At the top of the Tower of the Heavens sits a man overlooking the city of mahogany-tiled roofs, cobblestone paths, and brick buildings of all heights from an arched window. The dense concentration of uneven infrastructure may be an eyesore to most, but to the man sitting on the highest hill of the islands with all of it below, it is a lyric. At night it is the most beautiful, with orange lanterns lighting the windows and streets like lava streams.
He bathes in his creation.
The seat he occupies is grand, back tall, fitting for a Lord. The frame is dark bronze, welded with dragonleather, greatwood, and the rare metal of infernianite from the depths of the earth by the finest blacksmiths. The rich shade of golden-brown compliments the red velvet cushion. The man’s comfortableness drapes over the throne — elbows on rests, and one leg crossed over the other. Thin face pulled taut and long scarlet hair slicked back, in his hand is a gold coin in which he rolls between his nimble fingers.
The chamber door creaks open from behind, but his monolid eyes don’t waver from the window. He simply continues to roll the coin.
“Lord Jiyong,” a deep voice greets, breaking the silence.
“What is it, Commander Hanbin?”
“An update about the Earth tribe.”
Jiyong’s eyes look away from the window to appraise his black nail polish and thick silver rings. “What about them?”
“They have fallen.”
The coin pauses between his thumb and index finger. The dim lighting of the candle on his desk reflects on the metal, defining the engraved dragon and intricate symbols etched along the edge.
“How? Did the Air tribe attack? So soon?”
“No, as strange as it sounds.” Hanbin chuckles. “It wasn’t the Air tribe. It was one of their own.”
Jiyong turns his chin to his shoulder — not enough to meet eyes with the Commander, but enough to convey his undivided attention. “What makes you say that?”
“Remember that shaking from a few days back that caused the minor flood at the docks? I sent a vanguard to investigate the source, and they found a fault line at the mainland’s shore that grew only bigger when they ventured deeper into the forest. They followed it to where the Earths lived and even the mightiest of oaks had cracked in half. A slaughter, really.” Hanbin shudders. “Blood everywhere. Homes collapsed. The village was in complete devastation and ruin. We don’t know if there are any survivors; if there are, they are long gone. Only a monster could do such a thing, to their own tribe at that.”
Jiyong lets the coin slip from his fingertips into his palm, clasping it shut. The gold is cool on his skin. “It’s been a long time since an Earth could unleash power of that kind. The last time I’ve witnessed such power was one hundred and fifty-six years ago.”
“Do you think it’s the Phantom’s shadows? They always seem to be able to find a host, but all the tribes came to a consensus to get rid of any potential host as soon as possible before they manifest any stronger.”
Jiyong purses his lips. “Has the Earths been hiding them all this time? I’m surprised Seunghyun didn’t have them executed the second they were born — you’d think he would, considering the Earths’ history with power like that and knowing what they’re capable of. The only way he wouldn’t is if his village protested it; he was always softer than the others, his leadership was his downfall. At least that’s one less obstacle in our way.” He taps his foot, the steel of his heel echoing within the stone walls. “I think it will be in our best interest to find this rogue Earth. Who’s to say they won’t destroy the entire world? It’s concerning that there is such a powerful individual on the loose. We have to kill them before they cause any more damage. The Airs will certainly be on the lookout too.”
“But we have a powerful individual of our own now.”
Jiyong sits up straight. “The Water tribe agreed to the negotiation?”
Hanbin nods. “My company is escorting the girl as of now. She should arrive by the next noon.”
“And you made sure it’s the girl? That they didn’t pull any tricks? As if they’d pull any tricks — that’s insulting to their sense of honor. But we can never be too careful.”
“It’s the girl. Mino confirmed it; her neck is branded with the Tree of the Universe, right under the junction between her jaw and left ear.”
Jiyong exhales and smiles. “It’s finally time to awaken it. And with it we can finally harness the power of the Universe.” He stands from his seat and crosses his hands behind his back, the silk of his cloak pushed behind his dragonscale armor. “Can you imagine how untouchable the Fire tribe will become? The world has no choice but to bow down at our feet. Especially those,” he clicks his tongue, “Airs.”
“Do you think it’s true?” Hanbin asks, albeit quietly. “The legend?”
“Do you think this is some children’s story?”
“No, my Lord. Forgive me for any offense, but a gate to other universes — it’s hard to wrap my head around.”
“Then wrap it,” Jiyong snaps. He turns on his heel to face the Commander who adorns the same armor, but in a lesser grander style, with his scarlet hair parted in the middle. “We’ve been doing this research for centuries. News is bound to spread. The Airs will surely find out; they might already know. We need to proceed with this ceremony as soon as possible.”
“The Oracle says the ingredients will be ready in a week’s time.”
Jiyong hisses, “So be it. A week it shall. In the meantime, make sure everyone is prepared for a potential attack. You may take your leave.”
Hanbin turns around, then pauses. “If I may ask, who will be keeping watch on the girl?”
“Who do you think should keep watch?”
“Yes,” Jiyong nods. “You are also Dean of the Warriors Academy, correct?”
“That is correct.”
“And aren't there those Heads of each house? Those are the most promising students, I’ve heard.”
“Perfect. Choose who you think is best fit for the job. It’d be a good opportunity for them to learn.”
“A student, though?” Hanbin shuffles his feet. “They are still young. They haven’t even stepped foot into a real battle yet.”
“That makes them easier to mold,” Jiyong says. “And they will soon. Make sure to prepare them well. They are our future.”
Hanbin purses his lips, yet bows. His doubt lingers in the air even after the chamber door groans closed. At least he is wise enough to know when to keep his words to himself. Once the room is silent, the Lord returns to the window, admiring the mass of volcanic islands, and proceeds to roll the coin between his fingers.