WINDS OF CHANGE
While Lino was tinkering with his mind trying to figure out how to go about evolving and upgrading an Defensive Artifact, the world at large was experiencing a massive change, one unseen in the current half of the Warring Era. Even though the Holy Continent has been wrapped in one or more wars at any point in time throughout the era, they were mostly isolated battles. Now, however, it has changed.
In the past ten years or so the number of invasions by Devils has increased to the point that they were impossible to ignore. The battles also usually involved tens of millions of people and millions of casualties. Such a loss couldn’t even be easily ignored by the world’s largest and most populated continent.
Currently, in one of the forbidden areas of the Holy Continent known simply as ‘Dreaded Road’, dark and cold winds blew horrifically. The entire stretch of land which went on for hundreds of miles was simply a barren ghostland, bereft of any life but withered trees and rotting skeletons which ranged anywhere from a few meters in size to thousands of meters.
Atop one of the rare plateaus of the Dreaded Road, which oversaw a large swath of the dead land, two figures could be seen. One was currently lying broken and bleeding on the floor, disfigured beyond the point of recognition; a face of the old man was currently wreathed in crimson tears while every single one of his limbs lay separated from his body. He barely had a breadth of life in him, yet even so what terrified him far more than death itself was the youth before him.
The youth had a rather handsome -- yet eerie -- appearance. He had short, black hair and eyes and snow-white skin, slender in build and averagely tall. He also wore a black coat and boots and a casual glance at the youth would lead one to believe it was simply an ordinary, slightly sickly young man.
Yet the elder currently lying an inch away from death had learned a hard way that the youth in front of him was far more terrifying than anything else throughout the stretch of the Dreaded Road. After all, he was one of the Elders of one of the Holy Grounds -- Eternal Paradise Sect -- and was Level 1368, titular Void Realm expert that the entire continent knew as the Thousand Illusions.
Still, despite his near inexhaustible strength and trickery, he barely lasted a few breaths against the youth currently crouching next to him. No, to quantify it within the limits of time would render his defeat useless, for time was a stretch of extremes, both of which he got to experience in his brief encounter with the youth.
“I--I swear... I swear...” the old man mumbled meekly yet again. “I don’t know... I don’t know anything about an Empyrean emerging... just... just kill me... please...” the old man begged, unable to show an iota of arrogance someone of his standing would usually have.
“How can you not know?!” the black-haired youth exploded and suddenly stabbed a finger in the old man’s remaining healthy eye, causing the latter to scream out in pain. “It has been ten years since His Majesty has awoken!! Do you really take me for a fool, old fart?! Ten years and not a single Holy Ground -- nay, not a single Bearer -- has managed to even catch a whiff of His scent?!”
“I--I SWEAR!!” the old man screamed with what little energy he had remaining. “Although we-we know he’s awakened... we... we are unable to locate him...”
“Tsk, useless shit,” finally growing tired of listening to the same old information, the youth merely swiped his finger over the old man’s throat, instantly killing him. The youth remained crouching for a moment before getting up, cracking his neck once or twice in the process. “Your Majesty... he he, no matter how hard you hide, I’ll find you. You’ve promised me... promised...” the youth spoke into the wind with elated expression. “We would sow Chaos where Order is revered! Together!! Aaah...”
Beyond the limit of what an eye could see, beyond the stretch of rainy clouds themselves, in the vast expanse of heaven, a simple palace hovered amidst the stars. It was neither large nor extravagant, yet despite its simplicity it had imposing attitude of the Ancient. It seemed as though not even the crack of Heaven’s Lightning could squash it. Not even the long-forgotten gods could destroy it.
Within one of its small rooms decorated merely with a praying mat and nothing else, an old looking-man wearing nothing but a simple cotton pants was currently sitting cross-legged. The man himself appeared even older and more defiant than the entire palace itself, as though he was its heart and soul. Suddenly, the space in front of the old man tore open as a figure walked through. It was another old man, albeit far less imposing. The latter immediately knelt down and lowered his head, his entire body shaking.
“... seeing as you’ve come to me,” the old man’s eyes opened by an inch as he glanced at the kneeling figure before him. Yet, even so, the latter suddenly felt the pressure of the entire universe descend upon his back, making it impossible to breathe. Luckily, the figure before him closed his eyes a moment later. “The Empyrean has entered the stage?”
“... n-no,” the kneeling man replied meekly. “M-much... worse...”
“Much worse?” a tremor ran through the space, one which sent the kneeling man barreling backward into the wall, sound of the breaking bones echoing out. Yet the man didn’t dare cry out in pain, enduring to the best of his abilities. He knew that the figure before him had no intention of harming him. “What could be much worse?”
“T-The Devils... R-realm War...” the old man barely squeezed through his teeth.
“A Realm War? Has the old Jailer gone insane at last? Interesting...” a faint trace of a smile appeared on the old man’s wrinkled face. “Looks like he truly wishes to go against the Mother this time around. However... has he already forgotten his sorry figure at the end of the last Realm War? Ha ha... very well. You can leave.”
Deep within the reaches of the earth itself, well beyond the eyes of even the world’s greatest experts, lay a pavilion. It was neither large nor small, made of white jade stone, standing surrounded by the world’s most beautiful and rarest herbs, trees and critters. Nearby a large body of water swirled and surged occasionally, entirely colorless like a child’s tear, yet its bottom still entirely invisible as though endless.
Within the pavilion three figures sat around a small table, all three of them cross-legged; two of the three looked to be in their forties, each complete opposites of one another. The figure on the left had a stalwart build and squared jaw which, in conjunction with short, crimson hair and eyes, made him appear rather imposing. Yet, even so, not an iota of life force could be detected within or without the man, rendering him both dead and alive at the same time.
The man sitting opposite of him, however, was of a slender build, with sleek jaw and eyebrows and azure-colored eyes. His hair was starkly golden and long and unlike the man sitting opposite of him his life force was so exuberant that it shook the space around him involuntarily.
The two were currently playing a game of chess; though there was nothing strange about that in and of itself, the strange part that the game has been going on for eighteen thousand years... and neither of the two had gotten up even for a second throughout the whole ordeal.
The man sitting in-between the two appeared much older. He was far thinner than the slender-looking man, yet had far greater life force bursting out from his soul. At the same time, though, he appeared even more lifeless than the stalwart-looking man. The old man suddenly opened his eyes and looked up for a brief moment before his lips curled up in a faint smile.
“You two ought to finish up rather soon.” he spoke slowly and briskly, as though every word of his could shatter the world around him.
“... hm?” the stalwart-looking man looked at the old one with a frown on his face. It was his turn and he was suddenly pulled out of his thoughts after nearly six hundred years. It would take a long time to retrace back his thoughts. “Old man, I’ll rip your guts out.”
“That young boy Ethwart has run into the Old One.” the old man said with a chuckle, ignoring the threat.
“Oh?” the slender-looking man exclaimed in a soft surprise. “No wonder old Jailer is running rampart recently going as far as to beg us not to intervene just yet.”
“Ho ho, it’s about time!” the stalwart-looking man suddenly punched the chessboard thereby ending the ninety-eight longest match between the two of them with a resolute draw. Though he knew he would have lost.
“Tsk. Cheeky bastard.”
“It’ll soon be our time to step onto the stage again, huh?” the stalwart-looking man completely ignored the comment, speaking out with a solemn tone.
“... it’s too late,” the old man spoke out, sighing lightly and shaking his head. “A little Empyrean youngling can hardly do much by now. The best time would have been with the Eshen girl. Ah... such a shame...”
“Heh, not necessarily,” the slender-looking man commented with a faint smile. “The little one is rather peculiar... and it looks like Ataxia has decided to completely devout himself to the boy. Chances are, if the boy becomes Titular... Ataxia will simply surrender himself over.”
“... wouldn’t that be a sight?” the stalwart-looking man spoke out with a grin. “A little human boy becoming the Beholder of Chaos. Ah, how the Heavens would weep...”
“Weren’t you also a little human boy at the start?” the stalwart-looking man rolled his eyes as he asked.
“He he, I was quite tall, though.”
“I remember specifically that you were not.”
“You remember wrong. Ah, you’ve already grown so old... a little longer and you would catch up to Shin...”
“How about I speed up your aging as well, ha ha ha? After all, we can’t have you lagging behind.”
“Ah, I’d rather you don’t. I quite like my young looks, you know?”
“Alright, stop it you two,” the old man sighed yet again. “It’s too early to speculate. We’ll know more once the youth joins the Great Descent. Though his character indeed is a bit interesting.”
“... leave it to Ataxia to always find the most fascinating ones...” the slender-looking man spoke out. “If the other Writs had tenth of his vision, this war would have long since ended...”
“For once, I agree with you...”
“There has been quite a lot of ‘for once’s. You really are growing senile...”
“Let’s do something about that aging process of yours after all.”
“I’d really rather you don’t though...”