Chapter 118A: Going Forward – The Conclave Begins (Perspective: None)
Cardinal Martez Sulphur stood alongside numerous other robed men and women in front of a large door. Two guards stood in front of the large locked door. Soon a Conclave will be upon them, all the Cardinals from around the world had gathered to choose the one who will lead them into the future. Many of the Cardinals were also using the Conclave to network with their peers. It was rare for so many Cardinals to gather in one place, it was the perfect time for strengthening and developing new and existing friendships. The attendees were a mixed bag, some were young, some were old, some dressed modestly, others extravagantly. The most poorly dressed was Cardinal Martez Sulphur, he was a man who lived frugally and believed any money he earned could be put to better use than personal luxuries. He had a home, he would no longer starve, and he had a family in Ley-Mistletoe. In many ways he thought himself as one of the most fortunate, to want more would be the epitome of avarice.
"Good evening, Cardinal Sulphur." Called out a man in his late teens to his early twenties.
A smile naturally came to Martez's lips. "Good to see you again, Bosch. I apologise for being unable to help you in your time of need." Martez lowered his head. Bosch and the slayers had been falsely accused by Cardinal Azarick Iodine of slaying the previous pope. Martez had naturally leaped to their defence, but his voice was drowned out. The Cardinals were in disarray at the pope's untimely passing, and Iodine had made good use of the confusion to push forward his own agenda.
"Please think nothing of it, I'm a failure of a Slayer for being unable to protect his holiness." Bosch clenched his fist. Like Martez, Bosch had been raised by the Church and thus his love for the organisation was stronger than most and his sense of responsibility was second to none.
"Do not blame yourself. The perpetrator had most likely been planning it for a long time." Martez answered. Although everyone present now knew that Iodine was the true mastermind of the pope's passing, it was more like an open secret. They didn't want to think that one of them had pulled such a stunt. "But regardless of that, have you been called as the Conclave's witness?"
"Yes, I have received the honour to oversee the Conclave. I do not have a voice there, but I wish you the best Cardinal Sulphur. It is my firmest belief that only you can be the guiding light that drags the Church out of the darkness."
"I appreciate you words." Martez smiled fondly, he had known Bosch since he was a little boy, thus he felt like a grandfather who had received blind admiration from their grandchild. I'm not the only one who calls the Church my home. Even if it is not me, we must appoint a new pope who will give the children a future.
"Then I shall excuse myself." Bosch state before supplementing. "It is truly good to see you again."
"And you as well." Martez returned the gesture. Sister, if we have boys like Bosch, then I cannot help but see hope past the dark horizon.
But as if to try and destroy Martez's good mood.
"It has been a long time, Cardinal Sulphur." A soothing voice called out. Martez turned to the voice with inner dread welling up inside him. Walking towards him was a man in his fifties, yet his body was toned. In comparison to Martez's simple clothes, he was dressed with lavish. The expensive pure white robes with golden lining, would have made even the most affluent weep. He had a placating smile, but anyone with any sense of danger would know to be wary.
"Indeed it has Cardinal Zinc. I am pleased to see you in good health." Martez lightly bowed his head before probing. "I heard you had been missing for the last few days. I am gladdened to see you well, might I enquire where you have been?"
"I have been mourning the loss of an old friend in solitude." Cardinal Zinc replied with a sad smile. "Azarick is a true loss, both as a friend, and a colleague. I just wanted time some time to myself."
He's clearly lying. Martez thought to himself. To even use his long time ally's passing as a tool. Such a sly fox. Sister's warning is as accurate as ever. This was the man who Ley had warned Martez to be wary of, Cardinal Azarick Iodine's greatest ally and supporter, Cardinal Ethos Zinc. Now that he has bought up the mourning of a friend I can't pursue the topic. "I understand, you and Cardinal Iodine have been long acquaintances."
"Thank you. I am unable to condone Azarick's final actions, but I am sure he did what he thought was best for the Church. May his soul find peace on the other side." Cardinal Zinc closed his eyes with a sad expression on his face.
Acting like you had no part. Martez inwardly gritted his teeth, whilst maintaining a understanding smile on the surface. Fortunately, Martez was soon thrown a lifeboat before his inner feelings could consume him.
"Everyone, your attention please." One of the gatekeepers called out. "The Conclave shall begin shortly." The gatekeeper unlocked the large door. "Please leave your phones and any communication devices here. Only yourselves, the chosen Cardinals, and the Slayer Bosch Wolfgang, whom shall act as the witness, are allowed entry. As you are aware, when the Conclave is in session you will all be cut off from the outside world until a new pope has been elected."
Cardinal Zinc turned his fake warm eyes to Martez. "I pray that we make the right choice, for the Church's future."
For better or worse, this Conclave will change the Church's direction. Martez thought to himself as the large door closed and locked behind him. His battle within isolation had begun.
Chapter 118B: Going Forward – The Girl Without Senses (Perspective: None)
I am a sinner. I destroyed everyone's chance for salvation. This time, I will make sure we succeed. A young woman in her early twenties thought to herself as she sat in a meditation position. She had magenta coloured long hair that reached past her waist. She wore a navy one piece dress that reached to her ankles. Black bandages wrapped around her head, concealing her eyes, and a blood red mist flowed out of every pore of her body.
"Shinla..." A voice called her from behind. The woman turned just her head. All the Radiance of the Sun members, with the exception of Illumi, had sacrificed at least one of their senses to gain the power of a Ritual Anomaly. However, this girl, Shinla, was special even amongst her peers. The five senses that all living beings share, she had sacrificed all of them. She could not hear, see, taste, touch, or smell, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the power. But for Shinla, who had given it all up, you could say it was the same as giving up on living itself. However, as if to take pity on the girl, one of the powers she awakened, the red mist, became her new sense.
"Deacon..." She replied. Even though she couldn't hear the sound itself, the vibrations through the air interacted with her mist, and through reading the mist, she could make out the words he spoke.
"We are going to need your help to keep track of the target." He explained.
"I understand." Shinla nodded her head.
"One other thing, you should at least show your face, I'm sure everyone, especially Amalie-chan, wants to see you." Deacon explained.
"A traitor like me has no right to stand before you all." Shinla answered.
"Are you still feeling guilty about that?" Deacon asked in worry. "None of us blame you about that."
Shinla couldn't feel the tears that flowed down her face, but she was able to instinctively know they were there. "That makes it all the worse. My indecisiveness lost us so much. My weakness killed Fia, and sentenced Illumi to a slow death."
Shinla recalled the event from four years ago, a time when she still had all her senses. At that time the Radiance of the Sun along with their Sun Priestess, Fia, attempted to revive their god, Ra-Amaterasu. However, the Church had got wind of their plans and moved to stop them. In the ensuring chaos Shinla and Illumi had been captured by the Church. Shinla was made to watch as the Church tortured her dear friend.
The previous wielder of Muramasa-Masamune, Cavalier, had used the Soul Corroding Rain on Illumi to beat answers out of the duo. At first they both refused to sell out their comrades, but as Shinla continued to watch Illumi slowly dying before her eyes, she eventually broke. The end result was the Church besting the Radiance of the Sun, and with the death of the Sun Priestess. But that wasn't all, due to an averse reaction between Illumi's soul to Muramasa-Masamune's rain, he too had been handed a suspended death sentence.
If I hadn't been so weak, then we would have succeeded last time and Fia would be still with us. But if I had given up sooner, then Illumi could have at least been spared. Yes, it was this indecisiveness that made her lose them both. Illumi had been doing everything he could to hide his degrading condition, but all the members of Radiance of the Sun knew the truth. They had held back their own feelings on the matter and decided to act oblivious. If they worried about him then Illumi would just push himself even harder. So despite wanting to share his burden, they could only watch his light slowly fade from existence.
I don't need these eyes that just watched my friend suffer. I don't need these ears that remember Illumi's screams. I just need the power to accomplish our wish. That's why I don't regret throwing them away, I now have the power to protect everyone. The woman who threw it all away for power made her resolve, nothing will stand in their way.
Chapter 118C: Going Forward – Ren's Ultimatum (Perspective: Shiori)
After we had all seperated, following Florence-chan's welcome party, I had called Alma to a restaurant wanting to discuss something with her.
"So what is this about Shiori?" Alma asks me whilst pouring milk into her coffee.
"I want to ask about you and Ren-kun, Alma, are you fine with not having him all to yourself?" I jump straight to the heart of the matter.
"He already had a fiancee from the start, I'm the one joining the party late. Although, I can't deny I'm a little annoyed that Ley has jumped the line." She answers.
"Your not answering my question, don't you want to be his only lover?" I push forward.
Alma closes her eyes in thought before looking at me. "Why are you asking me this Shiori?"
"That is..." I think in silence.
"Are you thinking back on how Yuichi Shiro was treating Florence as his lover?" She interrogates.
I take a deep breath before I say. "It's heartbreaking..." The dam of my feelings opens. "I was reunited with the boy I liked for so long, but he suddenly had a fiancee. Whilst I was gone he moved on, even though my thoughts while we were seperated were always with him. And its not just Alicia, even more girls are being drawn to him. In addition to that after losing my Soul Slayer I can't even stand by his side on the battlefield. It's like he lives in a different world that I'm not allowed into. He just keeps growing whilst I deteriorate." I feel tears flow down my eyes. "I don't want to lose him..." Alma places her hand on top of mine.
"I see, the reason you asked my thoughts about being part of a harem was because you wanted to know whether you could emulate it yourself." Alma smiles comfortingly. "To answer your earlier question, I don't mind. You cannot help how you feel about someone, and rather than fight a losing battle, I decided it was better to compromise. Even if I cannot have Ren all to myself, the time I can be with him warms me up on the inside. I don't want to lose this feeling by trying to force him into monogamy."
"So taking what you can get rather than gambling and losing it all." I summarise.
"But Shiori, Yuichi Shiro been engaged for a while, why the sudden change in attitude?"
"Ha-ha-ha..." I laugh weakly. "Remember when Ren-kun pulled me and Sakura-chan aside? He really laid it out in a way that I could no longer avert my eyes." I answer whilst recalling our conversation earlier in the day.
"Shiori-sempai, Sakura, you need to come to terms with the fact that what you wish for is not going to happen." Ren declared with a serious expression. "Neither of you are ever going to have Yuichi to yourselves. Thus you can only take two routes, you can either give up on him, or you resolve yourselves to be one amongst many."
"Nii-san, what are you saying?" Sakura-chan asks with wavering eyes.
"Yuichi truly loves Alicia-san, Lilicia, and Florence. You will never be his one and only. Whether you like it or not, he is set for a harem ending. The only question is whether the two of you join it, or give up on it."
"Have you never considered me stealing him just for myself, Ren-kun?" I ask with a teasing smile, but Ren's expression doesn't change.
"Please stop lying to yourself, Shiori-sempai. You don't truly believe that. You just don't want to shatter your one last hope and keep deluding yourself by telling yourself that." I feel my body shudder as my junior pulls my insecurities to the surface. Yes, I've seen how Yuichi-kun is around Alicia and more recently Florence-chan. I know I cannot pull him away from them, but I couldn't admit that. My wish to be Yuichi-kun's one and only, I don't want to give up on it.
"You are my friend and little sister, and Yuichi is my best friend. I hate seeing any of you hurting, but the longer this drags on the more painful it will become for all parties." Ren hardens his expression. "So I'm going to give you an ultimatum. Either give up on being Yuichi's sole lover, or give up on Yuichi entirely."
"Nii-san..." Sakura-chan mutters solemnly.
You truly are the friend that everyone wishes they had Ren-kun. A boy who is willing to get his hand dirty saying what no one else is willing to for everyone's sake. I can't blame Alma for falling for you.
"Please give me some time..." I respond and Ren nods, his usual smile returning to his face.
I recount what happened to Alma, and she smiles slightly. "Ren really does go above any beyond when it comes to his friends."
"Agreed, you've got yourself a good guy, Alma." I nod my head in agreement. "Alma, I want to find out whether I am truly able to live as one amongst many. I will invite Yuichi-kun, you should ask Ren-kun..." I begin.
"What for?" She tilts her head.
"Lets go on a double date."
Okay, not my best chapter, thus may edit it later. But Ren is moving things forward, and was able to tell the girls what Yuichi would probably have trouble with. Hope you enjoyed the chapter.