Heaven’s Dome was currently doused in silence, everyone slowly getting up to their feet with their heads lowered. Among them, Alex seemed the least affected, merely lost in thought as he gazed off into the distance.
Glancing sideways, he saw rows of angry faces hiding embarrassment and terror; how can they, after all, reconcile it? A single man had managed to bring them all to their knees. Even if they may not be the strongest of the strong within the Holy Continent, they all had their own pride as the upper echelon of strength. It was futile, however, to try and understand it -- after all, the core of what made the Empyreans all so terrifying was that they defied all forms of logic and reason. There was seemingly no pattern to how strong or weak they are, and one can only hope and pray they are on the weaker end.
It was an uphill battle, Alex realized. The only reason they survived today was because of those who could not be seen protecting them. Yet, even so, just the Sword Maiden and the Empyrean had managed to cause such a stir and leave unharmed right after. If the war truly broke out, he sighed inwardly, it wouldn’t be the likes within which he could participate.
“... not a word of this can leave this place,” the elderly man, titular Fury of the Seas, who confronted Lino, spoke out sternly, turning toward the rest. “Lest you leave this world headless. Understood?”
"... understood." hardly a roar and barely a whisper, the compendium of hundreds of voices couldn't even reach the edges of the clearing. Alex sighed, the last words the Empyrean told him still echoing throughout his mind.
Meanwhile, far off into the west, within the bends of reality, twenty or so souls were sitting in similar silence, frowns plastered on their faces. Among them, Erebus and Freya seemed the least surprised, merely slightly taken aback. The latter glanced back and sighed inwardly; the first act of winning the war was dismaying one’s foe. It hardly ever relied entirely on actual strengths; war can be often won before even fighting it.
“Your worries shouldn’t be the Maiden or the Empyrean,” Freya said. “It shall be taken care of. I merely wished to show you our foe today, so you may realize why we fight.”
“... Mother,” Erebus’ voice echoed solely inside Freya’s head as she glanced at him quizzically. “There’s something strange about his Will. Have you noticed?”
“What do you mean?” Freya asked.
“... compare it to all past Empyreans,” he said. “Somewhere, at the core, it feels... different.”
“... oh, that,” Freya chuckled faintly. “He’s attempting to embody Chaos through Entropy.”
“... so, he’s wasting his time?” Erebus’ lips curled up in a wry grin as he mumbled.
“Exactly,” she said. “I suppose Ataxia still hasn’t let him meet Eldon. It’s lucky for us.”
“... should we proceed with the plan?” he asked, the tone of his voice turning serious.
“Yes,” Freya nodded sternly, turning toward the rest. “All preparations of the Heaven’s Entrapment are done. Proceed with the next phase of the plan.”
“... there is no return after this,” an elderly man who sat cross-legged toward the end with his eyes closed mumbled. “Are you certain it is time?”
“We’ve remained passive for long enough,” Freya said. “Any more, and he might truly reach beyond our grasp. You shall handle the Maiden, correct?”
“... I can hold her back for a while,” the man said. “But, don’t expect a victory.”
“I don’t need one,” Freya said. “Just ensure she doesn’t break through the Entrapment and help the Empyrean, that’s all.”
“Then that is what I shall do.”
“You are dismissed.”
“Good luck, Mother.”
“Likewise.” the group quickly dispersed, leaving behind only Freya. A mere moment later, crimson threads splintered through the spacetime and formed a figure of a young, pale-skinned woman next to her. “Are you ready?”
“Threads have been set up,” the woman said. “Our victory is all but ensured.”
“Were you able to gauge his strength entirely?”
“... no,” the woman shook her head, sighing. “He locked it up entirely. I’m fairly certain only Ataxia knows just how strong he is.”
“... it doesn’t matter,” Freya said after a momentary silence. “Even if he were as talented as Eldon, he would at most have recently become a Fiend Titular. It is within our expectations.”
“Nothing can go awry this time around,” the woman said. “Failure... would be catastrophic.”
“Then we shan’t fail.”
“... just to be on the safe side,” the woman said, slowly transforming into crimson threads once more. “Hide your other Avatars. If he goes mad... there is no telling what he might do.”
“They’re already hidden, don’t worry.” Freya said. “I’ll merely be an observer this time around. All of it... depends entirely on you guys.”
Toward the far east, beneath the grand sunrise, five figures were currently hovering in the sky. Three through Seven were all gathered there, their expression complex as they stared at the mountaintop from which Lino and Ella had just vanished. Six sighed and shook his head; he was too rash, he mused inwardly, provoking them. Seven glanced at him and smiled faintly, patting his back. Five, on the other hand, had a rather expressive face, mixture of excitement and desire.
“... don’t ask too much, Six,” Three said, glancing at the old man. “The most we can do is ensure he doesn’t die.”
“He can do that without us,” Six replied. “Are we really going to let it happen?”
“It’s our priority,” Four said. “Ataxia has gone entirely silent for a while now. We cannot afford too many years of this. Especially now with One gone.”
“... tsk, you morons,” Five suddenly scoffed, grinning strangely. “If that bitch fails to contain him, he won’t just go after her, but us as well. This indecisiveness is exactly the reason the world’s as fucked up as it is.”
“Nobody’s stopping you, Five,” Four said. “Go ahead and help him.”
“... help him? Wasn’t his Will practically screaming at us to fuck off already?”
“He truly is talented,” Seven said, her face expressionless. “Especially when it comes to Will manipulation. Given a few more decades... he might have truly reigned over us all.”
“No one soul should ever reign the world,” Three said. “Isn’t that why we came together in the first place? To prevent it?”
“... you don’t know him, Three,” Six said, shaking his head. “Pray in all your hearts she manages to cripple him.”
“Are you terrified of a boy, Six?” Four mumbled, glancing at him. “What happened to you?”
“I’m not terrified of the boy, Four,” the old man said, smiling faintly. “I’m terrified of the abomination inside his heart. He’s nowhere near kind as he’s led the world to believe,” he added, sighing. “He’s merely been playing the long game. His roots, however, still lie in destruction and madness. If pushed to the edge... he won’t settle on fizzling away.”
“Your worries are unnecessary,” Three said. “I’ll ensure it happens.”
The five fell into a lulling silence, all locked inside their own thoughts. Six’s eyes shimmered in a strange light; he’d grown to like the boy quite a lot, yet not enough to prevent what was about to unfold from happening. It was only a natural course of life; some fires burn brightly for a moment before being snuffed out. Lino, as it turned out, was just another one of them. He was too impatient, Six thought, and rushed too deeply into the tale too quickly.
Ever since he met him, Six suspected it would be that impatience that would eventually be Lino’s undoing; he simply didn’t have enough experience with the world at large to properly level out the hazards. Yet, Six didn’t for a moment think Lino was a dimwit. He must know that the walls were closing in, yet he still decided to openly meet with the world, and in such a brazen way no less. Could it have been a last-ditch effort, a desperate attempt to terrify the world just enough they would leave him alone for a little while longer? Six couldn’t say, not yet at the very least. He had no say in what was about to happen, just as no other individual in the world did. Not even One would have been able to prevent it.
Sighing, he glanced at the mountaintop one last time and vanished. Just before he did, however, a low whisper caressed his mind, cruising through it freely. He quickly recognized Lino’s voice, startling him greatly. I like you, old man, he said. So I hope I won’t see your face when the sky comes crashing down on me...