BIRTH OF AN EXALTED (I)
Lino hovered far up in the darkened skies, the wings stretching behind him occasionally fluttering to keep him afloat. His expression was hidden behind the mask, his eyes void of much unlike the eyes of the rest who were surrounding the shadow domain. Despite the protests from many people -- namely Ella and Hannah -- he was adamant about taking the entire northern side all on his own.
He knew that Umbra wouldn’t actually try and break past him, and would simply send everything directly at him. It wasn’t the matter of whether he was quick enough to bound left and right, but whether he was strong enough to remain standing by the end of it all. Taking a deep breath, he took out the sword he forged quickly just a few hours ago just so he’d have one. He also donned the [Heaven-Cast Armor Set], his confidence growing exponentially.
The shadows began to mingle, he noticed, like the boiling water within a cauldron. Bubbles spawned atop the massive surface, arms stretching out into the reality beyond and quickly being burned away by invisible energy into ash. However, every time they stretched a bit further, a bit closer to leaving the domain. It wasn’t long before the hell was unleashed, and even Lino couldn’t help but feel slightly nervous.
“... she wasn’t kidding when she said she wouldn’t hold back...” he mumbled.
“This is the best way to push you to your limits.” the Writ replied. “Good luck.”
“... yeah, yeah...”
Lino didn’t dive down and instead chose to make the sky his battleground of choice. One after another, shadows began spawning, thin, bony arms stretching out toward him in a half-circle with thousands upon thousands of tentacles following right behind alongside one disfigured abomination after another. His mind flashed back briefly to his encounter in the Umbra Capital, where a similar sensation -- only on a much smaller scale -- besieged him.
He immediately activated <Eye of the Phantom> to resist all the illusions and hallucinations, but held back from activating <Berserk>. He’d save the latter for the moment of desperation that would no doubt assail him eventually.
It was around the time that he activated the Eye that the first arms reached at him in a grasping motion, causing him to wake the Singularity resting within his soul. Qi splintered into streams and traced through his body into his muscles, causing them to bulge and the silver sword in his hand to shimmer in faint crimson. The blade vibrated as Lino immediately activated <Sword of Chaos>.
The space around him shuffled as he vanished, the stretched arms piercing nothing but empty void; he appeared right above them, slicing the sword downward in a mad rush of colors and splitting several dozen arms in the process. Wails cried out into the sky as a heap of blood and gore gushed out, staining his armor in dark red. Without pausing he fluttered the wings and swayed down, avoiding the array of arms attacking him and flipping over, throwing the sword at them before immediately using the [Master of Void] option of the Heaven-cast armor.
He rotated in circles as he darted around the army of tentacles, whipping out both the sword and the [Hell’s Belittlement]; despite the fact that the latter was not the best option for battles in the sky, it was better than nothing. He swung it around madly as he held back the abominations from striking at him, causing blazing inferno to erupt in the sky as he blended into an array of light.
Though he was still far from understanding it -- at all -- he’d realized that using <Sword of Chaos> became easier through the passage of time. There wasn’t as much strain on his mind and body, but he’d still often miscalculate and arrive far away from where he intended.
The sky quickly turned into the mix of shadowed edges bound by spitting smoke and a flashing blur of holy light; the world around the two often blended and shattered, realities mixed and displaced; despite that, however, Lino found himself repeatedly wounded, with darting shadows slashing away at the exposed areas of his body repeatedly. He bled though he just as quickly regenerated, repeatedly pushing the Singularity to spit out more and more Qi in the process.
The nervousness he felt prior to the battle slowly seeped away, replaced by the rekindled feeling of belonging; the fire inside his soul had finally began burning again, eating away at his fears and reservations. He continuously spat out one array of holy light after another, causing the sky to cry dark rain of blood and gore, and cries and wails of the fallen to bound into a melody of demise.
Reaching with his right arm, he swatted away the bolt of darkness with the sword before suddenly lifting up his head; there, not too far above, a massive, gaping mouth full of sharpened teeth stood, inside the spinning vortex of darkness. It was well over five miles across and Lino could already sense the huge amount of Chaotic Qi gathering in the eye of the storm.
He swung the [Hell’s Belittlement] madly, trying to break away from the sudden siege of the abominations; dog-shaped shadows bit and chewed at his legs, their jaws seemingly frozen, while swaths of thin, child-sized arms wrapped around his arms and waist, pulling him in the place.
Seeing the bulging ball of darkness within the mouth, Lino panicked momentarily as he let the flame take over; he pulled apart his arms and tore away at his muscles, immediately regenerating them as he slashed away at his own legs, decapitating the dogs in one swift process. Just then, however, he felt something from above strike him. A beam of jet-black darkness pressed against his back, causing him to scream out in pain as he felt his back burn and singe.
He immediately activated the Wings’ shield effect, pushing away the beam for a moment before using the <Sword of Chaos> to replace the reality of his own. No longer was he in the path of the beam, but right above the mouth, bloodied and bruised and maddened, grasping at the sword with both his arms and shoving it right down through the mount’s center.
A magnificent cry spanning the whole sky caused even him to momentarily freeze in place, blood in his veins freezing. The cry seemed to have called forth even more shadows and abominations; glancing down, Lino saw a beyond-blinding ocean of darkness swelling toward him. He found that it was even impossible to count them altogether with Divine Sense, let alone with his own eyes.
Just as he was about to activate <Berserk> despite the unwillingness, he felt something snuggle into his armor and through his chest, the small head popping out of the opening. Looking down, Lino saw the holy light blaring like a gem, quickly recognizing the source.
“... Ashta? What are you doing out?”
“...” the little creature glanced at him for a moment and even seemed to have grinned.
The very next moment, it slithered through the reality itself and entered the sword in his right hand. Lino found himself nearly pulled down from the sky due to the new-found increase in weight; he glanced at the sword and saw that its previous, dimmed shine was gone, instead replaced entirely by light that kept growing and growing, seemingly unwilling to stop.
Soon enough the blade of light spanned for nearly five miles altogether in the sky, entirely dispensing the darkness around. Lino grinned in pride despite the fact that it was hardly his effort, veering away from the blade onto the ocean of darkness down below. Grunting lowly, he used every fiber of his strength, pushing the Singularity further, to swing the sword in a downward arc.
It fell slowly, yet beyond quickly, tearing apart the world itself and casting magnificent light over the reality. It splintered into hundreds of thousands, millions and even billions of arrowheads, tearing away through it all at the speed of light, quickly falling upon the ocean of darkness.
Hole after hole was spawned in the blanket, cry after cry blending in the symphony of the hellish agony; light slowly, but surely, consumed everything, even Lino’s capacity of belief. Though he’d always suspected that Ashta was far beyond a simple Primal Spirit, he never expected her to be this strong -- strong to the point that his attack right then almost rivaled the one he used to kill the God-Devil Variant.
What’s perhaps even more depressing that for the latter one, Lino had literally used everything he could and was entirely spent following that attack. He crushed both his armor and the wings, and sacrificed his best weapon in the process, just to barely execute one of the techniques within the <Sword of Chaos> scripture. While it is true that the attack he unleashed can’t even qualify properly to be called <Birth of Light>, he was still quite proud of it regardless. Yet, it was nearly toppled by a simple Primal Spirit, without any build up or a massive sacrifice.
Abomination after abomination fell, shadowed arms crumbling into bones and ash, blood and gore, clearing away the stream almost entirely. Glancing down, Lino saw that Ashta had returned to his bosom, the light surrounding her slightly dimmer than before.
“... holy shit...” he mumbled in disbelief. “That was so badass!! When did you learn to do that?! Damn, you’re a really sneaky one, aren’t you?!”
“... he he, I did well?”
“Y-you can talk?!” Lino exclaimed dubiously, picking up the small ball of light and stretching it over the palm of his hand. “Just how many surprises you hide?”
“Yeah, yeah, you did well,” Lino quickly realized that he had a long way to go open up this bubble of shyness, which is why he didn’t push. “Go rest now and leave the rest to me, alright?”
“Okay!” the little Spirit exclaimed before vanishing directly into Lino. The latter slowly gazed down at the magnificent hole that she’d created; yet, even now, that hole was slowly being filled up with darkness yet again. For the first time he truly realized how terrifying Umbra was -- if her intent was to spread throughout the continent, he knew no one stood a chance of stopping her. He once again realized just how naive he was, especially when it came to things he knew little about. Swearing inwardly he’d know better the next time, he once again grasped at his weapons tightly and readied himself for round two.