7. Doppelganger (1)
He felt strange. His mind was muddled, his vision was all turned around, and what sounded like a very quiet voice echoed in his mind.
He had gone to bed after taking his medication earlier, and he’d felt fine then. Thoma let out a rough breath before reaching toward a glass of water on his nightstand. He saw the glass, but it began to split from one to two, then two to three. He kept trying to grab one of the glasses, but all he seemed to grasp was air.
It was disorienting, however, Thoma didn’t find the feeling entirely uncomfortable. In fact, he felt unusually euphoric as his body started accepting this abnormal sensation as normal. It almost felt like he was continually shifting between floating and falling—feeling light and then feeling heavy. Eventually, Thoma’s droopy eyes turned toward the window. It was raining heavily outside. The droplets drummed upon the window, and as the sound gradually grew louder, it became music to his ears. Thoma began to unconsciously smile at the sound. However, that smile lasted for but a moment. The sound of rain continued growing louder until it became a terrible, obnoxious noise. Thoma grew paranoid from the cacophony and reached for his ear.
It itched, itched and itched and itched, and he scratched and scratched and scratched and scratched.
Then a new dripping sound caught his attention.
There was blood dripping from his ear, and out of the wound, hundreds of bugs began to crawl out, evoking a hedonistic pleasure
Thoma opened his eyes with a scream. He quickly sat up in bed and touched his ear. It felt completely fine. There weren’t even any signs of scratching.
Thoma let out a rough breath—for real this time—and looked around, he was in his own room at the abbey. It was raining, but the pitter-pattering of rain against the window wasn’t overwhelming; it was a clear and refreshing sound.
Thoma reached for his water and thirstily downed the glass, making sure to also take more of the medication given to him by the pharmacist. His heart was racing, as if it was about to burst from his chest. At the same time, he felt the usual pain fading away. His body did feel somewhat stiff, but the pain that had plagued him for so many years was slowly disappearing.
“… The medication really works.”
As relief washed over Thoma, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye moving outside. It was Sister Ellie walking in a strange direction, away from the abbey. Not only was it late at night, it was also raining heavily.
“Sister Ellie? Where is she going this late at night?”
Thoma frowned. After getting dressed,he took a chair to the entrance of the abbey and waited. He wasn’t sure where Sister Ellie had gone, but he was certain she would return. However, she never came back while he was waiting. After nearly three hours had passed, Thoma grew worried and woke the other monks.
“What’s going on?”
“Sister Ellie disappeared?”
After filling the monks in Thoma hastily organized a search for the missing nun.
“Please find her as quickly as possible, but be careful. It’s still the middle of the night. Though uncommon, demons can still appear within the forest.”
“Understood.” said one of the monks. A chorus of similar responses rang out as the search party prepared to leave.
Once outside, all of the monks scattered in different directions. Thoma donned his robe and began wandering the forest. He had also brought his old sword in case he ran into any demons.
“Sister Ellie! Where are you!? Please answer me!”
The rain and wind were growing stronger, and as such, Thoma’s voice was becoming lost in the storm. He fidgeted with his blade in anxiety, knowing that time was against them.
“It’s been so long that I’m not sure if I can still do it, but…”
Thoma closed his eyes and stabbed the blade of his sword into the ground. Light flowed out of his body and seeped into the earth. Once the light was completely absorbed by the ground, it pulsed outward, allowing Thoma to see the surrounding area in its entirety. This spell scanned everything within the range of the light’s pulse. Living things gave off a gray glow, and he detected a single large source of light in the vicinity.
“… Found her!”
Thoma quickly ran toward her location. He forced himself to sprint through the forest’s undergrowth, ignoring the strain it was putting on his body. It felt as if the deluge of rain was pummeling him, but Thoma hadn’t the time to care.
He climbed a small hill at the edge of the forest and looked down.
“There she is.”
He could see a small figure in the distance. Thoma let out a sigh of relief, but still maintained his frown.
‘To have caused everyone so much worry! She was a bright girl, but sometimes she was just too free-spirited.’
He planned on lecturing her thoroughly once they returned to the abbey. Thoma slowly walked down the hill toward Ellie, who was leaning against a tree.
“What are you doing out here? Sister, do you know how worried I’ve been? Hah, why did you come all the way over here during a storm…”
Thoma’s eyes opened wide and he fell silent. Now closer, he could finally see this person in detail.
‘It’s not Sister Ellie?’
A young girl stood before him. She had a small stature, pale white skin, and jet black hair. Her eyes seemed to gleam through the rain and murky darkness. There were many similarities between this petite girl and Ellie. Enough so that anyone who saw them together might think they were sisters.
The girl tilted her head as she questioned him, causing Thoma to take a step back. Something about the girl felt… off. Thoma was suddenly struck by a strange sensation. It was a faint feeling of ‘Demonic Energy’, something which demons produced!
“Doppel…” its name was coming back to him, “ganger?”
Doppelgangers. This species of demon didn’t possess an original form. Rather, they preyed on other creatures, transforming into their victims. They were a terrible, sadistic race of demons that killed the original body and acted as the real one in their host’s stead.
Thoma looked at the clothes it was wearing, the white and blue attire of a nun. It fit the doppelganger loosely, too large for its slim, child-like figure. The outfit was also stained red in some places—with blood.
Thoma held his forehead as his mind went blank. He couldn’t decide what to do. His head throbbed painfully as he tried to process what he was seeing. With each passing moment, his expression grew increasingly grotesque. After a few moments, he raised his sword and pointed its blade at the demon. He gripped the hilt so tightly that his hand was practically crushed against it.
The demon looked at him nervously. It started slowly walking backwards, as though it was unsure of what to do.
“You filthy demon!” he screamed, his voice filled with rage. “Have you killed her?!”
Sister Ellie was gone.
‘It must have eaten her,’ Thoma concluded.
It had consumed the young nun to satisfy its hunger, then stole her form! That was the nature of a doppelganger. It was a damnable race that knew nothing more than how to kill and steal, usurping their victim’s identity.
“Young demon! You dared to covet Sister Ellie?!” Thoma put strength to his leg. “I shall sever your head and offer it to her grave!”
His body flew forward. The ground under his feet broke apart as a whirlwind of dirt erupted from where he had been standing, while the pressure of the wind parted by his dash created a tunnel through the rain. Thoma swung his blade toward the Doppelganger’s neck at a frightening speed.
The Doppelganger tensed up and squeezed its eyes shut. But, just before his blade hit…
“No!” Someone suddenly screamed.
Thoma stopped his attack immediately. He only barely managed to stay his blade a moment before it would have severed the doppelganger’s neck.
“Haa… Haa… Haa…!”
He panted and let out a groan in response to the throbbing pain assaulting his body. He looked to his side to find Ellie, who was holding a basket full of fruit. Thoma looked back and forth, eyes wide, between her and the doppelganger.
Thoma could feel the mana within his body squirm as it spread throughout his body. As the mana forced its way through his blood vessels, he felt his body become heavier.
‘Ugh… Getting old really is inconvenient. I push myself a little bit and the next thing I know, all of my muscles start to ache.’
Thoma ignored the pain to the best of his ability, shifting his attention to the spectacle going on beside him.
“Are you hurt?” Ellie asked her miniature. “Are you okay?”
The little girl responded with a nod.
“Okay, good good! My dear Ellin. Now then, eat this.”
Ellie offered her one of the fruits she had carried back, which Ellin quickly devoured.
“Is it good?”
“Good,” Ellie said happily. “Go ahead and eat plenty!”
Thoma narrowed his eyes as he attempted to understand the bizarre scene taking place in front of him. From what he could surmise, Ellie had been protecting this doppelganger for some time. That would explain why the doppelganger now treated her like its mother.
Thoma was sitting on a rock at a distance from the pair, a young lady and a demon, both of whom were still on guard against him. The doppelganger, which Ellie had name Ellin, seemed to listen to and be comfortable around the young nun. However, a flash of fear would cross Ellin’s face whenever she stole a furtive glance at Thoma. Meanwhile, Ellie was brushing Ellin’s hair while feeding her more fruit. She was also glancing in his direction every so often, but her gaze was more wary than fearful.
“Sister,” Thoma finally broke the silence, “just what is …?”
Sister Ellie looked troubled by his question. He was still holding his sword and if the doppelganger made one wrong move, it was clear he would cut Ellin down without a second thought. As though she understood this unspoken sentiment, Ellie stood between him and Ellin wearing a nervous expression, her mind racing to come up with an explanation.
“It’s my child!” Ellie exclaimed.
Thoma’s mind went blank for a moment. “…Eh?”
‘A child? The child of a nun…?! I never imagined that Sister Ellie already had a man…!’
Such thoughts sent a throbbing pain through his heart. But, the more he thought about it, the more suspicious he became. A human giving birth to a demon…? That meant she must have… with a demon!
‘That can’t be true! Just what am I thinking? There’s no way that’s possible?!’
It wasn’t like interracial children between demons and humans were impossible, but Thoma knew that couldn’t have happened. He had always been personally watching over Ellie and was well aware of her physical state. There was no way he would’ve overlooked a pregnancy.
Thoma massaged his temples. His mind was still jumbled from the medication he’d taken after his nightmare. Not to mention, he still hadn’t recovered from the shock of discovering a doppelganger in Ellie’s image after her disappearance.
“… That demon, where did you pick her up?”
“I found her collapsed in the forest, so I’ve been taking care of her.”
The blood on the nun’s outfit wasn’t from Sister Ellie. Now that he thought about it, the blood was probably from the demon’s own wounds. She had been treating, feeding, and taking care of the demon for some time now.
‘Oh, my lord!’
Thoma was appalled. Something like this should have never happened! This was heresy of the highest order. If the truth of what Ellie had done was ever revealed, she would be handed over to the Court of Heresy for saving a demon. Not only had she harbored this evil existence, she had gone as far as to heal and raise it! Worst case scenario, she would be tried as a witch and tortured before being burned at the stake.
“How… long have you been doing this for?”
“Half a year,” she answered.
‘Half a year?! She’s been raising this demon for over six months already?! It’s a miracle she hasn’t been exposed!’
Thoma stood and stared at the demon with a cold expression, his blade at the ready.
“This creature is a demon. An evil existence which opposes our God!”
Thoma raised his sword and advanced toward the doppelganger. Ellie grew pale rushed to hold him back.
“P-please wait!” she pleaded. “What are you trying to do?”
“I will kill it.” Thoma’s reply was devoid of sympathy. “Someday, it’ll harm you, so…!”
“No! That…! She’s a kind child!”
“Kind? There are no such demons!”
“In this world, there are those who are good and those who are evil! The same holds true for demons! This child knows how to talk and listens to me! She is certainly a good girl! I will raise…! To not be bad…! So…!”
“Stop this!” Thoma gritted his teeth and pushed her aside.
He stopped in front of Ellin and held his sword above his head.
Ellie crawled toward Thoma and grabbed his ankle, screaming at him.“Don’t do this! You can’t do this! She’s just a child! Don’t kill her! Please! If you do this, I will hate you forever! Please don’t make me feel that way! Don’t make me hate you!”
Thoma’s resolve wavered. She truly looked like a mother protecting her child. But, he could not back down; his opponent was a demon. They were absolutely vile creatures that brought chaos to the world and threatened humankind. It was for this very reason that he had slain the Demon Lord. Despite his screams and curses, Thoma had severed his head the sake of humanity. This time was no different. There was no alternative!
Watching him approach her, Ellin finally spoke. “… I did bad?”
Thoma paused his advance in shock.
“Am I bad?” The demon asked.
It was speaking in human tongue.
“Don’t bully Ellie.” It said, looking at Thoma with eyes full of resentment as it trembled in fear.
As though it was trying to protect her, the little demon bravely approached Thoma and punched his leg. Thud after thud, it continued pummeling him with all its might. Though her assault did little in the way of hurting Thoma, it jogged his memory.
“What wrong did we commit?”
He could hear the voice of the Demon Lord, at the end of their final confrontation.
“Why! Just tell me why you had to do this! What wrong did we commit? What crime could we have committed to deserve this!?”
Hopelessness and despair. A wail of grief. An outburst of raw emotion.
“All we wanted was to live in peace! So why!?”
Even after twenty long years the memory remained vivid, burdening his heart. For the first time, his blade trembled.
“No! Please…! Ellin! Hurry…! Get away from him!” Ellie pleaded.
“B-but, Ellie.” The young demon was conflicted at the thought of abandoning her adoptive mother. “What about Ellie…?”
Seeing the demon’s actions and hearing her words, Thoma no longer had the willpower to turn his sword on her.
‘What has she done wrong? Is it a crime to have been born a demon? Because it became injured and happened to meet Ellie…? Just because it doesn’t believe in our God…?’
These sudden thoughts shocked him to the core. ‘… I am a monk, a servant of God. Why am I sympathizing with a mere demon!’
Thoma quelled his growing doubts. ‘Heretics that do not believe in God, heathens. They deserve to be cast aside. This demon is no different, it must die!’
Just as Thoma was about to swing his blade, the forest around them grew noisy.
“I heard something over there.”
“Ellie! Sister Ellie! Are you here?”
“Where are you!?”
Thoma flinched, looking toward the forest. Monks holding torches were approaching them, though they were still a ways away. Thoma looked between Ellie and the demon with a frozen expression, unable to bring down the killing blow.
It was dangerous to let others learn of Ellie’s relationship with the doppelganger. If anyone else found out, she would undoubtedly be labeled a heretic.
— Ω —