TRIALS OF ASCENSION
Lino and Hannah were currently standing within the mouth of the largest mountain they’ve come across, at its dead center where a round clearing extended for almost five miles across. The land beneath their feet was flat and the clearing was void of decoration, but the walls were an entirely different story.
Embedded in them, as though they were born of them, were seven massive gateways, arched up top, each made seemingly out of the same material -- some sort of steel that Lino was unable to recognize. The gates exuded peculiar, silvery sheen, their rugged surface bearing numerous scars of age.
The centerpiece of each of the gateways was the sole decoration upon their surface; carved out in dead-center, each gate held a different symbol, though Hannah and Lino had quickly realized what the gates themselves represented -- Seven Passages for Seven Bearers, as each symbol resonated with a projected element of a Writ.
Chaos, for instance, was denoted as a swirling pattern of white and black lines, mingling seemingly at random, while Order was represented through a pair of angled, parallel lines. The two stared in wonder but for a moment when both, almost at the same time, felt their Souls bound outside their bodies.
“... did you know the Trials were here?” Hannah’s voice spoke out, though heavily morphed until nigh unrecognizable.
“No.” Lino replied in a robotic voice. “Last I heard they fell during the Ashening.”
“Aah, the memories...” Hannah’s voice said. “Do you think they can pass them?”
“... he has to try, at least. She can be a bit smarter about it.” Lino’s voice said.
“No one’s ever climbed a mountain by yelling at it. She may as well realize exactly where she stands before becoming corrupted by your little pupil.”
“...” Lino and Hannah returned, their expressions darkening.
“I swear, these fuckers do it on purpose each time,” Lino growled out. “Not even a word of warning.”
“... just let it go.” Hannah sighed in resignation, realizing it was pointless to be angry. “Did you get anything from that besides the fact we’ll be testing our luck with some Trials?”
“... the Ashening,” Lino mumbled. “I think I’ve heard about it from somewhere...”
“It’s a common term,” Hannah said. “Describing the extinction of a particular race, or a particular group within the said race.”
“You literally heard it from me,” Hannah sighed. “Like, two weeks ago at best.”
“... wait. Was this during that lesson where you didn’t realize your nipple slipped halfway through so it became pretty much impossible for me to concentrate on anything else but that?”
“... I hope you die during the Trial.” Hannah’s cheeks flushed red for a moment as she turned around, just about to walk toward her gate when she felt a pair of arms hug her from behind and pull her in; she hadn’t even bothered to resist.
“Even though I know you never mean it,” Lino whispered softly as he bit the tip of her ear. “A little bit of me rots away each time you say it, you know?”
“... so stop making me embarrassed.” she said. “And I won’t wish you dead.”
“You’re asking me to give up ever seeing this,” he gently turned her around, forcing her to face him. “And, frankly, I’d rather die.”
“... how in god’s name can you possibly say that with a straight face?!” Hannah barely held back from the laughter.
“Oh, this is nothing,” Lino grinned. “I can literally say anything with a straight face.”
“No, no way.”
“Really?” he smirked. “I’d literally like to bury my face in your tits and never leave.”
“... ha ha ha, stop, alright, alright--”
“For some reason you fart a lot whenever you fall asleep on my chest.”
“Ha ha--wait just a goddamn second--”
“And I was definitely awake that one time you thought I was dead-out.”
“And I have a feeling if I don’t stop you might actually drop dead, right here and now.”
“Good luck with the trials!” Lino chuckled faintly as he plated a quick kiss before turning on his heel and moving toward his gate.
“... I oftentimes ‘accidentally’ let this or that show,” her voice caused him to stop. “Because seeing your infatuated face as though you’re a fourteen year old boy seeing a woman naked for the first time is beyond priceless. Good luck with the trials!” Lino turned around and glanced at her, though she was already at the gates, pressing her palm against the symbol. Smiling warmly for a moment, he turned back around and walked toward his own, mirroring Hannah’s movement with his own hand.
“So, what can I expect inside?” he asked.
“Mostly fighting,” the Writ replied. “The Titans, after all, were not revered for their intellect and wit.”
“... great. So I can’t even use my greatest strength... how depressing...”
“You’ll very much appreciate it, I believe,” the Writ responded. “You always clamor about stupidity of those around you who get flustered with whatever you say; the Titans, however, were by and large very straightforward creatures. Much like you.”
“... too bad I wasn’t born a Titan, then, huh?”
The gates didn’t open; rather, Lino felt a familiar sensation overwhelm him as his entire body got pulled right through the currents of space and time, bending through the rifts of reality for a good hour before stopping. Wherever he landed, he mused inwardly, it certainly wasn’t on the Central Continent.
Opening his eyes, he was met by a massive table stationed inside a gigantic room -- at least gigantic from his own perspective. Realizing he was unable to see anything, he whipped out his Wings and took to the air, landing on the table. It was the first time he’d come face-to-face with something so... big, to the point that he’d nearly fallen back over due to getting startled.
There was a Titan’s head on the table, right in front of him, as he seemed to be dozing off. The head, Lino quickly measured, was at least twenty-thirty meters long, larger than even some mansions and palaces Lino had come across.
As though sensing someone nearby, the Titan suddenly shuddered as a pair of eyes opened. They were very much like humans, except their skin seemed to be built entirely out of marble stone -- a rugged kind, at that. There were a lot of uneven edges running down their bodies, though they did share almost all features of humans -- they had only two eyes, a single nose and mouth, a jaw, neck, four limbs, two ears... though they lacked a dashing hairline, Lino mused.
The Titan lifted his head up slowly and looked around, seemingly confused. Ascertained there was someone around, he woke up only to find... nothing. It shook him a bit, as he felt he was growing old.
“Hey man, down here!” a meek voice echoed. The Titan’s eyes narrowed into slits, as he once again scanned the room, but still finding no one. “Seriously?!! Down here! The goddamn table! Don’t make me come up there, you hear?!” finally obeying the voice, the Titan looked down and saw a very small, winged creature angrily flaying his arms about. “Geez, finally. Hi there, how are you doing?”
“... what... are you?” perhaps more startling than the Titan’s size to Lino was the fact that the giant seemed to understand the contemporary language completely.
“Eh? I’m a human dude. Are you blind?!”
“... a human? When did humans grow wings?”
“...” Straightforward, huh? Lino’s eyebrows twitched. You cunning whore... “We didn’t.” Lino quickly withdrew his pair. “This is, uh, just me, you know, playing around.”
“Ah! How did you get in here? Only Empyreans are allowed to enter here!” the Titan’s voice was loud, rocking the whole room for a moment.
“... take your sweet time, big guy.” Lino sighed and sat down, waiting.
“...” and still waiting.
“... and there we go.”
“You’re an Empyrean!” the Titan exclaimed.
“Right on big fella!” Lino replied, grinning.
“Ah, my apologies, Your Majesty!” to Lino’s utter shock, the Titan suddenly stood up and then heaved back down on his knees, bowing to Lino who quickly raced toward the edge of the table only to see the giant hunk of stone kneeling right there like a small mountain. “Ekkly bids Thee welcome, Harbinger. Are you perhaps here to undergo Your Trial?”
“... why are you kneeling?” Lino asked, frowning.
“Ah, forgive me! Should I kowtow instead? It’s not quite wide here... but I suppose I could if I---”
“No, no, god fucking no, just get up!” Lino hollered angrily. “Who asked you to kneel, huh?! Who the fuck asked you to call me your majesty or whatever?! You’re the first Titan I’ve ever met in my life, and you’ve already hit the rock bottom of first impressions! Just get up over here and let’s talk eye to an eye!!” Lino fumed still, unable to vent the keel in his heart. He had a dreadful feeling, deep down in his core, that this sort of a scene... will reply quite often in the future.