Zenith Online: Rebirth of the Strongest Player
Chapter 468: Brewing Agreement

All of the Order of War and Flame's followers were lunatics, of this much Kieran was certain. That accusation included the higher-ranking followers as well. In fact, the higher-ups were more mad than their lower-ranking brethren.

The Flame had long since permeated their being, and in that time, followers of the faith—like Cardinal Weiss, for example—had assimilated all of its qualities. His energetic blood ran hot like immolating flames, he was assertive in his advances, and there was a wild, smoldering passion in every action he performed.

Cardinal Weiss could be perceived as the embodiment of War and Flame.

Naturally, Kieran didn't fare well against such an opponent. And, like fire, Cardinal Weiss knew no restraint. His reckoning was that of a wildfire.

"Strike with a vengeance, boy. Where is your passion? Where is that fire I saw out in the Pit?! Give it to me—I demand it!"

Within seconds of this experience, Weiss had shattered roughly three of Kieran's ribs. The splinters were likely seconds away from piercing his lungs and making it either incredibly difficult or impossible to breathe.

Because of that pain, Kieran knelt on the ground and heaved, panted, and gripped the handle of the steel longsword for dear and needed support.

'…This lunatic! Why is he fighting like he is trying to kill me?'

No, Kieran was wrong to assume that Cardinal Weiss had approached him to casually train or cautiously temper him. He intended to bring the War of the Pit outside those hallowed grounds of death. The Flame could be cultivated anywhere, for it was omnipresent and resided in the soul.

Either the desire for power was needed to tap into its unimaginable well or… the grim bloodlust that came with the understanding of looming death. Only when the circumstances were dire and the outlook was bleak did the Flame act.

It was cunning in that way, preying on the wants and needs of its unfortunate victims.

Streams of hatred flowed through Kieran's mind before parting into several splintered rivers. Each river flowed toward a mental simulacrum of something he hated.

There was the thought of the Order of War and Flame acquiring children to become Voiceless.

Another river led to the sinister cunning of the Flame. There was also another unique line of hatred for the Flame itself, not just its tendencies and wicked principles.

Then, there was a new raw hatred for Cardinal Weiss. It was primal and lurid, compelling Kieran to imagine himself doing unspeakable evils to the seemingly unkillable man.

'Maybe him having the Flame's embrace is a good thing. He can become the most exquisite torture victim ever seen!'

This kind of ghastly thought ran rampant in Kieran's mind, and the vestiges of the Flame's corruption contaminating his soul advocated for this kind of thinking. It incited malevolence and cruelty in Kieran. It wanted to turn him into a fiend and baptize him in a vast sea of blood!

It would be glorious!

'It would… and after the baptism, I could use the Order's blood to drown the Flame!'

But part of the Flame was in him. Would he also have to drown himself? That thought didn't seem as enticing as torturing the others.

Nevertheless, Kieran used that hatred and converted it into bloodlust, fueling the Flame's power. The Flame's strength, vitality, and madness surged through his veins and enveloped his mind, deluding him with the urge to continue fighting.

Then, he raised his longsword sideways and met Cardinal Weiss' hammering fist. The force of the shockwave traveled through Kieran's body, ringing his bones, jolting his nerves, and numbing his hands, but Kieran gripped his blade without fault.

Weiss grinned, eerie and fanatical.

"The Flame… it cherishes you. It appreciates you, but it is weak in you! It desires more of you! Feed the Flame!"

That corruption in Kieran's soul was deceptively dormant. It appeared to be languishing, but it was, in fact, encroaching upon him at a deliberate and nearly imperceptible pace.

It took its time to ensure the corruption was thorough and absolute.

The Flame understood that less was more and that, with time, its goal would be accomplished. It was a gourmand that chose to savor its meal rather than gluttonously devour with minimal enjoyment.

Once the corruption was over, there would be no more resultant euphoria. That was why the Culling was a continual event, occurring in perpetuity to mollify the Flame's hunger but never sate it.

Driven by Flame's empowering sensation, Kieran became feverish with bloodlust. It had convinced him to ignore his well-being and turn into a barbarous machine that ran on malice and knew no reason.

Weiss was filled with glee as he laughed joyously.

"Yes, boy! Feel the Flame! Let it run through you and wash you in its glory. Purge the weakness from that small body and become an extension of War and Flame. Wield its agency proudly!"

Weiss responded with equally vigorous but suppressive might. There was no exchange where Kieran's sword emerged triumphant. Sparks danced in the air during their every collision, and more of Kieran's soul was consumed, bringing him closer to the dismal fate of becoming a zealous apostle of the Flame.

Luckily, Kieran's connection to the Flame was pitiful, and there soon came a time when Weiss' barbarous onslaught grew unbearable. The Flame could not repair Kieran's small body fast enough.

He was bruised and broken, but tenets of War and Flame were being imprinted upon his body, mind, and soul. His soul was stained and tainted by malice. His mind was suffused with thoughts of carnage, ruin, and murder. And finally, his body was broken and battered but flowing with embers of the Flame.

Weiss wiped Kieran's blood off his face with a disturbing grin, then looked at his marred hands. The fresh blood of the young boy filled the grooves of his scarred hands, making them seem like scarlet tattoos.

Kieran watched with a flimsy grasp of reality. All over his body, fist-sized bruises and indents could be seen. It was a genuinely torturous and ironic situation. He had thought of sublime methods to inflict torture, but he received unjust torment!

The misfortune was poetic.

That was a good thing, though.

It fueled Kieran's agenda, firmed his conviction, and solidified his hatred. He looked up at the expression of unhinged glee on Weiss' face and gnashed his teeth.

'Laugh now… because you will be begging later. This, I swear.'

Cardinal Weiss offered no help after beating the boy to a pulp. He left Kieran kneeling in the center of the room, blade in hand, as he departed for his duties as the Cardinal of War and Flame.

He could only spare so much time for having fun with Kieran.

Too hurt to move and too drained to make a sound, Kieran closed his eyes and controlled his heartbeat. It was a nifty ability he had learned during his time as a True Berserker. His heart sped up, which seemed dangerous considering his condition, but Kieran had faith in the Flame.

'I do not trust you… I only trust that you won't let me die. You need me—want me.'

Needless to say, that was the truth.

The corruption in Kieran's soul came to life when he stood at the precipice of death and began toppling over the edge. The Flame's embers that coursed through his veins with dormant power seethed, brimming with infernal and seemingly immortal energy.

Its need to keep the boy alive was a weakness in its plot to overcome the boy, and it was an infirmity Kieran should have exploited… but he didn't know how yet.

He would, however, try. Because he had resolved to brave those treacherous waters.

'Come on, Flame… let's become good friends. You need me, and I need you. Surely, we can come to some sort of agreement, right?'

In his room, divorced from the Voiceless and followers of the maddened faith, Kieran's expression grew fiendish, menacing, and a tinge mad as he grinned.

And in his soul… the Flame grinned back. An agreement was brewing.

Chapter 468: Brewing Agreement
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