It was not for the lack of trying that the six flying high up in the sky had failed to break past the massive, crimsoned dome after three whole days of trying. By now, their calm and indifferent expressions had all turned ugly and distorted; it hurt little to break their arms, but far more to break their pride. After all, they were seated on top of the world, the proud children of the leading Holy Ground. If the word got out that they were held back by some backwater Clan on the Forsaken Continent, they’d never be able to live it down until their deaths.
The leading youth’s name was Evon, and besides the five around him, the rest of the group had moved onto the Central Continent, with six of them staying behind just to tie up loose ends. After all, Valkryia was right -- they weren’t supposed to be here. Although the directive was to look for the Empyrean, they weren’t supposed to be interacting with anyone, let alone committing mass murders in the process. If the word got back that they did, not only would they be withdrawn from the global search, but they’d also be locked up potentially for decades to ‘reflect’ on their mistakes.
It wasn’t as though their Elders cared much for those they’d killed, but there was still a public image to maintain. The little group felt frustrated as, the more it took them to clean things up, the higher the chances were of them getting caught, or of word getting out of what they were up to.
“Let’s just use the Flag,” Evon exclaimed suddenly, anger evident in his eyes. “I’ll scald those snarky faces until they all cry for their mothers.”
“Calm down,” a woman called Lara, a white-haired beauty with a peculiar pair of green eyes, spoke out in an even tone. “We’re almost through. If we waste the Flag here, what if we run into a formation more formidable than even this one?”
“She’s right Evon,” the other woman spoke out in a similar tone. Her name was Maya, a short, black-haired girl not yet in her twenties. Much like the rest, this was her first time leaving the Clan’s headquarters. “Less than a day and we’re done.”
“... humph,” Evon snorted, resuming his attack. “I’ll see that gleeful bitch laugh after I’m done with her.” just then, a jolt of booming terror froze them, causing them to stop all their attacks. Their bodies all uniformly shook as they turned their heads to the side and up, still shaking.
There, high up where the sun would usually be, a golden glow of massive, radiant wings spread far and wide. Feathered in make, they spanned dozens of meters across, occasionally fluttering, rousing winds around them in the process. Quickly shifting their gazes over from the wings, they landed them onto the man standing at the center. He was on the taller end, they realized, wearing an ordinary-looking, bleakly-dyed armor.
The pair of jet-black eyes sized them up from far above, his black hair freely fluttering in the wind. Thick, black beard covered half his face, giving him a visage of an unruly man, yet everything else about him spoke otherwise; the gaze, the gait, the bearing... all factors pointed to someone of elegant bearing. Had it not been for the suffocating, murderous atmosphere surrounding him, they might have even believed it for a moment.
“... you are supposed to be looking for me,” Lino spoke quietly, yet his his voice resonated like thunder through the group’s ears. “Why are you killing innocent people instead?”
“...” Evon managed to tear his gaze away from the man and look around, quickly realizing that everyone else still appeared petrified. “You’re the Empyrean?” he scoffed, trying to buy some time for others. “Then the world will be just fine.”
“Perhaps,” Lino replied, smiling faintly. “But you won’t.”
“What? You dare kill us? By now you should know who we are.” Evon said.
“Who you are? No one. Nothing. Wastes of space. Why would I care about killing someone who doesn’t matter?”
“... ha ha, continue to put on your bravado.” Evon said. “But, seeing as you were ballsy enough to show up, I’ll let those beneath us go if you come with us.”
“... your friends are pathetic,” Lino said, his voice frigid. “I haven’t even used my Will, yet they are still trapped inside an illusion. What do you expect to achieve here, Son of Heaven? Stall me until they wake so you can do... what? Fight me? Escape? Die holding each other?”
“...” Evon said nothing, realizing his ploy was seen through. He sighed in relief, however, as he saw that everyone else also woke up, angrily staring at the man above them. “You should have attacked while you had the chance.”
“Where’s fun in that?” Lino smiled, taking out the [Dragon Slayer], holding it in backhand motion.
“Spread,” Evon whispered softly, beginning to gather Qi. “Trevor, Lara, you two try to go outside his senses and attack him once he’s tangled with us.”
“Roger.” the man called Trevor was on the shorter end, slightly chubby, yet as quick as a whistle, immediately disappearing.
“... looks like you’re ready,” Lino chuckled faintly, any and all remnant emotion disappearing from his gaze. “Don’t say I was being sneaky when it’s all over.”
Meanwhile, with the Kvalend Tribe’s compound, all eyes were pointed toward the sky where the golden flicker emerged a few moments ago. Valkryia’s lips stretched out into a beautiful smile, her eye shining like gems; Evelyn’s expression was rather bitter, while Althone’s was a mixture of shock and pain.
The rest of the Kvalend Tribe, most of whom knew of Lino’s identity, suddenly sat down cross-legged, unable to peel their eyes from the sky. When Valkryia informed them of the strange beggar’s identity, they all cursed her out for having withheld that information; now, however, was their chance to re-do the first impressions.
Even Freya, who’d always found the beggar to be the strangest creature she’d ever met, had never suspected him to be this generation’s Empyrean. Yet, the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Whenever she was next to him, no matter how much what he said made her uncomfortable, she felt eerily safe, as though there was nothing in the entire world that could harm her so long she stood by his side. The very same feeling returned, she realized as she watched him floating high up in the sky.
Lino, on the other side, had merely scanned over the Tribe’s ground to confirm everyone was alive. Sighing in relief inwardly when she saw Valkryia and others, he jotted a thought in his mind to ask her about the whole crimson dome as it had even him shook for a moment when he first inspected it -- patterns were far more complex than any other array he’d ever seen in his life.
Now, however, was not the time for it; he had six Heaven’s Chosen to battle, all roughly Level 1500 Void Titulars. It wasn’t that he was not confident in victory, but that he wanted the first battle after his declaration to speak volumes to the rest of the world. To cement a law they ought to follow.
Though the two from the group ‘disappeared’, he was easily able to track them down and keep an eye out on them even if he didn’t have to. Noting that their formation was quite bright, as they elected to go for one frontliner -- the only Body Cultivator in the group -- two flankers, one support and two stealthed attackers, Lino lifted his head up for a moment and took a deep breath, letting the wind caress his cheeks for a second.
A flutter of wings sent a booming shockwave from the sky as he disappeared, appearing directly in front of Evon who cried out in terrible shock; by the time he caught up to the process of time, he saw the massive, mawed sword heading for his shoulder. Entirely unable to react in time, all he felt was a massive tang of pain shocking his mind momentarily as his right arm flew right off, a fountain of blood gushing out.
Crying out, he immediately lost balance as the remnant energy of an ordinary strike sent him spiraling down toward the ground, crashing directly into the desert dunes and carving out a massive crater on whose bottom he remained laying, listless and half a breath away from death. Just that remnant energy had crushed his lungs, severed nearly every muscle in his body, broke every bone, dislocated his organs till they could barely be distinguished, and made him effectively crippled for the foreseeable future.
Lino’s gaze quickly shifted sideways where he met a pair of terrified, green eyes hidden beneath the swaying strands of white hair. Expressionless, he turned into a golden arc of light and vanished once again, appearing in front of Lara within less than a second. Crying out, she quickly raised her arms as an icy dome appeared around her in the form of a shield, stacked with icicles. Lino punched out with his free arm, crashing past the shield and grabbing her throat as though she merely let him do it of her own will.
“P-please!! P-p-please, no...” she cried out softly, meeting the empty face that had just been nearly ten miles away from her.
“I know you’re watching,” Lino hollowly muttered. “And I’m honored, but also insulted, that you’d have sent your children to hunt me in hopes if they found me I’d be kind enough to let them go.”
“....” Lara shook whole as she felt his grip tighten, cutting off her air supply.
“On my way over,” he continued. “I’d spotted fourteen razed cities stacked to brim with corpses and ash. How many dead? I didn’t dare count. However-many-too-much.” Lara quickly began choking, scratching at his arm and flaying her legs about, growing blue in the face. “Is evil an answer for evil? Who knows...” neck snapped sideways, bulging eyes staring in disbelief as the head curved unnaturally. Lino let go, her body falling down like a drizzle, hitting the ground and turning into a mess of gore.
He slowly shifted his gaze sideways and saw the remaining four bunched up together, staring at him in disbelief -- he realized they truly didn’t think he’d kill them, that they were free to do whatever they wished, and that the accidental place of birth would make them immune to repercussions. Smiling faintly, he huddled up for a moment before exploding with an unmatched speed, appearing in front of the four who were too frozen to even cry out. He swung the [Dragon Slayer] sideways, halving all four into parts as blood cried out.
Withdrawing the wings, he crashed onto the ground and walked over to Evon, who was barely holding on; even so, however, his eyes reeked of terror as he heard the approaching footsteps and soon met the pair of dead eyes looming over him. Lino picked him by his throat and held him up, matching the boy’s gaze. Seeing the silver flash for a moment, he chuckled faintly, shaking his head.
“It’s a war, war between us,” he said, glancing toward the Clan’s grounds. “They’ve nothing to do with it, as do none of the people in my life. Once more -- just once more -- go after them. I dare you,” his voice turned deadly cold as he shifted his gaze back onto Evon’s eyes. “And the world will witness a bloodbath that will leave it scarred until its end.” tightening the grip, he snapped the boy’s neck and watched the last breath leave his lips and the last flash of light vanish from his eyes. Lino’s heart cracked for a moment as he bit his lower lip. There was little satisfaction in being the judge, the jury and the executioner.
What they’d done, however unforgivable, can hardly in the end be all blamed on them; since the cradle, Lino knew, they were taught the rest of the world is irrelevant. Empathy is birthed within one’s heart, and it takes killing it entirely for one to see other people as nothing but empty vessels. They were rid of all the care for the world, through no fault of their own. Nothing would change, he knew, unless the entire world underwent a massive metamorphosis. Children will continue to die, blood will continue to be shed, revenge and anger would continue to be the fuel...
He walked slowly toward the Tribe, picking up whatever little of the corpses remained and putting them in the void world. Lucky soon appeared next to him, jumping off Grim, her eyes laden with grief. Not because of the six that died, but because she’d finally come to realize how much it takes of him to end a life. She’d hardly considered it, even before becoming Evelyn’s personal assassin. To her any life lost was just another in the sea of many, so long as it wasn’t one she cared for. To him, though, it seemed that every life mattered -- however corrupted, vile and infected. It was a moment of change inside of her that would come to define her entire future, seeing through the thin veil of coldness plastered on his face, hiding boiling inferno beneath.
END OF VOLUME XI - THE LIGHT
VOLUME XII - HARBINGER OF CHAOS, CRADLE OF ORDER