The forest was dark all around Shidou as she lazily kicked her feet through the cool, calm water. She knew that she should be heading home soon, but she couldn’t bring herself to pull her feet out of the small pond. Sure, her mom might get on her case about it later, but to the little ten-year-old’s mind, the decision to stay and have a good time won out over going to sleep any day.
She peered through the dark water when something caught her eye; it was a stone, and a fairly large one at that. Excited, Shidou pulled it out of the water and squinted closely at it. The moon was waning, so it was fairly difficult to get a good look at it. But from what Shidou saw, it looked like the stone was a slab of obsidian, and she became extremely happy. Obsidian was valuable; she could make money for herself out of it.
The water caressing her small feet suddenly became very agitated, and if one looked closely, they could almost swear they saw a face form out of it.
“Granny Aqua, what is it?” Shidou asked. Her Granny almost never visited, none of her family did, really. In fact, many of them never really forgave her mother for becoming infatuated with, and having a child with, a human. But her Granny didn’t, nor did Auntie Bia, they just happened to be extremely busy doing whatever it was gods did. Oddly enough, the goddess who made the most time to spend with her and her mother Morta; was her mother’s cousin, and Goddess of Destruction, Korosa. “Is Natrix back? Do I finally get to meet my Great-Granny?”
Aqua shook her head, “No, little one, Natrix is not back. No one has seen her for thousands of millennia. But you need to run away from this place.”
Shidou’s heart lurched, “What? Why?!”
Aqua looked at her with sad eyes, “They’ve found you.”
Shidou’s heart nearly stopped at this. She and her mom lived in a cabin in the woods away from any of the villages. They hid away from ostracizing eyes and misunderstanding people. People always seemed to think that if they kill the Goddess of Death, then no one will ever die again. Whereas it was in fact the opposite, if Morta died, then the gates to the afterlife would close, and the people who died would become roaming spirits in torment, looking for any corpse to animate. But if they did this, their souls would become corrupt husks that do nothing more than power the walking dead.
It wasn’t like the undead were unheard of, but those ones were animated by souls that simply refused to pass through the wide open gate. And one of Morta’s many jobs was to slay these undead, and force their souls through the gate. Some five hundred years ago, she combined her skills with the Goddess of Light, Aurora’s, to imbue a certain metal with the power to force those spirits through the gates, whether open or closed. Doing so meant humans could create weapons to do the same, and Morta was no longer working alone against an insurmountable task.
Humans feared the undead. While most were harmless, some were dangerous, and they had a tendency to bite. This gave way to the annoying rumor that if one of the undead bite you, then you become one of them. Completely untrue, but urban legends travel fast, and the humans were grateful for that metal, and they endlessly thanked Morta and Aurora for that gift. And thus Paladins came to be. But as the centuries passed, humans gradually forgot the interference of the gods and became arrogant. Certain gods like Crimsona, Korosa, Cosa, and of course Morta, became misunderstood and mistrusted.
Humans fear the dark, and they attributed all of the nightmares and the creatures of the dark to the influence of the Goddess of Darkness, Crimsona. And in certain villages, it even got so bad that parents scare their kids into staying indoors at night by saying that if they leave the house when the sun is down, then Crimsona will come to take them away.
Korosa had it worse. The Goddess of Destruction was never a well-liked god, but lately, it has gotten worse. People make countless offerings to her to try and appease her and keep her from destroying this planet, even though Korosa has repeatedly stated that she has no interest in destroying the Earth anytime soon, at least, not while there’s still life on it. Some more brazen individuals even aim for Korosa’s head, saying that as long as she is alive, then there is always the possibility that she will destroy the Earth on a whim.
Cosa is the Goddess of Chaos, and somehow, people attributed natural disasters to her influence. Cosa does not have the ability to shake the ground, or to flood the rivers, or to cause disease. She only has the power to make things that are orderly into things that are not, and she can bend the laws of physics. Regardless, humans still aim for her head as well.
Shidou’s mother, Morta, was blamed for causing people’s deaths by the average folk, a misconception that she was not particularly fond of, but she didn’t let it bother her. What was worse was the Paladins’ assumption that she created the undead. They long since forgot her influence, and only attribute the existence of their weapons to Aurora. For many Paladins, taking Morta’s head is seen as the only way to stop the undead once and for all.
And if Aqua was right, and they were here now, then Morta was in danger. Shidou immediately sprinted for home, ignoring her Granny’s words to run away. As she darted through the forest, a foul smell invaded her nostrils, the scent of smoke. And as she got closer, she could see the sky start to turn red. Did they start a fire? This was both good news and bad news. Good, because then Pyra could come if she was not otherwise engaged; bad, because they are risking the complete destruction of the forest.
Shidou broke through the trees and her heart reached her throat. She saw her mother standing in front of their burning house, her massive sword at the ready, and her head framed by her pure white hair. She was surrounded by a crowd of Paladins, none of which were older than thirty. She caught Shidou’s eyes and visibly blanched. Those eyes contained a message: run away, run away and don’t look back.
But Shidou couldn’t run away, not without her mother at her side, she refused to leave her to these humans, humans who had weapons containing the one thing that could kill the unkillable, even gods. “I don’t wanna leave you, mommy!”
“No Shidou! Don’t draw attention to yourself!” Morta shouted, terrified.
One of the Paladins, the leader of the group, turned to see Shidou standing there. His eyes widened with disgust. “You had a child?!” He shouted at Morta, “Do you have any idea what you have done?! She’ll have your power!” He drew his axe, “Who’s the father?” he growled.
“Don’t you dare lay a finger on her!” Morta hissed. “I’m your opponent!”
“All enemies of Life and Light are my opponents.” The Paladin growled. “I will do what must be done. My family, and the entirety of humanity, will no longer sleep in fear of the undead. My daughter had to grow up without a mother because of the abominations that you created. And since she is yours, she has the power to do the same!”
Morta looked troubled, “She…” Morta began, “she’s not my daughter, I found her in the woods and raised her, there is no father.”
“She has your hair, the unholy white of Death.” The Paladin muttered.
“That is due to my influence. My presence around her for years has turned her hair white.”
“If she’s not yours, then why are you trying to protect her?” Another of the Paladins spoke up.
“She may not be mine, but I love her like she’s my own.”
“Still, this is too great a risk to take.” The leader of the Paladins said, “If you’re lying, then she could unleash true horror on this world, just like you.”
Shidou couldn’t believe her ears. Her mother was not really her mother? “It’s a lie, Mommy! Please tell me it’s a lie!” Shidou wailed, tears streaming down her face. “Please tell me it’s a lie! I wanna be your daughter! I don’t wanna be anyone else’s! Please, Mommy! Please! It’s a lie!”
Morta looked at Shidou with sad eyes, saying this was the hardest thing in the world for her, to have to deny her own daughter like this. She hated every word that came out of her mouth; of course it was a lie. How else was she supposed to protect the most important thing in the world to her? The Paladins had her cut off; she would never be able to reach the leader before he brought the axe down on her daughter’s head. It was at times like this that she truly wished she could end someone’s life on a whim like the common humans think she can. But since she couldn’t, this was the only way she could protect her little Shidou. “Don’t kill her!” Morta yelled. She had one last trump card up her sleeve; she just had to pray that it would work.
“She may be your biological daughter. I can’t risk that.”
“She’s not, but I love her.” Morta smiled, her mind made up. “I love her so much, that I will lay down my weapon here and let you kill me, if only you would let her live.”
Shidou felt her world crumbling around her, “No Mommy! Please! I don’t care that you’re not my real Mommy! I just wanna stay with you!”
The leader of the Paladin group looked at the little girl he had just been about to kill, then he looked at Morta. “Alright, you have my word. I will not harm a hair on her head.” He turned towards the group of Paladins. “This applies to you as well. Anyone who tries to hurt that little girl will answer to me.”
Morta smiled. Her death will cause the gates to close, and Shidou was too young to keep them open. She knew that dong this would cause uncountable souls to wander in endless torment and for many more undead to rise. But for her daughter, she would make that trade in a heartbeat. “Why did you take my agreement, Mr. Paladin?”
“My name is Aaron, and I have a daughter, too. No older than this child here. I would sacrifice my life for her’s, how could I deny you your right to sacrifice your life for yours?”
Morta bowed her head, “Thank you, Aaron.” And she laid down her sword.
Shidou could only watch in horror as the Paladin turned on her mother, and she screamed as she watched her mother’s blood fly the last thing she heard before her world fell apart forever was her mother’s last words, “I love you, Shidou.”