Chapter 19:

A White Room

The Swordmaster and the New God

     “Evelyn!” I reached my hand out as the door slammed right in front of me. I ran towards it, desperate to reach her. She had disappeared before my eyes, happy as could be. She had to be out there still. She had to be!

      Austin pulled my back, struggling to restrain me. “Calm down! She's not out there dude! You’re just going to get yourself killed.”

      “Calm down? Are you kidding me? She disappeared before our eyes. How could I be calm?”

      “Think about it? This world is a mess of cliches, right? If I had to make a guess, we’ll find her next to the Demon Lord, bound up or something. It's like that in every light novel, where the hero saves the damsel in distress. We just have to be careful, and we will get her back.” Austin’s voice was steady, like a quiet pond. Despite that, there was a hint of sternness mixed in, like drops falling onto the surface of the water.

      “But still… No, you’re right. I'm sorry.” My emotions were getting to me. I couldn't stop thinking of Evelyn, but I had to stay calm, or else I would never get her back.

      “We need to get going. I'm hoping that the demons won't be able to get through the door, but I doubt that's the case. Austin started moving through the hall, the pale pink light of his sword leading the way.

      I sighed, calming myself down, and followed. We passed through a dark hallway, gothic-styled stained glass windows looming above us. Pillars of black stone shot up between the windows, darkening the room.

      The windows showed what seemed to be a story. It started out with seven rabbits lying in a nest. They were all identical, brown with white tails. A giant rabbit, assumedly their mother, watched over them, a proud look in her eyes. As the panels continued, the rabbits played, enjoying themselves, all under their mother's watchful eye. At the fifth panel, however, I stopped in place.

      A rabbit appeared, frothing at the mouth. It was terrorizing a group of birds right in front of the mother rabbit and her babies, tearing them limb from limb. All the baby rabbits watched in horror, while the mother did nothing.

      The next window displayed a cat chasing after a mouse. The mouse looked terrified, running for its life. Blood seeped from its eyes, lingering injuries slowing it down. The baby rabbits observed the scene, horrified, yet the mother did nothing.

      Then, an even more disconcerting scene followed. A bird came down from the sky, blood covering its talons. It had missed one of the rabbits by a hair. The baby rabbit looked towards its mother, terror in the rabbit's eyes, yet the mother did nothing.

      The window next to the bird was the most horrifying one of all. One of the baby rabbits was murdering another. Its paws were stabbed into the baby rabbit's neck, blood coating the once pure brown fur. The light was leaving the murdered rabbit's eyes as it looked towards its mother, hoping for a last minute rescue. But, despite the pleading eyes of the baby, the mother did nothing yet again.

      I looked towards the location of the next window, only for it to be half finished. The picture was cut off in the middle, the bottom half replaced by a shimmering mirage. I felt that the rest of the story was unfinished, uncertain. That there were a million ways it could go? Why did I feel like this? The feeling felt like it came from the window itself, pouring into me.

      “Oy dude, stop staring at the pretty colors!” I turned to realize that Austin was ten meters ahead of me. “I don't think the demons are behind us, but let's not wait for them.”

      “My bad,” I whispered as I jogged towards him, careful to keep the sound of my footsteps low. The fewer people that knew we were here, the better.

      The dark hallway ended soon after, giving way to a dull gray staircase. A wooden railing ran along the wall on either side, leading up into the darkness. It felt grainy as I put my hand on it, worn from heavy use. I kept having to refrain from making a piece of sandpaper; the wood quality was almost too bad to ignore. I needed every drop of mana I could get for the Demon Lord, however. I had finished the sniper rifle in the cave early in the morning, but who knew what I would need to make once we faced the Demon Lord.

      Purple light shone in from the clear windows lining the stairs. I could see the tips of the mountains through the arc-shaped holes. Clouds covered the tops, lightning constantly striking down, coming to rest on the ground before disappearing into the earth.

      The castle groaned from its sheer size, echoing in the staircase. Despite being the Demon Lord’s castle, I hadn't seen a single demon inside of it. Apparently, they were going for the branding.

      “Wait, there's something up ahead,” Austin whispered, holding up his hand. We were at the top of the stairs, white light shining out from two of the doors. Crawling closer and closer, the light got brighter. The light illuminated the two doors. They reminded me of doors in a director's studio, solid metal with golden star nameplates. If I didn't know better, I could have been convinced that they were doors from earth.

      “I don't hear anything…” Austin muttered under his breath. We were at the doors now, weapons out. We nodded at each other as we each opened one of the doors.

      Whiteness assaulted my eyes when I opened the door, stretching on seemingly forever. There was no discernible floor or ceiling, only a white void, stretching on forever in every direction.

      Except for the door. The frame stuck out like a sore thumb, looking like a portal in the sea of white. I walked towards it and tried to go past the door. “Thud.” I ran into a solid wall, right next to the door frame.

      “No way…” After thinking for a second, I recognized the place. It was where we met Lilith, where we had been summoned to, the first place we went in the new world.

      “Hey, come and look at this.” Austin was now poking his head through the doorway of the room I was exploring.

      “Do you know what this is? Does this room remind you of anything?”

      “Yeah, figured it out the second I stepped in the other room, you'll see why,” He said.

      The second I followed Austin, I understood. Inside the other room was a one way mirror looking into the room of light. An array of buttons and leavers lined a long control panel, stretching at least five meters. A harness was attached to the ceiling over the white room, waiting to be lowered down.

      “You still believe Evelyn now?” Austin asked.

      “There has to be a reason. Emilia’s crazy. There's no way we're in a simulation! This is all too real, even if it's supposedly made by magic. Besides, Evelyn was right about one thing. Why would the Demon Lord go to all the trouble? It makes no logical sense. I'm sure there's some other explanation. I know there is!”

      “You can't keep deluding yourself like this dude. I agree that none of this makes sense, but there's more to it. We're missing information, we’ve been missing it since the beginning, and the only way to get that information is by talking to the source of everything.”

      “The Demon Lord.”

      “Exactly. This confirms it for me. Don't you think it's weird that we haven't run into a single demon since we've been inside the castle? Were being led to the throne room, to our deaths.” Austin had raised his voice, doing away with the whispering, but still keeping the same steady voice. It gave away nothing, leaving his emotions a mystery.

      “I don't know, but I agree that we have to get to the throne room, then we'll see who is right.” I walked out of the room, still careful to keep my footsteps quiet.

      Austin followed me, making no attempts to lower his volume. “Crap!”

      I turned back to see his satchel spilling its contents, a tear running along the bottom. He was trying desperately to close up the tear, keeping the remaining contents inside. As the last item fell out, he just sighed. “Screw it, picking this up is just wasted time.”

      “Come on dude, the faster we get there, the better.” Austin, with a sudden change in tune, jogged in front of me. There was no effort to keep the noise down now, his footsteps ringing out in the castle's hallway.

      I hesitated, then started to follow, keeping up with his pace. Running didn't seem like a good option, but without Austin’s sword, I couldn't see. Wasting mana on something as arbitrary as a light was a bad idea. The amount of mana I had regained after creating the grenades was pitiful as it was. I couldn't waste any more.

      After some time, all the doors and windows around us disappeared, leaving the dark stone to envelop us. Every sound from the castle disappeared, absorbed by the walls. Only our footsteps remained, echoing loudly. Every step sounded like three, the sound waves bouncing from wall to wall before disappearing entirely.

      Darkness surrounded us on either side, both leading to an abyss of the unknown. Only the pink light of Austin’s sword sustained us now, acting as our guiding light. Apparently, the demons must have night vision. I couldn't see anything possibly moving through the hall without some way to see without light.

      Eventually, the void in front of us ended, being replaced with a set of wooden doors. They were sinister, with great iron handles taller than us. Bolts the size of my head lined the doors, providing support, and sealing the dark wood in place. Each door had a malevolent knocker that seemed to look down on us in disdain. The closer we got to the door, the more its aura of malice attacked our very souls.

      That was not going to stop us. We were too close now. Beyond those doors was the Demon Lord and the truth. Evelyn had to be right. I needed her to be right. If not, the best thing to happen to me in this world would be a lie. She had sustained me, taken my worries and fears away, and given me the confidence to not just live in Enfar, but to succeed in it. Everything would be different. I had to believe in her. I had to.

      Before we could reach for the doors ourselves, they started to creak open. Slowly moving along the stone floor, opening up the inside. This was it. Right there in front of me. This was the culmination of the time we had spent in Enfar. It was now or never.