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Empyrean Blacksmith Chapter 505: The Last Resort

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CHAPTER 505

THE LAST RESORT

A terrible jet of energy suffocated the Qi in Rio's surroundings, temporarily trapping him within a breathless realm. Void of strength, he was unable to prevent a slithering pang from tangling around his waist, pressing like a ma.s.sive tong, cracking his bones. A heralded shout burst past the edifice of suffocation, a greatsword cleaving through its membrane, splitting the wet, slippery body of the Skyserpent as blood gushed out, dyeing Rio's body.

Xia walked over in rapid footsteps, gasping for breath, her hair disheveled, shoving several glistening pills into his mouth and forcing him to swallow them. They dissolved rather quickly, the gus.h.i.+ng stream of healing helping his bones regrow anew. He sat up stumbling, holding onto the halberd and Xia, as both turned their eyes toward the sky -- the swarm was endless. It was a torrent, like a high-season rain -- it never ceased. Tapping and tapping.

They stumbled back once again as over two-dozen stepped forward in their place, holding the line. Namia and Yun kept up the support from the back, light and shadow manifesting into blades and daggers, seemingly without a stop. Yet, everyone knew they, too, had finite reserves of Qi; and those reserves were running out quickly.

Rio and Xia sat down, side by side, entering meditative positions, trying to recover as much Qi as possible in the short respite they were afforded by the sacrifice of others. They couldn't seek help elsewhere, as each front of the battle was beginning to collapse, like a house of cards.

Each held by the edges of their teeth, fires of fervor burning almost visibly over their heads. Rio couldn't grasp how they were yet to falter, to be pushed back, to be utterly annihilated. What was blowing in their backs and keeping them asteady escaped him, though he hardly cared to venture for an answer. He imagined each soul had its own reasons -- fighting for the symbol, for the glory, for themselves, for the home, for other people back home or even here, among them. Whatever held them standing, Rio mused, was good enough.

"We can't continue like this," Xia mumbled from the side, having recovered somewhat. "We won't last even a few minutes more."

"What do you propose?" Rio asked.

"..." Xia remained silent, biting her lower lip. She'd been orchestrating the entire battle so far, and Rio realized it was unfair to expect her to know the answer to everything. Taking a deep breath, he steeled his heart and turned toward her.

"I may have an idea." he said.

"Eh?" she turned toward him quickly, a twinkle of hope sparkling in her eyes. Rio found himself frozen for a moment, locked in those gems that he never felt closer to, but managing to rip himself away, realizing now was not the time. "You do?" she probed.

"It's a bit insane..."

"At this point, there's no other kind of an idea." she mused with a faint smile as he chuckled back.

"I suppose so," nodding, Rio turned away from her and looked up. "We keep going in and back out, always just before we would be in danger. What if we... just... stayed? Tested our luck? Force ourselves to be pushed into the corner without a way out, and hope for the best."

"... put it all on a table?" Xia mumbled. "My, I never expected that suggestion to come from you of all people."

"I've a feeling you just insulted my manly pride there."

"You've no manly pride." Xia said, her lips curling up into a smile.

"Be that as it may," Rio said, coughing lowly. "I do have some pride in me. I am a soldier, after all. What do you think?"

"Let's do it."

"... don't you want to deliberate on it a bit?" Rio exclaimed in faint shock as she immediately agreed to it, even going as far as to stand up.

"Deliberate on it?" she looked down at him in faint confusion. "We'll have plenty of time to deliberate in death, Rio. Now? Only act. Act, act, and act. You think too much. Sometimes, you just ought to listen to your heart and charge. Throw yourself into the brick wall until it collapses."

"... or until you break your bones in the process and die?" he replied, though he got up as well.

"Or that," she nodded, laughing. He could still not quite get used to the sound of her melodic laughter -- it contrasted far too much with the frigid countenance she displayed to the world. Only around him, he realized, she would thaw. "But, I believe our bones are st.u.r.dy enough to endure. The wall's in danger, not us."

"Man," Rio took a deep breath, picking up his halberd. "It is difficult to remain rational with you around. You're awfully lot like Lino."

"Eh? The Emperor?" Xia still seemed to have trouble adjusting to Rio calling the Emperor by his first name so casually, which provided him plenty of chuckles.

"Hm," Rio nodded, taking another deep breath and turning toward the sky. "You two have the tendency to ignore the likeliest outcomes, or, rather, to just usurp the general expectations of the reality. One moment, he'd be laughing with me, making silly jokes at my expense, and the next he'd be running off to take on the entire Army of h.e.l.l on his own. You're just like that," he turned toward her, lifting his hand and patting her head gently for a moment. "Though, I suppose, it's one part of why I fell in love with you."

"Because I was the closest you could get to your dear Emperor?" she teased back with a smile, causing him to laugh.

"Nay," Rio shook his head, steeling his feet and getting into a stance, ready to launch himself over. "Because you are everything I ever wanted to be."

He bolted over, leaving behind a trail of dust, quickly taking over the frontline that was once again collapsing. Xia followed right after, somewhat starstruck, though still focused.

The two startled their peers, as well as their subordinates when, instead of rooting themselves at the front and defending, they charged past the line of the skirmish, past where the heat of the battle was settled and dove straight into the heart of the foe's army. Countless Skyserpents, similarly, experienced a startling shock, freezing for a moment, as they saw two tiny, light-laden dots flash into their ranks so abrasively.

Rio roared, his body grown armored in two-part fracture; one end, his left, was as chilly as the mountains of the North, icy steam sparking back and folding over the edges of his body, his left eye shaking in startlingly cyan sheen. The other part, the right side of his body, was wholly alight, ablaze in the colors of the fire. The flames pivoted toward his heart and out, belting out smoke in droves, forming a stark contrast of two opposites that should not be possible.

Right by his side, Xia shone in resplendent gold and silver, her crimson hair attuning, the greatsword in her arms shuddering and s.h.i.+vering in excitement.

A beam of light covered the two as they felt their veins pulsate, the Qi in them surge, their stats skyrocketing. Both glanced back for a moment at the distant figure who, smiling-still, nodded at them and collapsed, pa.s.sing out due to tiredness. Yun stood by Namia's side, helping her lie down, his eyes glued to the two of them. At that moment, he flashed them a strange grin and shook his head, quickly beginning to re-orient the forces around the reckless actions of the two of them.

They dove straight into the sea of the Skyserpents, the eerily-wet and slippery bodies crowding around them in droves, dancing in a strange fas.h.i.+on. They seemed capable of defying the Laws of Gravity, as they could surge in all directions at will, with no need for proper acceleration.

Rio chucked his halberd overhead, crus.h.i.+ng it into powder and reforming it into a giant blade of fire and ice. He controlled it with the movements of his fingers, slicing away the behemoth of a sword downward in an arc, cutting through the transparent bodies. Xia stood by his side like the eternal guardian, preventing anyone from coming near him.

Her body alight, she swung the greatsword as though it was a thin branch of a tree; each one of her strikes produced a loud whizz and boon, light bouncing off the edge of her blade, fired off like the cannonball, cleaving cleanly through the countless tails and claws.

The bloodbath ensued as the edifices of light, fire, and ice bloomed like a colossal lotus in the high-skies, tearing away countless Skyserpents from their ground charge, drawing focus. Those still aground watched with glistening eyes the two figures above them, watched them as they beheld the world at their fingers.

Xia shuffled sideways, tearing open a wound in s.p.a.cetime as she grasped at the approaching Skyserpent, which towered greatly over her, with her left arm, keeping the greatsword afloat with only her right; with a soul-bounding shout, she pulled the beast downward and elbowed it in the end, ushering in a ma.s.sive wound that sprayed bodily matter all over her, dyeing her stark armor in a strange, glittering tint of silver.

The creature fell from the high-skies, dead, as she turned and swung the blade in a full circle, sending out a ma.s.sive arc of light.

Rio repeatedly moved his fingers, firing the ma.s.sive sword left and right, repeatedly avoiding the Skyserpents to the best of his abilities. He hung on, though just barely, when he noticed the serpents change their target from him to Xia. Alarmed, he turned toward her and saw her holding back over a dozen creatures, each managing to strike at her from her blind angles ever so often, creating one wound after another.

With a panicked cry, he s.h.i.+fted the blade over toward her, only to be struck from the side. Stumbling over his own reality, the pain a.s.sailed his senses, though he did manage to somehow send the last strike of the ma.s.sive sword at around Xia, alleviating some of the pressure she was facing. Drained and tired, he couldn't recover his footing in time as he began cras.h.i.+ng through the sky like a falling star.

Xia noticed it, rapidly disengaging while allowing herself to be hit over two dozen times more, diving into a free fall toward him and barely managing to wrap her left arm around his waist, pulling herself beneath his back, before they crashed into the ground, opposite of where their forces were.

The inertia dragged them on for good two miles before they came to a stop, just beneath a slight-rising hill, surrounded in a now-ruined meadow of green.

Both gasped rapidly for their breaths, wound tightly together, bleeding. Rio turned up and smiled bitterly; she was much worse off, wound after wound retailing through her features, her eyes barely open. A deep pang a.s.sailed his heart, the strange sense of unworthiness returning; had he been a smidge stronger, a smidge smarter or faster, he might have been of more use to her. He might have even endured longer, been able to help her better, and work in concert with her tighter. The way it was, however, was her adjusting herself to him, holding back, covering for his shortcomings.

"... I'm sorry," he mumbled lowly, nestling into her cracked breastplate. "I'm... sorry..."

"... for what?" her voice replied lowly as she struggled to breathe. "We gave it our all. It just wasn't enough."

"But--"

"Did you give it your all?" she interrupted.

"..."

"If you did," she continued. "Then you've nothing to feel sorry for. Perhaps only the lacking luck. That's all on you."

"Pfft, ha ha ha, cough, cough," Rio laughed, hurting his lungs in the process, though he hardly seemed to care. "You know, I always thought a sense of humor was lost on you."

"What are you talking about?" she said. "Among my sisters, I was always humorous ones."

"... one of your sisters is a nun, and the other one is a philosopher," Rio said. "It'd be stranger if you hadn't been the humorous one."

"Ah, fair enough. But, I am slightly hurt you thought me a humorless woman who only knew how to swing about her sword."

"Hey, that's on you! You never used to make jokes!"

"I am making them now, aren't I?"

"What? I should have judged you with the hindsight that I didn't have?"

"Something like that."

"... pfft, ha ha, alright, alright," he said, struggling to sit up by her side. "My bad, my bad. I should have been able to see into the future."

"What now? Any crazy plans?" she asked, noticing the swarm diving toward them.

"Pray?"

"Eh, sounds as good as any I've got." she shrugged. "Who do you pray to?"

"... anyone who'd listen?"

"Ah, how will they listen if you don't specify? G.o.ds, the lot, are rather proud. 'nless you go about praying in a convoluted ritual, they turn deaf."

"... well, let's hope they might be feeling rather generous today."

"Ay, let's..."

"DON'T YOU DARE!!!" the voice familiar to them both, yet one eerily strange and distant, resounded through the world -- it broke it down, in a sense, as the holy winds stirred about madly.

Both could hear the resulting crash cleanly and even feel the after-effects of it miles and miles away from the epicenter. The somewhat delayed, yet evenly ma.s.sive, wave of holy light filled with warmth surged, was.h.i.+ng over their broken bodies, healing every inch of them in what felt like a blink of an eye. What would take weeks, if not months, with using pills and proper treatments, took... nothing. Not even the amount of time worth mentioning. Both Rio and Xia were too startled to speak for a moment, remaining frozen, leaned against each other.

"... well," Rio mumbled, his gaze turning dubious. "I'll be d.a.m.ned. It actually worked."

"Pfft, ha ha ha ha ha...."

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