Lino felt a strange wave of nostalgia wash over him as he marched by foot with boots clanking against the dry earth beneath through a winding, paved road. It has been a long time since he’d departed in the old-fashioned style with a band of rowdy souls to accompany him.
Though he’d suggested they use horses for the easier travel, everyone -- including Jack and Edward -- refused it. There was still a couple of months till the festival and as they weren’t in a rush, they wanted to do some cross-country journeying. Having no heart to reject them, Lino accepted as their journey would still only take around a week which was the length he could spare.
In addition to themselves, Jack and Edward brought with them six other people, four of which were yet to even hit their twenties and two who were rather experienced, Master Blacksmiths. Altogether their little group numbered eleven, a number far higher than what Lino expected. It also meant that the moments of silence were far few and between.
“The Nephelm March?” Edward looked at Felix for a moment before nodding faintly. “Hmm, I do remember reading about it a long time ago. It was the last battle that sealed the Holy Emperor’s dominance over the Continent.”
“Is it true that the Empire’s forces were actually outnumbered ten to one?” Felix asked excitedly.
“It is,” Jack chimed in from the side. “The Emperor dispatched his proudest Legion, the Holy Titans Legion commanded by the now-Legendary Guardian of the entire Empire, titular Guardian of Light.” Lino’s ears perked up momentarily as he listened in. So... the Empire has at least two Titular Void Cultivators, huh? Lino mused inwardly as he stroked his chin. That’s far from enough, though... “They fought the battle on the open fields of Nephelm without either side using any tactics, just a brutal face-off.”
“... haah...” Felix sighed enviously. “What a sight would it be to witness...”
“Oh, shut up.” Lucky rolled her eyes at him. “You’d have pissed your pants just due to sound alone...”
“Hey!! That’s a lie and you know it!”
“Do I?” Lucky grinned.
“Now, now youngsters, there’s no need to fight...” Edward tried to pacify the two with a strange smile.
“Why don’t we fight you instead, then?”
“Eeh, please, just calm down...”
“That’s what you get Ed for trying to play a fiddle...”
“Yeah, stop fiddling with our business...”
“What?!” Lucky exclaimed angrily. “He can do it but I can’t?” she pointed at Lino who walked behind everyone else innocently until he suddenly got dragged into the middle of it all with all eyes shifting over onto him.
“Hah... you’re lucky I’m such a good mood so I’ll let it slide. You truly lucked out. Your luck stat must have been blessed by heavens themselves. It’s astonishingly luckluster how you try to steal my jam. It’s pure luckery, these feeble attempts of yours---alright, I’m done.”
While everyone else attempted to process the astounding numbness that besieged their minds, Lino merely grinned at the blushing Lucky and ignored the atmosphere. Naphelm Fields were situated roughly a hundred miles northward from their current position and were pinched in-between two mountain rings and cut off in south by River Ro. Lino jotted the name into his mind as he suspected another crucial battle would be led there quite soon.
The atmosphere was soon restored and the conversations once again sullied the silence, but Lino withdrew from them, walking several paces behind everyone else. Ever so often he’d feel an overwhelming Divine Sense wash over him and the others, though it appeared only he was able to feel it. After all, neither Edward nor Jack were all that strong -- barely Early Illumine Realm cultivators -- to say nothing of the rest.
Recalling the information from the parchment, he could roughly guess who it was that was scanning them which stunned him even more. What’s she doing here of all places? He could guess as to why she repeatedly scattered her Divine Sense over them -- Lino wasn’t currently projecting any Qi, so outside of some basic visual aid, it would be pretty much impossible to even confirm his existence. Oh well. I suppose meeting her here should make things easier once we reach the Capital.
His lips curled up in a smile as he stretched sideways. Though everyone noticed his sudden departure, Lucky and Felix signaled the rest not to pay it much heed. The two knew his purpose for visiting the Capital most-likely had little to do with Jack’s and Ed’s, despite Lino’s rather obvious tendency for doing things which fed his ego.
As soon as he put enough distance between the group, he suddenly took out two items from the void world. The first was the winged crest with 72 etched on its surface. It was a badge of sorts which confirmed him to be a member of the Great Descent. The other was the mask that he found in his pocket after he departed from the branch headquarters.
The mask was rather simple, made out of white material, encapsulating his entire face save for chin and mouth, with two holes for the eyes. He donned it slowly and suddenly felt the stray of Qi stagnate considerably around him. It turned out that the mask was a worse version of his own hiding ‘technique’.
Lino unleash a smudge of Qi momentarily yet the person behind the Divine Sense seemed to have noticed it as the space around him suddenly moved and displaced, forming a spatial vortex. Grinning, Lino casually stepped through and felt the familiar pull. After a few moments of traveling through the space, he was spat out into a rather luxurious room. Over a hundred squared meters in size, it stunned Lino with the sheer number of items hanging like coffers on the walls.
Paintings... mosaics... weapons... armors... dresses... shields... there was everything one could imagine to use for a decoration, with even an occasional statue making its presence known. Lino didn’t let his eyes wander off too far, however, as he quickly shifted them forward where three figures stood staring at him.
The two on the side were Royal Guards, easily recognizable not only through their platinum armor but also through the crest embedded on their chests, a golden fist of all things. The one who used her Divine Sense to scout them out stood in-between the two, donning a rather lavish, ornamental dress. She was on the shorter end of things, quite slender and currently barefoot.
She had a strangely dyed hair, a mix between aquatic blue and emerald green, both colors reflected in the pair of wide and round eyes that were warily staring at him. Lino’s lips suddenly curled up in a smirk; to the public eye, this was none other than the spoiled First Princess of the Empire, Annabelle. In reality, however, she was a Commander of the Empire’s third strongest Legion, Sacred Swords Legion, and was in reality a Level 930 Cultivator, having already formed her own Singularity.
“May I ask as to why the supreme Princess herself has gotten so interested in my little group?” Lino asked casually as he suddenly sat down and took out a gourd of ale. Seeing this, the two guards by the Princess’ side reached for their weapons without uttering a sound, with Lino silently acknowledging their actions. However, before they could fully draw out their swords, Annabelle stopped them with a gentle wave of her hands.
“What does the Mister mean?” just based on her appearance, one would think she was around sixteen years old; however, she was well over a hundred years old by now. “One of my servants picked up something strange and did something, and the Mister suddenly popped into my chambers.”
“...” Lino looked deeply into her eyes for a moment and realized that her intention was merely to just test him and leave it at that, but Lino wasn’t as ready to say goodbye just like that. He reached into his pocket and took out the winged crest, fiddling with it with his fingers. “You should recall them.” he mumbled faintly, though just loud enough for her to hear. Her eyes instinctively moved onto Lino’s fingers whereupon she suddenly froze, her entire heart washed over in frigid cold. Her lips quickly trembled, sweat charging out of her skin. “Hey.” a faint voice jolted her from her stupor.
“Leave us alone.” losing her playful and innocent demeanour, she called out to the two guards.
“Do not worry. Leave us alone.” the two guards bowed reluctantly and left, leaving the whole, massive room to Lino and Princess alone. As the doors behind her clanked close, Annabelle quickly fell to one knee and lowered her head, her whole body beginning to shake in fear. “Forgive this lowly one for presumptions attitude. Had I known--”
“Just get up,” Lino groaned lowly; he inwardly worried whether everyone else will greet him similarly. Though it felt nice, he had to admit, it was also slightly uncomfortable. “I’m not here to flaunt.”
“Y-yes.” Annabelle got up slowly, yet didn’t dare to look Lino in his eyes, squirming silently.
“So, why the interest?” Lino asked again with a faint smile.
“Ah... that...” she lowered her head in embarrassment for a moment. “At first it was truly an accident as I’m in charge of scouting the westward swath of the continent. But, I was wholly unable to sense you through my Divine Sense despite seeing you with my eyes, which is why I tried repeatedly.”
“... hoh?” Lino exclaimed softly as he put the crest away. “Don’t tell me your Father had already commenced the War State?”
“Only partially,” she replied honestly. “He did not wish to disturb the state of things too much as of yet.”
“... a wise man,” Lino mumbled faintly as he got up. “I’m on my way to the Capital,” his words seemed to startle her and no matter how much she fought to conceal it, Lino spotted it, sighing inwardly. “Inform your Father and those still privy to my identity. We’ll talk more then.”
“I hope you won’t be too afraid to let me see those beautiful eyes the next time we meet.” Lino added casually as he stepped through the vortex and walked out, leaving Annabelle alone.
She was unable to tear away her gaze from the still spinning vortex for a long while, an indiscernible number of thoughts colliding with one another inside of her mind. So far, the situation on the Continent was treated rather casually, both by her Father and his vassals. However, she thought, her brows furrowing. If they are involved in this... the situation must be far graver than we realize. I should also thank my Father for telling me about them... had I not known... I’d have most-likely died...
On the other end, Lino found himself back in the open field from which he stepped into the vortex. Quickly locating the group, he headed slowly toward them while thoughts too spun inside his mind. I can already feel the meeting with them will be a pain in the ass... he thought with a frown. Royal Members? More like Royal Screw-ups... he he... khm... row, row, row your boat...