A starkly silver hair fell over high forehead and a pair of eternally-swirling black eyes, the former seemingly shimmering beneath the darkness of the night. The eyes suddenly looked up and beyond, off into the distant horizon, the thin lips curling downwards into a bitter frown. A sigh escaped her, simmering the air around her and suddenly breathing life into it as a cradle of Spirits emerged and entered the world. The few danced around her for a moment, chirping in like the song of the birds, before flying off into the eternity.

Her eyes, however, remained peeled to the distant beyond -- there, far off, beyond her reach, a man cradled in swirling mist of light sat cross-legged, his hair dancing between snow-white and jet-black, a pair of eyes shining like eternal stars of fire. The air about him was majestic and imposing, causing all of the surrounding Elements to seemingly bow down to his Will, and all Laws to obey his command. Somewhere deep in those eyes, she observed the metamorphosis happening; a change she had failed to predict, a path she could not remark. Light suddenly flashed by her side as a swirling mist of red threads appeared, eyeless yet still seemingly peering off at the same scene she was.

The two remained silent as they watched a pillar of nigh-holy light ascend from him, blasting off into the sky and toppling over the clouds. Light conveyed itself over the entire world, tremors so deep they caused chills in countless spines. A Will so overbearing suddenly washed over the world most found it difficult to breathe in that moment. The void itself trembled, threatening to crack open under the pressure. Life ceased in that monolith. Sound went silent. Colors went blind. Shapes turned flat.

She heaved her head up and looked toward the sky where a pillar still shone majestically. Though she couldn’t examine it from so far away, she could still feel its almost saintly warmth; her expression briefly turned mellow, eyes littered with distant memories. The red mist next to her shook, jolting her out of her thoughts.

“If only he were as clever as he were determined,” she spoke out in a soft, melodic tone. “We were so close... so close.”

“We can still make it,” the red mist replied in a strange, overcast tone void of emotion. “Nothing is lost.”

“No, we can’t,” she said. “Nothing can stand in his path anymore. Ataxia really lucked out,” she chuckled bitterly for a moment. “He only need have provided strength; that boy gave everything else. As it goes, he will win over the world.”

“I won’t let him.” the red mist replied. “Whatever it may take, we will finish it.”

“I had a chance to stop it,” she said after a short silence. “I was right there, both him and Ataxia being none the wiser. But... I couldn’t...”

“... there is still hope, you know?” the red mist replied. “That he will realize it himself.”

“No,” she shook her head. “Ataxia has already won his heart. Perhaps, even if he found out the truth, he’d still remain his soldier.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” the red mist said somewhat angrily. “We both know he wouldn’t. Whatever others may spew, we both know who he really is deep down.”

“... hah, you’re right. He really wouldn’t. Instead, he’d take on all the blame that isn’t his to begin with, and it would cripple him further... until he was on his knees. No... he would never fall on his knees. He’d find a way to get back up, time and again. Ataxia, really, always had the keenest of eyes... only, this time around, it won’t be the same.”

“... El’ has told you a thousand times... there’s always hope.”

“El’ was a dreamer,” she said with a hauntingly beautiful and longing smile, yet with a gaze full of pain and grief. “She believed... in the better of everything, even when there was none. We have tried... and, perhaps, one day, somebody else will pick up the fruits of our labor and continue our dream.”

“... there won’t be anyone else,” the red mist said. “There is only us, and there is only now. Go and talk to him. He understood you once... and he will understand you again.”

“He understood me under your banner, before he understood you,” she said, glancing at the red mist and smiling faintly. “Now, to him... I’m just a distant foe, someone he will eventually have to face on his journey. Alas... we can’t go down without a fight. If we’re lucky, perhaps Ataxia slips.”

“And if we’re not?”

“Then we would have done all we could have done... and that’s all we can ever really do. Go and invite the rest. This will either be the beginning of the world we always wanted to create... or an end to all our dreams. Either way, I couldn’t have asked for a better company to share my journey with.”

“... you deserve the world,” the red mist said after a short silence, its voice seemingly choking for a moment. “And we have failed to deliver it to you.”

“Ha ha ha ha, you silly goose,” she laughed freely for a moment before getting up and stretching, taking a deep breath. “You have given me the world. One far more beautiful than I’d ever imagined it can get.”


Meanwhile, off in the far North, where a pillar of light still burned away at the sky, Lino sat in peace, his thoughts clear for the first time in decades. As though a burden was finally lifted off his shoulder, he felt he could inhale air pure of all blemishes. Full and long breaths seemingly revitalized him, stirring rebirth inside the parts of himself he was even unaware had died somewhere along the way. The crossing itself wasn’t life-altering or world-changing, or at least he thought so. He was entirely unaware of the shocks and tremors he had sent throughout the world, as he wholly believed this moment was his alone to keep and hold.

It wasn’t that he’d gotten stronger, faster, more resilient or anything of such  ilk; it wasn’t even that he’d gotten smarter or sharper, or that he’d learned far more things in that singular moment. It was merely an inside swirl unfurling like a blooming flower, all his regrets, pains, joys, harrowings... all he was and failed to be came out like a cannonball, expelling him from the illusion. He can’t be a protector if he is too afraid to lose those he’s protecting; he can’t be a guardian if he fears the fall; he can’t be the smith if the hammer feels feeble in his hands... he can’t be the Empyrean if he fears the world.

Yet, despite that, he didn’t let go of the fear. Perhaps, if he did, he might have gotten exponentially stronger. But, it wasn’t worth it. Fear was his fuel. If he didn’t fear losing those close to him, he wouldn’t have a reason to press onwards. It was all an intricately-woven web of connections, causes and effects that only ever make sense in hindsight. He embodied all that fear freely, let it seep into every inch of his being, let it become an integral part of who he was. He feared not his own failure, his own death; come tomorrow or a thousand years from now, he was willing to accept it. He feared the death of others.

Each death becomes an eventual scar -- and that scar remains. Through fire and rain, through summers and winters, through heaven and hell... those scars always remain. They cannot be removed or forgotten or cleansed. As they shouldn’t. He bore many of them, and he bore them all openly. They were his, were always his, and will always be his. Scrounged in the corner somewhere deep, seated in the hollow parts of his soul, they’d burn with life for a moment from time to time and then fall asleep for years to come. Loss is a natural part of living, whether one lives for a hundred or a hundred thousand years. Mortal or immortal, no one is exempt from it. Even so, Lino mused, it was far better to have had and lost, than to have never had at all. Aeala, Fish, Kraval, Freya, Felix... he embodied their last moments, made them a part of who he was.

And, in that moment, as though a dam splintered across the middle and the river raged on like a tsunami, he felt his Singularity crack, spitting out a ball of pure, black light that nestled inside his Soul shortly after. His black hair obtained a few, permanent white strands, his pair of eyes similarly obtaining one swirl of white each, swimming about his pupils. The raging winds around him that had managed to melt the ice for nearly four miles around began settling, the pillar of light briefly turning entirely black and blanketing the world in ethereal darkness for just a brief second vanished, his imposing Will which had created a giant mirage of himself behind his back withdrew inside, and the world regained its calm as he opened his eyes fully.

A new world lay before him, one perhaps not so physically different, but a new one nonetheless. After a long and bitter struggle, during which he nearly died countless times before, he’d made the first final stop. He’d donned the Title, like many of those before him, and as will many of those after him. He was reborn anew in that single moment of solace, born a Void Titular -- the Empyrean Blacksmith.


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About the author


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

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