Mountains rose high and tall, their peaks like swords piercing through the clouds, surrounded by flourishing scape of death itself -- dry land void of life stretched on throughout the climb, from bottom to the summit. Even sunless, the average temperature around the mountains wasn't of the ilk that could sustain any long-term life.
Surrounding the mountain ring was a far-and-wide desert whose edges could not be discerned from any one of its points. Dunes and pitfalls intermingled in the ever-the-same, dull, sandy colors, with arid winds blowing any attempt of life surfacing.
The Arid Expanse was one of the most known areas of the entire Holy Continent; a swath of dead, burning land covering nearly all of its southeast, save for the very far-south peninsula where the Necrosis Crypt Holy Ground resided.
Though for the most part just a desert, one anomaly existed -- the mountain ring roughly at its center. The tallest peak of the entire continent could be found here, bounding nearly thirty miles into the sky. Most of the world believed this to simply be just another odd geological feature whose ins-and-outs they couldn’t even begin to understand, yet, the mountains were of artificial make.
Deep inside the mountain ring, a hollow center lay carved out that flourished with life; a spanning pitfall, if seen from above, was surrounded by steep cliffs, creating the sort of cylindrical shape as one moved toward the bottom. Waterfalls abound could be seen carving their way out of the side-walls, gardens of trees and flowers hid away the dull colors of the earth, while the silver staircase looping into a downward spiral provided one access to hundreds of platforms stacked with beautiful buildings cast out of white marble.
This was the official headquarters of the Great Descent -- hiding away in plain sight. Currently, within its deepest reaches, where flourishing life from the top slowly faded and was instead replaced by the dull rock and crystals, on top of an erect clearing looming over a field of magma, Two sat meditating with her legs crossed.
Heat billowed away at her from below, though she hardly seemed to mind it; there wasn't even a drop of sweat to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that she was draped in thick, yellowish robes. The sheer quantity of Qi currently abounding her was astounding to behold, though very few in the world were privy to such a sight.
Three of the Descenders suddenly appeared behind her, immediately frowning as the heatwave wove through them. Quickly dispensing it through Qi, Three, Four and Six settled down and waited patiently, not disturbing the woman in front of them.
Nearly a week would pass before she seemingly came to and got up, shivering momentarily before spinning around. Her silver eyes cast a brilliant light for a moment before dimming.
“What?” she spoke indifferently.
“We’ve been unable to find him.” Four replied simply, his eyes, between the traces of gauze, shimmering faintly.
“... explain.” Two said simply, her face temporarily distorting though she hid it quickly -- not quickly enough, however, as the rest noticed it.
“He vanished,” Three elaborated. “We imagine it’s due to several factors, but namely Gods that could have fashioned something to hide the Qi with ordinary energies.”
“If that was enough to stop us from finding who we wanted found,” Two growled lowly. “Do you think we’d stand where we are standing? Six, are you hiding his location on purpose?”
“... no.” the old man spoke simply; just a breath later, he felt overbearing Will wash over him, frowning as he opened his eyes and faced Two. “What are you doing?”
“Are you hiding his location on purpose?”
“What are you doing?” the Will pressed harder, causing Six to relent, beating it back.
“You’ve been soliciting with the boy long enough,” Two said. “What if you still are?”
"Settle down, Two." Three said. "Though the Fortress used to belong to Six, he transferred ownership when the Empyrean returned from the north... and his mark was wiped shortly after the escalation of the conflict."
“Trace it through the unique signatures.” Two said.
“... did the anger fry your brain?” Six suddenly said. “Pull back your Will, already.”
“... you’ve grown rather complacent Six,” Two shrugged, withdrawing the pressure. “Daring to insult me, I’ve never realized you had such courage.”
“His Vitality hit over sixty million at the point of impact,” Four said. “Even at your peak, you would have failed to permanently cripple him or kill him. Is it really something worth obsessing over?”
“... you rats are rather stupid, aren’t you?” Two suddenly said. “You really think I’m that vain? Or are you all ignoring the eventual consequences of our actions the other day? What, you think that mad kid will just ignore us as though nothing happened?”
“Regardless of his wishes, he stands no chance--”
“No chance my ass,” Two interrupted Three, her expression turning serious. “If I hadn’t stepped in, that boy would have crippled at least half of you. Unlike most other Empyreans, he entirely abandoned trying to cover up his weaknesses through the stats, shoving everything into Strength and Vitality. Both of them are in millions by default, compounded together with his items... well, you know the results.”
"--nobody is disputing that his growth is entirely unexpected," Four said. "But, he won't be a threat any time soon. While it would be nice to cripple him and remove him as a potential threat in the first place, it is not necessary to go out of our way to accomplish it. None of us wore a single item when we fought him, and none of us used any particularly strong Arts. Do you really still think this isn't about personal pride?"
“... Six,” Two glanced at the old man again. “What is your ‘granddaughter’ doing with him? And why wasn’t I able to read her... at all?”
“... I don’t know.” Six shrugged. “Apparently, Elanor was the one who handed him the Writ in the first place, so their meeting happened long before we even knew who the Empyrean was.”
“... she’s become a variable,” Two said. “Even the Slayer was unable to hold her back, which means she’s, at worst, at Three’s level, potentially even close to mine. How do we account for her?”
“... what’s her history?” Four asked Six.
“I don’t know,” Six shook his head. “I’ve discovered her in the slums when she was four. Despite having never cultivated, she was actually close to becoming a Titular.”
“Huh?!” everyone, including Two, exclaimed in shock.
“I wiped her memory and retarded her cultivation,” Six explained. “Forcing her to basically downscale in speed... considerably. Even so, it was impossible to make her seem ordinary, or at the very least somewhat talented, so I made up the rumor that she had the Origin Soul.”
“... she doesn’t?” Two exclaimed in surprise.
“Nope,” Six shook his head. “Actually, her constitution is just... ordinary. Till she left, I was never able to discern where her actual talent comes from, no matter how hard I looked.”
“So... she’s a complete mystery?” Three added, sucking in a cold breath. “This can’t do, Six. You should have reported this earlier.”
"... I was honestly expecting her to simply remain far away from the world and die without ever restarting her cultivation," Six said, sighing deeply. "After I realized I'd eventually stop being able to control her, I dove into the contingency plan and fabricated the betrayal, shamed her in front of the entire Sect, stripped her cultivation and banished her, and then staged the whole Prime-awakening to further cement her broken mindset. When she left, she was a husk. I don't know how she recovered."
“Have you managed to piece together anything?” Two asked.
"... no. She, admittedly, had a lot of similar features to those with Origin Soul -- she could master any Art in a matter of days if not hours, she could manifest all Qi, she had the Will that, quite frankly, put even us to shame... if I didn't repeatedly try to find it and fail, I'd swear up and down she, indeed, had the Origin Soul."
“--how have Gaia and Fate failed to pick up on their thread?” Four mumbled.
“How did she come into possession of Ataxia in the first place? Were you aware of it?” Two asked.
“I’d only learned later on,” Six said. “Though as to how she came across it... I do not know.”
“Is it possible that Ataxia inadvertently eroded away at her demons while slumbering?” Three asked.
“No,” Two quickly denied. “Ataxia is, in effect, useless without a Bearer, as he can’t impact anyone else directly. We have to investigate her. Try to trace her movement after the banishment, as well as during the Empyrean’s rise.”
“Will do.” Three and Four nodded before vanishing, while Six stayed behind.
“What is it?” he asked.
“... you’ve met with him afterwards, haven’t you?” she asked.
“... I did.” Six replied honestly. “But, I was unable to pinpoint his location.”
“What did he say?” Two asked.
"That he'd leave the Descent alone because our history," Six said. "But, you and One wouldn't be included."
“... that’s oddly specific.” Two mumbled, frowning.
“He also seemed to be aware that you’ve failed your Awakening... more than once.” Six added.
“...” Two’s frown deepened for a moment. “He’s fishing,” she mumbled, turning around. “Cleverly, I might add. Try to re-establish the contact with him.”
“Hm?” Six’s eyes flared up for a moment.
"Do it in a personal capacity," she said, sitting down. "And don't inform anyone else. His words seem to indicate he's aware of far more than he lets on... so it must mean Ataxia has told him far more than we anticipated. That is... troubling."
“...” Six remained silent and placid, though sighing bitterly inside. Leaving the clearing, he wound up inside his own little home within the spiral, decorated with a breathtaking garden of white and red roses.
He sat in their midst and thought, for a long, long time. Among many things, he tried to figure out why Lino implied -- and outright said, even -- that Two would never be able to undergo her Origin Awakening. The truth of the matter is that even One failed over eighty times before finally succeeding. Most people fail at the very least a hundred times before eventually ascending. And Two was only at her eighteenth attempt. Could it be that he really was fishing? He mused, stroking his chin. Even beaten and broken, do you still have a mind to play games and angles, Lino? What exactly is it that you want... what exactly is it?