AN ELYSIAN AND AN EMPYREAN
Lino felt a strong push on his back, creaking sounds of his bones reminding him further that he was hit. The sheer volume of the energy forced him into an unbalanced position, and no matter how much he flapped with his wings he was unable to stave off being cannoned toward the ground like a falling star.
Though his armor remained whole, it was beyond dirtied with crimson red, what little that could be seen of his skin clearly tattered and scarred. His breaths were short and quick, droplets of sweat combining with his blood to form streams trickling down beneath his mask and over his jaw. Every inch of his body hurt, and every thought in his mind screamed at him to stop. The only reason he was yet to pass out was due to the Writ, as he himself was well beyond burning his reserves.
Even if the three Devils still in the sky weren’t in their best shape, they were still far better off than him. He momentarily though about giving up, too, yet pain even greater than the one he was feeling singed him from the depths of his soul.
Grinding his teeth together he crashed into the ground, causing rocks and trees’ roots to bellow out and the dust storm to stir amidst the chaos. He soon found himself embedded deep within the earth’s crust, a body-shaped hole behind him and a whole lot of open space before him.
He lay there for a moment, his dulled gaze looking at the cleared sky. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen up above, all blown apart due to their battle. Within the scape of blue, he saw three black dots slowly growing larger. Though his mind was screaming at the body to get up and move, the latter wouldn’t listen.
“... well... I’m fucked.” he grumbled.
“You’re doing well enough if you can still crack jokes at the times like these.” a familiar, charming voice startled him for a moment as a masked figure appeared before him, donning almost ceremonially-adorned robes. “What’s up?” she asked, smiling faintly.
“... you’ve been watching the whole time?” Lino asked.
“Suck a dick.”
“Oh my, how can you utter such perverse nonsense to a maiden such as myself?” she faked hurt and surprise, her lips still curled up in a faint smile, corners twitching.
“I hope no man or woman ever loves you.”
“You like hitting where it hurts, huh?”
“As you can see,” Lino grinned. “I’ve lot of experience in it... so I know just how much it hurts.”
“Shouldn’t you be begging me for help right about now?” she asked wryly. “I mean, they’re just a few seconds away from skewering your bottom.”
“Nah, I’m cool.” Lino said in defiance. “You can leave.”
“Oh, wow, you’d rather die thank ask for a girl’s help?”
“No, not girl’s,” Lino barely managed to shake his head slightly. “Just yours.”
“... ouch. And here I thought we had something special going on.”
“N-no, seriously, they’re like right there,” Lino commented hurriedly. “How long are you gonna entertain my nonsense?”
“And thus he cracks, ladies and gentlemen!”
“I really fucking will if you don’t do something!!”
“--more like lie, but who cares, right?”
“--and die. What the fuck dude?!”
Lino only caught a faint glimpse of a smile as she turned on her heel, extending her arms to her sides as blinding, cyan light besieged the world at large. All around him, Lino realized, were snake-like bolts dancing, vibrant in shapes and hues, scorching the already dead earth all around. Above him and her, a spearhead appeared, one so massive Lino was unable to see its whole from where he lay. It shook and trembled momentarily, like an arrow prior to being loosened, before flying off into the sky toward the three dots that were barely a mile away from the duo.
The spearhead blew apart the surrounding space, causing the void storms to emerge and swirl about, causing rousing and sharp winds to bellow outwardly like lions. It quickly crashed in a dark sphere made up by the trio, exploding into smithereens before the hit itself even registered. It proceeded onward and devoured the three tiny dots, cruising quickly into the sky itself and well above, beyond what the human eye could ever hope to see.
Lino caught a faint trail of three arrays blasting away to the opposite end, crashing nearly ten miles away from his own location, though he immediately confirmed they were still alive. His brows suddenly furrowed as he immediately sensed another anomaly approaching from the further north; he quickly realized it was another Devil, though one far stronger than even the four he just fought combined.
“... oh my.” Thunder mumbled for a moment as she also glanced at the direction of the newcomer. “Looks like a God’s paying us a visit.”
“... wow. They can’t even lose with dignity.” Lino grumbled as he finally recovered enough to bolt himself out of the earth’s bed and onto his feet. “So, how about you buy me like five minutes to recover, and then we can fight together?”
“What makes you think I need your help?” she glanced at him, smiling. Lino smiled in return before replying.
“Alright, so I’ll just go then.”
“And abandon your mission?”
“Who gives a shit about that?” he shrugged. “I’d rather live.”
“So you’re admitting you can’t take him on yourself?”
“Of course I fucking can’t. I barely took on four Sin-Devils and still lost. What makes you think I have either the strength or the balls to fight a God-Devil?”
“Tsk. A coward.”
“Yup.” he nodded, grinning. While the two were talking, wind full of Devil Qi swept over them, a figure landing just opposite of them. Lino immediately felt weak in his knees, yet endured to the best of his abilities. It truly would be way too uncool if he suddenly knelt down. He stood defiantly, just behind Thunder. “Hello there! Good weather we’re having up here, eh?”
“You have breached the agreement,” N’khtur said coldly. “Descender should not interfere with any war until the very end.”
“It must be a misunderstanding--”
“It’s not,” Lino interrupted Thunder as she tried to explain awkwardly, pulling her by her shoulder and pushing her back as he stepped in front. “I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you’re the overall Commander of this nonsense, right?” Lino asked with a grin.
“Hey, hey, glaring at me isn’t really accomplishing anything,” Lino said. “But, you’re right. Descender really ought not to interfere, you know? Then again, you’re just another underachieving God-Devil... so, you know, who cares what you think?”
“You should,” N’kthur said. “Because you living or dying now depends entirely on your attitude.”
“... ‘s that so?” Lino said, cracking his neck slightly as he slowly began walking toward N’kthur. “By now you should probably know who I am,” his voice grew deeper. “And you should have known what I meant by compromising with you,” Lino’s body suddenly seemed to vibrate, melding in and out of the surrounding space itself, as though both there and elsewhere. “Yet, you still chose to send an actual attack force at me. Perhaps it was a test, perhaps you believed it was a good way to train me or something else dumb your infidel brain thought up,” by now Lino was right next to N’kthur; though he was at least two heads shorter than the latter, Lino appeared taller at the moment. “But, at the end of the day, you attacked with the intent of killing me. And, quite frankly, I’m growing sick and tired of your good intentions repeatedly fucking me and those around me. So, hear me now -- and hear me well.” Lino leaned in further until his lips were close to N’kthur’s ear. “Not only is the compromise off the table, a new one is born, one where I’ll quite literally wipe every single one of the Devils who attacked the Continent, where I’ll hang your bodies down the main road to stew in sun, and where I’ll make cups of your skulls. And when I’m bored of all that, I’ll visit ye good ol’ Hell of yours. And I’ll ensure you lot never again in your lifetimes conjure up a thought ‘We ought to help that kid’. You got it?”
“... careful little one,” N’kthur said, holding back the best he could. “You already have enough enemies.”
“Who needs enemies when I have friends like you lot?” Lino smiled at him. “Now, there are two choices you can make: you can either kindly fuck off back to wherever your ass crawled out of, or you can die.”
“... you gravely overestimate yourself if you think you can kill me -- even if you two stand together.” N’kthur chuckled.
“Oh, wow. Apparently you really don’t know who I am.”
“... you’d really go that far just for me?” N’kthur smiled as well.
“Always.” Lino replied.
“Astrum,” the Writ’s voice suddenly left Lino’s lips, startling everyone around. “Seal the area.”
“Tsk, you really haven’t changed at all,” strangely enough, at least for Lino, a similar yet entirely different robotic voice replied. “Still thinking everyone’s beneath you.” despite the grumblings and complaints, Lino felt Qi around him disperse and convert, combining in strange patterns as even stranger arrays appeared around them, quickly forming a spherical shape covered in azure sheen.
“Bearer!! What’s the meaning of this?!!” N’kthur growled angrily as he shifted his attention from Lino onto the girl behind him. Lino shook, swiftly turning around.
“Eh? Why are you pointing at me?” Thunder spoke innocently. “Clearly it wasn’t me who did this.”
“Who else could it be then?!!” N’kthur bellowed angrily.
“Clearly the one living in me, duh.” she said as a matter of fact, shrugging her shoulders.
“Pfft...” Lino’s lips parted briefly as he stifled the laughter, yet quickly recovered. “What the fuck?! Why didn’t you tell me she was a Bearer as well?!”
“I thought you knew.” the Writ replied inside his head.
“Knew your mom!! I swear, one of these days, I’ll have that dog breed with a chicken so we can extend your familial line!”
“P-please no... anything but that...”
“W-wait, you really didn’t know?” Thunder called out to Lino in surprise. “What the hell? Does your Writ hate you or something?”
“Oh, yeah, let’s ask that question,” Lino fired right back. “Instead of why in the god’s fuck are you helping me instead of trying to kill me as well?”
“Oh, that. I’m a good guy now, te he!”
“Te he my ass!! Give me back my now shattered world view!”
“If you two are done,” the Writ within Thunder sounded out yet again. “Perhaps you can now go about killing him, as I can’t hold the field for too long.”
Lino swallowed whatever words he wanted to shout, withdrawing from N’kthur and joining Thunder in the back. He quickly took out the [Earth-Scorcher] and glanced at her. There was a whiff of envy in his gaze -- innately due to many reasons -- but primarily because his role in the upcoming battle is to just stand there, get beaten and not die.
Thanks to the Writ’s help he managed to recover a considerable amount of Qi and heal his body a decent amount, but he was still eons behind his peak strength. He wondered whether he’d even be able to endure for a few seconds. All his bravado rested on the fact that he knew the Devil Daddy or whatever they called him had forbidden all high-ranking Devils from directly attacking him, only allowing them to retaliate. Taking a deep breath, he stepped up front, holding back the tears, while Thunder behind him barely held herself back from laughing as she saw the hint of the expression behind that mask of his.
Lino quickly led the charge, whipping out both the [Hell’s Belittlement] and the [Earth-Scorcher] from the void world, immediately activating the <Berserk> effect as well as the <Sword on Chaos>. He could already sense the massive build-up of energy resonating from behind him, thunder creaking and crying out into the sky like a recently woken beast. The brown of the land around him attained strange, spectacular azure sheen, causing him to click his tongue in envy once again.
N’khtur was still quite startled; he had long since realized that the woman behind the Empyrean was the Elysian Bearer, which is also why he wasn’t worried whether the Empyrean would attack or not as he imagined the woman would already do it herself once he exposed the boy. However, the sudden turn of the events had stirred his heart considerably.
He initially had no intention of interfering with the battle, whether the Empyrean won or lost. He merely decided on observing the Empyrean’s progress, but when the Elysian stepped on the stage, he did as well as he had intention of saving his Commanders first and foremost. He wasn’t even interested in battling Lino, merely scaring him off for a bit.
Now, however, all his initial thoughts had to be thrown out the window; two Bearers, however much individually weaker than him, were a considerable threat. He immediately approximated that the barrier blocking others from realizing what was happening inside and him from sending messages outside would hold up for at most twenty minutes. He either had to survive for twenty minutes or somehow break through the barrier -- the latter, however, was a pipe dream.
Even above his own life, the ramifications of Elysian joining with the Empyrean were far too grave for him to even comprehend. It had a chance to completely reshape the structure of the world as it was, and he couldn’t afford to die here. The Elysian’s sudden betrayal also considered vast implications over the other Bearers and the Writs. N’khtur didn’t even want to think about the brutal consequences the world would suffer should he die here today, alongside this secret.
Seeing the masked Empyrean approach him and the tantalizing Dragon made up of lightning bolts growling behind, N’khtur took a deep breath as he slashed his arms sideways, summoning a bizarre assortment of weapons around him. The streaking black smoke bellowed out of his palms and fingers as the Qi surrounding him contorted and converted directly into Devil Qi.
He shuffled the roughly hundred weapons with his mind, dedicating thirty to the Empyrean and seventy to stopping the Elysian’s cast. In the meantime he also doused his feet in shimmering array of silver light, propelling himself backward into the sky. However far above in terms of realms he was when compared to the Empyrean, the latter reveled in the hand-to-hand combat. It was simply insanity to get caught up in that bloodied madness.
As a response, Lino suddenly unfurled his wings, stretching them like shining gems before taking to the sky, following N’khtur. He also immediately threw the war-hammer sideways at the seventy or so weapons weaving around him toward Thunder while he used the sword to swat the remaining thirty with a single swing. <Berserk> effect didn’t last long which is why he also didn’t want to waste any time.
Shoveling Qi into the Wings, he also exerted his mind to its limit by diluting it through the Will itself, causing a small sliver of his consciousness to merge with the Wings’. He used the sliver to temporarily remove several layers of limitations imposed upon the Wings due to his levels, raising them all the way to Level 2000.
The pair suddenly expanded into four, blasting rays of holy light in a full sphere, growing till they appeared like castle’s towers from far distance. N’khtur didn’t expect Lino’s sudden burst of speed as the latter flapped them once, breaking through the void itself to appear behind the former, swinging the [Earth-Scorcher] at speed well beyond the limitations of his body.
He felt his bones immediately crack and his muscles tear, yet he paid them no heed. His expression turned maddened, eyes growing entirely black. N’kthur heaved his arm sideways in a slash as he whipped a storm of tentacles from the void itself, causing them to wrap around Lino.
A purple-shaded, massive sphere stood there in the sky but for a blink of an eye before the torrent of gore and sizzling blood exploded outward, a ethereally golden figure bursting through, the sword landing against N’kthur’s arm. The latter, beyond the immediate pain, also felt his soul suddenly shiver. As his eyes widened in shock, he used Lino’s attacking energy to blast himself backward and away while dealing with the sliver of foreign Will that entered his mind.
Lino, however, didn’t stop chasing. Similarly, Thunder had finally stopped preparing her attack; a Dragon made entirely of thunder, spanning nearly ten miles in length and fifteen across hovered in the sky majestically, causing even the golden light of Lino’s wings to dim somewhat.
The Dragon roared, causing the air to reverberate before plunging downward. Though much slower than Lino, the latter quickly calculated the distance between the two and the time it would take the Dragon to arrive before planning his next course of action. Though aware that pushing his body like this could very well result in the similar scenario to the one ten years ago, Lino swallowed the bitter pill and decided to advance.
Even if he didn’t know as much as N’kthur about the world at large, he could just as well imagine the ramifications of today’s actions. Though it wasn’t the first time Bearer of another Writ joined with the Empyrean, for one reason or another Lino felt it was far, far graver this time around. Even losing ten or more years of cultivation was worth preventing this information from spreading out.
Hannah’s thoughts, however, were much simpler than the other two’s; she merely wanted to kill N’kthur. Even if he escaped, however, she wouldn’t be as worried. Though the consequences would be quite large, she still felt capable of dealing with them in the long run.
Entwined within their own individual thoughts, the trio all had their own plans and intentions when it came to the fight; Lino had finally caught up to N’kthur who prevented himself from crashing into the ground forcibly. He had also barely managed to extinguish that sliver of Will in his soul, his very being still trembling. Though many people group ‘Will Attacks’ under the general umbrella of the ‘Soul Attacks’, the two couldn’t be further apart.
Soul Attacks merely attacked the mind, contrary to their name; Will Attacks, on the other end, attacked every single fiber of one’s being, trying to take over the individual as a whole. They were also the rarest sort, as for one to attack another with Will, they would first have to have a considerable grasp over it and insurmountable confidence in the Will’s capabilities. Otherwise it was far too easy for the attack to backfire.
What startled N’kthur was the fact that a mere boy younger than thirty was capable of executing such attack, even if it was its most primitive form. Even N’kthur had no way to externalize his Will and impose it on others through any other means but through Divine Sense, and even then it was barely a minuscule amount.
However, he had no time to worry. He saw both the boy and the dragon descend upon him, the former however much quicker than the latter. N’kthur suddenly repeatedly slashed his arms about, opening a massive gate behind him the size of a small mountain in addition to condensing billowing, Devil Qi into tens of thousands of weapons. The gate slowly began spitting out one ghastly, jet-black tentacle after another until they were like branches of the World’s Tree swirling in the sky.
Like arrows they began falling, converging on Lino while the weapons aimed at the Dragon.
Lino glanced at them momentarily before throwing more Qi into the Wings, causing a pair to suddenly break further off his body and condense a Halo in-between them, shifting it up toward the falling tentacles. A swirl of golden light quickly condensed at the Halo’s center whereupon a concentrated beam of pure light shined onward into the sky like a ray from the sun. It tore through the tens of thousands of tentacles as though they were made out of paper, creating a perfect, circular hole in the formation.
It was also then that Lino caught up to N’kthur, with the <Berserk> still active. While using every bit of the remaining Qi to repeatedly heal his body before it broke down completely, Lino trashed the [Earth-Scorcher] about like a madman, his roars adjoining with those of explosions caused by the clash of the weapon and array of defenses set up by N’kthur. From the walls formed from steel-shining tentacles to the domes of black smoke, Lino didn’t care what it was as he broke through them all.
The landscape repeatedly changed as piles of rubble were displaced left and right, up and down, creating one mountain after another before collapsing yet again. The Dragon streaked bolts of lightning repeatedly like the punishment from the Heavens themselves while Lino darted about in the golden array of light, tracing after the one enshrouded in thick shadows. It was a battle that an ordinary eye could not follow; there weren’t even any blurs, merely occasional arc of golden or black light appearing within the roaring and raging dust-storm.
“GODDAMMIT!!” realizing that N’kthur was merely buying time, only using Arts to try and tie Lino down while the remaining time for <Berserk> ticked down, the latter roared in frustration. He switched the [Earth-Scorcher] into his left hand as he whipped out the [Spear of Salvation]. “COME ON!! GROW!!!” he used the last bit of consciousness he had within the Wings to force them above another stack of seals. As his skin repeatedly tore open, bleeding beyond profusely, and regenerated, and his veins atop his muscles began stacking on top of one another, and his bones repeatedly breaking out of their place and his body, additional pair of Wings appeared on his back, totaling in six altogether. Spanning nearly twenty miles across, even N’kthur felt the chill of death bear down on him.
After all, Lino had finally resorted them to their starting point -- they finally lived up to their name, [Archangel’s Wings]. Even the weakest of the Archangels had at minimum six wings, and though they had them innately, it took Lino more than he should ever give to temporarily reach that point.
“<SWORD OF CHAOS>!!” he shouted maddened, his jet-black eyes spitting out fumes like smoke, his teeth bared while his gums bled like waterfalls. “SHATTER FORM! ENCLAVE OF LIGHT--REFORGE!!” the sword in his hand suddenly turned into a brilliant array of light as it spiked above him, erect in-between the six wings perfectly, nearly ten miles tall. The six pairs of wings converged in a half-spherical shape, around the sword, as thin threads of light converged from them into the [Earth-Scorcher] causing the latter’s radiance to grow more blinding. “CHAOTIC REBIRTH--COMMENCE!!” he roared yet again as he took to the sky. “<SWORD OF CHAOS -- EIGHTH FORM -- BIRTH OF LIGHT>!!”
The world suddenly hummed a low melody as the every source of light vanished. Temporarily, all was stunted in corporeal darkness, ephemeral in its make. Even the Dragon itself was swallowed up in the ensuing darkness. Within that short-lived, streaking, eerie silence, a beam-sized flicker emerged. In and out it went, seemingly fighting to survive. Every time it shone it cried, and bit by bit it grew; though eons passed to the darkness that observed it, it all lasted a brief breath in reality.
N’kthur no longer had mind to stay, fight or defend; he turned toward the barrier keeping him inside and tried to break out. Up above, in the darkened sky, a single point of light appeared. Within the ever-expanding silence, a single hum sang out. Bigger and bigger. Wider and wider. Brighter and brighter. It grew to the size of the sun in the sky and beyond, and quickly blended into the shape of the blade, vertically spanning the sky itself. It cleaved, the sword splitting the darkness of the world away and the first of the light was born.
It descended like the judgment of the Creation itself, converging toward the Devil now doused in the chill of death. Realizing he had no chance of ever escaping alive, his eyes shifted away from the death itself in the form of light onto Lino. The latter sat on his knees, his arms splattered on his sides, head heaved low, his entire being doused in red. His armor had vanished, replaced merely by tattered pieces of cloth. Cuts, scars, wounds, holes, all kinds and sorts of disfigurements scaled his body throughout. He appeared far worse off than if he were an actual corpse. The only untouched part of him was the mask covering over half his face, though his eyes had switched their hue from jet-black into crimson-red, repeatedly bleeding from the corners.
Though Lino was conscious, he hardly felt elation over managing to produce an attack on such a scale. He had sacrificed too much in the process; however, the silver lining still existed -- at the very least he won’t have to sleep for ten years to recover. Merely a month or so. The problem was that he had damaged the Wings yet again, just after repairing them. [Earth-Scorcher] was also completely destroyed, though Lino had extrapolated the <Berserk> art and learned it directly, similar to the <Eye of the Phantom> in the last second.
His newly formed armor, though not destroyed, was also damaged and repairing it will cost a considerable amount.
In addition, his body had now obtained additional two hundred and seventy-eight scars that he would be unable to remove no matter how much he tried. Sitting there, on his knees, he couldn’t help but wonder for a second whether any of it all was worth it. He was currently in so much pain that he couldn’t even voice out a groan. His body was simply paralyzed from it, and he was even unable to pass out as the pulsations kept waking him up.
“You’ve surprised me,” though he heard a voice from afar aimed at him, he neither had the strength nor the will to look up. He knew that it would take at least a couple of seconds for the attack to land, which was more than enough for N’khtur to -- if not kill him -- wound him even more. “I never expected this...” the Devil had a solemn expression on his face. Even more so than Elysian’s betrayal, he wanted to relay the information that the Empyrean was capable of recreating Births of Matter, however much it cost him.
‘Births of Matter’ was a name others had given to the unique ability only the Empyreans had -- they could, in theory, replicate the creation of anything and everything, and use it however they wished. While uniquely Empyrean Art, it was also oftentimes considered the only Art in the existence with the grade above Origin -- Creation. To create something from seemingly nothing... no other Art in existence, even with other Writs in the equation, had that capability.
Because of this, however, he was now convinced more so than ever before that the current generation’s Empyrean had to die. Otherwise, what he would cause would make even the Realm Wars seem like children playing tag. As he still had half a breath before death, he slowly raised his arm to conjure up the last attack of his life and end the Empyrean’s as a sort of poetic catharsis. However, just before he could, he felt massive pain breached through his chest; looking down, he saw a shimmering bolt of azure lightning dancing there. A bitter smile emerged on his lips as he heard the voice trickle in his ears.
“... that attack even made me wet.” Hannah said as she observed the beyond huge sword of pure light cleave the Devil in two without any resistance. She had a rather peculiar expression hidden beneath her mask. Though she prided herself on being stronger than the boy now kneeling like a wet dog, if she were the target of that sword... her fate would be no different. In reality, she had barely done anything throughout the entire battle. While her whole intention from the start was to make the Devil forget about her and attack from stealth when the opportunity presented itself, and even though she had done just that... she felt sour.
“... looks like I really chose the right generation.” the robotic voice beckoned inside Hannah’s head. “To think that brat can even Birth Matter... huuuh...”
“Look at him though,” Hannah scoffed. “Even a kid can kill him right now.”
“There’s no need to be jealous.”
“So I can eventually do it as well?!” Hannah asked excitedly.
“Ha ha ha, yeah, no. Not even close.”
“... alright. Go and help him. I’ll remove the barrier once we leave this place.”
Hannah slowly descended from the sky and landed near the still-masked body. Even she couldn’t help but frown when she looked at his body; it was shriveled up as though void of blood and muscle, scarred and wounded beyond count... he looked more like a corpse than a corpse did. It was then that he also slowly managed to raise his head, his eyes meeting hers. Hannah looked down as her cold facade slowly broke. For better or worse, she knew he had gone so far out partly for her, a complete stranger at this point.
Just as she was about to call out to him, the mask on his face cracked. Bit by bit, like spiderweb, it spread out before reaching the point of no return. It shattered into hundreds of pieces and fell, revealing behind a tired and exhausted face void of expression. Yet, with the mask’s crash, Hannah’s mind followed suit; for however much that face had changed, had grown and had aged, she would still recognize it no matter what and no matter where. Except she could have neither predicted nor anticipated seeing it here, and could now neither react to it or reason with it, for she found her world crashing down as she stared at the face of the boy she could never forget. Stared into the eyes of the boy who had changed her whole world.
END OF VOLUME VIII - HELL-FORGED
END OF BOOK II - GREAT DESCENT