THE DISTANT HOME
A gaping crater stood at the very top of a cloud-piercing mountain, entirely spherical as though carved out by a godly hand. Steps cascaded downward through thousands upon thousands of buildings stacked atop of one another, some made of white marble and some of green limestone. Above, in a dome-like fashion, light arrays wove a massive net cast over the entire crater, shining eternally, whether day or night. It appeared splendid, even extravagant, as it cast holy rays of light down onto the entire, massive compound. The design of the sect was spiraling, staring from top to bottom, where a tower overseeing the world, made entirely out of ebony stone, piercing the sky. It looked like an obelisk from a distance, yet was much winder and sharper toward the tip, more akin to a pyramid pressed at each side. The streets bustled with noise, ceaseless chatter spanning the whole of the city-like sect, drowning out any emerging silence. People clad in white, green, yellow, golden, red and black robes moved in and out of the grounds in droves, creating a never ending stream of visitors. One of them was a woman wearing a plain, tattered dress and a bamboo hat on her head, hiding her face. Her strides were wide, her pace quick as she skillfully weaved herself through the crowds, bit by bit approaching the center.
She had left the topmost part rather quickly, descending the white stairway leading further down, when she saw two elderly land on the other end. Both wore old, gray robes, and had almost identical faces and expressions. With hands behind their backs, they stared at her expressionlessly, yet she could discern a deep glint of something far greater in their eyes. She paused only for a moment, braving forth step by step, until she had reached them both. Silence emerged as they stared at one another, the world around them seemingly locked and frozen in time, without any passersby for minutes on.
“... why are you here?” one of the men broke the silence at last, asking in cold and distant tone.
“Am I not welcome?” the woman asked back.
“... you were welcome for over a thousand years,” the other man joined, a hint of anger in his voice. “Yet, you never so much as visited to say you are alive.”
“You knew I was alive.”
“... is that your excuse?” the man asked.
“... did they send you here to escort me or expel me?” the woman asked instead of replying, seeming impatient.
“... they are waiting.” a man waved his arm slightly whereupon a spinning, white vortex appeared next to him. Woman, without hesitation, took a step forward and walked through.
After a bright flash of light, she had found herself in a massive hall spanning hundreds of squared meters. The floor beneath was tiled and glistening, chandeliers hanging above, paintings decorating the walls while sculpted columns held up the domed roof high above. The whole of the hall was brilliantly lit, perhaps even too much, to the point it took her a moment to regain her vision. When she did, she came face to face with a table and four people sitting behind it. Three men and a woman, all clad entirely in white, stared at her with different expressions. She choked for a moment, feeling an overwhelming wave of memories assail her. No matter how many years had passed since she last saw them, all these faces were forever imprinted in her memory. To the far right, she glanced, was a seemingly middle-aged man; he had golden hair woven into a bun, with a few strands of hair falling over his forehead. His eyes were sky-blue, lips thin, nose long and narrow, cheekbones extruded, jaw squared. His eyes shimmered in an array of complex emotions, she realized. How could she ever forget his face? It was her father, after all. Next to him sat a woman, similarly in her forties or so. Much like him, she had golden hair threading over to half her back and sky-blue eyes, seemingly holding the secrets of the whole universe in them. There was a faint smile on her face, yet her eyebrows were heaved backwards, as though wishing to both express joy and sadness at the same time.
Next to her was an elderly man, with a face full of wrinkles. His eyes were seemingly closed as his hand creased his beard repeatedly. His back was hunched, and he appeared over a head shorter than everyone else on the table, yet the woman knew one could hardly discard him for it. On the far other end of the table sat a youth, seemingly in his twenties. His hair was unnaturally crimson, eyes even more so, and his expression danced between anger and resentment. Only now did woman’s expression change, as she did not expect him to be here as well.
“So,” the oldest man was the first one to speak. “You have at last come here. What for?”
“She didn’t even greet Us,” the young man scoffed. “Why are you addressing her?”
“She has no need to greet us.” the old man said without looking at the young man which caused the latter’s brows to furrow even further. “Speak, Elanor. Speak or forever remain silent.”
“... I have come in search for an answer.” the woman spoke, taking off the bamboo hat. Beneath she hid hair as golden as the sun shining in the sky and eyes hued in deep, ocean’s blue. Her face was like a mirage of perfection, ethereally beautiful without any blemishes. The young man’s brows relaxed as his eyes drew a line over her body without any secrecy.
“And to what question do you seek an answer for?” the elderly man asked as though he hadn’t noticed anything.
“Why are Demons invading our world?” she asked.
“Demons are always invading our world.” the elderly man replied.
“... I broke a vow by coming here,” she looked deeply into the old man’s eyes. “Betraying everything I trusted ever since leaving. At the very least you can indulge me for a single question.”
“... your vows have little to do with us, Elanor,” the old man said, his expression still tranquil. “You had broken just as many, if not more, when you left, too. What of it?”
“... why are Demons invading our world?” she asked yet again.
“Why are you asking?” the old man asked back instead of answering.
“Because I wish to know.”
“...” the elderly man suddenly opened his eyes halfway through and looked deeply into her eyes. “Varren, Jade, Crug, leave us.”
“Leave us.” the old man’s voice was calm and tranquil despite the three pairs of eyes staring at him as though fire was about to burst out of them. The three of them remained silent for a moment before suddenly disappearing as though they were never there. “... now that they are gone,” the old man said, slowly getting up. “We can have an honest conversation.”
“Why the need to dismiss them?” the woman asked, following him as he began walking further down the hall.
“Because I very much doubt you’d want them to know you were in possession of a Writ and have given it away to someone.” though the old man’s tone was ever the same, the words had tremendous impact on the woman, causing her to freeze in place. “Don’t be so shocked, Ella. Your grandfather knew what would happen to him when he carried out the Fiend, so he told me... many things. Some of which I still have trouble believing.”
“... thank you.” Ella said meekly, quickening her pace to catch up.
“Don’t thank me,” the old man said. “I am merely doing this for the Clan.”
“... I know. You were always devoted to it, even more so than my grandfather.” Ella said.
“... hardly,” the old man paused for a moment and glanced back. “It takes a man whose entire heart is encased in Clan’s well-being to do what your grandfather did.”
“And if he hadn’t, you would have.”
“We can all claim we’d have done things in the past differently now,” the old man continued. “Whether we would or not... we may never know. Why are you interested in Demons, all of a sudden?”
“... I wasn’t at first,” Ella replied. “I wasn’t even going to come here initially. But, the further I travelled, the more I realized the sheer scope of their invasion.”
“Where’s Eggor?” the old man suddenly asked, startling her.
“... he’s not here.”
“Oh, I know he’s not here. I’m asking where is he.”
“... good.” the old man said, sighing faintly. “Though he’s not a very popular figure around here, I remember him to be a great young lad. Honest. Devoted. Faithful. I imagine he’s the sole reason you’ve endured what the Clan had done to you back then.”
“... you’re different than I imagined.” Ella said.
“What were you expecting?” the old man asked with a chuckle as the two came to a stop in front of a massive painting; on it, another old man with white hair and beard and golden robe stood smiling, as though overseeing the whole of the hall with his glistening, cyan eyes. “A biased, old, muddled head who would have chased you out immediately?”
“Pretty much, yes.” Ella said, chuckling as well.
“... from your memory, I suppose that’s how I come off,” he said, turning toward her. “But, every soul’s prone to change, Ella. You ought to know that best.”
“... yes, I suppose I do.” Ella said, sighing. “This place hasn’t changed much.”
“... no, no it hasn’t.” the old man said, smiling faintly. “And to answer your question... I don’t know.” seeing Ella’s surprised expression, the man laughed for a moment before continuing. “How long has it been? Ah, at the very least half a millennium has passed since I last talked with any of the Ancestral Devils. Truth be told, our Clan isn’t the only one being frozen out. It’s the case with all Holy Grounds. They suddenly went mum, and it was only about a year ago that we realized they were planning a massive invasion. The only word we’d gotten from them was ‘Don’t meddle. It’s not your place.’. For the time being, we chose to sit on the sidelines and observe.”
“... all Holy Grounds decided the same? I find it very hard to believe.” Ella said, even more surprised.
“Ha ha, I know. You’d think old man Jarn would have burst into Hell and cleaved it open to figure out what’s going on. But... even he simply withdrew. It’s possible he was told more than we were, but he isn’t saying much.”
“...” Ella grew silent, entering deep thought.
“You haven’t changed since I last saw you,” the old man drew her back from it, smiling with warmth in his eyes. “With the exception of your eyes. I imagine it has to do with the kid you’ve passed on the Writ to.”
“... you’re as perceptive as ever.” Ella said, smiling faintly.
“What’s he like?”
“... strong.” Ella said.
“He ought to be,” the old man said, sighing. “Although there’s no proof of it, I am certain all of this has something to do with Writs, Ella.”
“I had the same thought,” she said, looking up at the painting. “I think I was eight years old when he told me about them. He rarely spoke truth, but when he did, he laid it all out on the table.”
“Ha ha, that he did.” the old man laughed, looking at the portrait as well. “Sometimes, I really resent him for handing me over this position.”
“That bad?” Ella asked.
“... knowing things others don’t, and making decisions others don’t understand based on the things they aren’t aware of... it is never easy, Ella. If it weren’t for your folks, I’d have given up a long... long time ago.”
“... how are they doing?” Ella asked, her voice cracking slightly.
“... how do you think?” he replied, looking at her. “When are you going back?”
“You ought to talk to them first.”
“They love you, Elanor,” the old man interrupted. “And, believe me, that is a rare thing in this world. You may think you were once their shining star that had fallen, but, in their eyes, you have never fallen Ella. You merely hid behind the clouds for a while. When you left, everyone went up in arms to form a party to search for you. They, however, insisted you be left alone. They defended you every way they could. Talk to them. Let them know how you’re doing.”
“... they’ll try to keep me here.” Ella said after short pause.
“Aye, of course they will. It would be odd if they didn’t. However... I very much doubt your resolve is so weak as to break merely because of that. It would hurt them more your leaving without saying goodbye than refusing their love calls.”
“... I didn’t think you were a softie.” Ella said, chuckling.
“Ho ho, look who’s talking.” the old man laughed, stroking his beard for a moment. “Go. They’re at their place, pacing around and waiting.”
“Why was Crug here?” Ella asked before leaving.
“... I have my reasons.”
“You suspect him of something?” Ella added on.
“No,” the old man replied, shaking his head. “His cultivation had been stalled for centuries now.”
“... and you think I’m the reason?”
“In his heart, you are,” the old man said. “You’ve incurred his greatest shame and humiliation in life. Someone as proud as him... that doesn’t simply vanish one morning. Go now. They are waiting.”
“... thank you. For everything.” Ella said as she turned around and began walking away, her steps slow and lacking assurance. The old man stared at her back, eyes glistening slightly, sighing when she disappeared from his sight.
“You’ve condemned that child Ella,” he muttered, looking at the portrait. “To a life far worse than you could ever imagine...”