22 Christus Imperat

(A/N: Back to MC's POV after an extra week of waiting.)

I am not prideful. Pride is a sin - a deadly one - and I only practice the Heavenly Virtues.

Thus, I called upon the virtue of humility - and Wojchiech.

I am not stupid enough to believe I can outsmart this Devil to the point that he is left completely vulnerable to an attack from my Sacred Gear, as much as I wish I could. My raw power simply is not enough, and though hellions such as him are barbarous, savage creatures, he still possesses enough sapience and raw power to either thwart or brute force his way through such attempts.

And so, as I said, I called upon Wojchiech. The man is paranoid and didn't want to see the time he poured into me wasted - a practice of the sunk cost fallacy, in my opinion, but I certainly appreciate the survival lifeline the decision has given me - and to alleviate his worries, he gave me a salvation bracelet.

Or a gospel bracelet. Or a wordless bracelet. People - although it's hard to refer to them as such - are unable to decide on the name between those three; choose one or choose none, in my opinion. Personally, I practice the latter and thus call them 'rosary beads'.

It was no ordinary rosary bead, though. There are two in a pair, and breaking one makes its partner glow with blinding light - and explode, if it isn't similarly broken in reciprocation within a certain period of time to show that the message was received.

Normally, I would decry such a practice as brutish, bestial and blasphemous - these bracelets represent the main facets of scripture, after all - but that is precisely the point.

One would only dare to desecrate such a thing if they were in grave danger. I would say my current circumstances fall into that category.

Thus, I snapped the multicolored accessory and let it fall to the ground.

Whether or not Wojchiech gets here in time is no issue, though. While I am not confident in my ability to utterly defeat this creature, I do believe I can effectively stall - I simply need to decide on a strategy to do so.

I don't want to ever exchange words that are not an exorcism with a demon, but it may be prudent in this situation. The Devil is likely at least somewhat spent after unleashing a Balance Breaker, so perhaps he would reciprocate.

The Chosen One must survive above all else. But no, I hear the ignoramuses whine. What use is survival if he betrays his duty?

I will reciprocate. What use is refusing to behave in a reasonable fashion if he is unable to fulfill his duty in the future?

The use of survival is survival in and of itself. The use of survival is living another day and continuing on with one's unending march to the gates of Heaven - what use is said march if it is cut short?

I am not so avaricious for my entrance to paradise that I wish to enter as soon as possible. No, I must fulfill my destinies first.

And so, I waited, gazing upon the receding dust and dirt cloud - albeit while bringing out various battle preparations, just in case.

When the curtain of earth had fallen, there was only a lone figure standing.

Taking a deep breath, I prepared myself to sully my honor for all of eternity.

I pulled the megaphone up to my mouth: "I propose a question. A temporary parlay, if you will. Why would a man betray his Creator and venture to the side of Lucifer, knowing that only perdition awaits?"

I brought the megaphone down, and the Devil brought his gaze to bear.

The Devil peered up, somehow locking eyes with me from so many meters away.

That thin veneer of humanity he wore to disguise his malformed abomination of a soul had the appearance of an aristocrat - pale-skinned, blond, tall, thin, with a slightly pointed nose and sunken cheekbones. His clothing was a combination of crimson fabric and steel, resembling a traditional officer's uniform if it were more suited for true combat.

His eyes, reminiscent of burning coals - a trait caused by a traditional Black Magic ritual, further cementing his identity as one of the damned - zeroed in, untroubled and content.

And then they were filled with amusement, and a smirk came upon his pale skin - as if I didn't understand the whole picture.

"Because no sane man leaves his future in the hands of another."

What a vile opinion. I cannot respect such thoughtless vanity.

I responded with scripture.

"Proverbs, chapter nineteen, verse twenty-one: 'Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.'"

He shook his head. "You do not understand. I do not expect you to, of course, but you still do not. Please refrain from thrusting your closed-minded expectations and assumptions upon others."

I shook my head, keeping the rest of my body from following suit in a tide of righteous fury. Now he is the one that does not understand.

The audacity of such a creature to refer to the Ten Commandments and guidings of scripture as 'closed-minded expectations'. I am speechless.

"I will deign to propose another question," I began. "Did you become a blasphemous necromancer and Black Magician who spits in the face of the Lord before or after you spat in His face by joining the hordes of the Bottomless Pit?"

"That would help you identify who I am, though I suppose it wouldn't be that hard to do so with what I've already shown. Now," he brought his left hand up, "I have given more time than I am comfortable with for your reinforcements to arrive, and I am now more than ready. Pray that you bothered learning more than basic enchantments."

He snapped his fingers, and an unnecessarily large Magic Circle showed up in the sky, beginning to spin rapidly and glow.

Anti-Magic involves destroying a Magic Circle with pure physical force, so this only makes the spell array an easier mark - a house-sized ballistic target is more than doable at these distances.

I brought my rifle up to my shoulder and fired.

The bullet did absolutely nothing to the Circle. In fact, after my pathetic attempt at a counter, another Circle showed up in front of the first, slightly smaller than it, and the cycle continued, each new Circle being just a bit smaller than the last. All of them were spinning and glowing ominously.

Hm. I may very well be doomed.

Let us use the cup analogy for Magic once again. The cup is the Magic Circle, the water is the Mana, the person drinking it is the spell. A better foundation and construction means you need less water to satisfy the person, which opens up more cup space to overcharge the spell - letting the person drink more than just the bare minimum they need to be satiated - with extra mana - water.

Now, let us go back to the Magic Circle - the cup itself - and what holds the water, AKA Mana. A better foundation and construction also strengthens the cup, making it less prone to being broken by being dropped or hit - a metaphor for making a Magic Circle less vulnerable to Anti-Magic. He has done this to a degree that resists supersonic projectiles and explosions.

Going away from the cup metaphor, making a Magic Circle that big requires very large amounts of energy in the first place - and, for Advanced Magic, which he is using, it requires incredible Mana control, skill and magical talent to precisely and thoroughly form, even more so than normal spells do. Bigger Circles are typically less efficient and more prone to Anti-Magic than their smaller counterparts.

Now, all of this is to say, he is an extremely talented Magician, one with the experience, energy levels, and raw power of a Devil, while I am an upstart Exorcist.

I did what I could, that being using my only advantage.

I pulled out my Sacred Gear, pumped an unenchanted bullet full of Holy Energy, stuffed it in the chamber, and fired at the line of Magic Circles, piercing through perhaps a third of them before stopping. I shot another one, powered with slightly more Holy Energy, and this one shattered the rest.

It didn't matter, though. The spell had activated long before either of the projectiles hit - the biggest Circle, the main one, was the actual fire spell, and the smaller ones in front of it were not defending the main one as I had thought.

They were focuses of a sort. They either amplified the effects or sped up the fire, because a half-a-meter-long stream of fire - released from the smallest Circle at the forefront of the line - had crossed hundreds of meters and impacted the forest in hardly two seconds.

The Holy Energy had succeeded in piercing through the Circles' inbuilt 'defenses', possibly due to the effect that Holy Energy has on Demonic Energy and general defenses and seals, but it didn't matter too much. How much the spell managed to get to the forest before being dematerialized was irrelevant to these particular flames - they were abnormal. They'd already set aflame all greenery within fifty meters of itself.

"Two Holy Men on the same team? Well, I suppose it is a Holy Man and Holy Woman, but the fact remains that the average Exorcist duo is pathetic. You seem to be beyond that," he declared, his stupidity on display with the decision to waste energy on amplifying his voice to reach me.

I agree with him with what he said there, though. Humanity is degrading as time goes on - I wonder where we will be in, say, eighty years.

I shuddered at the thought, but I dragged my attention back to this - and I call it so reluctantly - 'fight'.

Grabbing up what gear I could, I rushed out of the forest, slinging my rifle over my back, pulling out a submachine gun - a Beretta Model 38 - and making sure to holster a few magazines.

What is the plan, then, now that I'm fully out in the open?

I don't have enough time to enchant each and every bullet with Holy Energy, and I only have one magazine with such Holy Bullets. Making more was seen as a waste of Holy Energy by my past self.

I'll have to conserve what I can of that special magazine. Beyond that, what I can do is uncertain - to stall in this circumstance would be difficult. It's obvious that I am the one at a disadvantage, and he would have to be downright empty-headed to not take advantage of that while he can.

While running, I prepared a trench-digging spell - which simply cleaves out a chunk of earth perhaps two meters deep that stretches to the side for a few meters - which is meant to be used in preparation for a battle, but Wojchiech said it is common to have to use if your position has been compromised.

Of course, you're meant to use a prepared 'secondary base' before resorting to such measures, but mine has been engulfed by flames.

Once I had run a satisfactory distance away from the burning forest, I activated the spell and jumped into the newly created trench - stronger and harder than an ordinary trench because of how it is created by compressing dirt to make the space itself - feeling a little under half of my Mana drain away.

Peeking upward, I saw the Devil preparing another spell - this time, instead of waiting for it to be complete, I shouldered my rifle and fired to disrupt his concentration.

A wall of earth rose up and prematurely detonated the bullet's enchantment. It continued beyond that shallow mass of dirt, of course, but its accuracy had been thrown off and it impacted nowhere near its original target.

Speaking of which, that aforementioned original target had finished his spell.

Strange. It's a very large barrier - I can see a slight haze in the air indicating its existence - one that is changing in size and height, and I am truly not sure of its purpose.

Regardless, it would be best to break it and not find out what sort of nefarious purposes it is intended to fulfill.

I fired at the barrier - nothing happened. The bullet continued on and blew up a tree a few hundred meters away.

Is it meant to enclose me and is letting the bullets through so as to not waste energy in defense?

The barrier itself isn't a viable target, then.

I raised my rifle, trying to find where the Magic Circle tethering the barrier's existence was, only to see nothing but a Devil casting another spell - whom I fired at.

When he simply dodged out of the way and continued mumbling, the fire in his coal-like eyes blazing everywhere rather than only around the edges - a sign of Black Magic about to be casted - I unholstered a Holy Hand Grenade and, with the aid of a minor spell and slight bodily enhancement, chucked it at him.

It quickly flew the hundreds of meters between us, and this time, once he had noticed its existence in the midst of his self-absorbed casting state of mind - a sign of an especially complex spell being formed and maintained - he stopped his witchcraft; the flames in his eyes dimmed, receding to the edges of his iris, and he used his own force spell to push it backwards.

I had rigged it to explode after being hit by anything, though, and the activation requirement couldn't distinguish between true matter and a wall of energy - it judges based on the resistance it encounters, from my experience - so he had effectively detonated it in his general vicinity.

The explosion itself couldn't close the ten meters or so to impact him, but the Holy Energy could.

He doubled over in pain, grabbing at nothing, and the barrier that had been quickly enclosing my surroundings dissipated.

I took aim at his spasming, agonized body.

Only for an absolutely massive body of water to crash down on me, tearing my rifle out of my hands and submerging my entire world in liquid.

I circulated Holy Energy throughout my body - in other words, using Holy Energy enhancements - which dulled the pain and strengthened me to the point that I wasn't nearly as affected as before. I returned to my senses and climbed out of the tomb I had nearly made for myself.

Ironic. My attempts to defend myself nearly led to my demise via a premade container for the unexpected shower.

Where did that even come from?

After getting out, my first thought was whether or not my guns would be waterlogged and useless - which they were - and my second thought was to rush the Devil while I still could. After I finished choking and had mostly recovered from nearly drowning, of course.

Looking in his direction, he had gotten away from the area where the Holy Hand Grenade had detonated - either via teleportation or sheer will - but was still panting and glaring at me, his eyes burning with unholy flames in preparation for Black Magic.

About to blitz his location and get close while I still could, I realized that the water had been in such mass quantities that the entire field had turned mushy and muddy, severely impacting mobility.

The Devil, despite his senses having been scrambled and being put into pure agony via my Holy Energy, could still form spells - the first of which was an energy spear launched in my direction, the second of which was a high-level Black Magic spell known ominously as 'Annelise', which summoned a bloody, grinning children's doll, which also began bounding after me.

The spear was quick and slightly swerved to track my location despite my attempts at simply dodging, but when it reached me, I simply batted it out of the way with the aid of my Holy Energy enhancements.

As for Annelise, the filthy gremlin had closed in on my location and was about to confront me with the support of the Devil - earth spells that made the ground even more muddy preceded her attack, and a large stormcloud floated in the sky, perhaps waiting for the battle to commence.

Well, White Magic is the antithesis of Black Magic, and similar to how Holy Energy trumps Demonic Energy, Light is more damaging to Dark than vice versa.

I am the wielder of Holy Light, and he is the wielder of Demonic Darkness. I will come out on top. It is simply the natural course of this world.

Psalms, chapter fifty-eight, verse ten: 'The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.'

Manipulating my Light Element to cast a minor sensory enhancement and small aura around my fists, I turned to face the blasphemous doll.

My voice boomed out, more loud and consecrated with the aid of Holy Energy being infused into my vocal cords: "The Book of Peter says, 'Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.'"

The Devil flinched, recoiling back and almost beginning to clutch his skull before stopping himself.

He was likely more vulnerable to the verses after being saturated in a bit of Holy Energy in the first place, and the fact that I enhanced this one with Holy Energy in a way didn't help matters for him. I suspect the only reason he isn't even more affected is because of the fifty or so meters or so between us.

Thanks to the sanctifying grace of the Book of Peter, the spell he had been preparing failed - in contrast, Annelise was largely unaffected and jumped at my face, intending to claw my eyes out.

She is slower than I expected. Perhaps the Holy Energy Enhancements and White Magic helped me more than I expected.

Gazing down upon the pitiful summon before me, I simply slapped her out of the air.

Her torso disintegrated under the Holiness of my palm, and the rest of her carcass soon followed.

I began marching to the Devil, intending to end the wretch.

That Holy Hand Grenade was more potent than I expected. It's a good thing I made it to be my trump card and filled it with enough Holy Energy to atomize an unholy being in preparation.

"Pray now and perhaps you won't be -"

My attempt at spreading the Word and helping the Devil come to terms with his destiny was interrupted by five bolts of lightning simultaneously smiting me.

Now, Holy Energy and its enhancements are powerful. Vasco became an Archbishop-rank in a meager few years with them, garnering acclaim and titles.

But I am not Vasco. I do not have as much Holy Energy, and my technique is flawed in comparison, despite the year or so of training I've done under him.

My body seized up, spasming and going limp, and my mind fried.

I cursed myself for my hubris. How could I forget about the foreboding stormcloud above the battlefield?

After collapsing, I dragged myself through the mud, my muddled brain trying to cast a White Magic spell that would boost the body's production of adrenaline and give me a chance of respite to either win or escape - a healing spell was nowhere near viable in these circumstances.

I managed to cast a lesser version of the spell and was left with meager amounts of Holy Energy - barely enough for blessings, let alone effective enhancements - after trying to power my brain back on, not to mention how my control over my Sacred Gear was compromised during the attack, causing me to accidentally release some of its reserves.

I raised my head from the mud, seeing the Devil cast various spells simultaneously, his eyes glowing - not with the searing, unholy flames of Black Magic, but with simple malice

Two energy spears descended on me, piercing my legs, preceded by an earth spell that restrained all four of my limbs.

The spell that he intended to finish me off with was laughably simple, a faithful practice of the gospel of efficiency.

He simply willed the mud to gather around my face, keeping me from breathing or reciting scripture.

"Who knew attempting a few probing moves and fighting with attacks that focused on efficiency would end up so disastrous," were what I heard, the front side of my skull being suffocated with slop.

I willed the final remains of my Holy Energy left in my gloves to enhance my right arm, which broke free of its restraints, tore the sealed gun holster strapped to my hip, grabbed an Astra 400 pistol, and aimed in the general direction of where I heard his words, firing off four rounds.

One of them hit the intended target, the Devil, one of them apparently hit the Magic Circle controlling the restraints on my body, and the last two whizzed off into the distance.

I used the remaining vigor in my right arm to wipe off all of the mud on my face before clasping the pistol again, now aiming at the Devil while being able to see.

He had been blown onto his bottom by the explosion enchantment embedded into the bullet, but he was unharmed.

He had always been unharmed, actually, barring the Holy Energy I'd managed to slightly affect him with.

He was unharmed and gazing at me, unimpressed.

"Can't you just die?" he asked.

I fired the remainder of the gun's magazine, all of their enchantments meeting premature activation in the face of a series of weak barriers that broke after being shot but still achieved their desired effect.

The Devil's eyes were set aflame once again, casting more of his Black Magic.

"As my old friend Machiavelli often said, people should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them, there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance. So," he slowly raised his arm, "I hope you are satisfied with having every bone in your body turned to mush."

He had almost begun to swing his arm down - which likely would've been the sign for activation of the spell - before five resounding gunshots either hit him or his general vicinity.

Canceling the Black Magic, the Devil didn't bother looking at where the shots came from and instead casted an earth spell that made tall, thick walls of dirt and mud rise up from the ground around him - and when I say thick, I mean maybe ten meters thick.

The walls didn't stop the attacker from firing round after round, all of which exploded upon making contact with the wall, cleaving away meters of soil by the second with his prodigious rate of fire.

By the time the bullets had made it all the way through, the Devil was gone, likely having teleported away.

The only noise left resounding in the air was the running engine of a vehicle trudging through the muck, eventually stopping near me.

"Was this not meant to be a mission taking place in a town riddled with ghouls? Where is the Vampire? Where are the ghouls? Where is the town?"

"I'd prefer if you could get me to a healer. My enhancements are running out."

"Very well," Wojchiech responded, crouching down and lifting me to his armored vehicle. "Just tell me where your partner is before you go unconscious."

I would like to say 'in the deepest depths of hell', but having a dead partner on my first mission would be a disgrace. Perhaps she is still alive - Wojchiech can check.

"Lake," was what I managed to mumble before blacking out.


The last three chapters of MC's POV, including this one, were named titles with 'Christus' at the start - Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat. Respectively, they mean 'Christ Conquers, Christ Reigns, Christ Commands', and it's obviously a Latin saying.

I'd intended for the saying to last until the end of the fight in MC's POV, which happened, apparently, and makes me feel kinda good. I'd rather do this than that cringe '(insert title) (1)', '(insert title) (2)', '(insert title) (3)' you see a lot of people do.

Anyway, I think I did the fight decently. From what I can see in this chapter, some of the moves they make during the fight look a bit dumb, I guess, at least from Lars' (the Devil's) side, but I'll be making a version of events (or at least a recap) from his POV in the chapter after this one, so I should be able to rectify why a High-Class didn't immediately just waltz over and crush MC - who's a weakling in comparison - into the dirt and run away into the night.

Looking at everything from the POV of him and how Magic works, it does make sense, I promise. Although, I doubt anyone cares as long as it's not blatantly dumb.


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