VOLUME X - TITAN REALMS
What used to be a straight flatland was now a ravaged canyon of cracked and twisted stones, the entire hollowed sections littered with corpses, some whole and some not. The darkened clouds mirrored the burdensome atmosphere down below, upholding the eerie and ghastly silence that had enveloped the world.
On one edge of the ravaged land stood erect a grayed castle of stone, encompassing quite a large swath of land, surrounded with thick and tall walls hoisting four massive towers altogether. On one of the towers, three people were currently standing still in silence, overlooking the damaged reality before them with darkened expressions.
Alison felt her throat burn, yet couldn’t wince a sound; though her eyes were slightly moist, she refrained from letting the tears flow. Holding it all in, she felt as though she’d explode, the only barrier between that end the two people standing next to her -- Emma and Sae, her personal guardians.
“... Lady Alison,” Emma was a young girl in her early twenties with boyish, black hair and a pair of hazelnut-colored eyes and a build on the taller, slender side. “We should go back inside.”
“... how many have we lost?” Alison took a deep breath and repressed her emotions.
“... altogether 2,683.” Sae had a rather child-like appearance, with curled, blonde hair falling over her slender shoulders. The pair of green eyes held seeming indifference to the world around her, as though it was an empty room of nothingness. “They’ve lost 1,966.”
“... dammit.” Alison cursed lowly, lamenting her own incompetence. “This is a third loss in a row. We can’t take any more of this.”
“You will figure it out.” Sae said.
“How?! How am I going to figure it out?!!” Alison lashed out in frustration, gritting her teeth nearly till her gums began to bleed. “I don’t know how to command an army! I don’t know how to lead people and get them inspired and motivated to literally throw their lives away for a cause!! At this point they are just dying for no reason!!”
“They’re not dying without a reason, Lady Alison.” Emma chimed in. “They know very well that this is your training, and they’ve no doubts about their calling.”
“What calling? To die so I can figure out how to fight a battle? Haah... why’d I ever agree to this. I should be the one down there fighting, not standing here and watching thousands of people die. This is pathetic...”
“Lady Alison,” Sae said as her green eyes flared red for a moment. “You’ve been summoned to the headquarters.”
“... alright. Go and assess the morale,” Alison said as she turned around to leave, her golden hair fluttering momentarily. “As well as who can still fight.”
It has been nearly a whole year since Alison had begun actively participating in the current Holy War between two Holy Lands -- her own Eternal Paradise and Aeonian Soul. Though no one has said much of her performance so far, she knew the best how horrid it was, particularly so since she was forbidden from fighting directly, restricted only to ordering troops about.
Quickly into the war she realized she wasn’t the Commander-kind, or an inspiring leader -- what’s worse, perhaps, was that she couldn’t lead through an example. While she remained on the sidelines, watching the chaos unfurl before her eyes, others went ahead in her stead, dying in droves... over and over. The swirl of emotions festered in the depths of her now-broken heart, bit by bit devouring her inside out. Time and again she’d lock herself up in her chambers for days at a time, crying her soul out, but it hardly ever helped.
She had pleaded numerous times to be replaced, to be either sent back to the Sect so she can cultivate, or to be sent directly into the battle so she can at least do something, however meaningless it may be. The replies, however, were always the same: keep doing what you’re doing.
Without even realizing, she had found herself in front of the large door leading to the castle’s main hall where people would gather to plan strategies for the war or to hold meetings. Taking a deep breath and swatting away tears at the corners of her eyes, she walked up and opened the doors, entering a beautifully-lit, massive hall upheld by stone pillars concentrated in a circle around a squared table currently hosting dozens of people.
All eyes turned toward her, yet she could but simply stare ahead into the nothingness, too afraid to reply any of the gazes headed her way. Walking up as calmly as she could, she stopped on top of the small platform at the very center of the squared formation of tables, as though she were a criminal on trial -- at the very least, she felt like one.
“Alison answering the Summons, Honored Ones.” she quickly bowed to each of the four tables surrounding her before focusing her attention to the least populated one where only three people were currently sitting -- two of which were Arch Elders of the Sect, and the figure at the center being her current Master -- Arch Patriarch, Titular Beholder of the Fallen. The man appeared entirely harmless on the surface, with gentle appearance toppled with short, brown hair and a pair of honest-looking black eyes. Yet, no one aside from Alison in the whole room dared even glance at those eyes from fear of their hearts simply stopping.
“How do you feel?” Alison’s heart started as she heard her Master’s voice; though she’d stood at this exact spot numerous times before, it was the first time he spoke out to her.
“... incompetent.” Alison replied honestly, lowering her head in shame. “Defeated. Ashamed. Sorry.”
“Why?...” she mumbled, chuckling bitterly. “Because I have failed all of Your expectations, Master. And I have failed all of my brothers and sisters who have died for nothing.”
“You’ve failed no one’s expectations, Alison,” the man spoke out again, smiling warmly for a moment. “None of us sitting here ever expected you’d sweep away all battles and begin your climb to glory.”
“Do not weep for the fallen,” he continued. “For they shan’t weep for themselves. None of those who marched out under your name had done so under force, Alison; they did it of their own hearts’ desires. To them, this Sect is the homeland they ought to defend with everything they have; and, to the Sect, you are the shining light of hope. By helping you realize the World, they are helping the Sect realize its place within the same World.”
“... it... it just feels... wrong...” Alison mumbled, biting her lower lip.
“Nobody said it isn’t. None of us here are happy to see so many of our children go,” the man continued in the exact same tone. “But, we also know that their deaths are not in vain, unlike you. Though I’ve been trying to teach you slowly, it seems you still fail to see: in order to survive in this world, Ally, you cannot have such rudimentary concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Right is whatever those holding the Soul of the World say, as is the wrong. You can fight it, you can deny it and defy it, but nothing will change on its own. If you feel it’s wrong, then embrace it and become someone who can change what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.”
“No, I don’t need your acknowledgement or the submission of your Will. What I need you is to open your heart and soul, and look those who are marching under your name in the eye. By fumbling around and drowning yourself in indecisiveness, you are betraying all they stand for, Ally. Honor those dying breaths of theirs by overcoming walls that their bodies are building the stairs for. Don’t bury them and then pray for them. That is not what they’re for.”
Alison remained silent for a long while before merely nodding and leaving the hall. Nobody else said anything to her, and she knew there was no point to it; it wasn’t something they could forcefully change about her, as her whole staggered climb had to do with her very own Will. Memories, abilities, voice, eye-color, even emotions... all of those things can forcibly be changed and modified, but Will cannot. It’s a metaphysical manifestation of everything that an individual is -- and, by extension, it can only ever be changed gradually by the said individual, if at all.
Her mind suddenly flashed back to the distant memory from when she was still a child. It hadn’t even been a year since she had joined the Sect, and she was still overwhelmed with the whole new reality she had found herself in. The only friend she had back then was Hannah, who was more away than around altogether, which led to Alison oftentimes spending months at a time in deep cultivation with barely any progress.
One day, upon returning back to the Sect, Hannah found her and beat her -- not merely playfully, but beat her an inch away from death. Thinking back, Alison realized she should have been much angrier about it than she was, and that the words Hannah uttered seemingly didn’t matter as much as she for some reason believed when she was young. She spoke of some random boy and indistinct dreams, and how being wishy-washy will only leave more people hurt when it is all said and done.
It was the exact same thing she was doing right now, she realized; she was dancing around the reality, touching it yet not ever quite leaping into it. Her indecisiveness merely helped prolong the current struggles, increasing the death toll to what it was. She knew she couldn’t remain so hapless and weak -- she was, after all, the Eternal Maiden -- Bearer of Immortality, and the shining beacon of hope for the Eternal Paradise Sect.