Chapter 28:

Turning point

On the run with a witch from another world

We awoke the next morning due to the rising heat, still in each other’s arms. With a loving blush we both stretched ourselves and got started on making breakfast: eggs with molten cheese and bread.

After this filling meal Chiyo and I immediately set out again on Verus’ horse. We made slow progress as we had to go through hilly terrain to avoid the roads, but it was the better option compared to running into patrols or getting into an unwinnable fight against an elite witch hunter.

We intentionally made a big detour around the remote lake we’d visited a few days earlier. It had been a fun place to take a breather, but the appearance of the mysterious boy didn’t sit right with us. Who or what was he? What had he been doing there? In the end, we would never get an answer to that question, and maybe it was for the best.


Three days after departing from Indestria the environment started to become familiar. We were perhaps a few hours’ ride from my village at this point. My thoughts inadvertently wandered to the dull life I used to lead, and the conversation I’d had with Alicia right before I set out on my adventure.

Was it really my destiny to one day return to the village and lead those boring people? No, I couldn’t imagine ever being like that. That was my initial thought, but Alicia was a celebrated adventurer at some point, who retired to become head of the village. Maybe it really was fate after all. Or was there something else I didn’t know about?

Whilst pondering, we entered the forest where we had fought Verus for the first time. It had only been a bit over a week, but it felt like much more time had passed with everything we’d been through since then. Chiyo also recognized the location.

“This is that huge forest with the creepy old shrine! Hey Oliver, doesn’t this river lead straight to it?”

“You’re right. At this rate, we’ll pass right by it once again. I should probably make a detour through the hills by my village to avoid it. That place is way too creepy for my liking.”

Chiyo vehemently disagreed. “That’ll put us way too close to, sorry for putting it this way, your stupid village! I bet those freaks are still roaming the hills, on the lookout for beautiful witches and their courteous hunks of lovers. No way, let’s cut through the forest instead.”

I would’ve laughed at Chiyo’s exaggerated description of me or even blushed, but I couldn’t get the shrine out of my head. It was too much of a mystery, who knew what dangers lurked around there? After all, you don’t nearly pass out from fear just by getting close to any normal shrine. I made my mind up with a sigh that came straight from the depths of my gut.

“Have it your way. We’ll rest up at a safe distance and continue to the border with Klaralven. I don’t want to make camp anywhere close to here though.”

“Sure, sure. I do think it’s a creepy shrine, but I didn’t feel freaked out at all, as opposed to you. What happened to your usual courage?” I couldn’t see Chiyo’s face so I couldn’t tell whether she was mocking me or genuinely concerned. Probably a mix of both.

“I’m not sure. When I got too close these feelings of terror suddenly emerged within me. I’m sure it has something to do with that mummified toe.”

“In that case, we’ll just stay outside of your uncomfortable range. Don’t worry about it! It’s nothing we can’t handle.” Chiyo assuredly spoke.

That’s right. Chiyo and I had overcome all obstacles in our way so far. What was some rickety wooden building in comparison? With this newfound determination we pressed forward, towards the shrine.

After arriving, we tested how close I could get without feeling uncomfortable. As it turns out, I got uneasy as soon as I crossed the red gate in front of it. In other words, we could safely rest up as long as we didn’t get any closer than that.

I’d barely set down my backpack, when Chiyo already wandered off.

“Hey, where are you going?”

“Just looking around, don’t mind me!”

I kept half an eye on Chiyo while I tied the horse to a tree and grabbled for the dwindling rations at the bottom of the backpack. Curious as she was, she made beeline for the shrine. She entered the building, and came back out with the golden shrine box. She held it above her head like some kind of prize.

"Hey, stop that!" I told her, without being sure as to why I said it.

Chiyo wasn't impressed. "Huh? We could melt this box into liquid gold and make a ton of money! I just need to get the shrine relic out first."

She opened the box, reached into it, and then…


Chiyo collapsed to the floor with a loud thud.

My hair suddenly stood on end. All my senses were telling me to run away from that shrine; a strong intimidating force emanated from the box. But I couldn’t leave Chiyo in this place, not after everything we’d been through. Not after our promise to stay together. I braved the fear and ran to Chiyo with all my might.

I grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to shake her awake, but it was to no avail.

“Chiyo! Chiyo! Wake up!” I shouted her name over and over again, but no reaction came. The sense of dread in my stomach only grew stronger, but not because of the mummified relic this time. I couldn’t wrap my head around what had happened.

I dragged Chiyo out of the shrine, placed her beneath the red gate, and put my head on her chest to check her vitals. Her heartbeat was weak and her breath soft, but she was still alive. I got back up to look at her. Her eyes shot from left to right beneath closed eyelids as if she was dreaming. Prying her eyes open did nothing to wake her up, she simply looked ahead, without seeing.

“Chiyo…” my voice grew hoarse from constantly yelling her name. Fear and confusion mixed to cloud my thoughts.

Slowly my fear turned to anger as all my attempts to wake Chiyo up turned out to be fruitless. I cursed the Gods for pulling us apart, I cursed this cruel world, and most of all, I cursed myself for being unable to keep Chiyo safe. What if she never woke up again? Was our adventure really going to end in this way? No, I simply could not accept it. I reached for the skies and let out a scream with the little bit of voice left in my throat.

Anger boiled over into a bottomless rage. Without thinking I unsheathed Serpens Aurum, and ran my palm across the blade to draw blood. Just like before, the blood sizzled until the blade sprouted flames, and extended into a whip of fire.

“Curse it all!”

I didn’t feel the wound, nor did I sense the snakeheads biting into my wrist. There was too much emotional pain in my heart to leave any room for physical hurt. It was completely irrational, but the thought of losing Chiyo made me lose all control.

I made a promise!

The shrine was my primary target. I whipped and screamed at it like a madman. Splinters and black terracotta tiles flew everywhere as I demolished the walls, tore off the roof, and set fire to the now ruined building.

I couldn’t protect her…

I was out of breath, but barely noticed the heaving of my lungs. My rage hadn’t been quenched.

Next, I moved on to the trees. With one fell horizontal swoop I knocked down dozens of trees around me. They all crashed down in various directions. When one of the trees threatened to fall on me, I effortlessly split it into a million fine splinters with a flick of my wrist.


I continued lashing out until my legs physically couldn’t carry me anymore. Defeated, I collapsed next to Chiyo. My mind shut off.

Nothing mattered anymore.

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