Alfsol’s legs shook in place, she couldn’t bear the scene in front of her. A smell was caught in her nostrils, seeping down onto the back of her tongue as bile rose from her stomach to greet it. In front of her, formed into a small mountain, laid the decaying remains of human bodies. Skin peeled from bone in blackened flakes, melting from faces and dripping to the discoloured floor.
Those whom her eyes saw first were the people she knew personally, the people they knew personally and friends of friends of friends. Their faces screamed and begged for her help, and from the looks of it, she was much too late.
At the far end of the room sat a throne of wood, one Alfsol remembered from her childhood. There sat a bile-stained carcass, so twisted it would have been impossible to identify without memory. But only one man was allowed to sit upon the minimalistic cathedra. The Bishop, whose patterned wrappings wept with multicoloured bodily fluids. It retained it’s original inset, one that decorated the church with its image. It was an image that struck fear into Alfsol’s heart and it was all she needed to figure out what had happened her. It was a set of three black circles, nesting inside each other. Inside this sat a triangle where, from the points, extended three triangle lines to the edge of the outer ring. Furthermore, these lines were joined by three vertical lines that formed prison-like bars across the circles. It finished with a horizontal, waved line.
Saboten did not see Alfsol freeze, no. He saw straight past her and locked his demonic gaze upon this symbol. His pupil began to spin as his Shinigami power began to unlock the knowledge he required. Belphegor’s voice whispered in his voice;
Ah, the Sigil of Beelzebub.
It represents the ‘great eye’. A form he took before the birth of his four true children; Haagenti; lord of foresight, Malphas; lord of rebirth, Bael; lord of abhorrence, and myself.
The body of Alfsol - the only one alive in her surrounding area - was so obviously terrified. He could see her skin crawling as her eyes passed across the black fabric. She knew, or at least, she recognized it. He watched as Leyim dashed behind her, catching Alfsol as she collapsed backwards theatrically. The back of her hands scratched the ground. She muttered something as her eyes shut, but Saboten didn’t quite catch it.
Leyim took Alfsol away from the scene, propping her up against a sturdy fallen tree trunk and sat upon it. A mother, that’s what she reminded Saboten of as she stroked the hair from her subordinates face. She was very protective of her team as were they of her. She would sit there until Alfsol awoke, but who knew how long that would take. It would delay them, and could even result in their deaths. He thought about it for a while, as he stared at the two of them. That’s what he liked about her, he thought. There was an air of compassion around Leyim that he hadn’t felt in a while, it was nice.
He couldn’t sit around forever, he decided to step into the church. There was something in there, something they could learn about the Sigil. Hideki followed. The corpses had been there for a while, long enough to dye the once pale wooden floor a mossy brown. Each step left an adhesive imprint of festering flesh and tissue upon the bottom of Saboten’s sandal. The bodies hadn’t been disrupted, not after their death and even the slightest accidental nudge released a vile stench. Saboten held his chequered shirt to his face as he took a closer look at one of the bodies and within seconds he deciphered the mystery. “It’s… It’s a suicide,” he half heartedly, “a… group suicide.” He pointed at the ground, behind one of the bodies, and a quizzical Hideki looked over; amongst the bodies laid a large, silver goblet. Hideki lifted it, sniffing at the leftover violet liquid. “What is it?” Saboten asked.
Hideki sniffed again, “I don’t know.” It fizzled as he span it around in the metal container, like a wine tester in his prime, preparing to lie about the subtle floral essences he can decipher.
“What was that about the superhuman sense of smell?” An inappropriate comment, he thought. But Hideki took no notice; “acid, I think,” he told Saboten. Acid? It could’ve been plausible, a few bodies were in such a position that they may have tried to escape seconds after ingesting the liquid. It was impossible to say.
“Saboten, take a look at this.” Hideki gestured to him. He took the long way around, not wanting to step over the dead. His eyes affixed upon a morsel of rotless flesh. It bore the Sigil, as did all the other corpses. There was something off. “None of them are decaying,” he noted.
“Impossible.” Saboten said, running his fingers against the tattoo. “The skin is pristine.” He turned to Hideki and explained the mark to him, hoping it would lead them to a discovery. Although he specifically ignored it, he could see Hideki look over to his eye. It worried him, hell, it worried Saboten. It matched a quarter of the sigil, Belphegor’s quarter. There was more to come. He knew that if The Envy had an eye, he would know how to use it and they would be in deep shit.
Alfsol stood, immediately focusing on Saboten, her tired eyes sagged as she took stance. She definitely had some explaining to do, but even the thought of walking in there and seeing those faces - once joyful, now still - frightened her. Her Captain’s hand rested upon her shoulder, “are you okay?” she asked.
“I guess it was just too much to take in.”
“We can stay here as long as you need to,” she told her, “don’t worry about it.”
“Thank you,” Alfsol responded, “but I have to go in there.” She left Leyim alone on the tree trunk, and entered the church with her eyes affixed to the young Kanzen. She didn’t want to see the face of her deceased mother, nor the sunken chest of her best friend, and she didn’t want to notice the sound of rats under the floorboards, or the obviously empty patch of dirtied wood near the unlit fireplace but she couldn’t help it. Even in her peripheral it screamed to her.
“Are you sure you should be up?” She thought heard Hideki ask, but she gave no response. She came to talk to Saboten, and Saboten alone.
“Your eye,” she began, “it’s got something to do with this, doesn’t it?” He hid it for a second, like she would forget about it if he did. But it angered her more, “this is your fault.”
“What is going on here?”
“Shut up!” She yelled in a fit of rage, she wanted to beat him to death then and there, but she had no grounds to do so. Of course he had nothing to do with it. She could see that from his reaction, she had been with him and there was no way he had been here before then. They told Captain Leyim everything. So what? She knew the meaning of those circles, Belphegor; lord of the empty world, king of the Kara Sekai, thief of Beelzebub’s crown. She knew the stories off by heart, and they told only of betrayal.
“Calm down.” He told her, “just tell us what happened.”
“G… God damn it!” She yelled in one final burst, to get it out of her system. Then she let it out; “Like Shinji said, this was a cult.”
“A cult of what?”
“Is he talking to you?”
“What did he say?”
“Aha, a cult dedicated to my poor old Father.”
“Don’t listen to him,” she warned him. “The stories warn of his influence.”
“I left the cult when I was in my teens, but I was raised on stories told by the Bishop,” she pointed to the throne, “he would gather us on Wednesday noon in this room and then, he would tell us stories of Beelzebub. We were to worship him, for he reigned the Kara Sekai, a place he believed to be Paradise.”
Saboten listened on as, in his head, Belphegor grew irritated. Where did these stories come from? Who brought these to the human world? His questions filled Saboten’s mind and it hurt, he tried to reel them off as they came, but she only answered the first. “He told us that he never met Beelzebub, only in his dreams.”
Bullshit, we can’t do that. Not unless were possessing humans.
“That is where he learned of these stories.”
“Belphegor doesn’t believe you.”
You’re damn right I don’t.
He wanted to tell her that Shinigami were born from nightmares, but he didn’t know the embargo on that information. He didn’t want to reveal the fact they couldn’t appear in the dreams of non-possessed humans, just in case. She may still be a believer. “So, the stories came from Beelzebub?”
“That’s what he told us.”
Ask her why he offed himself.
He tried his best to word it in a way that wouldn’t offend her, “how did this happen?” It worked, in his mind.
“There was a time, he brought us all for a special meeting and then he told us…”
It was so long ago. You have to realize that every week, since before my birth, the village went up through the forest to visit this church. The Bishop, whose name we never learned, would preach to us about how hopeless our world had truly become. He would read to us from Shinigami Lore, a story pertaining to Beelzebub such as the birth of the Shinigami Lords, the betrayal of Belphegor or the disappearance of Haagenti.
Then, the services would boil down to another session of preaching. He would tell us of Beelzebub and how, if we gave ourselves to him, he would grant us immortality. He would rise from his Kara Sekai and greet us as equals, transforming our souls into that of Shinigami and allowing us to run with his brethren as they laid waste to the human mess.
But one day, we received a message from the Bishop. It arrived on a piece of card, set carefully in each of our mailboxes. The card displayed the Sigil, and a message that told us not to visit the church until further messages arrived. So, we didn’t. There was nobody in the town that didn’t trust the Bishop, even myself, and so his word was taken as law. However, within the first hour of the message circulating town, all hope had dissipated. People felt lost without the Bishop to guide them. Hours became days that became weeks and, suddenly, a month had passed. That was when the next piece of card appeared, telling us to come.
We were brought together at daybreak on the first of April, the church remained the same without its patrons but the Bishop looked weak. He stood on his throne, holding his body up with a staff we had never seen before as his feet sunk into the once luxurious pillows below. When every one of us arrived, he spoke. “Our lord,” he announced, “our lord has forsaken us.”
We did not react.
“Beelzebub will no longer speak to us, for it appears we have failed him.”
We did not react. Our hearts and wills had silently been broken, but nobody moved a muscle.
“I believe what he wants of us,” his eyes watered as he spoke, like liquid mirrors they reflected our own emotions back to us, “is to disband.”
My mother sobbed, my father did not react.
“But do not fret, for I will call you back one day.” As he told us this, he stepped down and twisted his staff in his hand, waddling towards me. “And one day, we will serve our lord again.” He put his old, shivering lips to my ears. Then he whispered; “hold out your arm.”
I did as I was told, rolling the sleeves of my coat up to reveal my forearm to the man I was told to trust the most, but didn’t. “This won’t hurt,” the Bishop lied as he lifted the stave above his head. He brought it down at full force and, that’s all I remember. I woke up next morning at my house, and I left weeks later.
Saboten was listening intently to the story, no longer noticing the corpses amongst the floor and stepping into their bodies as he approached Alfsol. “So, what happened?” He asked as her was already rolling up the sleeve of her uniform where the Bishop had attacked her.
The heavy material looked tough to move, battle-proof and study and purposely created to hide the woman’s forearms, but she managed it eventually. Her arm was tattooed with the Sigil of Beelzebub. She told him it could not be dirtied, damaged or removed, it was permanent. And painful.
“It aches,” she told him, caressing the stain. “He marked us as his followers so that one day, he could save us.”
“I guess when he saw the Shinigami were released, he took it as a sign Beelzebub had brought the apocalypse.” Hideki added, still there, curiously admiring what was left of the Bishop. His eyes were fixed upon the doorway, waiting for Beelzebub’s visit, even in death.
“He would’ve gathered us all here before we knew of the attack, to die before the Shinigami got to us first.”
“He meant well.”
“I hope he rots in hell.” She said, “I hope he got to the Kara Sekai, and I hope Beelzebub peels his skin from bone.”
Leyim had migrated in the time it took Saboten and Hideki to leave the church, she was now uncomfortable perched upon a tree branch. She had borrowed one of her subordinate’s helmets to scope out the vast ocean of vivid malachite, unusual for this time of year. The Citadel lay in wait, towering above them all, black as midnight and dotted with stars; desk lamps emanating through windows on the floors she could instantly recognize as the barracks. Saboten waved her down as he regrouped with the other members of Team Karasu. “She’s still in there?” Leyim asked cautiously as she peered behind the young man, his nervous expression worrying her. “What’s wrong?”
“You’ll have to ask her yourself,” he snapped, “it’s not for us to discuss.”
Leyim nodded, “we should get going soon, otherwise we’re going to miss our chance.” She kept her eyes on the door, overlooking the bodies because Alfsol was in sight. She didn’t look over, but Leyim smiled anyway, she considered it motivation. She was surveying the fireplace like an old friend, running her fingers against the empty mantelpiece and blowing the dust from her digits. It looked like she had come to terms with what has happened, and that scared Leyim. Then she stood, staring at the fireplace, as if she was counting visible bricks in front of her. She inhaled, swallowing particles of decaying flesh and dried blood.
With all her might, Alfsol punched the brickwork. Once. Twice. Three times until her bare fingers left a speckle of vermilion against the beige bricks. She kept punching until the cement shattered, and then, something burst from the flue: a Shinigami.
The eight-limbed monstrosity grappled Alfsol and held her against the blood-stained floorboards. It’s twin-mandibles like the mouth-parts of an enormous centipede, oozing digestive juices onto the delicate skin of it’s prey. Leyim could hear her screams as she and the rest of Team Karasu rushed towards her. Her silk skin melted upon contact and, in a flash, her face was lacerated. She could no longer scream. Blind. She would’ve died right there if it wasn’t for Leyim’s blade, slicing through the forearm-length pincers as Hiro kicked the beast in the abdomen, knocking the beast clean through the south church wall.
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