The snaking walls of Maribor could be vaguely seen across the lush prairie. The clouds hanging high up in the sky blocked the sunset. Under the skies, an exhausted, worn out Alzur came to the slums in the eastern part of the city. He stood before an old, wooden house. An old woman dressed in tatters was lying on a rattan chair in the courtyard, almost dying. It was a winter evening. The lanterns hanging under the overhang flickered.
The woman was gaunt, almost cadaverous. Her sunken cheeks were pale as a tombstone. She looked like a woman who was about to die. Alzur crouched before her, staring at this woman he saw every day when he was a child. Memories flooded his head. She was young, gorgeous, and kind. Out of all his aunts, she took care of him the most. She would joke about his hotheaded behavior and foolish knightley actions, but this woman resembled his mother the most.
It had been twenty something years since he last saw her, and life had tormented her. Her hair, once black and lustrous, was white as snow. “Aunt Odelle?” he called out to the dying dame on the chair.
The dame woke up from her sleep, shivering. She stared at the handsome man who appeared in the dark. “W-Who are you?”
“Have you forgotten? I am the oaf of the House of Burns.”
“Kasillas? Impossible. That brat never came back since he left with Cosimo. It’s been more than twenty years. How is this possible?”
“I am back, and I have another name now. Alzur.” Alzur felt a little guilty. For a long time, his focus was on the order, and he’d neglected his family.
Odelle froze in disbelief, then she carefully looked at Alzur. “You’re the sorcerer who summoned that centipede in the War of Daggers last year?”
“Yes.” The past year was when the order grew quickly. He came back from a visit to Lylianna’s grave and passed by the city he’d left for decades. It was then he noticed that the War of Daggers started by the dukes of Ellander and Maribor to take the throne of Vizima was still ongoing, and it was getting worse.
People from both kingdoms were forced to throw themselves into the war, and many died. The people were suffering. Alzur, who brought it on himself to save the people, could not accept this. For the first time, he cast Alzur’s Double Cross before the world and threw a terrifying monster into the battlefield. It was thanks to him that the bloody war came to an end.
“So you helped the duke of Maribor gain Vizima’s throne.” The dame looked at Alzur, her gaze conflicted. She never thought a foolish boy like Alzur could become someone so important. He was supposed to be in his forties, and yet Alzur looked no older than thirty.
“Yes.” Alzur nodded, a little exhausted. He was born in Maribor, so out of instinct, he helped the duke defeat Ellander. “How did the family fall into… this, Aunt Odelle? I paid the residence a visit, but there were only ruins waiting for me. Where’s everyone else? Where’s Orik and the others?”
Odella sat up and rested her chin in her spindly hand. In an agonized voice, she said, “The House of Burns fell years ago. Orik and Tashk were drafted into the army because they were young. They died in battle before victory came.”
Alzur looked solemn. He was reminded of the cheeky boys. They would torment him, but he had no hate for them. There was only lamentation. So they died.
“On the day Ellander’s duke announced his surrender, the city celebrated. That night, bandits robbed us of everything we had and burned the residence down to the ground. Two of us died in the fire. I and five others survived, but barely. We lost all our wealth, so we moved into this rickety shack.”
Odelle’s voice cracked. “Three of them were too used to living large. They didn’t last long in poverty, and they died a few months later. Succumbed to their illnesses. Only Zenina and I are left.”
“Did the commissioner of security not arrest the criminals?” Alzur was pale. Even though his family thought lowly of him, they still raised him.
“It was a celebration. A monumental one. Two hundred years of war came to an end. The whole city was enjoying themselves. No one could be bothered with security. A few other families faced the same fate that night. We lodged reports, but there’s been no response. And then…”
Maribor won the war. Why did this happen? Why? Alzur’s heart was squeezed. Sadness filled the air around him.
“To make ends meet, Zenina found herself a job in the outer ring of Melitele’s temple. She works in the infirmary as a volunteer and helps the injured in exchange for food. She comes back once a week.” Odelle leaned on the icy wall behind her, crying.
Alzur looked dazed. He was reminded of the haughty girl with braids billowing in the wind. It had been years since he saw her. The spoiled princess working in the squalid infirmary and saving the injured? Destiny is a magical mistress.
Temple healer. Lylianna used to be one.
Odelle took a deep breath and held Alzur’s hand. Her hands were skin and bones, and her skin was icy as the winter air. “Alzur, no, Kasillas. You’re an important man now. The army, the duke, and even the priestess have to bow to you, don’t they? Please, go to the infirmary and see if Zenina’s fine. Help her. Make her job easier. Don’t let her suffer anymore. Help me, Kasillas,” implored Odelle, tears streaming down her sunken cheeks. “I cared for you.”
“Of course, Aunt Odelle.” Alzur held Odelle’s hand in his hands and nodded. “Wait for me.”
The temple’s infirmary was in western Maribor. Because of the war that had gone on for centuries and the attacks of monsters, the infirmary would receive countless patients every day. It was the biggest building in this city, and the doors were brightly lit.
Alzur met no resistance on his way here. Beyond the glorious temple, a forest of tents formed the outer ring. Believers, patients, and patients walked around. They saw Alzur. They saw his eyes and all the expensive rings and charms he had on him, and they were shocked.
Quickly, they bowed. They were grateful, but also terrified. The War of Daggers had come to an end, but the people of Maribor would never forget how their nemesis, the army of Ellander, was destroyed by the creature this man summoned. He was the great benefactor of Maribor.
“Might you be Alzur?” A wrinkled priestess in a white robe came out, simpering. “What brings you here? I shall get someone to inform the duke right away.”
“Calm down. I’m just looking around.” Alzur looked at him and continued his walk down the tent area. “Where’s the healing chamber?”
“Are you injured? Let me take you into the temple. My sisters can heal better.”
“I wish to see someone. Zenina. She’s in the outer ring’s healing chamber.”
The priestess paused for a moment. She turned away and took a deep breath. “Come with me, please.”
A wooden house stood in the center of the tents. Alzur saw ten topless bandaged soldiers, children, and the elderly gathered around a table, happily playing Gwent, but they shut up when they saw the priestess and Alzur.
“Where does Zenina live?” Alzur looked around, but an ominous feeling filled his heart.
The priestess standing behind him did not have a good look on her face.
“You mean Zenina Burns, the erstwhile lady of the House of Burns?” A man with scars on his face due to a nekker attack looked at the priestess.
“What are you staring at? He wasn’t asking you,” barked the priestess.
“Zenina hasn’t shown up for two days.” A soldier with a mole on the left side of his face quickly turned his back on Alzur and gave a look to the other soldiers, telling them to play along.
“We thought it was odd too. Thought she quit her job.”
Alzur narrowed his eyes, his gaze chilly. “Do you think I am a fool?” He turned to the priestess, but she stammered and was tongue-tied. She had no idea how to explain this. “Tell me the truth. Where did she go?”
His voice carried across the whole room, and like magic, it delved deep into everyone’s hearts. One of the soldiers had his left arm held in a cast. His expression was vacant, and his face stiffened up until it looked like a marionette’s. Monotonously, he said, “Zenina is dead.”
And the air turned icy. Everyone stopped breathing for a moment, but then they returned to normal.
Alzur laughed, but everyone felt a chill run down their spines. “A noble, righteous lady who helped the injured, dead when the Temple of Melitele was in the vicinity?” He turned his attention to the priestess behind him, the look in his eyes sharp as daggers. “Explain this.”
The priestess held her hands before her belly nervously. She was as pale as a corpse, and she was in a stupor.
“Zenina… was violated by some patients.” An old man with a ring of bandage around his head struggled. He looked at the shut door on the left side of the house. Stammering a little, he said, “To make it easier for her to care for the injured, she sleeps in the room beside this healing chamber. Three days ago, a couple of men were captivated by her beauty. Since she wasn’t a priestess, the temple’s protection did not extend to her, and they fell into lust. Late at night, they pried the door open, violated Zenina, and snuck away. Enraged and humiliated, she hung herself the very next day.”
A dire silence fell upon the healing chamber. “Where is her body?” Alzur said, a little too calmly. Too eerily calm.
“In the morgue.” The priestess stammered, “Y-You know casualties happen on the regular every day. The war’s over, but the monsters are still alive. Most of them died because of monster killings.”
“Someone harmed a healer right around the temple. It was a serious case, but why didn’t anyone speak of it?”
“I…” Alzur shot the priestess a look, and the priestess spilled the truth. “The priestesses didn’t want to spread the news in case it hurt the temple’s reputation, so… but the commissioner of security is still investigating, though there are no results.”
“He’s still investigating? Your healer died, and yet you stay in this chamber, idly having fun?” Alzur sneered, searing all the patients around with his gaze. They hung their heads low. “There were so many of you in this room. So many of you could’ve seen it, and yet none noticed the criminals’ actions? None stopped them?”
A patient with purple salve rubbed all over his chest muttered, “The two of them were as powerful as those blasted mutants. They served Maribor’s military, and they threatened me. Swung their knives around and warned me. I was scared. I couldn’t say anything.”
Alzur threw his head back and closed his eyes. The soldiers I helped killed a healer.
“Alzur, I… I had no choice.” A young man with his left leg held between two pieces of wood carefully looked at the furious sorcerer. “I didn’t want them to break my other leg.”
“Say no more. Bring Zenina’s body back.”
“Sir, but it’s too late. Why don’t we do it tomorrow?” asked the priestess.
“Do it right now.”
Half an hour later, Alzur saw Zenina’s corpse as he wanted. She was no longer young, but having spent her younger years in luxury gave her looks that were a lot better than the people in the slums, but her beautiful face had blackened, the ghost of her terror etched forever on her visage. There were bruises all over her body, and her muscles must’ve convulsed. Obviously, she was put through inhumane torture.
“Has she ever healed you?” Alzur asked slowly.
Everyone stayed silent, but that was as good as an answer. They fidgeted like cats on hot bricks.
“And this is how you repay her? By shrinking away like cowards when your savior was violated? Do you even have an ounce of humanity left in you?”
No one answered.
“Do you know that the permitting of crimes is an unforgivable sin in and of itself?”
The men gulped with difficulty, and silence fell upon the room.
Alzur gazed at the priestess. “This is the creed of Melitele?”
“I am sorry, Alzur, but I couldn’t do anything. I am but a single priestess.” The priestess blanched. She had a mortified look on her face. “But you’re different. If you tell the duke, the investigations will yield results immediately. He will hand over the criminals to you. I heard he still wishes for your help in his crusade. He will need you.”
Alzur stared at Zenina, and he fell into a daze. He saw another person in his mind. She was a temple healer as well, and she too died a horrible death. The people they risked their lives saving abandoned them as well. How similar they are.
For a moment, Zenina’s bruised visage overlapped with the face of a certain person who’d passed decades ago.
The patients in the chamber exchanged looks of shock. The great wizard knelt before the corpse and gently held its ice-cold hand, then he held the back of that hand against his forehead. “Is it worth it, Lylianna? To save these people? To create a safer world free of monsters for them? Is it worth it?” Alzur stared at the woman in his mind lovingly. He shook his head. This time, he was adamant about the answer. “No. They do not deserve salvation.”
A stream of slow, chronic, and agonizing pain filled his soul. He grabbed the air and produced a chipped, yellowing lily emblem in his hand. “I tire of this. Let it come to an end.” He muttered something under his breath manically.
The patients were deathly silent, and then they felt chills running all over their skin. Magical energy swirled around the sorcerer before them, conjuring eerie hallucinations.
The caws of jackdaws began as a whisper, then murmurs, then a screech. The screeching was woven into a cacophony, threatening to devour everything before it.
“It has been decades, but I finally understand. Humans die to their brethren far more than they die to monsters.”
“Sir.” The priestess cringed. Carefully, she asked, “What are you talking about?”
“The endless wars, bottomless greed, hideous crimes, and human selfishness… Those are the biggest cankers in this world.”
Everyone’s eyes went wide. The candlelight flickered and went out, plunging the house into deadly darkness. A pair of eyes shone in the darkness. Flames crackled in the fireplace, illuminating the house.
Brilliant lighting roared through the skies outside, shining the heavens with purplish-silver bolts. They shone on Alzur’s tear-streaked face.
People in the healing chamber, the temple, and Maribor came out of their abode, staring at the phenomenon rolling in the deep, dark skies. The clouds leapt through the air. Heavier and heavier they became, until they were dark as night. The city under the looming clouds was thrown into a pit of gloom.
And then a bolt of forked lightning blasted through the clouds.
“By the gods!” An elderly man with graying hair was stammering. “Is this the end of days?”
A torrential downpour drenched the city. Dark clouds kept rolling overhead, and a tornado tore a hole in the skies. Bolts of lightning crackled and screamed, illuminating the sky.
“Alzur, is that…” The priestess stared at the sky. Through chattering teeth, she asked, “Is that your portal? The one you used in the war a year ago?”
The people in the healing chamber were shaken, and they blanched. The man with an arm in a cast begged for mercy as he charged at the door. Filled by terror, countless people came running out of their houses and darted around like headless chickens.
A cloud of mist burst outside the healing chamber, and a cloaked figure leapt out of nowhere. He swung his blade around, and the man who tried to escape the room held his slit throat, falling to the ground head first.
Blood spewed everywhere, and Roy was met with a familiar message.
‘Acarin killed. EXP +20. Level 13 Witcher (2000/14500).’
These aren’t illusions. This is an actual world. Roy looked at the sky. A terrifying, titanic creature covered the skies. The creature resembled a snake with a million legs, and it was slithering out of the tornado’s depths. It writhed in the heavens before falling into the city of Maribor. Falling onto the Temple of Melitele.
The majestic, solemn temple was crushed under the weight of the monster. Dust and debris fell like rain, and the temple was crushed into ruins. The ground started to rumble, and countless humans were crushed into mincemeat.
Even more were killed by the falling walls before they could even scream. The cross closed, and the blinding light disappeared, leaving nothing but the dark clouds, the dark city, and the many-legged creature behind. The occasional bolt would illuminate it, but only its outline was visible.
The creature destroyed the temple and left a terrifying ravine in the western part of the city, cleaving Maribor in two. With unstoppable force, the monster charged toward the military base in Maribor and the duke’s palace in the northwest.
Every time lightning struck, Roy could see the great centipede rampaging through the city. It opened its double jaw and contracted its body as it flattened all the glorious buildings underneath its feet. Green poison rained down on the city, eating away at everything standing in its way. Only smoke and mud was left in the poison’s wake.
The bustling western part of the city was turned into a living hell. Alzur took down his protective barrier and walked the broken thoroughfare of Maribor. Chaos energy swirled around him, lightning struck from the sky, and the monster he summoned devoured everything in its way.
Screams, terror, and destruction wailed all around him, as if heralding his arrival as the emissary of the end of days. Alzur was crying, yet he was walking into the hell left behind by the monster. He was walking toward destruction.
“Come back, Alzur.”
A sagely figure appeared. His sleeves billowed in the air, and an invisible wave of magic smacked away the boulder flying toward his student. Cosimo landed behind Alzur and grabbed his shoulder.
Alzur wheeled around, the lightning revealing his face that was contorted in pain. “Cosimo, everything I have done over the years meant nothing! The witchers can destroy monsters, but they cannot destroy the darkness hiding in the hearts of man! The selfishness, the greed, the cruelty, the apathy men are born with… they’re more dangerous than any monsters out there.”
Thunder roared, and so did Alzur.
“They do not deserve salvation! I tire of this, Cosimo. I wish to see her.”
“If you tire of this, then let it go. Let go of your shackles and come with me, Alzur. The legacy left by my teacher, Geoffrey Monck, might have something that will reunite you with Lylianna.” Cosimo extended his hand. His eyes were murky, and his face was wrinkled. It was just like how he extended his invitation to Alzur so many years ago.
Alzur stopped in his walk toward death.