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CHAPTER 56

THE FABLED FJORDS

It looked like nothing more than a massive gash in earth, like a scraping wound running from north to south. It was wide, bounding tens of miles from one side to the other, its length equivalent to the distance of the Northern Seas from the Southern Isles. It got its name, the Fabled Fjords, many moons ago, after the land was cleaved, but before the beautiful river running through it dried up, leaving only scorched earth and deep abyss reeking of gloom. The corrosion of earth was visible to the naked eye, garments of aged rocks ever so often falling apart and diving deep into the abyss. At the very top, looking down with eyes full of curiosity, Lino stood motionless as howling winds blew past his figure, tantalizing him. His hair and coat fluttered madly backward, grass behind him swaying all the same, yet he stood firmly erect and straight, as though nothing could move him. He left the group silently last night, just as they reached the massive gorge, without notifying anyone. They’d find their way across, he figured, and it was best if he didn’t get entangled into the conversation over where he was going as even he wasn’t certain it was such a good idea.

He marked this as his eventual destination a long while ago, even before the Capital fell to the Demons, as it’s the place the Writ pointed him toward. Though it was quite vague, Lino understood that there was something he needed hidden in the harrowing deeps. A piece of the puzzle he’s perhaps yet to unveil, but one far too important to ignore. However, since then, the Writ hasn’t spoken a word about it and no matter how much Lino asked, he never got an answer. Now, standing by the edge of the massive gash, he began having second thoughts about descending. The fall was steep, entirely lethal should he somehow slip, and blazing and neverending winds hardly helped the cause. Still, deep down, he knew he had to go. His journey has already begun and, however grim it may appear, he didn’t want to give up. He himself had grown intrigued by the mass spectacle that this world appears to be, with countless secrets hiding beyond the shroud. Global demonic invasion, he was certain, was just a small piece of what would transpire in the following years, and perhaps even decades. Whether he wanted it or not, he landed a major role in the conflict that would occur. There was already a mark on him, a mark he could not erase, and he didn’t want to exclude himself entirely from the pursuit and live like a hermit until the end of his days. He’d grown tired of worthless living, of day-to-day hoping it would eventually get better without ever being given tools to fix it. Now that he has them, he didn’t wish to see them wasted due to fear.

He sighed and took a deep breath, glancing briefly at the scalding sky before taking a rope out of his void world. He’d crafted it himself on his way over here, using durable ox leather and flexible tails of rarely seen creatures around these parts, Vertins. Legend has it that they used to be Moon Cats who embraced Spirit Lords as their Guardians, growing three times their original size and turning their tails into one the most deadly weapons in the wild. The rope’s design had twofold necessities: to be able to endure shred of the quick winds, and to remain steady and straight against those winds. There was simply no other way to descend down the side of the gorge.

He tied one end to the toughest tree trunk he could find and slowly reached the edge of the gorge, beginning his downward climb. The winds were rough, already cutting the surface level of his skin by the time he’d taken a few steps down. Beyond them, he also sensed a rather strange and obscure atmosphere deep down below, voiceless yet loud at the same time. He couldn’t see past the thick darkness beneath despite driving tons of Qi into his eyes to enhance his vision. The deeper he’d descended, the thicker the darkness surrounding him got; by the time he’d reached two hundred meters by his account, he was barely able to see a few inches in front of him. Looking above, he only saw thick misty veiling over the whole of gorge. Only darkness, without a single streak of sunlight piercing through. He’d already gone into a massive, downward spiral of regret in his mind, but he still managed to thicken his resolve and continue the descent.

There were scarcely any records about the Fabled Fjords since it has dried up. At the very beginning, quite a few adventurers gave the descent an attempt, only to fail to ever return. With the passage of years, it’s become one of the dead-end spots, an eternal tomb for the reckless. Lino knew he was going in blind, but he was still confident in himself; after reaching Soul Realm, he’d grown considerably stronger than before, to say nothing of having acquired Divine Sense. With a simple, conscious command, his mind seeps out into the fabled Limbo, where both living and dead intermingle in an abstract contraption, and where no breath can be hidden. It is a fascinating experience, no matter how many times Lino experienced it; suddenly, the darkness surrounding the insides of the gorge would vanish, replaced by a full spectrum of colors. Tiny, wisp-like dots danced round the rainbow-colored bridges leading everywhere and nowhere. Gray and dark cliff he was holding onto became a cascading waterfall of beautiful colors, and he himself but a spec in the eternity of things. It provided him comfort, however brief it may have been. He was not alone. Not even here, in the boundless darkness, surrounded by heavy silence. However small, surrounding him, thousands upon thousands of creatures invisible to the naked eye danced. He continued his descent, occasionally inspecting things with his Divine Sense to make sure he doesn’t stumble onto anything athwart. It felt peculiar, crossing over to the Soul Realm and becoming aware of the tiniest of presences in the depths of your body, there, lingering in stillness like a fellow passenger on a lifelong journey. It was a tiny dot, Soul, shimmering in pure white, unblemished by sins of one’s heart. It appeared as though it was sleeping peacefully, its figure ethereally vague. Lino found it reassuring, as it felt like having a friend on a lonesome journey. One you could always count on to have your back, even when all hell breaks loose.

He’d long since forgotten the meaning of time on his way down. Darkness had long since seeped into every corner of his mind and he felt his thoughts growing ever more depressing, yet he couldn’t do anything about it, even though he tried. As is the case in his darkest hour, he eventually traveled back to his childhood, to the days that were supposed to be the most carefree in one’s life. He’d always brush up her face that hadn’t faded even slightly after all these years. He’d imagine her smile, a beaming, bright one curling downward into a frown, then into a weep. He’d imagine her striking eyes shining in curious innocence, then veiled over in a curtain behind which he was never able to peer. She hid it from him too well, all that pain he knew she felt. The tears she wept in the dreadful corners, hidden away from his eyes. Realizing his thoughts had turned painful, he used Divine Sense quickly, expanding it to the maximum of his abilities, which reached nearly a hundred meters in diameter. Just as he began weeping inwardly over having to climb further down, he spotted a small cave roughly seventy meters to the east. Though he was unable to peer inside, he quickly headed over as he knew he needed a moment to rest and reel his thoughts proper. It took him a few minutes to get to it, carefully unwrapping the ever-expanding rope off his waist and landing gracefully at the thick but short protrusion leading to the inside of the cave. His steps were hurried and sporadic as he burst inside, ignoring any possible danger. He was unable to count how many minutes had passed before the first breach of light assailed him, blinding his eyes for a moment. He pressed onward, feeling slightly short of breath. The cave ended in a barely human-sized vertical gap through which he was forced to squeeze. Light was coming from the other end, and he was both curious and terrified to find out why. How was there light so deep below the world? Inside the lightless gorge of death? He could hardly venture a guess.

After squeezing through for about a minute, he had finally reached the other end, landing on an uneven, rocky floor full of sharp, natural spikes coming from both sides, rising upward of several meters. The spikes created a form of natural, downward path in-between the steady columns upholding the tall ceiling above. He followed it slowly, feeling his heart suddenly quicken. The Writ began circulating Qi much faster than usual, and he felt yet again an indescribable pull overcome his being. The end of the path landed him into a place he could never have guessed existed here.

A hall hundreds of meters tall, embellished by hand-sculpted pillars of human-like beings with feathered wings spread out far and wide. The floor beneath was tiled golden, reflecting light illuminating the hall coming from the crystal rocks both from the ceiling and the pillars themselves. The hall was spotless, as though it existed in another dimension, away from the filth just outside its front doors. All of the pillars seemed to have been turned toward the singular direction, toward the far other end of the hall. Lino braced himself and walked forward, his footsteps echoing throughout the hall in a seemingly neverending loop. After walking forward for about five minutes, he’d finally reached the end and froze in the spot, his mouth agape.

In front of him, atop a strangely, yet beautifully shaped altar, wholly symmetrical, rested a transparent coffin made of pure, violet jade. Inside, he saw a seemingly middle-aged man in lying position, his arms crossed over his chest, golden-haired and snow-pale. What caught his eyes far more was what was above the coffin; looming over it were pair of golden, feathered wings, spanning dozens of meters on both ends. They flickered briefly, sounding out a low cry that pierced the whole hall. It quaked all of a sudden, floor beneath rumbling as rays of blinding light burst out of the pillars’ - specifically the eyes - landing onto the coffin. The latter spun and fixed upright slowly, the lid opening. Against all odds, and meeting Lino’s greatest fears, the eyes of the man inside the coffin opened. They were wholly white, hardly something one could see even in a blind person. It took but a moment for them to land on Lino; the latter felt his whole body tremble. Even in death, he realized, the man before him lived in a world far outside Lino’s reach. It was a gaze meant to scrutinize one’s everything. Fears, hopes, secrets, loves, desires. They were all seen by the man. As the blinding light settled and the quaking stopped, only silence remained. The man stared into Lino’s eyes while the latter stared back, transfixed by the strange, ephemeral gaze of an even stranger man.

“Hello Lyonel,” the man said in a low, echoing voice that seemed to have come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. “Welcome to the Hall of Angels.”

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beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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