The sun stood lonesome atop the dimly blue sky, its radiance spanning the vast world beneath. That itself would not be strange if not for the fact that it was the far North of the Central Continent, the region most famous for short-lived summers and cripplingly long winters, Emperor Rex mused.
Perhaps even more worrying to him -- and several others who came with him -- was the landscape, or rather lack thereof. Mountains were gone, gorges were filled, the whole spans flattened into destroyed valleys. Piles of shattered rocks lay mounted on top of one another creating a bizarre sort of a labyrinth spanning for literal thousands of miles onward. And perhaps most-importantly, there were four bodies scattered about without a breath of life in them, and the signs of the fifth one.
Emperor Rex, the Patriarch Chen, both Guardians, and the Sky-bearing Monk stood in line, all observing the completely terraformed north with peculiar expressions. There was a tinge of awe, a hint of respect, a sliver of confusion and most-dominantly a glimmer of terror within their gazes. In part it had to do with the fact that at the very least five high-ranking Devils had met their doom here, and in part with the sheer scale of the battle whispering that it wasn’t merely a battle between just Sin-Devils and a few Titulars.
They all knew who was solely responsible for the North, and they all expected for the Northern Front to merely turn into a fabrication of the battle -- they thoroughly believed that the Devil Army had no intention of instigating conflict against a Descender. Yet, the very landscape they were seeing proved them otherwise... and it also proved that the Devils had made a huge mistake.
“... well, this front was short-lived, eh?” Patriarch Chen tried to ease the atmosphere awkwardly.
“Conflict of this scale,” Unholy Guardian chimed in. “Shouldn’t be allowed on this Continent. Rather, the land itself or the world around it isn’t fit to sustain it.”
“How long do you think it will take for the North to recover?” Emperor Rex asked.
“Without external influence... several tens of thousands of years.” Guardian Jean replied with a strange glint in his eyes.
“... haaah.” the Emperor sighed; after all, North as it was existed as such for a reason.
“Isn’t nobody going to bring up the fact that the Seventy-Second Descender managed to fight off at least four Sin-Devils all on his own?” the Sky-bearing Monk joined in.
“Why bring it up?” Patriarch Chen said. “I believe, on one level or another, we were all aware that no ordinary person can ever join them. Whether they be low or high in number, they aren’t the sort that we can dare to challenge. If anything, this may have dissuaded some of us from having any delusions.”
“Are you insinuating something?” the Emperor turned toward the Patriarch and glared.
“I get it,” Patriarch Chen shrugged, meeting the glare squarely. “You’ve ruled with iron fist, unchallenged, for so long. Yet, all of a sudden a random kid pops out of nowhere and destroys whatever image you were fashioning yourself into. I’d be pissed off too, if I’m being honest. That is, if I was as vain as you are.”
“A kid? You really believe this was the work of a kid?” the Emperor scoffed.
“He’s no older than thirty,” the Unholy Guardian spoke out instead. “There are a lot of ways to hide the age, but he wasn’t using any. Rather, it’s better to say that the sheer quantity of Vitality in him would be nigh impossible to hide in the first place.”
“A Body Cultivator?” the Sky-bearing Monk exclaimed softly. “That’s rare...”
“None of this really matters,” Jean suddenly interrupted. “The Northern Front will close and this will most-likely force all current battles to stop as Devils withdraw temporarily and regroup. No matter how strong the Descender may be, he will have not escaped the battle unscathed meaning we won’t be seeing him for some time. All the while we’ll have to conjure up our own strategy and prepare for a most-likely full-blown invasion that will follow.”
“What makes you think he’s incapacitated?” the Monk asked.
“Because he fought the God-Devil.” Jean replied.
“What?!!” everyone except the Unholy Guardian exclaimed as they glanced at the Guardian of Light who remained impervious despite the stares. “T-that’s... that’s impossible...” the Emperor stuttered.
“He’s right,” the Unholy Guardian joined. “The remnant aura does have faint traces of Divinity. It was most-likely a God-Devil on the weaker end of things...”
“... but a God-Devil nonetheless.” Guardian Jean finished. “It’s safe to assume that he was also the overall Commander of the Hell’s Army, so the Descender already rid us of our greatest headache. We should take this gift and honor it properly.”
“Pursue the Devils’ forces?” the Monk asked.
“No need,” the Patriarch Chen said, chuckling bitterly. “Just fortify one of the fronts and go all-out in defending it. Whichever we chose, that one they’ll attack.”
“... indeed. As proud as the dome of the world...”
A hall which would usually be filled with shouts and snide comments and bickering was now doused in silence; heavy atmosphere hung over every shoulder present, their expressions dulled and confused, eyes constantly glancing about waiting for another pair to speak up -- yet nobody did.
Rothar appeared the most dismayed; his head was hung low, held up by his fists as he stared at the cold and dead gem embedded in the table. He was confused, he was angry, disappointed and terrorized. No one here knew the full truth -- they just knew that the four of them fell in the North, and that even the God-Devil Commander himself had died by the Empyrean’s hands. This was all but a passing loss; in the end, there were only so many God-Devils currently alive, and even Sin-Devils weren’t too thick in numbers.
What haunted him the most, however, were the moments where he met the Empyrean, and overall disdain he still felt toward him until today. The initial idea was indeed to simply turn the Northern Front into a form of display, but he too agreed with N’kthur that they ought to test the Empyrean’s limits, at least for a little bit before retreating. Yet, it was an abject failure -- the whole play went from a sham to a bloody reality... one within which the already strained relationships between the Sin-Devil Commanders now had no overall glue to bind them together.
“War isn’t over,” a voice finally sounded out within the room as everyone’s gaze turned toward him. Handuur, however, seem unaffected by it, continuing calmly. “We can either continue to wallow in whatever it is right now for the years to come, or we can wake up and do something.”
“Go and die too?” Lymmir asked, frowning.
“By whose hand?” Handuur scoffed. “However terrible the Northern End is, it has also provided us an opportunity. The large reason why we held back was due to the presence of the Empyrean as we didn’t wish to get too deeply entangled with him. However, he’s now out of commission -- at least for a while. It would be foolish to sit on this chance.”
“Out of commission? Are you certain?” someone asked.
“Even if all of us banded together and attacked Commander N’kthur, nearly all of us would die, and the rest would need years of recovery. No matter how strong the Empyrean is, he struggled against the four of us meaning that the only reason he managed to snatch the victory was due to some unforeseen circumstance... which most-likely cost him a lot. Of course, I can’t be fully certain, but I’m confident enough to take the responsibility over the decision.”
“... Handuur’s right,” Rothar joined after a few moments of silence. “While the way was less than desirable, we have managed to isolate the Empyrean and remove him from the equation. We can now turn toward the actual war. Combine our forces and attack.”
“They’ve still got enough Titulars to keep us busy for a while, so we have to rely on our numbers to overwhelm them,” Handuur echoed. “We need to obtain the victory before the Empyrean wakes. The last outing clearly showed he has no intention of playing by some arbitrary rules. He hates us, and that hate is stronger than whatever arguments we can conjure up.” Rothar kept a placid expression, yet sighed bitterly inwardly. He knew first-hand that the Empyrean wasn’t as bloodthirsty as everyone made him out to be... yet he couldn’t voice it out. He knew that the only way to band the rest of them together was to provide a unifying goal and the timeline.
The meeting quickly finished and Rothar got up, leaving without mingling with anyone. They have miscalculated this time around, he knew, and the only way to salvage the entire enterprise was to quickly sweep the Continent and grab her, hidden within the Titan Realms. All of this before the Empyrean wakes. Even at Rothar’s best estimates, he wagered they would need at least a full month before managing to accomplish it all. In the end... he could only pray -- pray that the Empyrean stays out, and that the Great Descent doesn’t send a replacement in the meantime.