Hiatus

After the absurd month of November, I’m happy to say that, even though I abandoned my first project in the middle, I was able to start a second that I’m extremely passionate about. I’ve been making good progress on it these past few weeks, though it’s draining much of time.

As such, Their Eyes will be officially going on hiatus. I just don’t have the time to juggle both stories at once.

I’m not sure when this will return, though it will most likely be once I’ve made significant progress on my current novel. When it does come back, however, I plan on rewriting all the chapters I have so far as I feel my writing has really grown this past month.

Thanks for understanding.

Important Announcement

With Nanowrimo coming up, Their Eyes Chapter 10 will be postponed until December. Unfortunately, with the amount of writing I’ll being doing during November, there isn’t enough time to maintain the same schedule as I have been. Instead, any free time I get will be spent on editing.

I’m quite unsatisfied with many of the earlier chapters, so I’ll most likely rewrite them. Since making a separate post for each edit would get long-winded, I’m going to use this post to keep track of any changes made.

Thanks for understanding, and I’ll see you all again in December!

Chapter Nine – Flowers and Graves

Ivan narrowed his eyes. “How do I know you’re not the Eighth?” he asked immediately following Iris’s statement. She turned to him coolly.

“There’s no way to know, but I myself have no means of knowing whether any of you are the Eighth, either, so we would be better off pushing mutual suspicion aside.” Iris paused. “This is important,” she finally said, a tone of urgency in her voice.

Ivan opened his mouth to retort, but Mortimer grabbed his hand and shook his head. The thief clicked his tongue and fell back against the tree trunk, arms crossed. “Be quick.”

Iris turned to face the three. “Before that, I need to ask you a question.”

Ivan groaned. “Are you trying to drag this out?” he muttered, but Iris ignored him.

“What would you do if you realized one of your fellow Saviors was unfit for the job?” she asked. Mortimer cocked his head.

“What do you mean?”

“If they turned out to be untrustworthy, evil, or had committed atrocious crimes in the past,” Iris explained. She tilted her head. “What would you do?”

“Kill them,” came Ivan’s blunt answer. Ed flinched, but the thief shrugged. “It’s the only option, isn’t it? Only the Eighth can remove a Savior’s power, the only other way is to get rid of them. Ridding evil—isn’t that our job?” the Savior smirked. Iris was quiet. She closed her eyes.

“I see.” Turning to Mortimer and Ed, she asked, “What about the two of you?”

Ed jumped, eyes darting about. “M—me?”

Iris nodded and Ed averted his gaze, which turned out to be unnecessary, as Iris, too, seemed to be avoiding looking his direction. Ed glanced back up. “Um… I don’t really know,” he finally answered. Ivan snorted.

“Of course not.”

Biting his lip, Ed turned away from the thief and continued, “Well, if… if it was really bad, like they killed someone, then maybe…”

“You’d kill them?” Iris finished. Ed nodded, brows furrowed.

“Well, I don’t know if I could actually kill someone, though,” he added sheepishly.

“I don’t think you could, either,” Ivan said from across the clearing, still leaned back against the tree trunk. His eyes were narrowed. “…if they killed someone, huh,” he muttered. The Savior sighed and shook his head. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”

Mortimer turned to face Ivan, eyes cold as ever. “It’s a good belief to hold,” he said.

Ivan lifted his chin. “And a naive one. I’m surprised you’ve managed to survive this long,” he said, jerking his head towards Ed. The Savior in question stared at the ground. He could find no jumbled words to counter with, because when he tried to refute it, tried to point out that he’d spent so long on his own, the familiar pain came back to strike his mind and the blurry figures resurfaced.

Instead, he shook his head.

Mortimer was staring his direction, expression unreadable. Now, he turned to Iris. “I wouldn’t kill them,” he replied. Iris, who had been checking her bag while the three argued, now tilted her head.

“Why not?”

“Killing a murderer is only hypocritical,” the Savior said. “There are other ways to deal with them.”

“Like?” Ivan asked.

Mortimer ignored him, however, and continued, “However, if the Savior were too strong to apprehend, like the First, for example, then there wouldn’t be a choice.”

Iris nodded, seemingly satisfied.

“Well? You going to tell us why you asked?” Ivan asked, tapping his finger.

“I needed to confirm something,” Iris said. “It seems it’ll be fine, though.”

“What’ll be?” Ed asked. Iris shook her head.

“I just needed to make sure it was okay to give you this information. It’s fine, though.” The Savior cleared her throat and turned so that she was facing all three of the others, who now looked up and towards her direction, eyes intent.

“I believe the Red Artist and the Eighth are two different people,” she said. Ivan raised an eyebrow.

“What makes you say that? Any proof?”

“Think about it,” Iris said, “If the Eighth could kill someone so easily with their power, then why would they bother slaughtering those servants by hand?”

“He could’ve killed them with his power, then mutilated them,” Mortimer suggested.

“No, that’s not it, either,” Iris said, shaking her head. “If their power was already awoken and they used it, then why aren’t all of us dead? It certainly wouldn’t be a difficult task.”

“Then the Eighth hasn’t awoken his power so he killed the servants by hand. So what?” Ivan said.

“The Willis Island servants are specially trained members of the king’s court. They excel in combat and have memorized the names and faces of everyone of us Saviors. They would’ve recognized the Eighth if that were the case.”

“They could’ve been ambushed,” Ivan suggested. Once again, Iris shook her head.

“The Willis Island servants are trained to fend against ambushes. Even if the Eighth attacked each separately and then piled them into the cellar at the end, at least one of them would’ve noticed the surprise and it wouldn’t have worked. If you think about it like that, then it doesn’t make sense. If the Eighth had their power, then we would all be dead, but without it, then the servants couldn’t all be dead. The most logical conclusion is to say the Red Artist is one of the Saviors.

She could’ve gone up to each of the servants individually and they wouldn’t have suspected anything from a Savior. It would then be easy to kill them, deposit their body in the cellar, and go to the others, one at a time, until all were dead.”

Mortimer was quiet. “…that’s true,” he finally said, deep in thought.

“So what? Now we have to watch for two people?” Ivan asked. Iris nodded.

“Unfortunately, yes…”

“The worst case scenario would be if the Red Artist and the Eighth were working together,” Mortimer said, glancing up. Ed stared at the ground.

“But… what about the barrier?” he finally asked. Iris tilted her head.

“We can assume that was the work of the Red Artist, if the Eighth really hasn’t manifested their power, but if they have, then they could’ve done it, too.”

“Wait,” Ivan interrupted, holding up a hand. “By that logic, the Red Artist could’ve killed us all by now, if he was another Savior, if he killed the servants so easily. It makes sense if the Eighth hasn’t done anything, assuming their power actually hasn’t manifested and they’re incapable of fighting, but what about the Red Artist? He’s quite a skilled killer.”

“That’s what doesn’t make sense,” Iris said, resting a hand on her chin. “Especially with the barrier up, killing us all wouldn’t be as hard, with none of us able to escape. No, if one of them put it up, then they themselves could leave easily, so it could become their safe zone, making it even more difficult for us to retaliate.”

Ivan sighed and scratched his head. “This is getting ridiculous…” he muttered. He turned to Iris. “So? Why are you telling us all this? You have to be at least somewhat suspicious of us, right?”

“I won’t deny that,” Iris said, “but once again, I feel ensuring the Red Artist doesn’t win is more important at this point.” She paused. “ … in the very least, I believe even the Red Artist wouldn’t have gotten away with some injury, so that’s a lead. And, she would’ve had to have extensive experience in combat, though the public already assumed that of the Red Artist.”

“I don’t think anyone was injured, though,” Mortimer said.

“Besides him,” Ivan added, jerking a thumb towards Ed, who stared at the ground.

“…In the very least, it seems this conversation isn’t going anywhere.” Mortimer glanced up at Iris. “Ah, I wanted to ask, is that the only reason you left the mansion?”

Iris was quiet. “Well… I suppose you could say that, but like the three of you, I couldn’t stand the environment, either…” she shook her head. “I wanted to see if I could find Echo and Fay, too.”

Ivan narrowed his eyes. “In that case, I’m guessing you weren’t aware that Lucine also left.”

Iris’s eyes widened and she spun around. “What?”

Mortimer nodded. “She was at her mansion, we met her there,” he explained.

“She gave us a master key, too,” Ed offered. Ivan’s piercing glare, however, made him go quiet again. Iris furrowed her brow.

“A master key? That isn’t good…”

“Yeah, I suppose it wouldn’t be,” Ivan said. He narrowed his eyes. “What else do you know?”

Iris glanced up. “I’m afraid that’s it.”

“Really? Not hiding anything?”

Iris returned his gaze steadily. “Why would you assume that?”

After a moment’s pause, Ivan shrugged. “No reason. Well, anyways, it seems like everyone’s intent on handing us free information. First Lucine, now you.”

“Um… is that a bad thing?” Ed asked.

“Obviously,” Ivan said, though he didn’t elaborate. Mortimer glanced up at the darkened sky and pulled a lamp from his bag, which he now lit and set in the center of the blanket, providing an eery glow.

Iris, seeing this, stood. “Well, I suppose I’ll be leaving now, if there’s nothing else to say.”

Mortimer glanced up. “Not staying?”

Iris shook her head. “I’m afraid not. Don’t misunderstand, it isn’t that I necessarily don’t trust you, but rather I’m worried none of you trust me.” Her eyes rested on Ivan as she said this, and the thief narrowed his eyes.

Ed glanced up. “Um, is Willow okay?” he finally asked. Iris closed her eyes and shook her head.

“I’m afraid I don’t know. You’ll have to believe Lucine’s word, for that. I will eventually return to the mansion, though, so I will know then,” she added.

“Returning?”

Iris nodded. “Yes, after I’ve warned the others.”

Mortimer stared at the lamplight. “Isn’t it dangerous to be telling everyone? If the Eighth or Red Artist heard, then your life would be in danger.”

Iris shook her head. “I appreciate the sentiment, but fear not, I’m making sure to be cautious.” She smiled. “At the very least, I’m not worried about dying right now. Goodbye, and be careful. Our powers will awaken soon,” she warned. With a quick bow, the Savior stood and turned away, her silhouette melting into the shadowy forest.

Even after the rustling of twigs faded into the distance, the three continued to sit in silence, surrounding the lamp, Ivan still staring into the trees, eyes narrowed.

Finally, Mortimer asked him, “I wager you want to say something?”

“…She knows something about the Red Artist.”

“Yes, we all know about him,” Mortimer said. Ivan shot him a glare and continued.

“She made a lot of assumptions, assuming the servants were too good for a surprise attack. She didn’t even mention that the Eighth could’ve killed all the servants at a range with their power, then took them to the cellar and mutilated their corpses. Not to mention…”

Mortimer glanced up. “What?”

Ivan’s eyes were cold. “…She kept calling the Red Artist “her.” The public opinion has always fallen onto him being male, so why would she do that?”

Mortimer, who had pulled out his book from his bag, now sighed. “Yes, that is a big curious,” he admitted. Ed furrowed his brow.

“Then…”

“Oh, and you,” Ivan interrupted, snapping his head in Ed’s direction, causing the Savior to jump. “Why did you tell her we had a master key?” His eyes were fierce, the lamp’s flames reflected in them. Ed swallowed and looked away.

“Well… I thought we could trust her, so…”

“It really is a miracle you’ve lived this long,” Ivan scoffed. Mortimer glanced up from his book.

“No matter how suspicious we may be, Iris’s words do hold some truth. We should be grateful for having another viewpoint.”

“Should we?” Ivan muttered. Mortimer sighed.

“I’m assuming you take issue with that?”

Ivan stared into the trees, a gust of wind making the lamplight flicker. “Why would she go around giving away free information like that? There has to be an ulterior motive.”

“She might’ve just been nice. Did you not consider that?” Mortimer pointed out.

“What about Lucine? She gave us this key for no reason, either.”

“She did say it was for entertainment,” Mortimer replied. Ivan shot him a glare.

“The point is, all of us are trying to survive. We could die any moment. There’s no reason for her to have come here to give us free information at her own risk. She didn’t gain anything, so why would she do it? It doesn’t make sense.”

Mortimer sighed. “I can’t imagine how difficult life must be, if you’re so suspicious all the time.”

“It’s called, you figure things out on your own!” Ivan snapped. He turned away from the others. “I’m going to sleep,” he said, then went silent. Mortimer turned the page of his book.

“Well he was certainly antsy today,” he said plainly. Ed gave a nervous laugh, glancing up at the sliver of a moon. He considered going to sleep, too, but his eyelids weren’t heavy. That, and he couldn’t help but worry about what might happen. It was an odd feeling, but the Savior couldn’t shake off the idea that something terrible would happen soon. Perhaps it was just because of the situation, but he’d been having more nightmares frequently.

Once again, Ed closed his eyes and tried to recall when he’d first arrived, but the mist refused to clear and he shook his head. The Savior sighed, unsure of what to do. Beside him, Mortimer turned the page.

Curious, Ed turned to the other Savior. For a moment he sat in silence, but finally swallowed and scooted forward.

“What… what are you reading?” Ed finally asked. “Is it a book on mechanics?”

Mortimer glanced up, then back down, briefly holding up the cover and nodding towards his bag. “I have a book on engineering in my bag, this one’s on gardening.”

“Gardening?” Ed furrowed his brow. Mortimer nodded.

“So… you like flowers?”

“I suppose. I find them pretty,” Mortimer explained, turning the page.

“Oh.” Ed paused, thinking of new topics to add. He glanced at the green book cover, which had a single flowers in the center. “Um, do you want to plant a garden or…?”

“I would like that,” Mortimer said. “Unfortunately I’m incapable of planting anything without it dying.”

Ed nodded. “Not good with plants?”

“No.” Mortimer sighed. “A garden seems beyond me, right now.”

“It could be the soil,” Ed suggested. “You said you lived near the coast, right? Isn’t the land there more rocky?”

Mortimer nodded. “That’s true.”

“…What, what’s it like? Your village, I mean,” Ed asked.

Mortimer thought about this. “Well, it’s a bit dull. The sky’s always overcast and the sea’s always gray. The ground’s covered in rocks and a majority of the houses are old and worn. Everything’s monochrome, you could say.”

“Oh.” Ed struggled for words. “Well, it’s just… I always pictured the sea as more… colorful.”

“I don’t blame you. It’s that way throughout most of the kingdom, but our area’s an exception.”

Ed stared at the book. “Is… is that why you want to plant a garden? To give the village more life?”

Mortimer looked up. “I never thought of it that way, but yes, I suppose so.” He turned the page. “It’d certainly be nicer than all that gray, but I don’t think it’s possible for me to plant anything without it dying.”

“…My dad was like that, too,” Ed finally said. Mortimer cocked his head.

“What do you mean?”

Ed furrowed his brow, trying to collect his thoughts. “Well, he was pretty bad with plants, too. Oh, but there wasn’t anything wrong with our soil, he just didn’t have a green thumb. At least, at least I think so.”

“Think so?”

“Well… I’m not really sure… I think he was, but I can’t really remember him anymore,” Ed said, staring at the flickering lamp, hugging his knees. “Whenever I try to remember him, it just comes out all fuzzy. His voice was warm, but I can’t remember what it sounded like, and I think he was kind, but I don’t know why. I guess… sometimes I doubt if he was really like I think he was, or if I’m just imagining it.” Ed shook his head. “I, I don’t really know.”

Mortimer was quiet. “If you believe he was like that, then he was,” the Savior finally said. Ed glanced up.

“What do you mean?”

Mortimer set his book down. “Well, they say the opinions on a person makes up a majority of who they are, so if you perceive your father as kind, then he was to you.”

“…That feels a little wrong, though,” Ed finally said.

Mortimer shrugged. “Perhaps it is, but that’s just the way the world works. If you’re viewed one way, then there’s little room to change it.” He paused. “Though, in this case, I’d argue your father was more likely how you imagined. Old memories are often blurred, but key features remain. There’s no need to worry, your beliefs are true,” he finished, picking up his book again and opening it.

Ed glanced up at the starry sky, the sliver of a moon beginning to grow again, the hazy clouds drifting away. For a moment, he closed his eyes, an image of someone massive, rough, yet kind coming to him.

“…Thank you.”

Mortimer didn’t respond, only turning the next page of the book. Ed looked back down and opened his eyes again.

“Still… I’d like to know the truth someday.”

Mortimer nodded. “That’s a fine goal. Don’t worry, with the Savior’s’ power, I’m sure you’ll be able to reach it.”

“…Yeah.” Ed turned around to face Mortimer. “Um, sorry about that, I kind of changed the conversation. But, uh, you were describing your town?”

Mortimer shook his head. “It’s fine, I don’t really mind. There’s not much left to say about it, either.”

“You wanted to restore it, right? Get rid of the plague?” Ed asked.

“Indeed.”

“And add a garden?”

Mortimer turned the page. “That would be nice, but even if I were to find a plant that grow on those rocks, I doubt there will be enough time after the other efforts. The Saviors are quite busy, after all.” He sighed. “Well, in the very least, I’d like to see some planted before the next generation.”

“How so?”

Mortimer was in thought. “Well, the Saviors are given special burials, right?”

Ed nodded. As the Saviors were destined to die in eight years, each one was allowed to make specific requests regarding their burials. Some chose to be buried in their old villages, a majority requested grand tombs and palaces, and those who didn’t care were given elaborate burials, too.

Mortimer closed his eyes. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’d like to be buried by the seaside. The headstone would be carved from one of the rocks, and it would be covered in a colorful garden. That way, I could spend the rest of eternity in my old home, and they might have something else to look at, too.”

“…That’s sad.”

“What do you mean?”

Ed jumped. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean like—!” he tried to explain, words pouring out as gibberish. Finally, he paused and took a deep breath while Mortimer waited patiently. “It’s a really nice thought, but, well,” Ed glanced up, fidgeting, “doesn’t it get kind of depressing, thinking about stuff like that?”

Mortimer frowned. “Really?”

Ed stared at the ground. “Well, yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t want to think about dying, not now, at least.” Even if it’d be logical, Ed added to himself, recalling the cellar and wincing.

“I suppose it’s a matter of principle,” Mortimer finally said, returning to his book. “I’m used to those sorts of discussion.”

“Oh. I don’t think I could handle it.”

Mortimer shrugged. “You’d be surprised. I don’t find any harm in talking about the inevitable, and there’s no use fearing it, either.”

“…That’s true,” Ed said. “I guess I’m just not used to it.”

“That’s fine, too,” Mortimer said, turning the page. Ed glanced up at the sky, unsure of the time. His eyes were beginning to grow weary and judging from his silence, Ivan had long since fallen asleep.

Laying down beside a patch of bushes, Ed yawned and closed his eyes, Mortimer later doing the same.

With the lamplight hitting his back, Ivan lay, eyes open, listening to the other two.

“…How stupid.”

That night, Ed found himself standing beside the cliff again. This time, however, his surroundings didn’t exist, only the silhouetted figure, the cliff itself, and the rest was dissolved gold. They looked a bit like fireflies, rising up from around him into a sea of emptiness, the lights growing stronger and stronger.

Mesmerized with the sight, the Savior took a step backwards, as though to get a better view, and found himself falling yet again.

As usual, the figure lurched forward, fingers reaching closer, and as Ed fell backwards into the golden lights, he couldn’t help but think about how warm those hands had been.

Then, just as his vision dissolved into gold, he opened his eyes and found himself staring up at the blue sky. Turning over, he found that Ivan was already awake and had put the lamp out. Yawning, Ed rubbed his eyes and sat up.

Oddly enough, a strange sensation was in his left eye, a bit like a burn, but not so unpleasant. He wasn’t quite sure how to explain it.

“Our powers will awaken soon.”

Ed’s eyes snapped open. Could it be? Ed stared at his hand, but the sensation was already vanishing. He frowned. If it was the case, then his powers didn’t seem to want to appear.

“Finally awake?” Ivan’s voice snapped Ed out of his thoughts. The Savior jumped.

“Um, yeah,” he said. He looked around. “Where’s Mortimer?” The other Savior was usually the one who said that. Ivan nodded his head towards a nearby tree trunk, where Mortimer was laying beside, back facing the two.

“Still sleeping,” Ivan said, frowning. Ed furrowed his brow.

The other Savior was usually the first awake. But then, he had been the last to go to sleep the previous night, so he supposed it was normal.

So, Ed turned away and picked up one of the pieces of bread Ivan had laid out on the blanket. He glanced at the thief, who wore a bored expression. “Um… what are we doing today?” he asked.

“Heading to Mortimer’s mansion,” came the blunt reply. Ed looked away.

“Oh.”

Ivan narrowed his eyes. “What?”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Ed asked, jumping a bit.

“You look like you want to say something,” the thief pointed out. “Well? What is it?”

“Oh. Uh, well, yesterday you were talking about not trusting Iris,” the Savior began, keeping his attention focused on the piece of bread in his hand.

“And?”

“I guess… I was thinking that having to survive doesn’t mean you’ll become selfish,” Ed finally finished. A distant memory surfaced, of days spent in an empty worn cabin with only himself and the blurred figure of his father there. Despite their situation, the Savior always recalled his father smiling, always giving his son support, always kind.

One time, when Ed had been returning from school, eyes sullen and legs sore, he’d found a stray kitten sleeping in front of the cabin door. Unsure of what to do, he had called his father, expecting him to chase it away.

Instead, the man had immediately returned to the house and come back with some scraps of food from the pantry. The young Ed had furrowed his brow as his father fed the cat and stroked its fur. He was painfully aware of the hollowness in his own stomach, and he knew his father had to feel the same.

Seeing his expression, the man turned to face him. “Don’t worry, boy, we’ve still enough for ourselves.”

“But…”

“Remember, you can never expect anyone to help you if you won’t help others,” his father said, turning back to the cat, who had fallen asleep. “Just think about that, son.”

And he did.

Now, a small smile crept onto Ed’s face as he recalled. The two had taken the cat home and raised it as a pet, though it had soon died, anyways. Still, for those few weeks, it had been comforting to come home and find someone there, someone who would always listen when his father was too busy with work.

Ivan frowned. “…If someone was like that, then they’re an idiot,” he finally said.

Ed looked up. “Why?”

The Savior turned away. “If everyone only thinks about themself, then they can’t blame anyone for anything and everything would be up to them. They’d only have to worry about their own happiness, and in the end, only the strong ones would live, leaving a world where the ones capable of surviving and staying happy lived. Isn’t it better that way?”

“But… then all the weak people would die,” Ed said.

“Exactly. Then, everyone left would mind their own business and everyone’d be happy.”

“That’s…”

“That’s rather cruel of you,” Mortimer said. Ed turned around, relieved to find the Savior now moving over to join the two.

“Good morning,” Ed said. Mortimer nodded, though his eyes seemed duller than usual. Ed frowned. “Is… is something wrong?”

Mortimer glanced up. “Huh? On, no, I just have a bit of a headache is all,” he said.

“Oh. Okay then,” Ed said, though he frowned.

Ivan narrowed his eyes. “What, you have a better idea?”

Mortimer bit into a slice of bread and sighed. “Using that logic, you could do anything under the guise that it was for your own happiness. You could kill someone and say it was for survival.”

“Yeah, you could. And?”

“You shouldn’t take lives lightly,” the Savior replied.

Ivan snorted. “It’s the person’s own fault for letting themself get killed. They should’ve been paying more attention to their surroundings.”

“Once again, I can’t agree with that sentiment.” Mortimer sighed and stood, brushing off his hands. Ed glanced at him, brows furrowed.

“Um, is that all you’re eating?” he asked. Mortimer nodded.

“I’m not very hungry, either, I’m afraid,” he said, swinging his bag over his shoulder. Ivan did the same and was soon followed by Ed.

The three Saviors then worked on replacing all the food and folding up the blanket. Once that was done, Ivan spent some time erasing any footprints leading to the area while the other two waited. Once the Savior was finished, he joined up with the other two.

“So we’re heading to the fourth mansion?” Mortimer asked.

“What else?” Ivan strode forward, ducking under the branches with alarming speed.

He continued this pace for much of the journey, with Ed constantly struggling to keep up. Mortimer always stopped for him, though, much to the Savior’s gratitude. Mortimer himself had to slow down a few times, too, despite usually keeping up with Ivan just fine, much to Ivan’s annoyance.

“You’re so slow,” he complained. “The Red Artist could come at you and you couldn’t even run away.”

“Then let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Mortimer said, stepping past him.

Ivan narrowed his eyes, following the Savior’s movement, before he uncrossed his arms and continued forward, too.

The fourth mansion was already within sight when Ivan first stopped.

Ed, who had been behind him, nearly crashed into the thief, almost falling over if not for Mortimer catching him halfway before he hit the ground.

“Um, what…?” Ed asked, straightening up again. Ivan’s eyes were narrowed.

The Savior didn’t reply. Instead, he strode forward and stepped into the bushes, bending down. The other two watched with curiosity as the Savior plucked something from the bushes.

Stepping closer, Ed squinted. “What is that?”

Ivan was holding a white cloth, which seemed to have a few red spots on it. The thief frowned. “A handkerchief. It has blood on it, too,” he said, turning it over. He narrowed his eyes.

“What?” Ed stepped closer. Ivan held the handkerchief up and pointed to a small, finely sewed symbol at the back.

“It’s the king’s crest. This belongs to Echo,” he said.

Ed glanced around. “So… Echo’s near here?”

“Was,” Ivan corrected, turning it over again. “Judging from the tears, it was probably carried over by the wind, and the blood’s dried already. But, there’s no doubt she must’ve traversed pretty far already. We have to be careful.”

Ed was quiet. “So… you don’t trust Echo?”

“Obviously not,” Ivan scoffed. “I’m pretty sure that sentiment’s mutual, too. Well, we might as well keep going, for now. Not like there’s anything to do about it.” Ivan stuffed the handkerchief into the outer pocket of his bag, and called over to Mortimer, who was standing some distance away. “Hey, how far’s the mansion?”

No response.

Ivan frowned and stepped closer, shaking the Savior by the shoulder. “I asked how far the mansion is,” he said.

Suddenly, Mortimer’s eyes snapped open from their previous groggy state. For a second, his expression was wild, the complete opposite of his usual robotic state, as though he’d been disconnected from this world, but he soon relaxed. He touched his forehead. “I’m sorry about that,” he said. Ed frowned, forehead wrinkled.

“Um, are you sure you’re okay? We can stop for a bit,” the Savior offered.

Mortimer shook his head, though Ed didn’t miss the bead of sweat that trickled down his forehead. “No, really, it’s just a slight headache is all.” He glanced up. “And, I’d say the mansion’s quite close now. We should get there in a few minutes.” Without further words, he stepped forward, Ed following. Ivan narrowed his eyes, but kept moving forward as well.

Up ahead, the mansion drew closer, it’s shadow overtaking the path. Ed swallowed, a gust of wind rattling the trees as they stepped into the clearing, the gate looming ahead of them.

Last|Next

Chapter Eight – A Silver Dagger

There came a time when she first realized how low she’d sunken.

At first, it had started as a slight hatred, a small pang whenever she saw her. From the beginning, she’d been fully aware of how unjustified her emotions were, of the selfish nature of those thoughts. This knowledge, however, only brought with it more guilt until, one day, she suddenly found she no longer cared for the person she’d once loved.

The last thing Echo heard was Fay’s voice as she ran up the stairs, ignoring their shaking and the shocked expressions of the Saviors waiting at the top of the cellar. She barely even looked up, keeping her eyes trained on the long red carpet expanding in front of her, following its path.

Instead, the Savior’s eyes found themselves staring at her dagger, the silver dagger carved with the emblem of her family, then to her other hand, which shook within its white glove.

Through the dimly lit alleys she ran, ignoring Fay’s attempts to call her back, to reason, to calm her down. At that moment, all she cared about was her sister.

As the street lamps flickered on and off and a cool gust of wind tossed her hair aside, an odd stench began to drift in from a distant alleyway. It was faint, carried by the breeze, but it bore the familiar rusted tint that she was all too familiar with.

Hand clenched around the knife’s cold handle, she prayed she wasn’t too late.

Perhaps in a stroke of luck, Echo soon found herself at the front door, thoughtlessly slamming into the wood and bolting down the stone stairs, already hearing Fay’s voice calling from behind. Outside, a swift gust of wind beat against her face, but she ignored it and turned away from the dirt path and into the trees. As she ducked into the forest, she was both grateful that she’d managed to escape and simultaneously worried. Fay was faster than her, she knew, so the only reason she’d be slowed down was…

Shuddering, Echo clenched her free fist, the glove’s cloth wrinkling and creasing.

Ahead, the ground was soft from the earlier storm, the Savior’s heels sliding into the dirt and sticking. This only made her run faster, however, as she slapped branches aside, not minding how many twigs sliced her skin.

“A king’s assassin must always be prepared to go to whatever lengths necessary. However, you must also remember that you are not just some barbarian, but a member of the royal court. Whenever possible, you must attempt to maintain a cool, calm, and elegant demeanor. We are not monsters, after all.”

As it turned out, that advice had been blatant lying.

During Echo’s first mission with her sister, the circumstances had made it impossible to maintain such gestures, with the two soon having to resort to the exact tactics their father frowned upon. Her sister, in particular, had been especially brutal when they were in the process of escaping the home, having fought with her bare fists in a wild manner. Echo had felt a pang, then, for her sister had always excelled in fighting, even without practice.

In comparison, her skills with the blade were precise enough for the initial kill, but utterly useless when faced in a true duel. Echo supposed her sister was more similar to Fay, in that manner, though she rarely saw the mercenary fight.

Under that knowledge, she’d spent countless nights practicing her skills with the blade, though a part of her always prayed that there would be no mistakes in any mission, that the getaway would be clean and without issue. Many times this was the case, and other times it was not.

Now, Echo found her muscles growing weary and her heart beginning to race a tad faster than she liked it to.

“Always be on guard and keep track of your health. If needed, abandon your mission. It’s all meaningless if you cannot survive for another.”

Instinctively, the Savior slowed. In a mechanical fashion, her pace lessened at a constant slope till she was taking even steps across the forest floor. A laugh bubbled to the surface and she fought the urge to let it out.

It was ridiculous.

Behind her were wild footprints and snapped bushes, and ahead of her was a forest filled with mysteries waiting to be found. The Eighth was on the island. The Red Artist was on the island, and here she was, casually walking about as though she was on her nightly city street patrol.

Don’t be a machine, she reminded herself.

Echo glanced down at her dagger, feeling the cold metal permeate through her white glove. At the tip, the smallest trickle of blood was beginning to run down the blade. The Savior was surprised at first, though she soon remembered her earlier confrontation with Ivan. Pulling out a handkerchief, Echo wiped the red off in one quick stroke and tossed the napkin aside, willing her eyes to look away from the splotches of red that were bleeding into the white.

She began to wonder where exactly she was and how far she’d gone. When she’d been running, she vaguely recalled passing a mansion marked with the number one. Squinting, she found that up ahead, a flag yielding the number two was waving in the wind. Perhaps it would be better to go back.

No. Echo took another look at her hand, then glanced back behind her, half expecting to find Fay chasing after her but meeting only the gaze of the shadowed forest. The Savior turned back and kept moving forward.

The Red Artist would surely target her, she reasoned, being that she was alone. Good. Echo’s hand began to shake. Let him come.

“The Red Artist?” Echo asked, staring at the paper she’d just been given. Her older sister nodded.

“Yes, that seems to be what they’re dubbing him for now,” Ester replied. She shook her head. “It’s terrible, really. I’ve never seen the public so distressed.”

Echo frowned and folded the note, setting it aside. “Serial killers aren’t uncommon,” she pointed out, “especially in the capital.” Her sister sighed.

“Perhaps.” Ester paused for a moment, thinking. “Well, it’s just that father seemed more nervous than usual. It’s causing more panic than he’d predicted.”

“Is the king doing anything?”

Ester shook her head. “I’m not sure. I’d wager he’d probably boost security, but beyond that, this is our job.”

“Figures,” Echo muttered under her breath. Ester, however, overheard.

“Don’t say that,” she scolded. “The king is a busy man, and he must be nervous, too. One of his guards was killed the other day, after all. We should be careful too.”

“I know,” Echo said, frowning. Wasn’t that obvious? She turned to the door to leave for her routine patrol. Ester didn’t look convinced, however, and stopped her younger sister just before she could step out the doorway.

“Echo,” she called. Echo turned back.

“Yes?”

Ester frowned. “Well… is something wrong?”

Echo paused for a brief moment. “What do you mean?”

Ester hesitated. “It’s just… you’ve been quieter lately. Has anything happened? If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask, even if you just want someone to rant your feelings to. I’m always here.”

Echo’s eyes flickered and she pursed her lips and nodded. “I know.” Seeing Ester’s worried expression, she added, “You worry too much, everything’s fine.”

“Really? Everything’s okay? You’re sur—?”

“It’s fine,” Echo interrupted, her voice raising slightly in volume. She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax her shoulders. “I’ll be leaving for patrol now. Tell me if you need me.” With that, she turned around and left, leaving Ester standing alone in the room. Once her sibling’s silhouette vanished, the girl clenched her fist and turned away from the doorway.

That day, while on patrol, Echo ran across the newest victim of the Red Artist and sprinted back to the mansion to alert the others. Ester had instantly shot up from her seat, following behind until the two had made their way back to the red alleyway, both confronting, for the first time, the fear that now plagued the kingdom.

The next day, their father moved killing the Red Artist to the top of the priority list.

There were days when she would question if there was truly a need to assassinate people, if killing was always the right option.

In the beginning, she’d flinch every time her knife dug into a target’s neck, wince as a stream of warm blood sloshed onto her face and close her eyes so she didn’t have to watch the victim’s body crumble onto the ground like a broken doll. More than anything, however, she hated the sound they made when they hit the floor. Maybe it was because she could never avoid it, but the quiet sound of splashing blood mixed together with the thud felt too much like the final note of a person dropping into the Void.

“That’s nonsense, the Golden One would never send us to the Void,” her father had said, back when she’d been younger and had enough childish naivety to be brave enough to ask such questions.

“We’re doing the world a favor,” he’d continued. “Just think about it, we’re ridding the world of filth. Isn’t it just like the Saviors against the Eighth? The Saviors don’t go to the Void, right?” And that had been that. While her father looked like he planned to comment further, his voice had taken on an authoritative note that didn’t bode well with the Savior to be, so she’d turned and ran off.

The next few missions afterwards hadn’t been much better, her father’s reassurances having done nothing to calm her nerves.

Now, however, there was only a hollow feeling.

It was odd. Ever since they’d been younger, she’d envied her sister’s latent talent for killing, unable to understand the robotic way she ignored her emotions. Her father claimed that some people simply didn’t have as many feelings to worry about, but she knew, better than anyone, that her sister had far more emotions than the average person did.

“You just have to pretend they’re not people,” she had said when asked. The Savior to be had scolded her then, unable to comprehend how anyone could look at those corpses and ignore that they had families, that they had ambitions, that they, too, had dreams.

Her sister had sighed, then. “Just don’t think about it,” she’d said. “Sister, you’re so talented, it’d be wasteful if you suddenly backed down because of this.”

It was true.

She could only imagine her father’s reaction if she suddenly threw away her silver knife and said she wanted a different job. So, she had gritted her teeth and stayed.

While she soon built up an icy mask to don, it wasn’t until she saw the first victim of the Red Artist that she truly understood what her sister had meant.

It was far easier to forget your victims when they didn’t look human, and perhaps that was why the Red Artist went to the lengths he did. That was just optimistic thinking on her part, though, as she could find no possible explanations—nor did she want any form of justification—on the serial killer’s part.

“There’s been another victim already…” Ester whispered, half to herself. Echo furrowed her brow and bit her lip.

“Can’t we do anything?” she muttered, clenched fist shaking. Ester lightly tapped her sister’s shoulder to calm her and shook her head. When she spoke, her voice was quiet.

“At this rate, we might have to wait for the Saviors,” she said. “No matter what we do, there are never any clues left behind. Father said so, too. I’m afraid this is beyond us.”

“Ridiculous,” Echo muttered, sliding her sister’s hand away. She looked up at Ester. “You can’t do anything, either?”

Ester shook her head, eyes solemn. “No. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to accomplish anything.”

Echo lowered her head. “So even you can’t do anything…” she whispered.

“There’s always the Saviors,” Ester said hopefully. “They’ll easily be able to handle it.”

“Will they?” Echo furrowed her brow and sighed. “I’m sorry, but if you, the best assassin, can’t deal with this, I don’t know if a group of strangers can.”

“I’m far from the best,” Ester pointed out. “And, their powers will make things much easier. It will be as simple as snapping fingers, to them.”

Echo stared out the window. Outside, the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon, the daylight shifting in hue and tinting the earth gold. A light breeze blew. The grasses swayed and tree branches softly creaked as gusts of wind twirled around them. “…I don’t know. It just feels… odd, always having to rely on them.”

“You’re starting to sound like Fay.” Ester sighed. She stepped forward and placed Echo’s hand in hers. “Well, for now, all we can do is keep trying and pray the Golden One grants our wishes.”

Echo looked up at her sister’s serene expression, then down to her hand. She sighed, the faintest trace of a smile creeping up her lips.

“I suppose so.”

Once her heart beat had relaxed and her muscles no longer tingled, the Savior returned to running, this time paying more attention to her surroundings and successfully avoiding a majority of the branches that sprang into her path.

Already the sky was darkening, the blue fading to ink and the forest morphing into a mass of black. Echo bit her lip. She’d have to find a place to rest soon. She paused. Would she be able to find the way back to the mansion? Looking back for a brief moment, her footprints provided a clear path leading back, though they were difficult to make out in the dimming daylight.

Looking back ahead, Echo wondered if she even wanted to go back. She didn’t think the other Saviors would allow her to return so easily, and even if they were able to set aside suspicions, she’d surely be questioned.

“What’s your relation to the Red Artist?” they’d ask, and she would have no choice but to answer honestly.

“I can always tell when someone’s lying,” Lucine had told her when the two first met on the island. Echo had furrowed her brow and nodded, unsure of what to make of the comment.

“That’s… useful,” she’d finally said. “Are you the Truth Teller, by any chance?”

“Of course not.” Lucine had waved the question away and grinned. “I’m just really perceptive, that’s all.”

“Oh, alright then.” Echo had paused. “Was there a reason you wanted to inform me?”

Lucine had raised an eyebrow. “A reason? Hmm… let’s see… Ah, I know.” She’d snapped her fingers, smiling. “Because I can tell you’re a liar.”

At that moment, Echo had turned away and left.

She considered herself fortunate for having arrived at the island just after Fay—the two had barely talked after they’d each gained their powers respectively—and unlucky for having had to meet Lucine when Fay had been roaming the mansion. Perhaps her idealized image of Fay’s friend might’ve remained intact if Fay had been around to get the two to talk properly. Now, however, Echo was in doubt as to whether the Savior was capable of behaving as their “leader.”

Once again, Echo glanced over her shoulder, then shook her head. No, she didn’t want to go back. At least not now, while the night lay thickly over the island.

So, Echo continued forward, deciding to stop by her own designated mansion.

The next morning, she’d see if she could find any of The Red Artist’s traces. He must’ve spent much of his time hiding in the mansion, while the Saviors had still been arriving, so she might find clues.

“The servants, while in charge of giving the old documents of past generations to teach the new Saviors, are not necessary. The gifts of the Golden One manifest after a set period of time on their own (a week or so after a month), and the new generation can then learn to access their abilities themselves—though it may be difficult for those who lack a natural gift.”

Echo narrowed her eyes, unconsciously covering her golden left eye.

“To think we’d both wind up being Saviors,” Fay commented, sighing and leaning back against the tree trunk. The Savior chuckled. “A lucky coincidence, isn’t it?”

“…I’m not sure about that,” she replied. Fay cocked her head.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just…” she paused, lifting her head to look over to the sky where dawn was beginning to creep out from. “…I think it would’ve been better if sister was the Savior,” she finally said.

Fay sighed. “Not this again,” she muttered, leaning forward. “Even if you think that way, it’s not like there’s anything you can do about it.”

“Perhaps. But… well, perhaps it’s unprecedented for me to say this, but I just have the feeling something terrible will happen.” She sighed. “I’m not the hero type, anyways. The role doesn’t suit me.”

“A lot of people would argue against that,” Fay pointed out, “myself included.”

“Even then, I don’t feel I have the qualifications.”

Fay heaved a sigh and leaned back against the trunk, gazing up at the rosy sky. “You say that, but it doesn’t really matter what you think, does it? If everyone starts calling you a hero, then you don’t have a choice but to be one, right?” Fay gave a soft laugh.

“Is that so…” She closed her eyes. “Well, in the very least, I’ll finally be able to kill the Red Artist.”

“It’s taken a while, hasn’t it?”

She nodded. “Indeed. I’m sure sister would’ve liked to take part in it too, since this was originally her assigned mission…”

“No one said the Saviors had to work alone,” Fay pointed out.

“Yes, but traditions—”

“Who cares what the Golden One says?” Fay interrupted. “These eight heroes will walk with only one another for support and they shall take the lonely path to bring the world salvation,” she recited. The Savior shook her head. “The Golden One’s been wrong plenty of times before, and I doubt that was the last.”

“Perhaps. Even then, it isn’t wise to go against the old myths. That was how the Eighth first turned evil, after all.”

Fay raised an eyebrow. “You really believe that?” The Savior chuckled and shook her head. “Well, I guess it’s a difference in principle. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being the Eighth.”

The Savior furrowed her brow and tilted her head. “History doesn’t hold your argument true.”

Fay closed her eyes. “Maybe, but that’s what I think, anyways.”

“The public won’t be happy to hear a Savior say that,” she pointed out. Fay shrugged.

“Since when has the public been happy about anything?” Fay stood up and stretched, one hand reaching for the red sky as though to touch it. A fresh wave of a morning breeze swept past them as the sun began to rise, its light momentarily blinding their vision. Fay turned back, chuckling. “Well, I suppose we’ll have to see, won’t we?”

She sighed, though a smile was on her expression. “I suppose so.” The Savior, too, stood. “To think, one more month and we’ll be on the Willis Isles,” she said, looking over the cliffs towards the distant cities and villages.

“Hmm… I think I might head off a little earlier,” Fay said, thinking.

“Why is that?”

“Well, I don’t have any jobs here left, and my next is some distance away. I suppose I’ll spend a few more days here, then I’ll leave. I already sent a letter to the king about it, too.”

“Oh. Well, safe travels, then.”

Fay smiled. “Yep, you too.” She chuckled. “Well, it’s not like I’m leaving yet, anyways. I still need to pack and say bye to everyone else.”

“…Sister will be disappointed to hear you’re leaving,” the Savior finally said, quiet.

“We’ll see.” Fay bent over and picked up her bag, swinging it over her shoulder. For a second, she glanced back at the sky, which was already beginning to fade to blue. She sighed. “Well, we’d better head back now or that father of yours will complain.”

“Indeed,” she agreed, turning to follow the Savior.

For a brief second, she thought she saw a speck of gold dancing in the breeze, but the moment she blinked it was gone.

When they returned home, she’d found her sister waiting for her, as expected. That day, they’d been spared any missions beyond the usual patrol and the ongoing search for the Red Artist.

She’d had been eager to ask her sister to accompany her to the Willis Island, considering her sister’s passion for catching the criminal, and she had agreed.

In the end, however, only Echo went to the mansion.

Since, before they left, her sister was found dead.

Willow woke long before the rays of sunlight began filtering through the gold curtains. The Savior immediately shot up and scanned the room in search of anything out of place, but all was untouched and in the exact same location she’d left it in. She breathed a sigh of relief, but her eyes didn’t stop darting about until the morning light finally lit up the shadows of the room.

A faint scent of blood lingered in the kitchen, remaining from the materials she’d collected the other day. Willow wrinkled her nose and tried ignoring it, though she found herself deciding to skipping breakfast.

Instead, the Savior spent the morning packing everything she’d gathered before securely into her bag, which she swung over her shoulder and tied to her waist. Taking a deep breath, she blew out the lamp and stepped out of the dining room, first checking to make sure she didn’t hear anyone on the other side.

The Savior spent that morning scanning the rest of the rooms in an attempt to find something useful.

A majority of the halls held extra guest rooms, all of which were identical in structure and furnishings, excluding a second servant’s foyer and a hallway that led to the back courtyard and library. Willow spent quite some time there, scanning through the books.

It was much larger than the one in her town had been, with shelves stacked up to the three story high ceiling, each filled with unusual texts and intriguing tales.

There was nothing about the Saviors that she didn’t already know, however, much to her disappointment. A part of her had hoped she’d find some journals or unknown records about the old generations, some guides or advice on controlling her powers, perhaps, but she supposed those had all been kept with the servants.

While Willow could’ve spent the entire day in the library, she forced herself to keep searching. Right now, securing the mansion took priority. Later, once she was sure she was truly the only one within the mansion, she would return here.

She ended up having a similar occurrence with the courtyard, which was filled with golden hydrangeas grown around wax candles—glass tables sitting on the center stone, each laid with gold trimmed cards. Willow recalled the card games she’d played before they had all arrived and briefly wondered if they’d ever be able to play another game. If they did, she’d have to show them the courtyard. There was even exactly eight chairs, so all of them could participate.

Willow felt a pang in her heart. Seven. Once this was all over, she supposed there’d only be seven of them left.

Were any of them capable of the massacre in the cellar? Willow furrowed her brow, frowning. She didn’t think so. But then, what did she know? The Savior stared down at her hand, squinting. Her left eye flashed gold and the shape of her hand morphed, just for a second, before returning to its usual small form. Willow sighed and shook her head, her heart already racing faster than before.

She turned and departed the courtyard, returning to the dining hall.

Once she’d finished scanning through all the floors and halls, Willow decided she’d better take at least a look outside. The mansion was all that really mattered, she had argued with herself, but there was always a chance that the Eighth was hiding right outside, she had countered.

So, after swallowing and grabbing the kitchen knife again, Willow stepped out the door and locked it, grateful to have gotten a key, even if she still winced every time she touched the cold metal and sniffed the lingering rusted scent.

Outside, the ground had finally hardened, with only a few moist patches left. Sure enough, Willow could find two sets of distantly spaced footprints leading out the front door, three near the back, and slightly fresher set at the front, too. Two more were beside the dining hall window, coming from the forest. These prints, in particular, made her shiver.

From that location, one could easily see inside or even hear what was happening in the dining room. Furthermore, that was one too many sets, with the three at the front, the three at the back, and the two here adding up to eight. Willow hadn’t set foot outside, which meant at least one of the Saviors had already returned to the mansion, though they hadn’t stayed.

It left a heavy feeling in Willow’s mind, a weight that refused to go. Had it been the Eighth? If not, why hadn’t they returned to the mansion? Did the others really trust her so little?”

Staring at the ground, the Savior’s hand shook as she attempted to calm herself.

In the end, it seemed she was severely lacking in information. She could follow one of the trails, but Willow didn’t trust herself to choose the right path. After all, the Eighth could be waiting for her at the end of one, ready to slaughter her as he had with the servants. The Savior shuddered. She was defenseless, after all, save for a single kitchen knife that she could barely hold without trembling.

Willow knew Fay and Echo were fine on their own, as was Ivan, who was most likely with Mortimer and Ed. Lucine was certainly alright, and while she hadn’t known Iris too well, she had seemed smart enough to be able to handle herself.

With that in mind, Willow was by far the easiest target right now.

If the Red Artist crept up on her, no, if they just used their power to steal her soul, then…

Willow shook her head, willing herself not to think of the possibilities. She clenched her fist. There was no way she would let that happen, not just for herself, but for the others, as well.

In a past generation, when the Eighth had succeeded in killing off one of the Saviors, they had gained their ability. If the Eighth were to be able to use the powers of The Impersonator, then… Willow didn’t know what would happen.

Impersonate. The Savior looked up, eyes brightening for a moment.

It was true that she was physically the most vulnerable—except perhaps Ed, who had two others with him—and that she would probably be targeted. However, their powers would manifest soon, and when that happened, they would easily be able to determine the liar. All she had to do was survive until then.

Willow turned back to the front gate, double checking she’d locked the door before making her way back to the dining hall. Thoughts were buzzing around her head, ideas on everyone’s identity, their locations, who to trust, and who not to.

The Savior forced herself to eat lunch, since she’d missed breakfast, and ate leftovers from the last dinner. Slowly picking at the dishes with her fork, Willow glanced up at the grandfather clock, willing time to move quickly, for the week to end soon.

Then, she looked back down at her hand, this time squeezing her eyes shut and focusing until her head began to throb and her body trembled. Little by little, she began to shed away her appearance, remorphing herself into someone else. Many times she had to stop to take breaths, to take a sip of water or another bite of food to calm her dizziness, but she kept going at it until the Savior felt she might collapse.

It was nearly two long hours until she was satisfied, though she hadn’t noticed the time go by.

Quickly, she finished her meal and washed the dishes, trying to hold onto the form she’d taken. In the end, she could still feel it slip away.

Talented, Lucine had called the two. Maybe that had been true for Lucine, but Willow only frowned as she stared back down at her hand, which was the exact same as it had been before.

She would be overjoyed if she had the level of control as Lucine did, but that wasn’t the case. If all the Saviors were at Lucine’s power level, then the Eighth would’ve already been caught.

Instead, Willow dried off her hands and sat back down again, once again closing her eyes and willing the Golden One to grant her strength. Little by little, her left eye glowed brighter and brighter beneath her closed eyelids.

Iris had originally intended to erase her footprints, but decided there was no need. If someone wanted to go after her, then she would deal with it then.

Instead, the Savior focused on following the trail of three footprints that snaked around from behind the mansion and led towards the distant home of the First. Swallowing, she pushed aside branches, determined not to lose the trail.

There was no way she would let anyone die, and she planned on doing whatever she could to ensure everyone survived.

Even when noon came, the Savior kept moving, not even pausing for a sip of water.

That night, she kept going through the shadowy woods, willing herself to ignore the distant sounds of night creatures and keep moving forward.

The next day, she was finally about to take a break, too thirsty and exhausted to go on, when she heard voices. The voices of Saviors, the voices of her goal. With a newfound surge of strength, Iris pushed aside the branches and stepped through the dense trees, eyes set, posture determined.

No matter what happened, she would never allow the Red Artist to win.

Last|Next

Chapter Seven – Distant Futures

By the time the sun began to set, Ivan, Ed, and Mortimer had traversed halfway to the next nearest mansion. The Willis Island had been built with one major mansion for all seven Saviors and one individual one for each surrounding it, making a total of eight. Traditionally, the main mansion was so large than all the Saviors tended to live there, but there had been occasions of certain Saviors not getting along, in which case they would move to another location after informing and bringing along some of the servants.

Upon leaving the main mansion, the three Saviors had traveled in silence, with Ivan leading the way. Since neither Mortimer nor Ed could differentiate between the dense trees and thick canopy, no one protested.

For what must have been hours, only the rustle of leaves and the snapping of twigs made any noise, as even the forest animals seemed to have shyed away.

After Ed could no longer bear it, he attempted to ask, “So, uh, where are we going?”

Ivan kept walking, answering without looking back. “To another mansion.”

At this, Ed paused in his tracks and squinted, peering through the leaves towards the sky. The previous storm had cleared and left a blue sky in its wake, with not a single lingering cloud, the only evidence of the storm in the soaked earth and left in the droplets resting on the greenery. In the distance, a small section of a roof could be seen poking out from above the forest, a single flag perched atop reading the number one. Ed furrowed his brow.

Noticing, Mortimer commented, “That’s the mansion for the First,” he explained, “so it would be Lucine’s.”

“Oh. Uh… what about ours?”

“You mean mine and Mortimer’s,” Ivan pointed out. He momentarily turned back to face them. “Seeing as you don’t even know which Savior you are.”

Ed pursed his lips and attempted to dodge the other Savior’s gaze.

Luckily, Mortimer directed the conversation back to the original comment. “Since Ivan is the Sixth, his mansion is some distance away,” he explained, facing Ed and ignoring Ivan, who eventually gave up and turned back to the front with a tsk. “The mansions are arranged with the First being closest to the main mansion and the Seventh being near the shore. I’m the third, so mine is a bit closer, but it’s still quite far.”

Ed furrowed his brow. “Isn’t that a bit… odd? I mean, in design?”

Mortimer shrugged. “I thought so, too. It’s quite a peculiar decision.”

“It’s not the only one,” Ivan retorted. Mortimer sighed and turned to face him.

“What do you mean?”

Glancing back for a second, Ivan said, “The mansion hallways are complete garbage. There’s zero security and too many escape routes for an intruder to use,” the Savior scoffed. Mortimer thought about this.

“…I suppose that’s true. I didn’t really notice before, but I suppose a thief would know.”

Ed’s eyes widened and he spun around. “Wait, you’re a thief?”

Ivan held up his bag, which clinked when he did so. “Why of course,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “Wasn’t it obvious?”

“Not really. I only knew because Lucine told me,” Mortimer said.

“I was being sarcastic.”

Mortimer shrugged, eyes dull.

Turning back to the front, Ivan paused and ducked under a fallen tree from the storm, not bothering to wait for the other two. “Shouldn’t you have noticed, too? You’re an engineer, right?”

Mortimer glanced up. “How could you tell?”

“Your clothes,” Ivan said, too tired to bother explaining.

“Oh. Well, that’s somewhat true. I run the village clock shop, it’s a family business, so I know a bit about mechanics.”

“But nothing about architecture.”

Mortimer shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

Ivan sighed but didn’t comment, instead glancing up at the sky. “…It’s getting late. It’d probably be best to stop here and continue next morning.”

Mortimer nodded. Just as he was about to set his bag down, however, Ivan held out a hand to stop him. “Wait,” he said, then stepped forward and pushed a mangled bush aside. On the other side, a line of footprints were imprinted onto the soft earth, the long strides of someone running. With the bush covering it, only the edges of the prints were visible, but now, they were exposed. Ivan narrowed his eyes and brushed off his hands. “It’d be safer if we moved to the side a bit.”

Ed furrowed his brow. “Those look like Echo’s footprints…” he muttered. Ivan raised an eyebrow.

“I didn’t think you’d be able to tell.”

“What? Oh, um, well, I was thinking it was probably Echo or Fay, and Fay doesn’t wear heels, so…”

Mortimer was inspecting the prints. “They look like they’re already quite faded,” he commented. Nonetheless, he stood and followed Ivan as they stepped the other way, ducking under a thick canopy until the footprints were far behind.

As it turned out, Ivan had packed a thick, large blanket in his bag, which he now spread across the ground to avoid sleeping on the mud. Ed was impressed with how well prepared the Savior was, glancing at his own light pack in embarrassment. Mortimer, however, was staring at the bag Ivan had temporarily set down, eyeing the bulks and folds in the cloth.

Finally, Ed’s eyes widened as Mortimer reached over and unzipped the bag. Almost instantly, Ivan spun around, ready to retort, but Mortimer frowned and pulled out one of the gold decorative figures that had lined the shelves. Then, underneath that he found strips cleanly shorn off the gold wallpaper as well as some of the amber jewels embedded into the window frames. All had been masterfully removed and carefully placed into the bag. Ed’s eyes only grew wider as the Savior pulled out more items, Mortimer’s frown deepening until, by the end, he bore an expression of complete and utter disappointment.

“You done?” Ivan snapped, snatching the bag away and pushing all his loot to the other side of the blanket, where he sat down and began to delicately place them back into the bag.

Mortimer gave him a dead look. “Was that really necessary?”

“Can you blame me?” Ivan scoffed. “Did you see the security around? They were begging to be stolen!”

Mortimer sighed, having seemingly given up on scolding the other Savior. Instead, he asked, “When did you have the time to steal all of that?”

“When we were inspecting the halls.”

Ed furrowed his brow. “Um… doesn’t that… technically already belong to the Saviors? So why…”

“I’m just being well prepared!” Ivan snapped. He placed the golden figure back atop the rest of the goods and zipped the bag up, glaring at the other two. “It seems it was a smart move, too, with the Eighth on the loose. What’ll you do if we can’t find them? Wait till the barrier vanishes and tell the public you failed? Go back to your old life? Ha!”

“I’m sure we’ll be able to catch them,” Mortimer pointed out, “especially since our powers will be awakening soon. Once that happens, the barrier will also most likely vanish.”

“Really?” Ed asked, sitting up straighter. Being able to display his ability would certainly make it easier to convince the others he wasn’t the Eighth. Mortimer nodded.

“Traditionally, the Saviors’ powers appear in bursts when they first receive them. Then, they usually don’t manifest for a while until about a week into the second month of having them. There are some exceptions, like Lucine and Willow, but that’s usually how it is.”

“Don’t forget the Eighth,” Ivan pointed out, pushing his bag aside, glad to direct the conversation elsewhere. Ed furrowed his brow.

“Um, it’s… it’s kind of a silly question, but… uh. What’s the Eighth’s power do?”

“You mean you don’t know?” Ivan taunted. Ed stared at the ground.

Mortimer, ignoring Ivan, replied, “The Eighth’s power is the manipulation of death, you could say. It can cause a large radius of living beings to lose their lives, and not by simply killing them, but by stealing away their soul, it’s believed,” he explained. “Of course, it’s still a bit vague, but that seems to be the case, since the Eighth is also able to steal other Saviors’ powers if they kill them, most likely because our abilities are attached to our souls. That’s also why having them causes us to die in eight years, because our bodies can’t withstand the heavier souls.”

Someone’s well read,” Ivan muttered. Mortimer shrugged.

“Back in the town I lived in, it was required reading,” he explained.

Ed frowned. “So… the Red Artist used their power to kill all those servants?”

“Most likely, yes.” Mortimer nodded. “Otherwise, I can’t imagine it would’ve been so easy to slaughter an entire mansion of people. The servants would’ve had knowledge on combat, too.”

“I guess we’re unlucky the Eighth’s so powerful this generation.” Ivan sighed, leaning back against a mossy tree trunk. Ed bit his lip and stared at the blanket.

“But… once our abilities appear, it’ll be easy, right?” To kill him?

“You’d better hope so,” Ivan said. He raised an eyebrow. “Of course, one of us here is the Eighth and already has their power, they’re just not saying so.” Ed flinched at the way the other Savior deliberately looked his direction.

“Ivan, your power would be useful,” Mortimer interrupted, much to Ed’s gratitude. “You’d be able to instantly tell who’s lying. That is, if you can control it without assistance and if you’re not lying about it.” The Savior’s eyes were cold

Ivan returned Mortimer’s words with a steady gaze. He smirked. “Lying about being the Truth Teller? Wouldn’t that be ironic?”

Without flinching, Mortimer replied. “Indeed.”

Ed watched the two, head flitting back and forth, but neither seemed intent on speaking. Already the sky was darkening, the forest being filled with the sound of night animals, and Ed decided he’d rather not spend the night in silence. He turned to Mortimer.

“Um… you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but well, do you know about the Red Artist?” To Ed’s relief, Mortimer turned to face him.

“What makes you ask that?” he asked.

“Well, you seemed kind of bothered by Lucine, so…”

“Oh, that.” Mortimer shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen any victims until today. I lived on the west coast,” he explained, “so we weren’t affected.”

“By the shore?” Ivan suddenly asked, leaning forward a bit. “Wasn’t that place battling disease or something? I didn’t think there were still people living there.”

“You seem to know a lot about it,” Mortimer pointed out, but answered nonetheless. “Yes, there was a severe bout of illness some decades back. The previous generation of Saviors helped quell it, but the land itself is still infected. We’re almost expecting everyone to contract the disease at some point or another.”

Ed frowned. “Why don’t you just leave?”

Mortimer sighed. “While it would certainly be beneficial, it’d be difficult crossing through the mountains. Besides, it is our home, so it’s hard to leave the town behind.”

“That’s stupid,” Ivan said bluntly. “What’s the point if none of you are alive?”

“Perhaps,” Mortimer said. “My mother said something similar, though she died of the disease before she could convince everyone to leave.”

“Oh.” Ed stared at the thickly woven blanket. “Um, sorry for your loss…”

Mortimer shook his head. “It’s fine. It was the same with my father, actually. Most of us villagers expect to find loved ones dead when we wake up every morning, so we’re used to it. If anything, it’s taught me how much to appreciate living.”

Ivan was silent for a moment. “I suppose that’s why you don’t care about the eight year time limit.”

“I suppose so.”

Ed continued staring at the ground. “Still… that’s terrible.”

“Well,” Mortimer added, “once we can find a way to get off this island, I’d like to return there and help renovate the place. That’s the Saviors’ job, isn’t it?”

“You probably won’t have the time,” Ivan scoffed. “The king’ll probably just make us be guards or something.”

“Perhaps. But, I don’t think it’s bad to think of future plans. What about the two of you?”

Ed looked up. “Huh?”

“I feel like I’ve been talking an awful lot lately,” Mortimer pointed out. “Don’t the two of you have any goals?”

Ed thought about it for a moment, then ducked his head, embarrassed. “Well… I’d like to renovate my town too,” he finally said sheepishly. “Um, we don’t have any disease or anything like that, but it’s really old and a lot of the people are poor, so… I—I’d like to help some.”

Mortimer nodded. “That’s an honorable goal.” The Savior turned towards Ivan. “What about you?”

Ivan narrowed his eyes. “Why does it matter?”

“Creating conversation isn’t terrible,” Mortimer said, “especially between fellow Saviors.” Ivan bit his lip and turned away, back facing the other two.

“Whatever, think about that stuff once you’ve actually killed the Eighth. Anyways, I’m going to sleep. I don’t really care about shifts. The two of you can go run back to the mansion if you don’t trust me, I don’t care.” With that, the thief lay down and refused to move.

Mortimer and Ed exchanged glances, but the two, too, decided to sleep.

For a moment, Mortimer’s eyes drifted back to Ivan’s bag, then to the path in the woods. In the end, he shook his head, though he made sure to stay awake a little longer to listen for anyone approaching. Ed, too, had similar thoughts.

Of course, by the time morning came, all three Saviors were still there, having decided to stay together.

The next morning, the three rose early and continued on the trail, soon reaching the first mansion, which towered above them. It wasn’t quite as colossal as the main mansion was, but still giant in appearance. Vines creeped up the walls and bloomed yellow flowers, twisting about the tall pillars that stood at the gateway entrance. The windows, unlike that of the main mansion, were round and circular, a majority made of stained glass.

Ed instinctively shrunk under the shadow of the home while Mortimer and Ivan made their way up the steps and to the massive gate. Mortimer tried the handle, but it was locked. The Savior frowned.

“I suppose without the servants around, there wouldn’t be any keys,” he said. Ivan, however, was busy rummaging around in his bag. Curious, Ed stepped forward a bit just in time to see the other Savior pull out a long, thin metal tool. Mortimer frowned, but Ivan shrugged.

“What else are we supposed to do?” Then, he carefully inserted the lockpick into the keyhole and began fiddling around with it until a click signified the door had unlocked. Ivan straightened and set the tool back into his bag. “See? Isn’t that useful?”

“I suppose,” Mortimer replied, voice dull. He stepped forward and gripped the handle, but before he could open it, the door moved outward of its own accord. Ed jumped while Ivan instantly stepped backwards, eyes narrowed and hand gripping his bag.

At the doorway, a voice said, “You could’ve knocked, you know.”

Ivan’s eyes turned to slits as the owner of the voice stepped out of the doorway. There stood Lucine, a wide smile on her face, fingers twirling around her black and white umbrella. She grinned. “Or is polite behavior impossible for you?”

“What do you want?” Ivan asked, voice low. Mortimer, too, had taken a step back and was now in front of Ed.

Lucine, however, ignored Ivan’s hostility. “Here I was, wondering where you three had gone off to. Willow and Iris were so worried, too.”

Mortimer’s voice was cold. “Where are those two?”

“Where?” Lucine chuckled. “I don’t know about Iris, but Willow’s still in the mansion. Iris ran off this morning.”

Ivan narrowed his eyes. “What?”

“Yep. When we woke up this morning, it was just Willow and I. I daresay she ran off just like all of you did.”

Mortimer was quiet. “…Judging from your presence here, I assume that means you left too.”

Lucine feigned clapping. “Amazing, what an incredible observation.”

“Ha! Now who’s the coward?” Ivan taunted. Lucine snickered.

“You think I’d run away from the Eighth? I’m in absolutely no danger, I was just bored, is all.”

“Obviously you wouldn’t be in danger, the Eighth wouldn’t attack themself,” Ivan retorted, hand drifting even closer to one of the outer pockets on his bag.

“My, jumping to conclusions now? Well, that’s fine, I don’t really care either way.” Lucine leaned against the doorway, continuing to twirl around her umbrella. Ed found his eyes following the blur of black and white, which was almost hypnotic in a sense. “Might I ask the reason you’ve decided to grace this mansion with your presence?” Lucine continued, eyebrow raised.

“Shelter,” came Ivan’s blunt answer. Lucine chuckled.

“Well, in that case, you’d be better off going somewhere else. This place is occupied, I’m afraid.” The Savior raised a hand and waved.

Mortimer glanced up at the sky. The sun was just now reaching its height, leaving them with a decent amount of time to head over to the next mansion. No, they’d even have enough time to go to the third, his, which Mortimer was sure wouldn’t be occupied. He turned to Ivan. “We could head over to my mansion,” he suggested. Ivan sighed and conceded, turning around and beginning to make his way down the steps, though he kept his hand on his bag.

Behind them, Lucine called, “Oh, right, forgot to mention this, but you really should stop that.” She pointed to the keyhole. “You do realize it destroys the lock, right? It’s really a pain to fix.”

“Of course I know that,” Ivan muttered. When thieving, it made no difference to him if the lock was a little damaged afterwards. If anything, it made his next round easier. Though, that being said, he did have to admit not having locks on the island would be difficult, especially if someone else could further destroy them and enter the mansion where they were hiding in.

Lucine must’ve known what he was thinking, because in the next instance, she threw something small and shiny towards Ed, who jumped and nearly missed, but was able to catch it. The Savior glanced up at Lucine, who was grinning, then back at the object. Holding it up to the sunlight, the metal glistened.

“A key?”

Ivan instantly turned around. “Let me see that,” he demanded, snatching it away.

Squinting, he flipped the key over, eyeing the head, which showed a detailed crest carved in pure gold. As flashes of recognition passed over him, memories of the banners and flags in the mai mansion, he slowly lifted his head towards Lucine, eyes ice.

“This is a servant’s master key.” At this, Mortimer’s eyes widened and he, too, turned to Lucine, who remained nonchalant.

“Yeah, so?”

“How did you get this?” Ivan demanded. “The servants should all be dead.”

Lucine sighed. “Isn’t it obvious? I pilfered it off their corpses.”

Ed grimaced, the memory of the cellar drifting back to him as he could practically still smell the stench. He covered his mouth.

Ivan’s hand was now trembling just the slightest.

“Doesn’t that mean you’re admitting you killed them?” he asked, voice shaking.

At this, Lucine laughed. It was a hearty laugh that bounced off the walls and rang through the forest, and it was one that sent chills down Ed’s spine and seemed to freeze the air. Still snickering, she wiped a tear from her eye.

“What a funny idea you’ve got there,” she finally said. “Did it not occur to you I might’ve taken it after the three of you left?”

Ivan pursed his lips. “Yes, but you don’t have any proof of that,” he argued.

“Do you have any proof of your identity?” Lucine pointed out. She nodded directly at Ivan’s bag, eyebrow raised. “I assume you’ve collected quite a bounty for yourself, despite it already belonging to the Saviors. What do you call that behavior besides suspicious?”

Ivan flinched and pushed the bag aside. “Why does everyone keep noticing?” he muttered.

“Because it’s obvious.” Before Ivan could retort, Lucine stepped back from the doorway. “Well, it’s certainly true I can’t prove the origins of that key, you’ll have to decide for yourself. Though,” she added, eyes amused, “I sincerely doubt either option will do much to improve your opinion of me.” She chuckled. “Not that I care, either way.”

Mortimer stared at the key, still tightly gripped in Ivan’s hand, then back to Lucine. His voice was cold. “Do you expect us to thank you?”

“Of course not, I didn’t give that to you to be thanked.”

Ed furrowed his brow. “Then… why?”

Lucine smiled. “Because it’ll be more amusing! Wouldn’t it be dull if all of you were killed without a fight? In the very least, I’d like to see your powers manifest for myself before all of you die.”

Ed flinched and Ivan glared at Lucine, shoving the key into his pocket and turning to leave.

As the trio departed, Lucine called from behind them.

“It probably doesn’t mean much at this point, but I should let you know that I’ve never killed anyone.”

Ignoring her voice, the three slipped back into the cover of the forest, leaving the mansion behind them and heading further into the woods towards the next towering monument.

The three were silent as they continued on their travels, only speaking once when Mortimer suggested they head to his mansion next, in case Fay was also occupying hers. Ed’s memory floated back to the footprints and he couldn’t help but wonder whether the Savior had managed to find Echo. Ivan didn’t respond, only giving a terse nod as he pushed one of the tree branches aside.

Despite Mortimer’s earlier prediction, travel was far slower than he’d imagined, the forest growing far denser as they moved further in. Eventually, they had to stop as Ed was struggling to keep up, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead.

“Sorry,” he muttered, head bowed. Mortimer shook his head.

“It’s fine, the sun was beginning to set anyway. I was feeling a bit tired myself.” Mortimer glanced at Ivan, who was sitting some distance away from them and hadn’t spoken a word. Usually he’d berate Ed for his low stamina, but today, he was oddly silent. Mortimer sighed and decided against questioning him. After all, he, too, was feeling weary, their previous encounter having drained him.

Ivan had packed some food from the kitchens and Mortimer had brought some dried goods in his bag, so the three ate while watching the sun sink below the distant mountains.

For a while, the trio focused on filling their stomachs, though Ed found that much of the food was difficult to swallow, despite being every bit as good as it had been back in the mansion. He finished quickly, though Mortimer gave him some concerned glances which he shook his head to.

“I’m just not hungry,” he explained. Mortimer didn’t seem completely satisfied, but accepted it and continued picking away at his own loaf of bread.

Ed glanced over at the dark woods, their appearance reminiscent of when he first arrived to the island. Squinting, he closed his eyes and once again tried to remember who it was that had attacked him that night.

There had been the storm, the twig snapping, the golden glow and then…

The Savior shook his head. No matter what he did, the remaining chunks were mere fogs, impossible to distinguish. It was a feeling familiar to him, the same sensation he had whenever he tried to recall his parents or his early years. Whenever he did, a sharp pain would replace them and he’d be forced to give up.

Mortimer and Ivan had finished eating, too, and were also staring at the woods, eyes observing every tree and shadow.

Then, a rustle made the three jump. Ed froze.

Slowly, the shaking Savior turned towards the direction Mortimer and Ivan were facing, staring into a deep patch of shadowy trees. Ivan’s hand was already moving towards his bag and Mortimer silently shifted position to behind a tree trunk, grabbing Ed along the way and pulling the two behind cover.

Another twig snapped.

Ed swallowed as the branches began to part, a Savior’s golden glowing eye lighting up the person’s face long before she stepped out of the trees.

It was Iris. She didn’t seem surprised to find the three, but didn’t seem to bear any signs of hostility, either. Instead, her expression was more like one of… relief. “I’ve finally found you,” the Savior said, sighing. Ivan’s eyes narrowed.

“What do you want?”

Iris returned the Savior’s glare with remarkable calmness, not flinching in the slightest. She turned to the three of them, voice clear.

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

Last|Next

Chapter Six – The Will to Be Strong

When the Saviors gathered again, it was apparent that half were missing. Iris, Lucine, and Willow spent the rest of the day searching the mansion, finding neither their companions or any clues to the Eighth’s whereabouts. Weary and exhausted, the three returned to the dining room and fell asleep.

The next morning, Iris was gone.

A few stray rays of daylight streamed through the curtains, making Willow flinch as she attempted to roll over, her thoughts clouded and her senses dull.

For a moment, she was back in her home, sleeping in her bed, hiding under the covers and dreading the moment she’d have to leave their security to confront the silence of her home.

Her parents didn’t speak to one another. Willow had thought there was nothing worse than the cold, hollow silence of the home, but after the Red Artist appeared, the shouts echoing throughout the mansion had made her realize how wrong she’d been. Willow pulled the blanket over her, the sun’s light steadily growing stronger.

“Hey, wake up,” a voice said. Willow blinked. Rolling over again, she attempted to open her eyes.

“Wake up already,” the voice said again. “Iris is gone.”

In an instant, Willow bolted upwards, eyes darting about.

In front of her, Lucine sat at the dining table, shuffling around her deck of cards. Turning to her side, Willow found that Iris’s bed was empty, her belongings vanished. Lucine, watching her expression, grinned.

“Finally awake?”

“W—where’s Iris?”

Lucine shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe she ran away too.” The Savior chuckled. “I guess that just leaves the two of us. Really, all of you are so scared of the Red Artist, it’s pathetic.” She paused. “Oh, but then again, you didn’t even see the cellar, did you?”

Standing up from the mattress, Willow lowered her head. “No…” She looked up. “Um, so it… it really was the Red Artist?”

“Probably.” Lucine yawned. “The bodies were all mutilated the same way.”

“So… so is the Eighth the Red Artist?”

“Who knows? That seems to be the general consensus for now,” Lucine said, flipping over one of the cards. “It’s not all that surprising. What was it again? I think the sixteenth generation’s Eighth was also a serial killer.” Lucine chuckled. “Granted, he was nothing compared to the Red Artist. Honestly, his killing methods were so boring. Poison? Really now.” Lucine shook her head and turned another card over.

“Isn’t… isn’t that really dangerous? I mean—the Eighth?”

“Yep.” Lucine began placing the cards into a fan. She chuckled. “Not to mention we’re the only ones here. You’d better pray I’m not the Eighth.”

Willow stared at the ground, then at the cold beds on the other side of the room. “…Fay and Echo aren’t back?”

“Nope, and you probably shouldn’t want them to be, just saying. I don’t know much, but according to Fay, Echo loses it whenever the Red Artist is involved.”

Now that Willow thought about it, Fay had said something similar to her. Fay and Echo had arrived at the island before Willow, and when it had been just the three of them, Fay had introduced the two.

In the past, Fay had mentioned her two friends in the capital, two sisters working as the king’s assassins. From the descriptions she’d given, Echo perfectly matched the younger sister, her constantly serious attitude and high pride in the nobility made apparent.

“Um… are they nice?” Willow asked. Fay paused, staring up at the sky and thinking. She nodded.

“They are. Especially Ester, you wouldn’t even consider her being an assassin. Echo’s nice, too, it’s just harder to tell.” She paused. “Oh, but when it comes to protecting people close to her, there’s no one stronger.”

“Really?” Willow stared at the tall grasses blowing in the wind, then over the cliffs to her town below, the merchants already beginning to close shop and drawing the curtains on their stalls.

Beyond that, Willow could see the vague silhouettes of the neighboring capital, the king’s castle rising towards the sky.

“…I’d like to meet them,” she finally said.

Fay smiled. “I’m sure you will. I’ll introduce you, one day!”

That had been before the Red Artist appeared.

Fay had left the town and gone to the capital to sell more of her goods, promising to return and visit. Sometime after she’d left, the first reports of the mutilated bodies appeared. No one could remember who first started calling the new serial killer the Red Artist, but the name stuck, perfectly fitting the bright red alleys the victims were always found lying in.

Only four victims in and the entire kingdom was praying for the new generation of Saviors to end the Red Artist’s reign, almost even more so than they prayed for the usual defeat of the Eighth.

Even though Willow’s town hadn’t been directly hit by the attacks, which seemed to be steadily moving throughout the east side of the kingdom, there were still victims she knew.

Once her mother first received the letter, the silent household had erupted in fits of rage and shouts. Willow spent those days huddled under the blankets, ignoring the calls of her friends, waiting for it to end.

Fay did return, but only for a day to sell off some final goods. One of the sisters had died, she said, and when she did, Willow thought the girl’s dead, sleepless eyes didn’t suit her.

The next time they saw each other again was on Willis Island.

Lucine had been quietly observing Willow, eyeing the young Savior. Finally, she sighed. “I’m assuming you’ve got some problem with the Red Artist too. Really, it feels like everyone does.”

Willow shifted her weight. “Um, well…”

Lucine held up a hand to stop her. “Nope, I’m not listening. Anyways, I seriously doubt Fay and Echo will be returning anytime soon, so don’t get your hopes up.”

Willow stared at the ground. “…What about the others?”

“What, do you want to look for them or something?” Lucine chuckled. “I’m afraid that’d be a terrible idea.”

Willow looked up. “Why?”

Lucine raised an eyebrow. “Well, think about it. They clearly left because there’s someone around they don’t trust. A majority of them are familiar with the Red Artist, and they’ve already formed alliances against the Eighth. The fact that they left you here means you’re one of the people they don’t trust.”

“What? Why…”

Lucine shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe it’s because you’re the Imposter. I mean, you do have some control over yours powers. Not as much as me, of course, but it’s better than all of theirs combined.” Lucine paused, her smile vanishing for a split second. “Well, that’ll change soon enough.”

By the time Willow looked up again, Lucine’s expression had returned to its usual carefree smirk.

“…I hope they’re all okay,” Willow whispered.

“How compassionate of you.”

Willow flinched, but decided to take a seat on the other side of the dining table. While her introduction to Echo hadn’t been ideal (neither cared for social discussion, and being perfectly honest, Willow would be lying if she said she wasn’t a little scared of the other Savior), her introduction to Lucine had been even more taxing.

“Do… do you have any other friends?” Willow asked.

“Let’s see… Well, I have a lot of acquaintances, but if I don’t count them, then I guess there’s Lucine,” Fay said.

“What’s she like?”

Fay furrowed her brow and leaned back, gazing up at the blue sky. “Hmm… how do I say this… Let’s just say that she’s really… interesting.”

Willow’s forehead creased. “What do you mean?”

“Well, she’s kind of a weird person, really. I wouldn’t call her nice, either. In fact, I’d say she’s the opposite.”

“Then… why are you friends with her?”

“Why?” Fay paused to think of an answer. “Let’s see… if I had to say so… maybe because we’re similar?” She turned to Willow and smiled as a gust of wind rustled the leaves of the overhead tree, dropping some over them as the clouds above drifted along.

Back then, Willow hadn’t known what she meant.

Even now, she still didn’t.

Conversation with Lucine had been even more strained than with Echo, and many times Willow had to temporarily leave the dining room and wander the halls as they waited for the rest of the Saviors to arrive. Luckily, Fay had been understanding, saying she wasn’t surprised and that it was perfectly fine not to get alone with them all.

“But we’re all Saviors,” Willow had countered. “Shouldn’t we be… friends?”

“It’s true, that’d be nice,” Fay had said, sighing, “But unfortunately I don’t know if that can be the case. Oh well, as long as we don’t try to kill each other, we should be find.” The Savior had laughed at that, and Willow couldn’t help but chuckle alongside her. When Fay smiled, it was infectious.

Of course, neither had known of what was to come.

Now, Lucine must’ve seen Willow’s expression because she chuckled. “Whoops, did I hurt your feelings? So sorry about that, I swear it wasn’t intentional. I’m just not very good at reading the mood.”

“…Is that so…”

“Yep! You’d think I’d be better at it, but to be honest, I’m a little annoyed right now.”

“How so?” Willow looked up, swallowing.

Lucine shrugged. “Who knows? It’s probably that cellar, the smell was horrific. The bodies I didn’t care so much about. It’s inconvenient, though. I was hoping the servants could teach the other Saviors something. That would be quite useful right now.”

“So… the bodies weren’t that bad?” Willow furrowed her brow.

Lucine laughed and waved the thought away. “Oh no, I wasn’t implying that at all. If anything, you saw what happened to Ed. I personally don’t feel that way, but it’s all opinion, right?”

“I… I guess.”

For a moment, silence overtook the room. Willow was considering saying something when Lucine turned so that was facing the other Savior. Willow swallowed, attempting to hide her shaking hands under the table, because Lucine wasn’t smiling.

In that brief moment, her expression had completely changed, her eyes now cold and icy. Lucine rested her head against her arm, her voice as monotone as Mortimer’s as she spoke. “Say, aren’t you scared?”

Willow jumped. “O—of what? Ah, no, if you meant the Eighth, then of cour—!”

“I’m not talking about that.” Lucine sighed and straightened her posture, slowly shuffling the card deck as she spoke, her expression still cold. “Me. Don’t you feel like running off? That’s what the others did.”

Willow glanced at the grandfather clock steadily ticking behind her, then at the abandoned beds littered across the room. Slowly, she shook her head.

“I, um, well… Fay says you’re a friend, and I trust her, so I want to trust you,” she finally said. Lucine snapped the deck back together and for a second a terrible silence fell over the room. Then, much to Willow’s relief, the other Savior started laughing. Willow sighed and relaxed her shoulders.

“Oh, that’s amazing!” Lucine said, speaking through chuckles. “I should’ve expected something like that! But you know…” Lucine stood up and grabbed her umbrella, dropping the deck into her pocket. She looked at Willow and grinned. “…it’s not like that means anything.”

Willow froze, a second icy aura washing over her, even as the other Savior stood there smiling. “…What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Lucine said, “that I’m leaving too. You know, what Iris did, expect I’m not a coward, so I’m telling you to your face. Goodbye.” The Savior turned away and Willow stood, her chair falling behind her.

“Wait! Why?”

Lucine laughed and turned back. “Because I feel like it. Don’t be mistaken, I don’t think you’re the Eighth or anything, it’s just that you’re boring to be around, not to mention I couldn’t stand being alone in a room with such a coward.”

Willow flinched and stared at the table. “That’s…”

“Not true? Stop lying to yourself. You couldn’t even enter the cellar. Earlier, too. Just admit it, you’re completely scared of me.” Lucine chuckled. “Though, I honestly can’t blame you. Anyways, I’m leaving now. I wanted to look at the other mansions on the island, anyways, so this is perfect. Try not to get killed now!” She gave a friendly wave.

As Willow reached out her hand, Lucine snapped her fingers and dissolved into a flurry of golden lights. Glowing steadily like fireflies, they dispersed and scattered about the room, exiting through the walls and windows.

Soon, the little lights had vanished and Willow was left in the room.

Eyes wide, legs weak, the Savior collapsed onto the ground.

Behind her, the grandfather clock continued to tick as a light breeze beat against the glass windows. Surrounding her were the unmade beds of the other Saviors and the still-burning lamp sitting atop the dining table.

She was all alone.

The golden lights gathered outside the mansion, right beside the wall of the dining room. Lucine reappeared, dusting off her clothes and about to step into the thick forest. Before doing so, however, she stopped and grinned.

“Well this is a surprise, I was just about to go look for you.”

To her left, there was a rustle. Then, a tall figure stepped out from behind a tree, left eye glowing. From where she was located against the wall, she’d heard the entire conversation in the dining room. Lucine turned to her, grinning. “I didn’t think you’d be back so soon, Fay.”

Fay, however, wasn’t smiling. By contrast, her eyes were cold. “That was awfully cruel of you, Lucine.”

“Whatever do you mean? If you’re talking about Willow, this was bound to happen sometime sooner. Do you really think she’ll be able to survive as she is now? Someone had to point it out.” Lucine shook her head and chuckled.

Fay stepped forward. “Even then, you couldn’t been nicer about it.”

“Me? Nice? I’m afraid you’re mistaking me for someone else.”

Fay sighed and decided against arguing, instead changing the subject. “Do you know where Echo is?” Her voice was low.

“Ah, so you still haven’t found her.”

Fay gripped her bag. “Unfortunately I ended up collapsing somewhere in the forest, so I lost sight of her.”

“Well that was guaranteed to happen sooner or later, anyways.”

When Fay didn’t respond, Lucine sighed.

“It can’t be helped. Fine, I’ll help you this time. Locating people is no challenge for me.”

Fay glanced up, a smile tugging her lips. “What happened to only being able to work with physical objects?”

Lucine pressed a finger to her lips. “It’s a secret.”

“Fight with the Golden One?”

“You know me too well.” Lucine sighed and shook her head. “It seems the two of us will never be able to get along. I ended up angering them and now our relationship is strained. They won’t let me use my powers freely, either. It’s really annoying.”

“Only you would have the guts to argue with a god,” Fay remarked.

“Correction, the very first Savior did the same, according to the legends.” Lucine raised her head and grinned. “I am the first, however, who can win in an argument with a god.”

“I hope so. I’d like to find the Eighth as soon as possible.”

Lucine brushed the concern aside. “Even if I don’t do anything, the other Saviors’ powers will awaken soon enough. It’s usually around a week after arriving to the Willis Isles. Once that happens, there shouldn’t be any trouble.”

Fay was quiet for a moment. Finally, she sighed. “I hope so. Personally, my power hasn’t done anything so far.”

Lucine shrugged. “Some just aren’t as talented.”

Fay smiled, then turned back to the mansion, eyes narrowed. “…I still don’t think we should be leaving Willow alone.”

“Why? She’s the safest of all of us,” Lucine pointed out. “Wouldn’t it be more logical for you focus on one thing at a time?”

“Maybe…” Fay closed her eyes in resignation. “Alright, you win, but I’ll definitely come back once I find Echo. So?” Fay looked up. “Where is she?”

Lucine held up a hand. “Patience, human. First, we’d better get away from the mansion before someone sees us. Then I’ll see what I can do, but no guarantees, okay? Even someone as talented as I may struggle.”

Fay chuckled. “You’re being awfully nice today.”

“Can’t I do a favor for a friend? No, it’s the least I can do,” Lucine said, stepping past Fay and into the forest. Once she was far enough ahead to not be heard, she added under her breath, “Besides, you’re going to die soon anyways.”

Once she’d regained her senses, the first thing Willow did was block off two of the doors with the tables, leaving the main one untouched. She sat back down at the dining table, breathing ragged. Out the window, the sky was beginning to shift to a golden hue. Willow resisted the urge to fall asleep and bit her lip.

You couldn’t even enter the cellar.

It was odd. She hadn’t noticed it before, but being alone was truly terrifying. Every shadow seemed to move, every rustle a footstep. As much as she’d been scared of Lucine, she had at least felt safe in the room. Now, she became aware of how huge the mansion truly was and how small she was in comparison.

Thinking quickly, Willow tried to think of a safer place to be. When she, Iris, and Lucine had finished touring the mansion, they hadn’t found any place particularly special.

“I guess there’s nothing after all,” Iris had commented, having followed Willow throughout the entire ordeal. Back then, Willow had noticed the way the other Savior kept glancing back at Lucine, the subtle jump she did every time she heard a footstep behind her. So that was why she’d left.

The others, too. Willow had no idea what the Red Artist was really like, she’d never seen a victim herself. But considering how Ed had behaved afterwards… Willow shuddered at the thought.

Now, she was alone in an unfamiliar place with a serial killer on the loose.

Couldn’t even—

Willow shook her head, trying to block out the voice. She knew, she knew better than anyone how weak she was. Yet, no matter what she did, no matter what happened, she never changed.

When she first moved to the town and couldn’t speak to the others.

When she chose to ignore the silence in the house and do nothing about it.

When Fay first said she was leaving and Willow couldn’t work up the courage to ask her to stay.

When the Red Artist first appeared and she was too scared to comfort her mother.

When she finally learned she was a Savior and still couldn’t speak to anyone without shaking.

She knew, she knew without anyone having to tell her.

Willow thought the world was really an unfair place. Some people were just born weaker, she decided, and there was nothing to be done about it. What was the point, if it was impossible to be stronger anyways? She’d told as much to Fay on that grassy hill, back before the Red Artist appeared.

Willow had instantly regretted the words the moment she spoke them, positive that Fay would think her weak and cowardly. Instead, however, Fay had sat quietly throughout the rant, and once Willow was finished, took some time to think before replying in a calm voice.

“You say that, but it’s fine to be weak. All that matters is that you have the will to be strong.”

Willow’s eyes shot open. That was right, wasn’t that what Fay had said? Sitting around moping wouldn’t accomplish anything. If she wanted to survive, she’d have to do it herself.

Outside, the sun was setting, the single lamp on the dining table the sole source of light on the cloudy night. There was no moon, no stars, just as the night before Fay had left for the capital. Willow had wanted to show her the constellations on that grassy hill, her safe haven for when she couldn’t bear her home any longer. If she was too cowardly to ask for Fay to stay, then in the very least, she wanted to show her the sky before she left.

That night, when the moon was gone and there was nothing but inky darkness, when she’d wasted both of their time when Fay was still packing to leave, Fay had tied candles onto black balloons and released them into the sky. The gentle flames drifted upwards, lighting up the darkness in place of the stars.

Couldn’t—

Then she would.

Taking a deep breath, Willow stood and grabbed the lamp. If she couldn’t back then, then she would now. No matter what happened, she needed to know what she was up against, not to mention she needed to check for any remaining evidence in the cellar.

Willow glanced behind at the grandfather clock, then towards the kitchen. Stepping forward, she ducked under the curtain. She had to stop for a second to stop her hand from shaking, but she soon found a sharp kitchen knife hanging from a rack. Gripping it in her hand, it was cold and heavy. Taking a deep breath, she tried to swing it, nearly falling off balance. Steadying herself, Willow returned to the main room, pushing her hood over her left eye to mask the glow. One couldn’t be too cautious.

She stopped in front of the door. Making sure everything was secure, hands trembling, she reached for the cold metal doorknob, wrapping her fingers around it and pushing it aside. The Savior entered the hall.

A cold wind greeted her, having slipped through an open window. Willow swallowed. Every shadow seemed to leap outwards, every rustle a monster’s footsteps.

Willow swallowed and continued onwards.

Soon the cellar’s stench drifted back to her and she turned into the servant’s foyer, making her way to the end of the hall. They’d left the curtain drawn, and the Savior shone the lamp onto the cellar door, which remained still.

Hand shaking, she took a tentative step forward. Then another. Biting her lip, she forced herself to keep taking steps, one by one, until she was directly in front of the cellar door.

Then, crouching down, she gripped the cold metal handle. Taking a deep breath and steadying herself, she opened it. A long screech echoed through the hall and Willow flinched, resisting the urge to cover her ears. With the door hanging open, the Savior peered into the long descent, the stairs narrow and worn.

Holding her lamp in front of her, the Savior took slow, careful steps down, forcing herself to keep her eyes trained forward. Soon the ground was in sight. Swallowing, the Savior slowly moved her hand towards the corner, the lamplight revealing what lay within it.

She managed not to fall.

Her legs had buckled and a scream had risen from her throat, but Willow had forced it down. Her feet kept trembling without control, but she kept telling herself over and over that she couldn’t fall down.

Willow had half a mind to turn around and leave.

Okay, you’ve seen what you’re up against. Now you can leave.

She knew, however, that there might be some sort of evidence left behind. The servants would’ve been carrying keys and records of the Saviors, maybe even journals and teachings if she was lucky. If she could find them, she could find out who the Eighth really was. She could end it.

Setting her knife down at the stairs with shaking hand, Willow stepped one foot into the warm liquid. There was a squelching sound and Willow clapped a hand to her mouth.

Pulling out a napkin, the kept it against her nose, the smell already threatening to overpower her. In slow motions, she navigated around the piles of corpses, forcing herself to look away from where the faces should’ve been. First she’d start with the bits of clothing that had been torn off. Then, she’d have to inspect the corpses.

Willow found a section of a butler’s coat in the corner, drenched in red. She grimaced and looked around the cellar. On the other side, a pair of gloves rested in the corner, which Willow gladly put on.

With the gloves on, the Savior crouched down and picked up the torn coat, allowing blood to drip off before searching the pockets. There was a surprising amount of items stashed away and hidden under various clothing articles. The process was slow and tedious, though Willow suspected she might’ve been subconsciously taking a long time to avoid the next part.

Once she’d created a pile of items she’d found by the stairs, she took a deep breath and faced the pile of mutilated corpses. Gripping the napkin tighter, the Savior squeezed her eyes shut and stepped forward, hands shaking within the gloves. First, she searched for any bits of clothing left on the corpses., finding what appeared to be a skirt scrunched underneath one of the bodies. Taking a deep breath before momentarily setting her napkin aside, Willow closed her eyes and pushed the body aside. A bloody eye socket gazed at her as an organ poked out of the victim’s stomach.

Willow screamed, tumbling backwards and nearly falling into the pool of blood. Gripping the stair railing for support, she turned away and vomited into the corner.

Wiping her mouth off, Willow attempted to calm herself. Once her body had somewhat stopped shaking, she snatched the skirt and added it to her pile, then turned back to the mountain.

It must’ve taken hours before she’d searched everyone. By the end, Willow thought she’d collapse at any moment. She could barely keep her lamp steady and her throat was raw. Still, a small pile of belongings gave her some hope. She managed to find an old burlap sack on the other side of the cellar, stuffing the evidence inside and swinging it over her shoulder. Removing the gloves, Willow set them aside and picked up her kitchen knife.

She practically ran up the stairs, gripping the railing, not looking back.

Back within the dining hall, she sorted through everything she’d found.

She’d only managed to recover one paper (the rest must’ve been destroyed), which she assumed was the list of the Saviors, but it had been at the bottom of the mountain, too soaked with blood to read. Willow frowned.

She had found, however, a sizable number of keys, practically one for every corpse she’d counted. When she and Iris had explored the mansion, they’d found a sheet listing the keys belonging to every servant, which Willow now pulled out. Three master keys were missing, though, which didn’t bode well. Willow frowned. Had the Eighth taken them? But why three? Deciding she’d think about it in the morning, Willow set the keys aside after giving them all a thorough cleaning.

By the time she finished, the kitchen sink was covered in red.

Beyond that, she managed to salvage a map of the island, though certain areas were blotched out, and what looked like a servant’s schedule.

It was nearly dawn by the time Willow had finished.

Willow sighed and leaned back, looking at the clock. The sun would rise in a few hours. She planned on exploring the rest of the mansion again, so she needed sleep. Still, she didn’t want to sleep unguarded.

In the wine cellar, Willow found a thick rope which she used to tie the door handles together. After double checking the knot was secure, Willow washed her hands multiple times before collapsing onto the mattress, keeping the kitchen knife close beside her.

As her eyes closed, Willow wondered what the others were doing. Had the Eighth found them? Were any dead? She didn’t know.

Pulling the blankets closer, Willow shifted position, trying to forget the images of the bloodied corpses as the first rays of dawn began to slip through the window.

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Interlude One – The Saviors’ Origins

In the beginning of the world, when mankind lacked respect for the Golden One, the land was ravaged with plague and war. The humans, unable to maintain the peace, finally gave in and went to the Golden One, giving the task to a young farmer.

“Please, we are dying,” he said, “Give us a shimmer of hope. A mere speck of your light is all we need.”

But the Golden One said, “What have you done to deserve such a thing? My power should not be used for ones as ungrateful as you.”

Angered, the man retorted, “How am I to worship one such as you? You, too, have done nothing!”

At this, the Golden One replied, “You are unaware. The earth you walk on, the sky you live under, and the life you have been given are gifts from me. You have accomplished nothing on your own.”

“I have,” the man insisted. “Perhaps you’ve given me the foundations, but I’ve been the one plowing the fields, I’ve done the work and pushed through the disease you’ve given to us.”

To his surprise, the Golden One laughed. “Only a fool would say that. You don’t know anything. Nothing you humans have gained is truly yours, I have been the one doing everything. Look! Even now, when you realize how powerless you are, you’ve come to seek my help!”

The farmer clenched his fist. “Well I suppose I don’t need your help anyways!” He turned and left.

So, the man returned to the land, where the sky had darkened and the clouds permanently blocked out the sun. Plants wilted and the air was stained with the stench of blood. The population fell in numbers, yet still the man did not go back to the Golden One. Eventually, his father begged him, “Please, set aside your arguments and go back.”

“I have no reason to bow down to them,” the man replied.

“Perhaps so, but our lives are dwindling. Even your mother is on the brink of death. Would you see humanity fall over a petty disagreement?”

Recalling his sickly mother laying in bed, he was unable to retort and once again returned to bow before the Golden One.

“I have returned,” he said.

“And for what? What will you say to change my mind?” the god asked.

He had come prepared, however, and the man said, “We will pray and worship your name every day, you will be acknowledged and beloved as the savior of the world. Is that not enough for you?”

“Belief is not so easily attainted, child. How am I to know your words are not lies?”

“I will stake my life on it,” the man said.

“Ha! And what is one measly life worth?”

The man gripped his fist and raised his head. “It’s worth more than your acknowledgement ever will,” he retorted. At this, the Golden One laughed.

“I see you have spirit. Very well, I will help you. However, I will not do the work for you, for you humans have yet to prove themselves. Instead, I will present eight Saviors with the gift of the gods. Holding my power, you will rebuild the land of your own accord.”

“What if such tragedy were to occur again?” the man asked.

“The powers of the Saviors will be reborn with the generations,” the Golden One said. “Your heroes will live for eight years, and in those eight years they must dedicate themselves to the world before their inevitable death. For the eight years between the old and new generations, humanity must not allow itself to fall again while they wait for the new Saviors to arise. Heed my words, you must not depend on them, for this is all of humanity’s fault.”

“Very well,” said the man. “Who shall these powers belong to?” he added eagerly.

“I see you are greedy,” said the Golden One. “Be patient, young one, for such behavior is what drove humanity to this to begin with. I must, however, reward you for your endeavors. In the very least, you have presented me with amusement.”

And so, with a flash of light, a small golden speck floated down to the man, where it was absorbed into his left eye. Then, the man’s eye changed hue to gold and a hazy glow enveloped it. The man touched his eye and frowned. “I feel no difference,” he said.

“Your powers will take time to adjust,” the Golden One explained. “Mastering them is up to you. Now go! Seek out your seven companions and save your world.”

The man stood and bowed. “Thank you,” he said.

When he returned to the world, he indeed found seven others who had developed powers such as his own. With time, effort, and further guidance from the Golden One, they were able to hone and master their gifts, soon ridding the world of its disease so that the clouds parted and revealed the sun again.

As promised, the Saviors died in eight years, but those were eventful years spent rebuilding the world until it could be restored to a tranquil state. The Golden One’s name was spoken and praised, offerings given, festivals lit to humanity’s god.

“Rejoyce! Our time of darkness is done! Praise the Saviors, praise the Golden One!”

Unbeknownst to them, however, another threat was steadily building within.

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