THE FORGOTTEN TALE (II)
Cracks like spiderwebs ran rampant across the dried earth, some turning into massive crevices as though carved out by a knife, reaching as far as several kilometers in width. Lino stared at the surroundings in silent awe; not necessarily because of the sheer destruction, as he’d himself done far worse, but because it all looked... so clean. As though every slash mattered, as though every move was precisely calculated.
Because, if one looked from far above and observed the dried flatland beneath, the cracks and crevices and craters formed a spiral shape, representative of Chaos in many of the world’s most prominent cultures.
“... I loved theatrics,” Eve suddenly spoke out; she stood at the very center of her masterpiece, donning nothing but ordinary-looking, teal robes and a crimsoned sword in her right hand. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail, her two eyes wide open, white as snow. “As I believed they were the way I could get the world to stand behind me. All of the Archaic Records I observed up until this point... most lacked the worldly charisma. They were leaders in heart, but they were not unifiers.”
“I imagined that, given enough exposure, people would come to question the Empyrean Narrative, that they’d come and stand by me once they learned the truth.” But they didn’t... “But they didn’t,” she sighed faintly. “If anything, they grew more fearful. Who is that crazed, maddened bitch destroying the world? Why is she carving evil sigils into the Mother’s Crust? How can she do all she does... while blind?”
“It was just after this battle,” she said. “That I’d realized something: world... can never be unified. Not by me. Not by Gaia. Not by Fate. Not by anyone alive, dead, or yet-to-be-born. We are all too different, too deeply embedded into whatever faith we were instructed to learn, too... foolish. There is no right answer, I’d realized. But... I never stopped my theatrics. I carved out more and more, I took the corpses of those I had slain and arranged them and then displayed them in Capital Cities.”
“...” Lino, for a second, got shudders as he finally understood why they nicknamed her Blind Nightmare.
“I deeply enjoyed the entropy of it all,” Eve suddenly sat down and crossed her legs, stabbing the sword next to her. “It gave my life a meaning... as, from my heart of hearts, I believed it was my duty, my mission, my calling to sow chaos wherever I walked. I believed it was what Ataxia wanted, and I believed that was what every Empyrean before me did. But... Chaos... is ever-changing. It’s as much destruction as it is creation; it is as much death as it is life; one can never entirely endow it by walking the crusades of the extremes.”
“I had realized that truth much later in life,” she added, closing her eyes. “Here, in this moment, I simply embraced what the world had donned over my shoulders: the very name I would choose as my Void Title, the Blind Nightmare. I’ve let the hissing voices in and I swallowed them whole and accepted... that was who I am. Not because the world said I was, but because... that really was it.”
Lino didn’t even need to discern her tone further to dismantle it whole; there was a lot of bitterness, a lot of shame, a lot of regret packed in those few words. It was the voice of someone who had re-examined their whole life and found out they’ve made all the wrong choices. Except, for most, there is always time to turn around, to make something of those mistakes... for her, however, there never was.
“When you, one day, don the mantle of the Void,” the solemn silence lasted for quite a few minutes before she broke it. “Understand... that the title stays with you forever. Rather, it’s not just a title -- it is what will define you. People, all over, are very shallow, very primitive. They won’t bother trying to learn more about you -- whatever your Title denotes is what they’ll believe you are.”
“For instance,” she said, chuckling bitterly. “During my early crusade, the Elysian was Trellor, and his chosen title was ‘The Star of Order’. And everyone believed him to be a saint, a hero, a savior, the prophet of utopia. What was he really like? He enjoyed torturing people, ravaging women, witnessing the lives of others crumble before his eyes... in many aspects, he was far worse than me. But, nobody cared. His title said he was an upstanding man... and thus that he was.”
“It’s a bitter reality you’ll no doubt face one day,” she said. “If you already hadn’t. You don’t win people over by being stronger, you don’t win them over by being smarter, you don’t win them over by promising them better lives... you win them over by lying to them, by telling them what they want to hear and promising them things you certainly will never be able to deliver on. Because, then, you’re a visionary -- and not a coward.”
If he could, Lino would be nodding his head fervently, as he too had come to understand that reality. It is a saying that goes that those who fly too close to the sun will get burned, and while it is real, the more apt undertaking of it would be that those who pretend to fly too close to the sun will be successful. It is hardly ever about the reality of things, it is entirely about the hand-woven narrative -- whether that be within the world of the ordinary people or cultivators. Rather than about brevity, it’s all about eloquence; ‘The world is dying’ and ‘The world is singing its last hymn’ depict the same idea... but in very different ways.
“... I always thought I’d dread this moment,” Eve spoke out suddenly. “Because I knew that whoever I guided with my Will... would be better than I ever was. I thought I’d be jealous, angry and bitter... but now that you’re here... I really wish I could see you... talk to you... advise you and teach you and tell you everything I know and don’t. Because, from the depths of my heart, beyond all other regrets, the one that I truly wish I could unwind... was the fact that I had failed.”
“... he’s very much like you,” a robotic voice suddenly trickled out into the world, startling both Eve and Lino; the former shot up on her feet, looking around frantically while the latter once again realized that Ataxia never tells him anything and just springs on him stuff that usually need some prior warning. “He’s headstrong, willful, coarse... a blood-maniac to his bones. But, the most important thing, Eve, is where the line is drawn.”
“... can you let him talk to me?” Eve stuttered out.
“I can’t. His Will isn’t strong enough yet to endure it.” Ataxia replied. “But, if it helps, even I do not know how he managed to do it... or why.”
“... ha ha ha ha,” Eve suddenly laughed out, freely and seemingly innocently, as though a heavy burden on her chest had finally vanished after so many eons. “It doesn’t matter, really.” she chuckled. “In the end, he managed to do it -- whys and hows are irrelevant. He did something that neither I, nor Eldon, nor Anastasia, nor Aldurn, nor Varren were able to do... he rose above us all before he even became a Titular. If anything, he’s proven once and for all that strength really is a vague, abstract term.”
“...” Lino listened on, but secretly began concocting a poisonous array of insults and curses he’ll hurl at Ataxia once he’s back in the real world. He also made a mental note to ask him just how many functions he’s recovered already.
“... however, I believe I can still teach him something,” she added, smiling. “Most notably... other Bearers. I’ve no doubt that you’ll cross swords with them, so, allow me to show you what they are like. What they do. What their strengths are... what their weaknesses are... and how all of them tend to be pious, high-moral morons who believe themselves beyond holy and chosen. Really, I fancied that us Empyreans always had problem with narcissism, but I didn’t really get the extent of it all until I met other Bearers. At the very least, you know, we got something to back our ego up, right? I mean, we’re all badasses who throw our bare bodies in inferno and come out of it laughing. They?”
“They just, I dunno, chug a cup of fucking tea and believe they suddenly piss rainbows. Don’t know, never really cared enough to ask one of them what they do for leisure. I just imagine it’s looking themselves in the mirror constantly and nodding their heads in approval. Or, you know, they just might be licking portraits of themselves. That’s how I imagined them anyway.”
“...” Lino very much wanted to burst out in laughter, yet he also felt somewhat wronged as one of ‘them’ was Hannah... yet that wronged emotion was wrung out quickly by images of her winking at the mirror and praising herself repeatedly. He decided, however, to keep that image to himself... lest he became blind, just like Eve.