"Starving Demon's Way represents the sin of gluttony. When one succumbs to gluttony, they inevitably starve the soul. A glutton will take from the needy and will eat and drink without concern for those around them. Thus Maven spoke of throwing away your obsession for food and starting your pilgrimage with reverence" Santos said as he closed his scripture. "Thus as we travel Starving Demon's Way, the guild will abstain from eating meat."
An audible groan left Kiki's mouth when she heard this. "Really? How are supposed to survive without meat?" She asked before getting a reply from Catherine.
"You could always try expanding your pallet and eat a few vegetables" The alchemist said barely holding back her laughter.
Looking to avoid an argument, Bella stepped forward and addressed the guild. "As we travel to Pilgrim Path, we're also going to make stops on Aebsova Field and the Field of Reeds. Understood?"
"Yes Ma'am!" Everyone responded.
As the group traveled north, Siegfried walked up to the front besides Bella. "So we're going to pay Liliya a visit?" He asked.
A pang of guilt struck her heart. "Yes. I can't believe it's almost been a year since she died. I keep thinking back to that battle thinking there might have been a way to save her. If only I …I" Bella replied.
She then let out a yip as Siegfried gave her a slap on the back. "Keep your head up Belladonna. After she turned into a demon, there was nothing you could do for her. The best thing we could do was give her a proper burial" He said in a reassuring tone.
"Thanks Siegfried, I needed that. I knew made you my Vice Commander for a reason" Bella said as she continued to lead the group. "Still, why aren't you wearing your templar uniform? You've already gone through the training."
The doppelsoeldner scratched the back of his head. "I can't stand that get-up, especially the cape. Besides it would be confusing if people saw two templars leading a guild." He said.
"Too bad, I think it would look good on you" Bella said giving her Second-in-Command a small laugh.
A few paces behind them, Pelleas marched along between Santos and Artemis. "I can never get a read on the kind of relationship those two have." Pelleas said looking at the two guild leaders.
"The two of them have a long history together." Artemis said to the young squire. "From what I've heard from Siegfried, they meet when they were kids and trained together with the Swordsmen Master. But they decided to train with different masters afterwards. Siegfried became a mercenary for a while and that's where I meet him."
Santos tapped Pelleas on the shoulder and added his piece. "I met Bella while she was training with the Royal Army. It was here on Starving Demon Way where we all meet Catherine and each other. At first everything seemed fine but the two couldn't stop butting heads. After the guild formed, they kept on organizing separate operations. Bella wanted to focus on restoring the Kingdom while Siegfried wanted to hunt demons."
"Which is fine by me" Artemis said with a hint of anger. "There won't be peace until all those monsters are dead."
"While I agree, there are other problems facing this land. The destruction due to the Divine Tree, the corruption of nature and declining faith in the goddesses are also major concerns." Santos said.
In an instance, the musketeer pushed aside Pelleas and grabbed the paladin by his collar only to let go. "You don't understand the true horror of these demons." Artemis said as fell back and walked with Scarlett.
The group soon reached Liliya's grave and were greeted by two familiar faces. Both offering a prayer to the fallen pilgrim
"Julius, Zenius. I didn't know you would be here." Bella said as she walked towards the two men.
"It's good to see you Bella" Julius, the younger of the two men answered. "We come here often to pray for Liliya hoping her soul has found its way to the Goddess Aušrinė."
Placing a set of flowers, Zenius approached the group. "We're also hoping to turn the abandoned camp to the south into a small village. With Naktis' curse lifted, we might be able to live our lives in peace."
"If possible, could we rest at your camp? The sun is starting to set and the company is always welcome." Bella asked the two.
Without hesitation, the two former pilgrims agreed. Once Santos kneeled to lead a prayer for Liliya's soul, they made their way south to the camp.
The sun set as Pelleas, Andris and Artemis set up their base camp for the night. A large metal pot hung over the fire filled with Pelleas' special vegetable stew. The guild including Julius and Zenius sat around the fire sharing bread loafs. Kiki seemed to take a few extra and handed them to Delphi. An awkward silence fell over the group unsure what to say. The last time they were all together like this was the war against the Bloody Kepas three months ago. Looking to break the silence, Catherine clapped her hands together to get everyone's attention.
"Oh I have an idea. Delphi, why don't you give us one of your special fortunes? Knowing some of the dangers we may have to face would be very helpful." She said adjusting her monocle.
Nibbling on a piece of bread, Delphi reached into her bag to pull out a set of incense and a clear crystal. "Let me see what the stars show me" Delphi says meekly. Lighting the incense using the bonfire, the oracle begins to meditate. A low humming left her lips followed by soft chanting.
"The stars! They show me …" She says. The group leans in waiting for her prediction. Suddenly, she fell backwards and let out a sigh. "Argh! I'm hungry! I can't make a prediction like this" Delphi cried.
With the base camp up, Pelleas came to check on the stew. "Dinner's ready everyone!" He said as he started to serve out the food. Once everyone had a bowl, Santos led them in grace. That didn't stop some of them from sneaking a bite or two. Once grace was said, the guild was able to enjoy the squire's meal.
"Another fine meal Pelleas" Bella said as she praised her squire.
"Indeed" added Catherine. "I have Andris cook for me sometimes. But his technique leaves something to be desired" she said as a look of embarrassment crossed the sorcerer's face.
To everyone's surprise, Kiki and Delphi practically inhaled their food. They consumed one bowl, then another and then another. "If you two keep eating like that, you're both going to explode" Scarlett said as she just finished her first bowl of stew.
Kiki and Delphi didn't seem to care. They finished their fifth serving each and put out their bowl for more. "Well since we're not having meat; we have to eat twice as much. More please?" Kiki said as she held out her bowl.
"I don't think that's how that works. Plus you two have already finished the stew." Pelleas said showing them the empty pot.
Hearing your conversation, Julius chimes in. "If you guys are looking for meat. We have some stockpiled in a hut around the Field of Reeds." He said as Kiki's ears perk up.
Bella simply shakes her head no. "Thank you but that won't be necessary, we're abstaining from eating meat as we travel through Starving Demon's Way." She said as she finished her dinner. Zenius seemed genuinely pleased to hear this.
"It's good to hear that there are still people will to attempt this pilgrimage again." He said
"Thank you, we still have quite a ways to go so I'm going to sleep early tonight" Bella said with a yawn before retiring to her tent. One by one her guild mates followed suit.
As the group slept, Siegfried heard a noise at the edge of the camp. When he opened his eyes, he saw Kiki and Delphi sneaking off. "Where are those two going?" He whispered to himself. Getting up Siegfried followed the two until he eventually reached a small shack nestled within the Field of Reeds. Peeking into the shack, the doppelsoeldner saw his two companions just eating everything in sight. Meat, vegetables, grains, Kiki and Delphi just kept shoving food into their face. They kept eating and eating for minutes on end.
"What the hell are you two doing!?" Siegfried yelled as he ran into the room. However the two just kept eating. Frustrated, Siegfried grabbed Kiki and Delphi and pulled them away from the storehouse. "This food belongs to Julius and Zenius you idiots!"
The two of them just kept struggling to escape Siegfried's grasp. "Let go of me Siegfried! I'm hungry!" Kiki said as she started punching Siegfried in the gut. Letting out a gasp, he let go of Kiki who immediately ran back to the storehouse. "Kiki! Make sure to leave some food for me!" Delphi yelled back at the monk.
Soon a scream rang out from the shack. From the entrance stumbled Kiki as she continued to shove more food down her throat. As she did, a black miasma began to ooze from her body. "It's not enough, I'm still …. Still hungry!" Kiki yelled as her body was engulfed by black smoke.
"No! Not again" Siegfried gasped in disbelief. When the smoke cleared, what they saw wasn't the monk but a monster. Snarling at them was a large bear with intimidating sabretooth fangs. Red crystals poked out of the creatures' back as its yellow eyes stared down Siegfried. Letting out a powerful roar, the Glutton pounces at the pair. Barely able to dodge, Siegfried pushed Delphi away and blocked the attack with his sword.
"Ki-Kiki?" Delphi said stunned on the ground.
"Delphi! I need you to snap out of it" the doppelsoeldner yelled as he dodged out of the way of the Glutton.
"R-right" She said as she got up from the ground. Getting up from the ground, Delphi held out her Epos rod and cleared her mind.
"Forcast!" Delphi shouted as the beast was engulfed in a bright light. Just as the Glutton raised its claw to strike Siegfried, the Vice-Commander could see the attack in advance. Along with that he could see an opening. As the monster brought it's claw down, Siegfried sidestepped the attack and raised his sword into the air.
"Helm Chopper!" With a yell he brought his sword down onto the head of the Glutton. Stunned and bleeding the beast lets out a whimper. But that doesn't stop Siegfried as he raises his blade. I can't hesitate. I'm sorry this is all I can do for you Kiki. He thought to himself as he brought his blade down.
"Attaque Au Fer!"
In an instance, the tip of a rapier hit Siegfried's handle. His sword was sent flying as he turned to see Bella standing there.
"Belladonna? What the hell are you doing? Do you even know what's going on?" Siegfried yelled in anger.
"I suspected something was wrong during dinner. Seeing the shack, the food and the Glutton, it's not hard to put the situation together. This is Kiki isn't it?" Bella said as she walked towards the monster.
"Yes it is." Siegfried said "And you know what we have to do!"
Bella didn't listen as she walked up to the stunned Glutton and started to pat its head. "Kiki? Can you hear me? It's Bella. All your friends are here. Please come back to us." She said softly. The Glutton twitched a bit which put Siegfried on edge.
"We got lucky that time with Julius. What makes you think talking will work this time?" Siegfried said. Running to get his sword he was met by Santos and Catherine.
"Perhaps we can be of assistance" Santos said as the two surrounded the monster. "Are you ready Catherine?"
"I am if you" The alchemist said. Raising their hands, a magic circle formed as the two began to chant. All the while Bella continued to comfort the monster
"Conversion!" The two shouted as the night was lit by a blinding light. When the light subdued, the group could see Bella holding on to Kiki. She was unconcise but alive. Siegfried stood their stunned as he watched Bella carried the monk back to camp.
When the group returned, Bella and Siegfried explained the situation to the rest of the guild. In one of the tents, Kiki slept as Julius looked over her.
"Did Kiki really turn into a Glutton? I thought you guys already dealt with Naktis?" Scarlett asked as everyone huddled around the campfire.
"We thought so too. But this is definitely her curse. And if it's happening, who's to say her curse hasn't returned to the rest of Pilgrim's Way?" Bella said.
"So the only thing to do is the call off the pilgrimage right?" Siegfried suggested to the templar. "I have a bad feeling in my gut about this."
"No" Bella said in an instant. "If Naktis's Curse has returned, then we need to find out why. If we don't then the demons with always control Pilgrim's Way. This pilgrimage was partially to restore some sense of respect to Maven's teachings and this is part of that mission. I've asked Julius & Zenius to look after Kiki. Tomorrow the rest of us will leave for Pilgrim's Way!"
With no other objections, the group seemed to return to their tents and catch what little sleep they could.
Just behind the ruined shack stood a strange Tree Root Crystal with a glowing black orb. Taking her staff, Catherine broke the crystal and released the dark energy into the air. Bending down she picked up parts of the broken crystal and put them in a bag with a magic circle on it.