CHAOS AND RUIN (I)
The entrance to the Dimensional Pocket could not be seen with a naked eye. Were an ordinary man to stand before it, he would spot absolutely nothing and merely accidentally enter if he were to head in the right direction. Someone with slight proficiency in space-related arts might notice faint distortions if they paid close attention.
Lino, however, could see the exact reality of it all. It wasn’t because of his own insight but rather the newly acquired art: <Eye of the Phantom>. The world before his eyes was rather bizarre; one end was a far-spreading meadow of green grass and red roses, sandwiching a completely different reality within itself.
At the boundaries between two realities, the space repeatedly distorted and contorted, weaving around as though guided by a painter’s brush. Lino could see a strange, half-cleaved arched entrance of sorts beyond which only darkness spread and cries of anguish and lament repeatedly echoed.
He took in a deep breath and calmed his nerves before slowly heading over. The pressure crashing against his chest was quite spectacular. Even before entering the pocket he felt like simply turning around and walking away, yet knew he couldn’t. The closer he inched to the crossroad between two realities, the more he realized just how dubiously different the two were.
Soon enough a large swath of specter-like creatures with crimson-dyed eyes began dancing around him, their whispers ranging from soft and seductive to wrathful and agonizing. Cries splintered through his ears into his mind in an attempt to erase his consciousness, but even without the help of the <Eye of the Phantom> Lino was able to ignore them rather easily.
The moment he crossed the boundary, he felt a strange feeling awash him, nearly causing him to vomit. He felt as though all of his organs got temporarily misplaced while blood in his veins froze into pure ice for a moment. They really were two completely different realities; one had warmish, spring climate, while the other was frigid beyond measure.
It wasn’t the sort of cold one experiences in the winter or within the realms of ice; it was the sort which pierced past all the barriers, assailing the mind and the soul directly. A pathway stretched before him, strangely lit up by lanterns hanging by the its sides. The lanterns colored cold cyan, faintly flickering ever so often.
They painted a laid out path which led uphill in a sharp curve toward the top of a lonely, ghastly cliff. Lino glanced at it for a moment and immediately realized that’s where his opponent resided, but couldn’t gleam anything more as the entire cliff was clustered within a thick fog that even his Divine Sense couldn’t pierce through.
He stood at the very beginning of a path for a moment before taking a step forward. It felt heavy, almost as though there were tens of thousands of arms trying to hold him back from walking forward. However, he pressed, ignoring them all. An ordinary-looking scabbard hung by his waist, occasionally releasing a faint gleam of golden light, with the necklace having been neatly strapped around his neck with a silver chain, continuously sending streams of warm energy to cruise through Lino’s body, not only repelling the cold but also keeping all the illusions at bay.
His footsteps echoed loudly throughout the entire realm, as though he was walking in heels against a marble floor. Lino didn’t even try to mask his presence as there was no point to it -- everyone and everything within the realm realized there was an intruder the moment Lino took his first step inside.
The path seemed to stretch for several miles onward, marred with strange-looking, flickering shadows and tens of thousands of pairs of crimson eyes all focused on him. Occasionally a shadow would dart out of the darkness and attack him but Lino disposed of them quickly with his fists as they were quite weak.
He proceeded onward steadily, yet a cluster of tension wrapped around his heart the closer he got to the path’s end. Past the halfway point of the road no more strange-looking creatures came to attack him, merely observing his climb. Lino smiled faintly and sped up somewhat, realizing that the host was welcoming him in full.
It took him almost half an hour to climb to the top of the cliff. It was no longer masked behind the curtain of the fog and Lino was able to clearly see the arena. It was a massive castle built out of jet-black bricks, with several dozen towers rising up into the sky. Though in the past it must have been quite lustrous, it now showed grave signs of age.
The walls had cracks spreading throughout with entire portions completely missing, and nearly every tower was nibbled from the top, leaving it open like a chimney.
The castle gates, however, were shut, jetted in black not unlike the walls themselves. A pair of silver fangs was engraved on each end with blood running down their tips, spilling into the earth beneath and causing its hue to shift to rather dark, muddy crimson.
Without a signal or warning, a creak sounded out into the world as the walls and the gates trembled momentarily. A shift occurred as the two sides slowly began parting on their own, moving inwardly. Lino stood no further than ten meters away and could feel the tremble of the earth beneath his feet and even the quaking of the air itself.
A clear path opened before him which led directly into the castle itself. Two rows of extremely armed Knights stood at each end, both their arms holding onto black claymores pointed toward the sky, their postures straight and erect. Not unlike everything else in the strange realm, their armor was also dyed entirely in black with only crimson sparkle visible where their eyes were -- or should be, at least.
A grand welcoming ceremony seem rather amusing to Lino; he wasn’t courteous and briskly moved forward, passing the Knights without even looking at them. The castle doors were already open, leading him into a massive hall which spread out further at sides with the central point being entirely occupied by red-carpeted stairs leading to the upper floor.
Lino didn’t dilly-dally and moved up the stairs slowly. The walls around him were decorated by portraits of numerous figures with sharp jaws and fags crossing over their lower lips as well as horned men and women of grayed skin.
As Lino began climbing the stairs, candles etched onto the handrails began lighting up in rhythm with his pace, illuminating the hall clearly. As he reached the upper floor the massive chandelier lit up right above him in cold cyan like the lanterns outside, completely extinguishing the darkness which had bathed the castle just a moment ago.
Another door appeared before Lino, slowly opening as he approached it. Above it hung a portrait of a young-looking man with rather handsome features that could put many women to shame. He had crimson eyes and a single horn protruding out of his forehead as well as a pair of sharp fangs extending from his mouth.
Lino merely glanced at it for a moment before proceeding onward, passing through the doors which closed immediately after.
“Welcome, Honored Guest.” a melodic and soft voice broke the silence as the previously dark room lit up quickly.
Lanterns, torches, candles, chandeliers, even gemstones embedded in the walls... they all worked in concert to illuminate a rather grandiose-looking hall upheld by dozens of stone pillars that stood at the very edges. Red carpet was unfolded beneath Lino’s feet, stretching forth for nearly two hundred meters and ending just beneath the elevated throne.
The throne was extremely flamboyant, with hundreds of differently-colored gems shining in brilliant luster throughout its surface. The throne’s splat stretched nearly fifty meters into the air, surrounded by two crimson-dyed banners whose surface was decorated with golden threads, their main attraction being a pair of silver fangs on each of the two.
The man sitting on the throne fit the scenery rather well as he could simply be defined as ‘flamboyant’. A crimson robe etched with the golden threads spilled off the throne and onto the stairs leading up to him, with lustrous vest beneath. The man was a painting-come-to-reality of the portrait hanging outside the hall; he had snow-white hair splitting over his shoulders and onto the crimson robe, with extremely extravagant crown hanging above.
It was silver-made with mainly ruby gems adorning its surface, exuding an air of completed royalty to all those who would glance at it. However, as Lino never put much thought toward the concept of royalty, of nobility and of such grandeur, it practically had no effect on him.
The man smiled faintly as he snapped his fingers tenderly; suddenly a large table appeared before Lino, nearly fifty meters long, filled to brim with various exotic foods and drinks. At each side of the table fifty maids now stood, their heads humbly lowered, eyes closed as they seemed to wait for Lino’s command.
“It has been so long since I was graced by the presence of another living,” the man spoke out. “Please, allow me to play the role of the gracious host.”
“...” Lino was truly stunned and at a loss for words; he expected many different reactions, but this certainly wasn’t one of them. He’d already confirmed that all of these things -- including the maids -- were genuine and, perhaps even more confusingly, neither the food nor the drinks were poisoned. “Eh... you do realize I came here to fight you, right?” Lino asked as he glanced at the man with an odd gaze.
“So? A duel is a duel,” the man replied nonchalantly. “It does not necessitate that we cannot be civil to one another, no?”
“... I guess... not?” Lino mumbled faintly still finding it hard to accept all of this. He fancied himself rather odd, but when compared to the man in front of him... he was completely and utterly normally average.
“This one’s humble name is Erkhaan. May I inquire Sir’s name?” the man asked with some curiosity.
“It’s... Lyonel.” Lino replied.
“Lyonel, is it? I find it rather strange,” Erkhaan said, suddenly rubbing his chin. “Your vitality is rather meek, yet I still cannot read a single iota of information about you. I am rather curious.”
“...” it appeared as though the man truly didn’t care that Lino came here not only to fight him but also to kill him.
“You have come rather prepared, though,” Erkhaan said with a faint smile as he glanced at the scabbard by Lino’s waist. “Even my heart cannot help but cry lowly when I lay my eyes on that wonder.”
“... thanks. I’m rather proud of it.” Lino said, smiling as well.
“Oh? It was you who crafted it? Ha ha, rather impressive! Impressive indeed, human Lyonel! You have piqued my curiosity!”
“Should I be honored or terrified?”
“I am afraid we will have to skip the pleasantries,” Erkhaan spoke as he flicked his fingers yet again, causing the table -- and the food and drinks on top of it -- as well as the maids to vanish just as they had appeared previously. “You stir my blood, Lyonel. It has been a long time since someone managed to do it.”
“...” Lino remained silent, repeatedly calming his nerves. Though he’d expected it, visualizing it and coming face to face with it were two completely different matters. Just standing before Erkhaan was enough to cause his instincts to scream at him to run away. The sheer amount of heaven-imposing energy that the man exuded simply by being was not something that Lino should be able to contend against just yet... yet all the same he had to.
“Though I had never before dueled inside my Throne Room,” Erkhaan slowly got off the throne, letting the crimson robes slip off and fall down. “Today I shall make an exception.” he extended both his arms sideways whereupon two blades -- one crimson and one jet-black -- appeared. Both exuded fumes of light, leaving behind trails wherever they moved. “Erkhaan Forthwit, Eight of His Name, Heir to the Antras’ Throne and Servant of the Eldritch God Adabbith challenges Lyonel, First of His Name, the Heir of the Chaos, the Vassal of Ataxia, the Apotheosized Empyrean. Shall thee accept?”
“...” Lino’s eyes flickered in dangerous glint for a moment as his hand reached for the sword within the scabbard, drawing it out. “You know?”
“Alas, the Whispers of the Moon had spoken to me,” Erkhaan smiled faintly. “There breaths only a single creature within the expanses of creation which can wake the Slumbering -- the Harbinger of Chaos himself.”
“You’ve given me a lot of titles I do not possess,” Lino said as he smiled faintly, rising his sword and pointing it at Erkhaan. “But, the duel, I accept nonetheless.”
“Wonderful,” Erkhaan said, his lips curling up into a grin, further revealing a pair of fangs. “Let it be known by Eldritch’s Command --- Chaos and Ruin shall contend on this day.”
The fight that would leave the mark on the world at large commenced quickly, without any wasted word. Beyond simply being a fight between two men, it was a fight between two different ideologies. A fight between two concepts that even the bravest of the brave dreaded the mention of -- the Chaos - father of all and any and everything -- and the Ruin - the end of all and any and everything.