CHAOS AND RUIN (III)
Gray motes of light suddenly began accumulating near Lino, causing his body to shudder strangely for a moment as his sharp eyes turned dull for a second. His mind capsized and the world around him morphed eerily. Yet, before he had a chance to sink in entirely, the gem embedded into his necklace suddenly shone in conjunction to his sword, covering his body in a strangely ethereal, golden light.
Within the seething darkness of the world he appeared reverently holy as his eyes regained their sharpness. Erkhaan hadn’t anticipated Lino would free himself of the illusion so quickly, causing him to frown. However, it mattered little; if Lino was so weak as to give into the illusions, he would have never pushed Erkhaan to the point of no return.
Although Erkhaan now possessed only a single arm, Lino didn’t dare underestimate him. The energy which had swirled within him had changed considerably, causing Lino to frown and wonder; it felt familiar, almost friendly, yet he couldn’t quite put his finger onto what it was.
Erkhaan grasped the sword tightly and held it out, taking brisk and confident steps toward Lino. The latter -- still enveloped in the holy radiance -- relaxed his posture as he once again tried to use the <Sword of Chaos>. Erkhaan’s movement and attack had all been an illusion, but thanks to the necklace as well as the <Eye of the Phantom> he was able to free himself quickly.
Taking the posture yet again, Lino’s eyes radiated with supreme, archaic light. His body melded into the void around him, causing the space to distort and dance and bend to his whims like a child. Erkhaan, however, smiled faintly and confidently raised his sword before plunging himself forward, causing a massive explosion to froth out where he just stood.
Lino welcomed the challenge and swung his sword in an upward arc as he lowered his posture; Erkhaan came flying above and the two swords clashed, though there was no massive explosion -- just a muffled groan. Time slowed and turned chaotic as the dance between the two of them began.
Erkhaan vaulted over and landed behind Lino immediately thrusting his sword forward while the latter spun in place and parried the attack with a swift cut. Seeing his sword was deflected, Erkhaan choose to use the repelling momentum to spin around and kick out in a wide arc at Lino’s head. The latter raised his free arm and blocked it while trusting the [Moon Beheader] at Erkhaan’s throat.
Unlike before, however, the two weren’t moving at the speeds that couldn’t be perceived by any living creature. Rather, they seemed to move in slow motion, as though they had suddenly turned into old cripples with one and a half foot in the graves.
Erkhaan bellowed lowly as his cut arm suddenly exploded with gray matter and a tentacle-like extension covered in black soot exploded, forcing Lino to retract his sword and use it to defend. By now, Lino’s heart was beating profusely as he had come to realize something -- that gray matter that was swirling throughout Erkhaan’s body... was reminiscent of his own Qi. Rather, it felt so familiar Lino nearly wanted to kiss it.
What startled him even more was the fact that his <Sword of Chaos> seemingly had absolutely no influence over Erkhaan. When he was fighting Gustav, the latter couldn’t even understand what was happening; yet, this youthful-looking man before him seemed wholly unaffected, adjusting to all drifts and distortions and battling Lino at his own game.
Seeing his attack being blocked, Erkhaan once again groaned, spitting out a mouthful of gray blood as his sword suddenly shimmered in black. A mere blink later and a sound of flesh being pierced sounded out within the silence as a stir of crimson blood cried out. Lino grit his teeth and held the groan in his throat as he glanced at the massive gash on the right side of his abdomen.
The sword seemingly escaped the chains of Lino’s reality and used it against him, immediately attacking before Lino even had the chance to retaliate. With the first drop of blood having been spilled, Lino’s already dark eyes turned even darker as his veins pulsated as though alive. That madness which usually hid within his soul swirled yet again, immediately dispelling all the pain, doubt and fear that had begun festering inside his heart.
As though entirely crazed, Lino swapped the [Moon Beheader] into his left hand with a swift motion and used his right one to grasp Erkhaan’s sword directly, preventing him from taking it back. Though the hand began bleeding immediately as that black energy began corroding his flesh and bones, it seemingly had no impact on Lino who instead grinned like a lunatic.
Erkhaan’s heart suddenly jolted as he sensed an insurmountable amount of Qi swell into Lino’s arm which was holding onto the sword; suddenly, the latter’s hand clasped further and began making a fist as wails and cries bounded out from within the sword. The sounds of the metal being bent followed and despite Erkhaan’s repeated attempts, he was unable to withdraw the sword, in the end forced to let go of the handle.
Almost immediately the sword cried its last wail and was brought to complete ruin by that arm, turned into ash. Lino ignored the pain and stopped using the <Sword of Chaos>, balancing out the reality. As Erkhaan was unprepared, Lino took the chance and rushed forward, slicing horizontally with his sword.
Erkhaan barely managed to tilt his head slightly backwards as he felt his chest and chin churn out blood and pain assail his senses. A humongous swath of gray energy once again condensed around his body as he sped backwards, but Lino didn’t want to let him go, chasing after.
Rays of brilliant light flew off the Lino’s swords and crashed repeatedly into the barrier Erkhaan formed as resounding explosions returned once again. The whole realm had already begun trembling as it neared its utter destruction. Erkhaan, however pained, couldn’t do anything but put his all into defending against the relentless onslaught, waiting for Lino to tire out.
However, it was fruitless; Lino had already been consumed by the madness, losing his rational thought. His body’s instinct had been shut down and even if he was forced to sack his bones and organs, he did so in order to increase his momentum. Soon, Erkhaan was cornered and a massive, golden arc of fire burst out yet again from the Lino’s sword, collapsing Erkhaan’s barrier and engulfing him.
Just as he was about to give up, his body jolted as he felt the warm current flow throughout his body. The gray energy dimmed and turned nearly black as it surged out yet again, extinguishing the flames. Lino, too, suddenly came to a halt against his own will, his mind woken from the madness. Almost immediately he felt ever inch of his body cry out and he barely held back from cursing into the sky, continuously sending droves of Qi to the most damaged areas.
“You have chosen a fine seed,” Erkhaan spoke, yet it was not his voice; it was a voice far more archaic, far more rusted, far more indifferent and cold. “But that is all he is--a fine seed. Nothing will change.”
“Your standards are still quite high, Adabbith. Yet, still not quite high enough.” Lino, too, spoke out yet his voice it wasn’t; it was one of similar ancientness, similar coldness and indifference, aloofness beyond this world.
“Indeed: my Vassal has shamed me,” the voice spoke out yet again. “Though he is only one of the many. What do you have besides the half-broken boy who cannot even withstand the Matter without the external means?”
“Though my Eye had grown dull and old Adabbith, it still reigns supreme over all others,” Lino’s counterpart replied. “What I see others cannot; what I understand others will not. Why do you think Yuel trusted me so?”
“You still dare utter Her name shamelessly?!” Erkhaan counterpart’s voice turned even colder with a trace of anger that could collapse the world unto its feet present. “Indeed, she trusted you with Her whole heart -- yet, what has it brought Her?! Had it not been for you, none of the shameful history would weigh on any of us! If only your ‘eye’ wasn’t beset with arrogance, you would have seen what you were doing more clearly!”
“Your hate is yet to diminish,” the voice coming out of Lino suddenly turned gentler and even warmer. “Have you truly loved her that much?”
“... we all have,” Erkhaan’s voice replied. “Even though you steered her heart astray toward that filthy Angel, we were still willing to listen. To obey. But--”
“I... have never touched Yuel’s heart,” Lino’s voice spoke out with a low sigh. “I have never touched any of your hearts. Since your dawns, all of you had been given free reign over your fates.”
“LIES!!!” a massive surge of catastrophic energy bellowed out of Erkhaan yet was easily diminished by a much stronger surge that bellowed out of Lino. “She was Holy!! She was the Chosen!! She would have never submitted to that filth of Her own Will!!”
“Whatever you may think of me Adabbith,” Lino’s voice suddenly seemed to have aged and turned even more archaic. “I have never desired to drag any of you into my own battles. I have chosen to Defy -- you had not. The only reason Yuel departed on that day was because of Asmodei. The Angels were falling one by one as Gaia began rising the army of the Fallen. The Age of Balance was coming to an end, and Yuel knew that what followed would result in all races either submitting to Gaia or dying off. In her heart... she would never allow either fate to besiege Asmodei. That was her own Will, Adabbith. Her own Heart. If you all love her as much as you claim... how can you deny everything she fought and died for?”
“...” there was no reply for a long time, leaving the entire realm to seethe in strange silence. “You could have stopped Her.”
“I could have done many things in the past... but, whether you believe me or not, I also couldn’t have done many things. Surely, by now, you realized why am I fighting this war, Adabbith. If you hadn’t, you would have long since joined with Gaia.”
“You can continue to uphold your high moral ground as much as you want... but, what worth is it? You are all alone. There is not a single Titular Bearer that wishes to stand on your side. Devils? They will devour you the moment the opportunity presents itself. The Fiends? They will listen to anyone who feeds them. What force you have to rely on besides that mortal trash? Do you think he can stand against the entire world on his own? Don’t make me laugh.”
“... you have always underestimated my Chosen,” Lino’s voice spoke out with strange confidence. “But, it will be different this time around. He will make it.”
“... your are old,” Erkhaan’s voice spoke with a sigh. “You have fought and fought. Come and join us. Let Gaia and others do as they wish.”
“... you know I can’t do that.”
“You really are set on choosing the World over your own Children?” the voice asked with the same traces of anger appearing yet again.
“...” Lino, however, didn’t reply.
“It is so, then...” after realizing that the other side wasn’t answering, Erkhaan spoke out with strange loneliness. “We won’t disturb your chosen. If he falls too, we will come to your aid.”
“No need,” Lino’s voice spoke out the last time. “If he falls, it will signal my own end. Let it be, Adabbith. Another will rise in my stead.”
“...” the two no longer spoke and, a few moments later, their auras retracted back, as though they were never there. Lino and Erkhaan regained controls over their bodies. The latter sighed as he shook his head while Lino stood with his mouth agape.
“You fucker had such awesome kids this whole time and never asked them to help me?!!” Lino held onto his head as he fell onto his knees. “And you--you---oh my god no wonder you fail every time!! You’re too fucking stupid!!” and so Erkhaan quickly learned that this strange-looking beggar was rather unique. His anger and hatred toward the source of everything he was... was quite real; he also realized that the Empyrean Writ never stood a chance if all its Bearers were so hateful. Alas, he didn’t know Lino was an abnormality rather than the norm.