Empyrean Blacksmith Chapter 467: Where It All Began
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WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Lino was currently floating in the high skies, surrounded and coated with ashen-gray clouds. His eyes gazed downward, upon the firm ground, his expression relaxed. On one end stood an army of h.e.l.l, on another his own; eight squads in total, building up to just short of 90,000 people, versus roughly 120,000 of Devils and Demons. Though the scale was truly ma.s.sive, as armies encompa.s.sed vast swath of land, it was only the beginning. It wouldn't be strange if numbers reached high millions at their peak. Both heavens and earth would then be swarmed with souls trying to outwit each other in the momentary capacity.
However, his gaze didn't linger on the armies for too long; he already knew his would win. Though they may be outnumbered, their strengths vastly outstripped their opposition. It was only a matter of time.
What caught his attention was what lay beyond the h.e.l.l's army - a ma.s.sive gash, a wound of the world running rampant, wild, uncontained, from north to south. The Gorge which he once explored, in which he found - or, rather, was gifted - a pair of wings that remained an indispensable part of his a.r.s.enal till this very day, and would, most likely, remain as such till the day he died.
Though those times were now distant, Lino held onto them tightly. The beginnings. The first steps he took toward the world's center stage. He truly was an ignorant lamb back then. Arrogant, prideful, certain he was unmatched. He could still clearly remember climbing down the steep cliffs of the gorge, finding his way into the majestic hall, planting his eyes upon the resplendent pair of wings, and meeting a remnant of a race-long-extinct.
Back then he didn't have the knowledge to truly understand the absolute sensation of it - to meet an Archangel, one of the first beings to ever appear on Noterra. How mind-bending was that? Ignorance, truly, was bliss in a sense.
The Gorge, much like it splits the Western Continent, also acted as the split of his own story; he felt that after and before were two different realities. Before, he was a boy chasing tails with Demons, trying to understand the hearts of others as well as his own, yet to extrapolate himself from a prideful sh.e.l.l. After, he embarked on a journey that would lead him to today, to this moment.
His memories flashed to all the faces he'd met and lost, yet never dared forget. It even briefly lingered on Eshen, a seemingly irrelevant name in the records of histories. n.o.body seemed to know who she was. Yet, she played an important role in his life. Rather, by now, he'd realized she'd played a role so important treks of his life would have changed completely had he never met her.
Her tomb was gone - he already checked. All remnants of her, save for the ignited fire in his mind, have vanished. Would his own existence act out like that? He was certain she was known and feared while alive. Perhaps even respected and loved by a few, despite her blindness to it. Was that the unequivocal end all would meet? He hardly cared, however. Past his death, he had no mind to wonder and muse. Forgotten or remembered… wasn't it all the same? He would be dead, mindless, gone. What worth was their remembrance to him?
Sighing lowly, he ripped his eyes back up toward the sky. His shoulders felt heavy. His heart, mind, and soul were even heavier. He enjoyed the temporary respite, the short-lived dive into the past where all things were much simpler.
Down below, his army pushed; even this far up he could hear their fervent roars. The h.e.l.l's replied in kind, shrieks of fury and anger congealing into the wind.
Was there a moment, a single point in time, where his life went from simple to complicated? There was. He knew there was.
The first clash resonated, causing the earth and the low-sky to shake. Cries of pain bellowed out, shrieks of thunder, tampering of fire, the calmness of the water, personifications of Elements danced in the fury of colors.
It was when his illusions broke - when he drew from his soul to childishly try and avenge the deaths of those he loved.
The h.e.l.l's army tried to flank from two sides, made slightly easier due to the density of the forests on both ends; but their intentions were seen through. Two ends split off from the Empyrion's army, each matching the flank fearlessly.
It was the moment he learned the world was not kind. Or, at least, the moment he should have learned that. It was the point where his world was turned upside down. When he realized the only one he could count on was himself.
The bulge persisted at the center of the clash for a moment before the h.e.l.l's frontline broke off; the s.h.i.+mmering arrays of shadows and blackfire that were sent by the ranged attackers standing at the far back were drowned in the countless screens of protection. Closer and closer to the edge of the gorge the battle commenced.
That realization didn't happen too far from here. He could still remember it vividly, envision it perfectly, even feel it as though it was etched in his bones. The first time in his life he managed to use his Will as a weapon.
The h.e.l.l's formation collapsed; their center split off as the two sides tried to bunker up. Their defenses, however, were extremely weak, torn through by an unstoppable onslaught. Dead and dying soon covered the landscape by the gorge's side.
He was still a boy back then and there, a runt yet to leave his teenage years. Yet, Lino missed something of that young boy. Something that was lost on that day, and was lost on many days before it, and many days after it. Something he kept losing all his life, just as he managed to regain it.
The battle was over. The eastern part of the Western Continent was liberated. It was his own, these lands below. They now belonged entirely to the Empyrion. Yet, there was hardly a trace of too much joy in his eyes. So much was lost. Not just today, but also yesterday. And the day before. And a month ago. And the year and the decade ago.
He sighed once more, his body vanis.h.i.+ng. Less than a breath later, he found himself inside a rather s.p.a.cious tent, looking over the shoulder of an anxious-looking lad who kept glancing left and right in antic.i.p.ation of something. Lino chuckled faintly, alerting Rio who rapidly turned around, his lips beaming out into a smile.
"—Your Majesty," the General said. "We've come out victorious!"
"I saw," Lino nodded, sitting down. "Congratulations. It was a swift and direct victory."
"…" Rio said nothing, though his smile widened further.
"Ah, right. Whose idea was to have the groups ready to reply to the flanking attempt of the Devils?" Lino asked with faint curiosity, taking out a gourd of wine.
"Ah! That was General Xia's idea," Rio replied immediately, smiling with a strange sense of pride. "She is truly brilliant!"
"…" Lino squinted his eyes slightly, taking a good look at the man in front of him; why wouldn't you promote yourself, man? I even set you up for it… aah, the eyes of love are truly blind… "'s that so?" he chuckled instead, shaking his head. "Tell me about her."
"W-what do you want to know?" Rio mumbled, seeming somewhat nervous.
"How did you two meet?" Lino asked, smiling.
"… w-we met very early on," Rio replied. "She was, uh, my Senior in the Martial Department. However, she suddenly decided to switch over to the Military."
"And you followed?"
"Hm." Rio nodded meekly.
"You know," Lino smiled once again. "Admiring someone and respecting them is great and all… but, one way or another, eventually you'll have to crack."
"Do you know how Hannah and I got together?" Lino suddenly asked after a short silence.
"ah? Empress and-and Your Majesty? No…" Rio shook his head.
"She saved my life, and I decided to take advantage of her."
"Ha ha ha," Lino chortled for a moment, seeing Rio's shocked expression. "I took a leap of faith. On that day, she could have pulled back… and that would have been the end of that. I'd have had my heart broken and I would have been sullen… but, our capacity to endure is beyond measure. I'd have recovered, eventually. In the worst case, she won't feel the same as you. In the best, she will. Isn't taking that chance worth it? That because you mustered up the courage to walk over and be honest… you got to spend the rest of your life by the side of someone you love? Isn't it silly that the only thing standing between you and that potential future is… fear?"
"…" Rio remained silence, somewhat stunned.
"Life's a string of chances, some of which we take and some of which we let slip by. But, we only get so many chances Rio. Miss then one-time-too-many and they're gone. Forever. Life's never too gracious to wait for us to make up our minds and gather enough courage. Sometimes, even if you're terrified, you have to seem fearless."
"… I… I know…" Rio mumbled, sighing. "Doesn't make it easier. To know, I mean."
"It doesn't," Lino shook his head, taking another sip of wine. "Doesn't make it harder either. Fear is always temporary. You told me that, beyond all this, you have a dream. But, that dream won't come true if you keep sitting on your a.s.s and doing nothing, you know?"
"… I'll tell her—"
"Talk to her," Lino interrupted. "Ask her about who she is. What does she want? What does she dream of? Tell her about who you are. What you want and what you dream of. Life never closes its doors to those who persistently knock."
"…" Rio remained silent, contemplating. Indeed, his image of the Emperor had undergone a complete s.h.i.+ft. He was far, far more than Rio ever antic.i.p.ated; perhaps not as majestic, perhaps not as ineffable, not as distant and awe-inspiring. However, he was far more human… far more like all the rest of them than Rio ever thought. If he wasn't, would he ever come down from his lofty throne, meet up with a small-time General of his army, and give him advice on love? He certainly wouldn't. Yet, he did. Sitting there, dressed in hemp clothes, drinking from a cheap-looking gourd of wine. He hardly seemed the personification of the Emperor… and more akin to another person. "You truly are… beyond remarkable," Rio uttered slowly, his shoulders slumping. "We will win this war for You, Your Majesty. You deserve the world, whether You wish it or not."
"…" Lino merely smiled faintly, not replying. He'd occasionally, when growing bored, split off from the Empyrion and skittle around the frontlines, meeting up random people and chatting with them. It was one of the few things he enjoyed doing as it reminded him of the simpler times. Chatting with a young General about love, or about the make of a sword, or about the best cake or fruit, or even about life and death… in his mind, it was priceless. "You may start fortifying the bounds."
"Hm?" Rio suddenly exclaimed. "Aren't we crossing over?"
"No," Lino shook his head. "Those waiting beyond… aren't the ilk you guys can defeat."
"They've stolen my home away," Lino said, getting up slowly. "It's only right I steal it back, no? Here," he handed a small parchment, the instructions written on it mirroring what Lino said with the imperial seal confirming it came from the top. "Ensure no one crosses over until I return. Hopefully, by that end, you'll be waiting for me by the side of someone else except the empty wind."
Empyrean Blacksmith Chapter 467: Where It All Began
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Empyrean Blacksmith Chapter 467: Where It All Began summary
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