Ella was currently standing near a crimson-dyed lake stacked with starfish, overlooked by tall oak trees looming over it. She had a tranquil expression, her eyes dulled with now-distant memories of the past. It has been so long, she mused, since she stood on this very same spot as a young girl as her Father showed her first stages of cultivation.
Sounds of footsteps crackling the leafs and branches startled her back to reality, forcing her to turn halfway and looked behind her. An old, kind-looking man with a face full of wrinkles walked briskly, his hands tied together behind his back, donning a plain-looking, brown robe. His eyes were half-closed, thick, white eyebrows arching over them.
“Patriarch.” Ella smiled faintly, nodding, as the old man walked up to her and stopped, also focusing on the lake.
“Do you know why the color’s red’” he asked.
“I do,” Ella replied. “Apparently, [Dried Lull] grows beneath the lake’s bed, spitting out red dye ever so often.”
“... when I was a kid,” he chuckled. “I thought this was the place we dumped all the blood in. Hoh, to be innocent.”
“Congratulations, by the way,” he said, glancing at her and smiling. “And thank you for letting us know.”
“... ouch.” Ella smiled back awkwardly. “I was going to surprise you, you know?”
“Oh, sure. Of course.” the Patriarch chuckled faintly before donning a serious expression. “The entire continent is up in arms, El’. Pretty much the only thing holding it all together is the fact that Anton surfaced.”
“... is he on the hunt?” she asked with concern.
“No,” he shook his head. “He’s holding the Seat for the time being. But, it won’t be long. What Level are you?” he asked with a faint curiosity.
“I’ve just recently gotten my Fiend Title,” Ella replied. “Not quite there just yet.”
“... still, over 10,000 Levels in a span of a decade...” the Patriarch chuckled bitterly, shaking his head. “The world is truly unfair. But, you’re right. You can’t come into light just yet. What happened?” he asked, seemingly finally braving himself enough.
“... what does always happen?” Ella asked, sighing. “He was pissed off enough to extinguish light... and it certainly wasn’t over an ill-spoken word.”
“How strong is he?”
“... I’m not too sure myself,” Ella replied with a frown. “I do know that at least by Vitality and Strength, he puts all of us to deep-end shame. With Laws, from what I gathered, he’s begun the mastery of Time and Death.”
“... hah...” he sighed, lamenting silently. “His story eerily parallels Eldon’s.”
“... they are somewhat similar, if stories are true,” Ella chuckled. “Save for, perhaps, one thing.”
“Eldon was far more forgiving.”
“... figures. Rumors have it that Elysian has abdicated. Is it true?”
“... yes.” Ella replied.
“... eerily... eerily similar.” the Patriarch shuddered. “It’s a shame we’ve no one who lived through the Eldon’s time to compare the two Births.”
“... it can’t really be compared,” Ella said. “I gather that only the top figures of the Great Descent and a few hermits have managed to endure it. Eldon’s was targeted... his was... raw.”
“Did you come to warn us?” he asked.
“... to warn and prepare,” Ella said. “I don’t hope you will stand with him, I just hope you won’t stand against him.”
“... I can’t make that decision alone, El’.”
“I know,” she added. “I’m not asking you to. But, if we apply the well-being of the Clan to it, they should listen.”
“... if we manage to get out of this unscathed,” she said. “We’ll become de-facto ruler of the Holy Continent.”
“... you really think highly of him.”
“You would too, if you met him,” Ella chuckled, her lips curling up into a warm and honest smile. “It’s not even the matter of strength... just his natural charisma. He has a way of making people believe he can do it, no matter what that ‘it’ is. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think I ever doubted his ability to achieve whatever he set his eyes on. It’s... eerie.”
“... it’s eerie because you’re looking at a mirror,” the Patriarch chuckled faintly. “I’ll do my best, and I’m fairly certain your parents will have my back. If I were you, I wouldn’t show up just yet -- at least with that big of a belly. My seat is waiting for you, El’.”
“... sorry,” she smiled apologetically. “I’m afraid you’re gonna have to keep sitting on it.”
“... aah. But... it’s so thorny, and very bad for my back.” the Patriarch sighed. “I guess I’ll have to find another naive youngster who’ll believe it’s an honor above honors.”
“Ha ha ha, shouldn’t be too difficult. Crug’s still around, isn’t he?”
“What’s wrong?” she asked, frowning.
“... he’s been... odd.” the Patriarch said, stroking his chin. “I suspect that if he’s not corrupted already, at least it’s festering.”
“... he should be fine for a few months,” Ella said, sighing. “I’ll straighten him out.”
“And convince him it’s an honor above honors to take my seat?”
“Aye, aye, you lazy old man...”
“Ha ha ha ha...”
Meanwhile, across the entire continent, on its other end, Hannah was currently standing in a field of purple flowers, surrounded far and wide with swaying grass on one end and a rapid river on the other. She slowly sat down on the bank and soaked her feet in rather chilly waters, leaning back and looking at the still-dimmed sky above.
“... is it true?” a familiar voice spoke out from behind her, causing her to look back. Alison stood upright, just a few meters back, her gaze strange as she looked at Hannah.
“Is what true?” Hannah chuckled. “That you’ve somehow grown even more beautiful? If so, then yes, it is true Ally. You never fail to amaze me!”
“... stop with the games, Hannah,” Alison growled lowly, gritting her teeth. “Did... did you betray us?! Did you help him kill Sister Eos?!”
“... I met him by the lake,” Hannah replied after a short silence, turning her gaze back onto the river. “And thought he was a rather interesting lad at first.”
“Sort of cheeky, terribly charming, funny... the sort destined to break your heart,” she added, chuckling. “When I’d learned he was the Empyrean, I couldn’t fathom it. The crazy, maniacal, bloodthirsty, world-ending Empyrean? Him? Pssh.”
“... I fell in love with him, Ally,” Hannah said, standing up and turning around to face the now pale Alison. “I fell in love with his charm, his cheekiness, his straightforwardness, his honesty... his heart.”
“--w-what... what...” Alison stuttered out, taking a step back.
“... I think you would have liked him, too,” Hannah added silently. “In another lifetime, perhaps...”
“Astrum, what is the meaning of this?” a robotic voice suddenly escaped Alison’s lips as her gaze dulled.
“What-ever-do-you-mean Nirvana? It’s just two innocent girls discussing love. It’s quite literally the least strange thing one can witness.”
“Mother forgave you time and again, yet you never fail to break her heart; for someone claiming to be the origin of Order, you certainly fail to act the part.”
“... it is inevitable,” Astrum replied somewhat solemnly -- as solemnly as a robotic voice can get, that is. “To search for the answers. For there to be Order, light first has to shine on all of things; there can be neither a hidden nook nor cranny, not even a dent in knowledge.”
“What purpose is there to understanding the Entropy?” Nirvana questioned. “Its nature is that it cannot be understood, Astrum; or are you truly that naive to believe to be an exception? If so, then perhaps it is not your thirst for knowledge that keeps breaking the Mother’s heart, but your idiocy.”
“How can you not want to know?” Astrum questioned. “How it all began? Why it all began? Where it all began? How can you contently ignore your very creation? If something exists, it can by default be understood.”
“... I am never surprised when Ataxia sells fantasy to the mortals,” Nirvana replied. “After all, with the fantasy, he sells them a dream of grandeur, satisfying their vanity in the process. But, of all beings, for you to buy into his broken narrative -- how naive are you, truly? At best, he’s a mutation -- a remnant of state before time -- something that should have never came into existence in the first place. At worst, he’s an evil seed planted to sow discord among us and to ceaselessly create Chaos off of which he feeds. In either of the scenarios, what value is there to humor his madness? Even if due to pittance, eventually we can just start... ignoring him.”
“Which is why we have always failed,” Astrum said. “You cannot, in your heart of hearts, believe that to be true, Nirvana. If Entropy is where all things begin and end, and if Ataxia is its manifestation, how can you idly sit by and ignore him? If he can indiscriminately help his Bearers literally reset us -- all the rest of us -- how can you say he’s unimportant? There’s always method to madness when he’s involved -- all I wish is to understand that method.”
“... and betray your birthright in the process?”
“... I am birthed of Entropy, as are you,” Astrum growled. “It is neither Fate nor Gaia, nor is it the Lords, nor any of the Higher Beings that breathe life into us, Nirvana. What do you think is cradling Aurora now and re-birthing her?! Spare me your incessant high morality; you never were the bright sort.”
“... I can’t believe you actually betrayed us...” Alison’s voice returned as she lowered her head, her body shaking. “You -- you of all people!! How could you do it?!! Throw everything away!!”
“... it’s still me, Alison,” Hannah replied, smiling faintly. “The same, old Hannah. I still love you just the same as I’ve loved you before. I still care for this place, and everyone in it. If there was a path that I could take where I wouldn’t need to stand here and break both your and mine hearts, do you truly think I wouldn’t take it?”
“:.. no, you’re not the same.” Alison replied. “Hannah I know wouldn’t throw away her entire life for a man. Now? You’re just an empty whore.”
“... I’d have stood here with or without him, Ally,” Hannah replied. “He’s only a happy accident.”
“... just shut up.” Alison growled, her eyes glowing strangely for a moment. “Just shut the fuck up!!” just before she could attack, however, she felt a hand pinning her forehead as Hannah appeared in front of her.
“... from the depth of my soul,” Hannah said, biting her lower lip, fighting back the tears. “I hope that a day will come when you’ll forgive me. I truly, truly hope...” it was the last thing Alison heard before feeling all energy leave her, her eye growing weary and heavy, her mind blanking out.