A WORLD BEYOND THE CURTAINS
Silken, violet-colored drapes folded over canopy bed, falling as far as the floor adorned with clustered rugs of fantastic designs and colors. Covering wooden floors, they stretched across large room in a sporadic pattern, filling out gaps between and through the tables, chairs, bookshelves and a strange device donning the central spot of the room.
It was reminiscent of an altar, with a solitary column upholding a small, squared surface above which steeled, helix-shaped lines wound around in a loop, surrounding a faintly glittering, azure globe in the center. The globe spun round itself repeatedly, in a seeming eternal cycle, forever bound within the confines of its small world.
Standing next to the strange structure was a woman wearing black, ornamental dress with low cut at neck and naked arms. Mimicking her dress was her hair, entirely black like the night outside the window, falling straight back and at the sides of her face, encapsulating beauty that a painting could not convey.
Her eyes were starkly purple, seemingly shining in darkness like lit diamonds, as though whole sky spun in them round her irises. She held both her arms back, standing straight up while gazing at the spinning globe with light of curiosity beaming in her eyes.
The altar-like object in front of her was the last thing her Father gifted her before ordaining her the next Empress; he hadn’t explained its functions, its history or - really - anything outside of its name: Descensus Magna. She had no knowledge of what it meant, though to be literally the only physical object transferred over from one Emperor onto another, it meant it was beyond important.
She had spent most of her nights since mulling over the object; she tried interacting with it in numerous ways, though each time she’d only gotten nothing as a reply. It remained still, isolated, forever floating in its own little world independent of those surrounding it and bothering it.
It would be a lie to say it wasn’t frustrating for her, though she knew it was another trial set up by her Father. Just like numerous others she had gone through since her early childhood, this too was designed to test her and strengthen her in some way, just that she was unaware of what that way was.
Since the night turned out just like any other previous one - unproductive to say the least - she let out a sigh and withdrew back, walking over to a window at the side and perching her head outward. Her room was high up in the Palace, in one of the spires overlooking the whole City of the Sun. She looked down at her domain, though her eyes lacked pride and complacency.
The Empire’s present state is also a trial, one she was still undergoing; she’d learned from her Father it is tradition of the crowning. From chaos, one must emerge stronger in order to create a strong nation. She wasn’t worried, though; she knew very well she held all the cards and that now it was only a matter of time.
However, just earlier today, a strange event even managed to shake her up a bit. Felix, whom she had long since forgotten and erased from her memory, came requesting her audience. Curious, she accepted him only to then see him take a knee before her and swear loyalty to her.
She had no doubt he had figured out her identity, though she hardly accounted it to Felix’s intellect and his investigative skills. Immediately then and there a figure popped inside her mind: the strange beggar. He, somehow, knew. And, with sending Felix to her, he also joined the game, though what made her slightly frustrated was that she didn’t know his angle.
“... just who are you?” she mumbled faintly into the wind, looking down at the massive cityscape. Regardless of her massive influence, if he didn’t want to be found, she couldn’t find him, just like her Third Brother.
Occasionally, she even thought that he was a ghost, perhaps a mirage her Father formed as another form of a trial. However, she dismissed the notion quickly; though trials were difficult and all-encompassing, they were also very clear and distinct and there was a specific point to them all.
She hated to admit it, but, she too had begun being curious about the strange beggar; perhaps not at the obsessive level of her brother, but certainly enough to warrant caution. It wasn’t really a sense of threat she felt from him, but a misted land veiled with shadows; her knowledge-thirsty nature overwhelmed her indifference to unimportant figures.
Whom she wanted to know, it would take but a day to learn everything about. Yet, she knew next to nothing about the beggar. Even Felix, whom she threatened with execution if he didn’t speak about the beggar, spoke but a single sentence: ‘Master... he’s a game that’s not meant to be won.’
Her lips suddenly curled up a strange smile, yet it only enhanced her striking beauty further. It was the sort of beauty that didn’t strike at man’s instinct, but at one’s heart, deflating any and all doubts they would have. She then turned toward a shadowy corner in her room, looking at it with strange glint in her eyes.
“... still nothing?” she mumbled into emptiness yet, strangely, a voice from it replied almost immediately after.
“... no.” the voice was clearly female’s, yet appeared distorted and unwound.
“... it’s really a miracle,” Evelyn sighed faintly, turning her gaze back toward the city. “Do you have any ideas?”
“... I assume he cultivates some sort of art which allows him to hide his lifeline from any form of scrutiny.” the voice replied.
“... if that’s the case, then his background must be immense.” Evelyn said, frowning slightly. “It doesn’t matter, though. He’s still but a fleeting interest. How goes your investigation into Duke Callus?”
“You were right, Empress,” the voice spoke. “He’s indeed colluding with Damian’s faction behind the scenes.”
“Where are you at now?”
“I’m inside their secondary hideout. There are boxes stacked with Qi Bombs spread throughout.”
“... they’re really planning on doing it, huh?” Evelyn said, her expression darkening.
“It appears so.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Evelyn said. “Gather the rest of Forsaken and snuff out some mid-tier leaders.”
“Why not go after the Duke himself?” the voice asked.
“... he’s an important piece,” Evelyn replied. “Besides, his son is still technically my fiance. I can’t be going around and killing my father-in-law now, can I?”
“It’s a joke. Have you forgotten the humor already? Sheesh...”
“Apologies. Ha ha.”
“... ugh, fine, I’m not funny. What of it?” Evelyn grunted, feeling her cheeks turning slightly warmer.
“Empress is the must humorous--”
“Shut up! You’re just making it worse!”
“... I’m sorry.”
“Ah, whatever. Anyway, go after so mid-tier leaders at first, preferably of ranks below Counts’. It should either force them to hide further down or to escalate their plans. We’ll act accordingly hereafter.”
“As per Your orders.”
“I’ll inform you if I need anything else. Stay safe.”
As Evelyn took one last glance at the sky, she turned around and went to the bed. On the other end, the shadowy corner itself did not contain a figure; the source of voice lied well beyond the walls of the Palace, and even its entire compound. Much further east, toward the shoreline of the entire continent, was a rather infamous mountain called Ring of Disgrace.
According to history records, two major forces - a long, long time ago - fought a war there over who would transcend the ocean and bound toward the Central Continent. The losers - Imperial Family of Divine Empire - remained, while their rivals traveled onwards, hence resulting in such a name.
Deep inside the mountain was a massive maze of tunnels, woven into a strange, web-like city within the mountain. In one of the carved out rooms near the very entrance, surrounded by wooden boxes, a figure clad in black was currently leaning against the wall. The figure suddenly opened its eyes with a strange gleam quickly passing by, before undoing the mask covering their face.
Beneath was an expression of strange, cold indifference, accompanied by intelligent yet strangely bloodthirsty eyes.
“... is it really you?” she mumbled softly, looking down. “How can I find you... if you keep hiding...”