THE COUNCIL OF CHAOS
A small stream of people, settled in an extended line, slowly poured in into a spacious, well-lit and maintained, round hall. The roof above fell in, the concave part glassed as natural light shone through, basking the massive, rectangular table at the center of the room in beautiful light. The table itself was made out of stone, nearly a dozen legs supporting it, with just over twenty, wooden and cushioned chairs surrounding it.
At the upper end of the table Lino was already seated, waiting; though seemingly largely recovered, there were still a few bandages hanging on his body, covering wounds that were yet to fully heal. He had a somber expression on his face as he watched over twenty people slowly walk in. Hannah was sitting by his side, holding his hand tenderly.
Those arriving included practically all of the high-end figures currently present inside the fortress -- both old and young. They started sitting down in no particular order, as all chairs were exact replicas of one another, including Lino’s. However, those who knew him longer seemed to stream closer toward him, while the newcomers settled a bit further away.
Some were in the end forced to stand as there were simply not enough chairs; among them was Lucky who, despite having entered among the first, simply leaned against the wall and crossed her arms over her chest. Alison was about to sit down next to Alex, but quickly shifted away and stood up, standing next to Lucky. Ion joined them shortly after, as did a few other youngsters who were invited over by their Elders.
It was the first time Lino had summoned virtually everyone that represented his force in one place, including the time he came back from the North. The place held far more people than expected, and it was truly an eye-opener for him, seeing how many souls had come under his banner within such a short period of time.
He waited patiently until everyone was seated and until the table was filled with drinks and bowls of fruit; though a few chatted between themselves, everyone otherwise seemed to be waiting for him to speak out, which he did after taking a deep breath.
“Despite my adviser’s, that is my wife’s, repeated attempts to postpone this meeting for after I’m fully healed,” he opened up with a faint smile. “I told her no -- perhaps the boldest thing I’ve done in my life--”
"Oi!" she hit him faintly as the room broke into a burst of brief laughter.
“Khm. Anyway, I think it’s too important of a meeting to delay it; honestly, I’d have held it sooner if I were in a position to do it, but it’s still not too late. To answer the rumors,” he continued. “Yes -- I did kill Gaia; well, at least one of her avatars.”
“...” though a few people sucked in cold breaths, most seemed to have already known.
“Furthermore, I did try to kill the Bearers, though I failed in the end,” he continued. “Due to Descent’s intervention... during which I may have pissed them off. To be fair, they pissed me off first.”
“Ha ha ha...”
"As it stands, war, or at least a battle with them, is inevitable," he said, his expression turning serious. "I know that this is an unexpected turn of events for some of you, which is why I'll offer you a free exit."
“Unexpected?” Alex mumbled, smiling lightly. “Hardly so.”
“Yeah,” Amadeel nodded, stroking his beard. “Since the day I met you I knew you’d piss them off.”
“I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.” Eggor added from the end.
“... I see,” Lino sighed. “I didn’t know you all had so little faith in me.”
“Well, now you do.” Av joined in as well with a faint chuckle.
"Oh my, how disheartening. Nonetheless," he said, taking a deep breath. "If any one of you feel this has gone beyond your wants, feel free to contact me after the meeting. Due to obvious reasons, you'll have to stay in the fortress for the foreseeable future, but I swear on my heart and soul you will not be mistreated."
“Ah, very well,” Lino shrugged, taking a sip. “I also must extend my gratitude over to Prince --- khm, former Prince Titus,” he changed it midway through when he spotted Titus’ firm gaze. “Not only did he save Ion’s life, he also collected the bodies of those who fell.”
“...” the atmosphere quickly dipped into the realms of somber.
"Edward and Jack," Lino continued. "Were not only talented smiths but two of the kindest people I've met in my life. Despite the terrible cards the life dealt to them, they managed to crawl out and make something of themselves in this tepid world. Vyena, Talleah and Ryt..." Ion grit his teeth together, his fingers crawling up into a fist; he suddenly felt a gentle and warm touch hold him as he glanced sideways; Alison smiled at him tenderly and nodded, causing his stirred soul to calm down. "Were young, hopeful and beyond talented. They were kids, ripped out of our arms cruelly and unfairly. Though most of you don't know her, Y'sha was similarly a bright girl who ran away from the comfort of her own home in search of something better and bigger."
"All these dreams were cut short," he continued, his voice cracking slightly. "For no reason. I have failed them, as I have failed many others in my life," he glanced briefly at Lucky who merely smiled in response. "And, despite my best efforts, in my heart I know I'll fail many of you in the future. You've all given me the wind that I fly upon, yet I can't even give you a roof to shelter you from the rain."
“... inform their families, if they had any,” Lino continued after a brief silence. “And provide them with a comfortable life. Task someone to build a monument in the central plaza with their names carved in. We’ll hold a pyre for them on top of the platform in a fortnight.”
"... will do." Val replied with a heavy tone, sighing afterward.
“At the very least, now you know,” Primul suddenly broke the heavy silence, causing all eyes to shift on him; no one knew who exactly he was, only that his knowledge of formations put all the others to shame. “Why no Empyrean has ever submitted to her.”
“... I do,” Lino smiled faintly. “In the back of my head, a single scene keeps repeating itself. It was long before I met most of you, during my early stages back on the Western Continent. I happened to meet a Sky Devil, Linger, one night. He warned me, even back then, of exactly that. Though I dismissed him, I do wish I could go back in time and kiss the lad.”
“If you need to kiss anyone, I’m here for you, Your Grace!” Titus spoke out in all seriousness causing the previously gut-wrenching atmosphere to explode out with laughter.
“Oi, little fucker, if he needs to kiss anyone, ain’t I here for that?!” Hannah chimed in in-between the bouts of laughter.
“Alright, alright, settle down,” Lino said after nearly five minutes of persistent laughter; despite that, however, Titus seemed entirely undisturbed by it, still as serious as ever. “For the time being, we have many things to do. As most of you have figured it out, we ceased phasing back in and increased our defenses exponentially. In addition, thanks to Tim, Sylvia, Anna and Simon, our ability to hide has skyrocketed.” he pointed toward the far end of the table where the four Gods sat next to one another, lowering their heads bashfully. “And, thanks to Edith, our dear Val can finally take an occasional breather.”
"If there's anyone who deserves kissing, it's this woman!" Val exclaimed, leaping over the table and kissing the laughing Edith on the cheek as the rest of the hall burst into another laughter. "You fuckers really worked me to the bone..."
“Ah, all the love in the air is simply beautiful...” Lino mumbled jokingly.
“Love aside,” Alex said as the hall settled down. “Are you certain we haven’t been located?”
“I am,” Lino nodded. “Truth be told, even I would have difficulty locating our position without any points of reference. This, however, is a temporary solution. While our complete cloaking is still in development, we need to figure out a way to buy some more time. Battling and fighting right now is simply out of question; our armory is lacking, we’re still in the growing periods of our talisman and rune productions, to say nothing of other parts that have barely been kicked off the ground.”
“There’s a more imminent issue.” a new voice joined in, everyone quickly shifting their gazes over to the unsuspecting housewife sitting by Eggor’s side, holding a sleeping boy in her arms.
“Hm?” Lino glanced at Ella.
“We have to pull out both Qe’ll Clan and the Eternals completely.”
“... that’s true.” both Alex and Lino spoke out at the same time, frowning. “Uprooting the entire history, however, will leave a scar.” Lino added. “And we hardly have space to fit them all here in the fortress.”
“--I may have a solution.” Primul joined in again.
“Oh, do tell.” Lino looked at him, nodding.
“With some help from the Runic Department as well as the Technological Research, I could fashion a system similar to that of our host star and the planets.”
"..." everyone's expressions immediately turned serious, as this was one of the many mind-bending things some of them have discovered since they started living in the fortress.
“Oh? You mean the orbits?” Lino quizzed.
“Yes,” Primul nodded, getting up off his chair and walking over toward Lino, ending up behind him as Lino pulled out a massive canvas and a few brushes. “I could make the fortress act like a star,” he said, painting a dot. “And we could fashion flying islands to act as planets, orbiting the fortress.”
"... that's not a small undertaking, however," Lino said, getting up as well. "I imagine the number of lines in formations only would reach tens of trillions at a minimum. That's not accounting for the even greater expenditure of materials to fashion the islands or the amount of energy we'll start consuming just to maintain the status quo."
"... we could terraform." one of the Gods at the far end of the table, Anna, spoke out after a few moments of silence. She appeared to be rather young, at most in her mid-twenties, with long, black and braided hair and a pair of black eyes hidden behind round pair of glasses.
“Terraform?” Primul and Lino quizzed.
“Uh, literally dig up the entire landscape of the Clan and the Sect,” she said. “And transport it in a temporary dimension; or we could drift the fortress over to them and immediately adjoin them to our orbit, though the process would take a while which would result in us being found out.”
“... it would require huge manpower, but it is more feasible,” Primul nodded after a short thought. “And the formation-lining would be made easier through it.”
“What do you think?” Lino turned toward Alex and Ella and asked.
“... it could work,” Alex said with a faint frown. “But, there’s a whole lot to figure out before we actually go for it.”
“Wouldn’t adding them to us make us simply... too big to hide?” Ella asked.
“Not really,” Primul answered instead of Lino. “Through the lining, they would act as a single whole, in effect. Meaning that, so long as the fortress is invisible, they would be too.”
“I imagine it would also do well for our resources,” Hannah said. “As we could just continue the already existing systems rather than fabricating them out of thin air.”
“... hmm, alright,” Lino nodded, taking in a deep breath. “Primul, Eggor, Alex and Anna will be main coordinators. Design the project outline within two weeks’ time, when we’ll gather once more to go through it and slowly begin our preparations.”
"More work?" Eggor sighed, shaking his head. "Aii, I thought sons were supposed to replace their fathers as they got up in the age... yet look at this..."
“The reason I’m employing you is because you keep lurking everywhere and scaring the living shit out of people,” Lino growled. “Because you can’t sit on your old ass and just relax.”
“... khm...” Eggor coughed awkwardly as Ella burst out into laughter, soon after followed by everyone else.
"Very well," Lino chuckled faintly. "Let's take a lunch break and we'll continue afterward."
He sat down and relaxed as the food slowly started pouring in, carried over by the young and old alike. Lino watched as people quickly broke out in chats, creating a rather mesmerizing scene; it was astounding to see, at least to him, how many different people, from entirely different backgrounds, can come together and just... talk. Young who were standing soon joined as well, shoved in-between the chairs.
After a deep glare from Lucky, Lino took out two more chairs for her and Alison, chuckling faintly as he saw the latter blush. She has undergone a complete change since her initial arrival; she was far freer and open. She was laughing more and interacting with others more. Warmth surged from within Lino’s heart; though the terrible past would always be there, he at the very least was able to give her a place where she can be herself, surrounded with people who loved her and who she loved.
“... she’s taken already, you know?” Hannah teased as she poked his ribs.
“Oh? You noticed?” Lino asked, chuckling faintly.
“Yeah, they’re not very good at hiding it,” she said, smiling. “They’re cute together, though.”
“You sad she didn’t choose you?”
“A bit. But, if she had, I’d have never married you, so I guess it all kind of worked out in the end.”
“... that’s a rather lukewarm take on a happy and beautiful marriage.”
“Eh, happy and beautiful for you, maybe...”
“... have you heard anything from Seya?” he asked.
“Hm,” Hannah nodded. “The furthest anyone would take her is about five miles offshore. The currents split there, going northward toward the Bay, eastward toward the isles, and southward toward icebergs and glacial mountains. I’ve told her to come back.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Aah... I really wanted to go to the Isles sometime soon. Fuckin’ hell. It’s virtually impossible to quantify how much that bitch screwed up my timeline.”
“And your innards.”
“Come on, eat,” she said, suddenly ripping a piece of chicken and blowing on it before moving it toward his mouth. “Your appetite has been shit recently.”
“My, my... this very wife of mine feeding me?” Lino smiled wryly, taking the piece. “It’s a dream come true...”
“I imagine.” she smiled warmly, her emerald-green eyes shining like gems momentarily. Even to this day, Lino often found himself lost in them, in her mesmerizing gaze. He leaned over slowly and kissed her, causing her lips to stretch out into a wider smile and dimples to form on her cheeks. “What’s what for?”
“... who knows?” their little moment remained largely unnoticed, save for Lucky and Alison who spotted them by accident. The latter quickly flushed red and looked away, though still peaking after due to curiosity.
“Do you think we look better kissing?” Lucky asked. “I think we look better.”
“L’!!” Alison cried out. “Shut up!! What if somebody hears you!?”
“Y-you promised... we’d... we’d keep it a secret for now...”
“Well, yeah, sure,” Lucky scratched her head. “But I’m pretty sure almost everyone in this room already knows, though.”
“... nothing. I was just kidding. Nobody knows, obviously. Ha ha. How could they know? We kept it such a perfect secret...”
“S-stop joking like that...” Alison said, her pale face regaining color as she sighed in relief. “You nearly killed me...”
“... sorry.” Lucky leaned in as though to whisper something, instead giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “Teasing you, however, is my favorite past-time.”
Primul remained mostly silent as he gorged away at the delicious food, silently observing everything. The more he interacted with the fortress and its inhabitants, the more he realized how different of a world it was than the outside -- and especially how different it was than his time. Glancing at Lino from the corners of his eyes, he once again couldn’t help but admit the young man was someone the world vastly underestimated. I really wish we could have an honest conversation, he thought, sighing inwardly. Aah... life can really be unfair sometimes...