Nocturne and I set off together once more. We rode on the same horse, the same way as when we left on my first mission to the Northern forest. I sat in front of Nocturne as he held the reigns of the horse. Never could I have ever imagined that my first mission as a full-fledged noble would lead me to become the Demon King. And yet, I continued my journey once more, the same way I had begun it.
We travelled in silence on horseback. I informed Nocturne that the nearest source of shadow magic that I could sense was in the direction of Liberatum, the adventurer’s town that we had passed by after leading the Kingdom of Sapientia. It would be a few days until we reached the area, as I had experienced from my first journey outside the Kingdom of Animus.
It’s weird travelling with Nocturne after such a long time. I guess I’ve been keeping company with undead for such an extended period that it feels weird to be travelling with the living again.
I decided to break the silence. “So, what have you been doing the past few months?” I asked without looking back at him.
“Even while you were away from the Kingdom, I still had to continue my knightly duties. I’ve been training some new recruits and patrolling the Kingdom. You’ve met one of my new recruits not too long ago, apparently.”
“We didn’t really get acquainted. We just crossed each other’s paths.”
“There have been an increase in undead roaming about, as well, so my platoon was the one responsible in taking care of the undead that were in the outskirts of Animus.”
“I guess you’ve been pretty busy.”
“Heh, I’m the ‘knight praised by the king’. Of course my duties wouldn’t be light. But even so, I didn’t stop trying to find clues about your whereabouts.” Finally I turned my head and looked Nocturne in the eyes. “I was worried that that damn undead was forcing you or controlling you to do things. For a brief period of time, I thought he was the one making you summon all these undead that came out from nowhere to cause trouble in Animus, to keep our hands full, while he planned for other things.”
“Other things?” I looked at him in confusion.
Nocturne took his eyes away from mine. “I thought he’d try to do something,” he answered vaguely.
“Such as?” I pressed on.
I noticed Nocturne’s cheeks flush slightly. “I thought he'd try to do something which would allow him to gain power from you."
I continued to stare at Nocturne blankly. "Zelgius doesn't have that kind of personality. From what I see, all he wants to do is live his undead life for as long as he can."
"If you say so," he spoke doubtfully.
Once nightfall came, we decided to set up camp. There was a lake nearby and I decided to go fill our water supply while Nocturne started a fire. I wonder if Zelgius and Noctis are okay. Did the dragon lord’s attack wipe them both out? I knelt down at the water’s edge and began filling the gourds.
“Ehehe… You’re so pathetic.”
I froze. “W-who’s there?” I asked.
“Down here,” beckoned the voice.
I looked down on the water’s surface. “What the--?!” I gasped. Reflected on the water’s surface was my own reflection, with the same long, black hair and dark, purple eyes, but it moved as if it was its own person. “Who are you?”
“Hah, what a stupid question to ask. I’m ‘you’, of course.”
What is this? Is this a figment of my imagination? “What do you want?”
“I want everything you have. You don’t deserve any of it-- power, companions. Especially not Nocturne. He’s completely wasted on you.”
I continued to look on at the reflection in confusion. What does Nocturne have to do with any of this? “Nocturne’s my precious childhood friend--”
“A friend whom you betrayed,” my reflection interrupted. “You’ve lived your life in wonderful luxury as a noble. And you even gained such wonderful powers of the Demon King but you hate those powers. It’s completely wasted on you-- such a waste indeed. The entire world can easily be in the palm of your hands.”
I felt a sense of anger surge within me. “I don’t want the entire world in the palm of my hands!” I shouted and swatted my hand against the water’s surface. However, instead of seeing a wave of ripples on the water’s surface, the body of water remained entirely calm and still. My hand was now stuck within the water. I couldn’t pull my limb out. “W-what’s going on?!”
My reflection chuckled. “Since you’re taking everything for granted, maybe it’s time for you to be the reflection instead.” I felt my arm being tugged into the water. I tried to pull myself back but the opposing force was much stronger. And in the blink of an eye, I was immediately dragged under water.
My lungs choked as I accidentally swallowed the water. But after a few moments under water, I realized that I was able to breathe normally, as if I had gained gills and was able to breathe underwater. I looked around me. I was surrounded by the watery darkness. I was no longer in the forest.
“Farewell, my former self.”
I looked up and saw my reflection looking down at me. “What did you do?”
“You don’t deserve to be the real Stella. Now you can spend your time as my reflection.”
“No!” I quickly swam up to the water’s surface, but I could not escape. As I tried to leave the water, my hands were greeted by a see-through wall. “Let me out of here!” I yelled.
“Are you alright?” I heard Nocturne’s voice on the other side of the water. “I heard you yelling something.”
“It’s nothing. I just got surprised by a deer,” my reflection replied.
“No, Nocturne! That’s not me. I’m down here!” I cried but my attempts to alert him were futile as I slammed my fists against the invisible wall.
“Anyways, I’ve finished filling up on water. Let’s head back to camp.”
I watched as the two walked away from the pond’s surface, away from my available vision. “No...come back…” Once again I was alone, trapped within the world of reflections. Maybe my reflection was right… I did take everything I had for granted. But still. I can’t let loose the powers of the Demon King so easily. I tried throwing everything I had away to do what I needed to do as the Demon King. Will my past actions punish me now?
Suddenly, a bright circle opened up in the water. I made my way over and saw a new scenery. It was Nocturne and my reflection, sitting by the campfire. “How am I seeing this?” I looked around the edges of the window and saw Nocturne’s belonging leaning against a tree. “Nocturne’s things..? I’m being reflected by Nocturne’s sword,” I realized. I watched intently at the two through the new reflected window.
“Nocturne,” my reflection called out.
“What is, Stella?” he asked as he threw a piece of wood into the fire.
“I-I really want to apologize to you. I tossed you aside when I became the Demon King. I even hurt you and made you worry about me constantly.”
“You’ve already apologized to me. Stella. You don’t have to continue doing it. I know how you feel.”
My reflection stood and walked over to Nocturne. She wrapped her arms around his chest from behind him. “No, you don’t,” she spoke. “Please let me show you how I feel.”
I felt my face flush. What the hell am I trying to do?
“Stella, what are you--” Suddenly Nocturne was cut off. His lips were occupied as my reflection connected her lips to his. I felt my jaw drop. I could only look on in awkward surprise.
“Let me apologize to you properly,” my reflection spoke seductively.
“I..I can’t believe what I’m doing. Nocturne, please. That’s not me. Don’t be tricked!”
Nocturne grabbed onto my reflection’s shoulders and pushed her away. He looked as shocked as I was. “Stella, you....” was all he could muster.
“I know how you feel, Nocturne. I’ve seen the look in your eyes. You desire me, don’t you?”
Nocturne looked my reflection in the eyes dubiously. “Who are you?” he asked.
“What are you talking about? I’m Stella,” she responded.
He immediately stood from his spot. “No. Stella doesn’t act like this,” he stated. “What did you do to her?”
My reflection laughed. “Oh, how one’s heart can only seek out another’s.”
“What did you do to Stella?” Nocturne questioned once more.
“Foolish man, I am Stella, yet also not her. We are both two sides of the same coin. I am her reflection-- her doppelganger.”
“A doppelganger spirit then? What do you want with her?”
“I want her life. She’s been taking everything for granted for far too long. She doesn’t deserve being a noble or the Demon King!”
Nocturne chuckled. “She didn’t chose to be any of those, yet she does her best to fulfill the roles that have been placed upon her. Her own being is deserving enough to be who she is. You have no right to say what she does and doesn’t deserve!” Nocturne swiftly bent down and grabbed onto a burning piece of wood and drove it into the doppelganger’s chest.
The doppelganger shrieked a glass-shattering pitch. Her entire body began burning swiftly, as if her entire being was a flammable mass.
“You did it, Nocturne!” I cheered. The mirror I had been gazing into from the world of reflection shattered and a bright light enveloped my entire body. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that I was now standing outside by a campfire.
“Stella!” Nocturne smiled as he wrapped his arms around me. “Thank goodness you’re alright.”
I smiled back at him. “I didn’t think I would ever run into a doppelganger spirit. Being a Demon King must be bringing me a lot of bad luck,” I joked.
Nocturne grinned. “Even if misfortune chases after you, I’ll always remain at your side.”
The following day, we ended up passing by a small village. We could hear the loud cries and shouts of the people.
"What are they so excited about?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. Let’s go take a look.” We both dismounted our horse and made our way into the village.
As we entered the village, we noticed everyone headed towards the same direction and decided to follow. All the villagers looked anxious and on edge.
“Did something happen here?” I asked one of the villagers walking beside us.
“There’s an undead. Someone was able to capture it!”
I turned and looked at Nocturne and he shrugged. “Maybe they caught some simple zombie or ghoul.”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
We entered the crowd and saw an undead creature locked in a cage, bound by chain and rope. He slumped slightly in the cramped cage. There were wounds all over his body. His skin was as pale as ashes and his hair was a bright silver.
I gasped, “Zelgius!” I whispered under my breath. “I have to go help him.” I took a step forward but was suddenly grasped by my arm.
“We can’t make a scene here. It won’t be good if we’re caught trying to save an undead,” Nocturne whispered to me.
I frowned anxiously. He’s right but I can’t just leave Zelgius there. I tried to take a step once more but Nocturne gripped my arm tighter, warning me. I turned to him and he shook his head at me.
“Behold,” the man beside the cage shouted to the crowd, “the undead we fear so much, reduced to a mere, weakened beast in a cage!”
“Nocturne,” I urged.
He frowned and then began walking towards the man beside the cage. “I’ll be taking over from here on,” he spoke.
“Who are you?” He eyed.
“It’s Sir Nocturne!” someone in the crowd exclaimed in surprise. A loud murmur began throughout the entire crowd. Everyone was now looking at Nocturne. And subsequently, everyone began looking at the man beside the cage.
“W-what would a knight such as yourself be doing here?” he asked nervously.
“I’m going to be taking this undead into custody. He seems like a higher class of undead. I’ll be able to question him in regards to the increase in undead creatures. You will be handsomely compensated for handing him over to us.”
The man’s eyes gleamed and grinned at Nocturne. “But of course, I would be happy to help in the protection of the land against the undead. Please,” he pointed his hands to the cage, “take him. I eagerly await for the compensation from the King.”
Nocturne nodded at the man and opened the cage and began pulling Zelgius by the chains and rope that bound him. Zelgius stumbled out of the cage reluctantly. But once he looked up and noticed me nod at him, he began trudging along with Nocturne.
Once we left the village, Nocturne began to release Zelgius from his binds. Zelgius immediately leaned himself against a tree, too exhausted to fully stand on his own.
“Zelgius, are you alright? How did you get captured by humans?” I questioned.
He looked at me weakly. “After the attack from the dragon lord, I got severely wounded. It took me several days to even regenerate parts of my body that got destroyed by that blast. And then yesterday, I was able to sense you suddenly. I knew this would be my only chance to find you. However, some humans noticed me trying to regain my energy and captured me.”
“I did tell you that you had to be more cautious about when and where you feed,” I scolded.
Zelgius chuckled. “Well fortunately. these events led me straight to you. Despite the methods, I think it worked out quite well.”
“Oh, since we’ve found you, you can just teleport us to the locations of spawning shadow magic!” I spoke.
“Well, I suppose I could, however I’m still not quite at full strength. I am uncertain I can teleport the three of us. If it was two, I could manage easily.”
“Hah, if we wanted to use teleportation, we would have just brought along the Noble of Darkness.”
“If I recall correctly, the Noble of Darkness is only capable of using teleportation after drawing a teleportation circle. I, however, can teleport whenever I wish with my own will,” Zelgius chuckled.
“Either way, you’re not taking Stella anywhere without me,” Nocturne eyed Zelgius.
“Then will you offer your life force to me?” Zelgius asked as he stretched his open palm out towards Nocturne.
Nocturne immediately drew his blade. “Don’t touch me, damn undead.”
Suddenly something large darted out from the brushes. It forcefully shoved down Nocturne, pinning him to the ground. It began growling ferociously.
“W-what the hell is this thing?”
“Noctis!” I looked at the beast happily.
“Noctis?” Nocturne looked at me, confused.
“Noctis is the undead dire wolf and crow hybrid I created while on my journey.” I quickly walked over and hugged the wolf in my arms. Noctis happily licked my cheeks with his rough tongue. “I’m so relieved that you’re alive! I thought you got destroyed in that last attack. You even saved me from receiving a fatal blow.”
Nocturne coughed, ruining my joyous reunion. “I’m glad you’re all together again, but can you get this wolf off me? It’s getting a bit difficult for me to breathe.”
“Ah, sorry Nocturne,” I apologized and led Noctis off of Nocturne’s chest. Nocturne stood up and began brushing the dust off his clothing and armor and sheathed his blade. I noticed him eyeing Noctis. I wonder if he doesn’t like that I created an undead wolf-bird hybrid? ”Is there something wrong?”
Nocturne scratched the back of his head. “You’re pretty close with the undead wolf.”
I nodded happily. “He’s always been by my side.” Nocturne looked disappointed and had a sour expression towards the wolf. I suddenly realized why he had such an expression. “Nocturne, are you jealous?”
He looked at me with an awkward expression. “What? Why would I need to be jealous of an undead wolf?” Nocturne took a few steps away and avoided my eyes. “Anyways, we should get going. We’ve spent enough time here.”
“You expect me to walk in my current condition while you both ride on horseback?” Zelgius asked sarcastically.
“I’m certain you’ll find a way to meet us there since you have so many tricks to get around,” Nocturne scoffed.
“H-hey, don’t be rude, Nocturne! Even though Zelgius made me the Demon King, he still helped me throughout my journey in cleansing the land of shadow magic.” Nocturne frowned in silence. “Why don’t you both just ride the horse. I’m the only one small enough to ride Noctis.”
“You want us to ride together?” they both asked in unison.
“Do you have any better ideas?” I asked.
They both shook their heads.
“Then don’t complain,” I sighed. “Let’s hurry and get on our way, shall we?” I made my way towards Noctis and climbed on to his back.
“I can’t believe I have to ride together with you,” Nocturne grumbled.
“Humph, don’t think I’m too happy about it either. Who’d want to ride with a useless human that can’t even express his true feelings?”
Nocturne turned and grabbed Zelgius by his robe’s collar. “What was that?”
“I’m saying I don’t want to stick around someone who can’t even be a proper man,” Zelgius sneered. “Even I was a man once, a few centuries ago.” He gripped Nocturne’s wrist tightly, forcing Nocturne to release his hold. “Anyways, we mustn’t keep a lady waiting.” He stumbled his way towards the horse.
Nocturne stood momentarily, tightening his fists at his sides.
“Nocturne,” I called out, “hurry up or we’ll be leaving you behind!”
“Yeah, I’m coming.”