RUINS OF THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM
At first it was but a few pillars sticking out from sand at odd angles, carved out with plethora of beautiful designs depicting an alien culture that seemed to have strange fascination with fire. Some pillars were thick and some thin, some flatly painted-on some hand-crafted, some tall and some short, yet all unquestionably oozed archaic aura, breathing out air of times long since past.
After pillars came the walls, made entirely of white marble but muddled with brownish sand over the course of ages, they themselves were much grander projections of the past. They were thick in design, carefully smoothed over the surface, unblemished with brushes, yet, just like the pillars, now stood ruined in the covenant of sand.
Past the walls and waved hilltops, there were then remnants of tall towers, some squared, some cylindrical, some almost like obelisks in their designs. Unlike the walls, towers were made of gray brick with silver coat of paint, protruding out of sand like defiant swords forever tipping toward the heavens. Clear crackings ran rampart through their surfaces, with large holes peering into their hollow interior. It was a beautiful yet daunting sight, as it reminded history read quite differently on paper and in reality.
Lino, Felix and the girls journeyed across the desert for nearly a week, occasionally coming across various remnants of ruins. While others may have seen beauty and rue of it all, Lino saw something more: defiant spirit. Murals depicted a solitary figure in the sky taking a crack at the world, or a solitary thunder cloud in a beaming, blue sky. He’d realized that’s how they truly saw themselves; outcasts, outlanders within the world of their own. Cast aside, yet unwilling to remain there in silence.
It wasn’t only the nobility, the royalty, and the Empyreans; it was also the regular folk, the ordinary soldiers who echoed that sentiment loudly. It was the Kingdom that wholly exemplified what Lino began believing to be Empyrean’s core fault: unbendable will. They, unlike him however, praised it, held it in such a high regard they’d defiled and denied all else in its name.
He often found himself smiling bitterly while overlooking these murals, these expressions of that defiance. For better or worse, he imagined, those Empyreans had legs to stand on even if the sky fell on top of them. In his heart, he even envied them slightly; he had but armies of Devils hellbent on sowing chaos, while they had armies of ordinary folk who truly respected them. Oreb Kingdom, indeed, Lino realized, was an unspoken paradise of an Empyrean.
It was almost two weeks of walking along the sandy, dry and inhumanely hot desert that Lino had finally spotted it: a veiled entrance that the Writ told him of. Unlike others, Lino didn’t need blood of the Kingdom’s descendant; by right, all Empyreans had unlimited access to the Kingdom, more so than its own ruler.
The entrance was a dome masked in sandy hill, with protruding, half-crushed spires extending outward, bent like broken fingers, barely hanging against the coarse, sandy winds. Beneath the dome was a structure known as ‘Entrance Gate’, where any newcomer was inspected and either sent through a teleportation array into the Kingdom itself, or rejected and left out hanging.
“... Master... is that the entrance?” Felix asked, somberly looking at the dome.
“... yeah.” Lino replied.
“Such a shame what happened,” Felix lamented. “Eons of remarkable history... ravaged just like that.”
“...” Lino merely glanced at the boy and looked back onto the dome. He himself hardly thought so.
Looking back, he also saw four girls halting and beginning to set up a camp, as though they realized they’ve arrived at their destination. Lino signaled to Felix to go and wait for him by the dome while he himself leapt over to where the girls were at. They seemed startled at his sudden appearance, quickly huddling together and grasping at their weapons without drawing them.
“... you should probably camp a bit further out,” Lino said. “And preferably under ground.”
“... w-why’s that?” Freya asked.
“Hmm... well, let me put it this way,” Lino smiled widely. “Right now, every single powerful person on the entire continent is gathered around these parts, and it’s really only a matter of time before they all start fighting. Now, tell me ladies, do you consider yourself on par with, let’s say... the former Emperor? Arch Emperor? Nebulous Damian? Or even Kar’hav Tribe?”
“I thought as much,” he added. “You’ve little to gain by sticking close around, and everything to lose. I’ll find you after I’m done and we’ll head back to your tribal grounds.”
“W-what if you’re late?” Freya asked.
“I won’t be late, don’t worry. Six months is more than enough to rip those wiseass shitstains a new one.”
“...” there was a unified sound of dubious gulping, prompting Lino to look at the four who looked right back with incredulous expressions.
“What? Hey, never be afraid to tell someone how you feel about them,” Lino advised with a smirk. “Otherwise, how will they ever know?”
“... you are... quite... brave...” Freya mumbled.
“What you really wanted to say was idiotic, right? See, you can’t even tell me what you really think about me. How do you expect your tribe to listen to you and allow you to bury your ancestors into the Ancestral Ground?” Lino’s words seemed to startle Freya who looked up at him with some anger. “Don’t look at me like that. I promised I’d help you, not resolve the entire situation for you. If they attack you, I’ll defend you; but I won’t utter a word for you. Otherwise... what’s even the point? Anyway, go and hide for now. I’ll come and find you after I’m done.” the four girls watched Lino leap back onto the hill and disappear beyond in brisk strides. His shadow lingered strangely long behind him, giving him an odd sense of height, as though he towered the world itself.
“Can... can we really trust him, my Lady?” Jane asked with worried expression. “None of us doubt his strength... but his integrity.”
“... I don’t know,” Freya said, sighing. “But... what else can we do? Besides, if we ignore his somewhat childish playfulness... he isn’t so bad, right?”
“He defied his Emperor!! And he nearly killed two men in the process!” Jane protested. “A person with no sense of authority rarely has sense of shame either! What if he demands... demands your... your purity as payment?!”
“... do you really think he wants me that way?” Freya asked, seeming undisturbed by Jane’s worrying tone. “I’ve never seen such desire in his eyes. Rather... I’d seen nothing at all in his eyes.”
“... we will trust him for now,” Freya said as she began packing up. “Let us move. I, too, have a feeling this place will turn chaotic sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile, across the hill and beneath the dome, Felix was inspecting strange, carved runic characters that he had no chance of understanding. Still, he found them quite fascinating as he actually sensed faint traces of Qi present in them; it wasn’t the fact that someone inscribed characters with Qi that surprised him, but that the Qi was present over a billion years later, something he found quite impossible.
He was soon joined by Lino who didn’t take a deeper look into the characters and instead squatted down in front of the dome, planting his arm flat onto the sand beneath his feet, closing his eyes. Soon, the sand beneath his arm began shaking and rousing and, as though pushed through by a divine hand, a downward pathway suddenly opened up in the sand.
Felix jumped in surprise as he heaved his head over the entrance leading into the darkness, glancing at his Master. Day after day, he found his Master to be more and more fascinating, and made Felix doubt whether he’d ever unlock the mystery that was his Master entirely.
“This leads to the entrance?” he asked.
“One of them anyway,” Lino replied, stepping into the path while nearly twenty meters tall top of the dome loomed over him. “There will be quite a lot of illusionary mirages trying to kill you. Just ignore them.”
“Eh? W-what do you mean?”
“What do you mean what do I mean? I mean exactly that,” Lino said, rolling his eyes. “There are a bunch of Illusion Formations littering the walls and the floor. And I’ve triggered pretty much all of them by opening up this path. Anyway, give us some light, would you?”
“Oh, yes, sorry.” Felix mumbled, quickly forming a spherical ball of Qi, molded into an exhilarating source of light illuminating dry walls full of carvings even more spectacular than those on the surface. “I... I can really see it now.” Felix exclaimed in soft wonder as he inspected these murals on his way down.
“Hm? What?” Lino asked, glancing at him.
“When Master told me the Forgotten Kingdom was the Kingdom of the Empyreans... I honestly doubted it. After all, Kingdom erected for solitary purpose of housing one of the Bearers of Holy Writs should leave countless records that are easy to identify. Yet... there were none. But, now, I see it.”
“What do you see?” Lino asked, slightly curious.
“Defiance to authority,” Felix said. “They really did consider themselves better than the rest. Practically every mural is depiction of that.”
“... yeah.” Lino mumbled, smiling faintly. “Pretty much.”
“... do you think Writ’s somewhere in there, Master?” Felix asked, seeming somewhat afraid of the notion.
“Oh, I very much doubt that. Don’t worry.”
“Besides, even if it was, aren’t I here?” Lino asked, smiling widely. “What’s the purpose of the Master if not to protect his Disciples?”
“.. ah, with all due respect Master, you are quite strong - but, I very much doubt you’re stronger than the Writ itself.”
“Pfft... ha ha ha, really now?” Lino laughed casually. “Ah, see, I don’t think so. I actually thick I’m quite stronger than the fucker.”
“Eh?! M-master!! Can’t... can’t you not use those words to describe Writs, please?”
“Because... they’re... you know...”
“... they’re nothing, Felix,” Lino said as a weeping child suddenly flashed past him in a mournful cry, startling Felix to the point of nearly falling over. “Just broken relics of a distant past still looking for a way to remain relevant. I’d be more terrified of finding nothing of value in there than stumbling across a Writ or two.”
“Haii... why do both you and those girls look at me like I’m a fool rather than a brave soul that I am?” Lino lamented. “Here I am, perfectly presenting you with what being courageous is, and there you are, thinking me an idiot.”
“... but... Writs are different, Master, than Emperors, and Queens and other humans,” Felix said, shuddering in strange cold for a moment. “They’re... they’re above humans. They’re Gods.”
“... eh? Gods? Who the heck told you that?” Lino asked, looking at Felix strangely.
“My father,” Felix explained. “When he was teaching me the history of the world... he told me that the first life didn’t come from Gaia... but from Writs, as they were first beings to descend to this world, granting it life. That makes them... Gods. No?”
“... Writs aren’t Gods, Felix,” Lino said. “Do you think they’d need Bearers in the first place if they were?”
“... what does Master think they are, then?” Felix asked cautiously.
“... I don’t know.” Lino replied. “They’re... certainly something.”
“It wouldn’t hurt if you showed some respect for us.” a robotic voice suddenly echoed inside Lino’s head, causing a wry smile to emerge on his face.
“I feel many things about you...” he mumbled into his jaw, making sure Felix didn’t hear him. “But, respect... that’s the one I’ll never feel toward any one of you till the day I die.”
“That’s quite extreme.”
“Perhaps. It’s nothing personal, though.”
“It’s not? I imagined it’s entirely because of what I did.”
“No, those were all my faults one way or another. I’d truly sink to the bottom if I solely blamed you for it,” Lino said. “The reason I don’t respect you is because rather than sorting out your nonsense among yourselves, you dragged the rest of the world into it all.”
“... do you truly believe that?”
“Do you wish to experience a different perspective?”
“Oh? Another [Archaic Record]?”
“You achieved [Advent Level] Qi purity once you condensed your Qi into Singularity,” the Writ explained. “But I didn’t want to bring it up as you had a lot on your mind. If you want, however, I can send you there.”
“... alright.” Lino said, grinning faintly. “I really do want to see what moron respected you guys so much.”
[...Analysis already Completed...]
[Purity of Qi already achieved Advent Level...]
[Bearer has gained access to Archaic Record...]
[Archaic Record - ‘Grazynth, Guardian of the Far End’ unlocked...]
END OF VOLUME V
RUINS OF THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM