HELL ON EARTH
Ava stared at the staff in her hands with incredulous expression; it was a mix of joy, astonishment, confusion, terror, pride and somberness. She realized that this staff alone was nearly as strong as a Defensive Artifact of the Second-tiered Sects in the valley.
Such realization shocked her profoundly. Though she had some anticipation for the weapon crafted by the sly youth, they were nowhere near as high as what he delivered. However, by now, he’d long since departed. Even though she kept eye on him, and usually had at least dozen guards watching his every move, he still somehow managed to slip away.
It was then that she recalled she was completely unable to even perceive him unless he willingly released Qi vibrations. An odd smile appeared on her face as she stored the staff carefully into the storage ring. She then swore to herself that she would find him once again, and force him into her Clan. Letting go of such treasure was simply a sin against heaven.
Lino was currently well outside the valley, back at the bottom of the mountain which separated two sides. He appeared nondescript to everyone, a complete, ordinary mortal youth with rather shabby clothes and somewhat decent looks. However, his eyes brimmed with strange, almost archaic light as he quickened his pace.
“... I wonder what was her expression? Aii, what a shame I couldn’t witness it.” he mumbled, smiling wryly. “I best learn some disguising method when I leave Hope Town for good. Otherwise... haii, that woman will chase me to the ends of the earth.”
As he reveled in his greatness with delight, he sensed a strange feeling of uneasiness creep up inside of him. It grew stronger by every passed second, till the point that he couldn’t help and feel anxious over something. Such phenomenon was most often described as the cultivator’s ‘sixth sense’; as one moves on with their life, they leave behind endless treads connecting them to their past. These Fate’s Twines, however feeble and unimportant they may seem usually, are deeply linked with the very notion of ‘sixth sense’.
Not even Freya, Fate’s Child, was able to explain it properly; it’s almost as if one of the threads you left behind was tucked at by external force, and that tug pulled at you, causing strange feelings to emerge for no reason. Though Lino wasn’t much of a believer, he’d already experienced the strange oddities of Fate, and was fully aware that Fate itself was actually a very corporeal thing, unlike what some may believe.
The feeling of uneasiness grew ever so stronger the further along he walked. By now, he was entirely certain something terrible had happened on the other end of the mountain. He was also almost pushed to the point of spreading his wings and simply flying over there, but he held back. Though scarce, there were still people moving along the mountain.
Still, he kept increasing his pace until he was virtually in full-sprint. Luckily, as a body cultivator - an Empyrean no less - his stamina and endurance wasn’t something ordinary people could even begin to fathom. Even cultivators could at best venture a wild guess, but as to how close they’d hit to home, it was unknown.
While Lino was running back, the other end of the mountain - where Hope Town, alongside nearly twenty other similarly sized-towns as well as Sects and large-scaled Clans like Su Clan - was currently experiencing what can only be describe as hell on earth. Millions of Demonically Possessed, hundreds of thousands of Great Demons, hundreds of Devils... it was an attack akin to nothing they had ever lived, heard or even read about.
Currently, Hope Town was entirely encircled by all sides with an army closing in to innumerable. What was perhaps even worse was that, inside, there weren’t even a hundred cultivators left. All of them were currently standing atop the walls that certainly could do little to help them against the incoming siege. Aeala, Freya, Fish, Kraval, Lucky, Shaneine and Smite were among the cultivators that stayed behind, their expressions extremely ugly.
“... they really abandoned us, huh?” Smite said, sighing bitterly.
“That’s one lesson we’ll never forget, at the very least,” Aeala said, her expression as cold as winter, eyes bereft of any emotion but fury. “Have you had any luck contacting Lino?”
“Still nothing,” Shaneine said; she appeared to be the calmest of all, still carrying a rather indifferent expression. “All communication is being blocked.”
“... it should be around the time for him to head back here,” Aeala said. “But... I wish he wouldn’t.”
“Yeah,” Fish smiled wryly. “Even he could do little but kneel and piss himself against this.”
“...” the rest remained silent, as though approving Fish’s words; it’s not that they didn’t trust in Lino, it was simply that he was one man - and army before them was well beyond what they faced in the City of Mercenaries back in Umbra Kingdom. The number of Devils here were higher than the number of Demons back then alone.
Of the hundred cultivators, there wasn’t a single one in Mythic Realm; few were in Soul Realm, while majority were still in Core Realm. Though they all knew mounting defense was worthless, it was of their own volition that they stayed. Most either remained because they were quite old, and this was their home for so many years. Others remained because they had families here, and others simply because they were too weak to escape in the first place.
Aeala and others had a chance to escape, but they were actually halted from doing so - by none other but Elders of Su Clan, who promised that they’d send reinforcements. That had happened nearly a week ago, and Aeala had long since abandoned her trust in that promise. She only swore that if she had a chance to leave this place alive, she’d stop at nothing to eradicate the entire Clan.
“They’re moving.” Kraval suddenly exclaimed, causing everyone to look ahead of them.
At the end of the plains, swath of black both in sky and on the ground was the only thing their eyes saw. At first the swath merely swayed, as though graced by the wind, but then slowly began inching forward. Hundreds of thousands... that wasn’t the number measly hundred cultivators could handle. Most had already resigned themselves to death, including Aeala and others.
Even Freya, who still couldn’t even be considered a proper cultivator, appeared ethereally calm. After all, she knew Lino saving her was only her gaining a few months on a loan. Fate was something that’s very difficult to change; the thread of her soul had long since grown rotten, indicating her demise. Today, simply, was that day. She even smiled, feeling quite lucky; after all, before her departing day, she got to experience various emotions that she never experienced before.
She’d gotten close to Aeala and others, and truly became part of their group, all of whom treated her like a little sister. Such blessed days, for her, were more than enough to make up for the fact her life would be short-lived.
Kraval, Fish, Smite, Lucky, Shaneine... they all knew that were it not for Aeala’s grace, they’d long since have died back in Umbra Kingdom. They weren’t afraid of death, strangely. It was a myth that youth often dreaded it while old and wise accepted it. Perhaps, in world of mortals, such was the case, but when it came to cultivators, it was reverse.
Old dreaded death far more than one could imagine; youth, however, found strange, almost poetic solace in it, especially if it was inevitable. Some might say their minds and wisdom had yet to develop, which is why they could ignite such passionate thoughts, but it had mostly to do with the fact that they never had enough time to let the fear of death grip them deeply.
They stared at the incoming army defiantly, pulling out their precious weapons that were crafted by that sly boy. Whether willingly or not, at that moment all of them thought back to that strange boy that somehow became cornerstone of their little group, even replacing Aeala. Though they never completely demystified the enigma that is Lino, they did grow to know a bit more about him, whether he realized it or not.
All of them could see the somber loneliness in his eyes; it was not the sort of loneliness where one lacked friends or loved ones, but loneliness that transcended it. They realized that, no matter how much he cared for them - or even trusted them - he’d never open himself up to them. He’d forever remain locked away, behind a veil he would never let anyone see through. Whatever was weighing on his mind and heart, the rest of them couldn’t venture a guess - but they did realize the burden of it wasn’t something they could understand even if he told them.
And yet, instead of that somber loneliness, they remembered his smile, his usual, indifferent and lofty behavior. Even when he killed a Mythic Realm cultivator as a mere Soul Realm one, he didn’t speak a word about, leaving the entire affair to be a complete mystery. Yet, at other times, he’d brag about having ‘conquered’ another ‘fair maiden’. Whether they realized it or not, all of them suddenly smiled; their smiles were bright, pure, bereft of blemishes. They smiled in the face of death, in the face of a bitter struggle they couldn’t overcome. Then, as though wind bellowed from their behind, they all leaped from the walls and raced over toward the incoming army, followed shortly after by other cultivators. Though death is eternal and unchanging without choice, the way to die was in their hands. Even if tombs size of a pyramid won’t be built in their names, nor will their tales be inscribed into history books to be read by children for many generations to come, stories about their heroic charge toward the unbeatable foe, they still chose to die leaving their mark upon this world - however faint that mark may be in the grand scheme of things.