WORLD ON ITS KNEES
A magnificent wail crossed the boundaries of space and time, piercing through its thin veil, echoing out through the millions of hearts and souls, causing them all to cough up a mouthful of soot-layered blood. Shadows veiled the sky, turning the bright days into darkest of nights. Far and wide, people looked up in terror, feeling chilled winds bursting through their hearts.
Alison was currently shaking terribly like a leaf in the wind, held by four arms tightly as they cried out for help. Her eyes had turned pure, milky white, skin seeming as though sunburned. There wasn’t an inch of her body that wasn’t billowing smoke out into the air, one bearing the stench of rotten corpses.
Even Hannah was feeling terribly unpleasant now, her expression distorted as she looked toward the looming mountains in the distance. She forcibly stopped her heart from beating quickly, forcibly held back her soul from stretching out into the wail of solidarity.
Ella stood far up in the sky, her expression a mixture between worry and sadness. There was a faint trace of blood on the corner of her lips, her eyes shining strangely as she focused on the figure standing solitary in the field of red-glowing ash, his shoulders sunken, strands of hair covering his expression entirely.
Alison’s Master, Alex, was currently standing on top of a tallest spire, his eyes shining bright purple within the shadows. His body, too, was shaking faintly, yet he remained inaudible, as though he wasn’t even there. Following a few minutes of still-standing silence, he suddenly vanished from the spot.
Seven people sat in a circle around faintly cyan flame, two men and five women, their expression a mixture of strange exhilaration and awe.
Primal Spirit Ananith was staring at a stone plaque hanging above her in tepid confusion, her lips trembling faintly, Qi around her terribly restless.
Within the world of edgeless mirrors, tears and inconsequential nothingness, tepid whispers echoed one after another, clashing against the invisible edges of everything.
Red threads shook in the sky, tearing and ripping as though cut by scissors, as their source shook violently, causing the entire world around to quake and rumble.
A black-haired, black-eyed youth was currently standing on top of a pile of dismantled corpses, feasting on an arm, as his lips suddenly trembled and curled up into a grin of fanaticism. He looked up toward the sky and saw the shrouded edges, blaring out into a maniacal laughter.
Patriarchs, Matriarchs, Elders, Arch Patriarchs, and even some Disciples of the Holy Grounds all uniformly groaned, some of them disappearing from their spots into a puff of smoke.
The entire world, for an entire minute, had gone entirely mute. It was then, by the very end, that a pair of jet-black eyes emerged like suns up in the sky, overlooking the entirety of existence. All looked up and met them, some in terror, some in anger, some in unbridled rage, some in pride, some in awe, some in joy, some with tears in their eyes.
The pair of eyes looked down like an overlord, like the judge of everything beneath; though hundreds and millions and even billions wished to leave the ground and bolt into the sky above, they found themselves frozen in spot. They couldn’t move an inch, nor could they utter a sound. They could only stare at the pair black eyes, a pair so void of emotion they didn’t seem human. Beneath that judgment, soon billions cracked, falling to their knees, shaking.
Beneath that gaze, even the most indomitable Wills began to shake. Figures that had already turned into the myths of the cultivation world found themselves fighting with all they had to resist.
Within the inconspicuous-looking lake, a bladed elder and a pair of opposite-looking men stared through the mirror into the world outside, all three shaking, yet not bending. They stared hard and long, their expressions muddied in shadows, their eyes marred in clouds.
An old-looking woman and an old-looking man, sitting cross-legged on opposing mats within a squared room with no decorations suddenly shook as their eyes opened. The Qi around them immediately turned to ash, extinguished from the reality itself. They but glanced at the sky beyond for less than a breath, yet Qi within tens of thousands of miles around them was all gone.
“... wait for me...” a resounding, low growl of the thousand voices bellowed through the minds of all those who stared at the pair of now vanishing eyes. Those that endured so far broke and bent forward, crashing onto their knees, bleeding from their eyes and ears.
Even the old man within the Great Descent’s headquarters, and the two Disciples standing next to him, found themselves on their knees, unable to endure. It lasted for nigh a second before they stood back up, yet it was all evidenced by the four trails of blood on each one of them.
“... was that really... Lino?” the crimson-haired, stalwart-looking man asked with a lamenting expression.
“... it felt even worse than when Eldon did it,” the old man said with a faint sigh. “Age of the Empyrean... is truly upon us.”
Thousands of people were currently standing inside a massive hall decorated with glacial gems all around, the centerpiece of it all being seven pillars standing in a circular formation at the very center of the hall. Pillars were made out of glass, their innards transparent for all to see; six of them were currently empty, with only one standing out.
A small bulb of light appeared out of thin air, the size of the grain of sand, in one of the pillars, a low cry shaking the hall for a moment before it all settled. Hundreds among the thousands suddenly fell to their knees and broke out into tears, cries killing out the prior silence.
Alex stood far up front, right in front of the pillars, his expression terrible. He turned sideways where a few spots down a woman stood tall, tears trickling down her cheeks. They stood far out against her dark skin, the pair of silver eyes bleeding in pain.
Then he thought back to the pair of eyes that had caused every single soul inside the hall to kneel for a moment; at that moment, he felt entirely worthless and powerless, as though a mere glance from them was enough to end his life. For the first time in millions of years, well beyond the point he could recall with clarity, he felt fear -- genuine, bone-piercing, soul-shivering fear. And he knew that everyone in the hall felt the same, though no one would willingly admit it.
“Everyone, leave.” a robotic voice jolted everyone to their feet as a path opened up, exposing a youthful-looking man walking toward the pillars. He was on the taller end, with a pair of beautiful, black eyes focused entirely on the small bulb of light inside one of the pillars. “Alex, Etella, Vars, Murook, Linda and Y’lov stay.”
All but six named people stayed -- two women and four men, all of whom were currently gathered near the pillars. The young-looking man joined them shortly after, briefly touching the pillar before turning toward the rest.
“All wars, personal grievances, disputes and bad-blood between us ends now.” the robotic voice continued. “This was a declaration of war, plain and simple. Some of you have lived through the last time an Empyrean had become the Harbinger so you should know all too well what this means.”
“... so that really was the sign of the Harbinger...” Alex sighed faintly, frowning.
“How is the Bearer?” the young man turned toward Alex.
“Comatose.” the latter replied simply.
“... I suppose that’s the best possible outcome for the time being,” the young man continued. “Despite the fact that he had become the Harbinger, it is different than the last time; Eldon was already a massive threat, current Empyrean is not. All our focus for now shifts onto locating him or her. Unfortunately, Mother and Fate are unable to help us, so it rests on us to end this before it even begins. We cannot --- I repeat --- we cannot allow the Empyrean to grow. The last time ended well, but we cannot count on the same outcome this time around.”
Everyone nodded faintly before disappearing, including the boy; only Alex and the dark-skinned woman who hadn’t looked away from the pillar all the while remained.
“... there are two possibilities for Hannah,” the woman suddenly said in a coarse voice. “Either she’s held captive, or she’s compromised. What is your bet?”
“... the latter.” Alex replied, sighing. “But, I very much doubt she had anything to do with this, Etella. All said and done, she still loved Eos.”
“... it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re making the same mistakes again, Alex. The same mistakes we’ve made with Eldon. I’ve no doubt in my mind Eos had done something unforgivable for Ataxia to allow the Empyrean to kill Aurora. And again a fool waltzes in and warns us that we cannot allow an Empyrean to grow any further, as though we were aiding and abetting him all this while.”
“...” Alex remained silent; save for Heaven’s Y’lov, Etella was the only other person among those who were in the hall that lived through the years of the first Harbinger.
“Eldon, however, was much older,” she continued. “Much wiser... and much kinder. On the principle I cannot justify what the Empyrean did... but, a part of me wants to. You must have seen it too; those eyes weren’t the eyes of an old monster who was wronged. Those were the eyes of the child, Alex. The eyes of someone whose heart was broken one-too-many times.” she glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “If I were you, I’d be happy for Hannah.” she added before finally turning away from the pillars. “Unlike the old, senile fools, it’s the kids among us that make the right choice. Now more than ever I’m certain: Origin War is coming. Don’t be a fool, Alex. The pain’s not worth it.”