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CHAPTER 290

CATHARSIS (I)

Dark shadows rose from the earth itself, weaving about like threads, forming an ethereal-looking shroud encapsulating a small, yet distinctly-decorated room. Skulls hung off the walls, bones holding the fires of the torches, carpets lined with decaying tendons... a rather macabre visage existed within the place occupied by a solitary person sitting cross-legged at the center, his eyes closed.

Just then, a tremor ran through the room, collapsing the bones stacking the walls and disrupting the dancing shadows. The young man’s eyes jolted open, jet-black in make, his expression distorting as he vanished in a spectacle of bursting ash. A mere moment later he could be found floating in the sky, high above the now-sinking ship that he deemed his temporary home. Fires scorched the hull’s ends, wooden blisters still ablaze flying like rain, cries and screams shouldering the sky.

The flying ship sank as though on the water, splitting and creaking, consumed in an inferno very few were able to flee. The young man swallowed a roar and quickly glanced around until he saw a figure floating just slightly away, behind him. It was a familiar face, one he -- and many others -- have studied to the last detail before coming here. A pair of jet-black eyes, almost darker than his own, squarely gazed at him, entirely indifferent to the consuming chaos unfolding down below.

A pair of golden wings extended behind his back, feathered in make, truly beautiful to behold. The air about the young man, Vyrove mused, was heavy, imposing, yet eerily distant, as though a part of an entirely different reality that he was not privy to.

“... didn’t think you’d strike me first.” Vyrove’s lips curled up in a grin as he faced the youth.

“Really? But you’re a perfect target,” Lino smiled faintly. “You aren’t on the top of the chain, but not on the bottom either; if I struck the former first, I’d have scared you lot shitless and most-likely caused you to flee, but if I struck the latter I’d have been branded a coward no doubt. And though just an empty nickname, I’ve quite the aversion to lies.”

“So you settled on me.”

“Aye. So I settled on you.”

“What now?” Vyrove asked. “You must know we have about twenty minutes before I’m joined by another. Are you confident in being able to kill me within such a short span of time?”

“Yeah, pretty much.” Lino chuckled. “But I ain’t gonna.”

“Oh?”

“... quite some time ago, I met this girl... Scarlet.” Vyrove’s eyes turned into slits as Qi around him thickened. “A rather enchanting lady, a natural flirt, bountiful beauty. I’d come to admire her greatly, actually. And, I imagine, beneath that flirty facade, she held some form of respect for me.”

“... her Life Talisman burned away,” Vyrove spoke in a frigid tone. “Just around the time you went apeshit.”

“... people... we never really learn our lessons, do we?” Lino chuckled bitterly, glancing up at the smoldering sky. “The moment something goes awry... we resort to violence. Our oldest and best friend... yet also our worst enemy.”

“What happened to her?!!” losing patience, Vyrove screamed out, causing a barrage of enshrouded bolts of darkness to skitter over the sky and reach Lino who didn’t even move an inch, letting them all squarely hit him. Several dozen holes, though tiny, completely non-threatening to him, opened up as blood trickled.

“I couldn’t save her,” Lino said. “Heh, nay, I don’t think... in that moment... I even pictured saving her. Of the three who would come to lay there in blood, I chose to focus on one. That’s on me. But... her death? It isn’t.”

“...”

“Though, in the end, a story has already been spun I imagine,” Lino said, smiling faintly. “At least inside your head. The Empyrean went apeshit and indiscriminately killed everyone around him. As luck, or lack thereof, would have it... she just happened to be there.”

“If that’s not the story, then what it is?”

“Eos.” Vyrove’s brows scrounged up for a moment.

“What of her?”

“She killed her,” Lino said. “In a desperate attempt to redeem her dignity... one I supposedly trampled upon. To be fair to her, I don’t think she intended to hurt her; in the end, the lacking-luck story is still, in a way, true.”

“... heh. Can’t even live up to your own actions. What a complete failure you are. What’s this? A feeble attempt to turn us against one another in hopes you’ll somehow live through this?”

“... I’ll live through this,” Lino said after short silence, his gaze turning westward where he felt a speedy figure approaching. “And through much, much worse in the future. Honestly, if it were just about survival, I could have killed you by now already and fled, increased my chances with the remaining four. But... I don’t want that.” he chuckled, turning around as though preparing to go. “You five and your minions... have already killed 2,645 innocent people since your arrival here. People that not only are in no way, shape or form connected to me... but that probably didn’t even hear about me.”

“Ha ha ha, so what? You’re gonna be their avenger or something?” Vyrove laughed, his mind spinning over the best way to hold the Empyrean back a bit longer.

“... no.” Lino grinned. “Just your apocalypse.”

Before Vyrove had a chance to put anything into play, however, the winged Empyrean vanished, turning into a blur of light and disappearing into the horizon, far beyond the speed Vyrove was capable of matching. Taking a deep breath, he glanced down once more at the ruins of his sinking ship, a pained expression collapsing within his eyes, replaced with anger.

Barely ten minutes later, world around him stiffened for a moment as a figure broke past the speed of sound, stopping next to him. Glancing sideways, he saw it was the operation’s leader, golden-haired Yennefer. She quickly looked around but, upon seeing that there was no one there, she turned her focus back onto Vyrove.

“Where is he?” she asked.

“Gone.”

“What do you mean ‘gone?”

“Exactly that,” Vyrove shrugged. “Gone. Someplace else.”

“Why didn’t you stop him?!” she exclaimed angrily.

“... splitting up was a mistake,” Vyrove said. “We can’t take him in isolation.”

“You mean you can’t take him.”

“...” Vyrove glanced at the frustrated Yennefer, shaking his head slightly. “He said something that concerns me.”

“... what?” she asked, seemingly having calmed down.

“He claims we -- and our people -- have killed nearly 3,000 people on the continent since our arrival. Is that true?”

“Heh, why does that concern you? Adjudicators of Death, concerned about life. How ironic.”

“... so it is true, eh...” Vyrove mumbled, sighing bitterly. “What’s done is done. You can go back.”

“What will you do?” she asked.

“Salvage what I can and start anew,” he replied simply, ignoring her as he headed down. “And hope he’ll leave me alone from now on.”

Yennefer remained floating in the sky for a little while longer, her eyes gleaming in strange colors as she stared at Vyrove’s back. Eventually, however, she merely turned around and disappeared, leaving behind only a massive boom and distorted space.

Vyrove landed among the ruins of his ship, looking around as he noticed something rather... odd. Though everything was in utter shambles and ruins... there were no corpses. Anywhere. While some may have burned up or even completely evaporated in the initial explosion, there should at least be a few of them strewn about the ruined ship. An elderly man, hooded entirely in black, suddenly appeared by his side, his head lowered.

“Status?” Vyrove asked.

“... uh. Khm.” the old man coughed awkwardly, prompting Vyrove to glance at him in confusion.

“What’s wrong?”

“... uh. I don’t know how to explain this but... uh, besides the ship... the rest is fine.”

“Hm?”

“Your people, cargo, rations, virtually everything save for the ship is... eh, fine. Khm, yeah, fine.”

“... I don’t think that’s actually possible.”

“Why do you think I’m on the verge of tears, Young Master?!” the old man cried out, startling Vyrove. “None of this makes sense! Those screams?! Cries?! Fake! They were all fake!! Every single one of the crew slept through the entire thing!! Myself included!!”

“What the fuck?!”

“What the fuck indeed!!”

“How’s that even possible?!”

“I don’t know!” the old man exclaimed.

“Then find out!”

“I’ve been trying!”

“For how long?!” Vyrove asked.

“... uh... the last few minutes... since I woke up...”

“...”

“...”

“...”

“Look, the only thing I can say with certainty, khm,” the old man seemingly recovered, taking a deep breath. “Is that the cause of the ship’s explosion was disruption of the array which was funneling energy into the winged propellers. Someone -- or something -- displaced it momentarily, which caused a fissure in the entire structure after energy build-up, frying the engine room and, well, causing a... kind of, sort of... an explosion. I think. Maybe. Or it just shook the ship slightly and, well, pushed us out of the air.”

“...” what in the shit... Vyrove thought, rubbing his temples in frustration; if Yennefer hadn’t shown up, by now he’d accept he dreamed up the whole thing, or even that the ship malfunctioned. But, she was right there, well-aware that the Empyrean visited him. Why, Vyrove mused? He couldn’t gleam past the intentions... or even the ways and means the whole thing played out. Whatever it may have been, he was left utterly confused and gobsmacked for the time being, shuffling through the ruins of the ship in search of answers.

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About the author

beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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