Seya was currently experiencing levels of embarrassment that she never experienced before in her life. Even that one time when a boy accidentally walked in on her changing couldn’t measure up. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even because of something she’d done or said. Rather, it was because of the two idiots standing in front of her; the supposedly gallant Bearers, the messengers of Nature itself... ah, whatever image of awe she had built up inside of her mind when it came to the Bearers, it was crushed and shattered in one fell swoop.
Both Hannah and Lino currently had beyond perverted expressions, their tongues lashed out like dog’s in the wind, their eyes half-closed, cheeks slightly flushed. Seya dared not look at them again, trembling in spot even after remembering those looks and postures. She couldn’t even enjoy the moment -- something that no one she knew, no one in her entire Sect, including all the Elders, had ever done -- ridden a Dragon. Right now, she was on the back of the majestic creature, soaring through the vast skies freely -- yet, she couldn’t enjoy it. She felt that if she started enjoying it... she wouldn’t be any different than those two.
While the trio soared throughout the sky in silence, the rest of the world they left behind had also fallen into a strange lull. Strange atmosphere enveloped it, as the previously open attempts at locating the Empyrean ceased; on the surface it seemed that the Holy Grounds had heeded Lino’s warnings, but only a fool would truly believe that. They had instead chosen to shift the operations into shadows, sending out experienced and old monsters rather than their youths.
Although the number of those looking had lessened, their overall strength couldn’t even be compared; the weakest of the bunch was at least Level 15,000 -- it clearly showed that they had no intention of underestimating the Empyrean again and suffering massive losses. However, no matter what methods they used to search, it almost seemed as though the Empyrean had vanished from the face of the world. They had even searched the Kvalend Clan’s land, only to find it entirely abandoned, without a soul in sight. All traces of the Empyrean and the Clan were gone.
Naturally, no one could have guessed that the now-mythical Six of the Great Descent had extended his helping hand in the matter, ‘gifting’ Lino a massive, flying fortress. The structure was currently floating high in the sky... right above the Kvalend Clan, actually. Even if it was in the sky, had it not been for the enchantments, they would have been found out a long time ago. The one responsible for adding the enchantments was Eggor, who worked tirelessly for nearly a week straight just to ensure they would remain hidden.
The fortress itself was indeed gigantic, nearly four times the size of the Palace inside the Holy City. It was separated into four floors of sorts, the higher up the narrower altogether. It was built of a dark-dyed brick, bordering between obsidian-black and denim-blue. Four towers hung at the corners of the outermost walls, routed together toward the very center of the fortress through staircases wound inside a tunnel-like shape, creating an overall pyramid-like shape as they all blended into the center-most point -- an opaque, black sphere floating slightly above the central tower that also acted as a commanding center.
The space around the fortress would ripple from time to time, parts of the structure seemingly disappearing in and out of existence every once in a while, sometimes the whole thing vanishing altogether -- that was the power of Eggor’s enchantments, specifically targeting concepts of Space, Time, Reality and Void in order to create ever-altering reality, making it almost impossible to discover the fortress unless one knew specifically where to look at.
Insides of the fortress were divided into quadrants; each quadrant was specialized, serving one purpose alone -- for instance, there were Talisman Quadrant, Smithing Quadrant, Cultivating Quadrant, Armory and Weaponry, Administration... Valkyria’s hands were rather busy ever since they’ve obtained the fortress as she tried to properly set everything up. At first she expected at least Hannah to be there to help, but Lino simply dragged her away without saying a single word.
As with most other days, she was currently sitting inside the top-most tower of the fortress, swarmed with papers, books and documents, suffering dearly. The doors suddenly creaked open as her spirit fell further; she had barely scratched the surface of what was there, why were they suddenly bringing her more stuff?!
“Oh my,” an unfamiliar voice surprised her, as she quickly shuffled around some of the stacks in front of her, opening a path up for her eyes to see an ordinary-looking housewife with a slight bulge on her stomach. However, every instinct inside Val screamed that she was actually far more dangerous than even Lino. “You are really swarmed, aren’t you?”
“Y-yes.” Val replied after a brief pause due to shock. “And, uh, you are?”
“How rude of me,” Ella chuckled, walking over. “I guess I’m that little demon’s mom, in a way.”
“L-lino’s mother?!!” Val suddenly exclaimed, jolting to her feet. “I-I’m so sorry--”
“Ah, would you relax,” Ella chuckled, summoning a chair out of nowhere and sitting down as she began scuffling through the stacks and stacks of papers. “Sit down, sit down. How can you work while standing like that?”
“A-ah--” Val was currently at a loss for words; her Majesty’s Mother was right there, she didn’t even express courtesy, and was now letting a pregnant woman help her with work. “I-I have failed...” she mumbled faintly, slumping into her chair.
“Oh, please,” Ella groaned. “Don’t tell me you’re like those guys out there? They won’t let me do anything!! I’m dying of boredom!”
“... ah, no. T-thank You for helping...”
“So? What’s all of this?” Ella asked.
“Aah... everything?” Valkyria chuckled bitterly. “Various reports from the Shadows, requests of the Departments, list of our stocks, prospects we could recruit, known members of the Holy Grounds currently lurking about, looking for Lino and Hannah, detailed reports on the movements of Holy Grounds... in my flurry, I have failed to organize it all properly.”
“Ha ha, can you really be blamed? Why are you doing all of this alone?”
“Everyone else is busy,” Valkyria said. “Even Evelyn, Al and their people are barely sleeping and Cultivating, to say nothing of everyone else. Order of Eternity, especially, has been doing so much it has left me slightly shocked; over half of the reports on the table is from them. Most of their young have picked up an auxiliary field while still not lagging behind in their Cultivation. I just hope they can keep this fire going for a while. I don’t mind taking on the burden of the paperwork in their stead.”
“Eh? But Eggor’s been loitering around for at least a week. Why didn’t you ask him?”
“... ah? How can I possibly look for Master Eggor for these mundane tasks... especially after he’d done so much for us already.”
“Ha ha ha, don’t worry about it. He’s loitering around, but he’s too proud to ask anyone whether they need his help, so he’s waiting for others. That man is so boorish; I bet he’s rather depressed at the moment as he has nothing to do. Ah, but now that I think about it... perhaps paperwork isn’t exactly a job for him,” she frowned for a moment. “He’s more brawn than brain, after all. Eh? Ritton is one of the lurkers?”
“Ritton?” Valkyria questioned as she saw Ella picking up one of the parchments and reading through it.
“Aye. He’s better known as the Sword of the Frozen Clouds,” Ella commented. “He used to challenge me in Sword Arts quite often when I was young. A strange fella; I must have beat him ten thousand times over, but he kept coming back for more.”
“Hm?” noticing Valkyria’s questioning gaze, Ella smiled bitterly before sighing. “I used to be one of those famed Maidens in my youth,” she added. “So I know a thing or two.”
“Oh.” realizing Ella wasn’t too keen on talking about it, Val didn’t press the issue, instead procuring a piece of parchment, ink and a pen and passing it over to Ella before adding, “If You are familiar with the lurkers, do you mind writing them down in order of their threat? If possible, I’d like to categorize them so we can work our way up.”
“I don’t mind, but you should probably forget about going against them for the time being.” Ella said.
“Oh, that’s not what I meant,” Val quickly corrected herself. “Even I would at most be able to go against the far bottom with the help of the Artifact. I meant feeding them false information.”
“What for? It’s not as though they can find Lino or us any time soon.”
“... Holy Grounds are temporarily in an alliance,” Val said with a rather playful smile. “But, just because they have a common foe doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten their own grievances. After all, Lino has been around for just a few years, barely killing a few of them. Their own grievances, however, are in some cases thousands of years old; we’d be fools not to exploit them properly.”
“Oh?” Ella arched her brows as she listened to Val’s explanation.
“However strong Lino and Hannah are... they will never be able to truly go toe to toe with all seven Holy Grounds, even with our assistance,” Val said. “To say nothing of the numerous monsters Holy Grounds have, there are also their reserves as well as the Defensive Lines. If worst comes to pass, they can still activate the continent-wide Motherland Formation. At the very least, we have to sow enough discord to stop that from happening.”
“... you know about the formation?” Ella asked, slightly shocked. It wasn’t the sort of knowledge that can just be picked up by listening in on the chatter; only the utmost Elite of the Holy Grounds was privy to that knowledge. Even Ella was only told of it on her twentieth birthday.
“He he, I know quite a few things,” Val chuckled. “But, most of my knowledge is quite outdated I’m afraid. When it comes to things such as Motherland Formation, that have been around for some time, I’m confident. But as for the recent information, I’m quite empty on it...”
“Eeh? Looks like you and I will become quite close,” Ella chuckled. “Let’s do some mischief while the world wonders what is going on...”