A youthful man hung over clasps, his head lowered, arms raised up above his back, broken where they latched onto the shoulders completely, his whole skin infected with deep, crossing wounds. They bled profusely, filling up the small pond beneath him with scarlet blood. His breathing was low, almost inaudible, yet it was there. Smite was conscious, too afraid to fall asleep as it could signal his death. He’d only spent five hours here, yet it felt like a whole lifetime. He was on the verge of crying out, of breaking down, yet he endured. He knew that, after him, they’d go after others. Fish and Kraval could endure some time themselves, but those mercenaries they brought along would die within minutes. A sound of approaching footsteps startled him, causing him to look up. His eyes immediately widened as he gnashed his teeth, ready to leap forward like a rabid dog. Standing a few feet away, looking down on him was a thin, extremely pale woman, currently smiling. She wore barely any cloth to cover herself, yet one could hardly call her beautiful; her skin folded over her bones, the latter clearly visible throughout her body. Her cheeks were sunken, eyes even more so, wholly gray as though she were blind, and her hair half-gone, shimmering in ugly gray. She was currently smiling as she began circling Smite, rather slowly.
“Cultivators are really something else,” contrary to her appearance, her voice was rather melodic and warm. “Enduring for so long, still able to bare your teeth at me.”
“...” Smite didn’t reply, merely following her by the sound of her footsteps.
“You’ll make a fantastic corpse, you know? So just give up. It’s over.”
“... go to hell.” he managed to squeeze out, spitting out a mouthful of blood.
“Hell? Ha ha ha,” a shrieking laughter echoed out, bouncing against the wall like a sound wave, assailing Smite’s eardrums. “Oh, dear, how uncouth of me. Hell is where I was born. And I certainly do not have any intention of returning. I’d very much like to take you there one day, to show you what sort of a place you wished for me. It should be quite an eye-opener.”
“... you’re awfully chatty. Running out of ways to torture me?” Smite taunted, grinning.
“... you’re really childish, aren’t you?” the woman sighed, shaking her head. “Do you think I don’t know why you’re fighting back so hard?” Smite’s heart froze for a moment as he perked his ears up. “Putting knives into you and scalping your skin is fun and all, but watching your expression as I do all the things I did to you to them... damn, I have a feeling I’d orgasm.”
“...” seeing Smite’s panicked reaction, the woman indulged into yet another bout of laughter, heaving her head back in an unnatural way.
“Haah, perhaps this is even more fun. Just teasing you. Playing around.”
“Thank the fuck you guys are complete arrogant morons.”
“Huh?” as the woman tried to shift her head sideways toward the source of sudden newcomer, she felt something cold pierce her heart directly. A moment later, a face of a young boy came into view, his eyes barren and cold staring deep into hers.
“Have fun going back home, you bitch.” Lino mumbled as he twisted the spear and forcibly ripped it upward, cleaving the woman in half from waist up. Rather than red blood and organs, black blood and mucus spilled out in droves, some nearly falling all over Lino who quickly backed away, panicked look on his face. “Holy shit, warn me you’re made out of crap dammit!” he cursed out as the scene settled. He then finally remembered that Smite was tied up and looked at him, feeling a deep sting in his heart. “Damn, you look even worse than her.” he said as he walked up to him and cut the chains binding him, helping him stand.
“... why the hell are you the one saving me?! I don’t want to owe you one!” Smite cried out, causing Lino to roll his eyes.
“You know,” he said as he heaving Smite over his shoulder and began walking. “This rivalry that you’re trying to drag me into is kind of dumb, you know?”
“You’re saying our love for her is dumb?! Put me down! I’ll kill you!”
“... no, I stand corrected. You’re the dumb thing here.” Lino said as he scurried through the corners and began walking down a dimly lit hallway. “Where are the others being kept?”
“... walk down this hallway. They’re in one of the chambers on left side. How’d you find us?” he asked.
“... long story.” Lino said. “I’d offer you something to heal up, but I’ve literally got nothing.”
“Just get me out of here.”
“How’d you guys get caught anyway?” Lino asked.
“We were fine at first,” Smite explained. “But then some Mythic Realm woman showed up and, well, she was much, much stronger than we were.”
“... that’s good to know.” Lino grumbled as he slowly injected some of his own Qi into Smite, hoping it would speed up latter’s recovery as he realized fight was inevitable. And he could hardly afford any distractions if he were to fight a Mythic Realm cultivator. Shortly after, without even realizing it, Smite began feeling better as his wounds slowly closed up, crests appearing on his skin.
“This one, I think.” he said as Lino stopped next to a thick, steel doors. Without trying anything else, he circled Qi into the sole of his right foot and banged it against the doors, crushing them. Behind, several people jolted onto their feet, startled expressions on their faces. When Fish and Kraval saw Lino, both heaved in relief, while three other men next to them still remained tense
“Relax,” Kraval said. “He’s with us.”
“Eh?” one of the three men exclaimed, glancing between Lino and Kraval. “You sure?”
“Yeah, we’re sure,” Fish replied. “You’re late, you bastard!”
“... maybe I should just leave.” Lino said.
“Nope, being here is great. Don’t you just admire the architecture of this place?”
“Save the bickering for late,” Lino said as he handed Smite over to Kraval. “You guys need to boot it.”
“What about you?” Kraval asked, frowning.
“Well, I’m fairly certain we’ve already been made,” Lino said, smiling faintly. “And, not to be brutal or anything, but you guys would only speed along my death if you stayed to fight. So, you know, get lost.”
“... that actually hurt.” Smite cried out lowly while Fish nodded. Kraval merely looked deeply into Lino’s eyes for a moment.
“Stay safe.” Kraval said as he walked out, others quickly following after him.
Lino stared at their backs for a moment before departing the other way. He already knew where the Mythic Realm woman was, and he was fairly certain she knew where he was as well. His steps were even and confident as he ran through rather confusing labyrinth of hallways that led around in circles. It took him almost five minutes until he finally reached the massive gates, nearly ten meters tall. Just as he stopped in front of them, trying to figure out how to cross to the other side, they opened on their own. There was no blinding attack of light, nor foul stench. Eerie sounds cried as the gates grated the floor beneath. Lino walked into a spacious hall, decorated with one macabre item after another; coffins, skeletons, decaying corpses, mummified corpses, sculptures of agonizing deaths... he immediately realized this hall along denoted everything the whole Necropolis stood for. On the far other end, he immediately spotted a woman cloaked in black, enrobed in thick shadows. She lacked eyes and instead had two scarlet spheres rotating in thick darkness where a face is supposed to be. On each of her sides was a skeletal hellhound, baring their teeth at him. Besides the four of them, the rest of the hall appeared barren.
Above the woman was a makeshift plateau atop of which a single statue stood erected, surrounded by heap of corpses. It was a seemingly middle-aged man with unwound book in one of his hands and a human heart in another, his features hidden behind a thick veil of darkness. Lino found it rather chilly inside, as though there were countless arms reaching out from beyond and gripping at him, which caused his approach to drop down in pace.
“...” he stopped at the fifty meters mark away from the woman who merely stared at him, without saying anything. “’Sup?” Lino asked, grinning and stretching out his arm, whereupon a familiar feel of steel inched against the palm of his hand. He whirled the spear around for a moment as though to warm his arm up.
“Empyrean,” a cold, hissing voice bellowed out, echoing out through the hall. Lino’s heart froze for a moment as he grasped his spear ever-so-tightly, moving it forward and pointing it at the woman. “You ought to not be.”
“...” Lino remained silent, on full alert; he had no clue as to how she knew who he was, but he knew it wasn’t a good thing she did.
“Yet you are. How... miraculous.”
“Writs remain ashened in Firmament,” the woman said as she slowly got up onto her feet. “In their fires heart’s frost repeatedly birthed.”
“... Eshen.” the robotic voice spoke out from Lino, startling him even more than the woman. He barely held back from cursing out yet again. “It is time to go.”
“... wait. You know her?” Lino asked, rising his brow.
“I am his failed child,” the woman replied, chuckling morbidly. “Unlike you, he abandoned me.”
“... you knew I was an Empyrean because you are one too?” Lino asked, growing ever more confused.
“I knew you were an Empyrean because your stench burst my heart apart.” the woman said. “Why else would I wait for you here? In my home?”
“... oh, fuck me. Did you purposefully withhold information from me again?!” Lino asked, but the only reply was silence. “Oh, goddammit!!”