Chapter 46 – His decision

 

“Arism… ?”

 

The bespectacled man with messy hair could not be mistaken for someone else. It was indeed the friend I had made years ago, back when I had visited Naxus for the first time.

 

“What are you doing here… ?”

 

My anger seemed to quell when I saw Arism. I had no idea why he would be there. Truth to be told, I had completely forgotten about him ever since my breakout.

 

“What, do you know me ? I don’t know where you heard of me but I can’t let you harm my friends, Dark Joker.”

“Oh… of course you wouldn’t recognise me…”

 

After analysing the situation, I decided to decrease『Shadow Skin』up to the point where it was only covering half of my body – this was the most natural way for me. Seeing how the girl and the old man were unable to fight, I thought it was safe to do so. The boy called Hell was not as much of a threat himself.

 

I removed my mask and showed my face to Arism. He looked like he did not recognise it at first. But soon his expression changed to show extreme surprise.

 

“This face does seem familiar… and now that your shadows have died down… your aura is unmistakably his… I can’t believe it… Zwölf !”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that name, ha, ha, ha. Come to think of it, you should have been directly affected by the invasion of Naxus since you used to live there…”

 

Arism looked at a loss for words. On the other hand, Hell approached me with an expression of pure shock.

 

“Big brother… is that really you !?”

 

Big brother ? Did I have a brother… ?

 

Suddenly the shadows that seemed to have been clouding my mind since the fight had started lifted and I remembered. This was my younger brother Hell, who I thought dead all this time.

 

There was a hundred things I wanted to say. But Spades – who seemed to have recovered in the meantime – did not allow me such time to sort out my feelings. He lunged himself at Hell and tried to bite his head off.

 

As soon as I noticed, I immediately warped Spades back to Aldenaf. Getting him out of the way was the logical thing to do to stop the fighting.

I then approached the two boys. Arism looked at me with a perplexed look.

 

“I don’t know where to start…”

“Well maybe I should first start by healing the girl and the old man I’ve injured.”

 

I walked towards the person called Yaquinn and conveyed my Healing Magic to close his wound. I did the same on the dragon girl. The two of them seemed to wake up straight after and got up in a hurry. Yaquinn pointed his weapon towards me and the dragon girl emitted killing intent again.  Seeing their hostility, I decided to speak to them.

 

“No need to fight any longer. If I wanted you dead, I would not have healed you. It seems I may have been a bit hasty in starting a fight. I have to admit Spades is a bit impulsive himself, after all, ha, ha, ha.”

 

Yaquinn looked at me then his serious face soon changed into a friendly smile.

 

“Is that so ? Great, I’m getting too old for this kind of things. So, you’re the Dark Joker I presume… What’s up with your dragon attacking us all of a sudden ?”

 

Before I got a chance to reply Hell suddenly walked up to me with an excited attitude.

 

“So big brother… you’re going to have to tell me everything that has happened since you left, many years ago.”

“Well the dragon won’t bother us anymore so yes, let’s have a long, nice talk.”

 

***

 

After roughly an hour spent discussing the events that had happened ever since I left Aldenaf, we were finally done. Since I knew I already had a reputation, I mentioned the numerous slaughters I had committed. Hiding them felt useless so I went ahead and gave them the honest version of the facts.

 

For some reason, Arism did not look shocked by my acts of violence. Yaquinn stayed quiet the entire time but Hell showed a face that looked like it disagreed with my methods. The dragon girl chose to not say anything as well.

 

Once I was done talking, Arism was the one to ask the most expected question.

 

“So that’s what happened… so what are you going to do now ? What are your plans ?”

“Well, as the de facto ruler of the country, I have plans to change this continent how I see fit – for the better that is. But to achieve this, there is still a nuisance I need to get rid of.”

“Do you mean Arcadeus ?”

“Ha, ha, ha, you understand ? Yes, I mean Arcadeus. Despite the fact that he seems to be under the protection of the time-traveler, he is still far too dangerous for me to leave alive. Furthermore, I expect the Elves to be on the move soon enough because of him. And considering how proficient they are with Magic, a war against them would not be a sure win.”

As I finished talking, I took a look at Hell. He had become a fine young man, with an athletic body that proved how hard he had trained over the years. I was also surprised by the fact that there could be a dragon hybrid but I did not think too hard about this matter. I had more important things to reflect upon right now.

 

On the other hand Arism was still the same as the last time I had seen him, except he had grown slightly. However, his trouble face showed that he had more he wanted to say.

 

“I did not mention it until now…  but if you are the Dark Joker… that means that during your attack on Naxus… your dragon killed my dad.”

“Your dad… the Archmage ? He was protecting the Emperor so he was probably caught up in the situation as a collateral damage.”

 

What I said was what I truly felt. Maybe I should have felt some guilt towards indirectly murdering my friend’s father but now… I just felt empty. However, this seemed to greatly anger Arism.

 

“As I thought… you’re not the same as I used to be, Zwölf ! How can you say something like that with a straight face !?”

 

Yaquinn suddenly walked between us and interrupted our argument.

 

“To be frank… Vlad Stalford was my only friend. Hearing you call his death a collateral damage also makes me furious. I knew it from the beginning, but I really can’t bring myself to see you as a good person… even though you’re my disciple brother.”

“Oh ? So what are you going to do ? Come at me ? Although I find it regrettable to kill my brother’s friends, if you get in my way I’ll have no choice but to get rid of you.”

“In addition to my personal hatred for you, I cannot let you kill Arcadeus. This is a promise I made with Vlad. No matter how powerful you are, if you are set on killing the Fake Sage, I will do everything I can to stop you.”

 

I readied myself to fight. Yaquinn got in position and I could see from the corner of my eye that Arism intended to attack me as well. However, this time it was Hell who got in the way.

 

“Arism ! Master ! I… I beg you. Please do not fight. Trust me, I am also conflicted by big brother’s deeds but… after hearing what happened to the rest of my family, I don’t want to lose the one person I have left ! Big brother too ! Please come to your senses !”

“…”

 

I had mixed feelings about this plea. A part of me still felt affection towards Hell and wanted to listen to what he said. Meanwhile, the darker side of me, the one that had been my drive since the breakout… it told me to ignore his begging.

 

Perhaps it was because of my hesitation, Wahnsinn spoke up to me in my mind.

 

“Ah… there you go again, being all indecisive ! We can’t have that.”

“What do you think I should do… I finally got to be reunited with Hell… Should I just give up on my quest ?”

“You already know the answer, don’t you ? Zwölf Kreizig is dead. He died years ago, in the hands of Orth Porcephone. You… you are no one but the Dark Joker now. And what does the Dark Joker want to do ?”

“Ha, ha, ha… that’s right. The world cannot be safe until I get rid of that parasite known as the Fake Sage.”

 

I turned towards Hell and faced him. He looked at me with a face full of expectations. I decided to betray them.

 

“I’m sorry Hell. This is my objective and I will carry it until either Arcadeus or I will die.”

“No way…”

 

Upon hearing that, Yaquinn turned around and started walking away.

 

“Is that so ? Sigh… my disciple is giving me quite the unreasonable request here. But as his Master, it’s my duty to listen to it. Do what you want, Dark Joker. But know you’re playing with fire if you are not scared of releasing Ox upon Arcadeus’ death.”

“…”

“However, if you need some help to take him down should that day ever come. I will assist you with all my might. For the world’s sake, not yours. Well then, farewell. I hope never to meet you again.”

 

Arism headed in a different direction as Yaquinn and from a distance he shouted at me.

 

“I cannot imagine what atrocities you have been through. But that doesn’t mean I can accept what you’ve done. In the name of our previous friendship, I will not pursue my revenge but I also hope never to see your face again.”

 

I had no idea where these two were heading. Arism used to live in Naxus but since he just said he never wanted to meet me again, I assumed he would not return there.

 

As soon as they left, Glace finally spoke to me first the first time.

 

“I have to admit that when Hell talked about his brother during his stories, I never imagined he would be a madman. But as long as you don’t harm Hell, I won’t get involved with you.”

 

Hell looked at me with a disappointed face.

 

“I regret not having been there for you, big brother. If I had been there, maybe I could have saved father and you…”

“No you could not have. No one could have. This was all a series of events carefully planned by Arcadeus. He is the bane that hit our family. I will take it upon myself to avenge father and mother’s death.”

“I am worried that the path you are heading towards is one not only dangerous for the world, but also for yourself. If you give in to your dark desires, you may end up losing yourself.”

“If this allows me to complete my objective, becoming a monster is not something I am afraid of, ha, ha, ha.”

“Is that so… well now that my quest for clues on what happened to Aldenaf is complete, I will probably head to the Adventurer’s Guild in Naxus and make a living there.”

“I see. I can warp you directly to Naxus along with your girlfriend if you want.”

“No… it’s fine.”

 

Declining my offer showed how broken our relationship had become. I personally did not know how to feel either. Learning that my brother, who I thought dead all these years, was still alive should have lead to a cheerful reunion. And yet… this is what happened.

 

“Is that so ? Well then, I will return to Naxus myself.”

 

Despite what I said, I warped myself to Aldenaf. Before doing anything else, I needed to have a talk with Spades.

 

***

 

“WHY DID YOU GET IN THE WAY OF MY FIGHT !?”

“Shut up. I saved you in case you don’t remember.”

“Grrrr… but then why did you have to teleport me back when we were winning !?”

“For a simple reason. I did not want you to mindlessly kill these people. They could be useful to my plan.”

“It was my long awaited revenge on that betrayer !”

“From what I could see, you slaughtered every other dragon aside from her. Isn’t that enough ? That dragon hybrid doesn’t carry the sins of her ancestors.”

“Hmm… So ? Then why did you bother saving me ? After all, my objective was complete and so was yours so it’s not like you still needed me alive, right ?”

“Who said my objective was complete ? There is still one more person I need to kill. And because of this person’s status, I may very well have to cause another genocide, on the Elves this time. Although I personally hope they won’t get in the way. My reputation already has it bad enough with one racial extermination on my record, ha, ha, ha.”

 

The mention of the Elven race seemed to pique Spades’ interest.

 

“Who… who is your target ?”

“He is the Fake Sage, also known as the First Sage or Living God: Arcadeus Sigitor.

 

Upon hearing the Fake Sage’s name, Spades started laughing. The laugh soon turn into an uncontrollable hysteria.

 

“Hahahaha ! Yes, YES ! Count me in ! I have a personal different to settle with the Fake Sage so you can be sure I will assist you in this battle !”

“I’m glad to hear that. Well then, first we’ll need to locate him. I have no idea where he is so the safest bet is to return to the Dorua continent. The Elves are the most likely to know his location so let’s start with their capital, Glavopolis. I also need to investigate the meaning behind this weird architecture. This has been bugging me ever since I went there.”

 

And so, two days later my preparations were complete. I had left Naxus’ leadership to Armius and Burs and had prepared everything necessary to the trip. Being able to whatever I needed within Void like an intangible backpack was still as useful as ever.

 

The one difference with last time however was that Alae had decided to come with us. As far as I can remember, it was the first time I was having an argument with her.

 

“You won’t be fighting him in your realm of shadows this time. That means the fight won’t be nearly as easy ! Then you should make sure all the chances are on your side, right ? If you want to be able to face off against someone who can continually heal, then having me do the same to you is not a luxury.”

“Even so, do you realise how dangerous it will be ? Besides, it will mean I will have to protect you at the same time. This will arguably make the fight even harder.”

“Heh, don’t say that ! I did have some training while you were gone, thanks to Wahnsinn ! Even if I’m nowhere near as powerful as you, I can still avoid getting in your way !”

“But I’m worried about you, Alae !”

 

This made her blush furiously, things that I had not seen in a while.

 

“That isn’t fair… saying something like that.”

“You also need to care for our baby !”

 

She seemed surprised as she had not yet told me about being pregnant. Woops, I made a blunder.

 

“Eh ? Eh ? How do you know I am… pregnant ?”

“Well, hum… er… my mastery of Magic allowed me to discern a different Mana inside you. I deduced it was a baby…”

 

She seemed to buy this cheap lie, probably because she did not know the extent of my power.

 

“Well, hum… I was waiting for your workload to die down to tell you. I was told by an Elven healer just the other day as I went to consult him about my Healing Magic.”

 

She looked anxious about my reaction. I smiled and hugged her.

 

“I think it’s amazing. I can’t wait to see our child. But that’s another reason why it would be too dangerous for you to come, right ?”

 

Despite what I had just said, she looked at me seriously.

 

“No. I still refuse to let you go by yourself. I cannot imagine myself raising this child without you. So I have to make sure you come back from this fight alive. This is my duty as one who loves you from the bottom of her heart.”

 

Hearing her resolve… I had nothing left to say. As much as I felt genuinely worried for her, I could see that she was not going to let go until I allowed her to come.

 

“Sigh… do whatever you want.”

“Yay, I look forward to it, Joker !”

 

Thus, we boty left Naxus on top of Spades. Even though I knew what would happen if Arcadeus were to be killed, my decision was still absolute. This world could not progress without his death and I was willing to bet on the “balance of the word” to make things change.

 

***

 

As I clapped my hands in joy, my shackles made some noise. Not that it mattered since I was in an isolated place.

 

This turn of events looked very promising. Maybe I had finally done it right ? After time-travelling so many times, I had become used to failure but the way this was going, it looked like everything was set for success this time. Or so I prayed.

 

Arcadeus was incidentally back in Dorua, preparing some unknown scheme. His fated encounter with the Dark Joker was bound to happen and soon, the conclusion would be reached. Whether I would have to time-leap again or not, that I did not know.

 

But what I knew for sure was that the inescapable fate of the world had already been altered to an irreversible extent in this timeline. All that was left for me to do was to sit back and watch as the final act was about to be unfolded right in front of my eyes.

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