Seropo, on the outskirts of White City…
The Seropo Church wasn’t exactly the most majestic of its kind in White City. After the three megachurches, Serowait Church, Oslan Church and Babarissa Church were erected during the Year of the Wilderness, the Year of the Lush Forests and the Year of the Croaking Frogs respectively, it paled in comparison. Yet, based on history alone, this old weathered church that stood atop the hill was one of the oldest pilgrimage places in all ten cities. Its head priest, Father Salian, was the proudest disciple of Bishop Bryluen. The particular faction of the Marsha religion preached humility and so it was gradually forgotten by the public.
Today, the outskirts of White City were met with a violent storm. Standing on the podium behind the church altar, a tan-skinned priest stared at the holy water vessel before him.
The holy water vessel had been a gift from Great Priest Farnezain. The silver container was currently filled to the brim with magical holy water. Legend has it that its water surface would show a sinner’s sin and the greedy would see how hideous they truly were inside. Devoted worshippers, on the contrary, would see a promised hope but only the purest would receive an oracle from heaven. While this was just a legend, the holy water vessel was prized as the holiest artefact of the church; it would only be used as a prop during the most important rituals.
Occasionally, the impoverished would ask the church for some holy water for it was rumoured to provide healing effects and Father Salian was more than willing to spare some. But at this moment, rumbling thunder was echoing throughout the church, rippling the otherwise calm surface of the holy water. A veil of black smog was forming on its surface and soon, a line of gilded words emerged and petered out.
This peculiar phenomenon had lasted for a full quarter of an hour.
Beads of cold sweat dotted Father Salian’s forehead. He drew crosses in front of his chest and chanted hymns. Despite that, the thunderstorm outside only seemed to grow stronger. Shouts of monks and their apprentices could be heard through the window from time to time. Before long, a drenched ascetic monk rushed through the side door, bringing in scriptures wrapped in oiled cowhide. “Father Salian, all the scriptures have been moved to the cellar. The storm is too strange, it seems that the demonic wave is hitting stronger than ever.”
Father Salian turned around, face ghastly pale. The monk was caught aback.
“Quick. Inform Bishop Gonzalez to notify the Bugans….”
“The Bugans? Father Salian, what’s going on?” The ascetic monk was shocked.
“Have the Bugans shut down the watch station at Element Frontier,” Salian’s hands trembled uncontrollably, his voice eerily hoarse like it had come from the depths of hell, “Milo’s constellation has been restored. A god has been resurrected in Vaunte…”
A blast of thunder struck the ground, its buzzing echo tormenting the church.
The ascetic monk was still frozen to his spot on the aisle between three rows of chairs, his initial intentions long forgotten.
“Go, go quickly.”
“I need to see the Holy Saint…”
Salian looked out of the window and shivered.
The rain continued to pour.
Shallow Water Town…
After the eighth month, green had finally returned to the east of Lantonilan. The woods were no longer a patch of dying brown and the healthy rustling of leaves could be heard when caressed by the cooling breeze of Lake Kurkel. Two youngsters were fishing off a trestle bridge by the lake, respective buckets by their feet. One of them was hollering, as if not worried that his volume would startle the prey away.
“Hey, Rando. I’ll definitely get a damned fish today so we can go laugh at John and the others.”
“Shut up. You’re scaring the fishes away.”
His companion was pissed.
“Don’t worry, the right time has yet to come. I’ll pipe down soon. Don’t you find the wind outrageously strong today? I think it won’t be easy to reel our catch in later.” The first youngster leaned back against a wooden post with crossed arms behind his head.
“For god’s sake, can you just s-”
Before the second youngster could finish, the ground shook. The sudden impact jolted the bridge, causing him to bite his tongue, eliciting a pained scream. The other youngster clambered up frantically to inspect their surroundings. His gaze finally fell on the lake, where a conspicuous ripple was travelling from the shore to its centre.
Surely, that couldn’t be counter-current.
“Hey! What’s going on? Did the ground move just now?”
“Damn it… My tongue…!”
The youngster, whose name was Rando, curled into himself out of pain. Highly alarmed, the other youngster stared into the distance. He had a gut feeling that something was wrong. He lifted his head… The forest was oddly quiet. Following that, buzzing noises could be heard from the north. It sounded like the bees raised in Old Vernon’s house up north, but he knew it was unlikely.
Instinctively, he lifted his chin and saw approaching dark clouds from the direction of the Deadly Tundra.
Something big was happening!
The youngster remembered that a group of nobles had entered the forest about half a month ago.
Without thinking, he grabbed Rando and began sprinting towards the shore. It was at that moment a second quake struck. The forest in the distance was rippling and dirt was arching in waves; the shockwave had swept across the entire shore of Lake Kurkel mercilessly. The youngster couldn’t help but yelp as they leapt off the trestle bridge and landed on the shore.
Behind him, shockwaves continued to whip the trestle bridge violently. With a resounding crack, the trestle bridge that stood by Lake Kurkel for fifteen long years was dismantled unceremoniously and reduced to a pile of rotting wood.
The youngster stared at it dumbfoundedly.
What the hell was going on?
The White Valley vanished.
Glacial canyons were melting in pieces and avalanches were sliding off the mountains. Peaks and ridges were fragmented and sinking into the ground, leaving behind only a number of wide cracks. The earth roared as a hymn echoed through the trembling mountains as ice and snow continued to collapse with every note sung. A glacier, that was half the size of a town, rolled off and plummeted into the abyss. Its demolition elicited thunderous sounds.
The young knights of the Folded Sword Squad gaped at the sight. The entire valley was flattened, glacial layers rolling off either side like sand in an hourglass. The precarious situation had some of them stumbling among the fallen snow, prompting people nearby to help steady them.
Alea shook his hood to rid the fallen snow before lifting his head to watch the chaos. Unwittingly, he felt helpless. “Oh Lord Marsha, what is happening? Brund, had you offended the gods? Are they condemning us now?”
“Shut your trap!” From the stretcher, Brund huffed angrily.
Maynild was at the forefront of the team. She climbed up a cliff, then stretched her arms behind to help Little Pero up. “Thank you,” thanked the latter as he dusted off the snow that had fallen on his bearskin coat.
“This is as far as we can go.”
“Look ahead!” Someone in their group exclaimed.
Little Pero narrowed his eyes and peered forward. The White Valley ahead was completely gone, now replaced by a plunging valley. At its bottom, white mist gradually dissipated to expose an endless network of black buildings. It looked like stacked obsidian cubes, with each possessing a side length of more than tens of thousands of feet. The mist-shrouded obsidian cubes were a sight to marvel at, it looked like the legendary Titan’s Ark in a glance.
“Lord Marsha… What the hell…?” Alea gaped, watching the black fortress rise from beneath.
Maynild merely watched in silence, a distant but familiar memory flashing through her mind at the sight.
Little Pero tilted his head in confusion. “Miss Maynild?”
“But we have nowhere else to run.” Little Pero pointed at the black fortress and asked, “Miss Maynild, are you aware of what this is?”
Maynild turned around, dark eyes boring holes into the shorter Kirrlutz knight. She offered no explanation, allowing Pero to retract his question. Little Pero noticed the warning in her eyes and took a step back instinctively. Her response had left him flustered. Before he could say anything else, Maynild interrupted, “You want to know what it is?” And then she mouthed-
All energy channels were lit up as a platform emerged with a low hum. The darkness had faded away like a sheer veil, allowing light to spill from the top and hit the contours of the abyss. On the smooth cliff wall were countless energy-transporting lattices in neat arrangements, in which some were arranged in beautiful circles. The whole wall was just like a gigantic machine, each component functioning seamlessly.
The platform rose languidly to the centre of the valley before it stopped and cut the noise.
Korfa stood in the centre of the platform, eyelids fluttering only when all movement ceased. The black flames shrouding her body scattered like falling leaves, exposing a platinum body made of pure lightning beneath. She opened her silver eyes, wisps of electricity dancing off the arc of her cheek and reached down her neck. Her locks were a bundle of lightning bolts.
“It feels good to be alive again.”
Two voices resonated above the platform; one belonged to Korfa while the other sounded like the rumble of weak thunder. Eventually, the distinct voices converged to become one.
Korfa parted her lips, and a bolt of lightning struck from mid-air. It pierced through her body and the platform below. Electric current exploded like splashes of molten steel on the obsidian platform and surged into its deep cracks. One by one, platinum light travelled along with the primitive pattern; and the platform came to life.
Holographic projections were refracted off the illuminated energy channels into the air. Shining ancient runes emerged- fme, eaam, oss, aryn- and rained down to create an ethereal stream of scripts and a light wall. Brendel was stunned by the phenomenon until Korfa’s booming voice brought him back to reality.
“The same dispute had lingered even in heaven since aeons ago. The pathetic gods have no choice but to admit their own failure because they had planned a future for Vaunte that would lead to destruction. You shall meet your fates soon, lowly creatures.”
“While you have defeated Twilight aeons later, chaos is rooted deeply in your hearts. Greed, sin, mayhem and endless conquests… You’ll find yourselves en route towards the doomsday you once saw in the prophecy.”
“The order of the bygone days is a thing of the past, only entropy could exist for eternity. Today, god has awakened for you once again and everything shall be returned to its start. The world will be born and destroyed by chaos; the prophecy will be realized and reality will confirm it once and for all! Mortals, this is your reward!”
Then, there was a sharp shift to her tone, almost as if another emotion had overcome her.
“You have chosen your destiny again, mortal.”
“We had allowed you to decide your own destiny but here you are again as if only to prove Alphonse’s prophecy.”
“You have summoned our awakening and we shall respect your decision. Now that god has returned to the land, we shall reorganize for the next era.”
“And this marks the end of your era--”
Brendel spaced out dumbly. There was a beat of silence before he lifted his head and blurted, “Who exactly are you? Are you Korfa or Milos?”
Korfa lowered her head to meet Brendel’s eyes, silver gaze reflecting two vastly different emotions. But soon, she settled on one and answered,
“Of course I’m Korfa.”
“But I AM Milos.”
Another booming voice answered.
Lifting her arm up lightly, the space in front of Korfa rippled with circular motions. Soon it revealed a holographic projection behind. Brendel could recognize the cities projected- Kirrlutz’s Waloz, Krenc near the edge of the Four Realms and the Lion Beastmen’s fortress. He could even see the towering gold Spire Guards, the White City, the Thousand Sails Harbour, the reconstructed golden vault of the great Ampere Seale cathedral, the quasi-fortress of Kurkel Palace, Sanorso’s Elven Tip, the pale grey fortress and even the Bull City that Brendel visited once in the glacial plains.
Brendel’s breathing grew anxious. He glared at Korfa. “What are you trying to do?”
Korfa faced him delightedly. “Can’t you tell?”
Realization struck Brendel like lightning
. “You can’t do that!” he shouted through gritted teeth.
Oddly enough, this was asked with a soft feminine voice.