HARBINGER OF CHAOS (I)
“The First Trial -- Gauntlet of Entropy -- is fairly simple,” a staunch, deep voice echoed throughout the chamber at whose center Lino was currently standing, sheepishly looking around.
The chamber was rather spacious, round in the making, with mosaic-filled walls depicting various forms that appeared more like blurs to Lino rather than anything else. The ceiling was domed well above, nearly ten miles to be precise, while the floor was tiled in circular fashion.
“For ten minutes,” the voice continued, ignoring Lino’s childlike curiosity. “You will be forced to defend the stele at the center of the circle,” the earth beneath Lino’s feet suddenly rumbled as he was forced to jump to side; at the spot where he stood, the earth opened and spat out a five meters tall stele, filled to brim with unknown, golden-radiating runic characters. “From all sorts of beasts as well as members of other races. But... Lord Empyrean, are you certain you wish to undergo the Trials right now?” the voice asked with some concern. “After all, they were designed for the Titular Empyreans.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry about it,” Lino mumbled dismissively as he tried to study the stele in detail. “So long as you don’t start sending some Titan Gods to whoop my ass, I think I’ll do well enough.”
“... very well.” the voice added with a sigh. “You have ten minutes to make preparations. After that, the only way to leave the Trial is to either pass it, or to be brought on the brink of death which is when I’ll rescue you.”
Lino completely ignored the voice, too immersed in studying the stele; though he couldn’t read a single word off of it, the runic characters gave off a familiar sort of a feeling, only feeding his curiosity further. Tracing his fingers over the surface, he mused the characters, compared to the rest of the black stone, were rather warm to the touch.
“It is the Chaotic Creed written in the Primordial Tongue,” the Writ’s voice beckoned inside Lino’s head. “I believe this one was written by E’ntuh, the Prime of Time.”
“... what does it say?” Lino inquired.
“Will of Chaos is Will of All, yet Will of All is not the Will of Chaos; untamed, unbridled, unafraid; kneel beneath those that sow it, worship those that preach it, kiss the feet of those who walk through it, respect those felled by it.”
“... huh, not as cryptic as I expected,” Lino mumbled, scratching his head. “Fairly simple, actually.”
“Shouldn’t you be preparing for the Trial? Despite what you may believe, it won’t be easy.”
“Prepare what?” Lino sighed. “I’ve already got my armor on, the weapons and the shields are a thought away, and in case you forgot, I’m always mentally prepared to kick some ass. So what’s left? Maybe I should lick the floor as a way to make it slippery?”
“You will encounter mostly Holy Continent contained species of beasts and races,” the Writ explained. “So most of the current knowledge you have will be practically useless.”
“... and from your tone I’m sensing you have absolutely no intention of sharing anything with me, huh?”
“The best way for you to get strong is through straightforward experience. I will warn you, however, if you begin fighting someone particularly tricky, don’t worry.”
“Oh goodness me, ain’t that just great?” Lino snickered as he sat down and popped open a bottle of one his finest wines. “How many times have you been through these Trials?”
“Only once before.” the Writ replied.
“It was during the brief life of Angus,” the Writ explained in a somewhat somber tone. “He had managed to convince two other Bearers to join forces with him, which is why he had access to the Trials. He’d gotten to the third stage before being unable to proceed any further.”
“... what happened to him?” Lino inquired.
“He was felled shortly after, his body stacked on top of a mountain for thousands of years as an example.”
“... riveting.” Lino mumbled. “Just how many more depressing stories can I expect to be told by you?”
“As many as you’re willing to ask for.”
“... that’s a lot...”
“... it is.”
Lino spent the remainder of the ‘preparation time’ in silence, lost in his own thoughts. He wasn’t unaccustomed to hearing the depressing ends of the Empyreans’ glory-strung lives, yet it hardly ever got easier to listen to them. However, he was never truly toppled over by them; he’d seen fates far worse than dying in a blaze of glory whilst fighting for someone and something you believe in.
He’d long since accepted the notion that his ending had a high chance of being quite similar, but he’d never surrender himself over to it as a certainty. He was unwilling, now less so than ever before. He crawled his way out of the childhood that left him scarred, clawed up through numerous trials, oftentimes met with walls he had no hopes of climbing, getting all the way to today, a day he was not alone.
Giving up would not only betray his own heart and Will, but also the faith others had in him. He’d finally began embracing, bit by bit, the role others have given him, one he had always staunchly rejected -- to be the bearer of others’ dreams. While he knew he’d never quite give up on believing that everyone should forge their own paths in life, he had also realized not everyone can do that -- rather, a majority can’t. His own life story, perhaps, was the biggest giveaway of it; huge pits of luck played a major role in getting him where he’s at today, and luck is never something one ought to rely on.
He drank in silence, reminiscing of the childhood he hadn’t thought of for a long time. Even with all the hell he was thrown into over the past ten years, he still prefers it over those first fifteen years of his life.
He was jolted awake from his thoughts by the faint rumble of the earth, his eyes focusing on the distant walls surrounding that had gone from being stoned to being edgeless, blurred beyond existence. Slowly getting up, the put the wine away and withdrew the [Hell’s Belittlement] from the void world, slightly regretting he hadn’t crafted a better sword before entering here; the ones he had in the void world were rather average, even the ones that Hannah gave him.
Holding onto the hammer tightly, he considered also taking out his newly-crafted shield, but decided to reserve it for when things got a bit scrappy. As he was never a passive one, the moment he spotted the shift in the world around him, he focused onto it and ran, coating his feet in thunder, blazing through over fifteen kilometers of distance in a flash.
Just as he arrived, he saw several dozen creatures seemingly emerging from nowhere; he hadn’t recognized a single one, though he wasn’t surprised, already expecting it. He heaved the hammer with all the strength he had and struck -- not at the creatures -- but at the floor in front of them. The latter quickly cracked, splintering into hundreds of bits and chunks as they flew onward toward the creatures.
A few wails and howls beckoned out, as Lino spotted several beasts evading his strike; a bear-sized wolf with strikingly cyan fur, a six-legged panther with rabbit ears and a string of spikes running down its thin, dented back, and a pack of creatures that Lino couldn’t associate with any he’d seen before -- they were rather crummy, their bodies scaled in dark emerald, a single eye protruding lonesome off their bodies that seemed to float slightly above the earth rather than walking on it.
Quickly switching momentum, Lino whipped out a couple of swords as he put the hammer back, increasing Qi output in his feet as he skidded forward, first chasing after the massive wolf who, rather than escaping, bent its body rather unnaturally as it made an attempt at Lino’s neck. The latter, similarly, bent his body midair and spun, swinging both his swords in a single motion, swiftly cutting through the wolf’s body, splitting it in half.
Even before landing squarely he shifted his body further and turned toward the panther, who was running toward the stele; flexing his calves further as he landed and pushing the Singularity to its extreme, floor beneath Lino’s feet exploded in blaze as bolts of lightning overwhelmed it. Lino heaved across the sky as a mere trail of azure, quickly catching up to the panther, switching to the [Spear of Salvation] whilst in the air, and shoving it down through the panther’s throat, embedding the spear into the earth and using it to halt his further momentum, cracking his wrists slightly, before vaulting around it as though it was a pole and flying sideways toward the pack of strange creatures, taking out [Hell’s Belittlement] again and smacking at them with full force.
Amidst the cries and wails, swath of gore flew out into the sky, quickly dyeing the floor beneath crimson. Lino then came to a halt, realizing he had taken care of everyone, taking a deep breath in the process and calming his adrenaline-pumped heart. However, before he even had a chance to collect his thoughts further, he sensed the space and time shift and distort on the opposite end of the chamber, causing him to groan. Though he knew it wouldn’t be as easy as just clearing a few random creatures, the reason he went all-out from the start was because he had been hoping he’d secure enough time to rest afterwards. Looks like the Trial wouldn’t give him such courtesy, which forced him to change his plans considerably as he’d now have to do what he hates the most when it comes to fights -- pace himself properly, lest he dies of exhaustion first before everything else.