HELL AND HELL
Extremely sharp screens lip up even more an otherwise already lit up room, lined perfectly next to one another, stoutly defying the gravity by seemingly standing in the air of their own volition. Ten or so pairs of eyes were focused on them, all images depicting the same scene -- merely from the different angles.
Lino watched with faint curiosity, as he truly admired the advanced technology of the Empire. Using automaton birds and intricate formations, they were able to transfer images in motion from such a vast distance at such quality. He wagered, however, that it wasn’t cheap; yet, all the same, it was necessary. It was, after all, depicting the very first battle that was about to transpire between the Continental Forces and the Hell’s Army.
The central screen was the largest, almost two meters diagonally, and was currently focused on the front of the Titan’s Children Legion and their Commander, Second Prince On’yal. The latter was currently donning a starkly jet-black robes enchanted through numerous arrays; even Lino felt a tinge of envy when looking at him, as he wagered the item must be of at least Legendary tier, Level 600 at that. That sort of crafting was still well beyond Lino’s realm.
However, it’s not as though items like the robe can be found just anywhere; chances are that the Emperor was paying extra attention to the first battle as to garner momentum for the Continental Forces.
“They’re approaching the enclave,” Patriarch Chen spoke out in a mellow tone, gently tapping against the table. “Are you certain they shouldn’t lay down any formation?” he asked Lino.
“It’s pointless,” the latter shrugged. “En’kav may be proud, but he’s not an idiot. He’ll never rush in and attack first.”
“... and that’s why you settled on the coordinated attack?” the Empire’s Guardian, Jean, asked.
“Partly,” Lino replied. “It wouldn’t be hard if it was merely a matter of snuffing his Legion out. It’s also a matter of hiding as much strength as we can.”
“Don’t they already know our strongest forces?” the Emperor asked.
“... if wars were entirely dependent on those on top,” Lino glanced at him and spoke with a faint smile. “Why would ordinary men ever need take arms? Besides, chances are that only a few Commanders will fall throughout the entire war. It’s better to focus on shaving away their numbers.”
“On’yal seems excited.” the Unholy Guardian noted, his facial features masked behind a black hood.
“Youth ought to be.” the Sky-bearing Monk said, smiling faintly. “It’s not only a chance for the young to get stronger, but also to make a name for themselves in a short period of time. Such an opportunity rarely presents itself.”
“... what’s he doing?” Lino mumbled faintly yet everyone present in the room heard him easily, their eyes shifting back on the screen and Prince On’yal. The latter, rather than splitting his forces according to the plan and consolidating defensive position, pressed onward past the enclave, entering the mountains’ deeps. “Hah...”
“I’ll contact him--”
“No need,” Lino interrupted the Emperor. “Jean, go ahead and ensure we don’t suffer too many losses.”
“... aren’t we just sending them to pointless deaths?” the Emperor raised his tone slightly. Lino glanced at him slowly and smile faintly.
“Our entire army was scrambled together within less than a month,” Lino elaborated. “Composed of forces that used to fight until recently. Mostly stacked with young people -- most of whom had never even experienced Demon’s aura, let alone Devil’s. You could babysit them for as much as you want, but what when all of us are tied up with fighting Commanders?”
“... thousands will die.” even Jean said, seeming unwilling.
“And by the time the war is over, millions will,” Lino used the Writ’s help to forcibly keep his composure. Nobody knew the price of his command better than him. “But, if you think my command is wrong, I’m not going to stop you from doing whatever you want to do.”
“... to fight hell, you’ve to suffer hell, eh?” Patriarch Chen spoke out, glancing at Lino from the corner of his eyes with a strange glint in them. “It’s still too early, I think. It might deter the army more than you imagine.”
“... ‘s that so?” Lino glanced at him, smiling. “Very well. From now on, each time someone defies a direct order, we’ll forgive them because it might deter them from fighting.”
“You all seem to have a misunderstanding about this war,” Lino continued. “I am not trying to lead you to victory... but to survival.” If their intent was truly to overrun us and kill everyone... do they really think they’d be able to stop it? Lino thought inwardly, sighing. He truly felt being torn asunder inside; had he decided not to come to the Continent, chances are that the Devils would have still waited with their attack. Their division is really the only reason the Continent even stood a chance in the first place; some want to obey the orders from above, and others want to kill Lino more than anything else. “But, fine. Order him to retreat.” Lino added in the end, mostly due to the Emperor’s pleading gaze. On’yal, after all, was the child he was most proud of; chances are, if they went with Lino’s intention, he’d become a broken man today. And it was a question whether he’d recover by the time the war was over.
“Thank you.” the Emperor quickly thanked him, getting up and taking out a talisman.
“D-do... do they really stand no chance in direct confrontation?” a voice trying to mask itself with confidence resonated through the room, the eyes of those sitting veering sideways toward the standing figure. Even Eluinda, a mere level away from getting a Title herself barely managed to withstand mere gazes of the Continent’s superpowers.
“The Noble Descended is right,” Unholy Guardian said. “Those who’ve never tangled with the Devils... will never understand them. If they weren’t as proud as they are and marched toward us in broad daylight, chances are we’d have already suffered irrecoverable losses.”
“Indeed,” the Sky-bearing Monk nodded solemnly. “I still remember my first encounter with the Devil. Not unlike young On’yal, I imagined most rumors about them to be mere hyperbolas. Short an arm, leg and an ear a few minutes later, I’d realized the harsh reality of it all, all too well.”
“I’m just wondering why they stacked their Commanders purely with Sin-Devils. Shouldn’t variation be more successful?” Guardian Jean asked.
“...” everyone’s eyes quickly shifted over onto Lino who smiled bitterly. Even he had no clue as to why that was the case.
“Not all Sin-Devils are same,” he replied vaguely. “Law of Sin... is boundless, after all. And, considering that the entire continent is stacked to brim mainly with Humans, who have quite a close relationship with ‘sin’, you can imagine it all.” though the explanation sounded reasonable, Lino rejected it immediately. If that were the case, Death-Devil Variant was even more deplorable for Humans. “Looks like the Emperor managed to talk some sense into his son.” Lino switched the subject as he spotted On’yal retreating back to the enclave.
Currently, On’yal was donning a terrible expression; he never had intention of following the plan, as there was no glory in just standing still and surviving through the battle. His Father made a name for himself through conquest, always pushing onwards, and On’yal wanted to do the same. He didn’t think much of the Sin-Devil he was supposed to fight; after all, just for today’s battle, his Father had given him one of the Empire’s Seven Treasures, [Robe of Divine], a Level 750 Legendary Unique item that’s perfectly suited for manipulation of matter -- whether it be of fire or of space, which he was proficient in.
However, he still had to relent before his Father’s words, though he suspected it wasn’t his call in the first place. His mind immediately conjured the image of the masked figure, a trace of hatred and anger bubbling inside his heart -- he quickly pushed them down, though. Even if he was a thousand times as hot headed, he’d never dare do anything about it.
Even if, by some miracle, he managed to kill that masked man, the end of their Empire would be etched in stone -- no amount of treasures and powerhouses would be able to prevent it. Taking a deep breath to calm down, he split his forces as per plan and began forming defensive formation around the enclave. According to the timeline, the Hell’s Army ought to be arriving in less than an hour.
Shouts of men and women quickly drowned out the chirping of the birds in the nearby forest as everyone raced about to set up traps, supply lines, supportive formations in the back, barricades and Vanguard Shieldbearers. It took the rather effective army less than twenty minutes to set everything in order; after all, as Second’s Prince Legion, they were trained from before they were even ten, most having at least two decades of experience under their belts.
Standing surrounded by his Guards, On’yal stared toward the horizon where two mountains crossed paths. As though on clock, before an hour passed, he saw a swarming mass of black emerge; some were slithering along the ground, some were flying, and one flew above all others.
Two spiraling horns extruded from the man’s rather pronounced forehead, surrounded by long and flat violet-dyed hair spilling over his broad shoulders protected by spiked pauldrons. The full-body armor the man donned was dyed in jet-black, with only traces of silver luminescence occasionally flickering here and there.
En’kav’s purple eyes stared at the swarm of flies on the ground with contempt; he was in an extremely sour mood, after all. Being sent out as a vanguard to play with the humans was beyond humiliating for him -- even more so because he was forbidden from pressing beyond the humans’ defensive line. Quickly locating the strongest person in the mass, his already terrible mood turned far worse -- the kid standing there and looking at him wasn’t even a Titular...
“Are you the Sin-Devil En’kav?” On’yal shouted at the man hovering in the air, somewhat shocked inwardly. Even without any conscious effort, En’kav seemed to exude pressure that was beyond On’yal’s estimates.
“...” En’kav didn’t even bother replying. He merely flicked his finger forward, signaling his army to go and slaughter whatever they may. He found it beneath himself to even join the battle; victory would mean absolutely nothing, and if there was nothing to be won in the battle, why bother battling in the first place? The thought of losing didn’t even cross his mind.
“... I asked you something.” On’yal’s brows furrowed as he extended his arm forth, his palm open before closing it into a fist. En’kav suddenly felt space around him collapse unto itself, hurrying out of the area of attack. Glancing at the distorted space, his lips curled up into a faint smile, his purple eyes glancing at On’yal in new light.
“No wonder they haven’t sent a Titular,” En’kav said. “Looks like someone’s done their homework on me, huh? However... do you really think you can fight me just because you’ve learned a couple of tricks?”
“Tricks?” On’yal grinned grimly, ascending into the sky as well, standing opposite of En’kav with a couple of miles of distance between the two. His robes fluttered freely, shimmering in strange black ever so often. “If it was a trick, why did you evade it?”
“He he,” the Devil chuckled oddly and licked his lips with a sharp, almost knife-like tongue. “Even though someone’s homework on me is quite good, they still decided to send a greenie my way. They either think quite a bit of you, or quite little of me. And your expression tells me it’s not the former, eh?”
“... is talking the only thing the Devils can do?” On’yal said somewhat angrily, feeling his emotions stir.
“Now, now,” En’kav said, nonchalantly waving his arm. “Don’t go losing your shit after what can barely be called exposure to my temptations. I need you to last at least a couple of minutes... otherwise, it’s no fun.”
“...” On’yal suddenly clasped his hands together, causing En’kav to chuckle and retreat backwards. The space where he just hovered at collapsed like On’yal’s palms, scars trembling momentarily before fixing themselves. “Let’s see just how far away can you run.” On’yal grinned, extending both his arms, closing them into fists and smacking them sideways against one another. Without waiting any further, he opened his hands and twined his fingers together before pushing outward and then bringing his palms against his chest.
All the while, En’kav found himself swarmed with spatial distortions aiming to eat him. No matter how he seemed to sidestep, the bleeding void seemed to follow him. His heart beat for the first time in excitement; the human kid’s spatial understanding was enough to prove a threat. Chuckling still, he raised his right arm and extended his index finger before bringing it down; space above him opened up into a slit, suddenly spitting out a massive sword, over forty meters across and nearly a hundred in length.
On’yal’s expression turned serious as he smacked his chest with a fist before being swallowed whole by space, spat out a hundred meters to the side, evading the sword.
“Let the dance with the Devil begin now... boy...” he heard a malicious tone bounding the sky and pressing into his heart, ready to suffocate him.