Q'VIL'S LAST STAND (I)
A familiar, dull voice echoed inside Lino’s mind. Though he felt as if his eyes were open, there was nothing but darkness surrounding him unlike previous times he stepped into the strange world inside his mind. The voice came from nowhere yet everywhere, completely enveloping him.
[… Analysis Complete…]
[… Purity of Qi achieved Base Level…]
[… Bearer has gained access to Archaic Records…]
Archaic Records? Lino mumbled inside, slightly perplexed. From the sounds of it, due to him exhausting his Qi and refining it further, he had unlocked yet another function of <Empyrean Writ> that he was previously unaware of. Just how many secrets does this thing hide?!!
[… Analysis Complete…]
[Archaic Records – Q’vil’s Last Stand unlocked…]
[… Year: Uncalculated…]
[… Era: Skyhaven Era…]
[… Location: Fallstand, Great Dragon Empire’s Capital City…]
[… Information: Forces of Skyhaven Dynasty have pushed back their only rival throughout the era, Great Dragon Empire, down to their last city. Abandoned by all Generals but one, Emperor Yomir and Great General Q’vil make their last stand…]
[… Recalculating the Record… setting the timetable… successful. Bearer will be sent to witness the final two days of Great Dragon Empire from Bearer Q’vil’s perspective.]
As Lino slowly tried to comprehend what he was just told, the darkness suddenly vanished as his eyes got blinded by light. A strange feeling suddenly wormed into his heart and soul as he felt his entire self being washed over by a strange sensation. As if his spirit suddenly descended from above unto the land below, his perspective changed entirely. He was inside an unknown body as an observer; the unknown person was sitting cross-legged atop a tall, brick-built tower, overlooking the massive plain toward the east.
“… it is finally my chance, huh?” a gentle but commanding voice echoed out and Lino realized it was the unknown man talking. Looking at his features, Lino’s heart shook; the bearing the man displayed was something Lino had never seen before. It appeared as if the entire world – down to the last atom – surrounding him was bowing repeatedly toward the man. His sword-shaped eyebrows were relaxed and flat, his black eyes akin to an abyss with neither the beginning nor an end, just absolution. The long, black hair was tied up in a crane, and his black beard was well trimmed. He wore simple, white robes while a strange spear with spiral shaft and six blades atop rested on his knees. “This must be your first time. Don’t be anxious,” the man said, his lips curling up in a thin smile. “Just listen and observe.”
“…” though Lino wanted to ask millions of questions, he realized he was unable to utter a sound. It appeared as though he was truly just an observer here.
“My name is Q’vil Mengal,” the man continued after a short pause. “I was born during the Skyhaven Dynasty’s worldly conquest. Born a commoner, my destiny was to be a slave; I had no talent for weapons or military, much less for magic. Fate gave me a chance, and I obtained the Writ – and Will to Command the Heavens. While a seedling, Great Emperor took me in and taught me – he taught me sword, spear, axe, bow, crossbow, knife, mace, javelin, fan, cutlass, saber and wodao. He taught me Myth of Origin, Sanskrit of Command and leadership.” Q’vil’s voice was even and calm, as though there was nothing in the world that could usurp his heart. “Forty years had passed, and not once had the war stopped. It soon shall.”
“…” not even when talking about the end of an entire Empire did his voice or expression waver.
“My King was slowly abandoned,” Q’vil said. “His grace forgotten. His kindness repaid with betrayal. His care taken for granted. Look.” his eyes moved – as did Lino’s at the same time – toward the endless plain. Roughly ten kilometers away from the city walls beneath was a massive swarm of black and gold. Lino’s heart began beating like mad; he could hardly count the sheer number, but he was certain there was at least half a million people there alongside countless, strange beasts. “Those are my King’s enemies – those are my enemies. Though I knew I stood no chance, it hardly mattered. I will teach you three things about Writ, Lyonel. One now; one during the battle; and one during my last breath.”
“The first is something you should have understood yourself by now: our Writ is an epoch of domination. Of tyranny. Of defiance. When in front of our foes, we never kneel. We never bow. We never compromise. If we do, our cultivation slows down, and has a chance of completely stopping. Whether we’re against a single man, ten, a squadron, battalion, a legion, or an entire army, we never falter. We never submit. We are Tyrants. We are Empyreans. We are those who strike fear into others. You are still young, weak and feeble. You certainly cannot abide by that code. However, if you keep resisting the path, the primal urge you feel will eventually take over. It will no longer be about bouts of insanity, but bouts of sanity. Don’t fret. Don’t fear. Listen and observe.”
“The Writ always gives a path,” Q’vil said. “Even here, if I had listened to it, I could have lived and surmounted greater heights, perhaps even etching my name into the eternal histories. But, had I, I would have forever lost my chance to etch my name into the Archaic Records. It was only during this battle that I opened the Fifteenth Gate, one that I was unable to open for the past ten years. We are Empyreans, Lyonel. We command the World – we defy the World – we obliterate the World. I have said all I had to say for now. From now on, you only need to observe. See. Witness… listen… remember.”
Even though Lino was unable to utter a sound all the way through, his mind was constantly spinning like crazy. As he was besieged by ideas he found suicidal, he suddenly felt no small amount of hatred for his mad cultivation method. A path of tyranny? Never submit? Never compromise? Lino didn’t understand how was that even possible. But, he also knew that what he was told was far from the whole truth. In the end, he could only observe and see, as Q’vil said – witness the whole ordeal. See what the peak of the so-called Empyrean looks like. Though Lino already knew Q’vil lost and died during this battle, he also knew that he wouldn’t be recorded within Writ’s archives just so future generations could see his pitiful death. There is definitely something to learn and absorb from this – whether that was knowledge, vision or experience, Lino didn’t know. Perhaps it was combination of all three, or perhaps there were even more factors to it all.
Q’vil slowly arose from his seat atop the tower and leapt gallantly, flying off the two-hundred-meters tall structure toward the central palace. One had to say that the style truly showed this had happened long, long time ago. Most of the city’s buildings were wooden and short, with only the palace and the temple being built out of mixture of stone and brick. The streets were dirt pavement and people wore shabby, cotton-made clothes. Whenever someone saw Q’vil, they would greet him with smiles and respect, and the latter would reply in kind. He slowly walked toward the palace and entered unobstructed. The palace wasn’t large; besides the throne room, there were only side wings where the Emperor and the topmost officials lived. Currently, inside the throne room, the atmosphere was heavy and dull. Beside Emperor Yomir, there were only dozen or so people currently in the throne room. Most of them were old folk, people who have followed the rise of the Great Dragon Empire, and were now about to witness its fall. Emperor Yomir himself had already crossed three hundred years in age, and so was the case for most people in the throne room. When Q’vil entered, all eyes quickly found him and their dullness regained some luster. Had it not been for the man in front of them, the Great Empire would have fallen years ago. One could say that this man who’s not even 60 yet had singlehandedly upheld the Empire’s pride and luster. However, they knew that even he could not defy the heavens alone. No matter how strong he was, the Skyhaven Dynasty wasn’t filled with just poor soldiers. They had their own stars. Nonetheless, nobody blamed Q’vil; rather, one of the reasons they were even willing to make the Last Stand was to witness this star’s final burst. They knew that even in death, Q’vil would shine more brilliantly than anyone else in life.
“My King.” Q’vil came up to the throne and bowed on one knee. Emperor Yomir already had white hair and beard, but his wrinkled face still retained a hint of youth’s vitality. Looking at the man kneeling in front, he couldn’t help but smile. He could still remember the scrawny youth he decided to train tens of years ago. Now, all his supposed friends who drank and ate with him were gone. They took their men and abandoned him. But, this youth stayed. The true Great Dragon of the Great Dragon Empire. The man who could make even the Skyhaven Monarch personally attend the battlefield and try to recruit him. Old Emperor’s heart couldn’t help but swell with pride.
“Rise, Q’vil boy,” the Emperor said in a calm voice. “Are they still standing out there like sheep?”
“Indeed,” Q’vil said, smiling faintly as he rose up. “They look quite comical, my King. Ah, had I only learned the art of brush, I would have loved to paint the scenery.”
“Ha ha,” the Emperor, alongside the dozen remaining officials, all laughed. The brightest of lights could illuminate even the darkest of worlds – and to them, Q’vil was exactly that light, and even more. “Unfortunately, us old folk have long since forgotten even the penmanship, let alone anything else.”
“Ah, don’t say so, my King; you still look as young as the day I met you.”
“Ah, bastard, the day you met me I looked exactly like this!!”
“… khm.” Q’vil coughed lightly, smiling. “Eeh, I must have misspoken then…”
“Ha ha ha…” the previously dull and dark atmosphere was completely gone. It didn’t appear as it was the gathering of the Emperor and his vassals, but the gathering of old brothers.
“My King. I have a proposal.” Q’vil said as everyone quieted down.
“Let us march.” Q’vil said. Old Emperor’s body visibly shook as his eyes widened; how many years – no, decades – has it been since he heard those words? He too was once young, and grace battlefields left and right, spilling blood with his saber. When did the throne get so comfortable, he wondered? “For years, they wanted us to submit and kneel. Instead of welcoming them at our doors, why not give them one last slap in the face? One last act of defiance?”
“…” the Emperor’s usually cold eyes grew emotional as he thought about it.
“I still have twenty thousand brothers under my name,” Q’vil continued. “And none of them are cowards. All are true Dragons who have protected the pride of our Empire. Like us, Skyhaven will too fall one day; but I can promise you, my King, they will never have a chance to fall with pride and boiling blood.”
“… indeed they won’t,” the Emperor said, smiling faintly. “We shall march, my little Dragon. My ass has grown tired of sitting on this damned chair for all these years. Though my bones are old and my breath short, I shall saddle up with you and march! Storm them head on and prove the bloodline of the Great Dragon!”
“Aii, little Dragon, could you take us as well?” one of the elderly officials suddenly said. “Even if we never graced the soils of battle, now that your words caused our blood to churn, you have to take responsibility for it.”
“Ha ha, of course, Great Elders!” Q’vil replied, laughing. “Great Dragon oversees us! No sky can shelter us!”
“… then, I shall give out my last Imperial Decree to my nation,” the Emperor said as his eyes grew moist. “Whoever is willing to march with us, let them join us. Whoever is not, open the back mountain and let them escape. We shall build a wall for them with a sea of corpses!”
“… ha ha, my King,” Q’vil laughed lightly. “Your concerns are all for naught. Your people are one of heart. They have all already submitted their names for the last march. All sixty-thousands of our brothers and sisters shall march with you, my King!”
“… good, good,” the old Emperor said, his voice cracking lightly as his eyes grew red. “I haven’t disappointed my ancestors. Until the end, I held the hearts of my people.”
Q’vil slowly left the palace and returned to the tower, looking at the open plains where the massive army was stationed. Skyhaven Dynasty… their rise was abrupt and sharp. They conquered from South up, never taking a no for an answer. Currently, there was no force that could stand against them – and there probably won’t be for a long time. Their current Monarch was also a Bearer of Writ – Q’vil learned. In addition to him, there were two more. Of the Seven Holy Writs, they had Bearers of three. With Q’vil, four were now gathered here. As for the remaining three, Q’vil didn’t know. Perhaps there were no bearers, or perhaps they were hidden. Whatever was the case, he didn’t care much.
“… you must be wondering… how can a tyrant submit to another?” Q’vil suddenly spoke as his gaze grew profound. “Shouldn’t I be the one sitting on that throne while the Emperor is licking my boots? Shouldn’t I be the one holding the crown?”
“You are yet too young to understand it all, little dragon,” Q’vil chuckled lightly as he spoke. “But, one day, you will. To be an Empyrean isn’t to hold the whole of the world in contempt; to be an Empyrean isn’t to close your heart and freeze it completely; to be an Empyrean isn’t to commit to endless slaughter and aura of death; to be an Empyrean isn’t to abandon humanity and turn to madness; to be an Empyrean isn’t to enslave the hearts of others through fear and terror; to be an Empyrean isn’t to never yield to another. What does it mean, then, to be an Empyrean, little dragon? Think, little dragon. That shall be the second thing I tell you. Until then, comprehend for the night. Tomorrow… tomorrow we march.”
Strange silence washed over the top of the watchtower as time seemed to freeze for a moment. Within seeming nothingness Lino’s thoughts were spinning, trying to understand. But, he couldn’t. In the first place, he didn’t even know what an Empyrean was. Was it simply someone denoted from cultivating the <Empyrean Writ>? Was it a philosophy? Religion? He couldn’t say. Perhaps it was none of those things and was something simply made up and irrelevant. Or, perhaps, it was indeed something important that he should understand as quickly as possible. In the end, he didn’t know. As his thoughts spun, the night passed and the dawn came hurling forth. Golden sun broke the eastern horizon and spilled over like water over the land. Shabby city walls seemingly shone while the plains before them glistened like droplets. The sky was clear blue and the weather was warm. Q’vil slowly opened his eyes and looked up. They were clear, pure, undisturbed. It was a sort of bearing Lino had no chance of understanding. It was the image of a heart sculptured in a different era, under different circumstances and through different events. What he did realize, though, was the nobility in those eyes didn’t stem from inborn arrogance over his position, or the fact that he stood above the thousands. It didn’t come from being a lofty being that looked down at ordinary people. It came from something much simpler, yet something that Lino couldn’t yet understand.
Q’vil slowly rose to his feet and looked over the plains at the swarm of black dots in the distance. His countenance was calm, his breath even, his gaze tranquil. It didn’t appear as though he was looking at his enemies but at an ocean full of life. He slowly picked up the spear off the floor and leapt off the watchtower, gliding like a fallen leaf through the sky. In a few breaths, he landed at the gates of the city and calmly stood. Behind him, masses had already gathered. At the front was the Emperor and his old officials. Behind them were Commanders, Generals, Captains, Knights, ordinary soldiers, and eventually ordinary people. Q’vil’s robe fluttered in the hazy, morning wind as his black hair danced in the same rhythm. Eyes which were looking at him were full of fervor, pride, love, awe and respect. Lino realized at that moment that, had he only been a hero who commanded great wars, he would never carve so many hearts so deeply. To Lino, Q’vil became a symbol of something much greater than simple soldier of the Kingdom. No, he seemed even greater than the Kingdom; even the Emperor, a being who ought to look down upon the world, looked up at Q’vil with eyes clearer than the morning dew. He had won them completely, Lino realized. Their hearts and souls belonged to this man. Was this what it means to be an Empyrean? Lino pondered for a moment. He couldn’t be certain. He could only guess and wait. Q’vil slowly turned around and looked at the mass of people standing before him. In turn, they all looked up at him and remained silent. Lino couldn’t see even an ounce of fear, agony, regret or anxiety within those eyes. There was only determination and fervent desire. Not to live, but to accompany this man to wherever he may go.
“Today,” Q’vil voice was calm and even, yet it pierced every pair of ears as though he spoke right next to them. “We will all die.” Lino’s heart shook; he thought Q’vil would try to rouse them with a battle-hardened speech, and instead he told them they’d die. Is it some sort of a reverse psychology? “These plains will become our graves. Yours and mine. Neither the gods nor the devils will come out their abodes to save us.” there was only stunning calm that Lino couldn’t understand. “But… so what?” Q’vil smiled faintly. “Death isn’t scary. We are Dragons, sons and daughters not of heaven or hell, but of greater fate. We have fought while our blood boiled. Our brothers and sisters fell. Our mothers and fathers had their hearts broken. Our children perished.” Q’vil’s voice grew heavy as he continued. “Today, we shall join them. Death? Pain? Agony? We know not what those mean. Carve up those who stand in your way and join the fallen in Dragon’s Caelum! We are Dragons, sons of Fate, daughters of Destiny, Children of the Cradle! Since the dawn of time we rode and braved the storms, and our sails have at last come to an end. Carve up your names in the stones of history! Make the earth tremble whenever we are remembered! Let the winds spread our tale! We are Dragons!”
“WE ARE DRAGONS!!!!” a massive roar echoed out into the sky, one which shook the world inside out. There seemingly wasn’t a soul who hadn’t heard that call.
“Sons of Fate!”
“DAUGHTERS OF DESTINY!!!”
“Children of the Cradle!”
“WE ARE DRAGONS!!!!”
“We march!!!!!” Q’vil screamed atop his lungs, his commanding voice shaking the heaven and the earth.
“WE MARCH!!!!!!!” the gates opened. No, rather, the floodgates opened.
There was no fear. There was no agony. There was no regret. One… ten… a hundred… a thousand… soon the mass rode not on horses, but on winds which seemed to obey them. Sun seemingly shook high up in the sky, as though bowing its head toward those beneath it. The grass gave way. The trees swayed in a salute. The hearts of those who stood opposite of them trembled. Great Dragon Empire, the first and last Empire of Dragons’ Children. Long ago, before the records were a thought, winged creatures dominated the land. They only ever gave their blood to a single feeble creature, for that creature was dying. From that little creature, a homogeny spawned, a man who forged a legend all on his own. Perhaps the world had forgotten, but the hearts remember. The blood of Dragons flows in their veins. It burns. It boils. Each one of their steps issued a quake. Each roar of cracking voices shook the souls. Some held shabby swords, some held shabby spears, some even held wooden sticks and some even held nothing but their fists. A march of feeble few was like an onslaught of a heavenly army. Lino watched. His heart was beating like crazy, and he wanted to shout, wanted to join, wanted to ride alongside them. As though his pleas were heard, Q’vil moved. With a single step, he overtook everyone else and came to the front. Next to him, Emperor Yomir was running, his expression that of delight. He didn’t wear noble clothes or a crown. He wore a shabby armor, held a crude, iron sword and a simple, wooden shield. Even so, earth beneath quaked with each of his steps. When he noticed Q’vil next to him, he turned his head and smiled.
“Forgive this folly King, Q’vil,” Emperor Yomir said. “I couldn’t show you the stars, as I promised.”
“…” Q’vil turned toward him and smiled. “No, but you’ve showed me something much better, far brighter than stars.” Q’vil then turned back and looked at the mass of people who were running. “You’ve showed me what it means to have a place… you can call home.”