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CHAPTER 172

THE GRAND HALLS

A set of rowdy, metallic footsteps resounded through a wide, winding corridor decorated with the mural walls and the arched ceiling over which a body of a long, coiling Dragon was carved out. The whole of it was illuminated by a set of cyan gemstones on the edges of the ceiling and the walls as well as hanging, oil lanterns decorating the passage in a warming, orange hue.

A mystifying, smooth carpet rolled onward throughout the corridor, decked out in abstruse and ambiguous patterns composed mainly of strange, interconnected swirls. Every so often a pair of symmetrical statues would pop up at the sides, emboldened knights armored to the teeth hoisting a long sword before their breast, stuck between their feet, their heads humbly lowered.

The man leading the charge of roughly dozen or so walked briskly and confidently with even steps, adorned in bejeweled, silver armor with an enshrined scabbard of gold hanging from his waist, reaching nearly the floor itself. The man was quite tall, just over two meters, and even the armor did little to hide his towering and bulwark figure. He had straight, squared jaw and rugged features of a battle-hardened veteran with several scars tainting his face.

His pair of eyes was differently colored, giving him an air of mysticism and dauntlessness, with one being purple-dawn colored and the other being ethereally white, as though it’d turned blind. Above them hung a pair of bushy, full eyebrows which always seemed to be pointing downwards, causing the man’s resting expression to appear quite darkened regardless of his mood. Further above them was a head full of strange, azure-dyed hair with sharp locks crossing over onto his forehead.

Adorned further the hair was with the glistening crown, hollow at the center, with peaks and falls continuing in a full, circular motion. At the forefront was a kite-shaped protrusion within which lay an embedded black opal shimmering like an open, nightly sky.

At the man’s back a crimson cape fluttered in the rhythm of his steps, made of a pure, hand-woven purple velvet, embroidered in gold and lined at edges with the best ermine. Round the man’s neck it connected to a full scarf made out of Direwolf’s white fur.

Behind him, within a respectful distance and ordained in a defensive formation, followed a set of dozen guards all clad in full, plate armor from head to toe, similarly armed with swords hoisted into scabbards -- though less adorned sort -- hanging from their sides.

The entourage soon encountered an iron door with wolf’s head where a handle would be which split open before they came into its reach. A blast of warm, yellow light briefly flickered yet neither the man nor his followers flinched or stopped even for a moment, continuing onward through the arched exit.

“All hail to His Majesty, the Holy Emperor!” a brisk, melodic and youthful voice echoed soundly throughout the entire hall as the man stepped forth into it.

Before him a carmine carpet rolled onwards, splitting the throne hall in two, on each end a set of pillars cleaving out into the high, dome-like ceiling made out of green limestone. The hall was entirely lit by a row of hanging chandeliers casting brisk, yellow light over the hall’s entire surface. At the far end of the hall stood an uplifted platform atop which a throne rested, surrounded with massive, hanging banners both depicting a humanoid head made of stone with eyes crimson and smoke billowing out from the tops.

From one end to the other, on both sides of the carpet, hundreds of people were kneeling with heir heads bowed down to their knees, their breaths sternly tucked into their breasts. None dared even flinch, let alone look up to the man who was walking before them.

Much like them, the man spared no glance to anyone, his eyes firmly fixed on the throne resting atop the platform; a stone-molded chair adorned with glistening diamonds heaved up into the sky, crossing through the center of the two banners, at the top converging into a single point and moulding into a massive fist which then spilled directly into the ceiling. A white cushion rested upon the throne, two armchairs hand-carved into extrusions ending in open palms upon which two, small spheres rested.

Climbing up a short set of stairs, the man quickly seated himself on the throne while his entourage remained down below, guarding it on both ends. Only then did the man cast the glance across the entire hall and noted how many visitors there were. A smile nearly escaped his lips, yet he managed to hold it in.

“You may all rise.” though his voice was silent, it freely resonated throughout the entire hall so much so that even the person on the far end heard it as clearly as if they were standing right next to him. The men and women of all sorts slowly got up, ensuring they made no loud sound, with their heads still lowered into their breasts however. “Carthas,” seeing that everyone was standing, the man’s eyes veered off of the crowd onto the small plot near the throne and a middle-aged, slightly chubby man enrobed in simple, monk-like attire. “I assume you have a valid reason for calling upon Us during Our campaign.”

“Your Majesty.” the man called Carthas stepped forth from the crowd and bowed lowly before walking over to the carpet and stopping before the stairs, slowly looking up, dread and awe both mingling in his eyes. “I assure You it is of utmost importance.”

“Speak, then,” the man said after a short consideration. “Lest We turn into an old grave-gripped.”

“You jest, Your Majesty,” Carthas lowered his head quickly. “Your Grace is eternal and--”

“Spare Us the flattery,” the man interrupted him. “Speak your mind or forever remain silent.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Carthas bowed once again before taking a deep breath and continuing. “Your lowly subject has spent the past decade meditating upon the Mother Fate along with my Apostle when, just last night, our connection had been severed. I thought little of it at first as bonds with Mother Fate are fickle things, but after investigation I had realized that the reason for severing of the bonds was external -- it was due to the advent of Devil Qi upon our Holy Lands. Due to its interference, it is impossible for us to restore our bond with Mother Fate any time soon.”

“...” low and cushy murmurs quickly took over the silence of the hall as people gasped and shook their heads fervently, as though unwilling to believe the words spoken. However, the man seated atop the throne remained calm as he stared at Carthas intently for a moment. “Silence.” though he spoke mellowly, the sound of his voice hadn’t even fully vanished before everyone came to abrupt silence. “They have been vying Our lands for decades now, but firmly remained hiding in the holes. What has changed?”

“I do not know, Your Majesty.” Carthas replied.

“We have ignored them thus far as they have not done anything,” the man spoke with a tinge of anger in his voice, causing Qi fluctuations in the air to force a few people to stop breathing for a moment. “But, if they desire a war with Us, war We shall give them. Carthas, take Our Seal,” the man flickered his sleeve and caused the Royal Crest to fly out of his hand toward Carthas who caught it carefully. “Go visit the Guardian’s Site and plead in Our name for him to descend and lead His Legion to any and all corners of Our domain where Devils and Demons may fest, and to eradicate them all without exception. They seemed to have forgotten Our might,” the man’s brows furrowed, his voice growing deeper. “The Holy Titan’s might. Go at once, Carthas. The rest of you are dismissed.”

Across the marshlands of the Central Continent, further toward the eastern end, within the scope of a massive mountain range expanding from the far northeast to southeast, within a well-hidden valley cutting in-between, a massive number of tents made out of white, deer leather hid the green grass beneath. Smoke billowed out into the sky from numerous corners, hubbub present within the every crossing pavement as hundreds of thousands of people split into countless groups and chatted.

Within the innermost tent -- the largest of them all -- a man was currently sitting cross-legged, a set of scrolls laid open on a low table before him, with several others in his hands currently being read. His thin brows were scrounged, black eyes shining in a strange glint, lips puckered up in a faint smile. The man wore rather simple, yet elegant nonetheless, set of emerald, loose robes.

The man’s eyes quickly veered sideways off the scrolls whereupon a faint tinge of black smoke scurried through the floor and shaped into a figure clad wholly in black, from head to toe with only a pair of cat-like, yellow eyes visible.

“Hm? Elundia, what are you doing here?” the man asked with a slight presence of surprise in his voice. “Were you discovered?”

“No.” a soft, feminine voice drowned the somewhat stifled atmosphere of the tent out as it melodically echoed out.

“What is it then?” the man asked with faint interest.

“Rex has called upon the Guardian of Light.”

“... is that true?” the man’s rather nonchalant disposition quickly changed, his brows furrowing into a deep frown.

“It is.” Elundia confirmed. “He wants the Guardian to assemble the Titan Legion and lead the Crusade onto the Devils and Demons within the Empire’s borders. Apparently the density of Devil Qi increased to the point that the Order of the Holy Monks are no longer able to bond with the Fate.”

“... interesting.” the man smiled faintly as he stroked his rather long, yet well-groomed beard. “Looks like he’s really going all-out this time around. Do you know why the Devils suddenly became so aggressive?”

“No.” Elundia shook her head.

“... it’s really strange,” the man mumbled. “First it happened on the Western Continent... and now even here.”

“What about the Holy Continent? They’ve been the worst off over the past decade.”

“There were always scrabbles and battles and wars over there,” the man sighed faintly before he continued. “After all, considering the sheer number of Holy Sites over there, it would be strange if Devils didn’t try to take at least a couple for themselves. While we had an occasional Devil Invasion, it was never on this scale... let alone the Western Wasteland. Something else is unfolding behind the curtains... but we are not being informed of it. Looks like it’s bigger than us, then.”

“... are they really looking down on us so much?!” Elundia’s voice turned frigid and brutal for a moment, prompting a man to chuckle for a moment before replying.

“There are many things which we need not get involved in Elundia,” the man said, shaking his head. “While we can claim to be the heads of this corner of the world, we really are nobodies on the grand stage of it all. Look at us and the Titans; combined, we have only five Titulars altogether. Yet, ten times as many die in every war between the Holy Lands. Just a single branch Sect is enough to completely wipe us out. If they aren’t asking us to regulate this, it only means it’s beyond our capacity.”

“Beyond our capacity? What could it be?” Elundia asked, calming down.

“Many things,” the man shrugged. “Ancient Clam revival, a birth of the Mystical Beast, discovery of a yet-to-be-sentient Prime or a Fiend, hell, it may as well be advent of the Empyrean Bearer for all we know. Regardless of whichever one of those things it is, our role to play is minuscule at best... non-existent at worst. Don’t worry about it too much,” the man added when he spotted Elundia’s complex gaze. “You should resume your task for now and inform me of Rex’s movements.”

“Yes.” Elundia quickly nodded.

“Who knows? Maybe this advent of the Devils will finally give you the opportunity to gain your Title.”

“... hopefully...” Elundia said before disappearing in smoke just the same as she arrived, silence once again encompassing the room.

“Hah...” the man sighed lowly. “I suppose I can only hope it’s anything else but the Bearer of the Empyrean Writ... this Continent wouldn’t be able to bear that burden. Heh... bear... ha ha ha ha... khm. Right. Back to work...”

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About the author

beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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