THE HOLLOW ISLES
Beneath the shapeless, dark clouds fermenting above the open ocean, a massive, winged creature stirred cold and frigid winds around itself as it sped through the vast world, turning the surroundings into a mere blur for those observing from on top of him. Save for Amadeel and Titus, who appeared slightly jittery, the rest of the entourage appeared relaxed. Lino was reading whilst drinking, Ella was chatting up front with Vy, Primul was meditating in a corner, leaned against a fiery spike of Vy’s massive neck, Lucky and Ally were sleeping, the latter resting her head on the former’s shoulder, while Ayar was currently being consoled by Seya, his face sickly pale.
Titus was hung over the in-between of the spikes, gazing at the passing reality without ever being to catch a whole object. It was his first time riding a Dragon, and despite having ridden many flying beasts before in his life, not a single one came even close to matching to the experience he was currently undergoing. Vy was truly massive, beyond anything he had ever seen; from the neck area where they were stationed, he couldn’t even see the top of the Dragon’s head, and could barely fit the whole neck into the view.
Amadeel, though not as quite obvious about it, was also inspecting his surroundings in amazement. Even if he knew that Lino had a ‘pet’ Dragon, he had never seen Vy’s actual body – one that towered over the entire fortress countless times over. When he spread his wings above it, the fortress fell into a silent lull of the dark as everyone stared in awe at the creature above them whose single wing was more than enough to encompass the entire fortress and then some.
Lino slowly closed up the book he was reading and got up, walking over to Ella who was sitting by one of the frontal horns that grew out into a spiral, reaching over ten meters into air above Vy’s head.
“What are you two talking about?” Lino asked as he sat down next to her.
“The mist.” Ella replied.
“Hm. He doesn’t know what it is, though.” Lino said, pointing downwards.
“Yeah, he told me,” Ella rolled her eyes. “We were brainstorming, trying to see whether something will come to us.”
“Whatever it is, I don’t think it will prevent us from entering,” Lino mumbled. “I didn’t sense and direct rejection of that kind from it.”
“… are you discussing the Mist?” Amadeel crept up from behind them, sitting beside Lino with a faint smile.
“The mist?” Lino and Ella asked quizzically, with even Vy mumbling in interest.
“Hm,” Amadeel nodded. “It’s not the solitary occurrence in the world,” he continued as Ella slowly frowned, seemingly in realization. “Have you ever heard of the Hollow Isles?”
“… no?” Lino said, tilting his head.
“It’s the sole, uncharted piece of land on Noterra,” Amadeel said. “A set of islands in-between Dragon Isles and the Forgotten Continent moving eastward. Mist with similar, yet stronger, properties is found there, preventing entrance.”
“… wait… nobody’s ever entered, or nobody’s ever returned from it?” Lino asked.
“Nobody’s ever entered,” Amadeel replied. “Never even took a single step into it.”
“—ah, so that’s it. The Dragon Isle’s mist is the reversed sort.” Ella mumbled lowly, causing Amadeel to glance at her.
“As far as we’re aware,” Amadeel said. “People have managed to enter, but nobody has ever returned. Though, to be fair, fairly accurate maps of Dragon Isles are commonplace among the Holy Grounds, as the Mist surrounding it is a relatively recent phenomenon.”
“… any ideas on what the ‘Hollow Isles’ are? Or where the Mist came from? Or, hell, what’s it even made out of?” Lino probed further.
“… hmm,” Amadeel stroked his beard for a moment, seemingly deep in thought. “There are a lot of theories floating out there, naturally, but no certainty. One is that it’s where the First Scripture is hidden, another that it’s where all the dead souls go, and it all goes as far as stating that it’s the home of the ‘Lost Writ’. Nobody’s ever figured out the Mist’s composition, or how it does what it does, as it’s impossible to inspect its make through Divine Sense, or ‘scoop it up’ since it just whiffs away. The Hollow Isles have been there as far back as the recorded history goes, and even the Writs have confirmed that it’s been there during the Origin Era, but if they do know what it is, they never said it.”
“… of course he’s silent,” Lino rolled his eyes, sighing. “If all Dragons are trapped inside the Isles, what’s even the point of going there now?” he added. “They are effectively not a variable either way.”
“—to liberate them,” Ella said from the side. “And because Vy ‘became your pet’ exclusively for this reason.”
“… tsk, don’t break my illusion, damned woman,” Lino growled, having already realized as much. “And you, beast, this doesn’t change anything. Got it?”
“…” Vy remained silent.
“It still doesn’t make it any easier, though,” Lino said. “I mean, if nobody else has managed to do anything with it, what can I?”
“… I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” Ella said with a chuckle, causing Lino to groan as he understood the implications. “Besides, don’t you want to bless that sword of yours?”
“…” Lino didn’t say anything, getting lost deep in the thoughts.
This was the first time he had heard of the Hollow Isles, or that the mist surrounding the Dragon Isles came from there, and it already caused a worm of the doubt to crawl into his heart. A place that literally no one was able to reach? Not the Writs, not the Bearers, not even Gaia or Archangels? He thought it was insane… yet it appeared to be true. He knew that he’d have to go over one day and investigate it himself, though for the time being he already had too much on his plate to allow the thought to consume too much of him.
What Ella just implied was that he had one tool nobody else who tried probing around the Dragon Isles had – the Primal Chaos. Rather, he’s the solitary possessor of the Primal Chaos since the dawn of time, making him uniquely equipped to try and test out the waters. One of the greatest properties of Primal Chaos was that it was uncontained – that is specifically how he managed to kill Three despite her defenses. Therein lay the greatest difference between the Chaos and the Primal Chaos – the ability to contain them. Whereas the former could be contained, stored and used practically by everyone, as well stopped and fought, the Primal Chaos couldn’t – even he mostly used it through instinct as it seemed to respond to his subconscious thought.
When he killed Three, he underwent a strange synthesis with the Primal Chaos inside of him as the perceived threat to his life on a subconscious level dominated over his conscious decisions, which in turn spurned the Primal Chaos from the slumber. He still vaguely recalled that singular moment within which he hovered between two extremes, two infinities, two absolutes. His soul chilled at the very thought, and he could only imagine what Three felt when she stared up at him from down below.
He still wasn’t entirely comfortable with a semi-uncontrollable entity resting in the depths of his soul, forever orbiting it, but it’s not as though it harmed him in any way. If anything, he realized that his affinity and mastery of Chaos had grown exponentially ever since he underwent the trial and obtain the whiff of the Primal Chaos.
“—you have it in finite amounts,” Ataxia’s voice subtly resonated through his mind, ever-emotionless. “It’s not self-replicating.”
“I know…” he replied. “But it will do me no good to become dependent on it saving me when shit hits the fan…”
“… liberating the Dragons is fine,” Ataxia said. “But keep in mind that it will do you good to have at least some in reserves.”
“… you do know what that mist is, don’t you?”
“… I do.”
“… and you’re not sharing that information… because?”
“It is irrelevant,” Ataxia replied. “Think of the Hollow Isles as an independent existence that does not interact with Noterra. As far as the mist surrounding the Dragon Isles, it’s merely a cheap copy, at least comparatively.”
“… sometimes I wonder how many things you’re actually hiding from me.” Lino chuckled inwardly. “I imagine plenty…”
“I tell you everything that is relevant to your situation – most of my knowledge is largely useless.”
“… it’s fine. I don’t mind,” Lino said. “I’ll forever be thankful to you, either way.”
“A hint, at least?”
“Tsk,” he clicked his tongue, causing Ella to glance at him. “Fuckin’ bastard…”
“What is it?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he shook his head. “Just Ataxia and Ataxia things. How far along are we?”
“According to Ayar we’re closing on the Edge,” Vy’s voice bellowed out. “So still at least three weeks away from the Isles.”
“… what the fuck?!” Lino exclaimed as Vy came to a screeching halt, winds blasting past him and causing the ocean beneath him to turn stormy. Ella and Amadeel shot up to their feet, their heads heaved up, staring at the sky above.
There, a swirling phenomenon spat out blades of light, its core colorless black, the world around it bending to its will. It persisted for merely a second before vanishing as the bends and lines of reality slowly recovered.
“… the black hole.” Amadeel mumbled, still feeling the effects; despite being so small… just a brief phase-in into the reality had caused the world for over a hundred miles across to be affected by it. “This… that was the first time it had ever phased in.”
“Well,” Lino sighed. “If it wasn’t on the radar of others before, it certainly is now.”
“Isn’t that better?” Amadeel said. “More heads will perhaps figure it out quicker.”
“Rather than helping us fix it, I’m worried those nutjobs might try and weaponize it…”
“… ah, yeah. That’s true.”
“—ignore it for now,” he said, sitting down as Vy slowly began flying again. “It is still within the containable realms, and even if others find it, I doubt very much they have someone who knows as much as you to help them along.”
“…” Ella, meanwhile, stared a second longer at the fading phenomenon. Her expression flickered but for a moment before restoring as she sat back down, regaining her composure. Something about that was… eerily familiar. Nostalgic, even. Yet hardly warm…