22. Page of Fate – Prologue
At the beginning of the world, it was a void in which nothing existed. The sky was dense with a gray fog and the earth was a desolate and barren land. Rivers and oceans were black with rot, preventing them from supporting life.
There existed only a single being, and he spent countless eons within that kind of an empty world, thirsting for something more in the face of his solitude and loneliness. His regret was unending. The world was vast, and that vastness belied its emptiness. He felt devoid of hope at the thought of having to live an eternity alone on this world.
Eventually, he couldn’t bear the loneliness any longer, and decided to create new life. The moment he dipped his feet into the rotten waters, clean rivers and oceans sprouted forth. As soon as he touched the earth, grass and trees sprouted in an unbelievable abundance. He wet the barren earth with the freshly formed water to knead out mud.
With this mud, he created small mud dolls with great dedication, using his breath to grant them each souls. Once he touched the mud dolls’ heads with his finger, they gained sentience. When he touched their chests, emotions blossomed in their hearts. The mud dolls were given life and divided into humans and demi-humans. In turn, they worshipped him as both the father and mother who given them life, naming their God ‘Arrtark’.
Arrtark treasured them more than anything. He created bountiful fruits and beasts so they could thrive, he adorned them with clothes, and he raised them and taught them how to survive in the world.
Arrtark loved them all equally, but that blind equality brought about great misfortune. The humans and demi-humans treated each other well, but as time passed, their relationship began to sour. Humans, with their intellect, formed something they called ‘civilization’, leading to the construction of vast towns and cities where the humans lived together. Meanwhile, the dexterous and powerful members of the demi-humans remained in their forests and lived by their own rules, maintaining the individual freedom they had always enjoyed. As the physical distance between the races grew, so did their bonds to one another. Over time, humans formed kingdoms, ruled by figures known as kings, who the people of the kingdom served. The demi-humans also saw advancement, as they began to gather together with those that looked similar to them, forming tribes.
They looked different, lived differently, and had different cultures. It was inevitable that a chiasm would form between the races. As time continued to pass like this, those that took issue with these differences started having ‘wars’ between one another.
Humans used their unity to subjugate the demi-humans, forcing them into submission time and time again. They borrowed Arrtark’s name and formed a religion based on their own image of God. Using their twisted faith as justification, they declared the demi-humans to be demons and made them out to be evil beings. As the wars continued, countless members of the demi-humans were killed, their forests and plains burned away along with the lives that had once inhabited them. Humanity’s thirst only grew as their greed could not be satisfied. And so, humanity continued to sink further into depravity and decadence. The ‘demons’ resented the humans that had taken so much from them, and they also began to resent Arrtark, whom the humans worshipped.
The world grew more chaotic with each passing day and Arrtark felt overwhelming sadness as he watched so much of what he loved being destroyed. He came to believe that it might have been wiser to have not created anything at all if it meant he wouldn’t have to feel such pain. He wished for someone to appear who could take the reins and regain control over the world. He desired for the children he loved to live in peace. And so, unable to bring himself to interfere directly, he brought about his own end in order to bury fragments of himself within the world. If it was awakened by someone, that being would inherit Arrtark’s will and would become the ‘Tuner’ who would restore the balance of this world. Yes, the judge with the power to destroy and recreate the world.
Within the Demon Kingdom, there was an orc by the name of Karakul—one of the 12 apostles of the kingdom. His steel-like muscles resembled armor and bulged across his imposing 2 meter-tall frame, which exceeded the height of even an ogre. He was ranked 4th in terms of authority within the kingdom. With a single word, every orc would heed his call, and with a single gesture, he could raze any one of the humans’ major cities. His ability to move an army independently, even without the order of the Demon Lord, made the other apostles wary of him. In reality, the orcs didn’t follow the Demon Lord, but Karakul. Many said that if Karakul were to revolt, the tenuous balance of power between the many tribes would instantly crumble. However, despite possessing the type of freedom that all other demons coveted, Karakul seemed to obey the Demon Lord. It was truly a strange thing, causing the other demons to helplessly shake their heads when they saw Karakul being ordered around by a mere ‘female’, with neither authority nor power.
“Looks like the Demon Lord wants to maintain her position by selling her body.”
“A noble race of mountain goats? Hah! That’s nothing but an ancient tale.”
“Well, the position was done for otherwise.”
“It’s more like Karakul wants to use the Demon Lord’s position to bolster his own authority.”
All manners of rumors were circulated, but they were of no importance to Karakul. He only followed his master’s orders. Yes, his master. Not the ‘Demon Lord’, but the orders of another existence.
Karakul wrapped himself with a thick cloth and covered his face with a hood. The worn out attire made him look like a human priest, when one ignored his massive size.
He was headed toward Lania, the former capital of the Holy Kingdom that had fallen 30 years ago. When he arrived, the rotten zombies in front of the gates turned their heads toward him, sensing his presence.
The zombies let out a scream-like growl, but even as they twitched their heads, they moved aside. They didn’t view him as an ‘enemy’.
Karakul continued moving toward the palace at the center of the capital.
The walls were worn and crumbling and the crosses adorned with the corpses of priests remained within the palace courtyard. This place that had been neglected for dozens of years had already lost all of its previous beauty and grandeur, left to become the dilapidated husk it now was. Within this now shabby palace sat a single figure upon a worn-out throne, radiating a unique and stifling aura. With his entire body covered in pitch-black armor, his presence could only be described as eerie. One who was once a Hero, one who was once a priest, one who had once fallen into despair, and now the one who led an army of the dead. Once Thoma, now Arrtark, he was the master of the army that had toppled Lania.
Karakul gazed upon this figure and knelt down in reverence, lowering his head. He vowed his loyalty not to the Demon King, but to the figure sitting before his very eyes.
“It has been a while, my master.”
Arrtark did not speak, but Karakul did not seem to mind, holding out the object he had been commanded to retrieve. It was a single scrap lambskin. Upon it, there were countless letters scribbled, forming a seal. Arrtark tilted his head, inviting an explanation, which Karakul immediately provided.
“It is the identity of a human candidate you’ve been seeking.”
One of the zombies that had been lingering around the throne room moved closer to Karakul, retrieving the document and bringing it to Arrtark. The zombie proceeded before the throne, where it knelt down while offering the lambskin to Arrtark with its head lowered. As Arrtark took the lambskin and began reading it over himself, Karakul quietly continued.
“It is the identity of a young lord within a fallen territory in the frontiers. His name is Tom, 22 years of age. He had joined the Hero’s Allied Forces as an apprentice Holy Knight, and I have confirmed he was killed in action. Also, his territory was razed by wild demons, and both his land and the people living there have been burnt away. It is now an all but abandoned territory that is so deep in the countryside, even if he were to return, no one would recognize or know him. He was a mere apprentice, but since he was given the title of Holy Knight, I deem that his treatment within the Holy Kingdom and the other kingdoms was good.”
Arrtark spoke the name slowly. Karakul looked surprised by the cracking and weighty voice that reverberated throughout the throne room, but he tried his best to keep his expression neutral.
“That is the human’s name. If it does not please you, I’ll look for another identity.”
[No, it is fine.] Arrtark rose from his seat. [Rather, I am pleased with the name. It’s similar to the name I had in the past. I like its simplicity. I’ll use it well. Now, where is that bastard hiding at…?]
The orc lowered his head again to speak.
“Are you referring to Pharmacist Kelvin? He is…”
Karakul spoke of everything he knew. Arrtark simply listened to all that he had to say.
[Good. It is good information.]
Arrtark moved from the throne.
“… I understand.”
Karakul watched as Arrtark left the throne room, speaking quietly just before his master had left.
“Are you not curious how Her Highness and Ellin are faring?”
Arrtark paused. He tilted his head and turned his golden gaze toward Karakul.
[I’ll hear of it later.]
He actually wanted to hear what Karakul had to say right away, but this was not the right time. Plus, he knew that they would be well taken care of by Karakul. They were two of the few he still cared for, the current Demon Lord, Lily Golt—formerly known as Ellie—as well as the Doppelganger Ellin.
— Ω —