WAR OF THE MADMEN (V)
In the moment that Lino threw the sword that had slain the Sin-Devil Commander, he’d also broken the dam barring him from ascending further into the Realms of Cultivation, officially reaching Level 180 and Early Illumine Realm. His own ascension wasn’t much different than the rest, as the pre-requisite was exactly what the name itself implied -- to be illuminated over something.
It didn’t necessarily had to be a Martial Art, though that was how majority of others ascended. For Lino, however, it was his Will; though just faintly, he’d understood how to imbue it into reality, take abstract and make it corporeal.
What startled him, though, was that he’d already reached the next bottleneck of the cultivation -- Level 239, just a level short away from Numinous Realm. It wasn’t all that odd, though, as he had managed to kill a Sin-Devil Variant of all things. Chuckling bitterly, he extended his right arm out and flicked his index finger. A sudden warmth encapsulated it as a whiff of golden light entangled itself around the finger, low whines and cries coming out of it.
It was the Primal Spirit he had chosen after reaching Illumine Realm -- Ashta, the Primal Spirit of Light. Lino was rather surprised that a Primal of Spirit of light had offered her service; after all, his affinity with Dark Spirits was much greater. Nonetheless, he’d chosen her almost immediately, though her description was just as dubious as any other.
[Primal Spirit Ashta -- Supreme-tier Divine Spirit of Light]
-- The first Tear of the Sun, cast onto the world. The Light that can never be extinguished, and the Light that shall always glow holy. --
He was currently high in the sky, riding Grim yet again since the latter had recovered enough for casual flight. Wind grazed his cheeks gently, his spirit free and full. Next to him Non was playing with a bone, occasionally growling if Grim took a sharp turn or dive, scenery which had turned Lino’s heart warm. It has been a long while, he realized, since he’d felt as at peace as he did at the moment.
He took it all in, entombed it into his memory, every ounce of every emotion and every action so that he may never forget it, for he knew the moment would be short-lived. Even if the Writ hadn’t proposed that ‘condition’, Lino himself would have done the exact same thing. All that was left was to create his armor, and off to the frontlines he would go.
“You are awfully excited over going to the war with the entire world.” the familiar voice echoed inside his head, causing Lino to smirk.
“... just imagining it,” Lino said. “Standing lonesome... against it all... while wome--I mean people watch on from the side... and see my badas--I mean my honorable defiance... haii...”
“... your ego is full enough already.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
“I know.” the Writ said.
“Of course you do...” Lino sighed, inwardly cursing since he knew the Writ could hear it anyway. “So? You think I’m qualified to know just yet?”
“Far from it,” the Writ replied. “Even Titular Voids aren’t by default qualified to know of the Fate’s workings, hardly a newly emerged Illumine brat.”
“... ouch. So... why do I have a feeling you’ll still tell me?” Lino smirked.
“Because you need to know,” the Writ replied. “Though she was always keen on my Bearers, it seems she has taken a rather deep interest in you.”
“You shouldn’t be. Truthfully, in some aspects... she is even worse than Gaia, all things considered. At the very least the latter has always acted openly and cleanly.”
“... you sound like you’re actually afraid of her?” Lino exclaimed softly.
“I had always disregarded her due to our conflicting natures,” the Writ elaborated. “The Fate in and of itself does not posses any power; rather, the very concept of ‘fate’ is quite misleading. There is no such thing as a ‘predetermined event’ to begin with as the future itself doesn’t exist. That is why even the Law of Time, regardless of mastery, can never allow one to travel further than their current present.”
“... hmm. So to say... that the entire world’s future is being made up as we go along?” Lino asked.
“Yes, something like that.”
“... then what is fate?” Lino asked.
“It’s ability to predict future based on the chain reactions,” the Writ said. “For instance, if a King’s daughter is suddenly assassinated, it’s not difficult to predict the next set of actions. However, Fate can determine the entire lifetime based on the choices made.”
“... ah, so that’s why you said you two have conflicting natures,” Lino exclaimed in realization. “She works through understanding and dispensing patterns, while you are the very definition of pattern-defiance.”
“Hm,” the Writ mumbled. “So far it was easy for me to simply ‘mute’ her predictions on whatever I wished.”
“... what? She’s, like, really into me or something?”
“No. As I’m repeatedly trying to hide your aura in addition to feeding you as much as possible, I am unable to fully expel her eye off of you.”
“... she sounds like a really bad case of a stalker.” Lino shuddered. “Wait... when you said that what Fate wants is a ‘choiceless world’... is this what you meant?”
“Hm, partly. It’s more that she desires to maintain the illusion of choice, while knowing the end result regardless. That’s all you will get for today.”
“Tsk... cheap bastard.” Lino grunted lowly. “Though, I suppose... I’ll probably be meeting her one day, one way or another.”
Realizing that the Writ had really decided it was enough, Lino shrugged his shoulders and closed his eyes, lying down on the Grim’s back, enjoying the rather sunny day. Non quickly snuggled over and laid his head onto Lino’s chest, with the latter surprisingly not cursing out at him. Astha traveled over from Lino’s finger to his face and lay on his cheek, quickly falling asleep. Living... like this... Lino though momentarily. Wouldn’t be so bad...
N’khtur, a four-horned Devil of extremely pale complexion and terrifyingly black eyes, currently sat on the top seat of the meeting hall for the Hell Army’s invasion of the Central Continent. Acting as the overall Commander of the war, he was the only Commanding Devil present that wasn’t a Sin-Devil Variant, but rather a God-Devil Variant, second only to the Origin Children. He had an indifferent expression on his face, a stark contrast to those sitting beneath him who seemed to be split into two camps.
N’khtur listened to their bickering and fighting in silence, occasionally sighing. Even before departing he knew it would turn out like this. The Hell was too divided for a successful invasion of the Continent, especially one on such a short notice. However... they couldn’t say no -- the word came down from well above their eyes and minds, from the Father himself. Regardless of their struggles and differences, when the Father spoke, all Devils would turn meek and listen and obey.
“... that’s enough.” a mere sound of his voice was enough to immediately silence the entire room, sixteen pairs of eyes turning toward him. “It is unfortunate that Akava has fallen, but she has chosen to attack of her own accord, defying my direct orders. Whether felled by the Empyrean or anyone else is besides the point. En’kav is having some trouble,” he continued, disregarding defiant stares. “Lymmir, take your Legion and move out. You don’t have to engage with them too hastily -- just open up the Western Front for the time being. Amma, Endoah, Kult and Issiah -- four of you combine and hit the North. It’s the area with the roughest terrain, so it’s most-likely guarded by the Emperor and another Titular with minimum forces. Each of you should only take around a thousand-strong force, and leave the rest to Handuur who will open up the Eastern Front with a direct attack on the Evanglade Castle. You are to take it within two days. There is no room for failure. Understood?”
“Understood.” all who were called out quickly stood up and bowed before leaving.
“The rest of you also start making preparations,” N’khtur sighed. “Looks like the Empyrean has chosen to speed up the war.”
“... do we really have to play to his tune?” one of the Devils sitting upfront suddenly asked in a soft yet rather seductive voice. Hair as white as snow spilled down to her knees like skill, her full, red lips curled up in a faint smile. “We’re even helping him out... yet he’s gone out and screwed with us time and again.”
“And thus the whore speaks.” the man sitting opposite of her spoke out before N’khtur could, sneering. “I bet you want nothing more than to mount him for eternity.”
“He he, you know me so well hubby,” the woman chuckled. “He’s quite... bold, no? What woman wouldn’t be attracted to that?”
“Call me hubby one more time and I’ll snap your fucking neck off, you hear me?!”
“Oh, into rough play... I see. Not that I mind~~”
“You are dismissed.” N’khtur, growing more tired from the nonsense, said his farewells and left.
Leaving the room and walking down the corridor toward his chambers, however, didn’t go as well as he had hoped as he realized a single figure had followed him. Turning around he recognized a familiar face -- perhaps the greatest anti-war member of all the Commanders currently present, Rothar. A relatively handsome Devil of all things, what made him different from the rest, however, was the single horn on his head coated in scales -- a mixed Sin-Devil Variant. Usually looked down upon, the mixed races weren’t exactly welcome in Hell -- but, as with everything, there were exceptions, and Rothar was one of them -- a son of the Dragon Queen and a Sin-Devil, his potential eclipsed most others that were climbing the ladder.
“What is it Rothar?” N’khtur asked.
“I request permission to go and visit the Empyrean.” Rothar bowed respectfully before answering.
“... and why do you want to do that?”
“I want to explain to him why his current behavior is foolish.” Rothar replied honestly.
“... in my life,” N’khtur said, smiling faintly. “I’ve met in total six Empyreans. And do you know what all of them had in common?”
“All of them were fools,” N’khtur said. “You can’t reason with them, Rothar. Especially so if they felt personally attacked.”
“... what do you mean?”
“Twice now we had gone after someone the Empyrean cared about,” N’khtur explained. “And while we can make as many excuses as we want, nothing is going to change that fact. While Empyreans that aren’t complete loners are rare... they are also far more terrifying. However, if you are still keen on talking with him... just join the frontlines. He will probably be showing up there quite soon.”
“What I don’t understand is why is he fighting us,” Rothar, still seemingly unconvinced, said. “Doesn’t he know this is also for his benefit?”
“... why don’t you go and ask him?” after a short thought N’khtur spoke words that surprised Rothar. “You are the most reasonable of the bunch and, at the very least, you probably won’t instigate a battle.”
“Thank you, Lord N’khtur! I won’t disappoint you!” Rothar quickly bowed before departing, leaving N’khtur in a strange state. The latter had absolutely no hope of anything like reconciliation resulting from the two meeting. Rather, more and more he began suspecting that the Father’s plans ran much deeper than what the rest believed, and he was certain he wasn’t alone in thinking such.
The Father hadn’t participated in the last Realm War, but N’khtur did. It was hell beyond hell... something he never wanted to see again in his life. It was also that war that had killed any ambition he may have had about ascending to the world’s true heights. Yet, more and more it felt as though all of this was just a prelude to the Realm War... repeated invasions, skirmishes, battles, wars, tensions, rebirth of hatred and anger... it was almost exactly the same as it was prior to the last Realm War which had ended an entire era.
Yet, no matter how brave he was, he dared not voice out his thoughts. He felt guilt even just thinking them; rather, even if the Father wished to instigate the Realm War... was it something that N’khtur had a say in? Certainly not. If the Father wished every Devil to kill themselves the very next moment, none would dare hesitate, N’khtur himself included. Even with all that, however, he couldn’t help but feel slight bitterness in his heart... especially when he thought about the Empyrean.
He watched his battle against the Akava’s Legion and realized that the boy wasn’t even thirty yet... and that he hadn’t even left the Realms of Rebirth. In every definition of the word... he was still a child. Yet, irregardless, he was still forced on the world’s stage so early on. Even with all that, however, N’khtur couldn’t voice his thoughts. Couldn’t give words to the restless feelings in his heart.