EXPLORING THE RUINS
Althone stood beneath a crumbled clocktower, his expression solemn and somewhat bitter. The light flickered off the small, golden sphere rotating around him, illuminating the ruined surroundings. He imagined it truly appeared grand in the heyday, yet now it looked the part of the collapsed slums where the castaways ran to live in. Space around him suddenly warped as a figure appeared; it was an elderly, bald man with chest-long, white beard and rather bushy eyebrows and a pair of purple eyes, much like Althone himself.
“Father.” Althone nodded in greeting as the newcomer focused on the clocktower as well.
“... fascinating.” the old man said, stroking his beard. “It looks better made than our own in the Capital.”
“... it really does.” Althone said. “Have you discovered anything?”
“... only that it’s pretty huge,” the old man spoke very casually, which would make quite a few people shocked as he was none other than the Arch Emperor of the Divine Dynasty, Gustav, Althone’s Father. “Roughly three times the size of our Empire.”
“Eh?! What?!” Althone exclaimed in wonder.
“Some parts displace the space as they extend out,” Gustav explained with a faint smile. “I can’t believe how advanced their knowledge was. Even the best of Formation Masters of our homeland couldn’t do quarter of what they were capable so many moons ago. They managed to layer literal thousands of formation around atop one another and weave them in and out to create a concept without innate potency of space-displacement. It’s basically telling space to move further out.”
“... aren’t they just quasi-dimensional-pockets, then?” Althone asked after a short thought.
“Not quite,” Gustav elaborated. “Those places are still... here. In our dimension. Clearly visible without any need to warp ourselves in the pocket’s reality. It’s really fascinating. Even I’m having trouble truly grasping it.”
“... are you sure you’re not just pretending to be humble?” Althone asked with a slight grin.
“Ah... I wish I was...” Gustav said, shaking his head and sighing. “But, unfortunately, all I said is true. Makes you wonder just how strong their opposition had to be if they were felled in the end...”
“... it was a Battle of the Bearers,” Althone said. “I doubt Kingdom itself had a grand role to play in the overall battle.”
“... it can’t have been that simple, Al’,” Gustav said, smiling bitterly. “Bearers are, at the end of the day, just as mortal as the rest of us. Don’t go muddling the Writs with the Bearers themselves. It’s a disservice to everyone involved.”
“... what’s next?” Althone asked.
“Expand,” Gustav said, taking a deep breath. “If we entered, it’s certain that Damian had as well. And who knows if there are other parties exploring just the same? Aii, don’t go bringing up your beggar,” Gustav said with a faint grunt. “He’s a one man. Powerful, certainly. But one man nonetheless.”
“Have you figured out his strength?” Althone asked, somewhat curious.
“Uh... no? He beat two Royal Guards without much issue, and that was pretty much the only display of strength we’ve seen. What do you think I am to figure out everything about him from that?”
“Then again, I sure as hell would like to go up against him,” Gustav suddenly smiled strangely as he flexed his muscles for a moment. “If nothing else, I at least figured out he’s just like me.”
“Like you? Oh, you mean a Body Cultivator?” Althone exclaimed with slight surprise.
“Aye... a Body Cultivator. Kind of makes you curious, no?”
“... not really.” Althone said. “Most of you are just crazed, battle-thirsty morons. Who in their right mind would jump into the fray without any defenses outside their bodies? That’s just asking to be killed.”
“Hey brat,” Gustav slapped Althone over the latter’s head, seemingly slightly angered. “You only get the right to spout bullshit once you beat this old man. Huh? What? Did a cat eat you fucking tongue? No, no, wait, it was your old man whipping your ass. Again. And again. I remember when you were a kid, you begged me to let you be a Body Cultivator too. Ah, how simple those times were...”
“... why didn’t you let me, though?” Althone asked, seeming slightly curious.
“Eh? Why? You really don’t remember?”
“Dude... you literally kept stumbling over nothing and falling down. Your broke your nose like eight times in five years because you tripped over a rock or some shit.”
“Yeah, that’s the face.”
“Let’s... let’s just go. I think I finally understand why everyone was so excited when you said you were retiring.”
“Ah, those old bastard just didn’t know how to have fun.” Gustav shrugged his shoulders as the two began walking.
“... yeah. That’s it. It had nothing to do with the fact that you asked a Duke to strip naked mid-court-session because you thought he was a woman.”
“Oh come on, give me something here. Did you hear him speak? He could easily be a lead opera singer with that voice!”
“Fine, fine, let’s just go...”
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away beneath the earth, surrounded by the glistening crystals protruding from the ground surrounding a shoddy-looking, crackled altar, a man currently crouched in front of it, inspecting it in detail. The altar itself had strange inscriptions running through its surface, remnants of the language long since dead, with the metallic pole upholding a flattened, rectangular, slightly angled surface with a carved out, half-spherical dent at the very center. The surface under fingers was rugged and textured, with traces of soot round the dent.
The man slowly stood up and scratched his head as he took out a stack of parchments from his coat and a quill, placing them onto the altar, slowly sketching the altar in great detail - including every character he could see - before jotting down his own thoughts about them on the side.
Damian had been exploring the ruins for three days now all on his own whilst sending a few more people to various corners to map out the entire place. Meanwhile, he himself would simply randomly pick a direction and walk toward it until he stumbled onto something that interested him - like the altar standing in front of him.
Though he’d done plenty of research on the Forgotten Kingdom, language was a tricky thing to figure out, especially without any framework or any kind of reference. They clearly used letters, and from his research he managed to put together forty-six unique symbols that could have been individual letters. However, past that, he could at most draw assumptions as to what the words meant in conjunction to the picture or image attached to them.
Altar, however, lacked any frame of reference when it came to the pictures, making it impossible to pinpoint exactly what its purpose was. However, from what little Damian was certain of when it came to the culture of the Forgotten Kingdom, he could safely assume it wasn’t used for a religious ritual. They were bereft of religion entirely, following the philosophy of pragmatism over all else, with the exception of almost fervent reverence toward the Empyrean’s Chosen.
A few scattered records referencing them from the time that survived till today usually refer to the Kingdom simply by ‘Empyrion’ as a form of mockery due to their pure reliance on a single figure to sustain them. However, those records are usually basked in personal bias, making them hardly completely factual. Despite Damian weeding through them to the best of his abilities, he still couldn’t formulate a whole picture of the once grand Empire.
Though he entered the ruins with the purpose of searching for Artifacts and Cultivation Methods, he was also very much interested in the Kingdom’s story as well, their culture, social structure and economy. The concurrent descendants hardly tie in much to what the Kingdom was, and most of their ‘oral traditions’ are entirely made up, so they can hardly be used as a source of knowledge.
“Ah! I’ve seen this word before...” Damian suddenly uttered in meek excitement as he deeply examined a few words he wrote down. “It was... ah, yes, notation beneath the painting depicting King’s Coronation. Could this altar have something to do with it? Hmm...”
After thinking for a few moments and realizing he had too little to go on, he simply put the parchments and quill back into his coat and examined the altar once again, making sure he didn’t miss anything, before once again picking up the random direction and beginning his stroll. Along the way, he’d notice many-a-ruin lying buried beneath earth, with only parts of them protruding outwards. There was no source of light besides the one he cast himself, and it almost appeared as though the ruin existed in an entirely different dimension.
It was eerily silent and dark, covered in cobwebs and lingering traces of utter annihilation. Damian found that particular notion quite peculiar; he’d warred quite often himself, and has been a part of conquering armies more than once, yet he’d never seen any army commit a complete, cultural genocide over another. Usually, if anything, it was mainly religious buildings that were destroyed, while tradition itself would be left untouched.
Yet, all around him was evidence that these ruins... were never meant to be found. Or, rather, even if they were, they were supposed to be found by the time everything was buried deep underground, leaving only barren soil in its wake for curious to trod through. He very much doubted that it was the Holy Lands that consecrated the Kingdom to this point; for all their faults, they very much like preserving any and all knowledge, even if the ‘truth’ they release to the public is slightly skewed or outright falsified. The more he looked and the more he thought about it, it appeared as though the Kingdom... self-mutilated. Or at least tried to.
“... but.. the question is why...” he mumbled, walking further down the road into ever-encroaching darkness.