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CHAPTER 327

PENUMBRA

Thick, nearly touchable darkness wrapped itself around a wide, tiled compound, casting a massive overhead net, blocking everything and everyone from sight. The compound itself had but a single mat laid out in the center and a small, child-sized altar cast in white bones in front of the former. On top of the mat, sitting in a meditating position, was a man seemingly in his late thirties, his hair short and black, his equally black beard covering half his face.

He appeared neither handsome nor ugly at the first glance, merely ordinary by all accounts; neither fit nor fat, neither tall nor short, neither smart-looking nor otherwise, he appeared extremely average throughout. Even his clothes could hardly tell one much of his status or wealth; furred coat laid on top of a loose, black vest and leather pants below, belted with a buckle in the image of a skull.

Darkness cleared behind him momentarily as an old, worn-out looking man walked through, holding a crane and limping over. The old man first kowtowed toward the alter three times before getting up, groaning lowly in the process, and patting the man on the shoulder. The latter’s eyes slowly opened, reminiscent of the Eternal Night, as his gaze shifted over from the altar onto the man.

“... Aspect has been defeated?” the man asked indifferently.

“He has.” the old man nodded, not daring to look the other one in the eye.

“... my conjunction appears to have been correct,” he said. “The Empyrean’s Will dwarfs the rest of us. Have you decoded which Laws he uses?”

“... w-we have only managed to infer Death and Time, I’m afraid. We are certain, however, there are more.”

“... what a vain struggle,” the man sighed faintly, standing up. “Eos just had to go and poke at the beast...”

“Perhaps the Late Lady was unaware...”

“Of course she was unaware,” the man scoffed coldly as the two of them slowly left the realm of the darkness, finding themselves at the entrance of a mountain-side cave. “She fancied herself clever her whole life, yet crossing generations you could not find a more ignorant soul. I couldn’t care less she threw her own life away, but she had implicated all the rest of us.”

“... b-but... wouldn’t... wouldn’t Your Lordship have fought the Empyrean regardless?” the old man asked weakly as they slowly began descending.

“I am neither blinded by ego nor honor, Maester,” the man replied. “A Void Titular Empyrean, with mastery of Time and Death at the very least, and an unmatched Will? Even if our Grand Ancestors rose from their graves and united, we would be unable to kill him. Defeat him? Certainly -- rather easily, really. But kill him? Unlikely...”

“L-lord?!!”

“What are you so terrified for, Maester? I know for a fact you understand it as such as well,” the man said, glancing coldly at the old one. “It is because of the fear in the first place that we’ve arrived at this point. Every time a new Empyrean rose, one of two things happened: either we hunted him or her down before they had a chance to grow, or we pissed them off after they were already too strong and we suffered the consequences in return.”

“... t-then... what is Your Lordship suggesting? We abandon the war?”

“What war? It will merely be the game of the hunter chasing after its pry henceforth,” the middle-aged man said. “If anything, I even find myself in envy of the Elysian’s decision.”

“M-my Lord!! Speak not of such words!!” the old man quickly warned, glancing around with terror in his eyes; they were almost at the foot of the mountain, nearing the back entrance of the Sect’s Grounds.

“Huh? Why not? It’s the truth,” the middle-aged man shrugged. “While I hardly believe the Empyrean will in the end change anything, chances are we’ll have another Continental Terror on our hands. As it stands, Gaia will use the Holy Grounds as her shield while we wither and wane slowly under the restless torrent of Chaos, while the Empyrean will slowly but surely inch toward self-destructive madness. In the end, we will win because of the same reason we’ve always won -- we broke them. However, is it worth it, Maester? To watch all of this,” he pointed in front of them at the ever-rising vista of spires and towers jetted in black, enshrouded in thick darkness and aura of corpses. “Burn away into nothingness. You have read far more than me, and you know of the true past far more than me. Was that not always the case?”

“...”

“The Nightmare Eve is perhaps the best example,” the man said, sighing bitterly. “While the story of the Descent capturing and enslaving her to death is the touted one, you and I both know she had lost the battle already. She was entirely broken down to her core, and given a year or two, she would have ended her life irregardless. If anything, Descent’s capture of her probably provided her with the last few years of clarity.”

“That is enough, Your Lordship!” the Maester suddenly spoke out sternly, surprising the man who came to a halt. “There are certain words that ought not to be spoken and certain truths that need forever remain hidden. Whatever you may feel in your heart, lest you wish us all dead, please refrain from speaking it out loud.”

“... the Mother knows?” the man asked with a gaze of curiosity.

“Of course she knows,” the old man sighed. “She’s known for eons now, Your Lordship. But, what if she knows? Until now, it was impossible for her to do anything about it.”

“Until now? So something’s different about this Cycle of Madness?”

“... it is only a theory drawn up by the Archives,” the man said after a short contemplation. “But, from what we’ve observed thus far, the jumps are too abrupt. The Empyrean has grown too strong far too quickly; from his fight against the Order of Light, we have realized that his actual strength in proportion to his Level and Realm is astoundingly higher. On a base level,” the man continued somewhat solemnly. “It truly is as you have said -- we stand absolutely no chance of killing him under ordinary circumstances. However, you have also overestimated him, my Lord; his defenses are, in reality, quite terrible. The reason why he seems immortal is entirely due to his Vitality -- restricting it would render him almost a mortal.”

“...”

“Even so... despite having just recently become a Titular, we put his actual strength somewhere at the Primordial Level.”

“What?!!” the man exclaimed suddenly, a shock written all over his face.

“Rest assured, this is only for a brief period of time,” the Maester chuckled faintly. “And, we assume, there are quite a few consequences for it. His body, however stacked with Vitality it may be, is still human, after all. There is only so much strain it can handle before breaking down. I’d wager it won’t be the Madness that in the end consumes him... it will be his body simply failing, shutting down.”

“... that is indeed... startling.”

“... indeed it is.”

“Seeing as the Mother has already told us no longer to battle with him, she must have something in mind. Could she be trying to hasten the process?”

“... I can’t say,” the Maester shook his head. “It is not as though this wear-and-tear is a short-term process; it could take centuries if not thousands of years at this pace.”

“... either way, we have once more created for ourselves a trouble where one needn’t have been. Do you know the last Spirit he’d taken?”

“You do, Lord?”

“... Lyee,” the man said somewhat angrily. “Ataxia truly is digging into depths for him.”

“L-lady Lyee?!! H-how is that possible?”

“... I don’t know. Chaos be, Chaos do -- I suppose. Aphot has often told me that the true deviance of Chaos is not in its inherent strength or the all-encompassing nature; it is in the fact that nothing can resist its temptation. If all Chaos in the world gathered above us, the entire Crypt would lift the Banner of Entropy within a minute.”

“...”

The two went their separate ways as they reached the streets of the Sect; the middle-aged man was none other than the Bearer of Darkness and the Necrosis Crypt’s Chosen, Erebus. For twenty years now, ever since the Empyrean Woke, he warned against an all-out hunt. The only reason he called for action when the Empyrean killed Eos is because he had to -- it was the only way to keep the surface-level peace of the Holy Continent intact. He knew for a fact many would die in the crusade, but it was a price he -- and others -- would have to pay.

While the Empyrean certainly was a threat, Erebus hardly believed in the ye-old-tales of a mad monster on an eternal crusade of slaughter. While true that many-an-Empyrean of the past certainly did enjoy such a path, it is also true that most were just like the rest -- good and bad both mingled in their souls until they were pushed over the edge. He’d have much rather avoided the war between two sides entirely if possible, and simply allowed the Empyrean to fizzle out as they always do. Yet, more and more it seems that won’t be the case. Too many parties have gotten involved in the conflict far too soon -- the Devils, the Great Descent, the Sects, the Holy Grounds, even the Fate and the Mother, and now even other races are vying for their own stake of the cake -- it has just been over twenty years since the Empyrean woke up, yet a world-scale conflict was already in a full swing. Everyone played his tune again, a voice beckoned inside Erebus’ mind for a moment. This is why I always called him the Playwright of the World...

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A note from beddedOtaku

Well guys, I'm back. And, as promised, I'll start doing double releases until the end of the month. Thank you for your patience and I hope you'll enjoy today's chapters ^^


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beddedOtaku

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

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