Wei Shi Jaran shaded his new eyes as he watched the flying ships approach from the east. Only long years of practice allowed him to keep up his stoic front. He could see again. Even the pattern on the bark of a tree was fascinating to him now and this display. He couldn’t believe he had almost missed half the sky changing colors like a dozen different flavors of sunset. He almost regretted not taking his son up on the offer of new eyes immediately. Almost. But in the end he had been right to avoid the risk. Whatever advancement Lindon had achieved he was still an amateur. Jaran had been reluctant enough to allow his own wife to attach the Remnant’s eyes to his and he had only allowed that because advancing to Jade would fix any problems the eyes caused. Not that he had noticed any problems so far. Lindon it seemed had been right that these Remnant eyes worked roughly the same as human ones. They glowed a soft white-pink and didn’t look natural but Jaran had never cared what others thought about his appearance.
All in all he had been correct to wait. He was glad to have eyes now but his son was too impatient. Endurance and fortitude were the way. Lindon would learn that when he realized he’d ruined his own future advancement with his impatience. Ribbons of green wind madra spiraled around the entire fleet of the foreigners and Jaran leaned on his cane to get closer to his wife’s ear. “The Blackflame Empire youve said?”
She nodded absently her drudge bristled with sensors and she checked some flashing scripts on its back writing down some readings. Analyzing the patterns of the madra used for the display?
“That’s supposed to be the Emperor and his entourage. Seeing this I can believe it.”
“And how big is the Blackflame Empire?”
“Very.” Seisha said quietly.
Jaran didn’t give any external sign of how much that thought disturbed him. He wasn’t stupid he had picked up Orthos’s stories and heard others talking since leaving Sacred Valley. Even if you took out the parts that were obviously exaggeration the Empire dworfed Sacred Valley and the surrounding lands many times over.
“How advanced is he?” Jaran asked.
He frowned. “Overlord that’s?”
“Yes like Lindon” she said in a long-suffering tone that put him on edge. “I told you.”
“Can’t be that impressive” he grumbled. Lindon was an Overlord and he wasn’t even twenty yet. Either this Blackflame Emperor was only a child or Lindon’s advancement was inflated. Probably the second one. There was no way to advance. What was it six stages? Six stages or so in only three or four years without harming your own spirit. He had seen young warriors push up to Jade too quickly. Before they were ready. And they were always weaker than their peers. Suddenly a thousand golden stars burst from a cloud over their heads and Jaran looked straight up in shock. A large and dark blue cloud hung over them and he hadn’t given it much notice. It seemed everyone outside the Valley used Thousand-Mile Clouds for transportation and there was nothing to attract his attention to this one compared to the Emperor’s fleet. Nothing except now the golden stars that burst out and flew around the cloud in a complex web. It shone like a firework that never ended like one of the festival displays that required all the Wei clan Jades to coordinate and that was only the beginning. Red light burst from the top of the cloud in a column that stretched toward the sky a flash of crimson that outshone even the Empire’s celebration. After a few seconds the vibrant beam burst and a shower of crimson lights fell like needles down to the earth below.
Jaran’s body felt great pressure as though this technique pushed on his muscles directly. He may not have been a Jade but his hand still clenched on his cane as he sensed this attack. The needles burst into harmless essence at once before they struck the treetops red sparks fading into the sky.
A low whistle came from Seisha’s drudge and she stared around her in shock. “That level of control?”
“They must have scripted it” Jaran said but without certainty. If Seisha was impressed she had reason to be.
“That was controlled directly” Seisha said. “And it was one person.”
Jaran stared at her looking for signs of a joke. That technique had covered the sky and dwarfed the entire spectacle coming from the Blackflame Empire and theirs was clearly the work of many sacred artists. But she wasn’t joking and there was more. Above the Thousand-Mile Cloud more clouds began to whirl in the air. These were clouds of dark flame. Kelsa had described Orthos to him and Jaran had heard about his son’s Path. But it was something else to see a hurricane of black fire swirling overhead a burning vortex. Stinging hot wind blew down on him though he couldn’t guess how many miles away the fire really was. The golden stars that had been spinning around the cloud fortress were now joined by stars of dense blue white energy. Dark balls of flame fell from the spiral overhead and they danced with crimson sparks that shone somehow silver. The colors of madra wove a complex pattern with one another and then rushed out toward the Emperor’s fleet. From the way the music faltred Jaran felt the hesitation of the sacred artists aboard the incoming cloud ships. If he had been standing aboard one of them himself he would have assumed he was about to be bombarded by a volley of Striker techniques. But these stars spun around encircling the fleet and forming a sort of tunnel. After slowing down slightly the cloud ships passed through accepting the invitation.
“How many were responsible for that?” Jaran asked.
“Three” Seisha said after consulting her drudge. “But there were four types of madra. I think the gold light was from a construct.”
“Were they all Overlords?”
“One of them was Lindon.”
Jaran grunted and shifted his weight off his wounded leg. He understood the truth that Lindon had been forcibly advanced but he couldn’t help but think it was a waste. What could someone else have accomplished with those same resources? He wondered if Orthos could intervene on Kelsa’s behalf. If Lindon could do as much in only a few years Kelsa would shock the entire world. On the leading cloudship a figure rose up on shining emerald wings. He looked like a powerfully built man in ornate green robes although Jaran couldnt make out his features in any detail. But from the shining crown he wore and from the visible distortion of air around him/ Jaran assumed he must be the Emperor. A moment later he revised that assumption. No Emperor would press his fists together and bow his head to his subordinates in his own territory. The voice of the majestic figure boomed out and easily audible to everyone.
“The Blackflame Emperor greets his three esteemed guests. We are gratified to count you among our allies. Let all our Empire show respect to Archlord Eithan Arelius.”
There came a booming sound of cheering and music from the fleet of cloudships. Before it had faded entirely the Emperor spoke again.
“Let all our Empire show respect to the Uncrowned Queen Yerin Arelius.”
Another even louder cheer shook the ground. Even the people of the refuge began to cheer though Jaran was certain that at least those who came from Sacred Valley had little idea what was happening.
“Let all our Empire show respect to the Sage of Twin Stars Wei Shi Lindon Arelius.”
A final wave of sound came out from the fleet no softer than the last. But Jaran barely heard it.
The show had kicked him in a place no one’s words had reached. It was one thing hearing about how powerful Lindon had become and reluctantly accepting that someone had made Lindon powerful. But seeing this here with his own eyes. It was a display that would have shaken all of Sacred Valley and to have it directed to his son.
Seisha looked at the expression on his face and sighed.
“I did tell you” she said.
Lindon stood on the edge of Windfall each passing second convincing him that he was supposed to do something. After greeting them Naru Huan had remained hovering in midair his head still bowed. He was clearly waiting for a response just as Lindon was waiting for Eithan to give him one. Yerin scratched her neck. She wasn’t going to bother saying anything and if she did it wouldnt be for everyone’s benefit. She would probably wave to Naru Huan and tell him to come over. This was Eithan’s job so where was?
Eithan was grinning an idiot’s grin while staring straight at Lindon. Lindon wasn’t as surprised as he felt he should have been. He stifled a sigh and rose on a Thousand-Mile Cloud he summoned from his void key for this purpose. He drifted over to face the Emperor and only when he felt the Ruler technique around Naru Huan did he remember to manipulate the air around him using soulfire to magnify his words.
“We are humbled to be visited personally by the Blackflame Emperor” Lindon said formally and too stiffly. He wished Mercy were here to do this instead but she was occupied with some family obligation. “We are grateful to be allowed into your territory.”
The Emperor was a handsome man who appeared in his forties with a square jaw and neatly trimmed beard. Every time Lindon had seen him before including in the depths of battle he had looked like someone who was always in possession of himself. So Lindon knew he’d made a mistake when he saw surprise flash briefly across the Emperor’s face.
“Not at all” Naru Huan boomed out. “It is our honor to host you for as long as you wish to stay.”
Lindon didn’t know where to go with the conversation so he steered it in a direction he understood. If this were a normal visit he would invite his visitor inside.
“We could use a guide to your Empire. Please step inside for a moment and provide us your wisdom.”
That can’t have been too wrong because the Emperor dipped his head again. “It will be our pleasure with your permission our cloudships will land and begin distributing refreshments to the people.”
That was the loudest cheer Lindon had heard so far. He expected Naru Huan to drop the formalities when he arrived on Windfall so he was surprised to see the Emperor go to one knee the second he touched down.
“Naru Huan greets the Sage and the Herald. Forgive me if I have offended you with my lacking manners in the past and allow me the chance to make up for it in the future.”
Lindon and Yerin exchanged a look.
“No eyes on us up here so you can stand up” Yerin said.
“Please” Lindon added “It would put us at ease.”
Naru Huan straightened up but he still didn’t meet their eyes. “Your words are more generous than I deserve. Please tell me how I or my empire might serve you two.”
Eithan pointed to himself. “I can’t help but feel like someone is being intentionally excluded.”
Naru Huan’s head slowly turned toward Eithan. “I’m sorry Uncrowned Queen but does this Lord speak for you?”
“You know my name” Eithan protested.
Naru Huan didn’t correct himself.
“Pardon but I thought you two were friends” Lindon said. An idea occurred to him and he said “We wouldn’t mind if you spoke candidly about him. Would we Yerin?”
“He’s harmless” Yerin agreed.
“I would prefer to be called gentle. Maybe ‘tender.’”
“Of course I intend no disrespect to the Archlord” the Emperor said stiffly. “I simply thought it was appropriate to greet the Sage and Herald first.”
“Come on Huan, we’re closer than that! I thought we were friends.”
Naru Huan’s gaze snapped to him. “I wanted a friend who would keep me informed! My sister sent me word from the Uncrowned King tournament as soon as she could but I heard nothing from you. The Akura clan sent me congratulations and didn’t even explain why.”
“That’s quite rude of them” Eithan said but Naru Huan kept talking.
“I was aware the Titan was going to wake up but then there was a second Dreadgod and then Monarchs fought on my western border. And I hear you fought as well! Successfully!”
“In fairness I didn’t know about the Phoenix either.”
“Sometimes I wonder why I play at ruling when everything that matters is decided by the games of the truly powerful.”
“If it makes you feel better” Eithan said “everything turned out great!”
Naru Huan looked to Yerin. “You will go down in history as a hero of the Blackflame Empire. Saeya hasn’t stopped talking about your battles since she returned. And to you.” He turned to Lindon with awe and pain clear in his expression. “If you could give me just a word of advice I would be grateful for the rest of my life. Reaching Sage at Overlord, I didn’t know it was possible truly. For a moment of your time I will give you anything within my meager power.”
Lindon didn’t feel like it was the time to mention that he had first summoned an Icon when he was an Underlord.
Eithan raised a hand. “May I point out that I trained these two?”
Naru Huan breathed in for a solid five seconds and then exhaled even more slowly. He strolled over to Eithan and put a hand on the Archlord’s shoulder.
“I know Eithan. I do know. You have done more for the Empire than anyone since my mother but you make it so hard to be grateful. If only you weren’t so infuriating all the time.”
“All the time is a little harsh.” A little more humanity cracked Eithan’s smile. “I will allow though that I can be a unique experience.”
“Let him kick you” Yerin suggested. Everyone looked to her and Naru Huan’s face had grown substantially brighter. But she didn’t back down. “You want to show you’re sorry let him kick you.”
Eithan’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “I’m a little disturbed at how quickly you came to that suggestion.”
“I dream about it every night.”
Naru Huan controlled himself but Lindon could see that he was holding back excitement. “I would like that very much.”
“Well if I’m not going to defend myself I would prefer if you took it easy.”
He didn’t. the Emperor’s kick contained all the madra, aura and soulfire of an experienced Overlord. The sudden detonation of air would have leveled Lindon’s house if not for the scripts and his own protection. As it was air surged out from Windfall for miles even buffeting some landing cloudships. Lindon watched as Eithan flew as a rapidly vanishing specks to the west. “I think he might make it all the way to Sacred Valley.”
Naru Huan clapped his hands and shouted. “Bring me a blank tablet!” His escort of Golds on the neighboring cloudship scurried to obey. Lowering his voice back to normal the Emperor spoke to Lindon and Yerin. “I need to record this memory while it’s fresh I can never forget this.”
Indeed he looked like hed been injected with a good night’s sleep in an instant. Kicking Eithan. Lindon would have to try that.