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The Divine Hunter

Reaper Scans

 

Chapter 332: Didn’t Make It

 

[TL: Asuka]

[PR: Ash]

 

Flickering flames shone on a man shackled by dimeritium cuffs, but that man was making a speech confidently and loudly, as if he wanted to expend all his energy on one final talk.

"Elsa is what I call a corpse-bound soul. She is already dead, but her soul is trapped within a runic body, and that soul is filled with hatred. Of course it is. It went through unimaginable horrors before it died."

"What did you do to her, you bastard?!"

"Calm down, man." Roy held the livid Todd back. "Let him finish. We need to save Elsa."

Todd huffed and puffed, but he held himself back, though he was still staring daggers at the mage.

"By day, her soul sleeps within its vessel, but by night, it wakes and struggles within its fleshy cage, radiating its hatred to its surroundings." Matteo was staring at the beautiful girl almost fanatically. "She'll instinctively cast a spell to revive all nearby corpses and drive them to kill the living so she can absorb their soul and life force. Then she uses what she has absorbed to strengthen herself.

It's not a real revival, Roy thought. What she did was summon the living dead. They have no soul. That meager amount of EXP proves it.

"Once her soul absorbs enough nutrients to grow, it will break through its vessel and become a vengeful banshee." Matteo squinted at the body. To him, it looked more like a perfect piece of art, not some deranged product of a psychotic madman. "And that banshee is as powerful as a plague maiden. A shame, however, as she's not even a tenth through her growth."

The witchers exchanged looks. This guy's a maniac.

"So you let the corpse collector take her? And where did you learn of this wicked ritual?" Letho asked. "I've never seen a corpse-bound soul, and man-made banshees are never heard of."

"Aside from the Griffins, all witchers are a lot more powerful than regular people. You're not blessed with the luck to feel magic at a close range. It's normal that you have no idea how deep this field of knowledge stretches." Matteo looked at them smugly. The guy was going to die soon, and he had nothing to fear.

"This is a magnificent ritual created by Steingard and yours truly. It took us more than a decade just to glean this ritual from the Wozgors' mausoleum and the Dauks' obelisk. Eltibald the Mad was right. Girls who are born on the day of the black sun are more special than any other girl. My previous experiments prove that cursed girls are built differently than most people. Their heads and spines have red sponge-like structures in them, and their organs are all in different places. Some of those organs are even missing. All of their innards are covered in fur and chunks of pink and blue flesh."

Roy's heart skipped a beat. We didn't see that when we performed the autopsy. Did this guy revert her insides to resemble a normal human's, or is he just making this up as he goes?

Matteo explained, "Regular girls can't be turned into corpse-bound souls, nor can they react to chaos energy. Only girls of the black sun can. They're special. But gods be damned. All these years, I only managed to find one cursed girl that fits the bill. The others are either held captive, dead, or living in remote areas. And you can't know who's a cursed girl from the surface. Because of that, my experiment slowed to a crawl."

***

"You're an animal." Auckes spat at him.

"You're insane. The banshee you planned on creating through this ritual would’ve wreaked havoc across Novigrad. What do you gain from getting your own turf destroyed?" Letho asked curiously.

"You're nothing but brutes, witchers. You'll never understand why I do art," Matteo said proudly. "If I can create a perfect work of art, what's a few hundred lives? These people are going to live their whole lives achieving nothing anyway. Might as well sacrifice them for magic. It's a higher purpose."

"You are no god." Serrit cocked his eyebrow. "You don't get to decide who lives and who dies."

"No." Roy shook his head. "Even gods can't take lives as they want."

"Enough talk, people." Letho turned to the mage. "How should we save Elsa?"

Todd looked at Matteo nervously.

"Weren't you listening? I can lift the curse, but I can't revive the dead." Matteo stared at the group of people, especially Todd. And then he smirked. "I'll tell you how to lift the curse and free the girl's soul from her prison. She'll stay around for a few moments for the last goodbye, and then poof. Into the void, she goes."

"You bastard! You're saving her, you hear me?" Todd charged at the mage like a man possessed, and he grabbed Matteo's shoulder. "There must be a way. Tell me!"

"I told you, I can't. The witchers can't do it, either." And then he suddenly said, "But if she can fully grow into a banshee, then the girl can be reborn in another way. She can still keep some of her human memories if she becomes a banshee."

Todd froze up.

"Shut up, whoreson!" Felix interrupted. "Don't listen to him, Todd. Only eternal pain and suffering await banshees. Death would be a sweet release for her."

"A release, huh?" Todd hung his head low and went to Elsa's side. He stared at her silently, but his heart was screaming in pain. We got the bastard, so why… why can't I do anything to save her? Everything I've done feels like a joke. A meaningless joke.

The witchers remained silent. They were no gods. Life and death was something far beyond their capabilities.

"Have you made your peace, mate?" Kiyan's eyes were focused on the mage. He was raring to make Matteo pay for what he did. "Do you want to lift the curse?"

Only the sounds of breathing filled the air for a moment.

A long, long while later, Todd closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Two months. Two months Elsa was trapped within this body. Her soul must have suffered. I need to release her from these shackles. "Tell us how to lift the curse, Matteo."

"Easy. Pluck her heart out, rub silver powder over it, and then toss it into a fire. Then the curse will be lifted," Matteo answered. "Her soul will be cleansed and separated from the flesh."

“And then I can see her and say goodbye?" Todd asked. Most people couldn't see spirits anyway, so he had to ask.

Matteo pursed his lips for a while. When Kiyan shot him a warning glare, he shivered. "You're her father. Draw a circle around the body with your blood, and her soul will linger for a few moments. I'll teach you how to do it. Her soul will stay for about five minutes. In that state, even regular humans can interact with her. Physical touch is possible, too. Only for five minutes, though."

"You know what will happen if you lie," Kiyan growled.

Matteo blanched, and his body trembled uncontrollably. "Remember your promise, witchers. No matter what you do to me, you must put me to rest in one day."

Matteo handled a lot of specimens back in the day. He had seen how they howled and broke down under the pressure, and he knew how painful these experiments must’ve been. If the alternative was to suffer that kind of agony, he would rather go with a quick death.

The witchers and Todd went to the other side of the laboratory to prepare for the ceremony, while Roy hung back and huddled closer to Matteo.

"Tell me something. How did you manage to summon that demon and make it possess Kiyan?" 300 EXP for every demon killed. No way I'm letting this baby go.

"Why are you interested in the forbidden spells, witcher?" Matteo's eyes narrowed into slits. He stared at the young witcher, and realization struck him. "If I tell you what you want, can you tell that monster to give me a quick death?"

"Sorry, I don't think I can."

"It doesn't matter." An eerie smile curled Matteo's swollen lips, and his shackles rattled delightfully. "I see you're interested in magical experiments, so I assume you took the statue as well? It delights me to see someone who shares my passion amongst witchers. Listen closely. The incantation goes… And these are the components needed for the circle… These are the gestures…"

***

Everyone gathered around the wall where the statue used to be. Elsa was lying quietly in a magical circle made out of blood, and a blazing brazier sat beside her. Black smoke billowed in the air as the flames burned a certain something into cinders.

The smoke disappeared about fifteen minutes later, and a translucent silhouette appeared from the corpse. She was covered in a green light reminiscent of a wraith's. She was hovering above the ground, her hands crossed before her chest, and her eyes closed. She had a beautiful face, and her body was as clear and glimmering as crystal.

She was wearing a green, frilled dress and a pair of leather shoes. The girl looked innocent and adorable, not unlike an elf wandering this land. The witchers pushed their aggression down and calmed down. They were worried their air might burn this innocent soul.

Elsa opened her eyes, and confusion struck. She then turned around to see where she was, but her brows quickly furrowed, and her eyes were filled with horror. "Wh-Where am I?" She had a silvery voice, but that quickly became a shriek. "Who are you? Don't come any closer! Don't touch me! Get away!"

Dark memories came flooding back, and she wiped off nonexistent tears with her hands. The green light flashed even brighter, and rotten patches appeared on her skin before spreading quickly across her body.

She's going to turn? The witchers quietly held their blades.

"Don't be afraid, Elsa." Todd took a step ahead and approached his daughter's soul. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at her. Love etched itself on the seasoned mercenary's face, and he said gently, "I'm back, Elsa. Todd's here."

"Todd?" The green light stopped expanding, and the girl's eyes went wide with surprise. The look on her face changed from horror to curiosity. She was staring at this burly man ahead of her, and the patches on her face quickly faded away.

The man called Todd was a stranger, but Elsa felt connected to him, like she was his family. But it's my first time seeing him. That sense of connection felt the strongest to a soul like her. Ever since Kolleen, Olena, and Frank died, she never felt this connection anymore.

"You're Todd? You're my father?" The girl's jaw dropped in disbelief.

She had never seen her father before. Everything she knew about him came from her mother and grandparents. The girl stared at Todd with anxiety and longing, and then she asked him several questions about her family, her date of birth, and the black sun.

Todd answered all of them correctly. "I'm sorry, Elsa. Forgive me for not coming home. I've let you, Kolleen, Olena, and Frank down." The mercenary's face was red, and he was sobbing and shivering as tears of shame streamed down his cheeks.

He left his family and worked for fifteen years for his selfish dream, and he never came back to see them once. Because of his heart of stone, he had no idea that his family died, and his daughter was captured by a deranged mage. He was responsible for all these deaths. Todd was ready for his daughter to reprimand him, to renounce and see him as an enemy. But…

"You're finally home!" Elsa covered her mouth and sobbed, and then she gave her father a hug.

Todd hugged her back, and he caressed her cheeks. This feels like a dream. Elsa was frail and fragile, but to Todd, he was holding his whole world. Not once in his life did he feel as happy and content as he was in that moment. He could faint from all the happiness he was feeling.

The girl wiped her tears away. "Why didn't you come back sooner? Colleen and the others didn't even get to see you."

"I'm sorry. I-I'm a bastard!"

What Elsa said next almost made him bawl his eyes out.

"Don't say that! You're not a bastard!" Elsa stared at her crying father with love and worship in her eyes. "Every day, Kolleen would tell me that you were a hero. You were the best husband and father in the world. You risked your life to make money for us so we didn’t have to starve."

And you believed that? You silly girl.

"Grandma and Grandpa thought you were the best son in the world. They missed you every day. Told me about your stories, too."

Todd was petrified. Why? I left this home for fifteen years and never once came back. I never did my job as a husband, father, or son. Kolleen, Olena, and my sailor dad, Frank…

"Don't you guys hate me?" Todd held his daughter tightly and closed his eyes. If guilt could burn anyone to cinders, Todd would have been a pile of ash by now. Why didn't you yell at me? You should. I didn't do my job as your father!

"Mom would sew a shirt for you every year, and Grandma made a few boots for you. I made a pair of gloves for you too. They're in the bottom drawer of the closet back at home. We were waiting for you to come back so you could try them on," Elsa gushed. "Frank had a bottle of dwarven liquor hidden underneath the kitchen floor. He was going to share it with you when you come back. Stopped drinking for ten years because of that. They kept waiting and waiting, but you never came back."

Tears kept streaming down Todd's cheeks. What have I done?

***

Time was up. Todd didn't manage to say goodbye, and his daughter disappeared into beautiful motes of light that fluttered into the distance. Eventually, they were out of his reach.

"Elsa? Elsa!" Todd bawled. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry I couldn't be better!" The burly man hugged the air and knelt on the floor, howling because of his bereavement. Because of the happiness that should have been.

For a moment, there were nothing but howls of sorrow and sighs of regret filling the air.

 

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