AS THE HEAVENS ROLL ONWARD
Lino was currently holding onto the Defensive Artifact gently, occasionally stroking its surface. The actual shape of the Artifact was that of a flat, smooth mirror with tinges of crimson-dyed liquid dancing within it. Though the Artifact appeared rather weak and quick to break beneath his fingers, Lino knew that even if he exerted all of his strength he wouldn’t even be able to leave a crack let alone actually destroy it.
He had many things to consider beyond just how to help the Artifact evolve; he alone couldn’t control the [Lunar Scorch]. If he attempted it he knew it would devour him whole. Although the Writ had said that it would help him, Lino wouldn’t easily use it because on the off chance someone discovered the traces of Chaos around him... he’d be screwed.
Valkyria wasn’t his friend, and neither was she his ally. She was a passerby with whom he got accidentally acquainted and made a deal. As a Matriarch of a rather old Clan, there was no doubt that she was informed of at least what the Empyrean Writ is and how to detect it should she come across it. Even if she swore an Oath of Soul like he did, it would be rather easy for someone experienced in Soul Arts to absolve it -- and the Holy Continent hardly lacked such personnel.
He had initially planned on using his Level 85 Flame to only do some minor modifications as casting a whole new layer onto the Defensive Artifact was simply impossible even for Eggor let alone him. However, now that the Artifact has discovered the slumbering Flame within him it was certain he would be unable to use any other except the [Lunar Scorch]. He was even tempted to go back on his promise, or even simply return the Divine Stone to Valkyria.
Yet, how often would he get a chance to actually work with a Defensive Artifact as a blacksmith? He’d long since hit a bottleneck -- especially when it came to arrays and runes -- that couldn’t easily be broken. If he had the opportunity to tinker with the wonder of Nature itself he had absolute certainty of crossing over the massive gorge.
“... how is it?” Valkyria asked after she watched Lino inspect the Artifact for nearly half an hour.
“Hmm... it’s possible.” Lino replied absentmindedly. He, naturally, couldn’t ask Valkyria to leave; there was a higher chance of world ending right this very second than that happening. “I’m, however, baffled by a problem.”
“What is it?” Valkyria asked, curious.
“... I’m afraid rather unpleasant ending awaits me if I unveil my secrets in front of you.” Lino smiled bitterly as he glanced at her for a moment. “I won’t ask for much, just a promise.”
“... a promise?” Valkyria was growing even more curious.
“Do and say what you wish about me,” Lino said. “But don’t mention or do anything to those who followed me here.”
“I don’t understand?”
“You will. Just promise me.”
“I promise.” though confused, Valkyria still nodded.
“I’ll hold you onto that word.”
Lino took in a deep breath as he held the Artifact in his left hand, extending the other further out. A somewhat improvised smithy suddenly appeared before him with several tools that he’d need. He placed the Artifact onto the anvil and took out the piece of the Divine Stone before using Qi to shave away a small portion. That alone took him nearly an hour and by the end of it he found himself doused in sweat.
He’d expended as much Qi as he would if he had crafted for four days straight, array inlaying included. It’s as hard as the legends say... the only reason Lino was able to cut it in the first place was because the stone wasn’t completely pure, hence the connections between the stone’s molecules had weakened. Otherwise, even if he’d expended his entire lifetime he would have been unable to shave even a small sand-sized grain.
He portioned a part of his consciousness to observe Valkyria; if even for a second she showed signs of doing anything, he was ready to rush over. He had no plans on killing her, though; after all, he’d put himself into this conundrum by miscalculating. No... Gustav was the same... I can’t be that hypocritical. At least not anymore...
After splitting up the stone he put his piece away into the void world before focusing on the remaining one. He had no choice; all he planned was simply to inlay the Divine Stone over the Artifact’s surface in an array-shaped pattern. He took another deep breath and calmed himself before his right hand suddenly blazed out.
[Lunar Scorch] was a one of the numerous variations of [Lunar Flame]. Though it referenced the moon, the flame itself was hardly linked to it; it was named such due to its silver hue and rather chilly, almost ghastly sound. On one hand Lino could feel the chill of the flame trying to permeate into his soul, yet the sensation dulled shortly after as he felt even a greater one.
Chaos -- within the books Lino has read -- was always referenced as unbridled, destructive and world-ending. Very few attached it the title of the ‘beginner’ -- the source of all matter within the world. Even Gaia herself was birthed from the Chaos. What many misunderstood -- as had Lino in the past -- was that the Writ wasn’t the embodiment of Chaos; no, like all other things, it was merely its product. The difference lay in the fact that the Writ retained the properties of Chaos entirely while others either discarded it or modified it.
Lino was exposed to the feeling he was currently experiencing only once -- when he accepted the Primal Spirit of Chaos. Even though the Chaos sprawled out from within his very own Soul to coat the flame and calm it, it hardly mattered; he was ill-equipped to deal with the pressure. If it weren’t for the Writ who repeatedly blocked the Chaos’ influence on Lino’s mind, the latter would have long since gone completely numb -- not even insane or mad or crazed, just numb. He would have returned to the Origin.
Lino slowly watched the silver flame melt away at the stone bit by bit as it formed into a small, glistening droplet of liquid. It was horrifyingly beautiful though Lino could hardly afford to admire it; like a moon it hung midair, growing slightly bigger every second, yet never growing larger than half a fingernail. Even so, the dense concentration of Qi within its core left Lino stunned. He’d never experienced such dense manifestation of Qi to the point it visualized into a spectacularly small singularity within the droplet.
He hurriedly ran over to the anvil and pinned the Artifact to the stone with his free arm before slowly using every last inch of his mental fortitude to bring the droplet down and use the faint connection he established with it to carve out thinly veiled pattern across the Artifact’s surface.
It was arduous process and he was even forced to stop paying attention to Valkyria; whether she was admiring his skills or shaking in terror over who he was he couldn’t say. It was a similar situation to when he was in the Ruins; he could hardly care less if she told the whole world if he was alone, but he wasn’t. Forget merely Lucky or Felix, chances are that the entire Western Continent would be purged just in case Lino formed a secret sect or something.
He banked on Valkyria also being aware of that -- of being unwilling to sacrifice her own Clan for a distant concept that had never done anything for her. However, he finally understood why the Writ always warned him that he would end up alone. It hardly had to do with his personality or strength. Even if he had to be so guarded here, what about the Central Continent? He’d practically have to kill every person he ever showed his powers to.
He also faintly understood why every one of the Empyreans he’d come in contact with so far boomed with murderous aura. Why their very souls seemed to have been stained red and black. However, now was not the time to think about it; dispelling the thoughts, he shifted his entire focus onto the Artifact beneath his fingers. Should something go awry... even if he sold himself off as a slave for all eternity he would be unable to make it up to her.
Inch by inch Lino slowly carved a repeated, circular pattern over the Artifact’s surface; rather, it wasn’t really ‘carving’. It was more akin to tracing over with a permanent brush more so than carving. Even so, just the concentration required burned his mind like fire, to say nothing of the exuberant Qi mass. An hour... two... ten... soon enough, nearly a whole day had passed since Lino begun. It was also then that he finally traced the last line, immediately collapsing backwards, panting as though he’d just ran around the world twice over.
He was as wet as though he’d just left a bath, as tired as he’d even been in his life, as hateful of himself as he was the day he accepted the Writ. He’d gone well and beyond his capacity and capabilities and part of the reason was because he wanted to show off. I really need to reign in this part of me... sigh... right, Valkyria!
Lino immediately sprinted onto his feet and looked sideways to where Valkyria stood. She was still standing there, having not moved even an inch from her spot, her eyes doused in complex array of emotions as she looked at him.
“... I bet you’ve never made a heavier promise in your life, have you?” Lino asked through his hurried breathing, grinning.
“... I really haven’t.” Valkyria smiled faintly. “Now, I finally get to fulfill my Ancestor’s greatest desire.”
“Eh?” Lino exclaimed softly, confused.
“Valkyria Kvalend, Fourth of Her Name, Matriarch of the Kvalend Tribe, Descendant of the Antoan Oreb greets You.” she suddenly knelt on one knee and bowed her head down, startling Lino to the point he began believing he’d exhausted himself to death and was now living in a brief dream before shutting down. “Welcome home, Your Majesty.”