THE ETERNAL WATCHER
Above the now-repaired landscape of a tiny valley within the Central Continent, hundreds of souls were currently floating, examining, murmuring and questioning. The mere presence of majority of them stirred Qi in their surroundings, even with them consciously holding back.
All sorts of sigils and banners rested on their adorned clothes, the varying expressions decorated with gem-like eyes and gazes piercing through the reality itself. Yet, despite everything, the most common of the expressions was confusion; no matter how they probed and inspected, there seemed to be nothing odd with the world of the small valley -- yet, they were more than just certain that this was the place where Empyrean sent nearly a hundred souls to an early grave through a catatonic rebirth of the world.
Among those present was Alex, accompanied by two women and six young men; one of the two women was Alison, who gazed about half in horror, half in ache. She’d watched the battle partially, and saw Hannah in the distance; yet, despite that, she could hardly focus on her. The Empyrean, for better or worse, seemed to naturally draw eyes toward him. The figure, though enshrouded in shadows and practically featureless, seemed oddly familiar -- especially the pair of eyes, she felt as though she’d seen them someplace before, though unable to pinpoint the exact moment.
She didn’t have much to do here as she was still far too weak to even try and pick up on the remnants of energy; if those far more experienced than her came up empty, what business did she have trying it?
A young man suddenly approached her, smiling faintly; he was roughly half a head taller than her, donning short, black hair and a cleanly-shaven, rather handsome face decorated with a pair of twilight-colored eyes. He wore the same robes as her, tinted in lime-green by the edges, silver elsewhere, and had a rather calming air about him.
“Do you know what the Elders are trying to do?” he asked her in a rather affectionate voice.
“Not really,” Alison replied, smiling bitterly, fluttering her eyelashes gently. “Do you, Senior Brother?”
“Hm,” the young man nodded. “The connection got suddenly cut as soon as the domain collapsed, revealing the nothingness left behind. They are trying to determine the Empyrean’s exact realm through sensing his remnant energy -- it is nigh impossible to determine it directly, as Chaos is an ever-changing element.”
“Why are they coming up empty, though?” Alison asked.
“As I said, Chaos is ever-changing,” the young man chuckled. “Unless captured immediately, it tends to... blend in.”
“You’re partially right,” Alex suddenly chimed into the conversation, smiling warmly as he gazed upon the two. “Besides his Realm, we are trying to determine the purity of his Qi. Just as with the rest, not all Chaos Qi is equal.”
“Ah, Master!” both Alison and the young man quickly bowed, facing him. “Does it make as big of a difference as with us?” the young man asked.
“Bigger,” Alex replied, frowning slightly. “Every facet of Chaos grows stronger the purer it is. In theory, if he’s able to purify it completely, he would come inches away from transforming it into Primal Chaos. In theory, of course.” he added, chuckling. “But, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything here, to be honest. Just the corpses he left behind.”
“Litha and Vyrove still missing?” Alison asked.
“They are,” Alex nodded. “Ion, why don’t you take Ally and go back to the Sect? Your Trials are just a few days away. There’s no need for you to distract yourselves with this.”
“Yes, Master!” both Alison and Ion replied, bowing lightly before departing, their faint chuckles and giggles resonating through the sky.
“Ah, to be young,” a familiar voice brought up a smile to Alex’s face as he turned around and met the friendly eyes of an old man. “Isn’t that right, young lad?”
“Young lad?” Alex chuckled. “From what I recall, I’m at least a few hundred thousand years older than you.”
“You certainly don’t look the part,” the old man chuckled, stroking his beard. “Could that be why you still have a wife?”
“Could be, could be.”
“How is Janna anyway?” the old man asked. “I haven’t seen her for thousands of years, it feels.”
“Attending to the garden, as always,” Alex replied, sighing and smiling bitterly. “I keep asking her to go on these short excursions with me, and she keeps throwing goddamn flowers at me.”
“Ha ha ha, she always had a way of controlling you.”
“What about you old Cane?” Alex asked. “Any chance of ever hitching yourself and producing an heir?”
“Hoh, marriage was never for me,” the old man said, flying next to Alex. “Too many expectations and rules.”
“... can I ask you a question?” Alex’s tone suddenly turned serious. “As a friend?”
“As who else could you?”
“... Ella... has she contacted you?” Alex asked.
“... she has,” Cane replied, nodding. “As I understand, she paid you a visit too not too long ago.”
“... she tried to warn us, in her own way,” Alex sighed. “But, as always, we are blind, old friend.”
“... if it helps, now comes the period of armistice,” Cane added, turning around. “Take the moment to gather your bearings... and think, carefully and deeply.”
“...” Alex watched the fading back for a moment, sighing afterwards as he glanced around the entire valley.
Though the world does have a tendency of underestimating the generational Empyrean, even he was completely unable to fathom the depths of Empyrean’s strength. He was beyond certain however, that at least going by the realms, the Empyrean wasn’t even a Void Titular yet -- still, despite that, he managed to kill seven Fiend Titulars with seeming ease, and nigh a hundred Void Titulars.
Though not exactly unprecedented, especially when it comes to the Empyreans, it does spell a foreboding future; while it may be the case of every cultivator, for the Empyrean it is especially so --- the longer they live, the stronger they get, the more dangerous they become. Empyreans’ weakest period is exactly this one -- the initial growth. They are yet to master any Laws, to completely control their Will, which limits their battle prowess to Qi -- which they cannot externalize. However, the more they become familiar with the former two concepts, the less that weakness applies. Eventually, that weakness ceases to exist altogether; they become something that cannot be fought, let alone defeated.
The Empyrean had seemingly already left the initial period of growth, having already used both Laws of Death and Time so effectively, to say nothing of his ability to manipulate his Will; what spelled more danger than anything else, at least to Alex, was exactly that -- that he was able to do all those things before even becoming a Void Titular.
Sighing once more, he glanced at the valley for the last time before disappearing. As Cane said, he had a lot to think about, and he knew that the decisions he would come to make in the following years would either lead to the prosperity of Eternal Paradise, or its ultimate downfall. He had already began regretting living for so long, yet that regret would vanish the moment he’d enter his home’s courtyard.
Lino was currently staring angrily at an unexpected visitor; a balded man was standing on the balcony of a tall spire within the Kvalend Grounds, just outside Lino’s room, overseeing the world beneath with a playful expression. Lino could hardly do much about it, as he was more than just bedridden -- he couldn’t even use Divine Sense to call someone to kick the old man out... not that anyone even could, really.
“Hey!!” Lino cried out in frustration. “Are you gonna tell me what the hell are you doing here, or do you just plan on becoming a bonafide voyeur?!”
“... do you want me to poke you?” the old man turned and glanced at Lino dubiously, the latter shuddering.
“... that sentence carries a lot of connotations, old man.”
“And I imagine you wouldn’t exactly enjoy any one of those.”
“I’d enjoy if you could poke me with riches beyond my understanding.”
“... haah, of course you would.” the old man sighed, walking back into the room. “I sure wish I could show this picture to the rest of the world. Right about now they’re all running around like panicked chicken, wondering just how insanely powerful you are... yet, you’re a goddamn cripple. You can’t move a finger. Ha ha ha, oh, the justice. It does exist.”
“... you’re one hateful grandfather, aren’t you?”
“Oh, no, I am a very loving one,” the old man said. “To my legitimate grandchildren, that is.”
“... one day I’ll become stronger than you. And then we’ll have a talk, old man.”
“Perhaps, one day,” the old man said, smiling. “Until then, though, you’ll be a busy bee.”
“I’ve got a mission for you and your little girlfriend.”
“Ah. Coming here was so worth it. Just for that gobsmacked expression.”
“You just said it yourself!! I’m a goddamn cripple!! Are you a sadist?! Tell me, you’re a fucking sadist, aren’t you?!”
“Ha ha ha, boy oh boy, this is beyond priceless.” the old man chuckled, suddenly taking out a small, finger-sized bottle. “Don’t worry, I’m hardly as evil and menacing as you are. Besides, why don’t you hear out what the mission is before you flare out like a little child? You’re well in your thirties! Perhaps it’s time you start acting your age?”
“Ah, you’re right,” Lino said. “But, just know, if I were fourteen by any chance, I’d have said ‘go and suck a dumpster of cocks you batshit insane sadist’. If, of course.”
“... maybe I should just kill you.”
“... what’s the mission?” Lino asked in defeat.
“Infiltration,” the old man said, popping open the small bottle and feeding its liquid contents to Lino who quickly began gagging and coughing over how beyond disgusting it tasted. “You and your little girlfriend will infiltrate a very special island; once there, you will gather a very special information, and very much try not to get caught in the process. All of this, naturally, will be for a worthwhile reward.”
“And what’s that?” Lino probed with interest.
“I understand you’re in need of a hiding place,” the old man chuckled. “How about if I offer you a [Flying Fortress] artifact?”
“Of course, I’ll lend it to you right away,” the old man said, barely holding back from crying out in joy; after all, he’d dealt one blow after another to the ungrateful brat in front of him, and it felt better than most of the things he’d done in quite a few centuries. “After all, you do need it immediately. I’ll transfer its ownership after you’ve completed your mission. How’s that sound?”
“It sounds like a job meant for me!”
“And your girlfriend.”
“It sounds like a job meant for me and my girlfriend!” Lino exclaimed. “Alright, let’s bargain.”
“Well, duh,” Lino shrugged. “What? You think I’m that desperate? I can just refuse the mission, you old, dumb sack, and stay here. We’d figure out a way to stay hidden eventually, we’re not idiots. So, in addition to the fortress, I want more materials---”
“YOU ALREADY ROBBED ME DRY!!!”
“--oi, oi, watch your tone, I’m still hurt over here!”
“...” the old man felt like crying, realizing he’d celebrated too early.
“So, we’ve already agreed on the fortress, the materials--”
“--dude. Come on.”
“--and I’ll also want access to some of your shady, hidden library.”
“Oh, and also...”
As Lino went on listing one thing after another, the old man gave up trying to say anything; in the end, he didn’t have to listen to the brat. What’s worse, he was doing all this for him! The mission, the fortress... everything so he could help him! Still, the eyes with which he looked at Lino had changed; whatever crap came flying from the brat’s mouth, the old man valued his actions far more. He was not above sparing people, but he wasn’t against killing when necessary either -- and certainly making a show out of it.
He was a polarizing figure even within the high reaches of the Great Descent; there were those who absolutely adored his flair and somewhat attention-seeking stunts, and then there were those who despised his demeanour, the silver-tongue that was more of a weapon than a blade was, and his general behavior. Usually, the Empyreans who follow the Path of Destruction rather than Creation tend to be slightly mad altogether; very few maintain a semblance of normalcy, and only one other ever, at least to the old man’s knowledge, maintained Lino’s indifference to everything.
Creation or Destruction, in the end, didn’t really represent anything innately; both were just means for something more, for achieving something greater. They merely differed in execution.
At the same time, Hannah sat in the corner of the room, barely holding herself back from the laughter, but also screaming at Lino in abject horror; after all, the man he was currently talking to was a mythical figure that even she only ever heard of in the stories and rumors -- the figure of legends was being treated like a nobody, yet he didn’t seem to mind. Hannah could only really praise Lino’s blissful ignorance; if he were truly aware of who the old man was -- No, he’d still act just the same... -- Hannah realized inwardly, sighing bitterly.
Still, she would expect him to be at least slightly more respectful, and a whole lot more curious. After all, the man he was talking to was one of the founding members of the Great Descent -- Six, The Eternal Watcher and a shadow-creator of every single Holy Ground that would either prosper or come to define an era, a puppeteer who the entire world fears more than Death itself.
END OF VOLUME XII
END OF BOOK III - ORDER AND CHAOS