THE HOLY CITY
Although Lino had seen it once before he still couldn’t suppress the surging awe in his heart completely. The Holy City was massive -- and even still Lino considered it an understatement. Unlike other cities he’d visited so far, it had seven sectional walls which broke the City down into seven unique districts. Furthermore, rather than being built with a singular theme in mind, the city seemed almost cascade-like.
Its southern end was dominated by the continents largest river -- River Ro, which ran all the way down to the south, draining into the ocean, its source hidden somewhere in the massive Northern Spears mountain range. Along the river within the city, regardless of the district it seemed, farms sprung out left and right.
Across on the northern side, large swaths of the city were built near the mountain with several large deposits of coal and copper, which was also the north’s greatest advantage. Because of these factors, aside from the difference between the districts, there was also a sectional difference between the north and south in terms of culture, tradition, lifestyles and even values.
Architecture itself ranged anywhere from the common, wooden cabins to spire-chiseled colossals rising ever so often in the distance, to even more complex array of buildings which used baroque designs to the absolute hurt. During his first visit here while he was searching for the branch quarters of the Great Descent, Lino didn’t pay much attention to the world around him, but now couldn’t help but.
The massive walls, guards adorned in full plate, wagons upon wagons of merchants, the sheer density of populace and the buildings themselves whereupon they seemed stacked over one another even within the furthest district from the center, the chatter of the thousands of strangers rendering the concept of silence itself dead... Lino could hardly begin to even describe it.
“We have a rented house within the Third District,” Jack approached Lino and said. “Ed and I intend on waiting there for the festival. What about you?”
“... hmm,” Lino stroked his chin for a moment. “Is there enough room for the three of us?”
“Of course.” Jack nodded.
“Alright. We’ll settle there as well for the little while,” Lino said. “Well, it’ll mostly be those two, but still.”
“You plan on going somewhere?” Jack asked, somewhat surprised.
“Not exactly,” Lino shrugged. “I’ll be out and about. I’ll also visit at least once a week to craft something. Especially now that I have to arm myself and those two imbeciles--why are you looking at me like that?” Lino noticed Jack’s strange gaze and asked. “Oh. They’re right behind me, aren’t they?”
“Hello, my two wonderful Disciples,” Lino shifted on his heel quickly and flashed disgruntled Felix and Lucky a beaming smile. “I have secured us a warm house for the winter!”
“It’s summer!!” Felix and Lucky exclaimed.
“But... it’s winter in my heart...”
“... Uncle Jack, let’s go.” Felix and Lucky ignored Lino and stepped behind Jack who smiled awkwardly. Though the youth before him was many things, tactful wasn’t one of them.
“It’s alright,” Lino smiled faintly. “I have some business to attend to. Just draw me a map of where your place is within the district and I’ll find you.”
“Oh, I already did.” Jack reached into his pocket and took out a crumpled piece of cloth before handing it over to Lino. “It shouldn’t be too hard to find. However, just to be sure, here’s a talisman in case you get lost.”
“...” Looks like I’m still in the business of getting talismans from old men... haah... “Thanks.” despite his thoughts, he still smiled widely and waved the entourage as it moved along the massively crowded streets surrounded by massively crowded buildings. “Now then...” he mumbled as he looked toward the eastern sky.
Far off in the distance, well beyond what even his eye could see, was a Palace in the Sky as the locals called it. Resting upon the floating rocks, it was the pride and treasure of the entire Titan Empire. Even Lino had to admit it was a spectacular way to appear cool to the masses, though he did know it wasn’t built by the Empire; it was rather a remnant of the Titan technology, which is also why the Empire developed with the ideologies it did.
Lino quickly scurried away from the masses and donned the simple mask. Though he was fairly certain that the Emperor could locate him even this far out, he was slightly worried over whether exposing his Qi would basically be telling him that Lino was yet to even break past the Realms of Rebirth.
“Don’t worry,” having read his thoughts, the Writ’s robotic voice quickly resounded. “Even the other Writs would be unable to discern your Realm, let alone an ordinary Emperor of a small Empire.”
“... did you finally recover?” Lino asked.
“Oh, you’re begging me not to talk about it? Well... this is rare...”
“Please.” sensing the panic in the Writ’s voice, Lino decided to relent with a smile.
“Fine. I’ll trust you then.”
He briefly condensed a sliver of Qi within his palm, yet not even a moment later he felt a rather powerful and domineering Divine Sense sweep over him. And then again. And again. It did so for nearly ten times before the space in front of him disfigured and the vortex opened. Lino grinned oddly for a moment before sighing and stepping inside.
Unlike with Annabelle, it was clear that the Emperor had planned the meeting with a better care. Lino found himself in a well-lit yet still small room without any decorations. Opposite of him was a small army of people, something even he didn’t expect -- fourteen people in total. His eyes quickly found Annabelle standing just off to the side of two men both of whom stood at least a whole foot in front of the others.
Lino recognized one of them quickly -- Emperor Rex, the so-called Divinely Chosen ruler of the Titan Empire for hundreds of years now. He was extremely tall and broad man, donning royal robes which fitted his body perfectly. Even Lino had to admit that the man’s features were quite... unique. A scarred face with well-defined features spilled into muscular body that could contend even Eggor. Furthermore, his eyes were differently colored; one eerily purple and the other even more ghastly white. To add more to the whole rainbow-presentation was his azure-dyed hair. All in all, he really did resemble those heroes Lino used to read about as a kid.
Next to him stood a far more ordinary-looking man, yet for one reason or another he gave Lino a much greater sense of danger. Over a whole head and a half shorter, wearing simple robes, black-haired and eyed with slightly aged features, Lino recognized the current strongest cultivator of the Titan Empire -- Guardian of Light. Besides the two of them who retained some measure of calmness, the rest appeared rather startled upon landing their eyes -- and Divine Senses in extension -- on Lino.
“... isn’t it a bit rude?” Lino molded his voice slightly, causing it be a bit deeper and rougher as he spoke, smiling faintly under the mask. “Even without buying me a dinner, you want to strip me naked.”
“...” Lino guessed that they most-likely anticipated many things, but him making a joke immediately upon arriving certainly didn’t appear to be one of their envisioned ideas.
“Everyone.” the moment the Emperor spoke, the entire room went silent. Lino finally realized what the true Emperor represented; he could only bitterly smile when remembering Althone and Evelyn. Both had a whole lot more to learn. “If it is not too much,” the Emperor then shifted his attention away from others onto Lino. “We would like to inspect your identification. Forgive Our rudeness, but Our Royal Daughter is quite inexperienced.”
“... alright.” Lino still held onto a faint smile as he fished out the winged crest from his void world, allowing it to levitate slightly above his palm. It didn’t take long for either the Emperor or the Guardian to recognize the crest as the genuine article. Their expressions stiffened, gazes hardening. “Though I very much like the welcoming party you’ve thrown me, I’d rather much talk with you two first.”
“...” the Emperor said nothing, merely waving his hand gently. Within a blink, everyone save for him and the Guardian was gone. Lino, then, immediately recognized the movement of their muscles as a thousand resounding ‘what a pain in the ass’ echoed throughout his mind repeatedly.
“Take the creed of your title seriously,” Lino spoke out before the two had the chance. “The Emperor isn’t someone who bows. Not to heavens themselves, and certainly not to men. Alright, let’s sit down.” ignoring their slightly confused gazes, Lino inwardly wondered just what the hell did his predecessors do to make seemingly everyone terrified of the mere identity. “You’ve most-likely figured out that my arrival isn’t exactly synonymous with good news.” Lino quickly spoke out as the trio sat around a simple table. Both the Emperor and the Guardian still seemed quite uncomfortable, though Lino ignored it.
“Indeed.” the Emperor nodded. “Can We--I mean, can I ask why has someone as Noble as Yourself come here?” Oi, oi, seriously, what the heck did you guys do?! Did you enslave the whole world at one point to make everyone shit their pants upon the mere mention of your name?! Though Lino cursed inwardly, he remained calm on the surface.
“Have your men had any success?” Lino ignored the Emperor’s question and glanced at the Guardian.
“We’ve been unable to root them out just yet.” the man replied with a bit more composure than the Emperor.
“Recall your Legion,” Lino’s words startled the two men whose eyes quickly seemed to be begging for the answers. “Though your decision was correct,” he then turned toward the Emperor again. “It was quite rash. Do you really think it’s as simple as a small army of Devils invading?”
“... meaning?” seeming to have understood the undertones, their eyes quickly turned murderous.
“Meaning that this is a full-scale invasion,” Lino explained. “The army you were after would have most-likely dragged you further into their formation till you were trapped. Chances are, however, you’d have discovered it well before. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Lino smiled faintly. “I suppose now’s the time I inform you of my objective here,” he added, tapping his finger against the table. “I’m to unite the scattered forces of the entire Continent and assemble them into a war machine to contend against the Eighteen Invading Legions of the Hell’s Army, each of which is led by a Sin-Devil Variant as a Commander. This means their forces number at minimum around 2 million.”
“W-what?!!” losing what little composure the two had, they started on their feet, their eyes trembling in terror.
“Calm down,” Lino said. “There’s still some time before they invade. I imagine they are still opening up the portals and solidifying their bases.”
“... I assume You are to act as the overall Commander of our forces?” the Guardian was the first to recover and asked Lino with a serious tone.
“Something like that,” Lino nodded, smiling faintly. “Though I imagine you understand just how impossible of a feat that is. While I will coordinate the overall movement, every formed Legion will still retain autonomy and make decisions based on the situation-to-situation basis. Right. How many Titular Voids does the Continent have?” Lino asked with slight interest. “I am aware of five so far -- you two, Patriarch Chenghiz of the Unholy Calling Sect and their Guardian, and the reclusive Sky-bearing Monk.”
“... those are all, as far as we’re aware.” the Emperor seemed to recover at last, confirming Lino’s list.
“...” Lino sighed inaudibly. Though far more than he expected before leaving the Western Continent, it was also far fewer than he had hoped after reading through the information. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said after a short silence. “I will not participate directly in the battles of the highest order -- that is not unless the entire Continent is facing extinction.” Lino still felt sliver of hatred in his heart; the parchment actually asked him to repel the Titular Voids of the Devil Army. He truly wished to kill that old man. “With that in mind,” the twos’ expressions didn’t change, seemingly already aware of it. “I’ll give you a week to gather as many leaders as you can. Don’t include my identity in the invitation; I’ll personally visit those who refuse.” the two gulped simultaneously, seemingly already imagining the dreaded ends of those who refused it. “I’ll arrange the general formation and battle plan then. You can also invite the most trustworthy war-planners to the meeting. After all, you guys know the Continent far better than I do. I know it doesn’t need to be said, but still, make sure my appearance here remains a secret. Who knows what the Devils might do if they find out.”
“Of course.” the Emperor quickly nodded.
“Well then. See you guys in a week.” Lino smiled lightly and got up, leaving the room. The vortex closed quickly after him, leaving the Emperor and the Guardian sitting in silence for a short while.
“What do you think Jean?” the Emperor asked the man sitting next to him who appeared deep in thought.
“... I think... this will be the war to determine whether we continue to exist or not, Rex.”
“... what about the man’s strength?” the Emperor asked.
“Humph, you’re just slightly weaker than me. What makes you think I’d be able to pry him open?” the Guardian scoffed in mockery for a moment, forcing a bitter smile onto the Emperor’s face. “However... seeing his confidence when he mentioned he’d only intervene if the Continent faced extinction... he should be quite strong.”
“... he’s only number 72, though.” the Emperor said.
“... they haven’t admitted anyone new in centuries,” the Guardian said. “Actually, this is the longest they’ve ever gone without full 72 members. Even with that selectiveness and indifference, he still managed to be admitted. This should also be his first mission... and with the full knowledge of the entire background, they still willingly assigned it over to him. What do you think?”
“Don’t think too much about it,” the Guardian stood up slowly. “Let’s do as we are asked for the time being. If the Hell’s Army truly numbers around 2 million... this is going to be a true war for survival...”