The fortress spun in the high sky, bending in and out of reality, seemingly breaking every law known to a man. Its jet-black walls absorbed all light that came their way, condensing it wholly into energy and sending it to the fortress’ central chamber. Shouts rang from nearly every corner as billows of thick, ashen smoke veiled the fortress in a gray mist.
Ella was currently going over a stack of papers while a little boy tugged at her dress. She absentmindedly caressed his hair with her free hand, though her mind seemed far away. Opposite of her, Val was writing something in a hurry, while Amadeel seemed to be meditating in the corner.
On the far other end, the balcony overlooking a stretch of now empty training grounds, Eggor battled with a massive canvas and an impossibly complex design jetted on top of it. It depicted strange gears winding over one another, with even more complex arrays overlaying them.
“... I’ve found it,” Ella cried out suddenly, picking up the boy in her arms and running over to Eggor with the book in her hand. “I’ve found it!”
“Eh?! You did?!” Eggor exclaimed, his bushy beard giving way to an extremely joyous smile.
“Ha ha, of course I did!” Ella exclaimed, smiling proudly. “Have you ever doubted me?”
“No, of course not. Let me see.” Ella put the book down and pointed her finger at the bottom of the right page, where a rather crudely drawn, yet extremely detailed, spiraling array rested. “Yes, this is it! This is it!”
“What?” Eggor asked, glancing as he felt a tug on his shirt.
“Don’t I deserve at least a kiss?” Ella asked, smiling widely.
“Don’t give me that.”
"Ugh... fine..." he glanced around stealthily for a moment before quickly raising his head and giving her a swift peck.
“... aii, and who says the romance is dead?”
“Papa! Kiss mama!!” the little boy in Ella’s arms suddenly exclaimed, pouting as he stared at now shocked Eggor.
“... who taught him that?” he asked in a quivering tone.
“I did, of course.” Ella shrugged.
“... of course you did. Cae, it’s uh, it’s adult--”
“Papa, kiss mama!”
“... you... evil... little... witch...” he mumbled under his breath, glaring at pridefully-grinning Ella.
“Hey, lovebirds, I’ve found something strange.” Val suddenly called from the inside, causing Ella and Eggor to swiftly turn around and walk back toward her.
“What is it?” Ella asked, handing the young boy over to Eggor. The two lads had a quick stare-off in the meantime.
“Ever since Lino told me about the Cult,” Val said. “I’ve been going over some old records with Amadeel’s help.”
“... yeah, he sure seems to be helping.” Eggor commented.
"I'm moral support!" Amadeel exclaimed, his eyes still closed.
“Anyway, shut up, I’ve found this,” Val turned a small book over, facing it toward Eggor and Ella, pointing at a small paragraph on the left side. “It’s from the Abridged Histories of Eun. He mentions the Cult during the Chapter on, well, Cults.”
“... Eun? Wasn’t he shamed out of historic circles just a few hundred years ago?” Ella mumbled, reading over the paragraph.
"Either way, he still mentions the Cult," Val said. "And, as this was written who-knows-how-many-moons-ago, it should at least be worth a look. He doesn't mention them under a name of Void Cult, however, and instead uses World Phasers Cult, due to their nature of the movement. He claims to have met a high-tier member of the Cult who told him the internal structure -- three-part leadership splintered into branching agencies, with three independent systems handling all internal, external and leadership issues. The Cult works on the principle of merit, and the leadership can be switched at any time if someone earns more merit points than the current leaders."
“... is that it?” Eggor mumbled, frowning. “Their course of action changed all of a sudden due to the change in leadership?”
“... it’s possible,” Ella said, taking a deep breath. “Though they would from time to time crawl up to claw around, they had never outright attacked any of the major factions.”
“There was also a lull from them for the past hundred years,” Amadeel jumped in from the side, walking over to the table. “As though they had completely vanished. Their known hideouts were emptied, their known trading routes canceled... it was as though they never even existed.”
“What was their last big haul?” Ella asked.
“... hmm. About three hundred years ago,” Amadeel replied after a brief thought. “They temporarily took over the Unknown Archives of the Third Tower,” he added. “Once we regained control, we checked for any missing pieces... but, as far as we could tell, nothing was taken.”
“... Third Tower?” Ella mumbled, her frown deepening. “Isn’t that largely devoted to Bloodlines?”
“Could it be that they were looking for a way to awaken a specific Bloodline?” Ella mumbled.
“Doubtful,” Amadeel shook his head. “Unknown Archives store exclusively papers that cannot be deciphered, those that were proven wrong, or whose source was never confirmed. If they were looking for ways to awaken a Bloodline, they’d have gone into the Tower itself. Besides, knowledge on how to awaken most common Bloodlines is rather easy to find elsewhere.”
“... yes, but most Bloodlines are conditional,” Val interjected, rubbing her temples gently as though trying to remember something. “It’s hardly ever the matter of simply knowing the process of Awakening them, as it simply has to do with blood-burning. For instance, my Bloodline is entirely linked to Lino -- the stronger he gets, the stronger we are. Most high-end Bloodlines are like that; they are profoundly linked to their other side.”
“You’re saying they were looking for the ‘other side’?” Ella asked.
“Think of it like this,” Val said, getting up off the chair and grabbing a quill, taking out a fresh piece of parchment and drawing a single circle on it. “Technically speaking, every individual has a Bloodline,” she added a single dot at the center. “We divide Bloodlines based on their rarity, their strength, and their attributes. By default, over 99 percent of Bloodlines are largely useless, most-often even deterrents. Understanding a single Bloodline among the rest, however, takes more than just knowing it is there -- blood, on its own, after all is the same for everyone. It’s a miscoined term -- strength isn’t drawn from the blood, but a much deeper structure of our make.”
“That’s right,” Amadeel nodded. “Blood is merely a conduit. Like our nerves, it reaches every part of our body, but as it’s in liquid form and isn’t prone to crippling us if one thing goes wrong.”
“--wait, wait, isn’t it just like arrays, though?” Eggor interjected suddenly. “In order to make the array work, you have to have a completed loop. There cannot be a beginning nor can there be an end. It has to be an entirely closed system for the array to actually work. Aren’t Bloodlines the same?”
“... but what about double-linked arrays?” Amadeel asked, frowning.
“They merely create intersections,” Eggor took the quill from Val and drew two circles, crossing paths at two points. “This third circle,” he pointed at the intersection. “Is still within the closed system of the larger two.”
“... mixing... Bloodlines?” Ella mumbled. “I mean... can it even be done artificially?”
"Theoretically, yes," Amadeel said, stroking his beard. "Like Eggor said, if you take two differing variables and run them through a closed system, they will, in an infinite amount of time, become one and the same -- depending on the blending process, the new variable might contain more information from one or another, or the spread may become entirely equal. If someone can build a closed-system organism specifically to nurture and awaken Bloodlines, they could essentially produce any mixed Bloodline they want."
“... the lack of purity would lower the Bloodline’s quality, however,” Val added, frowning. “Bar two or three, throughout history, mixed Bloodlines were daftly looked down upon. Even some truly powerful ones, like Vampires, Dragonkin, Seraphim...”
"Yes, but not because of their strengths," Ella exclaimed suddenly. "But because of their very glaring weaknesses! That's it! It's not mixing of Bloodlines, it's purification!"
“... so, to say, a Vampire Bloodline... without innate absolute weakness to light?” Eggor mumbled.
“Or Dragonkin without the self-destructing bodies?” Val added.
“... is there a record of what was stored in those Archives?” Ella asked Amadeel quickly. Even the young boy had gone quiet, seemingly aware of the tension, as his eyes curiously followed those who would talk.
“... I can only think of one document that would be relevant,” Amadeel said. “A personal diary of the Lynthrowe Witch. She used to cross-breed different beasts and cause artificial mutations by mixing blood.”
“Just mixing blood won’t be enough for the Bloodlines, however,” Val said. “There has to be something more...”
“It’s genes,” a familiar voice caused everyone in the room to turn around swiftly; standing at the entrance of the balcony, Lino, Hannah, Lucky, Alison, Ryt, Ion and Primul made a rather strange entourage. “That’s what they’d have to modify.”
“... genes?” Val mumbled absentmindedly.
“So-called genetic make-up,” Lino walked over, grabbing Criador as the boy immediately burst out into joyous laughter, wrapping his tiny arms around Lino’s neck. “Invisible parts of your body that determine your height, eye color, muscle mass, bone density and so on. Bloodlines are simply genetic extractions; taking one’s natural strength and simply exaggerating it through blood-burning. Yes, yes they are. Aren’t they Criador?”
“Yes, Brother Lino!!” the young boy cried out, tugging at Lino’s beard.
“Ha ha ha, goddamn kid, you really like ruffin’ with your bro’s beard, don’t you?”
“Yes, yes! Beard! Beard, he he!”
“Ha ha ha, my my, aren’t you the cutest little thing ever? Come, come with the big bro! I’ve got plenty of treats for you!”
“Lots and lots of candy!!”
“.....” after dropping the situation-altering information, Lino simply sauntered off with the young Criador, leaving the rest to gawk at him in wonder and confusion. He really did everything at his own pace, they mused inwardly, regardless of what anyone thought or wanted.