CHAOS OF VOID (I)
Lino stared at a massive spread steaming in front of him, on top of a rather wide and long wooden table. Exotic fruits, drinks, birds, and bovine wrapped in various ways, sauced with various spices, creating an invasion of smells that caused his brain to momentarily freeze. Right next to him, Dangwe and Yog'son had already begun indulging themselves in the food, leaving Lino behind.
The latter quickly began catching up, however, stuffing whatever he could put his hands on into his mouth, one after another. The tastes broke something inside of him to the point where he even shed a couple of tears, ones he wanted to reserve for the birth of his first child... or at the very least a really good night of this and that.
"--alright, the first order of cooperation -- you give me your cook." Lino exclaimed, licking his fingers.
“I’d rather watch the world burn than give you my wife.” Dan replied with a cheeky smile.
“What? Your wife can’t cook this well, Lino?”
“... s-she... being a wife is more than being a good cook! She can, for instance, heave her legs over her shoulders.”
“... what’s that good for?” Dan asked, causing Lino to look sideways dubiously.
“... nothing. She’s tried, to be honest,” Lino said. “Just doesn’t have much talent with it. Even I’m better.”
“... before Layla became a cultivator, she used to own a small-time portable bakery. She was hunted east and west when she wouldn’t show up on her usual spots in time.”
“... so? What’s the secret?” Lino asked as they wiped the last food from the table, sitting back down, with even Yog’son joining them on the third chair. “How’d you keep the fire kindled for so long?”
“... in many ways like you and Hannah.”
“Hm? You been stalking us?”
“Of course I did.” Dan chuckled. “I was mightily surprised to learn how similar you two are to us.”
“So you fight all the time?”
“... we spend as much time as possible being just... ordinary people.” Dan replied, smiling lightly. “We sleep, we eat three meals a day, we get drunk... it’s never really about keeping the fire alive, Lino. Unless it’s with someone special, that fire won’t keep burning. Though, I suppose you know that.”
“... will I ever have the pleasure of meeting her?” Lino asked.
“Eh, she’s fairly shy. Though she’ll be happy to know you’ve enjoyed her cooking. She has always had a soft spot for the Empyreans -- lonesome wolves standing against the world. She’s a romantic like that.”
“... tell her we’re very thankful for her support,” Lino chuckled faintly before his expression turned serious. “Now, there’s one thing I’d like to know before we move forward.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“--are you purifying Bloodlines for yourselves, or as a business opportunity?” Lino’s words seemed to surprise both Dangwe and Yog’son, causing them to stare at him in shock for a few seconds.
“How’d you figure it out?” Dan asked.
“A team effort.”
“Huh. You’ve got a good team.” Dangwe chuckled. “Though, not good enough.”
“We’re not trying to purify Bloodlines,” he said. “We’re researching for ways to neutralize them.”
“... oh? Why’s that?” Lino asked, somewhat shocked himself.
"Well, largely because forced cross-racial breeding has been a massive thing for eons now," Dangwe explained. "In vain hopes they might get a useful Bloodline, thousands of wastes have been created. The race that can't breathe our air so they have to live near an active volcano so they can breathe the soot. The race that dies if they touch the water. Currently, there are over ten thousand different racial groups in the world. I think that's a bit out of hand, don't you?"
“... so you’re selling it.” Lino cracked a faint smile, causing Dan to reply in kind after a few moments.
“Nothing gets past your eyes and ears, huh?”
“Are you short on funds?”
"Funds? No. Resources? Yes." Dan said. "We're not selling it for Qi Stones or some ordinary bits and pieces that can be dug up anywhere. For instance, the last time we sold it for a piece of fossilized Titan Heart. I mean, it's entirely useless as far as their legends go, but nonetheless, it allowed us to study the structure of their core in greater detail than ever before."
“Didn’t you live through the Titan Era? I imagine you’d have many opportunities to study them alive back then.” Lino asked.
“Aha, sure,” Dan grinned. “I’d like to see you approach a mile tall giant made out of stone and ask them if you could crawl through their body to study them. A large reason why Titans dominated so much during the Era wasn’t simply because they were stronger than us -- we couldn’t even harm them Lino. Back then, I had failed my Origin Awakening six times in total, yet my all-out attack was unable to even leave a dent in their ordinary bodies. There was a saying: a Titan wounded was wounded by a Titan.”
“Not much of a saying. But, seriously? I’d fought a Titan once -- he didn’t seem that resilient.”
“At best, you fought a remnant.” Dan shrugged. “I’ve spent over two million years after their ‘official extinction’ confirming there were no more Titans left before I allowed my people to surface back up.”
“Now, an inquiry for you.” Dangwe asked, leaning forward. “Throughout the entire history, we have never failed to locate someone. No matter who, no matter what, there was no hiding from us. Yet... you did. Not just you. Everyone even remotely related to you. Care to elaborate?”
“... trade secrets, Dan.” Lino cracked a faint smile. “We’re talking about going on a first date and you’re immediately gunning after the wedding. Slow down.”
“... extend me the courtesy and answer at least this: is it exclusive to you? Or could it be employed by anyone else?”
“Parts and pieces of both.” Lino replied mysteriously. “Why me, though? I imagine part of the hope is that I’ll cripple the Descent so you can take their place, but I don’t plan on going after them.”
“You don’t?” Dan asked.
“No, not as a whole, at the very least.” Lino said. “Two will die, that much I promise you. The bitch derailed my plans too much. Perhaps even One, but as I know next to nothing about the man, that might be a bit difficult.”
“... then that’s enough.” Dan’s lips curled up into a smile. “Really, in the grand scheme of things, One is the Descent.”
“... who is he?” Lino asked.
"The first-ever human bearer of the Origin Soul," Dan explained, sipping a cupful of mead and taking a sip. "As far as I'm aware, he was born sometime during the late stages of the Prosperity Era. He largely heralded the rise of the Humans and ushered in the age of Skyhaven Domination. Ironically, he founded the concept of numbers for members of Descent based on his title."
“... just... One?”
“Yeah,” Dan shrugged. “I happened to ask him about it once, and he said it’s because he’s the one.”
“... the one what?”
“Just... the one.”
“Huh.” Lino mumbled. “Pretentious bastard.”
“Oh, tell me about it.”
“So, what are my chances of currently taking him on?”
“About... huh, negative ten to an infinity.” Dan grinned, taking a sip. “Even I would only be able to last a few rounds against him. As far as I’m aware, there are only two other humans who can stand up to him, and a couple of High Lords.”
“And... what are the chances of us conscripting any one of them to join our crusade?”
“Even less than you defeating One as you are now.”
“... you are nothing if not a bearer of bad news, huh?” Lino grinned, sighing faintly.
“How much of a role does One even play in your plans?”
“A very minor one, if I’m being honest,” Lino said. “If possible, I’d simply leave him be. My grudge with Two is largely personal, so...”
“... you might be in luck then. One hardly ever concerns himself with what goes on here. So, he might just not care that you’ve whacked Two to the afterlife. My turn. How strong is the Maiden?”
“The Maiden? Oh, you mean Ella?”
“Yeah.” Dan nodded.
“... I... have no clue.” Lino smiled bitterly. “I can’t really put it into words. Once you meet her you’ll understand what I mean.”
“Oh? So I’ll be meeting her?”
“Well, it will be relatively difficult to maintain this partnership if only the two of us were in on it, you know?”
“--we’ll start off easy,” Dan said, taking out a small piece of stone and putting it on the table. “This is [Qi Soul], a Qi-mine central density.”
“... and in return for it...” Lino mumbled, swallowing a large gulp.
“I want you to lend me your pet Dragon for a couple of days...”