Chapter 40: The Blessing Festival
But things did not develop as they thought.
They quickly followed the well-connected underground water road to the vicinity of the Edwards’ courtyard. Nemo used the shadow shield to cover everyone’s breath. Everything was going well. Regarding Mrs. Edwards’ situation, Adrian snuck out to take a peek and found nothing. Everything was surprisingly calm.
"That makes sense. No matter what she wants to do, if we can easily find out, then she can’t hide it from Telaranea." Oliver carefully poked the dinner in front of him. It was a slimy mixture of moss and strange mushrooms, hastily roasted over a flame. It looked more like a witch’s brew than food. They weren’t short on water since Ann and Oliver had skills that could summon water bubbles. Although it took a lot of mana compared to a magic water bag, they didn’t worry too much about that at the moment. Besides, Oliver’s water bubble could make enough water for them to take a cold bath without a time limit.
However, this didn’t make the atmosphere warmer.
Nemo refused to eat. He and the gray parrot stubbornly closed their mouths and kept away from the unpleasant color. Despite his body couldn’t even be destroyed by a superior demon, his mind was likely to be crushed by this so-called food, especially when Ann picked up a fat four-eyed mouse and gave him a meaningful smile.
Anyways, he shouldn’t be able to starve to death, Nemo judged in his heart with some certainty.
In contrast, Oliver’s receptivity was surprisingly high. Nemo looked at him with a sullen face. Oliver chewed the pile of roasted mixture in small spoonful, without any expression on his face, as if he was performing some serious ceremony.
"You’re still too tender." Ann quickly cut open a small Warcraft that fainted on the ground. "In the beginning, even I vomited… Forget it."
Oliver stopped chewing and his face turned a little blue. Adrian’s manner of eating was gentler. He acted as if he heard nothing and was enjoying a palace dinner.
Seeing Ann throw a handful of grayish-black internal organs into the canal, Nemo mood turned complicated again.
"The taste actually isn’t too bad." Oliver finally managed to swallow what was in his mouth. "It’s mainly the matter of materials. We don’t even have salt."
"Don’t even think about it. They must be rummaging through the land looking for us. Just bear it for another five or six days. It’s not difficult."
But Nemo found it very difficult.
Except for Adrian who would take some time to venture above ground every day to investigate, the others stayed in place. The people of the Holy Church have explored the underground waterways several times, but they were all deceived by the shadow shield and Ann. However, it was difficult for their morale to be raised in such a dark environment, especially when they couldn’t distinguish between day and night, which made it easy for them to lose the concept of time entirely. All Nemo could do was sleep and talk, but even if he delved into his previous life experience, there weren’t many topics he could find. Ann was obviously not very interested in the daily life of ordinary townspeople, but Oliver listened intently.
When he described the neighbor’s dog to Oliver for the third time, Ann finally uttered the words everyone was looking towards.
"It’s tonight." Her voice was clear and still full of vitality.
Adrian was more reticent then at first. In fact, he had been frowning and remained silent during the last period of time when he went up that Nemo even worried that wouldn’t come back after he went out.
At the beginning, he would briefly describe to them Mrs. Edwards’ actions, but from what they heard, the result was the same every day. Mrs. Edwards’ life seemed no different from before. She dealt with guests politely, took good care of her paralyzed son, and went out to buy fresh fruits and vegetables every day, just like clockwork.
Thus Adrian simply stopped talking.
This atmosphere of waiting for the shoe to drop* was really difficult.
*Idiom meaning seemingly awaiting the inevitable.
"If nothing happens tonight, we’ll go first," Ann whispered. "Curiosity is one thing, but I hope you understand, we’re waiting for the right opportunity to escape, and curiosity was never the goal."
Adrian cast his gaze on the sewage in the canal and nodded slightly.
Above the surface, people were already ready. Even though something happened to the Church of Penitence and there were knights belonging to the Holy Church patrolling around with cold expressions, the enthusiasm of the people did not diminish at all. The sun had just set, and the cornflower blue that belonged to the evening slowly swallowed the glow. The wooden frames for burning the sacrifice were full of flowers and the air was filled with the unique smell of festivities— a mixture of wine, floral fragrance, old leather, and all kind of sweet perfumes. It filled the noses of every pedestrian on the street and turned into some kind of unreasonable, almost slightly drunk happiness.
No one cared about how many frames there were for the sacrifices. The fireworks before the ceremony and the festival after the were the highlights.
Mrs. Edwards came back earlier today and the basket full of fresh fruits was empty. Cahill was staying in the living room, reading a heavy biography seriously. The tea was prepared on the table on the side and the tray with a magic array was used to maintain the most appropriate temperature.
"Didn’t the Bishop ask you to give the opening speech for the sacrifice ceremony?" Mrs. Edwards put her basket in her hand and asked softly.
She didn’t touch the cup of tea.
Cahill raised his head, showing a smile that was no different from the past. "I can’t make it," he said, carefully putting down the book in his hand, and gently brushing off the dust on the cover.
"It’s still early."
"You know I can’t make it, don’t you?"
Mrs. Edwards’ expression darkened, and her gentle smile slowly disappeared. She opened her mouth, her lower lip trembled a little, but she didn’t say anything for a long time.
"I only discovered that magic array recently." Cahill— the smile of Telaranea’s face was more obvious. He didn’t seem worried about his situation at all. "There’s no need for you to do that. It hides really well, but you can’t handle that kind of blood loss. You know very well that that kind of formation has no effect on me, don’t you?"
"But that wasn’t set up for me. You knew that. All this— from that task, to the timing— was to help him… Oops, don’t give me that look. I can understand. After all, you’ve watched him grow up with Adrian Cross, so he’s like your second son."
It was still the small living room of the past, but the air with residual temperature in the summer evening suddenly became cold and viscous.
"It’s a pity that the contract failed," Telaranea sighed slowly. He stood up from the wheelchair and changed to a more comfortable seat for himself and crossed his legs.
"…You’re half right." The gentleness in Mrs. Edwards’ voice completely disappeared. She sat down opposite of the demon and smiled slightly.
The roses were instantly swallowed up by white flames. The light of the magic array was particularly dazzling in the gradually darkening night. The moment the magic array was activated, the room was as bright as day for a few seconds, as if it was illuminated by midnight lightning.
"That magic array is not a simple flare. I can at least use this life to trap you for a while," she said slowly. "Do you know how many Knights of Judgement are patrolling now? Especially when the festival is about to begin. They will come faster than anyone else."
Telaranea let out a louder sigh.
"I’m not the type who vents my anger when I fail— you should know that. After all, your son chose me. He is a—" he smacked his mouth. "Well, quite a kind person."
Mrs. Edwards turned her gaze away.
"I’ve always been curious," the demon said in a softer tone. "How did you find out? I have all the memories of Cahill Edwards. You are just his adoptive mother, so you can’t talk about the subtle feelings of kinship, and I do love you— I have walked in the world and tried all kinds of love. My love for you is by no means false, so my usual actions should be flawless."
His voice was enthusiastic and simple, which made people feel creepy.
"Can you tell me the reason? …Please."
Mrs. Edwards finally turned her face. Her expression was still very indifferent, but her eyes were full of tears. They rolled down the deep wrinkles on her cheeks and turned into dark water stains on her dress. She stared at the familiar face in front of her. It was like a soldering iron was stuck to her heart, searing her chest with burning pain.
"…Because there’s no fear in your eyes."
She answered the demon’s question with difficulty.
"Perhaps you really understand ‘love’, but this is something powerful that you wouldn’t understand… You could call it a ‘mother’s intuition’, Peo—" She paused for a while, trying to calm her breath. "People… sometimes feel fear and pain all from just the act of ‘living’ itself, just like me now."
Telaranea stood up, approached the sobbing old woman, and held her thin and cold hands.
"Just like me now," she repeated in a low voice. "My son, he must have been very desperate in the end… I know him better than anyone else. He knew what he had called into the world and he knew that he had betrayed everything he believed in."
"But he died for you."
"I know, but I have no obligation to accept it… It’s the responsibility of the parents to correct their children’s mistake in time."
"Am I a ‘mistake’? You know this kind of questioning is very rude. Your King of Garland, when he goes crazy, more people die. Yet even so, you’re willing to accept and endure it," the demon said meaningfully.
"Just to be ‘right’?" The old woman forced a tearful smile, rubbing tremblingly against the young hands that had once belonged to her son. "How can I step on his despair and live on? I just… can’t bear it. Like I said, people are afraid of ‘living’, more than death."
"I see." Telaranea stood up and bowed to the old lady with a grim joy on his face. "Thank you very much for your teaching. You can say it— that one sentence to end the contract once and for all."
The old woman closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Cahill," her voice calmed down unexpectedly. "I’m very— very disappointed in you."
Outside the window, through the pale flame, people’s cheers suddenly rose with the fireworks. In the room, the carpet around the demon began to burn. The tongue of fire licked the dry carpet and quickly climbed onto the bookshelf, spreading unnaturally fast. The demon did not leave. He took the old woman’s hands again.
"Shh… don’t be afraid," he said softly. "I have one more question. A final question. If you answer, I can send you a dream."
The air in the house began to distort due to the high temperature and Mrs. Edwards slowly raised her head.
"What is the last thing you regret in your life?" In the light of the fire, Telaranea’s eyes gleamed. "I’m curious."
The old woman smiled wearily, and she surrendered her memory obediently.
The flames and smoke disappeared. Everything in the illusion became clean and new, and the young Mrs. Edwards looked tired. She took off the uniform and robe of the Holy Church and walked into a child’s room in the dark.
"Why haven’t you slept yet?" she asked. "Cahill, it’s already late."
The little boy with ginger hair looked only six or seven years old. He was wrapped in a blanket and shrank in the corner of the bed.
"There are monsters under the bed." He breathed nervously. "Mom, can you help me?"
Mrs. Edwards did not bend over. She glanced at the shadow hastily. "It’s all fake, darling." There was a hint of perfunctory in her tone. "I’ve told you many times that it’s all fake. Be a good boy, okay?"
"Don’t let mom down."
How many times did she say that sentence?
Her son had grown up, cheerful and brave. Cahill Edwards had been out and about for a long time, saving one desperate person after another.
After he went on the battlefield, she was bored and wanted to change a new bed for her son. When the workers lifted the old big bed, the bed board broke in two revealing terrifying weird bones that were embedded between the thick wooden planks. It was just a subordinate demon that only fed on fear, and its life span was only a few years. It was so weak that she could easily get rid of it with a single hand.
But it had grown so big before it had died.
The old woman passed through her young phantom and walked forward tremblingly. She stretched out her arms and embrace the little figure in vain.
"It doesn’t matter if you let me down," she whispered. "It doesn’t matter if you disappoint everyone."
"You can tell me your pain. It’s not wrong. If I’d told you earlier… if I could tell you this truth earlier, would your final pain be less?"
"I’m sorry," she murmured. "I’m sorry, my son."
"Go to sleep." The demon lifted her up and kissed her forehead. "Good night, mom."
The old house finally collapsed in the skyrocketing flames.
The unnatural light had already attracted people wandering nearby as a group of well-dressed people crowded the streets where the Edwards’ lived. There were many voices in discussion.
"I can break the magic array—" Nemo, who was mixed in with the crowd, stared anxiously at the flame as if he was about to rush in.
"It’s too late." Adrian turned his back to them, facing the burning ruins. "The moment the formation was launched, it was already too late… She really didn’t leave anyone a chance."
His voice trembled for the first time.
Above the flames, the huge shadow of a superior demon became clearer. People uttered, suppressed their screams and some began to flee.
"There are superior demons in the Edwards family!"
"That’s the Edwards family. I don’t believe it. Mr. Edwards was going to give a speech tonight—"
Beautiful fireworks lit up the night sky. Under the fireworks, the Knights of Judgement broke through the crowd and quickly reached the burning house. The white light of the magic array had begun to weaken, but it hadn’t had time to dissipate.
"Now, it’s my turn." Even if he heard the familiar friction of armor, Adrian remained motionless. He slowly pulled up his left sleeve, revealing a weird and terrifying engraving.
"Complete the deal, Telaranea."
What a heavy chapter! The feels.