Chapter 14:

A Child's Questions

The Swordmaster and the New God

      When we left Calpa, all was not well. We seemed divided. Evelyn and I were walking side by side while Emilia stayed behind us, talking to Austin. Despite the fact that he voted to go to the Demon Lord’s castle, he seemed to be keeping his distance from us, specifically from Evelyn. This was not good. If we stayed divided like this, then we stood no chance against the Demon Lord. I had watched enough passionate speeches about friendship to know the power of it, and knew we were lacking in that aspect.

      The roads themselves didn't help either. They were cobblestone, just like the road we took to get into Calpa, worn down by years of traveler's footsteps and carriage wheels. Grass surrounded the road on either side, standing completely still. We had no wind in the slightest.

      It was completely silent except for the sound of our footsteps. The roads had contained the normal traffic one would expect coming to and from the castle for the first four hours or so, but after some time, the normal traffic along with signs of animal life slowly disappeared. We hadn't seen a single animal in hours, not even a bug. It was like time had frozen, leaving everything in a petrified state. We hadn't even seen any travelers for what seemed like forever. The last travelers we saw were over three hours ago and were a collection of people from Earth. People from Enfar were a foreign commodity on the road. They simply didn't exist. Normally monster attacks would be a concern, even on paved roads like this, but I would be shocked if there was a single monster in a twenty-mile radius. It all combined to create an eerie feeling.

      Weirdly enough, however, Evelyn had looked elated the whole time. She had a giant smile on her face, and walked quickly, almost like she was skipping. It was hard to keep up with her.

      “So, you seem really excited,” I said, eager to break the silence. The lack of noise was killing me.

      “Of course! I'm getting the chance to do something incredible, beat the force that has been terrorizing my country for as long as I've been alive, to be a hero. Doesn't that excite you?”

      “You have a point, though it makes me nervous and excited at the same time, it's a weird feeling,”. I remembered Austin talking about the United States' efforts to counteract terrorists, and how his country cheered when they killed the leader of the terrorist group Horus. The soldier who had shot their leader, risking his life in the most important mission of the last decade, was hailed as a hero. I guess to Evelyn we were like the soldier, charging into the face of death to save the country. It was like being an Olympian, representing your country, and bringing glory.

      “I get that. I just feel excited though. I'm sure the fear will come later, but right now, I just can't wait to get closer and closer to Deiridh, the city on the border of the Edge of Life.”

      “What is the Edge of Life anyway? I've heard that before several times. I don't know about you, but that seems like the type of thing that you go away from, not towards.”

      “It's the dividing line between Palsu and the Demon Realm. Apparently, all life stops directly at the line, no plants can go past it,” she said,

      “All life... interesting.” Austin would probably get a kick out of that if I told him.

      We kept walking in silence. It was comfortable, with an air of familiarity. Just those few words with Evelyn had made the atmosphere more inviting. Nothing changed around us, as the world stayed still. It was unmoving and unchanging, a snapshot taken for eternity. Wow, that sounded deep.

      “Wait, are my eyes deceiving me, or is there something in front of us?” Emilia had caught up to us, Austin right behind her. I looked in front of the unchanging road. Something seemed to be shimmering in front of us. I squinted, trying to get a better look, to no avail.

      Emilia singled for us not to make a sound, then started to stretch out her arm. Unlike last time, energy seemed to pour out of her hand, circling it like a large ring, or a circular gauntlet. No steam could be seen, or in other words, she wasn't restricting her power.

      We got closer to the object, slowly approaching with weapons out. It seemed humanoid, looking off into the distance. It had no eyes, or discernible features at all, but I could just tell where it was looking. It was like an instant of sorts, letting me visualize what it was doing.

      It turned to us and appeared to smile. No wickedness radiated from the thing, instead it seemed happily delighted to see us. When it spoke, its voice was neutral and calm. “Hello there, I'm assuming you’re adventurers?” I couldn't tell if the figure was male or female, its voice could have been either. The voice was smooth and clear. It reminded me of an AI, but less robotic. Whatever the thing in front of us was, it was definitely alive.

      “Yes. I'm Austin, and these are my party members, Kazuma, Evelyn, and Emilia. Can you tell us your name?” Austin spoke first before the rest of us had a chance.

      The thing seemed to look at all our weapons. I couldn't tell what color it was. It wasn't see-through but seemed to shimmer with the background. It was unlike any color I had seen before. “My name, that's a hard question to answer. I guess you could call me god here? No, that’s too formal. You can just call me a child.”

      “Child?” I put my sword away as I asked. I felt like this ‘child’ was not a threat, and if he wanted to be one, we stood no chance. He was radiating an aura. It was almost like an aura of pure strength, but one that was being concealed.

      “It makes sense to me, so it shouldn't be a problem.” The thing had moved on from our weapons and now looked to be analyzing us. It was like the ‘child’ was looking inside me, revealing my deepest secrets. My skin crawled and my stomach started to churn. “Hmm, that's interesting,” I heard him say.

      “What's interesting?” I asked. Austin and Emilia had both disarmed themselves and Evelyn had put out her flame, though they all looked to still be on guard.

      “Your causality, or I guess you can call it fate. It's incredibly high. Emilia and Austin have incredibly high causality, but you take the cake, Kazuma. On this planet, you have to have the highest amount, excluding beings like me of course. I think I may assess this interesting development.”

      Before I could respond, it started looking into us again, even deeper. I could feel its gaze pouring into my very soul. I felt sick, violated. It felt like the ‘child’ was going through every inch of me, analyzing what made me who I had become. My skin boiled, my head felt like it was going to explode. I wanted to run, hide, do anything to get away from that gaze, but I couldn't. My body was frozen, solid as a rock. Whatever that thing was, it had control of me.

      I looked around, moving my eyes, the only thing I could move. Everyone else seemed to be in the same condition as me. They were frozen, only their eyes moving back and forth. We couldn't move, cry, or scream. I felt like an insect, being dissected by that thing's gaze. I understood why it had called itself a god now, no, it felt even more powerful than that. This wasn't some run-of-the-mill god. I remembered what I had heard about the ‘new god’ that the people of Palsu worshiped. Whatever this being was, it was more powerful, to an exponential degree.

      Then suddenly, it stopped. All the pain, the burrowing, the power inserting itself all stopped. I could move again, my body was my own. Something that struck me just then was the lack of fear. I had felt disgusted, icky, violated, but never afraid.

      “Now that's really curious, you’re not supposed to be here, Kazuma.”

      “What do you mean by that? I thought the people who were summoned to Enfar were chosen randomly.”

      “There must be something wrong with the system. Oh well, if all goes right, it should correct itself.” The ‘child’ seemed to be speaking to itself, completely ignoring us. It then turned toward me. “There's not an issue. The plane of existence has a habit of correcting itself. Just do as you want, your choices all lead to the same place after all.”

      “What do you me-”

      “I wonder if there's a few questions I can ask you? If the world goes the way it should, I won't have many chances to ask, well not in your current state. First question, do you believe there's more good or evil in the world?”

      “Evil. That's why I try my hardest to put good back in, to help even the odds.” The words flowed from my mouth before I had a chance to react. It felt like the words were forced from my mouth, honest and true. I would answer anything he asked, and with complete honesty. I didn't have a choice.

      “Fascinating. Second question. Why do you think that's the case?”

      “Because evil is easy. Doing good requires hard work and time. Evil requires almost none of either.”

      “Ok, last question. Do you think evil is necessary?”

      “What do you mean?”

      “Would it be better if evil did not exist, if it was physically impossible to do or think evil?”

      “Yes. by removing evil, you remove the effects of evil, and therefore only allow good. Why should we ever allow evil if we can extinguish it?”

      Austin frowned. “I don't know about that. Without evil, how can you say something is good? Also, if you remove evil, you take away the ability of choice. Good is only good because of the alternative, the other side of the coin.”

      The being turned towards Austin, thinking. “Interesting perspective. I'd like to discuss your point of view another time, Austin, but for now, I should be off. I don't want to interfere with what is still to come. Farewell.”

      And just like that, it was gone. The ‘child’ had disappeared faster than I could react. It was like that being was never there in the first place.

      I felt a weight being lifted from my body. It was like carrying a fifty-pound vest, and having it lifted up from my body. I felt like I had marionette strings tied to me, that were being snapped one by one, giving me full control of my body. I hadn't really noticed it, but just being in that thing's presence was draining, to the point it became slowly unbearable to even move. I felt that if the being wanted to, he could make his presence enjoyable and fun, or downright terrifying. He probably made it the latter to help get the truth out of us, for whatever he was plotting. Beings like that didn't think like humans, I could guess that much.

      “What was that?” Evelyn looked at us. Her face appeared deadpan but looked like there was some emotion hiding behind it, fear if I had to guess.

      “Something beyond our power, or the power of anything from this world,” Emilia said. She looked shaken, overwhelmed. I probably looked even worse. He had directly targeted me there. I had a feeling that the pressure was worse for me compared to everyone else when he was questioning me, and I hadn't even noticed it.

      “Well if we can survive that, then the Demon Lord should be a piece of cake.” Austin smiled, trying to get everyone’s spirits up.

      I smiled back. “True, now let's go take down some Demon Lord!”

      We started walking again, smiling on our faces, joking around. Despite that, I felt rattled but optimistic. Austin was right. The Demon Lord would be nothing compared to what we just experienced.