FURY OF SHAME
Lino stood frozen in the spot, his countenance dispirited. Next to him, Aeala had ashened expression, her eyes fiercely moist with tears. Before them, thick, black smoke bellowed into the sky as the stench of death and blood dominated the air. Tens of rows of wooden houses were currently nothing more but ruins, turned to greyed ash. A string of nearly two hundred corpses were hung about the whole village, massacred by something far beyond reason. The stone streets were paved with dried, red blood, and even the youngest of children weren’t spared this fate. From Lino’s memories, he deduced that this village was called Cambria; although it was far from being as prosperous and as large as Bridge Village, it still housed roughly three hundred people in its ranks. However, out of them, over two hundred were dead, with fate of the remaining hundred still being unknown. The village was built atop a small hill surrounded by a canal, and its walls made of wooden pikes were completely burnt into nothingness.
Soon, Aeala was unable to handle it anymore as she ran backward, down the hill, and spewed her insides out. On the other hand, even Lino’s somewhat steeled heart began bleeding. He felt a familiar presence lingering in the air – the Demonic one he unleashed when he killed Vyeala. As he understood that, his mind stirred and he felt his knees grow weak. His cheeks lost all their color and his eyes dulled. No matter how much he screamed inside his head that it wasn’t his fault, it did little to help him. Overwhelming sorrow and guilt surged from the depths of his youthful heart; even if he had killed quite a few people, he himself had no clue as to why he was so averse to it. However, for better or worse, those deaths came in the form of either self-defense, or contending against people who broke off the mortal chains and began cultivating. While he can’t claim he hadn’t killed an innocent person before, he certainly hadn’t commenced a massacre on this scale, and especially massacre against completely innocent people… and even children.
Besides sorrow and guilt, a burning fury began bellowing inside Lino’s heart. It was a rather ordinary coping mechanisms of all youths who’ve yet to mature properly; his heart, unable to contend against the overwhelming guilt, bypassed the blame off itself onto those who’ve committed such slaughter, giving birth to intrepid rage. He had clear figures at which he could point fingers, temporarily relieving his wounded soul from the blame. He gritted his teeth tightly and clenched his fists until his nails dug beneath his skin, causing scarlet-red droplets to fall onto the dry earth beneath. He suddenly turned around and raced down the hill. He picked up Aeala into his arms and threw her over his shoulder; she screamed for a moment, but hadn’t even a second to protest as she felt gust of wind assail her skin.
Lino suddenly found himself reliving the similar state he was in when he fought against the Patriarch Varick and the First Elder. Something primal burned deep inside him, causing his blood to stir like mad and Qi within every facet of his body to turn into violent waves. Indispensable urge to fight was birthed directly into his bones, propelling him forth. When he first attained the Primal Spirit of Wind, he was at most able to run 200km/h, but after leveling up so fiercely, that speed doubled. He crossed the plains like a gust of fierce wind, leaving behind only a massive dust storm as he moved to the nearest village. The muscles on his legs screeched fiercely in pain, but <Empyrean Writ> circulated like mad, healing his breaking tendons the moment wounds appeared. It was much more vigorous than on the days when Lino was simply relaxing, or even actively trying to cultivate. Much like Lino, it seemed as though something within it awoke in response to his unabashed fury.
Not even an hour had passed before he came across another village; the village was called Reyrra, and it was three times as large as Cambria – however, the same fate descended upon it. Smoke bellowed like an ominous reminder of death high into the sky, while corpses of young and old alike hung over the broken walls of houses. Blood was yet to dry, running freely like streams down the scratched streets. He hadn’t even paused to grieve as he kicked off once again, tracing the lingering, demonic scent and racing after it. Were either Ella or Eggor to see him now, they’d be hard-pressed to recognize him; his youthful, playful face was nowhere to be found, in its place a grim expression of desolation, rage, untamed fury which seemed to seep out of his very bones. He was currently racing over a valley surrounded by mountains when he saw a distant smoke arising, accompanied by screams of anguish; it was the location of third village Lino was headed towards, Yeva. It was a small, but prominent village which housed a rather deep quarry. It seems that despite the presence of several Royal Knights guarding it, they were not enough. Lino’s speed suddenly increased as he blew through the valley within a span of a few seconds.
Within his sight came horrid picture; dozens of men and women were mutilated beyond recognition, while the remaining men were being slaughtered wantonly by seconds. The women, on the other hand, were laden against the cold, blood-soaked streets and raped repeatedly by a group of nearly fifty men with crazed expressions. Houses were tarnished, walls battered, people slaughtered, children tortured, women raped… it was a projection of a hell on earth, and Lino suddenly felt the last bit of his heart crack. He came to a halt directly in front of the village and slowly placed Aeala down. The fifty or so men immediately noticed him, but save for a few, he was completely ignored as they went back to their own desires. Their expressions were a mix of maddened lust, excitement, and abandoned humanity.
“He he, boy, did you bring us that fine woman? He he, even if you gift her to us, you won’t be able to live, you know? He h---“ however, before the stalwart man with reddened eyes got the chance to complete his laughter, he suddenly fell silent. A moment later, his head split open like an egg as his brain matter splattered all over the floor, his body kneaded into a paste onto the street.
This alerted all those who’ve ignored Lino’s approach. On the other hand, the latter said nothing as he held the sword in his hand tightly. The blade of the sword dripped with blackened blood; each droplet was more akin to acid, causing sizzling sounds as it hit the stoned earth. Nobody was able to see Lino’s eyes as his head was slightly lowered and his disheveled hair covered the top half of his face. However, were they able to see it, even the demonic-possessed madmen would no doubt be startled. As though birth of life and death was imprinted into his pupils, strange, star-like glimmers orbited his irises, surrounded by red vessels shaped like spider webs. Each breath of his stirred surrounding Qi like mad, causing winds to rouse from nothingness. His deposition rose bit by bit as his muscles seemed to have attained life of their own and began breathing, in and out, bit by bit. Screams have yet to subside, cries of the wronged, of the dying, of the wounded, of the scarred… each single voice of the villagers entered one by one through Lino’s ears, and he ascertained to remember all of them. One by one. Each scream stirred him further. Each cry boiled his bleeding heart harder. Each hedonistic laughter of Demons parched him. Each roar full of unwillingness and bitterness sounded like a curse to his soul. Time, for him, seemed to have stopped. As he swallowed these resentments, he cared for nothing else. His guilt-ridden heart beat like mad as he suddenly raised his head.
Between the bangs of his pitch-black hair, two glittering stars emerged like beams of light. They scanned over the fifty or so Demons with expression colder than ice. The pair of eyes appeared depthless, as though holding the whole of universe within. A breath had passed, and everyone finally realized that one of their own had been slaughtered. Parched into rage, they all abandoned whatever they were doing and turned toward Lino.
“Ho ho, you sure have—“ the one nearest to Lino spoke up, yet his fate was even more brutal. Cleaved right through, the two halves of his body split like paper, falling opposite of each other. Lino’s body was revealed in-between these two parts, his aura stirring Qi surrounding him to nearly liquefy.
“Dead have no right to speak.” that was the only thing Lino said.
Rousing the winds surrounding him, he began burning Qi within him like crazy as he sprung into a streamer of light, appearing directly at the heart of the remaining Demons. With a sword in his hand, he spun in a circle, directly beheading three without giving them a chance to utter a sound. He hardly stopped, immediately rousing the wildness of his blood and lunging himself forth, cleaving his sword as though he was an incantation of God of War. Soon, the screams and cries of villagers were replaced by screams and cries of Demons. They tried to fight. But, it was all in vain. Even if they landed a hit on Lino’s body, the latter didn’t care. All wounds that were inflicted upon him were immediately healed, whereas a single slash of his sword reaped lives like grain. He flashed left and right like a stream of light, untraceable by the naked eye.
From the distance, Aeala stared at the scene and was once again left dumbfounded. Just a few days ago, this boy was merrily laughing with her while embarrassingly avoiding her naked body. He was just like any other youth; slightly temperamental, proud, bashful. Even though she gleamed at least a trace of this side of him while he fought the Patriarch and the First Elder, it wasn’t even an ounce of what he was displaying right now. She could nearly see the flames of his anger surrounding him whenever he killed another Demon. Whatever stirred her heart and soul had little to do with Lino’s strength; she held no doubt that there were many stronger people than him – much, much stronger people. However, the air he displayed, the overwhelming presence he commanded, the sheer madness he ruled… it was impossible to look away. He captured the essence of life and death with each of his strikes, and inspired thoughts of servitude within the hearts of those who were watching. Aeala herself was not an exception. She felt as though she was witnessing a birth of a legend, and she felt like kneeling before him was only the natural thing to do. Demons fell like pebbles in the ocean, without even gaining a single chance to strike back.
It didn’t even take a minute until only one remained. The youth which seemed no older than twenty was shaking. His demonic, proud and overbearing disposition was nowhere to be found. Within his eyes was only a trace of profound terror. He found it hard to even breathe while looking at the figure standing in front of him. Lino’s clothes were entirely dyed in black blood, and even his face wasn’t spared, giving him an image of a madman who’ve just left the massive battlefield. The aura of murder around him was so thick it nearly came to life.
“How many of you are there?” Lino asked in a cold, indifferent voice, one that seemingly didn’t belong to a human.
“…” even if the young Demon wanted to answer, words simply wouldn’t come out. Fear had blocked all his reason.
“How many of you are there?” Lino simply asked again with the same voice.
“… h-h-…” the young Demon mumbled, but was only able to produce a single letter before he felt his knees give out, and his body suddenly flattened onto the ground, prostrating. “FORGIVE ME!!!!” he roared into the sky.
“… forgive you?” Lino mumbled as he tilted his head in confusion. His eyes were widened like eggs, starlit in ethereal beauty; however, hardly anyone could praise their beauty beneath the coldness they displayed. “Is that so?” Lino said as he took a single step, immediately crossing the distance of twenty meters, appearing before the prostrating youth. “You want me to forgive you?”
“YES!!!” the demonic youth screamed yet again. Lino suddenly crouched and grasped the youth’s chin, lifting it up, forcing the youth to look into his eyes. The moment the demonic youth’s gaze landed onto Lino’s pair of eyes, the former felt all blood in his body freeze. The demonic seed which had corrupted him from within began trembling, as though it was being stared at by an unparalleled existence that could wipe its sentience without even lifting a finger.
“… I wouldn’t forgive you even if the entirety of Devil World was to come here and kneel before me.” Lino said coldly. “How many of you are there?”
“…” realizing that death was a certainty, the youth grew listless. What else was left? He will die, there was no doubt about it. Even among the fifty people who were slaughtered, he was one of the weakest. How could even hope to try and escape the clutches of the god of death before him?
“HOW MANY?!!!!” seeing that the youth wasn’t answering, Lino bellowed out from his soul, causing the earth itself beneath to quake and winds to scatter as though terrified. The youth’s ears, eyes, mouth and nose began bleeding in streams as his entire body began shivering again.
“… a-a h-hund-dred and… and… t-t-twenty…” the youth mumbled weakly. The moment the last letter left its mouth, Lino’s hand pressed tightly, crushing the youth’s entire head into a paste.
Despite his wanton slaughter, Lino didn’t feel relieved. Rather, there was a stuffy feeling budding inside his chest. He heaved a deep sigh and looked up to the sky as his eyes finally cleared. How did he get entangled in this mess? He merely wanted to go out into the wild for a while and temper himself while finding some rare resources to use in crafting. Cultivation was just a by-product of his desire to leave his stamp into the world’s history through his creations. Yet, within two months, he had gone from an innocent, village youth to a murderer shrouded in heavy, killing aura. Yes, it all collapsed once he decided to help Vyeala and her Sacred Protector. Had he simply turned a blind eye at that moment, he could have evaded everything. The treasures that were sitting in the ring didn’t seem worth the sacrifice any longer. Just glancing around the village was more than enough to tell him so. Some looked at him with the eyes of gratitude, some had no emotion within their eyes, and some didn’t even have strength to raise their heads. Was he truly their savior? Hardly. The scars they were inflicted with today wouldn’t heal in a lifetime. They had seen something they should have never been exposed to. And, whether Lino wanted to admit it or not, he was partially at fault. Now that his anger had sated somewhat and that primal urge retreated into the depths of his soul, his mind gained clarity yet again. What did he gain by killing these Demons? Did he truly purge the land of the nuisance? They were just weak Demons; the strongest one was barely Level 40. One way or another, they would have been dealt with eventually.
However, it was too late to think it through. Whether he wanted to or not, he had got himself entangled into the whole mess. Aeala had already told him what the Patriarch told her just before he died. Lino didn’t believe that these demonically possessed members of Endo Clan were the actual end. He had a strange premonition that, soon, the whole of Umbra Kingdom – and those Kingdoms surrounding it – would be cast into the shadow of great war. He could easily ask Ella or Eggor to clean it up and, knowing them, they’d probably do it for him without even frowning. However, Lino couldn’t ask. Call it pride, the flame of youth, or something much less noble, but he knew that those words of plea could never leave his lips. If he asked them to clean up after him once, he’d ask them twice. Didn’t he want to help them? Isn’t that the whole reason why he even departed from the Bridge Village to begin with? If he suddenly returned and asked them to clean up mess he inadvertently created, what would become of his already thin resolve?
“Are you alright?” a soft voice full of worry came trickling into his ear. He turned his head sideways and saw Aeala’s worried face.
“Ah, I’m fine.” Lino said, smiling faintly. “I have to wash up and clean the mess. Help them.” he added as he took out a few bottles and gourds of water as well as few fresh sets of clothes.
“Alright,” Aeala nodded lightly. “Call me if you need anything.”
Lino went behind one of the still-standing houses and sat down, leaning against the thick wooden wall. The fight just now didn’t exhaust him. Rather, he wasn’t even short of breath. He only just now realized how easy it can be to take a life… to take dozens of lives in such a short period of time. Yet, all the same, he felt nothing over it. Even though they were Demons, Lino doubted they became so of their own volition. Much like that primal urge that forced him to the binds of insanity, he suspected that the similar emotion drove them after that black shadow ingrained itself into their being. He’d seen it within the last youth’s body – the small seed within his heart. It was wholly black, full of negative Qi. It even possessed its own sentience, however basic. Lino didn’t know what it was, but he knew it was the cause of sudden transformation. However, he didn’t have too long to ponder over his thoughts as a sudden bout of weakness overwhelmed him. It was then that he realized he’d reached Level 40, and it was once again time to leave this world briefly.
As his consciousness faded, he found himself within a small span of land as all other times. This time around, there was no four elements or even the world of blood; there was darkness… and within darkness, countless stars twinkled in and out of existence. All around him, the void of space was being crushed and reborn in the infinite span. Before he’d have a chance to inspect the Primal Spirits, the familiar, ancient and mechanical voice echoed inside his mind once again.
[Advent of Writ… analyzing…]
[Second Gate: Opened…]
[Acquired: <Peerless Empyrean Spear Scripture>; Primal Spirit of Void…]
[… Requirements for the next evolution: Soul Realm cultivation, slaying of 50 beings of minimum 10 Levels above…]
[Proceeding with rewards…]
Lino was once again slightly shocked, as a few things have changed since the last time; for instance, he was no longer referred to as a Bearer of Writ, but rather Advent of Writ. In addition, the achievement segment had also changed to satisfying, which was probably the reason for the increased rewards. As he came to, a massive surge of information besieged his mind; it took him a moment to realize that the <Peerless Empyrean Spear Scripture> was being forcibly stuffed and comprehended immediately within his mind. Incredibly, it was actually of Low-Divine Grade! Lino was immediately shellshocked into silence; after all, even the lowest of Divine Grade Martial Arts were rare even among ranked Sects.
Martial Arts were divided directly into Mortal, Mystic, Ethereal, Divine, Primordial and Origin grades – that was something he was taught by Ella. The last Martial Art reward he’d received was ‘only’ of High-Mystic Grade; this time around, he completely skipped an entire tier and immediately received a Divine-Grade Martial Art, and no less a complete weapon-mastery one. Lino was forced to sigh as he was once again reminded that <Empyrean Writ> was truly far from ordinary. Perhaps, that archaic voice which echoed throughout the world when he first chose four Primal Spirits should have been the first sign that he’d probably got entangled into something much, much bigger than a ‘simple’ Demonic invasion of a Kingdom. Alas, he had no mind to understand or even begin to understand these matters, so he simply pushed them to the back of his mind.
Instead, he focused onto choosing a Primal Spirit. This time around, he was given only two choices: Tet and Let. Their simple and somewhat crude names hardly caused Lino to look down upon them as both were of Low-Ethereal Grade. It was slightly insane, Lino realized; if Ella heard of this, she’d probably splatter her cultivation, bloodline, and anything that was restricting her from cultivating <Empyrean Writ>. In the end, Lino set his sights on Tet.
[Primal Spirit of Void – Tet [Low-Ethereal Grade] – tear open a void in space to act as your personal storage space that only you can access. Tet can evolve into a Supreme-Divine Grade Primal Spirit, whereupon you will be able to create an entirely new Dimension to act as your personal world.]
It really was rather incredulous, but Lino merely sighed at the sight of it. After all, the moment he saw what the Primal Spirit of Blood, Glog, could do, he knew that there probably wasn’t anything Primal Spirits weren’t able to do as long as he was given a chance of selecting those really strong ones. Tet was in a shape of an ever-fluctuating vortex that never stopped spinning. Much like other Primal Spirits, it immediately rushed within Lino’s brows and settled inside of him. A mere breath later, Lino felt a strange connection tangle itself with his very thoughts. With a mere blink, he was able to access practically infinite shuffle of space where he could easily store whatever he wanted and retrieve it at a moment’s thought. He wagered that no one in the entire Umbra Kingdom had anything even close to this.
He slowly examined the spear art he’d gotten and realized he’d have to craft the appropriate spear once he gets back home. Although he had the entire scripture stuffed inside his head, he was actually only capable of accessing the so-called ‘first layer’ of the art; to unlock the next layer, he’d have to reach the Soul Realm. First layer itself had the basic set of spear moves and stances, and an additional attack executed through the usage of Qi: <Piercing Storm>. As the name suggested, the execution of the spear technique would create a figurative storm of attacks that would mix illusion and reality to confuse the enemy.
At that point, Lino was flung out of the mysterious space back into reality. He felt strange inside his heart. There was no doubt that <Empyrean Writ> was not only powerful, but also dangerous. Lino could already predict that he wouldn’t be able to follow the path he wanted – the path of crafting, with cultivation merely being secondary. He’d also have to keep an eye out for Demonic possessions from now on. He decided to at least ask Ella to tell him how to spot those who’ve been possessed – or even Demons themselves – so he doesn’t run into another case like Vyeala. He sighed lowly before getting back up and returning to the streets of village. The situation had already calmed down somewhat, but Lino knew it hardly stabilized. Perhaps, if it even stood a chance of stabilizing, whole generations would be required to pass before today’s tragedy would at least turn into a grim reminder rather than the recent reality. However much it pained him, he was unable to help these people. His words – no matter how inspiring and flowery he made them – wouldn’t change a damn thing.
While they glanced at him – or even outright stared at him – with gratitude, such gazes only further fumed the flames of guilt inside Lino’s heart. Even though he had killed before, he would not call himself a cruel, cold person. Even though he felt nothing over having killed before, he’d still not embark on such path willingly. After all, he’d grown up in isolation, and saw first-hand how fragile life can be, and how easily death and life mingled. He was not a god who could don upon himself to calculate fates of anyone other than himself. He was still a child, in the end, however ahead of his years his mind might be. He doesn’t have a heart of stone to become indifferent to the picture in front of him. This was the first time in his life that he’d experienced such complex emotions and it had nearly drained him. He’d learned from Ella – and even those books inside Endo Clan – that cultivator’s most important aspects were their heart and will. Yet, he was weak in both of those. Even sighing became difficult, so he simply chose to push it all down and let it boil. He had no way to deal with the insufferable and overbearing emotions birthing inside his heart at the moment, so he simply chose to ignore them to the best of his abilities. As Aeala was done giving out the water and clean clothes, she returned by his side and looked at him with a worried expression. While these people simply saw Lino as someone who’s saved them from absolutely dreadful fate, she could at the very least somewhat guess what was currently transpiring inside boy’s mind. Yet, she chose not to ask about it. Although she was not a cultivator like Lino, she was still a woman with forty years of life experience who grew up in a clan of cultivators as a mortal. She’d seen much and that itself had steeled her heart. Even if she felt pained seeing such scene in front of her eyes, it couldn’t break her. Lino, however, was merely a sixteen-something year old boy who’s clearly just stepped into the world of cultivation and wasn’t clearly aware of the implications. She could, in the end, only silently support him from behind.
“What now?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.
“City of Mercenaries is nearby,” Lino replied as he turned his gaze to north. “We’ll go there for the time being as we can probably find more information rather than just blindly moving around. Besides, this was just a group lagging behind. The vanguard group is most-likely already clashing with Kingdom’s forces. We’ll see the situation and make a decision then.”
“Sounds good.” Aeala said, nodding faintly.
The two didn’t linger inside the village for too long. Whether the villagers would drown in the endless river of sorrow or eventually overcome this calamity rested solely upon them. Lino and Aeala were simply two passing figures in the passage of time; they might be remembered for a while but, eventually, they’ll also disappear from the traces of memories. They had their own lives to live, and villagers had their own. However cruel it was, reality was such. Cold, indifferent and everlasting.