Sprawls of corpses - one indistinguishable from another from distance - lay rested across the hilly plain of red-soaked sand, with occasional pond enriching the dry desert with a few trees. Eternal winds blew here, ever since its first inhabitants many moons ago. Such landscape sprawled onward for over two hundred miles and was a dividing point between two entirely different worlds: Divine Dynasty and the Demonic Battlefield.
While former enjoyed the glory and dignity of most prosperous place on the continent, stacked with endless opportunities, the latter enjoyed the reputation of complete chaos, the sort of place where one would only go if he had a death wish. It was not without reason that Demonic Battlefield gained such reputation. Its history dating back several million years ago is filled with one conflict after another, with it all being started exactly because of the Demonic War - after which it was named - which had occurred here.
Ever since then, Demonic Battlefield became the place of ruthless conflict and death, but also opportunity - for those brave enough to seek it. Though the entire place’s landscape varied greatly from its southernmost point to the far north, most knew it as a dry, empty wasteland of a desert as that was as far as they’d go. In reality, the desert was simply there as a gateway, sort of a trial for those who would truly embrace the place’s nightmares.
The northernmost point of Demonic Battlefield was an island, connected to main shore with artificial bridge spanning nearly thirty kilometers. Very few would ever even come close to this place, and even fewer would ever be graced with the permission to cross the bridge.
It was, indeed, a completely different world once one crossed that bridge; for far north was a tundra of drying trees and grass, one would think the island would be exactly the same: yet, it was opposite. Island was marked with lush forests, valleys and several lakes endowed with natural beauty that’s nigh impossible to brush onto canvas.
Series of mountains honed valleys beneath them and directed them, with their mountaintops resting in clouds, some even further up than that. Numerous flora and fauna existed on the island that could not be found elsewhere on the continent, making it truly a paradise for the curious.
However, resting at the island’s heart - around and above its largest lake, Lakuhandi - was a strangely-dressed city housing the greatest mystery of the Demonic Battlefield - its own Emperor of sorts. The city’s architecture was different above lake and around it; the latter constituted mainly of classical architecture, with buildings of stone supported with hand-sculpted columns and stone roads with numerous intersections cutting across. Though a marvel in and of itself, it still couldn’t compare to the city above the lake.
Styled in extremely detailed gothic, yet with a mixture of glass and strange, black metal, city’s buildings looked like true miracles, something out of commoner’s imagination. They appeared stacked atop of each other with sloped roads winding around, shifting into ten-meters wide pavements and several elevated platforms supported by metal beams connected to the city’s backbone - a carved out piece of a massive rock which was hovering neatly above lake’s surface due to a massive formation beneath it.
The buildings only grew more grandiose the higher up one went, and several spiraled roads could be seen extending out of the rock’s main body into thin air, where additional buildings could be seen, seemingly hovering all by themselves in the air itself without any support. It wasn’t the sort of a city that one could fashion over a few years, or even a few decades; its history dates for thousands and thousands of years, and is a product of hundreds of thousand peoples’ hard work and sacrifice.
The very top of the city reached as far up as fourteen kilometers, and was an encapsulating mansion surrounded with peaceful gardens and fountains and stone pavements in-between them. The mansion itself, though smaller than many of the buildings below it, was beyond aesthetic in design, wholly symmetrical and adorned with countless carvings alongside its surface, depicting various images. The mansion was well above the clouds with a spinning veil ceaselessly protecting it from any and all who would brave a chance.
Currently, within one of the mansion’s rooms, was a man wearing rather simple, yet luxurious-looking clothes. He appeared to be in this early thirties, with sleek, brown hair falling down to his shoulders and a pair of glistening, emerald eyes seemingly capable of piercing into one’s soul. He had squared jaw and rigid cheekbones which paired magnificently with his well-refined, muscular body. He was currently surrounded with mounds of papers, one of which his eyes were scanning over, with the rest of the room appearing seemingly empty.
Man suddenly jolted his eyes away from the paper and glanced backward, at the doors which opened almost a moment later. A graceful-looking woman walked through in short, yet rhythmic strides. She was of average height, at least head and a half shorter than the man himself, yet carried herself with strange dignity which made her appear taller than she actually was. Her hair was of short kind, almost boyish-looking, dyed entirely crimson red while her face was veiled whole down to her blood-red lips. She wore a dress very much reflecting city’s architecture: Exaggerated amount of details and folds made her seem ten times as wide as she truly was, yet dress’s mix of black and crimson colors appeared to suit her perfectly.
She walked over slowly toward the man and stopped by his side, glancing at the paper in man’s hands as her lips suddenly curled up in a strange smile.
“... as expected from Eve,” she said in a smooth, melodic voice. “She really cannot be underestimated.”
“... she wasn’t chosen without a reason,” the man said, rubbing his temple with a frown on his face. “Though, this does slow our plans somewhat. I didn’t think Erdicth would part ways in the end.”
“He was an old fox who always had his own schemes. I warned you.”
“... it doesn’t matter. We’ll recover quickly enough.” the man said. “Why have you come here, Le’vol?”
“Oh, please,” the woman said, chuckling oddly while covering her mouth with her hand. “I can hardly hold that surname now. Have I not told you to call me Layla from now on?”
“... why are you here, Layla?”
“I come bringing good news,” the woman called Layla said. “We have found one of the ruin’s entrances.”
“... one of?” the man asked, his frown deepening.
“Hm, according to runic pattern, it appears it is 6th entrance of 12 in total.”
“Can we enter?” the man asked.
“Nope!” Layla exclaimed, giggling. “Of those few buffoons that tried, all got blown up.”
“... don’t disrespect the dead.” the man said.
“... sorry. Old habit.”
“So? What’s the cause?”
“Bloodline is necessary.”
“... haii... they really made the whole ordeal quite a headache.” the man said, shaking his head. “Forget it, forget it. I’ll find a way. Any new information about Shade?”
“...” it was Layla’s turn to have her expression twist; a mere mention of that woman’s name would usually send her into a spiral of insanity, yet she had to hold back in front of this man at least. “N-no...”
“... don’t be so frustrated,” the man said. “Even I’m not confident in victory.”
“... you surely jest.”
“Perhaps in a heads-on collision I could easily defeat her,” the man said, stroking his chin. “But, then again, would she ever willingly enter such battle? Her forte lies in shadows. If caught unaware... I’d probably have my throat slit before I even realized what has happened. Oh, right. I’ve heard rumors about a strange beggar in the City. A variable?”
“... ugh.” Layla groaned suddenly, sighing. “I... I don’t know...”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean... I mean exactly that. Throughout my stay there, I never had a chance to even catch a shadow of his, let alone meet him.”
“... so he is,” the man said, suddenly leaning back onto the chair and heaving his head back over it, looking at the empty ceiling. “If he’s a cultivator, he’ll no doubt head over here once the rumors of ruins spread. And now Althone is also here... this is growing more complicated day after day.”
“Strange... there’s finally someone you don’t instinctively dismiss.”
“... for all my hatred towards him,” Layla said, sighing. “I’d be a fool not admit his strength. He really could thwart our plans if we are not careful.”
“... that’s why we’ll be careful,” the man said, faintly smiling all of a sudden. “Our advantage is that they’re the outsiders looking in. War is as much a battle of wit as it is of strength. Though, I suppose, this isn’t exactly a war to begin with. Send at least three thousand Outsiders into the desert and increase number of people on manned walls. Go inform Turuk to speed up the training of Scouts and increase quota to at least ten monthly. Also meet with Geneve and ask her for two more Agents. Shift primary focus from hiding to investigation. Within half a year, I want to know Empire’s every hideout, every stronghold, every potential avenue of attack and every warehouse where they’re storing stuff - whether that’s weapons or horses’ shit. Let’s stay one step ahead of them.”
“... alright.” Layla nodded faintly. “What about... you know, --”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” the man interrupted her, his voice turning slightly cold.
“I said I don’t want to talk about it!” he exclaimed, glancing at her coldly.
“... fine. Call me if you need anything.”
Layla left with somewhat uneven steps unlike the way she walked in, something clearly weighing on her mind. The man - Damian- stayed behind, still sitting in the chair, appearing somewhat listless. For a moment he wished there was a window somewhere in the room so he can glance southward, toward immeasurable distance and beyond... but, he knew it was fruitless. After a short period of uncomfortable silence, he took a deep breath and began reading through the papers again, fulfilling his eternal duty to the cause.