Uh-oh. Looks like I'm back.
Lemme just say: Charlie, that review made my day so much better. Things like that speed my response-update time more than one would think... and make me dangerously cheerful for the rest of the day, of course.
Same goes to everyone who reviewed: thanks for your support, and for taking the time to click the button :) Now for the final installment.
Dated the seventeenth of December, 1914
I once made an idle promise never to reveal my dreams to others, for even if nothing else in this life is, those are secret and private. If one desires, they need never be known to the world – they belong in a personal domain, hidden away from all else, uncontrollable but forever concealed.
Today I violate that promise, but only because I count that bizarre event last night as a vision, perhaps even a miracle if I were not so convinced that those strike only the holiest of men. Regardless – vision or miracle, chimera or fanciful fool's paradise – I will not soon forget its deep lifelike color, its atmospheres vivid and clear enough to be life itself.
Everything was eerily in place – the color of my flesh before my eyes, the grays and washed-out wood of the church walls, even the deep coruscating vermilion of her hair, a tone unmatched by any earthly shade. The light of the shattered window reflected off of her skin as it did in reality, illuminating those slate eyes after which I pine so pitifully…
The hallucination itself proved to be… much less uplifting than its photorealism.
She awoke in a daze, confused and angry, as did I – the floor of Domremy was made no softer by the bed on which I rested in reality, but my bewilderment was lessened somewhat by the sight of her and the Godslayer, laying close as if asleep…
It is truly a wonder how different one appears when he or she is asleep – in all of Karin's waking hours, I have seen a bold warrior looking me defiantly in the eyes with a terrifying intensity in her gaze… but at that moment, I saw only the kindness and heartwarming vulnerability behind her peaceful features, and while it lasted, it was magnificent.
Such a powerful emotion sometimes forces me to reconsider some things. How many sides of me she has seen? I have shown her the evil in my soul; I have shown her the very basest elements of my character. Have I shown her enough of the good in me to combat that?
My first instinct was to call to her, and to this very moment I cringe at her reaction to the sight of me. She was hesitant from the moment she awoke, as if I were no better than the repugnant demons she killed every day…
My mind worked so furiously, heart pounding so painfully as I saw her slipping away, saw her form growing fainter as she fought to lift herself from the dream world. I will not lie: I know nothing of women, and I know even less how to win the affections of the extraordinary Amazon that Karin is. Like a fool I turned to the only things I knew – I offered her everything I could give her, thinking that I could never convince her of my good intentions… fame, fortune, her heart's desire, as if I could make her love me by offering her gold and riches.
I imagine I would have been insulted as well, should someone assume I were shallow enough to be won over by wealth. And so when all else failed, I did what I should have done to begin with, and offered her the last thing I had: my love.
Since I met her, not a moment has passed that I have not blindly sought after her approval, although I like to think I have hidden well enough that pitiful sycophantic nature… but for a genuine moment, my deepest longings were fulfilled, for at the mere mention, her heart seemed to soften to me, and within the depths of ash-colored eyes lingered an emotion equally as adoring as my own. Even in sleep I felt my heart skip a beat in anticipation.
Curse all noble conscience in the world! Curse the morality and that rigid code of ethics that pulled her away from me at the one moment I had to touch her, to give her the embrace I craved… but most of all, I curse the cruel fate that gave her the fire to scorn me so acridly. Her words were unimaginably fierce when she told me that manipulation was my only weapon, and that I used such petty charms as appearance and beauty to get where I am.
I might have been able to respond had those words affected me less. I am still baffled by their astonishing impact on me – they remain in my memory still, fresh and stinging… many times people have accused me of those very crimes, and I assure you, most of them are disturbingly well-grounded, but to hear it from her…
If one had asked Karin not five months in the past, she would have laughed joyfully with that light chuckle of hers that comes and goes so quickly, as if in bursts of delight – dear God, am I never to stop reliving these insignificant details? – and she would have articulated, perhaps even lightheartedly mocked my habit of deploring my own faults. It is true, though, and I am sad to say that amidst those who have known me far longer, she is the only one who has grown to know me so well.
…enough of my pointless ramblings; I have lost track of the time. I must concentrate on my work, not on women I find painfully out of my reach. When I finally face her in battle, I cannot allow my personal conflicts to distract me. If need be, I will…
Damn all that stays my hand while I so much as write this atrocity! I am truly the weakest of men. No more hesitations! I will allow my demon occupant to strike at her; I will encourage it and fuel its rage against her. But perhaps I will also hope she is as nimble as she was during those months we spend together to avoid its devilish speed…
It is pathetic, the way my stomach turns to think of how Astaroth twists my mind and my intentions. No – I may profess that I will tear the affection from my heart, but I know above all that when the time comes, I will not be as strong as I would like. No matter how intense my resolve, or how adamantly I claim that I have overcome that crippling emotion, my desires will never be of injury or violence. I am not responsible for the sins committed by that abhorrent parasite in my soul.
But for the sake of all I love, may the aim of Astaroth be struck off by all the magical wards I can conjure, and may my white magic be enough to protect her from death wherever she may venture.
Karin ran her finger along the bottom of the page, where his valediction trailed into a spot crinkled and brittle as if it had once been wet.
She felt the familiar burning sensation behind her eyes as she realized with an unpleasant jolt that this was a tear, a proof of Nicolai's grief that made her realize just how little she'd trusted his words. She wanted to match it with a tear of her own, as an apology for making so little of his suffering while she was so wrapped up in her own cynicism…. or at least some small reciprocation to let him know that his writings had not gone unseen, and that he had not died unloved…
She'd never wanted to relive that dream so fully, and especially not through his eyes… in his words, identical to her own, even dated the day after that terrible meeting. It made her heart flutter with joy to know that they had shared that one experience, but he'd also described with frightening accuracy the brunt of her awful insults that day, condemning him as a power-hungry politician with evil intentions, calling him a manipulator and expelling herself from the dream before he could say anything more.
While his last words to her had been of his undying love, hers had been of anger and sharp, biting slurs. She had lived, knowing his feelings for her, while he had died thinking she hated him. She had thought so confidently that she was being strong for Yuri and her friends while in reality, all she was doing was breaking the fragile heart of the man who loved her.
Since she had no strength left to cry, Karin flipped through the pages, finding no other mention of her name until the very last entry, dated the day just before she and Yuri hadgone to Apoina Tower to confront Nicolai.
Dated the third of March, 1915
There is very little time left. The hour approaches when I face the Godslayer.
Everyone else is dead. Hyuga and his loyal throng have killed Curtis, Vera, even Rasputin, the old fool. So I was right after all, telling the stubborn codger he would never defeat the Godslayer. Hyuga's is the will of a human harnessing the raw power of a demon; there can be no match for that kind of strength.
Rasputin refused to give me, the little bastard whelp he picked up from the streets that would have grown up a street rat if not for his intervention, any say in the matter. He laughed and told me that a weakling of a human such as I had no claim to the power of Hyuga and would provide very little challenge.
I could have snapped that malevolent halfwit's neck where he sat so complacently! He has no idea of the terms of the soul pact I struck. Astaroth is a proud and resilient force – he did not simply agree to become my slave, residing inside a human host until I deemed him ready to emerge. I had no choice but to defeat my parasite in combat before he would concede before me, and let me assure you that it was no trivial task – my holy wards were the only things that saved me. To the same effect, nothing but white magic was able to pierce Astaroth's thick hide, and only when I enchanted the blade of Galahad's sword with the spells of the saints was I able to strike the conquering blow.
That is the only reason I would presume my ability to defeat Hyuga – perhaps in single combat I will be able to emerge victorious, for it will be one demon lord against another, one human's strength of will against the other. In the end, it will be the better man who wins.
But always I assume too much… he will have friends – that same loyal group that follows him wherever he goes, that strikes down his enemies by his side… and Karin, who would follow him into the jaws of death itself, who would gladly slit my throat before looking at me again with kindness in her eyes.
Why wouldn't she? I threatened her in Domremy, a crime for which there is no excuse. My vendetta is against the one she loves; I have tried to kill him too many times to count. I tarnished her honor by bribing her with riches. I sprang my love on her too soon, and frightened her away with my panic and bad judgment. It is my own fault for driving her away, and I have no place regretting that.
Perhaps when the Godslayer and his friends put an end to my life, Karin will see at last that I was true in my meaning. And maybe then she will love me at last, and we will meet in the next world where I can tell her everything I could not in life.
The time grows ever near. Wait for me, Karin, for I am coming to you, and by all that is holy, may you one day realize that I do love you. And that is a sickness of the heart that not even death will cure.