WOKEN FROM SLUMBER
A crimson flash of flame erupted momentarily within the chaos as Lino tightly withdrew his breath and grasped at the handle of a short sword. Its metallic sheen vibrated faint red, warmth of flames at its core traversing through its structure into Lino’s hand. A familiar feeling assailed him profoundly, a memory of the time where fighting was his everyday reality. A light smile escaped him as his eyes veered off of the smiling Relish in the distance and onto Gustav.
The latter quickly felt someone’s eyes on him and pushed the construct he was fighting away, turning toward the source. His eyes met a pair of black ones, and a face hidden beneath the troves of hair. He immediately recognized the strange beggar and couldn’t help but grin in excitement for a moment. Almost immediately abandoning Althone and leaving the latter to fend for himself against the strange machine, he waved through the dusty clouds while holding onto a two-handed hammer rising up at nearly two meters, its head reaching over a meter in diameter, thicker than a grown man’s thigh, with two spiked endings.
Lino replied the challenge with the same enthusiasm and kicked forth, leaving behind a dusty silhouette. The two largely ignored the battlefield at large, causing both Eggor and Althone to curse at them as they tried to shift the battlefield sideways to avoid interference. Damian as well as the woman accompanying him, on the other hand, chose to withdraw from the fray and, much like Relish, observe from the distance.
A pair of growls akin to beasts’ bellowed out from the kicked up dust storm as Gustav and Lino met at a halfway point, one swinging his hammer with full force downward, while the other bending his body as though it’s made out of rubber while slicing his sword upwardly. The two heaved past each other and missed, using the recoil of the momentum to shift their feet back and propel themselves at each other yet again almost without pausing.
Lino’s style was a bit more refined and balanced than Gustav’s, who largely relied on pure, brutal strength to overwhelm his opposition. While Lino was nearly the same in his spear arts, he relied a bit more on speed and the flexibility of his body while wielding a sword. As he saw the hammer barreling toward his head - which would no doubt be splattered into brain matter and gore should he get hit - he infused his right leg with sudden surge of Qi, nearly breaking his bones in the process, to sidestep half a meter to the left and thrust his sword with full force, breaking past the speed of sound.
Gustav was unable to respond as quickly, merely managing to shift his body slightly as to not get hit in any vital point. The sword stabbed right through the right side of his abdomen, leaving a bleeding hole behind. Lino didn’t linger as he immediately withdrew his sword and shifted back, an arced hammer strike brushing past his cheeks, startling him greatly.
Old man, he mused, really wasn’t averse to getting injured if he could inflict injury himself. Lino realized he would have to take that into account the next time he went on the offensive. The two paused for a moment, distanced around ten meters, as Gustav reached with his hand and wiped the blood from his abdomen, smiling faintly. The faint smile, however, quickly shifted upwards into a massive grin of excitement, as though he was a boy who’s just been given his favorite toy after being apart from it for a long time.
Lino smiled in kind, swinging his sword freely around as though to warm his arm. He decided to at least try the forms of <Sword of Chaos> to get a feeling for them; though he didn’t understand the underlying forms and techniques, he could at the very least duplicate them somewhat. Perhaps that would allow him to find the crux of the path he should go down in order to understand it wholly.
<Sword of Chaos’> techniques, as the name would suggest, were rather chaotic, as they didn’t seem to have any unifying trace through them; there was no stance through which all were executed, there was no universally shared movement that stood as basis to each form and technique, and there really wasn’t anything tying all of those movements together as a single, coherent Martial Art.
Gustav continued to facilitate his greatest advantage - sheer strength - as he burst forth toward Lino. The latter remained standing, poised, slowly raising his sword and pulling it up in front of his chest, symmetrically crossing over his nose and in-between his eyes. He closed the latter for a moment as his hair ruffled against the non-existent wind, his body seeming to completely blend into all that surrounded him.
Gustav gasped for breath momentarily before shifting his focus back onto what he could see, not what he could perceive. He already knew the beggar was more than adequate when it came to hiding his presence, but he still trusted his eyes. He took a large swing, causing his body to spin midair as he barreled toward Lino. The latter’s eyes suddenly opened as a strange, hellish chill besieged Gustav’s very soul. His instinct screamed at him to retreat, but it was too late.
Lino suddenly moved his feet, yet he didn’t - at least in Gustav’s perception. Lino appeared left yet also right, his sword thrusting yet also slicing, piercing and cutting. It came from above and from below, and from both sides, and from in front and back. In the midst of mind-bending confusion, Gustav merely steeled his will and crashed into the beggar.
Lino felt strange; his body swayed in ways and means that seemed to disillusion him to reality, rectifying his existence by erasing it, in a strange sense. It wasn’t like Nihility, whereas he appeared everywhere while being nowhere and nothing; no, it was more akin to being that everything. He felt as though he could command his sword in any way he wanted, through any means he desired, point it anywhere and anyhow he imagined. He moved forward, yet it appeared as he didn’t; it felt more akin to the world around him moving to his desired location, replacing what was there.
Gustav crashed behind him as Lino staggered his sword forward, yet appeared at Gustav’s side, slicing apart the latter’s back with a massive gash running up from his lower back to his neck. Chaos unfurled before his very eyes, chaos even he could not understand despite all the wanting; he then curled his sword back whereupon Gustav suddenly appeared hanging over it, the sword stabbed into his rib.
Despite however much Lino was confused, Gustav was going mad; one moment, he crashed into the beggar only to feel a sword slicing his back thoroughly and in next he found himself hanging midair with a sword stuck between his ribs. At the very next, he was on the floor with a foot pinned against his neck and a sword pierced into the earth just next to his eye. Even if someone explained to him what happened, he would reject it resoundingly; nothing happened, at least as far as he was concerned. It was almost as though he dreamt everything that happened prior to him being pinned down onto the floor, his life in the beggar’s hands.
He wanted to scream in defiance, yet he couldn’t quite pin as to what he was so defiant about; a strange surge of acceptance rose within him, as though all of his was par for the course. He was supposed to be pinned down, he was supposed to hand his life over so casually. It was a matter of greater reality than his own. It was what the world around them desired. His muddled mind suddenly encountered a cooling sensation as his doubts were swept aside, he himself gaining clarity almost immediately; his hand clutched at the ring on his right hand which was given to him by an Elder of the Nightly Echo Sect from the Central Continent.
He roared lowly as he flexed his muscles, allowing him to temporarily push back the foot on him and roll sideways, away from the sword before using his arms to push himself backward, away from the beggar. He landed squarely and immediately turned to his senses out of alarm. His eyes quickly found the beggar standing there without moving, looking at him with those same, frigid eyes.
Gustav’s heart beat madly as cold sweat devoured his back. Though cultivation itself defiled the natural order of things, it still adhered to limits, to certain framework under which it was structured and developed. However, what he just experienced... broke that framework. Because, Gustav was fairly certain, he wasn’t defeated due to speed or strength or even the beggar’s technique being superior to his own. He was defeated by something that didn’t belong under the umbrella of cultivation.
While displacement of space was a well verified art especially practiced by one of the Seven Holy Lands, it referred to literal displacement - which was quickly self-regulated as all things restored themselves to the natural order. However, what he just underwent... was far more than that. It was displacement of space... of time... of very dimensions under which the two lived. And those things did not recover. They were irrevocably shifted in their make, removed from their natural constrictions.
This wasn’t cultivation, Gustav realized. No, this wasn’t even the ancient framework of magics which were exploited through eons and were far more powerful than cultivation at their ultimate peak. What the beggar just did... he temporarily removed reality from existence, then replaced it with another. To an outsider, nothing that strange had actually happened. Lino merely used illusion of spatial perceptions to trick Gustav and gain upper hand. In reality, however, he replaced one reality... with another, the one that isn’t supposed to exist.
More than fear, Gustav suddenly felt terror assail him. He felt his heart twist and turn and his mind come to a complete halt. His entire being felt as though suffocated, his teeth crackling like skeleton’s. There was only one thing in the history of everything, through all the eons of non-existence and existence, that could defy the literal everything and do with it what it willed. That thing was... Chaos. And there was only one being in the universe that could command it... an Empyrean.