(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
William was dumbfounded. That mysterious old foreigner was only here a moment ago, yet now, he had vanished without a trace. It wasn’t like they were in the middle of the moonless night; the late autumn sky was clear and blue, the sun shining down brightly on the world. The visibility was better than good, even.
Not to mention, they were quite literally many many yards away from anywhere remotely possible to hide in. A mangrove of trees were at least dozens of feet away and there was just no way anyone could move that fast. Just no way in hell, thought William. Unless Invocation was involved.
But even then, that didn’t make any sense. To cast an Invocation spell, one would need to chant the Requisite Words. That took time regardless of how shortened it was. Plus, appropriate Aeterna Elements had to be wielded. With William’s trained eyes and highly attuned senses, detecting that subtle, invisible shift in the atmosphere wouldn’t be too difficult.
Yet the old man was gone. No matter how hard he searched, he saw no proof that he was indeed talking to someone a minute ago.
William’s face became a shade darker. If what that old foreigner said was true, then it was quite a blunder. There was no reason to believe every random stranger that came up to him but it paid to be cautious, especially in his line of work. He had to alert his comrades as soon as possible.
“Sir William, what is it? Is there something wrong?”
Derrick asked as he emerged from the front door of the double story house.
William hid his complicated expression and turned to see his current quarry, shaking his head a bit. “No, Sir Derrick. I thought there was an unknown presence here but it seems I’ve raised a false alarm.”
Derrick frowned as he felt there was something strange going on here, but held back his questions for now, instead choosing to simply nod. “Very well. Shall we return to the office? I still require your expertise in correctly calculating the crop yield projections for the next three years.”
Sheathing his sword back in the scabbard, William slowly walked back. His face was as same as always, cold and detached and disinterested, but inwardly his mind was churning at a great speed, deciding on what needed to be done.
He’d have to find a way to get the words out, which wasn’t difficult as he possessed a short-range communication crystal. But as for making sure that no one would overhear the contents, now that might take some imagination on his part.
After all, he was here to watch Derrick Septima Lomax, to make sure that he may never become a future threat to the grand plans of the organization.
He was about half way to the entrance when a sudden flash of light in the skies above the city of Lafayette caught his eye. It was very brief, and by the time he turned his gaze towards the direction where it came from, he couldn’t see anything anymore.
“A flare from the sun….?”
Narrowing his eyes, William studied the blue, cloudless sky, wondering whether he was going insane or not. He spent some time searching. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to miss it, like he did with the old foreigner.
Noticing that William hadn’t entered the house yet, and rather spending the time observing the sky, Derrick followed suit and gazed outside as well, wondering what was so important as to draw the attention of normally cold and detached person like the young Sir Fordham Wincaster.
As if to reward their curiosity, there was another flash, slightly brighter than before. Also, it lasted a smidgen longer too, allowing both of them to track the origin of this light.
William brought his hand up to shield the eyes from the sun’s glare and concentrated. Just as he was getting accustomed to the distance, a bright light shot out like an extending rainbow, and an insanely large explosion rocked the landscape, blinding him completely.
Captain Giles yawned loudly as a glint of teardrops formed at the corners of his eyes. The boredom was killing him.
He was currently manning his post as the boss-man of the Southern Gate for his city, Lafayette, the job he’d been doing for the better part of a decade. First as a mere grunt, a poorly-paid foot soldier with no benefits. But now? He had successfully climbed the hierarchy. He had a platoon of men under him, following his orders like clockwork. His pay was good. People recognized him, respected him.
He had made it, in other words.
Wiping away the tears as discreetly as possible, Giles swept his gaze over at the queues of people waiting to enter his city. His underlings – soldiers under his command – was busy performing the entrance procedures on the new arrivals, explaining things, taking the Truth Boards and getting them registered.
Back when he started out, that was Giles’s Job. Well, not anymore. As the captain, he had little to do currently other than to look important. Sure, there were a few ruffians chancing their luck trying to enter the city but hell, his unit operated like a well-oiled Sky Ark. Or should that be well-Aeterna-ed? Whatever, none of those idiots knew what hit them.
Funny thing, though, was that nowadays he had more people “initially” leaving the city via his Gate rather than the other way round. Those leaving came by Sky Arks, headed for the rest of the provinces for god-knows-what businesses of theirs. Giles wasn’t too terribly interested in them, obviously. As long as his city was safe and sound, especially for his fledgling family, all was well.
“Captain, you see that?”
A rookie recruit came over to where Giles was standing and pointed at a caravan that was waiting in a queue some distance away. This young man was a son of some local bigwig or another; Giles was told by his superiors to make the boy comfortable if possible. What a bother that was.
“What about it?”
Hiding his slight irritation at his young charge, Giles asked.
“That caravan…. isn’t that too big to be a normal sort of caravan for farmers, Captain? Shouldn’t that line up where the merchants go? It’s definitely too suspicious, sir.”
Giles chuckled bemusedly. “Well, my overeager subordinate, there could be many reasons why that is so. Maybe the owner of the caravan is new to the city and doesn’t know the rules. Maybe it is not a merchant’s caravan. Maybe, it’s packed full of city-raiding bandits!!”
The young soldier frowned at Giles’s attempt at light humor. “But sir, it could be important!!”
“Well, maybe.” Giles slowly scratched his stubble, contemplating with a sigh. After a short while, he decided on the next course of action. “Oh alright. Go with a couple of guys and check it out, if it bothers you that much. Hey, Hannigan, Ruperse!! Go with this guy here and check that caravan at the back.”
Giles didn’t see problems with allaying the fears of the rookie. Everything he did, people he came in contact with, all of that would become a foundation to become a better soldier in the future. So, no loss in checking out something that might be suspicious from a glance.
The young guard nodded, his face bright. He immediately joined the senior guardsmen and headed to the caravan in question. Seeing the back of this eager young man, Giles sighed wryly. Once upon a time, he was just like that, wanting to make a name for himself. All to get a promotion faster and prove that he was indeed a jewel in the rough, simply waiting for a much-deserved recognition.
After advancing through the ranks at no different pace than his colleagues, he had come to a realization, though. And that was….
He was not that special after all. A crushing disappointment, that. A blow to the self-esteem. A low blow, too.
Because of his pursuit, his goal, he ended up getting married pretty late in his life. His daughter was still a mulling baby, while his friends had all gone and became fathers of multiple children, settled households, respectable members of society and all that grown-up stuff.
Giles, after realizing his folly, also became a lot more mellow. Nowadays, he was quite content with his post, his salary, and with his sphere of influence.
He smiled wryly once more, thinking that if his past self looked at him now, he’d get a rude shock to the system. How people change, faced with the inevitable, constant and ceaseless flow of time.
“Oh, it’s Captain Giles.”
A familiar voice called his name out so Giles turned to face the origin. A band of Adventurers, numbering a dozen heads and equipped for a journey of some length, was about set off, horses and a caravan packed with supplies alongside them. Their leader had recognized Giles and was calling out to him.
Giles waved his hand. “Phil. You’re heading out?”
Philander Cosier, the Adventurer who belonged to the same guild as Damien, approached the captain and shook his hand briefly. “Yes, a search and rescue op just came in. We’ll be gone for a few days.”
“Mmm. I wish you luck, Phil. Your men, too. I hear there’s some sort of outbreak of low-level Fiends down by the South? By the Sanctity Pass, was it?”
Phil nodded. “Yes, we’re heading there, predictably. We’ll be careful.”
As the two men spoke, both of them felt a sudden chill creep up on their skin. All the hairs on their bodies were standing up.
Giles frowned and grabbed the hilt of his longsword. He hadn’t had to draw it too many times in this line of work, but he sure felt like unsheathing it right now. It was the same for the seasoned Adventurers. Phil had already drawn his weapon, searching for the origin of this aura.
An aura of deadly threat bore down on everyone on the ground, making the normal, untrained civilians to shudder and faint in fear.
There was a muffled grumble from above their heads, so both Giles and Phil hurriedly looked up. It was at that moment a brilliant flash of light blinded them all.
The Old Man left confused William behind and took to the sky toward the city of Lafayette, making a straight beeline at the unknown creature. His plan hadn’t changed – he still needed to kill that thing before it somehow latched onto the boy’s life signature, his Aeterna presence, whatever it was these false gods used to track their prey.
He used ch’i to basically cancel his weight acting against the air molecule, thus enabling him to run on air, which, outwardly at least, looked like he was actually flying. Might as well – his speed was terrifying to behold. As fast as a bullet train, as sharp as a glint of a finely honed katana; all his movements redefined the term “awe-inspiring.”
In a flash, he had crossed the gap between the skies of Riverfield and the city of Lafayette. However, his rapid approach didn’t go unnoticed. The strange creature, its nearly-black and almost illusory body that was constantly flickering in its shape, turned towards the Old Man, and began radiating a chilling aura of death.
Having fought and survived countless battles involving powerful adversaries, the Old Man could sense its hostilities right away and so, he stopped a good dozen meters or so before the creature.
What puzzled him, though, was the reasons for it to hover in the air over this particular city for weeks. As far as he could tell, Lafayette, while large and bustling, didn’t seem all that remarkable. Yet there was something here that attracted the creature.
And whatever it was, it must have proved to be elusive as well, since the creature was simply going around in circles, as if it was trying to pinpoint the faintest of faint scents left behind by its prey.
Before deciding to confront it, the Old Man did observe it via his Yi Hai but honestly, he could not figure this out. According to his cowardly disciple, he had only ever been to Lafayette once for a brief period of time. So, his….scent would not have pervaded the streets and the buildings of this city.
If then, what could be the reason for the creature to stay doggedly behind, circling around like that tiny piece of crap refusing to flush down the toilet no matter how many times you try?
As soon as the creature reacted to his presence, the Old Man had to abandon his thoughts on unraveling the mystery, at least for now. Him coming out of this encounter alive and largely unhurt was far more important.
The current him was far too weakened, as shameful as it was to admit. Still, he would not be a man if he let a challenge go begging, even if it was due to misplaced pride, maybe even that of a martial artist’s ego.
The Old Man slowly neared the creature, noticing its lone violet-colored pupil turning to place his image in its eye. He felt a chilling sensation, a premonition of some sort of deadly crisis looming ever so largely.
Instinctively, he stopped his approach and raised his guards up, reinforcing his body, both internally and externally with a simple technique called Soul Defense. It was a skill that was exactly opposite in nature as the Soul Crusher, intended to perform the exact opposite purposes. And it could be done faster than the speed of light.
The moment he got his dukes up, there was an enormous explosion of Aeterna-infused energy. When the shock waves slammed into the Old Man, his facial expression grimly flickered for a second, before returning to a calm one.
With just this amount, the Old Man wouldn’t be harmed but more importantly, the same couldn’t be said for the people living below. He was not heartless enough to fight over the skies of a heavily populated city. Otherwise, the collateral damage would be a no laughing matter. A price that not even he was willing to pay.
He thought about a way to draw its sole attention to himself. With him withstanding this initial attack, he was successful. All that’s left was to draw it away, far, far from here where he could then cut loose.
So, as far as the first attack was concerned, he’d give that one to his opponent. Just that, he didn’t expect it to hit him so hard right off of the bat.
Once the flash of light subsided, the Old Man emerged, unscathed. He flicked his sleeves as if he was annoyed, and stroked his beard nonchalantly as if he was contemplating the directions of the passing wind.
“Hmph. I don’t know who your master is, but how rude. If you want to throw down, I welcome it, but you should learn to discern the level of your opponents first, lest you get beaten black and blue!!”
The Old Man infused ch’i to his voice and spoke out. He didn’t care whether the creature could understand him or not, as long as the crux of his message was transmitted.
The creature trembled and its single eye narrowed as if it was assessing the current situation.
Seeing this, the Old Man smiled imperceptibly. It did seem to possess a decent level of intelligence, which would certainly make this battle a bit more…. exciting for him. Well, a deadly type of excitement, to be precise.
“Come. This battle is inevitable. You are an eyesore and I shall eradicate you, ridding this world of an unneeded headache. As simple as that.”
The Old Man beckoned it, his facial expression one of imperiousness. The creature frowned, quite clearly unhappy at the Old Man. However, there was a small but definite change in the direction of its attention before things could develop further.
The Old Man’s face fell when he saw this. Something had snatched the attention he had brought upon himself. As to what that was, he didn’t know.
The creature then made an unreadable expression. Via his powerful perception, the Old Man felt a sudden spike in the creature’s aura.
It was incredibly fast, the way this spike happened. Not even he could react quickly enough. That spike caused another Aeterna explosion to ring out, but this one was several times more vicious and deadly compared to the previous blast. Good thing, then, that he kept his defenses up, never slacking it, not even once.
Mere moments before that sudden, unexplainable spike in the creature’s power, Kain was confronting the mysterious sarcophagus that was about to open up and reveal its contents.
The atmosphere inside the mural chamber was fast becoming rather like that of a horror movie. Menacing, buzzing bits of reddish-black electricity arced all around the black sarcophagus, as the mechanical noises of things unlocking intensified.
Kain’s face had lost all colors for some time now. Instead, it was quickly becoming pale blue from the lack of oxygen as he forgot to breathe. He was worried that by inhaling he might make too much noise and draw the attentions of the robotic bronze statues that were eyeing the sarcophagus with intensely hostile gazes. If the looks could kill, then those could definitely murder a whole bunch without even trying.
Kain frantically stabbed the control panel with his fingers, hoping to create a miracle. Either opening the doors or at least stopping the whole unlocking shenanigans happening before him would qualify as one.
His Aeterna vision was showing him that the tightly coiled energy of the black sphere inside was slowly unfurling like the wings of a devil, matching the speed of the sarcophagus’s lid opening up. The process was very mechanical, kinda reminding him of the casket from the movie Stargate, except that it was far more unsettling than that of the cinematic masterpiece. That’s a personal opinion, of course.
The bronze statues began to take stances that looked even more threatening than before, almost getting ready to pounce with their weapons firmly pointing at the sarcophagus. The lid, and indeed the whole black box, lurched and creaked. Like an oversized origami puzzle, the whole thing unfurled methodically.
The black light of unknown Aeterna intensified, spreading its overwhelmingly negative aura around the chamber. Kain swore that for a second there, he thought the walls were melting from the intense energy fluctuation emitted by the black sphere.
His own Aeterna Pool undulated violently. It seethed and became increasingly difficult to keep it under conscious control. It simply wanted to go on a rampage, leave his body and meld into that sphere. Quite frankly, that thought terrified him even more.
Emma was busy shouting from the other side of the unmoving door. She was doing all sorts of things as well, but Kain could barely hear her muffled words through the walls. The black Aeterna light was gradually drowning out all the other sounds in the mural chamber, and it was getting harder to even hear his own thoughts at this rate.
Almost instinctively, Kain began rotating ch’i through his meridians. To his relief, he found that the intense pressure weighing down on him lessened immediately, allowing him to breathe in and out for the first time in what surely felt like in years.
Encouraged by the result of this unexpected lucky happenstance, Kain continued to cycle what little ch’i he had in his system. The result was that his Shang activated too, and allowed him to peek even deeper into the black sphere.
And inside it…. he saw a silhouette of a person, in a fetal position. It was black too, and the source of all that black Aeterna was this…. thing.
Kain felt a huge dollop of chill run down his spine when this black figure slowly raised its head and stared at him directly. Which was funny, considering that there was the matter of still-opening sarcophagus between him and it.
Oh, crap. I gotta get out of this place, ASAP!! What the hell is that thing anyway??
Kain redoubled his efforts in trying to open the reticent door. He stabbed the panel until his fingers were aching from the pain. It was not working at all.
“Oh, c’mon, gimme a freaking break already!!”
Kain shouted out aloud, no longer caring whether the statues noticed him or not. He then formed a fist and punched the panel as hard as he could out of sheer frustration.
The panel’s surface cracked and hissed meekly. The “ERROR” sign flickered on the display like a dying candle before whizzing off completely. Now, the panel was dead for good.
Kain cursed inwardly and was this close to trying out a Soul Crusher fist attack out of desperation when he felt the chill on his back intensify greatly. His senses screamed at him, telling him that a monster of unimaginable horror was about to wake up. All thanks to him pressing a few wrong buttons in a poorly-designed laboratory from the past that was already suffering from the lack of TLC.
This just felt so damn unfair, really, when he thought about it very, very briefly.
The sarcophagus began collapsing on itself, the origami puzzle now fully unlocked. And with all that dramatic unveiling, the black sphere was finally revealed to the world – or, at least, to this large mural chamber’s audience.
Oddly enough, it was not black as he initially thought. No, it was gold. And shaped like an egg, too. What’s even more puzzling was that the whole thing was no bigger than Kain was. It shone with an utterly magnificent, brilliant golden light, which was completely different from what he saw before.
Such a spectacle couldn’t fool Kain’s fast-developing senses. Through the Aeterna vision, he saw the intensity of the black light increase, to a point where now it began to manifest in reality as well, melting with the golden beam and thus turning into a violet hue. Meanwhile, via Shang, he saw the black figure slowly moving from inside the egg-shaped sphere. And it was still looking at Kain, although the terrified boy couldn’t tell what the creature or the thing was thinking of.
The egg was covered in Invocation circles and arrays, and at a cursory glance, an experienced Invoker would be able to tell that all of them were meant to seal away whatever was locked inside.
But, for some reason, those seals were getting weaker and weaker by the second. Even Kain could see that the flows of Aeterna around those arrays were markedly getting chaotic as the violet light grew harsher and harsher.
Outside the chamber, even Emma was affected by the powerful aura. Her face lost all color, shocked at this emission of terrifying energy that possessed enough malice to unsettle the influence of Nature Divine Spirits’s blessings cast on her.
She redoubled her own efforts to open the locked door, now launching proper attacks with weapons and items available on her person. The door, made out of the advanced alloy that combined titanium and a small amount of highly-refined Mythril, didn’t even budge.
The golden egg slowly floated up in the air, and as if shaking off a layer of dust, it trembled gently. The arcane letters, symbols, and lines of the various Invocation arrays and circles drawn on the surface crumbled, sliding off the surface like fine grains of desert sand and fell on the bottom of the sarcophagus, finally dissipating like a wisp of a cigar smoke.
The egg continued to tremble, as cracks appeared on the surface, one by one. At first, it was just one, then it became two, then three, four, eight, twenty, hundred…. Soon, cracks covered its entirety. The violet light grew so overwhelming that Kain could barely keep his eyes open. If it weren’t for his ch’i helping him, he’d go blind from the exposure to the blinding light for too long.
The eggshell melted away, and a small figure finally emerged from it, emitting a dense, brilliant violet light. Its proportions were that of a fit adult man but funnily enough, it was quite small, like a Hobbit. However, that was not important. What was important, was the identity of the thing.
Kain blinked several times, just to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.
The small figure, who now stood in the air with a proud stance, a sneer of contempt plastered all over his face which was directed at the twelve bronze statues surrounding him, looked exactly like the young, gallant hero depicted in the mural. Apart from the weird smallness of his physique, that was. Even the heroic full body golden armor was the same as the mural.
However, the aura oozing from this guy was nowhere near nice and hero-like, as it was in the mural. If anything, it was of pure arrogance, surely unfitting of a leader of men.
There was something else that Kain noticed on this mini knight. Rather than a pair of normal, regular irides he had a pair of spooky violet-colored eyes. They shone with a cold gleam, surveying the statues as if baiting the bronze giants on to making the first move. And move they did.
The bronze statue of an Amazon-esque woman attacked first. She held a long spear with a sharp and narrow spearhead that was actually longer than the body of the spear itself.
The pointy weapon shot forward at a break-neck pace. The mini-knight slanted his head to left, dodging the thrust by mere millimeters. Almost at the same time, the bronze statue with a giant halberd swung his weapon down with a fearsome momentum.
The mini-knight spun on his heels, letting the halberd slice the air where he used to be a blink of an eye ago. The third statue with a trident also thrust out his three-pronged weapon but the knight, with a sneer of contempt lightly jumped on the spot and twisted in the air, narrowly escaping the trajectory of the weapon.
All this happened so fast that a normal person would not have followed the action with naked eyes. Only someone like Kain, who had his perceptions greatly enhanced with Shang, could barely keep up.
The other statues pounced forward. The mini-knight was caught in the air, and he had to fend off the incoming attacks rather than simply dodging them.
The mini knight used his bare hands to deflect and block the attacks, but whether due to conceit or the sheer level of skills of the statues, some of the weapons made their way past his seemingly impeccable defenses.
A spear gouged a chunk of the knight’s side; another, an arrow as thick as a baby’s forearm slammed into the knight’s chest. A spear with Naginata-like blade sliced past the left arm of the knight, nearly severing it. A long sword pierced the stomach area while yet another polearm targeted the open back, successfully penetrating beyond the protection offered by the golden armor.
Those weapons were massive even when looked at from a normal perspective, so when they struck the mini-knight, they looked comically out of proportions. It was a small miracle as to how the knight withstood the impact of all those weapons.
The look of contempt was replaced by the one of outrage, as the knight shrieked in a high-pitched scream that no living human being could make. Kain felt his consciousness shake as the soundwaves of the scream reached his eardrums.
It was a hell of a vicious scream, seemingly borne out of pure, unadulterated hatred towards his enemies, rooted deeply inside the knight’s core. The shrill scream pushed back the bronze statues off their feet, leaving behind the weapons stuck in the knight’s body.
And as the statues stumbled backward, they could not launch the second volley of attacks. This breathing room allowed the knight to suddenly explode with a surge of power, his size expanding immediately.
It only took the amount of time needed for a single breath; the mini-knight became a full-sized knight that quickly. Not even skipping a beat, the knight then grabbed the arrow still stuck in his chest and yanked it out, a stream of violet liquid jetting out from the open wound. Quite dramatic to look at, actually.
The knight then turned his head once more towards Kain and stretched his remaining hand out. He opened his bloodied mouth and spoke, but no sound came out. However, a booming voice reverberated in the boy’s mind.
The knight screamed in a weirdly digitized voice. Kain’s Aeterna Pool churned even more violently, trying to escape from his control, out of his body and straight into the knight’s grasp.
Kain knew instinctively that if he allowed his Pool to abandon him, then he’d surely die here. Obviously, he would not let that happen without a fight.
He immediately circulated almost all of his ch’i stored in Xia, not caring about the fact that if he was not careful in his control via Zhong, his body might implode. This was the only way he knew right now on how to counteract the overwhelming difference in controlling the flow of Aeterna that existed between him and the knight.
Still, his accumulated ch’i was not enough. It was, for a lack of suitable words, too thin. Plus, his control of the energy itself was not good. Inevitably, all these resulted in his Aeterna Pool draining away.
The moment his Aeterna entered the knight’s body, his vitality rapidly rocketed up. With a roar, he sent out a powerful pulse of pure, violet-colored energy out. At the same time, a small ripple broke away from this violent energy, heading out of the chamber.
And this energy crossed hundreds of miles in a flash, punching through the time and space like a jet-black arrow. It headed towards the black creature currently engaged in a mortal combat with the Old Man over the skies of Lafayette.
When that small, almost imperceptible energy entered the creature, it reacted with a delight. Because, for the first time since it entered this realm, it had finally found the location of its target, the boy with the shared bloodlines from one of the Original Sinners and that of a Fallen Battle Maiden.
It calculated that there was no longer time to waste here, even though it sensed a minute amount of the Dimensional Gate Dial’s aura over this city of mortals. After it had found and secured the boy, it would return and seek the artifact out. Mere mortals of this Realm lacked the qualifications to hold such a dangerous item, as far as it was concerned.
But first, it needed to eliminate the powerful human in front of it. Thus, it decided not to hold back and let out the most powerful burst of energy it could afford without completely depleting its own reserves.
That was the reason why the second explosion was far more vicious and grand in scale.
The aftermath of the attack left a crater the width of several football fields and the depths best measured in nautical miles over Lafayette’s residential area. It was quite obvious from even a cursory glance that there wouldn’t be any survivors from this devastating attack.
Even the Old Man was left wounded, albeit only with superficial scratches that didn’t hinder his abilities to fight.
However, that didn’t mean he was enjoying a pleasant day out, feeling all nice and happy. Nope.
Right now. he was royally pissed off. His white robe was in tatters, revealing lean but tautly muscled torso that was full of minute scars and burn marks from the battles of the past.
He was pissed because he dawdled for too long and people unrelated to this matter paid the ultimate price for it. He was pissed that he’d become this weak and feeble, unable to even counteract the simple attack of this third-rate creature. He was pissed off because the very same weak-ass monster looked down on him and tried to kill him with such a rubbish, unfocused blast. A proverbial slap in the face, that’s what it was.
He began to let off a scary amount of ch’i-infused aura. Suddenly, the creature felt Death staring squarely at it and widened its eye in shock.
The Old Man shot forward, covering the great distance between it and him in a flash, landing a huge kick. However, there was an invisible shielding of Aeterna protecting it from the attack. This shield served two purposes of protecting it from a sudden attack, as well as keeping it invisible to the naked eyes and the perceptions of the mortals.
The shield did its job as intended and dispersed most of the force behind the kick. Nevertheless, it could not fully absorb all of the power and shattered with a loud “Pah!!” The remaining force propelled the kick, continuing on until it splendidly connected with the one-eyed creature.
The impact forced it back at a lightning speed. But the Old Man had already appeared behind it.
Next was a mighty slap to its head with the flat of his palm, his other hand calmly tucked behind his back. It almost looked like he was swatting a fly.
And like a hapless volleyball, the creature slammed down on the crater with a huge boom, raising an equally huge cloud of dust.
The Old Man harrumphed coldly and came down to the impact site. On the ground where the impact occurred, there was another crater shaped like that of the creature.
“Come out now, you cretin. I’ll exterminate you, and leave nothing for your master to recover – not even a bone. If you have one, that is.”
Responding to the threatening words, the ground vibrated harshly, and a second later the creature burst out of the scorched earth. Now, it no longer resembled a formless figure, but of a person.
Shockingly, though, now it resembled the very knight Kain was encountering at the same moment. However, it was only the outline of the creature. Its entire body was made out of a violet-colored, goo-like skin, seething and moving, sending out dense and deadly aura not too different from that of the mini-knight.
Of course, the Old Man was totally unaware of such a thing. All he could see was a loathsome creature trying to imitate a human. That was it.
“How repulsive,” murmured the Old Man. He looked around with his sharp perception and noticed that his flashy actions had drawn an audience with local Invokers. “Hmph. It’s getting more troublesome now, isn’t it.”
Frowning, the Old Man narrowed his eyes and took a Fu Hu Bu stance, slowly drawing his leg out and centering his weight into a compact form.
A single, violet eye split open in the middle of the creature’s head, revealing a cold, hateful aura as it gazed at the Old Man.
“First, I should draw you out of this dang city,” the Old Man whispered imperceptibly, and then by borrowing the momentum built into his stance, he shot forward faster than a bullet.
His fist struck out, causing a rumble in the sky. The creature raised another Aeterna-infused shielding to block the attack, this time solely focused on defense rather hiding it from the eyes of the mortals. This naturally meant that the shielding this time was considerably tougher.
When the fist collided with the thin violet colored shield, a huge, booming shockwave swept out, further flattening the already flattened surfaces of the crater.
Snorting disdainfully, the Old Man struck out with his other fist, precisely on the exact same point where his first punch landed on. The shielding couldn’t hold on anymore and cracked open.
The Old Man followed up with a devastating Soul Crusher which was on an another level altogether. The invisible explosion of ch’i utterly shredded the creature apart, not even giving it a chance to retaliate. The shielding shattered with an even louder “Pah!!” and the creature’s mangled body was flung out backward.
However, the lone violet colored eye showed no change. It continued to look on at the Old Man with calm, collected coldness.
Irritated by this indifference, the Old Man again shot forward and slammed against the flying creature with his shoulder. Then, to follow it up, he held his hands together and pushed his elbow out with the strength of both arms.
The elbow connected with the creature’s midriff with a thunderous boom, and a hole the size of bowling ball gouged out where the impact happened. Only then, did the creature react with a twinge of pain in its face.
The creature stopped flying back, and its broken, shredded body reformed into a solid one in an instant. A sinister, toothy mouth split open just below the violet eye, and from it, a violet colored hilt of a sword emerged. It looked rather plain, if not for the fact that it came out of a mouth of the creature. The creature grabbed the hilt and yanked it out of its mouth, dragging out a gleaming blade along with it.
Just by performing this action, the Old Man sensed another surge of power from the creature.
What a cliched development, the Old Man groaned inwardly. What the hell is this? Is it going to power up every time I damage it? What a pain in the neck this thing is turning out to be. My initial assessment of me not walking away from this fight uninjured may come true after all. Damn it.
As the Old Man was fighting the one-eyed creature, Kain was trying his very best to hold onto his own Aeterna Pool. He wasn’t succeeding at the moment, as he could only slow down the rate of it draining out.
However, the revived knight wasn’t happy with the rate of the progress. The speed of draining the boy’s Pool was far too slow, making him realize that the child was putting up a fierce fight. Now normally, the knight would have been impressed by the effort.
But he had no time to play a game with a child – there was the urgent matter of these infernal guardian statues trying to kill him.
The knight narrowed his eyes and took a step forward, intending to knock Kain out and weaken his resistance at once. It was only a single step, but the knight crossed the distance between them as if performing a teleportation. It was incredibly fast, too fast for anyone or anything, including the statues themselves to react.
Grinning savagely, the knight reached out with his one remaining arm. His fingers were within inches of Kain’s forehead, and a single push would make the two points connect.
Kain’s entire body quaked in fear as his ch’i-enhanced vision showed the knight’s face no longer resembling a human. It was twisted hideously to show a face of a decaying, corrupted monster.
He leaned back, trying to keep his head away from the monstrous knight’s touch. Reflexively, he closed his eyes. This somehow made his awareness focus more on that vivid imagery that was burned into his retina, therefore making things even worse. He was about to poop his pants.
The statues finally recovered from their knocked-down postures and pounced at the knight with an almighty haste. The time seemed to slow down to a crawl as the violently churning air became a hurricane, kicking dust and debris up in the air, black Aeterna whirling along with the tempest.
The knight’s fingertip was about to touch the boy’s skin. If that happened, he’d die without a doubt.
Right then in the nick of time, another golden light escaped from Kain’s pants pocket. The light was quite faint, too weak to be noticeable in the intense storm of the violet light.
But the knight noticed it nevertheless. The vicious, greedy grin on his face instantly turned to a deep frown. Immediately, he backed off.
However, with a loud rip, Kain’s pocket was torn right open, and the small golden disc shot out and hovered in front of Kain’s dazed gaze. It gleamed in a brilliant hue, unperturbed in the sea of violet, and emitted a shockingly piercing noise that seemed to slice apart all the other sound in the mural chamber.
Seeing this disc, the knight howled in anger, but rather than pushing forward, he instantly backed up further, as if he wanted absolutely nothing to do with the boy anymore. Even him trying to siphon Kain’s Aeterna Pool stopped right there and then.
This action gave the statues a wonderful opening, an opportunity they would not miss. They simultaneously launched a several, well-coordinated attacks at the back of the knight.
The knight’s face flickered grimly, as he waved the only arm remaining and spun around sharply. Half of the attacks missed the mark but the rest landed as intended, and the knight spat out a mouthful of black liquid again. But the vicious grin returned to his lips.
He grabbed one of the polearms that were gouging his chest currently, and with an enormous exertion of hidden strength, pried the weapon loose from the grips of the statue that held it, breaking the wrists of the bronze giant in the process.
The giant staggered back, but his face showed no pain, only the inexhaustible determination to destroy.
With the newly-acquired weapon in hand, the knight went on the offensive. However, he was heavily wounded and lacked enough energy to mount any serious attacks against the bronze statues. After all, these giants were placed here to defeat the revived knight so, in effect, they were designed to be stronger than him at his peak.
Thus, the one-sided battle commenced right before Kain’s stunned and now confused eyes.
Stunned, as the battle had progressed to a point where it seemed like the knight could not win no matter what.
Confused, at the hovering golden disc that could easily repel the knight’s onslaught like it was having a nice, relaxed lunch.
I don’t know what the hell’s going on here, but boy, I sure am glad that I found that thing, Kain mused to himself, feeling rather relieved for now. Whatever, my current situation hasn’t changed one bit. I gotta get out of here, ASAP. I could die if I get hit by a stray attack from one of those bronze giants!!
Kain reached out and snatched the floating disc off the air, trying to take it with him. In hindsight, this action might not have been the wisest one to make. But as the popular saying goes, hindsight was a….
Anyways. The moment his palm covered up the faint golden light emanating from the disc, the knight felt his repressed power surging back up.
This allowed the knight to swing the polearm with more vigor and strength. Of course, that was still nowhere near enough to defeat the twelve bronze statues but, crucially, that increase gave the knight a moment of breathing room to come up with a plan to escape this prison and break out of here.
Firstly, it had to deal with that child with the troublesome relic. That relic seemed to possess some sort of remnant will from the past him, well before he was influenced by the seductive qualities of the all-conquering power promised to him by the gods, the Undying.
Somehow, his remnant will that was placed on the relic had a way to suppress his strength. It had to be destroyed, no matter what. The knight could not recall just when he had commissioned such a thing, but hell, even if he did remember, it would be a useless distraction for him.
This short amount of breathing space allowed the knight to understand one more important fact: his current self was not complete.
The knight could tell that the body he possessed right now was missing several vital parts, fragments of his being, his soul. He needed to track down the missing bits and pieces if he wanted to return to the way he was. After making his escape from here, of course.
With his being whole again, then the knight would commence the one ambition that had eluded him before his downfall and the subsequent, humiliating incarceration.
That was to ascend to the realms of Godhood, to achieve his own immortality. To become one of the fabled Undying, and to sail beyond the boundaries of the Ten Realms and conquer the new lands.
The knight wanted to become a god. That was why he chose to become the corrupted being, all in the name of achieving that ambition. And nothing would stand in his way. Nothing.
The knight swung the polearm in a huge arc, pushing the bronze statues away from him. Using this opening, he then approached Kain once more, his weapon tip firmly trained on the boy’s chest where his heart was.
Noticing the danger, Kain panicked. He raised his hands up to his face and squeezed the disc hard. At the moment of deadly crisis, the golden disc reacted and it pulsed with the brilliant light once more.
On top of that, Aeterna still remaining in his Pool also reacted with the disc, snaking out of him and fusing with the light. Before anyone could react, the polearm’s bladed tip had reached the combined light of the disc and Kain’s Aeterna reserve.
The golden light suddenly morphed into an illusory blade, and clashed with the knight’s weapon, causing a huge, bellowing boom to resonate through the entire chamber and beyond.
The boom was infused with the black Aeterna as well as Kain’s own, and fierce sparks coming from the two colliding with each other inundated the chamber. Whenever the spark hit something, there would be a total destruction – the floating debris got annihilated to fine dust, the previously-impregnable walls were scarred and scorched, the bronze statues’ bodies got shredded. Even the knight bore the brunt of the backlash, spitting out another mouthful of black blood-like liquid.
There was now madness in his eyes. He just had to kill this boy and destroy that disc. They were the vain of his existence. The boy and his disc must be utterly destroyed, even if he suffered a grievous wound to his soul!!
It was at this point when one of those dangerous sparks scythed past Kain’s messy hair and struck the locked door with a bang. The result was that the door was ripped to shreds.
This also allowed Emma to get a look-in at the chaos happening inside the mural chamber.
She couldn’t hide her shock at the scene unfolding before her eyes.
There was a tempest of wind, kicking up dust everywhere. There were giant bronze statues trying to approach the knight, but being repelled by the said tempest. There were countless sparks of Aeterna slicing and pulverizing absolutely everything they came in contact with.
And in the middle of all that, little master Kain sending all his Aeterna to a gleaming golden disc, which in turn had formed an illusory sword around it, locked in a deadly stand-off against a human knight clad in tattered golden armor, a vicious grin etched on his face.
The dull, ruby-like gem on her necklace reacted to the pandemonium and glowed in crimson light, surprising Emma even more. However, that surprise only lasted for a millisecond.
Because she knew instantly what she needed to do here.
She then took the new, high-tech bow she had acquired in this facility. She had only a quiver of regular arrows, but they were going to be just fine.
She nocked one arrow on the bow, and pulled back, her eyebrows furrowing in concentration.
The crimson light then swirled around her and the nocked arrow, forming multiple layers of reinforcements and turning the wooden arrow into a red, crystalline item, emanating a shocking amount of powerful aura.
“Fly straight…. and true!!”
She whispered softly and let go of the bow string.
The crimson arrow shot out. It flew, as she hoped for, straight and true towards the knight’s heart.
The knight tried to react. But his weapon was engaged, and could not be freed. And he lacked one arm to fend off the incoming arrow.
The knight roared as he tried to increase the density of the tempest caused by the black Aeterna. That was the only remaining defense for him.
The crimson arrow pierced past the strong gust of wind and walls of black Aeterna and slammed directly into the knight’s chest. In that moment, the violet light in his eyes dimmed. More of that black liquid poured out from his mouth, his open wounds, his every orifice.
Emma nocked another arrow hastily, and the crimson light from her necklace fused with it once more. She didn’t even hesitate and fired it, this time aimed at the knight’s unprotected forehead.
The arrow punctured its target splendidly.
The violet light in his eyes dimmed even more, flickering weakly. The knight stumbled backwards, dropping the polearm to the ground. He screamed in pain as he desperately clawed at the crimson arrow stuck in his chest, then in his head.
The illusory sword of the golden disc swung down in a wide arc, aiming at the knight’s chest at this critical moment. Kain grimaced as all his strength drained out while performing that single move.
The sword sliced the knight perfectly in half. The two cut pieces slid off each other and fell on the ground, and almost at the same time, the violent tempest dissipated as if it was a lie all along.
Kain plopped down on his ass, utterly exhausted to even stand on his two feet.
“Little master!!” Emma cried out as she rushed inside the chamber. She was still mindful of the bronze giants – they could be enemies, for all she knew. But before Kain could say out her name, the knight’s body suddenly let out a terrible shriek and began to dissolve into a mass of a strange jet-black fog.
From this fog, countless shrieking wraiths emerged, all possessing horrifying shapes. They swirled in the air, dancing and howling like angry ghosts that they were.
The bronze giants and the golden illusory sword did their best to fight off the wraiths but there were just too many of them. More than a half of them escaped via the open door of the chamber and fled outside.
Many of theses Wraiths flew high until they were out of the planet’s atmosphere, disappearing into the eternal darkness of the outer space, while a small handful stopped in their tracks and instead changed the direction towards the city of Lafayette, where the black creature was.
Right at that moment, the Old Man was fighting a fierce close-range combat with the creature.
Even though he tried to lead the monster away from the city, whenever they moved to a certain distance away from Lafayette, the creature backed up and re-entered the boundaries, making the Old Man’s blood boil like crazy.
Now, he didn’t care anymore. The quicker he defeated it, the better it was for everyone involved.
The trouble was, the monster used that violet blade too damn well. An expert of close quarter combat like the Old Man was having a hard time trying to land a decisive blow.
Another problem was that the monster instantly recovered from all the damage inflicted on it, while the same could not be said for the Old Man.
No wonder his facial expression was getting darker by the second.
There were a handful of other techniques he could use to achieve the desired victory but by resorting to them his current illness would flare up, thereby shortening his already weakened lifespan. It was a catch-22 situation, in other words.
While trying to figure out what he should do, his perceptions picked up approaching Invokers and high-rank Adventurers. Enough time had passed since the initial explosion so their arrival was to be expected. The Old Man just spent too long here, that was all.
The creature swung the sword at the Old Man’s head in a diagonal direction, and then pulled back the blade before stabbing forward sharply, slicing the air apart as it did so. The Old Man shifted his weight to his side briefly to dodge the first attack, then by utilizing the momentum from the movement, lightly weaved inside the enemy’s blade to launch a counter.
The creature used its free arm to block the fist and at the same time, slammed down on the exposed back of the Old Man with the hilt.
Snorting coldly, the Old Man raised his other hand and nimbly redirected the hilt and twisted the wrist that held the sword. If it were a normal person, that wrist would have been broken.
Instead, the creature smirked as the wrist rotated, the sword swinging back toward the Old Man like a needle of a clock. As it tried to pierce him in this impossible angle, the Old Man unfurled the fist that was held in the creature’s palm and pointed a finger at it.
The end result was that the creature was blown apart with a powerful burst of ch’i-infused attack.
The Old Man didn’t stop his movements here. As the creature’s body began to coalesce back together, his eyes were busy searching for the nucleus of this monster.
In his experience, this types of creatures and monsters usually possessed a core that acted as the central control system, a brain of sorts. By destroying that, the liquid-like substance – or, in this case, dense form of corrupted Aeterna – would scatter and become nothing more than common mud.
However, to his shock, the Old Man could not see nor sense the core in this creature.
After realizing this, he quickly withdrew to a distance, his face grim with the slightest hint of disquiet.
Have I made a mistake?! The Old Man grimaced. Is this creature fundamentally different from what came before?! Just which one of the false gods sent it here?
The creature’s body reformed perfectly again, its single violet eye staring at the Old Man with a naked hatred and anger causing the Old Man to frown even more.
Dang it, do I need to go all out? Is there no choice in the matter anymore?!