END OF AN ERA
Ten minutes... that’s how long he had before his entire body gave out and collapsed. Lino flew through the sky, barely balancing himself without flopping to the ground and splattering against it. He moved eastward, a destination already in his mind. His expression was placid, eyes dark as night, and thanks to his extremely aged appearance, he looked like a risen corpse rather than a young teen.
He’d exhausted every ounce of himself with that last attack; though he didn’t kill those two Devils, he did kill everyone else present there, including Yox. With it, he almost felt as though he put the past few years of his life behind him, somewhere in the deep recesses of his heart. At least, he tried his hardest to convince himself that was the case.
It was still night, yet the first breach of the sun was on the horizon. Hued blazing coral, it looked strangely ethereal, as though existing outside this reality. It reminded him of fire, of many fires he’d seen in his life. Those visible and those hidden; those good and those bad ones. Throughout his life, he fancied himself the clever and witty one, the observant kind. He’d learned he was nothing more than a fool, though. An actor atop the worldly stage, obscure amidst the main actors playing their roles.
What was his role? He’d realized he was assigned many roles. Spurned by factors well outside his power to understand, he was thrust into a world that he was not ready for. He tried to follow Ella’s words and reject the cruelty and coldness of the world of cultivators, yet he was scorched beyond reason a mere few years in. He’d lost more than he ever bargained for, and had his heart ripped and torn like a piece of useless cloth.
It was beyond him as to how it turned out like this; after Alison left, he locked everything up, never allowing anything or anyone to thaw away the frost. He suffered, but it wasn’t nearly as painful as it was now. He was bleeding, just like many times before, but there was no remedy, no point that he can press to stop it. Just an endless river of invisible blood flowing outward like a river, pressing against his mind like a hammer.
There was a transgression at some point, he realized; he stopped being who he was for so long, and let others see him. It was merely lies he told himself that kept him from realizing the truth of the matter. Innocent lies that piled up over time, snuffing out his defenses without him even realizing it.
His thoughts still stirring, he finally arrived at the desolate location that would be his home for many years to come. There, hovering in the might sky, was a necropolis void of life. Seeing it, he was immediately reminded of Eshen, and her own life story. Wasn’t it incredibly similar to his own? She, too, suffered repeatedly until she broke beyond repair. He hardly considered himself broken - merely hurt. Yet, he tread the same path as she did.
“You there?” Lino asked, landing into the necropolis and moving toward the throne room slowly.
“Yes.” a voice inside his head replied.
“Tell me about Eshen.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What was she like at the beginning?” he asked.
“... cheerful, pleasant, open-minded. A bright little girl curious of the world.”
“... she could have made it,” Lino said, looking at the barren walls surrounding it. “Why did you choose her anyway?”
“Same reason I chose all Empyreans before her and after her,” the Writ said. “She fulfilled the criteria.”
“You levied her because she fit in a specific set of rules? Heh...”
“And I thought I had it rough...” he sighed, glancing down at the state of his body. “This is nothing, though...”
“You’ll have your revenge, eventually.”
“I don’t need ‘my revenge’,” Lino said, his voice chilly calm. “What’s the point of it, anyway? I depend on you for the rest of my days.”
“You really outsmarted us all, you know that?” Lino chuckled bitterly as he entered the throne room. “You write scripts that perfectly fit who we are and we have no choice but the follow them... because that’s who we are. It’s outstanding, actually.”
“Do you think I made a wrong choice?”
“... of course I do.”
“I haven’t,” the Writ said. “Sooner or later, they would have died, and you would still be left alone. I can’t begin to imagine the reality being so cruel, but, Lyonel, you are bound to forever be alone. Anyone you befriend, anyone you love, will end up being stirred into the story beyond them, and will become pieces for others to play with.”
“Yes, like me. Like other Writs, like Gaia, like the Devils or myriad of other races each hellbent on fulfilling their agendas, regardless of who suffers because of it. My entire purpose is to strengthen you and take you to the peak. I won’t apologize for what I have to do to get you there.”
“... it’s just like in that book that Ally read to me,” Lino said, walking up to the throne and picking up the remnant cloth before sitting down and laying it over his knees. “It was about two Kingdoms at war, and about Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses and other Nobles playing a game with millions of people just because they can. Kings were sacrificing their sons and daughters, Queens were manipulating the Kings to do their bidding, Nobles were enslaving people left and right and gifting them into the army so they wouldn’t be sacked, while commoners... they died. Their purpose seemed to have been to stack up mounds of corpses and nothing else.”
“In the end, one of the Kingdoms won, and utterly destroyed the other,” Lino continued, closing his eyes. “But, then they started scheming from within. Some of the Dukes wanted the Crown, the King wanted to be immortal and believed sacrificing his family would lead him to that, Queen wanted her son to ascend to the throne, Princes back-stabbed each other till the sun shines, and it all descended into unbridled chaos. I’m not nearly as clever or witty as you,” he added. “Nor do I have as much experience and knowledge as any of you. But... what you’re doing... under no circumstances does it have a good ending.”
“Then write that good ending by yourself,” the Writ said, quickening the pace as Lino only had a minute before collapsing. “Use me to get stronger, and rewrite all the rules that eat away at you when you become the strongest.”
“... that’s a good dream. But it isn’t for me. I’ll write out your story till my dying breath, and then I’ll take that breath. I have no desire to live in a world infested by soul-sucking parasites who can’t see past their own selfish desires, eternally invoking the need for the ‘greater good’ while sowing chaos in their wake, no matter where they go.”
“... it’s your choice.”
“Heh, I can’t really believe that. One way or another, it feels as though you slowly fed me fool’s lies, and now I’ve truly turned into an utter tool.”
“Rest well,” the Writ said. “It will be a long time before you’re ready to leave this place.”
Lino sat as the last seconds ticked away. The chill of the throne seeped into his bones, yet he ignored it; he realized how Eshen felt in the end. Cold... abandoned... broken... he was yet to fall into such abyss, yet he already felt fear - fear of being left behind in a world that’s as broken as this one. That city didn’t have many cultivators, but it didn’t matter. Those children in the orphanage... those familiar vendors... grandmas just enjoying the last few years of their lives... everything and everyone was trampled over as though they don’t matter.
It was suffocating, at least to him, breathing the same air. He was by no means a saint, and had already killed more than majority ever did or will, yet he also felt absolute disgust toward such world. Did he have dreams of changing it? Certainly. How grand would it be if he could create a world where everyone can enjoy it and rise up based on their own merits, where every individual life was appreciated? It would be grand and beautiful and fulfilling.
But, that was fool’s dream, through and through. There’s a reason why current era is called ‘Warring Era’. It was because everything is solved by war; from the minor transgression to eternal hatreds, all invoke war. He can’t save the world, he knew; at the very least, though, he can end its current era. Perhaps only that thin thread of hope kept last remnant of his sanity safe, locked up in a remote corner of his mind, barely keeping him afloat.
There’s still a long way to go before he could even begin to act out his ‘plan’, though. For now, he ought to sleep. He smiled just before the last second ticked away and that robotic voice reported in his mind.
[Current Realm: None...]
[Damage to Body: Severe]
[Damage to Soul: Severe]
[Analysis Complete: Can be healed...]
[Time required: 8 years for initial healing]
[10 years for complete healing]
[Entering ‘Hibernation Mode’...]
END OF VOLUME IV - DEATH IS HIM
END OF BOOK I - PEST OF UMBRA KINGDOM