Adris’ memories of how she originally behaved.


“I showed up.”

“Yes. In but one trip, she’d grown in power to the level of a mid-tier slayer, perhaps. Thrashing Biske in one go, as I hear, earns you my notice… and thanks, but only for aiding her.”


With the story finished, all grandfatherliness vanishes.

Only a terrifying presence endures.


“From Castile to Mantecado, then to Sharpe, then to the rest. Curiously, the one I assumed least involved turned out to be the tightest lipped and most tainted.”

“… Our money changer?”

Because Adris cannot hide it, he earns points for mystique, already guessing the pattern.


A statuette of a cringing Anaxis forms, before being slapped into dust by Drache in a fit of pique.


(How loved you are, my dearest business associate…)


“As you might know him, Anaxis the Cowed represents a difficult relationship between the Call and the people of Petripolis. Necessary, but unreliable… Imagine my surprise when he noticed ‘nothing’ different about you, despite your… interesting first impressions.”


(The mask gives me away too much, even without being a [false god].)


“… The fact that nothing was different to him indicated that…?”

Anaxis is no fool. Perhaps with money he is, but not with people. For him ‘not to notice’ would indicate that he’s hiding the truth. Because he can do so quite well…”




A moment later, a new statuette appears.


Wearing a trenchcoat bound by belts, this figure wearing a raven mask and a multi-feathered hat is depicted leering around a wall.




“… You sent Reverend after me.”

“That’s what he exists for. Certainly not to peep upon the city’s women while they are changing.”


(I never even noticed him!)


“But before I could even dispatch him, the pervert related an interesting anecdote about the very situation: that Anaxis had been previously kidnapped by a strange, short man wearing a black mask, perhaps a gnome, with the aid of an impeccable sneak who wears blue fencing gear and black mesh.”


(FUCK! He did see us!)


Adris’ own impatience to corner Still during that dark time set off a cascade of wrongs which Adris is now paying up for.


“Reverend didn’t bother telling you such important information before then?”

When Drache only grimaces at that, Adris nods sympathetically.

“… The outcast cares little for… what are termed ‘events’, therefore he kept the information to himself until requested. When he attempted his job of following you…”


(Please say I lost him!)


If the Inn is identified as the headquarters of his operations, he’s doomed.




“… he failed to at all opportunities. The most patient and obsessive hunter I know of would always forget to follow you.”


(Thank you, curse!)


Because Reverend cares nothing for Adris personally and is only driven by his own curiosities, the lack of an obsession means that the boy will automatically fade from memory.




“At that point, I knew enough. Witnessing you cavorting with a monster of the Castillo tonight only reinforces it to the point of absoluteness.

With the truth so apparent, will you deny it?”


(Who are you!? Cuinn? Another “truth” obsessed weirdo!)


The man quietens down, allowing Adris one chance to confess before the divine and all present.

Not wanting to let him down, the sinner stands up at attention.




“… I confess.”

Morbid at first, Adris stares them down as his frown begins to subtly change.


“To what, dark one?”

Lifting his cane, the Master grows tense with the air thickening once more, prompting Castile to set his drink down and begin to fret.


“Come on, grandpa! You agreed to…!”




Becoming a smile, Adris’ expression is welcoming.

“I confess to having knowledge and solid proof that you are behind the rampant criminality of Black Birch within the city of Petripolis.”

“… Nnn!?”


This dreadful whisper from an otherwise pleasant boy instantly defuses and hardens the mood of the room.

With the two men on guard, Lycia alone understands his point, and…




“… You owe me terribly, little brother.”

His unwilling accomplice is left in a terrible mood.


“Of course, Lycia… probably for the rest of my life, knowing you…” Not wanting to lose his advance, Adris starts forward.




Within only a foot of Drache, Adris faces up to him.


“‘Secret Ruler of Petripolis’.”

“… ‘Conspiracy Lurking in Shadows and Plain Sight’.”


With both naming the other, Adris grins.


“Isn’t my title more impressive?”




The cane raises, and with it a flow of enormous willpower.

Adris’ stomach wants to churn and expel the juice he drank, while his legs feel like becoming jelly and collapsing.


A rich man’s suite feels more like the burning belly of a beast.




Until Adris raises the cross, physically intimidating him as the implement comes to life with its own disturbing presence.

The feelings all pass away, with the nausea receding.


“There’s multiple avenues of unmasking your true self to the slayers, the people of Petripolis, the Castellani, and every other major power in Zennia, old man.”

“… Truly?”

“Truly. And all will take place without my assistance or continued existence. They are all out of my hands if you force this, and no force on Zennia can compel me to act to stop them, mundane or magical…”




(I have planned long in advance of this! A supremely helpful allip decided that making copies of pages using her bizarre powers is fine, so long as they spread a devastating secret!)




One copy to Meltisha, with a gift of gold and wishes for the girls to be kept safe.

One copy to Echo, with assurances of its use as blackmail when Stalker agrees it’s right.

One copy to Fimbo, which already exists outside of Petripolis with special instructions to release the documents if payment is not forthcoming.


These notes contain everything Adris has ever learned, as well as his conjectures and discoveries regarding the true nature of Zennia and the games being played on it.




“If you destroy me, the Vrainians and every last one of your other enemies will know every secret I do about the slayers, the Castillo, Petripolis, and the Alchemaster.”

“Secrets you’ve compiled through loose tongues, eager loins, and fell deals?”

“You’re only right about the first two… I know what you’re doing! What you stand to lose…”


(Rainart Drache is the source of Black Birch’s secret funding in Petripolis, and they didn’t even know it! “Our local source is being more generous. It is interested in the comings and goings of a particular one of the amphitheater bums, so let’s put a detail on him.” Details gleaned by reading the latest news after eliminating your spies!

I am one step ahead of you! All of Black Birch’s documents will hang you!)


“Who the slayers are, what they’ve done, what they will do… no, the very fact that the Alchemaster has awakened. That you people are responsible for it! You’ve been suppressing this information from leaving the city through blackmail, bribery, force, and worse…”

“And what of it?”




At such dark accusations, Drache merely extends his hand.

Castile quickly notices, fetching his glass so the tall old timer can drink in front of this threat in his offices with a passive face.


(… Come on, at least be a bit impressed.)




“… Well, I don’t want to blackmail you, as I have completely different objectives, so let’s just come to an understanding: whatever you know about me, I know enough about you to know that they will all come to destroy you.

Especially the Castellani, because I included proof of their vassalage to the Alchemaster, the true ruler of Castile.”


“Weak, spineless bastards that they are, the Vrainians are the more likely threat, so I will commend that, and only that, move.”


Adris finally earns verbal applause, kicking his heart faster as he refrains from smiling.


“The Alchemaster doesn’t invade, not because she can’t but because she’s uninterested. Instead, she idles while entertaining the slayers…”


At this choice of word, Castile perks up.


(Even you weren’t aware? But you were, weren’t you…?)


Drache reveals no surprise from this, showing that the man’s depths of understanding about the Golden Cancer likely eclipses Adris’.


“Lycia, I’ll ask for only a couple of favors. Will you aid me?”

“… Maybe. What are they? How much ‘teasing’ at my hands will you exchange~?”

Cheerily taunting him, she is ever herself as he grins.

“Whatever you see fit, so just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for this, right now.”


Breathing in slowly, Adris hopes that the mad ghoul is as smart as he knows her to be.


“‘The Castillo is not merely a mansion home or defensive place, but a special maze intentionally created by the Alchemaster to carry out an experiment purportedly known only to her.”

“… haha… hahaha!”


Crystal shatters, causing Adris to take his eyes off his opponent.




Having a laughing fit as she shrieks is a thoroughly impressed Works scholar, nearly falling out of her chair with mirth.



Good… good! ‘Yes’, a thousand times ‘yes’!

If it’s that question, then I offer the answer for free: it’s not hidden, it’s by design meant to be noticed!”


(That bitch…)


“… What? An experiment…?” Mumbling to himself, Castile walks over to examine the mansion’s architecture.




“And what of it? To know changes nothing.”

Refusing to show emotion even now, Drache only sips while waiting.


(Dirty old man! You didn’t even tell your own grandson!?)




“… It’s not just an experiment though, is it Lycia? No… it’s a living experiment! The Castillo isn’t just enchanted: it’s alive.

It changes the Castillo’s interior to reflect the desires of the one entering, to warp them and, by extension, the holder of those desires! Whatever one takes from the Castillo will doom you.


It exists solely to carry out its own perverse ambitions, eagerly aiding fools in dooming themselves while it laughs out of view.”


Standing up, Lycia strides forward to roughly pat his head, killing his entire mood.

“YES! Yes… My, you notice excellent details! As expected of you.”


(Stop… stop smothering me!)


“‘It’ is rather rude, though! She has a name. Her name is…”




“[Golden Heart]. ‘My Little Daughter’.”





Adris jerks suddenly, grasped by a crazed woman.


At this name calmly spoken by the Call’s mysterious owner, Lycia guards Adris with the fierceness of a mother bear.


“… And what of it? Do you think you can impress me with such secrets? And you bring this… ‘Replica Soldier’ to accomplish your tasks. How absurd.”

“Y-You… who… who are…!?”

Losing her cool completely, Lycia’s claws force themselves out as she growls.




“[Servant of Wonders, name yourself].”


In the space Drache stands, something unwinds itself, causing the air to bleed as it peels at the walls.

A powerful orders flows out with a mild voice.


“… AH!? AH…



[Batch… Three.

Specimen… Three-Hundred-and-Twenty Nine.]”




In a deadpan voice, Lycia whispers behind Adris while clenching him to herself.

Shaking as she does so, her obedience earns the human monster at the center of the room’s thanks.


“Good. I will accept that. It’s pleasant to see that some escaped her curse, no matter how few…”

“… WHO ARE YOU!? If you… ‘order’ me again, I will!


(… ‘Rainart Drache’…)




Setting his cane against the table, the old tyrant calmly drains the last of his drink before setting it down.

He leans onto the table, awaiting their next move with supreme confidence.


(You’re not normal. You know secrets of the previous Age.)


“Grandpa, turn it down, please.”

“… Nurn!?”

The old man jumps when clapped on the arm, before spitting fire.


“Interrupting me again!? This is my sole purpose! Shut up, you witless cunt hunter!

“HO!? What have I told you about using that word, old man!?”




The air claps, as a titanic struggle takes place.

A cane shakes as it’s held between two men, with each trying to rip it out of the other’s hands.

Castile’s strong muscles all bulge as he wrestles with a man whose slender body refuses to yield.


Release it, you motherless, fatherless oaf!

“If you agree to calm down! Stop forgetting what you promised me!”


“Now, you glory hound!”




As the two twirl while wrestling, the power in the air causes the room to shake. Though they are not affected, Lycia shakes with it as Adris curls up into her.




“HOLD! Stop! If you seek truths, then I’ll offer some.”


“OOOH? Good, brother! Grandpa is just surly, so go ahead!”


Releasing the cane suddenly, Castile causes the bent-over-their-backs men to nearly fall. He crunches his core muscles to throw himself upright, while Drache grinds his teeth, almost floating upright slowly.


“Insipid skirt chaser! … Very well. What truth will you offer? If it is sufficient, we may allay further troubles.”


Coughing once before changing his voice to be less dramatic, the smooth old man allows for one potential armistice.




“Sufficient? It gets to the very heart of the matter. You think of me as a threat, Master Drache, but I am anything but.


For I have but only one purpose…”


(… regarding your organization fulfilling Still’s purpose…!)


A dark sort of agreement is brewing in his heart, where the cross implicitly agrees to allow his next words, because he’s already agreed to honor those spoken to his wonderful blue angel of death.




“‘I swear on a black cross, an [oath] the source of my authority, that I am ever the enemy of the Alchemaster! Furthermore, I swear that I have both the authority and power to grant access to both her mansion and…”


(My finest offering, the one you truly want, old man!)


“… to her specifically, and stand ready to offer it to aid the slayers in thwarting a scheme which threatens the very survival of Zennia.”

“… Oh… oh?”


At first dismissive, the moment the word [oath] was muttered, Drache grew solemn.

With the contents of the oath shared, his eyes burn fiercely.


“… You… what have you to offer?”

“The finest Gift of Gold, Master! From…”


Grinning defiantly, Adris leans in and whispers.


“… a very non-novice slayer to his master, I offer what I carry only within:


‘a simple brass key’.”

“… AH!?”




Showing true emotion at something said, undisguised and causing the room’s power to waver, Drache grips the boy’s shoulder tightly.


“wAtCh YoUr HaNd…”


Adris’ guardian growls, earning the man’s care.


“… You… you… hold… it…?”

“I told you, grandpa! It’s him! It’s—!














Castile stumbles, before Drache winces at the man’s response.

The man afflicted by a piercing voice looks away, tightening his face and disguising the pain.


“… Sorry. But… do not speak please, Castile. As for you.”


(What do I have to prove now?)


With the Call’s leader growing more solemn and less incensed, he leans in closer as Lycia prevents herself from attacking him.




“… Have… you come to destroy her?

Will this work…


… this time…?”




The most heartfelt voice an old man can make whispers these questions, so low that Adris can understand how illogical and unlikely Drache holds the questions’ outcomes as being. Eyes soften with uncertainty, while he hardens after for the bitter truth or a disappointing lie.


(‘This time’. There’s been a true attempt before now, one that’s never been shared by Drache with the other slayers. What history have I blundered into?)


Something unknown to Adris brews beneath the surface, with this perhaps being the man’s last salvation.





… I’m not the same as what went in last time, but I swear by my oath that my desire to see her ruined is no less, and likely more…”

“… As… as you say.”




Swiftly walking back to his desk, the man’s pride washes over any lingering uncertainties.


Sitting down, he takes a moment before asking a serious question.




“What is your fondest desire?”


(I don’t know.)


If Adris knew this, he likely wouldn’t have ended up on Zennia.


(I wanted… to be free, so I was sent here. Why?)


Without knowing that answer, he can’t give an honest one.


(But I won’t pass up on this wonderful opportunity to take advantage of your feelings!)




“For right now, I’ll say that my fondest wish is to have the power for myself and others to bring down the Alchemaster.”

His composed response echoes the same solemnity Drache shows, a very stern boy nodding to the grandfather who suddenly shows interest in him.


That grandfather relaxes…




But only for a moment, before suspicion returns.


“… Very well. That will suffice, for now. After we prove your claims, we may proceed deeper into fulfilling this wish.”

Warmth is taken away once more, as the man’s decades of experience set aside his emotional misgivings and hopes.

“Until then, you will be accepted as a slayer, but only as a probational one. Great claims require equally great evidence.”


(One step at a time. The objective is achieved, despite being rejected.)


So long as obsession is planted in Drache’s heart, then the cross’ bizarre, but seemingly natural, inclination to see it grow will merge their paths.




“And what is your wish now, Master Drache?”

A suitably mysterious question brings a mystified look from the man, before he frowns.

“… As it ever was: to absolutely destroy her and everything she stands for.”


He scoffs at the end of this dark declaration, as if anyone could ever have a lifelong wish but that.


(So, you’ve met her.)


“Have you met her…?”


The most boyish, awe-filled voice fills the room, made strange by the deepness of it that contrasts with Adris’ profoundly settled, yet youthful, tone.




“… What?”

Looking to the source, Adris finds his ‘brother’ Castile leaning in, full of longing and fantasy as he brightly smiles at Adris in a carefree way.

“Is she everything that she is in the portrait?”

“… Everything?”


(Is she… just as vilely evil?)


Unable to comprehend him, Adris finally asks a question that he’s never personally asked of the man.


“Castile… what do you wish for in this long hunt for the Alchemaster?”

“Huh? Isn’t that obvious!?”


Completely missing his usual bravado and wordsmithing, the man grins while strolling to stand before the mansion’s image.




“What else do you want by going into the [Gran Castillo, Eternal Home of the Alchemaster]!?


I want… [the Alchemaster] herself, the only treasure of worth contained within!”




“… You want to defeat her?”

Adris dully asks this question, but…


“Oh, no… he’s… one of those. Ahaha…”

The ghoul holding him just speaks with understanding sympathy, chuckling to herself darkly at the end.


“You… you… absolute… retard…!”

Even the well-mannered and cultured grandfather is forced to wipe his burning brow, red-faced mad at what his grandson is no doubt about to say.




“What I want is what all men should want: to love true beauty.


I want to…”


With all the passion of a young maiden, the man places one hand over his heart while the other rests on protective glass, the map underneath reacting to his spoken desires by coming to life.

The smell of the alcohol wafting from his drink is like a blooming rosebush, but liquor can’t be blamed for the want he speaks.




“[Rescue the Alchemaster from the evil of the Castillo and the suffering she’s trapped in, to free her from a hell of greed and terrifying isolation, and take her out into the world so that we discover our growing love for one another, and then be wed!]”




After hearing such a statement, Adris asks the next logical question, one oddly familiar to him.




“… Are you perhaps mad?”





Name: Adris fehl Dain, “Boss”, “Starr”
Titles: Lycia’s Little Brother, True False God, Slayer
Race: Xin’El, Emperor’s Child (Human)
Sex: Male
Age: ?? – Young


Occupation: Crossbearer; “Star of Ruin, Cast Down from the Sky Upon a Dying World”, Slayer of Petripolis
Discipline: [Rule in Dark]



[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!”


[Rule in Dark – Wave of Darkness] – “Making victory possible? No, no, no. That thing isn’t that kind! There’s more than that!”


[Brainfry] – “You’re still with me, right buddy? Yeah, you’re still there.”


[Refuse to Kneel] – “Ah, even the Alchemaster can’t make me submit! This is the one that’s saved me all those times!?”


[Tongue of Air and Darkness] – “What’s the difference between this and the old one? Why ‘air’?”


[Conceptual Refusal] – “How the fuck does dominating people’s minds turn into a weird statement like this!?”


[Obscuring Sonjil] – “Man, this thing has gotten pretty strong on Zennia. At first only creating an area of fog, it can now cover a direction? Is something wrong…?”


[Marital Arts – Self-taught] – “Hoh, even if it’s dangerous to use, it feels good to prove to myself that the body is still as willing as the mind! Even if I can’t call it aura, something is inside me now!”


[Verisimilitude] – “Stop giving weird names to what I do! But if my imaginative truths are more believable now, I’m not gonna complain.”


[A WONDERFUL CURSE] – “If that old corpse wasn’t already dead, I’d definitely kill him!”




[“Rabbit Boots”] – “Providing increased agility while moving as a passive boon, they also allow actively to bound great distances with surprising grace. What do they cost though, I wonder?”


[“Metallic Bracer”] – “I can punch Kol into a wall with this!? But it hurts like shit!”


Disposition: Resilient / Adaptable / Sinner
Alignment: Chaotic

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



Rantil Value – “Even after all of that, Master is still an idiot!”


Attributes by Grade:

Strength – E

Vitality – E

Dexterity – D

Agility – C

Intelligence – D

Mentality – C

Luck – F

Charisma – D


“If you want more, stop being mean to Rantil!”



Cethran Value – “Much the same as before, but isn’t the way you look at others a bit more dashing, now? Forced to open yourself to the world, perhaps the gentleman may grow? That is likely impossible, isn’t it, Adris?”

“This taste, was it not wonderful? Have you not discovered something more substantial about yourself? If you pined for her, does that not mean you also pine for…?”


“Aren’t we nearing the time for the largest revelation you have to offer?”



“A boy who is a bit out of place as far as features, he descended from the top of the Castillo to the bottom by pluck, luck, and outrageous lying. Reborn into the world of Zennia, what can be said other than ‘he’s still exactly the same, but different’?”

“Having someone love him for something he might hate will produce the opposite of affection.”


“Planning ahead is, after all, his strongest forte. Even the Master of the Slayer’s Call can’t quite corner him.”



“While Adris is sometimes weak, when he can be strong he will roll over anyone in his path.”



Name: Lycia Vehrose
Titles: Beast of Conquest
Race: Blood-Stained Ghoul
Sex: Female
Age: ?? (Old Lady)

Occupation: Wondrous Works Researcher; Tool Creator; Total Monster
Discipline: Battle Pressure – Mad Ghoul (Originally: Golden Luster – Eternal Soldier)



[Shooting Stars] – “A strange, wooden box with holes in the end produces a stream of missile-like light, which explodes with enormous force on the chosen target. I, of course, want it desperately. Hooray for aura tools.”

[Pocket Belmont] – “A spiked chain that flies with great force to strike out, before returning. It explodes with flame on impact, destroying whatever is around its point of release. Is this love? Am I in love?”

[Doom Rollers] – “Please make way for one of my favorite tools! Or, rather: don’t.”

[Heart Taking] – “Hey, won’t you give yourself to me~? Completely and absolutely.”


[DARK REVELATION] – “Only you wanted this, Little Bro.”


Disposition: Sultry / Intelligent / Vicious |-| Insane |-| Emotionless
Alignment: Neutral

Eyes: Green
Hair: Blond
Skin: Deathly White



Rantil Value –

Strength – C (B)

Vitality – C (B)

Dexterity – D

Agility – C (B)

Intelligence – C

Mentality – C

Luck – E

Charisma – D



Cethran Value – “Perhaps you have a fascination for that which seems human, but whose qualities deviate far from it when inspected? Even if she’s your ideal figure, Adris, won’t it be a problem if she decides to eat you up?”

“Isn’t she the perfect woman to demonstrate the worth of the advice I gave to you within the Chapel?”

“Perhaps I was both correct and mistaken? Let’s look for the next woman to answer your question, shall we?”


“Will you enjoy what you hear next about her?”



“A woman whose first instinct is to not trust you, and to trust only in herself. A fairly good perspective and outlook on life, in a blue abyss filled with lunatics. The obvious question is: how sane can she be if she willingly lives there?”

“From cocky temptress, to older sister, to both. Stronger, together.”

“Turning out to be a little more grounded and also less stable than anticipated, Lycia finds something to love in a place that makes sense only to her.”


“Still recovering from changes, she’s got a few secrets left.”



“Hopefully she’s not a disappointment to the readers?”








Pillars of Zenith: “Organizations in the Castillo are united around a central theme. Within the east wing which mirrors the location of the Wondrous Works, there exist free-standing pillars of great size, contained within which are the elite of the elite of Zennia and the man who owns them…”


Fox Den: “If a Tree of Life has life within it, what form does it take?”


Handmaiden of Greed: “The name of the maids at the central entrance. Born solely of the Alchemaster’s will, these homonculi serve only her orders, and no one else’s.”


Golden Heart: “Within the Castillo is the beating lifeforce of the mansion. Within this lifeforce is the capricious sapience which rearranges reality to an undeniable will.”




Chapter 85         Table of Contents          Chapter 87