160. Fallen Monarch (4)
Salem’s eyes grew wide as he looked up at Artarrk. The world around him began to decompose and rot away, as he thought about the legends he had learned. The God of Creation, Artarrk, loved everyone in the world and wished that they would live together happily. However, despite his good intentions, the races with differing characteristics, appearances, and ways of life split off and began to war. They even twisted the faith that controlled them. Faith disappeared among the demons while the humans became corrupt.
At this rate, the demons would soon vanish and the humans would become so steeply dyed in their greed that they would fight against their own people, walking down the path of self-destruction. As such, Artarrk, considering the future, killed himself to leave behind the Fragment of God in the world. He premeditated there would be a Balancer who would balance the world. That was the reason that the Ancient Artarrk had left the Fragment of God on this earth.
But… he just said that the chosen one was not Thoma, but ‘Salem Gottshuranche’.
“What… nonsense are you talking… about?”
Artarrk continued as though taunting him.
[If I was able to get this power for revenge only, you’d have died 30 years ago. I’d have hunted you endlessly to capture you and would have torn off your limbs to feed to the Undead. I’d then leave your soul in tatters.]
[Yet, you are alive and still safe? And not only are you living peacefully, but you’re also maintaining your oppressive authority and living as the sovereign of this world?]
Artarrk smiled with his eyes and looked down at Salem.
[Do you think it makes any sense for such a rotten nation of black faith to not be destroyed but rather live so tall and prosperously with the support of countless ‘empires’ and ‘kingdoms’?]
Salem trembled upon hearing Artarrk’s words. Now that he thought about it, those empires had continued their endless support despite the appearance of the Devil of Lania, who had toppled the former capital of the Holy Kingdom, the one that stood like a mountain in their eyes.
Even when the capital collapsed, they were able to construct the newly built second capital in all too short of a time. Countless people had praised Pope Salem for achieving such a remarkable feat. Despite the capital having fallen, he had remained the influential Pope praised by the countless kingdoms and empires rather than taking responsibility for the initial fall! However, Thoma was denying this.
[The Fragment of God is merely a ‘tool’ for the sake of bringing the ‘balance of the world’.]
“T-that’s right, and you have that Fragment of God! You are the one with absolute power and eternal immortality…! You have the authority to destroy and create!”
[I merely obtained it.]
Salem shut his mouth as Artarrk walked around him.
[Balancing the world. Do you think that is easy? Even with absolute power, do you believe that you can so easily shatter the laws and order ingrained into this world and reorganize everything? Even with overwhelming power, that is just power. To reform the whole world, it is very lacking.]
Salem swallowed dryly.
When he recalled that the Devil of Lania was his former companion, Thoma, he was caught up in an uneasy feeling. Not only was Hero Thoma a wise and true hero born for the sake of humanity, but he also had great faith. Just his title of ‘Hero’ was enough. However, his fame and exploits didn’t end there.
The process of crushing the Demon Lord gave even Salem goosebumps. A strategy that didn’t discriminate against any method or tactics and used everything aside from his companions as ‘tools’, it had charming wickedness and cruelty.
[The Fragment of God is a tool made to destroy the law, order, and faith of this world and reorganize all that to create anew. Then, let me ask this, what would be needed to change the world?]
Artarrk pointed toward Salem.
[One to destroy the world.]
Artarrk thought of another existence, someone who stood at the border of humanity and demons, a woman who had a pure and righteous mind, Demon Lord Lily Golt.
[…One to reorganize and create this world anew.]
Artarrk shouted with weight behind his voice.
[These two are crucial: a tyrant wildly abusing his power, and his opposite, a magnanimous ruler using her authority to rule the people with mercy!]
Artarrk looked down on Salem.
[You were chosen as the destroyer God sought to balance the world. You have finished your mission perfectly.]
Pope Salem had done countless things. He had severed the thin line of balance by breaking the Continental Law regulating the entire continent and destroyed religious institutions after sullying the faith. Also, he controlled the masses through horror politics infused with his madness, causing rot and atrocities like hell. As such, he met the requirements.
The balance had been broken. Faith had vanished. What would happen if someone saved those trembling in fear with new faith and order and whispered them the sweet stories of ‘salvation’…? A new world would be born. Salem had been chosen by God as a sacrifice for the creation of this new world.
[When I was captured and killed by you 30 years ago, I had donned the role of destroyer. As a Demon Lord, a fallen monarch, I would rule the world, drive it to terror, and… the demon Lily Golt would save the world with my death. However, you have been a brilliant substitute. I didn’t need to do all that crazy stuff.]
Pope Salem Gottshuranche was the acting ruler of this world, a holy man, and also another fallen monarch. As a ‘Fallen Monarch’, he was nothing more than a ‘puppet’ for God to balance the world. Hearing this, Salem’s face twisted into despair. He believed he was everything in this world. He had ruled it, dominated it, and was an absolute ruler that everyone accepted!
But, but…! He was nothing more than a chess piece to his former companion, Thoma, whom he had hated, envied, abandoned, and betrayed. He ended up being used as a tool even after taking everything away from Thoma. This was an insult. A mockery! He believed he stood on top when Hero Thoma vanished, but…! Even now, there wasn’t a single instance where he had bested Thoma…
[There are seven emperors and kings gathered at this place. If you, the destroyer, are killed by the creator, the Demon Lord… a new world will be born.]
“Hah… Hah… Haha… I wasn’t chosen by God… I was chosen by you.”
[Do you know what my name is in this form?]
Artarrk lowered his head and stared into his eyes. Salem’s face froze upon hearing the next sentence.
[Artarrk. I have inherited the name of the God of Creation.]
[I will reside in this world from now on. As the God of Creation that will rule the second world, I will choose the one who shall destroy and create the world and lead them.]
In other words, the one before him would become a God. As the one controlling and balancing this world behind the scenes, those chosen by him wouldn’t know that they were just puppets.
[Salem, just as you suffered!]
“F-for what purpose… For what purpose are you doing all this? Just why…!”
[My purpose? What a simple question. As I said before, it’s to balance the world. Yes, I only…]
Artarrk gripped his spear and lifted Salem by his neck with the other hand. The bone spear dyed in white Holy Power filled him with terror.
[…I simply want a world that’s a bit more comfortable to live in.]
Artarrk’s golden eyes narrowed as he reminisced about the nostalgic wish a woman desired long ago.
[A world that is a bit more comfortable, a bit more peaceful, a bit more free, a bit more happy, with less hunger, and with fewer concerns…]
When Artarrk lifted his spear and aimed it at Salem’s chest, his golden eyes turned into crescent moons.
[That is all I want.]
Artarrk tilted his head as Salem gripped his forehead. He looked like he had gone crazy and exploded into laughter.
“You’re crazier than I am! You moved the world… just for that? You incited a slaughter? You, Thoma, are…!”
[The only important thing is the results.]
[The ends justify the means.]
He allowed Salem to rise to an absolute position before watching him destroy the world. He instigated a war, and countless human and demon lives were lost as a result. Just how many people had died until now? How many properties were destroyed? Everything was the machinations of the single figure before him. It was merely ‘a process’.
[The process for the sake of that goal… isn’t it just unimportant sacrifice?]
He was crazy. Salem trembled as he smiled.
‘Thoma, you called me a lunatic who had lost his marbles? No, no. That isn’t me, but…’
The person before him, the one called Hero Thoma. Now that he had become the ‘God’ who balanced this world, it would be destroyed and reconstructed whenever any small uncertainty occurred. It would be another form of hell. However, others might consider it as heaven while they lived in it.
[What are your last words? As another fallen monarch.]
Salem spoke to Artarrk with a wide smile on his face.
“Thoma… you are mad.”
[…Goodbye, my longtime friend. It is now time for our resilient acquaintance to end.]
Artarrk plunged the spear into his chest.
The soldiers from various empires and kingdoms swallowed dryly as they took a step back. The corpses of their companions and the army of Undead suddenly stood still, as if just waiting on their spots. The beam of light from the sky vanished all of a sudden. The sun, signifying the arrival of dawn, rose, and the Undead turned pure white. The soldiers standing against them shut their mouths at the unforeseen changes.
‘Why aren’t they attacking?’
The emperors and kings couldn’t relay any orders, as they were also frozen in place. This was their chance to run, but what would they do if the Undead attacked the moment they turned their backs? After a peaceful yet agonizing silent moment, the Undead finally moved. They all raised their heads at the same time.
The soldiers copied their actions, followed by the kings and emperors. They all turned to the palace and saw a falling figure. It had a horrendous appearance, and was difficult to even call it a human. This person’s skin had either been burned or peeled, had muscles torn to shreds, and had a white spear plunged into his chest. The miserable body fell between the Undead and humans. When the spear hit the ground, the surroundings exploded, and powerful winds annihilated the Undead, turning them into ash. The demons of the Demon Lord’s army filled the void.
“Ah… Ah, ah…”
“The Undead vanished? Were they destroyed…?”
“That is… the Pope?”
Salem’s flesh was restored by the spear filled with Holy Power, but he couldn’t pull it out, making him suffer in turn. The spear skewered him like a kebab on display in front of the kings, emperors, human soldiers, and demons.
“Uh… Uwa… Aaaack!”
Salem let out a terrible scream. The Holy Power restored his body, but the pain still remained, and it came in waves. He thrashed around like a fish out of water, but he was unable to die. He moaned in agony, trying to yank the spear out with all his might, but like an insect held down by a needle, the spear would not budge.
“Is he alive?”
Disgusting liquid filled with saliva and blood leaked out of Salem’s nose and mouth. He couldn’t even ask people to save or kill him, just screaming his lungs out. The emperors and kings could feel their hairs turning white. They recalled what the white crow had told them before: he would show them ‘immortality’. Was this what he was referring to?
“Uh… Uwack… Shit…! Thoma… You bastard…! I’ll curse you…! I’ll live! I’ll survive-!”
Salem gripped the spear and pulled his body up in a bid to escape his dilemma no matter what it took. With each slight movement, though, his pierced body would spill a jet of blood. The squelching sound of muscles and tissues being ripped out of the spear disgusted the spectators. Salem cried tears of blood, but his stubbornness and persistence paid out in the end—he had reached the tip of the spear. His face brightened with the glimmer of hope.
‘Don’t make me laugh, Thoma…! I won’t lose to someone like you… Never! I will never become a mere chess piece…!’
Die as the destroyer of this world? Did that make any sense? He was the ruler of this world. He was the priest chosen by the true God, not some lunatic!
Salem, after separating himself from the spear, collapsed onto the ground. He crawled in the dirt and mud like an earthworm, wiggling here and there.
“I-I just have to survive. Then, whatever that damned hero wants won’t come to pass. I just have to live… If I can just escape…!”
He could escape from Hero Thoma’s clutches and head upwards…! Thinking of this, Salem raised his body up. He wavered, but his steps soon froze as he watched the figure before him with trembling eyes. With copper skin, pale white hair, and crimson eyes, a beautiful woman was standing with her sword. Demon Lord Lily Golt, the ‘creator’ chosen by Hero Thoma—no, Artarrk, the second God.
“Ah… Ah… Ah, ah, ah?”
His face crumpled. Thoma’s chosen was standing before him, blocking his path. She was here to kill him. Everything was heading as Thoma had intended…! He was moving like an actor in a play.
“D-don’t make me laugh! Don’t make me laugh…! I will… I will… live…! I will live and prove that I am above you!”
Salem grabbed a sword lying around him. The demons immediately moved to protect their Demon Lord, but Karakul raised his hand and stopped them. At the moment, the two people that stood at the center of the two sides, humans and demons, were standing there: the ruler of the humans, Salem Gottshuranche, and the ruler of the demons, Lily Golt. Both of them watched each other while gripping their swords.
“Damn. Damn it. Damn it all…!”
Salem screamed like a child and ran forward while raising the sword with all his strength.
‘Thoma… I… just wanted…!’
A flash of light blew past, and Salem’s severed head flew into the air. A small tear rolled down its eyes as it muttered, “I just… wanted to… be you…”
The head fell onto the ground and rolled away. The humans and demons froze and stood there dumbfounded. Their eyes were gathered at a single place. Demon Lord Lily Golt. The Demon Lord sovereign. The one who had ended this war. The demons knelt down and lowered their head as they gazed at her with adoration. Seeing this, the soldiers of Lome and Aylans followed suit.
The kings and emperors stared at Lily before looking at the dead Salem. Salem, or his head that remained, had only managed to move its lips. Its eyes spun around while trembling, as though it was suffocating, before even he stopped moving completely.
The spectacle was enough for the kings and emperors to understand. They closed their eyes and silently got onto their knees. The rest of the soldiers turned to each other and followed their rulers’ example. This was the birth of a new law and order between humans and demons.
[This body is disappearing.]
Artarrk turned to his own hand. Holy Power was gradually melting and evaporating. His flesh was crumbling away and turning to powders of light. Salem had the power to destroy both Holy and Magic Power, but Thoma had exceeded his physical and mental limits. Now, he would gradually disappear.
‘The previous God of Creation, Artarrk, killed himself to place the Fragment of God into the world once more. Is it now time for me to fill that role?’
To leave behind the Fragment for the next world to be balanced, that was the Balancer. He was already a dead man. He had forcibly extended it and denied countless deaths. Now, he had reached the limit; he could no longer reject his end.
[It’s not even funny.]
Artarrk turned his head. Black hair and eyes and pale complexion. The woman looked at Artarrk and pursed her lips.
The Doppelganger that had spent brief but happy moments with Ellie a long time ago.
Artarrk’s armor was gradually being destroyed, and his helmet was crumbling into pieces, revealing the appearance of the man underneath. He had golden hair and eyes. However, he was not a young man. Rather, it was the image of the middle-aged monk who had made the contract with Artarrk all those years ago.
[I’m losing strength.]
Thoma could no longer stand on his feet. He collapsed on his knees before barely steadying himself with his hands. Seeing this, Ellin rushed over and supported him. Thoma felt his eyelids growing heavier, his body was losing its strength as it grew limp, and he was losing all sensation.
“What is this? What happened?”
“I’m tired. I just want to rest…”
When Thoma tried to close his eyes, Ellin gritted her teeth and shouted, “Don’t rest!”
Thoma, who was trying to close his eyes, peered over at Ellin.
“You told me that you will go to someplace quiet and live by yourself! You said that you would build a cottage in a small forest with no one around, plow the fields and farm, and spend the days peacefully. You’d go down to the city to sightsee whenever you were bored…!”
That was another of Thoma’s wishes, which Ellin was pitifully shouting.
“You said that you were going to live together with me there, but…!”
Thoma smiled bitterly.
“That’s fine as well, but… not now.”
“Ellin, I’ll leave Ellie to you.”
Ellin’s eyes grew wide.
“What… are you talking about?”
“I’m leaving Lily in your hands.”
Ellin’s chest grew tight as she threw another tantrum.
“You will help her yourself. You can help her by her side. I’ll lend a hand as well, so please…!”
Thoma didn’t say anything. His lips trembled, as though they no longer had the strength to open.
“You’re disappearing again? Like this again…? Tho—”
All of a sudden, he couldn’t see the face in front of his eyes anymore, nor could her voice reach him. All sensation from his body was now gone. Feeling himself alone in this world, Thoma knew that he was now dying. He smiled and spoke one last time.
“Elilin, Ellin. Thank you. I was truly…” Thoma closed his eyes. “…happy meeting both of you.”
Thoma could no longer sense anything. All sound and sight disappeared, leaving behind only tranquility, and he let his body sink into that peaceful feeling.
Having closed his eyes, Thoma’s body fell to the ground. Ellin, who was supporting him, gritted her teeth, but she ended up bursting into tears.
Demon Lord Lily and Karakul watched as Ellin walked to them with a person in her arms. It was a corpse of a middle-aged man they had never seen before. However, Lily immediately recognized him.
“Is that… Tom…?”
As Ellin nodded with a small voice, Lily pressed her lips together into a thin line. Her face froze in response to a rush of emotions shooting out of her chest that she didn’t recognize, and tears lingered in her eyes. Karakul lowered his head to glance at Thoma’s body before turning to Lily.
Lily looked at him with reddened eyes, about to burst into tears. Karakul turned to the demons and humans around them, who still had their heads down. The Demon Lord could not show such weakness right now.
“Your Highness is the Demon Lord, the king of all demons. You cannot show such a face before the demons, and the humans.”
“What are you talking about, Captain Karakul?”
Karakul glanced at Ellin.
“Thoma… died, but…”
“It’s regrettable for Apostle Tom to die, but it’s a great sacrifice.”
“What are you talking about? Great sacrifice? That kind of thing—”
Karakul ignored Ellin and focused on Lily.
“Your Highness is someone that will rule the lands. You cannot be swept up in personal emotions.”
Lily clenched her teeth.
“The demons are watching. The humans are watching. Swallow your feelings, and lead them. That… is what Apostle Tom would have wanted.”
Lily bit her lower lip, causing beads of blood to pour out, and clenched her hands into trembling fists.
Karakul gritted his teeth and raised his weapon. ‘It can’t be helped.’
“Pope Salem is dead! It is our victory!”
The demons cheered in response. They were absorbed in the joy of their victory, and the ground quaked under their thundering roars. As if influenced by their happiness, the soldiers of Lome and Aylans joined them in the celebration. Lily, though, glared at Karakul.
“Your Highness, I’ll accept whatever punishment you want, but this”—Karakul got onto his knees and lowered his head—“is to create a new world. It’s what Apostle Tom desired. Your Highness has to go through with it only once. Raise your hand and let your victory be known.”
“You only have to do that.”
Lily shut her eyes and raised her trembling arm. She suppressed her raging desire to run toward Tom. All she could do at that moment was lower her head to hide her expression. Seeing her arm in the air, the cries grew louder, threatening to drown her. Ellin closed her mouth and hugged Tom’s body. In the midst of everyone’s hurrays, the two ladies forced their hearts to calm down.
The war was over. The Holy Kingdom was wiped off the world’s map, replaced by the land of the Demons, Hell. Hell was accepted as the judicial nation that would control and mediate the empires and kingdoms, along with the Kingdom of Lome and Aylans. Lily Golt was called the Demon Lord, but since the term was feared among the humans, it had to be changed. So her title became the ‘Holy Demon Lord’, the king of humans and demons alike.
After becoming the center of the continent, Hell had to control many different nations. Pygni of the Kingdom of Lome sat on his throne and, together with Oscal, stabilized a country confused by wars. At the same time, he educated Grapefruit, who would take on his mantle.
As for the Kingdom of Aylans, their palace had collapsed, making it unable to act as its capital. They had to choose another palace. However, they had exhausted much of their national power in this war. Their economy had shrunken, and national security was at risk. Furthermore, the crime rate was on the rise, making the life of the citizens difficult. Still, the new allied nations supported them in their time of need, and they were growing more stable each passing day. Also, there was a small celebration in these tumultuous times.
“It’s a prince!”
The elderly magicians of the palace wiped off their sweat as they carefully handed the wrapped child to King Paulie.
“Oh… Oh, oh… Ooohh!”
He clumsily danced with a cane as he stumbled while trying to hug the child. Watching their nervous king, the elderly magicians smiled. They then handed the child to Akareal.
“You’ve worked hard, Queen!”
Akareal, sweating and panting, grabbed the child with both arms. It seemed the child had exhausted himself from crying so loudly moments ago; he was sleeping now. Akareal smiled and embraced him warmly.
“Your Highness, what will you name this prince that was born under such a celebration?”
When the elderly magicians asked him, King Paulie was looking regretful for not being able to hug his child. He licked his lips. Still, once the child’s name was mentioned, he grew excited in an instant.
“O-of course, shouldn’t we give him a cool name!? Yes, had it been a girl, I’d have given her a cute name like Freya or Ellis, but for a boy, Leon, or Aaron, or…!”
Akareal looked at the child quietly. His golden blonde hair, like his father, was striking. As she combed his hair, the child quietly opened his eyes again. She could see that he had a violet tint to his pupils like her, but on the other eye… Akareal tilted her head curiously.
“What’s wrong, wife?”
“No, it’s just that the child’s eyes are too clear and pure.”
“Is that so? But his name! I’ve made a few choices—”
Akareal turned to the king and said, “Can I name him?”
“…Ah, O-o-of course! What shall his name be?”
King Paulie looked deflated. He couldn’t hug the child, and now he was feeling even more regretful that he couldn’t even name him.
Akareal turned to the child and told her husband his name. King Paulie asked curiously.
“…? Isn’t it too plain?”
“Yes, but I think that’s what I like about it.”
Akareal softly continued as she pulled the child into her embrace.
“It’s because of him that he was born safely.”
— Ω —