Back at Auland's battlefield, the sunlight had once again broken through the dark clouds. As the sun shined down on the battlefield, sounds of cheering filled the battlefield.
The endless torrential rains, which had washed away the humans' hope, stopped. The floods that covered the capital dispersed. When the Evil God's priests were no longer able to hear the summons of their master, the Queen of Storms, the Sea Tribe collapsed and fled even faster than expected.
After tossing their weapons into the air, the human warriors tossed themselves down onto the muddy ground and laid there enjoying the simple feeling of having survived. Not far away on the streets of New Kagersi, elderly folk hobbled out of their homes and gazed at the sunlight they hadn't seen in several years. The joy of victory filled everyone's hearts.
Although the humans had won this battle, few among them would wonder why the clouds dispersed so quickly or why the Sea Tribe's priests had suddenly lost their powers and Divine Arts.
"Emperor Darsos brought us this victory!"
Floating battleships marked with the royal emblem of Auland slowly passed through the skies. Damaged and burnt black from the battle, these battleships became the representation of accolades and a mythic victory.
The humans only knew that their young Emperor Darsos had led them in reclaiming their capital, making Darsos' renown, at this moment, exceed that of any other emperor in Auland's history.
In a corner of the battlefield, those who had actually made all of this possible were preparing to harvest the true goal of this battle: the victory loot, the defeated True God!
"Is it time?"
Despite the mud everywhere, Ayer's white robe remained unblemished. Collapsed on the ground next to him was a giant blue-skinned woman. Now near death, her former insanity had reduced, and her always angry and dissatisfied expression had now eased itself. She even appeared to be a wild and beautiful tsundere.
"Tsk—tsk—tsk—she really is quite beautiful as long as she shuts her mouth."
The black-haired, black-eyed Lord of Despair's most annoying habit was probably how he loved to toy with his prey. He teased the Queen of Storms, hoping she would resist some more or even self-destruct herself.
But unfortunately she had been ambushed by these two Main God-level existences, who had gone all out—she could now barely breathe. She wasn't even capable of responding anymore.
From a certain standpoint, the Queen of Storm's fate had been decided the moment Aylos chose to sacrifice herself.
It could be considered a glorious honor that the Queen of Storms, who became a powerful God simply through her gambles, ended up being schemed against by two Main God-level existences along with countless others.
An attack against Rain City was the lure to bring in her incarnation. Shaking her believers' faith to the foundation would drive her to the brink. The Lord of Despair's highest-level domain of despair would cause her to become frustrated and make the worst possible decision. She ended up descending in her true body, which Ayer and the Lord of Despair, Heimor, had been waiting for. The moment she descended in her true body, she was instantly ambushed and defeated. The Queen of Storms' meteoric rise and fall in power was destined to be a classic example for history books of the future.
Of course, even if she didn't fall for the trap, her end would still be the same. It would just be that after the Sea Tribe were defeated and ran away, Ayer and Heimor would directly attack her Divine Kingdom and defeat her there. Of course, that would have a higher associated cost to it.
That's why the Queen of Storm's death was inevitable from the moment Aylos agreed to make the trade with the Ayer Faction.
However, Ayer wasn't happy in the slightest despite being the victor in this battle between Gods. His handsome face even appeared rather melancholy and blank.
Heimor, who was quite familiar with Ayer, was rather astonished to see such an expression. What in the world could give difficulties to Ayer, who he viewed to be capable of anything?
"Boss Ayer? What's the matter? Is there some other God scheming against us right now?"
Ayer didn't intend to explain anything to him, though. He simply glanced at the sunlight peeking through the clouds and heaved a heavy sigh.
When did this storm, destined to cover the entire world, really begin?
The first scheme probably started on the River Styx with the duel between the lich and the Death God.
This duel was utterly unequal from the very start. The Death God was from the oldest generation. He had experienced countless generations and was the very symbol of what it meant to be undying. As he was the guardian of the Cycle of Reincarnation, when the order of the River Styx he guarded was disrupted, he would be capable of using his true body on the River Styx. Plus, he had the dual support and boons of both Order and Chaos, so even three or four Main Gods allying against him would be incapable of doing anything to the Cycle of Reincarnation.
In fact, such events had indeed occurred before. Some powerful Evil Gods desired more power and came to seek for the most foundational secrets of all along this river of souls. The end result for such Evil Gods, however, was that the Death God stole away their futures.
Meanwhile, the Death God's lich opponent had achieved the peak of mortals. The undying crown, which would only appear once every several thousand years in the mortal plane, was the best evidence of his extraordinariness. But no matter how extraordinary he was, he was still within the realm of mortals. The lich's strongest powers of forbidden spells and undead armies were worthless in front of the Death God.
The difference between the newest lich king and the most ancient Death God was like the difference between an ant and a dragon. And it was precisely this incredibly unequal duel that planted the seeds which would change the world.
"…I don't know why I went easy that time."
Perhaps it was because Ayer had seen Roland's familiar face multiple times in the River Styx. Perhaps Ayer was somewhat sympathetic to his "junior's" pitiful fate. Perhaps Ayer wanted to know what Roland wanted to do at the cost of destroying the Cycle of Reincarnation. Even Ayer himself didn't understand why he went easy on Roland that time as he was more than capable of defeating Roland with a single hit. Instead, Ayer went easy and gave Roland the chance to speak.
"…I have a plan. I have a plan that can truly stop the eternal Holy War. Would you happen to be interested?"
Even now, Ayer could recall the cracks on the lich's phylactery and how the soulfire in the skull seemed like it would go out at any moment. Yet that soul, which struggled to survive, was unafraid and didn't beg for its life. Roland simply spoke about his astonishing scheme that seemed like an impossible fantasy to realize.
"From the very foundation, the sides of Chaos and Order in this Holy War are like two polar opposite political ideologies. Even without regards to Chaos and Order's natural born will and incompatible attributes, they'll still instinctively want to destroy the other. To stabilize the world, the political system has to be changed into a system with more than two parties. There needs to be a minimum of three, and the more the better. That's right—we need a neutral party. And you are the only one capable of doing it…"
At the very beginning, Ayer had been bored and just wanted to amuse himself. He could pass some time by hearing what this sly lich would try to say in order to convince Ayer to let him go.
That's right. Ayer's first impression of Roland was a clown trying to use sophistry to save his own life.
"…We need a new True God. He doesn't need to be particularly powerful. However, he needs to make judgements that everyone will recognize as absolutely fair. We also need a new Hell, which will take the place of the current Cycle of Reincarnation…
"…The current Gods' teachings benefit only themselves. Since spending money and sucking up to the Gods and their churches can help people ascend to heaven, so-called teaching people to be kind is nothing more than a joke. And in order to further eliminate the possibility of war, we can spread new teachings that only pure kindness will be allowed into heaven, while true courageous warriors who die for the sake of justice will enter an eternal heroic spirit temple. Meanwhile, villains will wail in pain as they are tortured for their crimes in Hell…"
Next, secrets that even Main Gods wouldn't know about were revealed by this particular lich. Not only was Roland utterly disrespectful towards the True Gods, he even understood many secrets about the Creator Goddess.
The most ridiculous part was that even though he was clearly an evil lich king—the equivalent of a demon king that all lives would hate—he talked about a world belonging to mortals and how kindness and evil should receive just desserts. It would have been fine if he was just making things up, but Ayer could sense that Roland was telling the truth, that Roland had thought long and hard about this topic.
This went against the world's common sense. There was actually a good lich worried about the people? Was the lich insane, or was the world insane?
Perhaps it was due to Ayer's curiosity that he finished listening to the lich's insane plan.
"This sounds rather amusing. But how will you get me to believe your sincerity?"
As the most ancient Death God, Ayer wasn't someone who could be convinced through words alone. No matter how beautiful Roland made his plan sound, the plan was far too insane and had too low a probability of success. Ayer viewed this all as a roundabout method to plea to him to spare Roland's life.
Yet the lich laughed upon hearing this. The soulfire in his skull shook, expressing the emotion of delight. Was he so delighted to simply state his planned scheme out loud? Was that enough of a victory for him? Ayer got even more curious after seeing this.
"…According to the rules you abide by as the guardian of the Cycle of Reincarnation, are you going to kill me?"
The lich laughed, unmistakably and loudly.
After he finished laughing, the lich inserted his cracked sword into the ground, using a soul summoning spell on his own phylactery. Black mist twirled around his indestructible holy sword, a sign the lich's soul was collapsing.
After a sharp sound, cracks filled the lich's phylactery. It became meaningless as it would no longer be capable of protecting the soul it was supposed to. Roland was destined to die here.
"I'll give you my very life. How's that for sincerity?"
And so Roland used his death in that life to obtain a chance: the opportunity to speak to Ayer as an equal. Although Ayer helped seal the phylactery in the end, giving Roland enough time to deal with "affairs after his death," Ayer didn't actually think much of all this back in the day.
"It's too difficult to accomplish…"
That's right. It was indeed far too difficult to accomplish. Being able to singlehandedly create a new power of Order and a brand-new Divine Concept? That was at the level of the God of Holy Light's achievements back when he was still a human. And being able to meet such requirements was merely the beginning to this grand scheme.
Ayer simply rowed his boat quietly on the River Styx and soon forgot about this plan.
But then he received news that Roland had died.
"Ha! Mortals are too weak. He was so ambitious, wanting to change the world despite his weakness?"
Ayer felt some pity as he exclaimed out loud and shook his head. But soon his pity turned into astonishment.
"Eh? What a youngster. He actually managed to pull the wool over my eyes."
That's right. The Roland from that year had truly died. However, Roland had made his move in the River Styx and successfully fooled the Death God. He had successfully crawled out of the River Styx after falling in!
And as Ayer watched from the side with ambiguous emotions, he witnessed how Margaret and Adam arrived to hunt Roland down by the River Styx. And that was how the Undying Roland came to be sealed away in the Underground. As for whether these two heroes had actually received a hint to Roland's location from that Death God? That was unknown except to the parties involved.
Still, from a certain standpoint, the sly Roland received Ayer's recognition because of it. At the very least, after Ayer discovered that the lich was still living quite fine in the Underground, Ayer visited from time to time just to chat. Since Ayer had "few friends, and even fewer enemies (all his enemies were dead)," this was rare for him to do.
But Ayer never thought much about Roland's "grand scheme," forgetting about it entirely, until a certain day…