Crimson arc cruised through the sky, leaving behind a trail of blazing, beautiful flames spanning miles on end. A pair of incinerated wings blew out Crug’s back, manifesting a majestic sight to behold. Endless gasps echoed out from the Clan beneath as thousands of pairs of eyes looked up at the sky, at the scorching sky whose natural, blue hue had long since been turned scarlet. Crug withdrew a massive, spiked sword from seemingly nowhere, brandishing it with both his hands where puncture wounds appeared one after another, dyeing the handle red. His eyes began smoking, his whole face flushing, his muscles so flexed his clothes nearly tore off.
Just as he was about to reach the compound, he felt a banishing force assail the very core of his being. Golden light torched the other end of the sky as a massive pillar uprooted the darkness, blinding everyone who laid their eyes on it. It seared the clouds above, banishing them from existence, penetrating into realms that a human eye could not see. The golden pillar of blinding light expanded forward, crashing against Crug’s face directly. A massive blast beamed outwardly into even greater shockwave, causing winds to rouse the world beneath and above. The blend of golden and crimson painted a beautiful, yet far more terrifying, canvas up in the sky. Qi turned visible for a moment, like silken threads of webs, spanning the world and its every essence.
Crug felt his lungs capsize, unable to breathe, as a force far greater than his own pushed him back, blasting him through the sky like a kite. He landed thousands of miles back, crashing through numerous mountains and drilling massive holes in them on his way. Crimson shade depleted completely, leaving only gold to shine. As it dimmed slowly, a visible silhouette appeared deep at its center. With golden light drawing further back, the figure became more and more visible, in the end depicting exactly Varren. From his back spun two wings made of ethereal light, fluttering gently, while he hovered in the sky straight like a spear. His expression was grim, eyes exuding fury, fists clenched tightly. It only took but a moment for the dissipated crimson light to appear back in the sky as Crug burst through miles of travel in the blink of an eye, appearing just a dozen meters away from Varren. The two stared at each other for a moment, former bleeding profusely from several dozen cuts all over his body. Yet he seemed to not have even noticed it, as though they weren’t there.
“This is?” Varren asked in a low, threatening voice, tilting his head.
“She’s gone back to hiding behind her daddy now, I see.” Crug said with a beaming grin, causing his face to distort. “Pathetic.”
“Do you need something?” Varren asked, tone of his voice growing ever so hostile.
“Call that bitch out,” Crug said. “I’ve got a few things I’d like to chat with her about.”
“...” Varren remained silent for a moment, looking deeply into Crug’s eyes. “Call my daughter bitch one more time and I’ll rip your tongue out and feed it to Telly.”
“... ha ha ha,” Crug burst out into laughter as he heaved his head backwards. “Even after all these years, you’re still defending her?! Look around you Varren!! How many people know who came back today, huh?! Why do you think that is?! Shouldn’t we be celebrating the return of the Immortal Maiden, huh?!! Shouldn’t we brandish banners and bring out finest ale and finest music and drink till we forget who we are?! Yet why is everyone silent about her return?!”
“...” Varren’s eyes flashed for a moment before replying. “That’s right. She’s shamed our Clan. But, come heaven or hell, she’s my daughter first and everything else second. I’d be buried alive before I’d let an ape like you insult her dignity. Go back Crug. You are not welcome here.”
“... if it wasn’t for her, I’d already be far stronger than your aged ass!!” Crug screamed out atop of his lungs, his voice echoing through the entire Clan’s compound. “She ruined me!!! Cursed me to forever stagnate like a cultivating morons we call ‘Clan members’!! Bring her out!! I need to cleanse this hatred or I’ll never advance again in my life!”
“... you’re pitiful, Crug.” Varren said, sighing faintly. “You’ve forsaken cultivation, and you aren’t even aware of it. Go back. The last bout was a warning in respect of your father.”
“Hah, my father? Like I give a shit!! Unlike some, I don’t depend on him to protect me! Go ahead, blast it all out on me!! Till you grind my bones down to ash, I’m not leaving unless she comes out!”
“... you asked for me,” a faint yet melodic voice cried out from down below, reaching Crug’s ears. “Here I am.”
“...” Crug tilted his head downward, quickly spotting the distant figure standing on the ground, her golden hair swaying gently sideways. At a moment’s notice, his anger dissipated. The flames burning hot behind him mellowed and madness in his eyes perished. “El’...” he muttered lowly, crashing from the sky onto the ground, just ahead of her. His stunt cause hundreds of bystanders to cry out and run away; Varren landed almost simultaneously as him, standing next to Ella like a guardian angel. However, Crug didn’t step toward her. He merely stood frozen at the spot and stared, his hair swaying similarly to hers. “Why have you forsaken me?” he asked after short silence.
“... I haven’t forsaken you, Crug.” Ella replied.
“Yes... yes you have. We were meant to be together. By Fate’s ordain. But... you left. You chose him, a nobody, a craftsman from mountain. At first... I thought it was just pity, for what you did to his village. But... despite the passage of time, you never came home. And I’d realized you didn’t pity him. You chose him... over me.”
“...” Ella stared for a moment, sighing afterwards. “You’ve always been unhinged, Crug, but I know that deep down there’s no other person here who cares about this place more. Why have you forsaken that for me? You said it yourself. I am a shame of this Clan. An eternal outcast. I’m not worthy of your heart.”
“... heh,” Crug chuckled lightly, smiling afterwards; unlike his sneers, it was a genuine smile, exuding almost boyish innocence. “Maybe you believe that El’... but nobody in this Clan does. They think we don’t hear ‘em whispering, but we do. Thousands of years later, post-drinking stories are still myths of the legendary Immortal Maiden, Queen of Blades, Qe’ll’s Sword Bearer. The one who breached past the shackles all others were bound by. You... you belong here, Ella. This is your home. Your return signifies that.”
“... I’m leaving, Crug.” Ella said.
“... I know. I know you’re leaving. But, one day, you’ll come back. You’ll return to stay instead to visit. And, until that day, I’ll stand here waiting El’. I’ll persist with this nagging demon in my heart, whispering to me ceaselessly. I’ll wait for you. That is my Fate.”
“... it’s your choice, not Fate, Crug.” Ella said, smiling faintly. “I don’t want you to wait for me. Though I feel pain over what I did to you, to the Clan, I don’t regret it Crug. I’d have done it all over again if given a choice. I love Eggor. I’ve loved him since and will love him after. Not even his or mine deaths would change that.”
“...” Crug looked deeply into her eyes for a moment before turning around and beginning to stride away. “On my thirteenth birthday, I feel in love with you El’. That was also the day my Fires were born. And since then, because of this love, they’ve kept burning. And they’ll keep burning... till the time’s end.”
“...” Ella stared painfully at his vanishing back, holding back tears from breaking out of her eyes. She suddenly felt a firm but warm hand grasp her shoulder; glancing sideways, she spotted Varren smiling gently.
“... I haven’t seen that side of him in a long, long time,” he said. “Good to know it’s still there.”
“... it’s always been there.” Ella said.
“Yes. Yes it has. He’s the future of this Clan, El’,” Varren said. “And he’s strong enough to one day move on. You have to trust him.”
“... I do.” Ella said.
“Good.” Varren said, smiling as he also turned back toward the house. “Let’s go back inside. We don’t want to get sacked with repairing that damage, now do we?”
“... tsk, I see mom still hasn’t beaten that laziness out of you.”
“What laziness? It’s called selective productivity.”
“That sounds exactly like something lazy people would call it.”
“And you still haven’t learned not to talk back to your parents,” Varren said. “I ought to spar with you to remind you of respect, no?”
“... ah, I’d rather not. You never held back in your spars. It’s actually one of the things I hated about you growing up.”
“... well, that’s just not true. You used to love sparing with me.” Varren said. “You were always the first one out on the field!”
“That’s because if I wasn’t you’d be three times as harsh as usual! Just how bad is your memory?!”
“My memory is perfect, thank you very much. It’s yours that could use some greasing.”
In the far distance, crimson-haired figure leaped over a wooden fence and landed in a barren courtyard, sitting down on a singular, flattened rock standing in the center. The cuts over his body had already healed, blood seemingly sucked back whence it came from, his intense expression turned tranquil. He looked up at the sky, his eyes hazy for a moment, as though deep in thought. Beneath them, though, two flowers budded black, low echo of sinister laughter perishing before even beginning. Within the crimson pair of eyes was another, color-burned, cold and full of malice, forever whispering.