ONSLAUGHT OF CHANGES
Hannah stood at the very edge of the precipice looming over the massive Sect’s grounds down below. Distinct from the rest of the world by the numerous gardens acting like pavement roundabouts and fountains forming criss-crossing sections of streams all bubbling into the waterfalls filling the surrounding lakes, Eternal Paradise truly lived up to its name. She’d spent a considerable part of her childhood exploring every nook and cranny of the place, much to her parents’ disapproval.
Gazing over the entire landscape, now, felt considerably different. She knew that all this beauty hid ruin, all the singing of the birds hid cries, all the beautiful streams hid rivers of blood, and all the bountiful treetops hid terror dwelling deep inside. And then there was the centerpiece, the massive, ebony tower with stacked balustrades walled off from the insides, jagged edges extending occasionally into finger-like protrusions grasping at the world around. It hardly looked like a Tower of Knowledge and more like a lair of a Devil.
She suddenly shook, turning around slowly and facing the precipice’s entrance where figures, one by one, began walking out of the spacial distortion. Leading them was the Arch Patriarch of the Sect, Beholder of the Fallen and Allison’s current Master. He always sported the kind face, yet, not today; it was exceptionally ugly, Hannah realized, with a dim trace of hurt and fury.
Just behind him were numerous Arch Elders, including Hannah’s own childhood Master -- Immortal River -- a beautiful, yet currently frigid-looking, middle-aged woman with graying hair. Just behind them, Hannah spotted two faces that cracked her heart slightly -- her own mother and father, both seeming beyond confused and hurt.
The silence reigned between the two ends of the precipice, the occasional howl of the wind shuffling the dust. Hannah seemed terribly lonely, standing at the edge, like an abandoned pup looking at the backs of those who once stood by her side.
“Don’t.” she mumbled softly, withdrawing the talisman Ella gave her and lifting it up gently. The Arch Patriarch’s body shook as though he’d suddenly stopped a terribly quick movement as he focused onto the talisman, frowning.
“... where did you get that?” he asked coldly.
“I haven’t come here to fight,” Hannah said, ignoring his question. “But to talk.”
“We’re well past the point of talking, Hannah.” her Master’s voice was quite different than before, Hannah realized. It was coarse and deep, flooded with anger and fury. “Do the right thing and you may still die with a little dignity. Don’t let this charade continue any longer.”
“... I am who I am, Mas--ah, I suppose I’ve recanted the title of your Disciple,” she chuckled bitterly for a moment. “Shame. Of all the people who tried to change me since I was aware of myself, I respected you the most still.”
“I don’t want your respect. I want you to do the right thing here.”
“... I am.” Hannah smiled freely, glancing toward the Sect. “Just not your right thing.”
“... you have family, friends, everyone you’ve ever cared for here,” the Arch Patriarch spoke out. “Are you really willing to abandoned it all for an enticing adventure with the Empyrean?”
“... ah, I suppose that’s the story the world will hear,” she said, meeting his eyes. “That I’m just a love-struck, star-eyed girl who was charmed by the devilish Empyrean and simply couldn’t help herself. It’s as good a lie as any, I suppose.”
“If that’s not the reason, then tell us what it is.” he persisted.
“There’s no one reason, Arch Patriarch,” Hannah replied. “Just stacks upon stacks of lies I’ve been fed, years upon years of attempts to control every single part of who I am, decades of deceit and willfully obscure narratives. I was never the Bearer, the Maiden, you wanted me to be. But, I still care for this place, deeply. Regardless of everything, it’s still my home.”
“So do the right thing--”
“I am,” she interrupted him, looking up toward the sky. “After today, I won’t be coming back anymore. Not alive or dead. But... he will.” she lowered her gaze once more, squaring against all others. “I won’t stop him or plead him.”
“Humph, you think we’re afraid of a child?” one of the Arch Elders scoffed. “You truly have been confused Hannah -- but not by us.”
“If you’re not, then you’re far more foolish than I thought,” she said, smiling faintly. “He doesn’t need decades or centuries, as you probably predict, before being ready to come here. Hell, I doubt he even needs years. What do you think happened to Eos?”
“Do you think they engaged in an epic battle that lasted for days and weeks? No, not even a bit.” she chuckled. “He dominated her entirely through Will alone, brought her to her knees, made her... mortal. That’s not something a ‘child’ should be able to do.”
“It’s your choice to make, the side you’ll stand on,” she added. “But, you better make up your minds... fast. It won’t be long now. Good luck. I hope that, if not forgive me, you’ll at least be able to understand... regardless of which choice you make.”
Burning the talisman, Hannah suddenly vanished from the spot; everyone immediately spread their Divine Sense, yet to no avail. Millions... tens of millions of miles across... she was nowhere to be found.
“It’s useless,” Alex said, sighing deeply in regret. “She’s gone. For good, this time around.”
“What now?” Hannah’s former Master asked.
“Proceed with the current plans,” he said, opening a vortex next to him. “I have something I need to confirm first. Ensure that nothing happens to Lady Eona and Sir Atlos while I’m gone. Whoever tries anything, lock them up in the Prism. Understood?”
“Understood, Arch Patriarch.”
The Holy Continent had undergone quite a transformation over the past week; onslaught of Disciples of the Holy Grounds suddenly flooded every inch and corner of the world, and despite the unifying goal, conflicts broke out one after another. It was the time of strife as much as it was the time of unity, where, more so than anything, everyone lived in collective, perpetual fear; now, the whole world was aware that the Empyrean was on the hunt... and no one wanted to be the hunted.
Only fools shouted flauntingly into the sky, taunting that which was not there; those who stood by and watched them mocked and snickered, thanking that the world still had those who live in wilful ignorance. Be it Kings or Queens, old hermits, Elders of the Sects, Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Clans... there was the unifying understanding to just stand on the side and let the Holy Grounds take the first blow. They’ve been the sacrificial pawns far too many times in the fights against the Empyreans; and considering that, this time around, they were dealing with the Harbinger no less, they hardly harbored the fervent heart of the guardians.
Even the ever-reclusive sort had surfaced and began paying attention to the world once more; Ancient Clans, Godly Clans, Angel Clans, the Devils, and myriad of other minority races had all perked their ears on the newest of news when it comes to the Empyrean. Who was it? Where was he? What was he doing? How strong was he? What was he like? Many questions, but no answers.
A few reclusive groups rejoiced while others trembled, as did a few reclusive individuals.
A black-haired, black-eyed, youthful-looking handsome man sat on the edge of the cliff overlooking a massive city, his thin, pale lips spread out into a massive grin. Cloaked whole in black, he stood out remarkably against the green surroundings, yet no one seemed to have noticed him.
“Ah, Your Majesty...” he moaned lowly, salivating. “Are you still not done teasing me? After all this time? He he he, a vicious game you’re playing. But... I’ll find you, ah. I’ll find you, and I’ll help you. Ha ha, the stupid imbeciles finally crossed your line, he he. You haven’t disappointed me.... aah, you can never disappoint me. Wait for me, Your Majesty. I’ll sow chaos in your name, and we’ll rule the world together once more.”
While the world mourned or rejoiced due to his actions, the perpetrator of the storm was currently standing inside a well-equipped smithy, overlooking numerous, scattered materials lying in front of him. There was a weird, queer grin plastered on his face as he tapped his foot against the concrete floor. His eyes shone like diamonds, the gaze within them of ecstatic madness and desire.
Before Hannah returns and they resume their mission to chase after the Order of Eternity, Lino settled on finally filling up his weaponry once again. He currently only had four weapons he could use, most of them extremely situational and quite underleveled at that, and as he was about to herald the upcoming war, he could hardly afford to be careless. Design after a design danced inside his mind, each more ambitious than the next, as he readied himself for the marathon of the century. All he needed now were his helpers to come -- namely two friends he’d made long ago here, and everything could be started up once again. He approximated Hannah would take at least four days to come here, even if she hurries up, so he reserved the following 96 hours entirely to crafting -- no sleep, no food, just occasional drink. The heart of a smith inside of him was kindled once again, and only a display of ideas that came to life would be able to quench it now.