GATEWAY OF ENTROPY (I)
“If you can clear this Trial,” the Writ’s voice echoed inside Lino’s mind. “You’ll ascend to being an Aeonian, undergo the next evolution and open the 5th Gate.”
“... eh? You know what the trial is?” Lino asked, furrowing his brows.
“... I already told you that I do.”
“... alright. Ekkly, what’s the third trial about?” Lino turned toward the Titan and asked.
“The Third Trial is called ‘Gateway of Entropy’,” Ekkly spoke slowly. “And it’s perhaps the simplest of all Seven Trials -- it’s another duel, but this time it’s the true one -- without any additional minions.” Lino’s enthusiasm dropped somewhat but he continued to listen calmly. “You’ll fight one of the Will Remnants of past Empyreans -- not necessarily Titans, but any Empyrean who had ever stored their Will into the Archaic Records.”
“...” Lino’s eyes widened a bit, a mixture of expectation and desire brimming within his gaze.
“As to not make the Trial impossible,” Ekkly said. “Their Level is limited to two hundred above yours, they cannot perform any Arts that you cannot, and their weapons’ and armors’ Level will match yours. Their Base Stats are also limited to your own ceiling, as well as their total Qi reserves. However, their experience, the purity of Qi, as well as knowledge obtained through opening additional Gates will all remain. Are you willing to undergo the Third Trial?”
“... yes.” Lino nodded faintly, his expression turning serious.
“Note that the selection of your opponent is entirely random; even I have absolutely no say in it. Good luck, Lord Empyrean.”
A portal opened soon after just next to Lino, with the latter only taking a quick, deep breath before braving forth. After a few seconds of spatial distortion, he was flung out into a massive arena spanning over twenty miles in a perfect circle. It was reminiscent of a gladiator arena, with the center caged in beyond which rows upon rows were lined up.
Well up above, looming over the whole arena, were four fanged pillars curving inwardly toward the center of the arena, sandwiched in-between them a sun-like sphere rotating repeatedly. Torches hung over the arena’s walls, burning brightly despite the sun high up in the sky.
Just as he was taking in the whole of the arena, space roughly two hundred meters across from him ripped open, a brief spatial storm even causing him to flinch. However, it ended as quickly as it came, leaving behind a figure stirring the dust. Lino quickly sighed in relief as he realized his opponent wouldn’t be a Titan, but that feeling only lasted for a little while as he saw four golden wings glimmering behind the figure’s back.
As the dust settled, the features came into focus, causing Lino to frown even deeper; it was a woman -- at least he was fairly certain it was. She had high forehead with thick, arched brows and a pair of teal eyes void of any emotion staring at him. Long nose, thin lips, sunken cheeks, fairly tall, with white hair tied up into a ponytail falling behind her.
She wore thick, plated armor with silver linings circulating about in strange patterns. What confused Lino further was a tail whipping behind her, scaled with a solid arrowhead as a tip.
“... what the shit is she?” Lino mumbled faintly, digging through his memories of various races of the world.
“I’m a half-bred,” the woman spoke in a deep, entirely-not-melodic tone. “Elf Dragonkin, to be more specific.”
“... would it be unpleasant if I asked--”
“My father was an Elf.” she replied before Lino could ask.
“... a brave man.”
“... a brave fool of a man.”
“My name is Etvenya Oortuh, Queen of the Noodum Empire, the Betrayed, a Titular Empyrean -- Draconic Madness.”
“... ‘ello there,” Lino waved casually. “I’m Lino, a scrub nobody, the nothing, just an Empyrean trying to do the impossible.”
“... I’m surprised you made it to the Third Trial with your strength,” Etvenya commented casually. “Is Ataxia helping you?”
“... if he was you really think I’d be a scrub nobody, the nothing, just an Empyrean trying to do the impossible?” Lino’s eyebrows twitched while the fakest of smiles remained plastered on his face. “Anyway, I get the Elf and the Dragon part -- but what about those Wings? They’re similar to mine.” Lino said as a pair of wings unfurled behind his back.
“... oh?” a tinge of curiosity surfaced within her eyes as she looked at the golden pair of feathered wings behind Lino’s back. “Yours... are actually the original.”
“Hm,” she nodded. “The genuine Archangel’s Wings. Mine? Just a cheap knockoff I re-created from encounters within the Archaic Records.”
“They’re a damn fine ‘cheap knockoff’,” Lino said. “You got two more than me.”
“At my peak, I had eight,” she smiled faintly for the first time. “Were Titles possible to change, I’d have renamed mine to a Winged Terror.”
“... eh, both are cool in their own little ways.” Lino said, smiling back. “I haven’t heard of you before, though.”
“Why would you?” she mumbled. “There are tens of thousands of Empyreans altogether. Even for fourteen thousand years of my life, I’d barely learned of just short of a thousand. Most are short-lived and obscure, and you’re only able to learn of them through the Archaic Records. Unfortunately... there’s a finite number of times you can visit them.”
“... indeed.” Lino said, sighing.
“At my peak,” she said as she suddenly took out a pair of weapons -- chakrams, to be exact, both of which were perpetually ablaze. “I had managed to open Eleven Gates, gaining insight into Three Laws -- Law of Fire, Law of Wind and Law of Insight. I will utilize them all to defeat you.”
“... I’d expect nothing less,” Lino chuckled, taking out the [Spear of Salvation] and the [Dragon Slayer], holding each in one hand. He was also struck with a small bit of inspiration from seeing Etvenya’s weapons, and had already begun picturing some future projects. “I’d barely touched the edges of the Law of Thunder and Lightning, but I suppose I’ll try my best.”
“May the more maddened one win.”
Just as she spoke out the last word, the four wings behind her fluttered as she took to the sky, flipping her arms forward and firing off both chakrams toward Lino; the pair of weapons left behind a blazing trial as they descended toward the still-standing figure on the ground. Lino paused for but a breath before also fluttering his own pair of wings, charging straight through the tiniest of openings in-between the two weapons, chasing after her.
Just as he passed the weapons, however, they turned seemingly of their own will and charged at his back; seemingly having expected this, Lino remained calm and summoned out [Imperishable Guardian] shield, stationing it behind his back and using it to deflect the chakrams while he pushed forward, coating his entire body in the tiniest flickers of lightning.
Etvenya remained calm as she saw the pair of chakrams briefly stopped by the shield, taking out a spear of her own; it was roughly Lino’s size, double-bladed, entirely white in texture. She pinned it forward and met Lino’s pierce with a parry, deflecting his spear sideways; just then, however, a sword came hurling at her from the upward angle, yet she seemed entirely indifferent to it, just gently pushing her spear sideways and using the recoil to bounce herself backwards, evading the sword’s strike entirely.
By then, the pair of chakrams had broken past the shield, once again racing toward Lino. He withdrew the shield into the void world and re-summoned it, placing it behind him yet again; Etvenya frowned for a moment, seemingly having not expected that Lino could do something like that. Still, her confusion lasted for but a moment before she fluttered her wings, stirring the wind around her into the bladed chaos.
Metallic sounds bellowed in the sky as the wind clashed with Lino’s armor, sparks flying about, several bleeding wounds propping up. As they were minor, however, Lino simply pressed through the wind, somewhat happy that Etvenya seemed to have accepted his head-on challenge.
He thrust the [Spear of Salvation] forward, while using <Sword of Chaos> to distort the realm of reality with his [Dragon Slayer]; though he very much doubted it would have any impact on her, it was still worth a shot. Just then, however, his heart froze for a moment as his eyes widened; quickly withdrawing the [Imperishable Guardian] into the void world and re-summoning it; the shield’s second option, <Imperishable>, suddenly activated, creating a milky-colored sphere around Lino.
A mere blink later, one explosion after another sounded out as Lino found himself bounced through the sky like a ball. The siege lasted for nearly ten seconds, but the sphere endured, barely showing a single crack. Sighing out in relief, he recovered and looked down, realizing that Etvenya was still on the ground, seemingly not having moved an inch since the battle’s start.
“... your instincts are on point,” she commented. “Your insight, however, is lacking. I imagine so far you’ve grown accustomed to straightforward battles, but that’s rarely the case once you’ve entered the world’s main stage. Rather than fighting and risking death, most times they’ll try to instigate you into a figure-fight -- not exactly an illusion, which is why you hadn’t realized it from the get-go -- more akin to a separate reality... feeling very much real, but still fabricated nonetheless.”
“...” Lino listened in silence, taking it all in.
“You’ve been submerged in it since the moment I spoke my first word,” she added with a faint smile. “Had you, just for a moment, externalized your Will briefly, you would have realized it. Always make it a habit to do so.”
“... thanks.” Lino nodded with a serious expression, somewhat frustrated that he’d already burned through one of his secrets -- also wasting one of his best recovery tools, as the amount of excess Vitality he’d absorbed through the shield’s effect was enough to recover him fully three times over.
“I’d love to teach you more and better,” she said, sighing dejectedly. “But, unfortunately, my time here is limited. There will be no more pauses, no more breaks, no more lessons. Learn what you can from what we do; what you can’t... you were never meant to learn.”