IN THE DARK (II)
A limestone-paved plaza stretched for over a mile across, surrounded by thick, stone wall bending inwardly toward the tops into a embroidery-like weave connecting all extrusions and bending down into a set of dozens of stone statues of topless giants holding onto a variety of weapons.
The entrance to the plaza was arched, the utmost top adorned with a massive, head-sized ruby shimmering faintly and casting crimson shade onto the surrounding area. Lined up against the wall was a beautiful garden of white roses, thorns sticking in and out of the walls, creating a rather dazzling scene.
The plaza was currently jam-packed, people climbing one over another to get inside, cursing and swearing eclipsing all other sounds. Despite the blistering sun hovering in the high sky nobody seemed unwilling to stay out, including Felix and Lucky who were currently enjoying the sensation of utmost despair, shrunk in-between dozens of people exuding smells that ought to never come from another human being.
The two held hands as to not get separated, doing their best to ignore angry curses and screams; luckily they had arrived a bit earlier and were able to find a place inside, yet that hardly helped as what used to be at least a small square of breathable space had turned into a tiny dot. Even with this, however, the wave seemed to have no stopping point.
Just as they were both about to explode into shouts and join the cursing, a sky-splitting roar screeched across the entire plaza, causing all and any sounds to cease. Lucky and Felix raised their heads, looking toward the very front of the plaza; there, a spinning vortex opened midair as several dozen figures slowly began walking about and ‘sitting’ neatly in the air itself.
The last one to leave was the Emperor himself, adorned in golden armor; his presence caused everyone else to immediately kneel, and Lucky and Felix -- unwilling to stand out that much -- followed suit. Not even a fly dared to move its wings under the divine supremacy. The Emperor smiled amusingly for a moment, contrasting the treatment he was receiving with one the Descender gave him. Shaking himself out of those thoughts he glanced at an old man standing down below on top of the plaza’s main platform and nodded. The old man nodded back and got up, moving toward the very edge of the plaza.
“All hail His Divine Might, the Son of the Titans, the Diviner of the Titan Gods and the Majesty of our Empire -- the Holy Emperor!” the old man shouted on top of his lungs with an expression of utmost devotion.
“All hail the Holy Emperor!!!!” the entire plaza exploded into shouts. “All hail the Holy Emperor!!! All hail the Holy Emperor!!” the shouting went on for nearly a minute before stopping, causing both Felix and Lucky to look around dubiously while joining in the shouting.
“Your Majesty,” the old man spoke out again, turning toward the sky where the Emperor had joined the others in ‘sitting’. “Your lowly servant expresses his utmost gratitude for allowing us to bear witness to Your Grandeur, Your Light, Might and Holiness. If Your Divinity could grace the lowly us with a few words of wisdom, You would make us all incredulously joyous for a whole lifetime.”
“...” Emperor Rex glanced at the expectant audience and faintly smiled before getting up. “In the name of the Titan Gods, their unparalleled Might and Wisdom, and Light which had consumed the Dark; the Titanium Codex teaches Us all that We are the Chosen Children -- We are the Children tasked with continuing the Titans’ Will, and the Will of Aeagnap, the Lord God of All. His words oft reach my heart, and it is by His words that I lead -- and His Might had informed me personally that He is pleased with Us, His Children. Not me, but Us. All of Us. We did well. In the name of the Holy, the Mighty and the Wise -- a prayer.”
“...” everyone around Lucky and Felix quickly knelt down and pinned their heads as close to the floor as they could, causing the former two to join. All around soft whispers of indiscernible words echoed till the whole plaza was consumed by them.
“In Their Names We Forever Pray!!”
“Atanum!” the Emperor shouted.
“Atanum!” the crowd replied.
“...” the Emperor glanced at the old man who was currently in tears and nodded, sitting back down.
“Thank You, Your Majesty!” the old man cried out.
“Thank You, Your Majesty!!” the crowd echoed the sentiment.
“Now a prayer for His Chosen Divinity, the Chosen among the Chosen!”
“...” both Lucky and Felix grunted inwardly yet had no choice but to copy everything others were doing. Both gravely regretted coming here as they realized everyone within the entire City and all its Districts could probably hear all this.
“Atanum!” the old man cried nearly a minute later.
“Monthly Dogma is now finished,” the old man said. “His Majesty has asked me to inform you that the Annual Festival of Arts and Crafts will begin a week from now; for all the participants, please submit your items in two days’ time if you hadn’t yet, and for all others who are only interested in seeing the most talented our Great Empire has to offer, Access Permits will be sold in every Holy Church until the day before the Festival’s Opening. Dismissed!”
Felix and Lucky followed the crowd as it dispersed, quickly moving toward the ranch to get away from everything. Inside and out both felt beaten like wet dogs. Neither uttered a single word on the way back, immediately instead going inside to take a bath for a good hour before stepping out onto the porch and opening a bottle of wine.
“... that was... terrifying...” Felix mumbled, taking a sip and shuddering. “Religions really are scary.”
“... hm,” Lucky nodded faintly. “But, I suppose this is the difference when it comes to the rulers, no? Evelyn... hah, I don’t think she will ever command such presence.”
“... yeah,” Felix agreed after a short thought. “She certainly has the air of the ruler about her but... Emperor Rex is on a whole different level.”
“Meh, whatever,” Lucky shrugged. “At least something good came of our suffering.”
“You’ve figured it out?” Felix asked with interest.
“Not specifically,” she rubbed her temples in frustration. “But there was quite a thick condensation of Death Qi among those in the air. Whatever it is, it seems it involves the entire upper echelon of the Empire.”
“... this is getting dangerous L’,” Felix commented, frowning. “It’s one thing if we just sniff around the edges, but... Master has often warned me that anything having to do with corpses is well above my pay grade and that I should just ignore it. Apparently there’s currently an active Holy Ground entirely built upon the Art of Corpse Reforging.”
“... this world’s so fucking sick.” Lucky sighed. “But, I don’t think the reach’s quite that wide.”
“It all seems just... too sloppy,” she explained. “I mean, it’s not like I’m the best assassin or the spy around, yet I still managed to sniff out quite a bit. If I took this to the Unholy bastards, for instance, it would most-likely instigate the Civil War within the Continental War itself. If the Holy Ground was involved, there’s no way in hell I would have learned anything. This just reeks of people trying to do fucked up shit for the first time and thinking some basic formations and guards will keep it all under wraps.”
“... can you think of anything they would need literal millions of corpses for?” Felix asked.
“Millions of things,” Lucky shrugged. “Pill-refinement, humunculus-creation, a massive-scale Death Formation of sorts, literally anything.”
“W-what is it?!” Lucky asked, startled, when she saw Felix jump from his seat.
“Master’s trying to reach me through the talisman!!”
“W-what?! Well answer him, goddammit!”
“Yes, yes!!” Felix quickly whipped out the talisman and burned it up, causing a small screen to form in front of the two. On the other a familiar face slowly popped out, smiling faintly while drinking. “M-master! You’re fine!”
“... eh? Of course I’m fine,” Lino shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I be fine?”
“Because you fought a God-Devil and apparently won?” Lucky questioned with dubious expression.
“Oh, right. N’kthur bastard.” Lino sighed. “He really did a number on me. I barely killed him.”
“He he, wow, this was so worth it just for those expressions alone.” Lino chuckled.
“Yeah, we should probably stop feeding his ego. If we go on any more, he just might explode.” Lucky was the first to recover, commenting.
“Ah, anyway, I can’t chat for too long,” Lino interrupted suddenly. “What’s going on over there? What about the war?”
“What?” Lino asked, seeing their dubious expressions.
“You’ve been gone for a whole week now,” Felix said. “And you just now remembered there was a war?”
“... I refuse to make an official statement.” Lino said.
“Ah, fuck it,” Lucky shrugged. “Anyway, we found something odd.”
“Odd?” Lino asked, arching his brow.
“A few million corpses hoarded by the Empire,” she explained. “It seems pretty much everyone on the up-end is in some way linked to it. Do you have any clue what’s it for?”
“... corpses?” Lino thought for a moment as the conversation he had with Rothar flashed through his mind. “They figured it out too...?”
“What?” Felix and Lucky asked.
“Nothing,” Lino shook his head. “Drop it until I return.”
“And when’s that?”
“Three-four weeks at most,” Lino said, his expression turning serious. “I’m not joking here, Lucky. If I’m right, then this involves both the Devils and the Empire. For now just hide on the ranch; I’ve reinforced it with several formations. The Core is in my bedroom, so if you ever need to activate them do it from there. Don’t leave the ranch at all if possible.”
“... yup. I know as much as I knew before you called. Thanks a lot, asshat!” Lucky growled.
“...” Lino looked at the two of them for a moment before sighing and shaking his head. “Apparently, the reason why the Devils invaded the Continent was due to an item currently inside the Titan Realms, the source of the Empire’s growth. I imagine their next assault will be directly on the Capital as they’ll try to get through before I return. The corpses could do with the fact that the old Emperor is trying to refine the item or awaken it or something like that. That’s why I’m telling you to stay on the ranch; an item worthy of sending a God-Devil as the Commander isn’t something a few ordinary Titular Voids can do anything with. So stay out of it.”
“... fine.” Lucky nodded lightly as she realized there was no wiggle-room any longer.
“... Master, what if they start killing ordinary people because they lack corpses? This could be the Empire ensuring another card before the continuation of the War.” Felix said after a short thought.
“Could be,” Lino nodded. “And no, you’re not allowed to interfere -- especially you Felix. However much bravado that hulk next to you is trying to showcase, she’s at the very least trained in this and has learned to be careful.”
“What do you mean hulk, you bastard?!! I’m perfectly fit!!” Lucky growled out.
“Anyway, stay put. I’ll try and get back as quickly as I can and deal with everything. Until then, I’m still expecting that grandson, you know?”
“Go fucking die, you piece of shit!!” Lucky exclaimed.
“Who are you talking with, Lino?” a rather melodic and charming voice startled both Felix and Lucky as a realization hit them.
“Oh, just my Disciples. Look at them,” he pointed forward. “Aren’t they adorable? They’ve promised me a grandson soon. I can’t wait.”
“Oh my, they’re really quite adorable,” a masked woman showed up on the screen, pushing against Lino’s face. “Hello guys! Remember, when making a child, it’s best if the lady lifts her legs over the man’s shoulders while she lies down, rising her buttocks slightly off the bed. The man can help by holding her hips, and this position ensures he can reach quite deep, and I hear it’s also quite pleasurable for both parties. Have fun!”
“Hey, how the hell do you know all that?” Lino asked with a quizzically comical expression. “Fuck, do you have a kid?! Oh my god you have a kid! Just tell me if you have a kid?! Am I wasting my time here?! Do you have a husband? Fuck, you definitely have a husband! Is he handsome?! Why the heck are all the women around me already wedded and bedded! What’s wrong with me?!...”
“...” Lucky and Felix stared at the screen long after it had disappeared, their minds spinning. They finally realized why would Lino take three-four weeks to ‘recover’, and they also realized meeting any person even remotely close to Lino would drive them mad for he’s the embodiment of insanity, and is quite contagious.