BEYOND THE VEIL
Spearing forward, Lino suddenly felt a grip on his ankle as his heart paused for a moment. Looking down, he saw decaying, pale fingers twirled around his right ankle, pressing tightly as sizzling sounds echoed out. Freaked out, he threw a straight thrust at the ground without holding anything back, causing a massive explosion to bellow out, slicing the earth apart and revealing a gaping hole - as though a massive beast’s maw - filled with corpses beyond numbers’ count. Whilst in air, he crossed above the mist as his eyes landed on the other side, where he was finally able to make out the features of the grotesque thing; rather than spider’s limbs, it had arms instead, extending out from every inch of its body, while its round, spherical body had dozens of protrusions akin to nails at its back. At front were eight heads - or, better yet, eight pairs of eyes and mouths, all gaping wide - swirling about the body like trunk in mud. The eight pairs of eyes suddenly turned upward, entirely black in hue, and focused onto him. A mere blink later, the mouths gaped even further as incredulous screech broke out, causing air itself to vibrate briefly.
Lino took a deep breath while midair, and drew Qi into his feet while using momentum to dive toward the creature. What the hell is that thing?! he thought as he observed every inch of the strange creature.
The familiar, robotic voice echoed out inside his mind all of a sudden, startling him further.
[Name: Abominable Morphed Devil Child]
[Source: Born when an overflow of Devil Qi occurs at places with a lot of corpses.]
[Strength: Illusion Arts, ???, ???, ???]
[Weaknesses: Fire, ???, ???, ???]
Lino nearly rolled his eyes so far back up they’d end up on the other side of the skull, barely holding back from cursing out loud. With a great momentum, he broke through the curtain of pale-white arms, piercing directly toward the creature and sliding past its shoulder-like area while its arms twirled around as though independent of its body, turning into flashing spikes flying toward his back. He crashed directly into the ground, blowing it apart thanks to the Qi he infused previously, and spun immediately, barreling the spear in his arm between his ribcage and elbow and slicing it in a wide arc, dissecting the incoming arms in a swift motion. A mournful screech followed, which he ignored to the best of his ability, gritting his teeth and kicking off yet again, circling sideways while making sure to side step all the arms breaching past the earth. He took the spear directly into his hand and began piercing it in quick successions; each time he’d hit the creature, it’d feel as if he’d briefly stuck the spear into the mud, and it took far more effort to pull it out than to reel it in. While circling, he felt cold winds slowly blow from above and he took a chance to glance up, sighing inwardly. Arms all around, all blowing toward him, creating an inescapable net. He tightened the grip on the shaft and came to a halt, infusing Qi directly into the spear while using the only Martial Art he had for fighting for the first time: <Piercing Storm>. The spear immediately blurred as it seemingly blended into the environment, leaving behind only whizzing sounds of tearing wind and bellowing dust. Each second, another hole appeared someplace on the strange creature while agonizing wails echoed out again and again, ceaselessly filling the world with macabre feeling. He shortly after felt cold sensation prick against his body, sending chills through his veins. He knew that the pale arms had finally reached him and enveloped him, but he hardly cared for the moment, simply sending whiffs of Qi to defend against them. Had someone been there to look at him from the outside, they’d see a far stretch of forearms spreading out like erect spears, wounding down into a singularity while countless fingers interwove into a strange canopy, a cocoon of sorts entangling him. However, every moment, holes were blown apart as the Radiant Spear pierced through both the arms entangling him and the creature trying to escape in front of him. Shocking sounds of bellowing thunder blew out from the cocoon, as listless arms fell from the sky only to be replaced by new ones.
It was a struggle of two ends, and Lino felt it reach deep into his bones. Strange coldness - less like winter’s and more like terror’s - seeped into his marrow while whispers barely audible assailed directly into his mind. He felt as though his bones were being eroded, his heart torn open inside out, veins slit like stalks, all his senses diminishing considerably. Rather than hearing, it seemed as though all sounds were transmitted directly into his mind without a buffer, stench passing by his barriers and muddling him, sight blurred beyond any focus; weakness akin to complete suppression growled at him like a beast, but he remained as focused as he could be, pouring Qi ceaselessly into the Radiant Spear while pushing it forth over and over again. He fought against the voices, against the coldness, against the weakness, against the strange unknown, defying it as though battling against something natural. He’d only taken a first step, he’d remind himself, and if he were to fail here, all he ever thought he could achieve would shatter; the glass-thin illusion of the future he’d concocted for himself would fracture, and there’d only be fragments of what could have been. Even if he survived through the ordeal, piecing the fragments together back to their original shape would be nigh impossible, he knew. If he let himself be broken here, he knew there would be no future as he imagined it. He felt the arms, like chains, wrap around every inch of his soul, their coldness empty, akin to an endless void without either matter or light, but he pushed back. He heard the voices, the softest of whispers as alluring as the charms of the most beautiful women, but he ignored them. Halfway through, he’d even seen her, and his heart nearly cracked; though lacking features much like his memory, he knew it was her. He’d never met another who had hair as golden, smile as ethereal, voice as sound, tranquil, warm, and eyes as clear as the summer’s sky. He’d realized something right then and there, wrapped in the arms of death, called forth by the cries from hell, murmur of purgatory; he was a tiny speck, a fleeting nothing in the majesty of what he was going up against. Already lacking confidence in himself, it wasn’t easy to place himself within that world and understand he stood beneath the bottom layer, looking up at the world much larger than he’d ever imagined.
He didn’t know what this creature was, or what these arms were, or what this strange, cold sensation was. He didn’t think them evil, or innately malevolent, but simply a natural contrast to himself; just the same as he’d look at his reflection in the muddy waters of a September’s pond and see someone else entirely, this creature, this world, these arms, were a reflection of a world seeping out from the other side. He couldn’t feel any anger, any hatred, any inherent desire for destruction aimed toward him, just natural opposition to who he was. Spinning in these thoughts, he could still manage to focus enough of his consciousness on the world around him, a world distant and unknown, but part of the whole nonetheless. He’d remembered the boy in the cave telling him that there’s only a single world, and the fragments living ‘outside’ of it while still being part of the singularity. Just then, he felt the arms’ grip on him loosen and he grasped the opportunity, pouring in Qi and Tri-Spirit Flames directly into the spear, causing the blade to lighten up like sun, blasting away the cold darkness bellowing at him from the deeps. Mournful cry leaked out, permeating the whole of the strange world, causing it to sway, much how Q’vil and others caused the world around them to sway and shake with their mere voices. The fog and mist dissipated, the arms eroded away into ash and were carried off by the wind, and the disfigured creature in front of him began melting as though doused in acid. Bit by bit, its outer shell collapsed, its arms crumbled, countless eyes closing as streaks of black blood leaked out their corners and drowned the floor beneath it in a small ebony lake.
Lino looked around and saw that he was standing in the middle of a vast field, surrounded merely by empty horizon. There was no source of light, yet light there existed, as he clearly could see everything around him, even in the supposed pitch black darkness. Every inch of his body hurt and felt cold and as he looked down, he noticed that his clothes were tattered, skin carved out at several places, flesh torn open, revealing white bones beneath. He bled profusely, yet it had already begun healing because of the <Empyrean Writ>. He shifted his gaze back onto the strange creature, only to be startled yet again; the disfigured monstrosity was gone, before him standing a meter-and-some tall human-like girl. The difference was that she had dark, blue skin and ankle-long hair where each strand seemed independently alive. Her facial features mirrored human’s save for the massive gash on her forehead and deeply concave cheeks. She was quite thin, barely a stick-wider, seemingly only skin and bones. One of her arms was stretched forward, her palm turned up above which a spherical object shimmering in faint cyan spun ceaselessly. It was rather strange, exuding metallic luster and seemingly humming a low melody.
“What is your name?” a choir of voice echoed out, yet Lino knew that only this strange girl-like creature in front of him was the source.
“... Lino. Why?” he asked, still on alert, holding tightly onto his spear.
“Hm,” the girl murmured lowly, glancing at the rotating sphere. “Do you know what this is?” she asked as Lino shook his head. “It’s a miniature scale of the whole world,” she said, her voice(s) void of emotion. “In reality, it’s simply a shell. Within it, there are layers,” she explained. “You humans call it fragmented dimensions, just isolated parts of the singularity. However, singularity lies deep below, at the heart of the world. There, where neither living nor dead could or would ever thread, is where all answers are. You, your world, the facade you believe in,” she said, looking up, directly into his eyes. “Are merely the topmost layer of the shell. You live on the surface, looking and living things birthed from the further remnants of that heart. Your Will lives up to your Writ,” she said, her lips curling up in a strange smile. “Since time immemorial, only Empyreans ever stood against the Gaia, defying with unbending wills. Should you live, much like those before you, and those before them, and all the way back to the very first sentient being who had inherited Will of the Writ, you’ll peel back the layer of reality and fall into the rabbit hole from which there is no return. Humans... Devils... Gods... Angels... Dragons... countless, innumerable races... we all live here,” the sphere suddenly extended and a single part of it split out into a translucent image. “A single, topmost layer. Beneath us... is a road. I yearned to walk it long ago, my curiosity getting better of me. But it’s not a path just anyone can thread, I’d learned that a hard way.”
“... why are you telling me this?” Lino interrupted, feeling slightly annoyed. He realized that people have tendency of dwelling into long, strange and obscure monologues when talking with him, seemingly telling him something very important, yet saying absolutely nothing at the same time.
“Because you don’t belong here, Lino,” the girl said, withdrawing the image into the sphere. “No, it’s better to say that this world will reject you at best, and try to destroy you entirely at worst. Writs have given up. Bearers turned cowards, slaves to Gaia. They’d forgotten their Wills, they’d forgotten their purpose, one grasping at streaks beyond this tiny reality. But, Empyreans never have. The Empyrean Writ never has. Do you know how and why Titans suddenly disappeared from the world, and their era came to an end over night?”
“...” Lino blankly stared at her, utterly confused.
“For eons, Agh’art fought like a ‘mad dog’,” she said, suddenly looking up at the sky. “He was an Empyrean in his heart, bones, soul and will. Finally, the Seventh Bearer surrendered to Gaia, and six came after him. He fought for seven days and nights, ending up riddled with wounds that not even Empyrean Writ could heal. In the end, he still refused to give up. Refused to surrendered... for he knew. He knew what they ignored. So, he tore his heart out directly, poured Chaos into it and awoke Yigoth, The First Prime. It scorched the sky and collapsed the earth, annihilating every Titan within a blink. Such is the fate of an Empyrean,” she looked back at him. “You have qualifications to be one. It is not a destiny imposed upon you, and you can still choose not to walk it. You can still turn away, Lino. However, if you keep pressing onward, you will be fighting a war that will never end. You will find yourself lacking allies, lacking friends, lacking loves, lacking all things you humans seem to ostensibly yearn for. It is a road marred with pain, apathy, coldness of an empty void, indifference, dismay, loneliness you’ll hardly find elsewhere. It is not too late, I say, to turn around and walk away. All those before you had fallen; I very much doubt you’ll do any better than them. And you,” Lino’s soul suddenly shook as the girl spoke, seemingly to something beyond him. “You’ve fought long enough. You’ve taken another seed you know will fail. How much longer? How many failures can you live through? First had also abandoned you. You have no one and nothing left. You’re a vagabond trying to change the world, when the world doesn’t wish to be changed. It’s enough. You’ve fought long and bitter war, but it’s enough. Let them be. Let them do by Gaia’s bidding. Your children will forgive you. Everyone will. I know... that I’ve already forgiven you. My father forgave you. My grandfather forgave you. All of my blood had forgiven you for what you’ve done to us. We’ve understood, long ago, why you did it. You needn’t suffer any longer for the things you’ve caused. They’ve caused much... much... much worse. Go to sleep. Let the world spiral back to the beginning and start anew. It is the only way...”
“... it is never the only way,” Lino’s lips parted, though neither the voice nor the will that came out were his. It was that familiar, robotic voice that he’d grown slightly tired of hearing, replying directly through him. “You say to start the world anew, but to start it, it’d have to be destroyed. She thinks herself strong enough to unearth the Below, and reach the Truth. Should she get lucky, world would start anew. Should she not, there would be no world. You’ve surrendered, given up. I can’t say anything to that. It was your choice. But, I never will. Like others before him, I’ll guide this boy as far as he can go. Why did you come here? To belittle me? To advise me? To ridicule me? To encourage me? To warn me? What things haven’t I seen, Nthla? I was there when Chaos and Order birthed first light. I was there when the Singularity grasped the Truth and hid. I was there for all and everything. Every rise, every fall. Every birth, every death. I shall end when my end comes. When I’m defeated entirely. When I’m chained and locked up and tossed aside, and eroded in the wisp of infinity. Until that hour comes, I live on. It is not hopeless yet, Nthla. Why do you think your grandfather is doing all this? Why do you think Descent exists? There are still hearts out there willing to fight. Let us. We will fight until we can fight no more, and then silently perish. Though hardly beautiful, it is an end nonetheless. Let us be.”
“... both you and him are senile fools,” the girl scoffed coldly as she turned around. “Go ahead. Die while thinking yourself martyrs, while world thinks you fools. See if I give a damn.” You clearly do, though!! Lino cried out inside, simply choosing to ignore whatever is being said while picking up only the girl’s name - Nthla. They both spoke too vaguely about the things Lino had no knowledge, making it impossible to follow their conversation. “We’ll meet again, Lino. Don’t be an idiot like that geezer. Good luck.”
Darkness and strange world vanished. Thunder cried out. Lightning lit up the sky. Rain hummed as it fell flat onto the familiar ground. Palace rose in the distance. The world had seemingly not moved an inch since the moment he disappeared. It was all the same. Timid. Meek. Wondrous.