WOVEN THREADS OF THE FORGOTTEN TALE
Lino stared at the backs of the fading figures, his expression placid. Among them one figure suddenly stopped and turned around, glancing at Lino. The latter smiled, waving in concert with it, causing Felix to frown. He never expected that his Master would kick him out before the true fun began, but as someone who was raised with traditional values, disobeying Master’s words was akin to betraying his Ancestors to Felix. He could only sigh and silently obey, following Ava’s group out.
The only reason why Lino took Felix on this journey in the first place was because he wanted him to experience a bit of the world. He never had any intention of actually dragging the young man through the entire journey. After all, journey and destination were two completely different concepts. Lino had absolutely no confidence in being able to protect his young pupil in case all hell broke loose, and he had no intention of playing the role of God with Felix’s life.
As the last remnants of the group faded into the darkness, Lino’s mind flashed back to his conversation with the Writ - the reason why he sent out Felix and Ava. Empyrion - another name of the Oreb Kingdom - stood tall for generations, and Writ repeatedly chose his successors from the specific line that was as guarded as the Emperor himself during the Kingdom’s heyday. This allowed the Writ to establish a sphere of dominance, and after each generation he found himself ever so closer to his goal.
However, hearts of men were as fickle as weather; Oreb Kingdom stood well above the Holy Grounds in terms of power. While former focused entirely on its military, the latter Seven also had myriad of other sub-groups, and their military strength at the time wasn’t all that great actually. It was especially the case because the entire Oreb Kingdom was swarmed with massive formations that could easily trap even the strongest of cultivators from the Holy Lands.
How did the Kingdom fall? It fell slowly, bleeding out like an animal left abandoned on the street. The last attack of the Holy Lands was merely out of formality, as the Kingdom had already collapsed beyond repair. Generation after generation, loyal subjects turned their hearts over and worked against the Kingdom from the inside. It wasn’t a unique or a special tale, nothing ground-breaking in the least, yet it was still chilling to Lino.
He’d realized that even the strongest of groups could be crippled... so long as there was a link or two that was disconnected. For majority, ruling an Empire was an honor, something they all aspired to do. However, it was only those with the Crowns atop of their heads that truly understood the difficulty of it all.
After the Holy Lands invaded and began butchering those still loyal not only to the Emperor, but also to the Empyrean, the last remnants of the Loyalist Faction knew there was no way out. They managed to group a small number of their descendants and send them out, while they themselves escaped to the library - the most treasured part of the entire Kingdom - and lit themselves ablaze, scorching not only the library, but the entire Kingdom in the process, using the now-extinct Void Flame - Level 1900 [Titan’s Blaze].
The flame burned for over ten thousand years, till the whole Kingdom was buried beneath the emerging desert and ash. While they were fighting their own battle, the last Empyrean of the Oreb Kingdom fought her own. There were no written accounts regarding anyone named Syvelea; there wasn’t even a dot of ink wasted on who she was within the recorded histories. However, Lino had learned of her not only through Writ, but also ruins themselves on his way over.
One of them was a crippled statue that was at the point of complete ruination. However, even after so many years, so many eons, Lino could still sense the air of reverence and awe coming from within the figure. Empyreans within the Oreb Kingdom weren’t merely the strongest warriors or guardians; they were, by all accounts, considered almost at the same level as the Mythical Gods. It was the same with Syvelea.
As the last of the Empyreans from the Empyrion, her existence was completely erased from the parchments. If it wasn’t for the Writ, Lino wouldn’t even know such figure ever existed. According to the Writ, during her last battle, she managed to unlock the 28th Gate, becoming the sixth strongest Bearer that has ever existed since the dawn of time. In her final blaze, she managed to actually kill all three Writ Bearers that came after her, in addition to thousands of other experts of the Holy Lands.
It was no wonder that she was never mentioned anywhere; any deterrence against the Holy Grounds would immediately be dealt with and erased from existence. One on the level of Syvelea... it crippled the common sense for most people. After all, Holy Grounds were considered pinnacle of not only cultivation but every other branch of knowledge as well. They were as sacred as something built of human hand can become.
In the end, however, Syvelea died; it wasn’t by the hand of anyone else but her own. She knew she stood no chance after her last lash, so she chose to end her own life. However, in the process, the Writ stored the last bit of her Singularity into her fading ashes in preparation for future generations. It was similar to what happened with Eshen, as Lino’s secondary goal was to assimilate that last bit of Singularity with himself.
None of the people here were fools; even if they didn’t know the entire story, they knew that the Oreb Kingdom wasn’t without an Empyrean when it fell. Lino even suspected that not a small amount of those currently inside the ruins came specifically to search for her corpse. Lino knew that he would create resonance between himself and the Singularity when the time came. Should anyone see him, they’d no doubt realize who he was.
At that time, regardless of whether they were friends or foes, anyone would target Lino. After all, he was an Empyrean, and, for all intents and purposes, the entire Western Continent served the Seven Holy Grounds. Capturing him or killing him would no doubt net massive gains to the point where they could bound the realms of cultivation till they were strong enough to establish themselves on the Holy Continent, the heart of cultivation world.
It was especially so for those old monsters that were slowly inching toward the end of their lifespan and had little to no chance of surpassing their current realm. Lino could only sigh. If he was certain they would be unable to find the corpse, he would simply go find Ella and Eggor and leave this place, waiting till the rest of the factions left. However, he knew very well that they would comb this entire place till not a single inch of it was left unexplored. Them not finding the Singularity was only a pipe dream.
Truth be told, if that was all, Lino could simply choose not to even assimilate himself. After all, it has been ten years since he assimilated Eshen’s essence, yet nothing has changed since then. To even take an inch forward, he would have to reach the Realm of the Exalted for his body to become strong enough. In comparison, Syvelea - who was no doubt miles and miles stronger than Eshen - wouldn’t be any easier, only perhaps hundred times harder.
However, there was something Lino absolutely had to have. Syvelea’s Singularity contained something Lino was desperate for - Mythical Flame. It wasn’t just any Mythical Flame, it was actually a Void Flame, Level 460 [Lunar Scorch]. If he could get his hands on it, not only would his crafted items grow stronger by leaps and bounds, but he could use it for dozens, if not hundreds of years to come. While he wouldn't be able to use it from the get-go -- as he'd have to similarly reach the Exalted Realm -- it's no doubt the strongest flame he can get his hands on for the foreseeable future.
With all these factors in play, however, Lino’s confidence was at an all time low. Even when he was facing the two Devils in the Devil Basin he didn’t feel as powerless as he was feeling at the moment. Damian... Gustav... Althone... those were just three people on the surface of things, yet if they ganged up against him, he wouldn’t even have a chance to run. Despite his shameless boasting, he roughly understood his general strength - and he was far from being invincible in the ruins.
Furthermore, if he was exposed and he allowed anyone to run away, he could forget ever having peaceful days. Even worse, anyone even remotely associated to him would no doubt be executed down to their last relative. If it was him alone, Lino wouldn’t truly care as he could simply hide till things blew over; but, endangering other people for his own benefits... that wasn’t something he could bring himself to do.
Yet another sigh escaped his lips as he shook his head. Thinking about it didn’t really do anything. He first planned on finding Ella and Eggor and seeking their help anyway, though even here he was slightly reluctant as he was still unaware of their circumstances. The most he’d learned over the past ten years about Ella was that she used to be Sword Maiden of the Qe’ll Clan - one of the current Seven Holy Grounds - but beyond that he knew nothing, including why she was living in the backwater Umbra Kingdom as an ordinary housewife.
“... when will things ever become simple with you around?” Lino mumbled lowly.
“... someday, perhaps.” the Writ replied in his usual, robotic voice.
“Ah... I hate you more than the words can ever begin to describe.”
“I don’t sense any resentment in your heart, though.”
“... for all your wisdom, you’re pretty dumb in the end, aren’t you?”