The sky remained besieged by the dance of the light and the dark, by the golden and the gray, the snow-tops of the mountains melting away underneath the heated winds of the explosions while the deep abyss beneath repeatedly echoed out their sounds. The world seemed to both marvel at and dread the crescendo in the clouds, stilled in the moment of perturbation.
Lino heaved his wings forth as his body swayed, the spear in his hand shifting backwards while the chain-sickle whipped forth in an arc, quickly entangling around Endoah’s waist, pulling the young-looking Devil of short stature and reddened complexion toward him. She grunted in defiance, clasping at the chains with her harms which suddenly attained bark-like texture.
The spear hit Kult squarely over his chest, sending the tall and muscular Devil back yet again through the scape of the winding sky. Withdrawing the spear quickly into the void world, he tucked at the chain in his hand and pulled Endoah with greater strength while also taking out the [Earth-Scorcher] and using its wide blade to block the incoming bolt of darkness.
A jolt of energy crushed his shoulder, the pain reaching all the way to his chest. The crippled muscles quickly repaired themselves as he grit his teeth and endured the soul-wrenching pain. The bolt’s dark energy dissipated as Lino suddenly swung the sword in a downward arc, aiming at Endoah’s head. The latter panicked for a moment as she forcibly tore her bat-like wings out of the chains and wailed loudly, her scream distorting the air itself as it crashed against Lino, causing his ears to bleed.
All the while, he hadn’t forgotten to pay attention both to Issiah -- who had sent the bolt at him -- and Amma, who had yet to engage him directly in a battle, repeatedly trying to create illusions to distract him. Unable to hold onto the grip, Lino let go of the [Jailer’s Wail] as Endoah quickly escaped, gaining some distance between the two. Though her wings were shredded, they were also quickly repairing themselves, yet the pained and angry expression let Lino know it wasn’t as painless.
He was briefly reminded of the fight he bore witness to -- Syv against the three Bearers. Their tactics against her were eerily similar to the Devils’ against Lino. Though they didn’t inherently counter him, they used their strengths to attack at Lino’s weaknesses, the major one being that he couldn’t attack efficiently from the long-range, mainly relying on luck and the chain-sickle which still had limited range.
Because of this, Endoah, Amma and Issiah mainly attacked and hassled him from far away while Kult tried to keep him tied down. While he had managed to inflict some injuries in return, he also wasn’t doing all too well; he had already gone through the quarter of his Qi reserves, most of which was spent simply repairing his body before it was broken down further by repeated attacks.
For the time being, he realized he had to stop being so passive -- even if his plan was to simply prevent them from moving further inland, just passively replying to their attacks wouldn’t accomplish anything. The only reason he was even still standing was due to the [Heaven-Cast Armor Set], and while it still protected him, it was far more efficient to move on the offensive.
In that vein he chose to immediately ignore Amma and Endoah; their attacks were mostly Soul and Mind-oriented, something Lino didn’t really fear. They were at best a nuisance, and while Kult was definitely an issue, Lino could contend with him for a while -- the main problem was Issiah, who not only attacked from a range but also never revealed his position. His attacks weren’t random, they were timed almost perfectly whereas Lino wouldn’t have time or means to set up proper defenses. I should have really crafted a fucking shield while I was at it...
Taking a deep breath and settling his mind, he quickly scouted out the positions of other three before approximating Issiah’s. Noting everything, he withdrew the chain-sickle and took out the war-hammer; wielding the sword and the hammer still strained his muscles so he knew he couldn’t do it for too long. Spotting Kult from the corner of his eyes, Lino’s wings fluttered once again as they expanded into seemingly flat, rigid planes.
A mere moment the wings began spitting out bolts of pure, holy light, blinding the sun itself with the light. Using the brief second of peace, Lino suddenly flung his war-hammer in a seemingly random direction while continuing to spin around in the place, causing the bolts of light to fall down like rain in a full circle around him. Endoah, Kult and Amma scrambled to avoid as many as they could, blocking those who couldn’t, and suffering some minor injuries from the last few that manage to break through everything.
However, Lino didn’t pay them any attention; his eyes and Divine Sense remained fixated at the war-hammer. Just then, he spotted a brief change; though slight, the hammer changed its trajectory seemingly at random, and if Lino wasn’t so fixated at it, he would have never realized it. His eyes turned into brilliant gems for a moment as a dangerous glint flashed through them, his entire body growing stout for a breath as though he was nocking an arrow before suddenly unleashing it.
The golden wings regained their flexibility as they stopped spitting out bolts of light, swaying once in a massive surge of wind as they propelled Lino forth at the speed inching to that of the light itself. None of the four even caught a glimpse of him before he suddenly appeared nearly four miles away from where he stood, his sword already in a swinging motion, muscles strained, veins squeezed out to the point of puncturing at several spots as blood began gushing out, his eyes pure, jet-black voids of nothingness.
It wasn’t through his eyes or even his Divine Sense that Issiah realized that Lino was above him; it was through his body’s most basic instinct -- desire to live. He suddenly felt cold claws of death chill his soul as his entire body shook, yet he found himself still unable to move. In that brief spite of a moment, his mind flashed thousand times over, trying to think up a way to retaliate, but no matter how hard he tried, the only answer he ever received was that he would die... and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Discontent with it, however, he calmed himself down forcibly, stilling his fast-beating heart. He quickly poured as much Qi as he could into the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, spinning toward a cycle, his limbs leaving behind a trail of black behind them. Just as the sword reached inches away from his face, Issiah grabbed at the blade with his hands as he used the expulsion of Qi from his feet to match the momentum of the sword so he wouldn’t get crushed.
Though a breath later he knew he would live, he also realized he wouldn’t be fighting this battle... and wouldn’t be fighting again in the war itself. It was only then that he realized that the sword the Descender held wasn’t sharp, that it was never meant to cut him in half. It was more like a sword-shaped blunt weapon, as its only purpose was to act as a conduit... to take Qi, momentum and weight and combine them into a singular attack that superimposed various elements which made up the overall damage of a strike... and unleash it all upon the receiver.
It felt like a mountain -- nay, like the entire landmass of an entire continent -- suddenly crashed into his chest. He felt his lungs rapture, his ribcage break, his very heart implode inside out, both his arms disintegrate into minuscule bits of blood and gore, both his eyes pop out of their sockets due to sheer pressure on the rest of his body, his meridians expand and explode like overly-stretched pieces of cloth... he finally understood what it meant to be dismantled from your very core, for he was feeling it.
His body, mangled and seemingly beyond repair, combined with crimson droplets and disfigured bits of what used to be his body as they all uniformly crashed into the earth deep down below. He wheezed through the sky still unable to comprehend the sheer volume of that single strike, realizing that they had all vastly underestimated the Descender. At that moment, Issiah didn’t regret starting the battle -- for the battle had to be fought either way... he just hoped that the single strike which took him down drained the Descender as well. It was only through that that the other three stood any chance of winning.
His orders were simple -- open up the Northern Front and occupy the Emperor and another Titular Void to ensure better success rate over the other Fronts which were far more important. However, not only had they failed to occupy the Emperor, the four of them were trashed around like children by a single person. Though he may survive this attack, if Endoah, Amma and Kult died, so he would he. Past the crashing into the earth and leaving a massive hole in it behind, the only thing he would be able to do was lie in there and hope, perhaps even silently pray, for others.
A slightly terrifying thought suddenly permeated his mind; he remembered the man introducing himself as the ‘Seventy-Two’... which, Issah realized, meant that he had joined the Great Descent only recently... which also meant that he wasn’t specifically trained by those above him. This may as well actually be his first mission. All this strength... was his own. In just a decade... no, perhaps even fewer years, he realized, the man would be able to contend comfortably against the God-Devil Variants.
With that thought, he finally crashed into the earth deep below, forming a massive crater nearly fifteen miles across and over a mile deep. Chunks of rocks and dying trees blistered out of the earth and flew for hundreds of meters into the air, almost like an eruption of a volcano.
Lino breathed heavily as he stared at the cataclysm down below. He sighed inwardly for he too realized that Issiah didn’t die. He was close to it, though, but that last-ditch effort saved him, Lino realized. He couldn’t help but admire the quick thinking as he knew if he were put in the same situation, Lino would have been unable to think of that way to defend himself. He would at best just try to grab the sword and endure the best he could.
Still, even though alive, Issiah’s role in the battle was done -- probably even the war itself. While it was great that his greatest threat was out of commission, Lino had vastly underestimated the amount of Qi and stamina he would have to sacrifice for it. He had burned over half of Qi reserves he had in that single attack, to say nothing of the fact that every muscle in his body was aching and throbbing as though freshly cut. Even his mind was nearing the point of exhaustion, as a sense of sleepiness and tardiness tried to assail him while he was at his weakest.
All the same, however, he still had to put up a front; if he was going to act brave, he would act so until his dying breath. Stifling his quickened breathing, calming his racing heart and freezing his pained expression, he slowly twisted his head sideways and looked coldly at the three remaining Devils whose gazes danced between the massive hole in the ground and Lino. They, too, had realized they have vastly underestimated their opponent. Their expressions shifted quickly, from mild amusement and playfulness to dreaded seriousness. This was a war, they remembered, not a game.