The damp cave was exuding a faint earthy aroma, and the deeper Lady Seph trekked, the more potent the stench became. In the central area of the cave, where all the fallen Black Masks were, small lanterns illuminated the creepy facility, giving some semblance of life in the depressing place. However, as Lady Seph went deeper and deeper, the torches and lamps that lit up the path oddly disappeared, as if not trying to disturb what lay at the end of the tunnel.
Lifting up her palm, the elderly woman created a small ball of light that helped her to navigate the area. When she used her sensory abilities earlier on, she felt a faint disturbance, one of which she had never felt before, hidden deep inside the cavern. No matter how much she tried to rub it off as her imagination, the uneasy feeling in her heart kept piling up. Placing her left hand on her chest, the elderly woman tried her best to calm herself. Perhaps at the end of the path, she would not find anything, and it was all just a figment of her imagination?
Careful not to make any sudden movements, Lady Seph took slowly approached the end of the tunnel, one step at a time. The hibernating bats hanging from the ceiling screeched in annoyance as the light that she created blinded their nocturnal eyes and flapped their wings around, creating a chilling wind in the already frightening cave. Ignoring the little critters flying above her head, the elderly blonde woman saw a large wooden door, barring entry into the final area of the cave.
The door had been crudely placed, with strands of rope hanging from the handle of the door. Being exposed to such a damp area had caused the wood on the door to break apart with bits of brown mould growing from its gaps. It was a rather simple door, yet whenever Lady Seph tried to move her hands up to push it open, alarm bells start ringing in her mind, as if once she opens this door, her life would change forever.
As a veteran healer that fought in countless battlefields, Lady Seph prided herself on being knowledgeable, resourceful and even humble in the face of adversary, to a certain extent. However, the one thing that she prided herself the most on was her supernatural instinct. It was not a spiritual ability nor was it a trained skill. It was just something that combined both her natural acumen and years of experience, and it had served her well over the years. Following her instincts, she had saved herself multiple times in perilous situations, and currently, her instincts were screaming at her not to open that door.
If she left the door unopened, she might live to regret that decision as her curiosity would haunt her for as long as she lives. However, if she did open the door, she would sate her inquisitive mind but would live to see the reprecussions of her decision. Fighting the internal battle in her mind for a few seconds, the elderly woman finally steeled herself and reached out for the decrepit handle.
Pushing the door open, Lady Seph was greeted by a near empty room. There was nothing on the ceiling, nothing on the floor and nothing on the walls. Similar to the rest of the cave, cold brown rocks enveloped the room, and the damp temperature made the place somewhat humid. It was a simple room, with nothing in it, nothing other than the small black orb levitating at the centre of the room.
Under the orb, an altar made of stone that had faces of despair carefully crafted as it looked straight at the floating ball. Once Lady Seph’s eyes made contact with the foreign object, she felt as if a million gazes were laid down onto her and the unsettling feeling that she had earlier on, multiplied itself a thousand times over. The hairs on her wrinkled arms and legs started to stand as she felt her internal temperature drop several degrees. Her bright pupils began to dilate, and her jaw seemed to move by itself, chattering the two sets of teeth together. Clenching her fists, Lady Seph tried to quell the body that was not listening to her instructions. However, it was all for nought.
Fear. The most primal emotion that had been buried in her heart for all these years started to arise once more. As a peak Spirit Emperor, there were very little things that could cause such an adverse reaction in her body, and it has been years since she felt this way. Her shivering body stood rooted to the ground even though she had willed it to run. Unsure of what to do, Lady Seph took one more look at the dark obsidian orb that lay peacefully until she came to disturb it.
A low buzzing sound that came from the object resonated in the chilling cave. The insides of the black orb seemed to house a violent storm that terrorised the sea as waves of spiritual energy crashed onto its surface. Emitting out a dreadful aura that made Lady Seph nauseous, the levitating orb gathered more mana into its body, causing the room that housed it to tremble in fear.
Finally regaining control of her body, a resplendent light shone from the depths of the elderly woman’s body and half of her mana was transferred over to the Iofiel Angel. In less than a fraction of a second, the heavenly woman, floating behind Lady Seph, embraced its master and used its wings to cover the elderly woman, much like how a mother chicken would protect its hatchlings. Initially, Lady Seph thought of running, but it was too late. The black orb that lay at the centre of the room exploded out, obliterating everything it touched. There were no explosives, nor was there any sound. Just pure obliteration. Anything that its light touched would just turn into nothingness.
In her cacoon, Lady Seph was able to barely resist the pain and willed her body to escape at the top speed that it could. Trying her best to outrun the wave of death and destruction, the wings that were protecting her started to shine in a divine light. It didn’t take long but soon, Lady Seph was out of the cave that was being eaten up by the disturbing black ray.
Commander Alwig, who noticed that something had gone awry, immediately left the moment he felt the frightening mana in the deepest parts of the cave. Thankfully, he acted quick. Otherwise, he would have suffered the exact same fate of the sturdy rocky cave. Hoping that Lady Seph was safe, the blonde knight waited patiently with his Flaming Claymore Sword ready to take down any enemies that came into his path.
Seeing the radiant angel light and the familiar mana signature, Commander Alwig heaved a sigh of relief. Seems like the seasoned healer had survived the ordeal.
“Lady Seph! Thank goodness you’re safe! If you had perished, I don’t… know… what… huh?”
At first, Commander Alwig was just happy that the elderly woman had come out from the blast safe and sound. However, as the wings of the Iofiel Angel unravelled itself, instead of the familiar face that he had served for the past few hours, the knight was greeted by a breathtaking sight, one of the likes that he had never seen before.
Luscious blonde hair that was unblemished by the slightest damage flowed like a gentle river to the ends of her waist. High cheekbones and a face that seemed to be void of pores highlighted the pure white complexion that made her look somewhat inhuman. Her bright blue eyes resembled the beautiful everlasting morning sky and one peer into it would enthral even the most celibate of men. Walking out of the Iofiel Angel’s embrace, the gorgeous young woman placed her long barefoot legs onto the forest floor, staining her flawless feet in the process. Gingerly blinking her eyes, the female’s long eyelashes flickered about as she awoke from her stupor. Using the crystal clear eyes of hers, the woman took one hard look at the astonished knight, whose jaws had dropped so low that a ball could fit inside of his mouth.
“L-L-L-Lady Seph?! Is that really you?!”
“Huh? Who else could it be? You retard!”
All the evidence presented pointed to the fact that the jaw-dropping beauty standing in front of Commander Alwig was the temperamental esteemed healer that he had been following since early this morning. From her adenoidal voice to the robes that she was wearing. However, her current appearance was just too different from the wrinkled elderly woman of before. Instead of looking sultry and voluptuous, the woman that Commander Alwig was looking at was more like a famous sculpture depicting the perfect woman. One would not feel lust when looking at her. Instead, they would marvel at her beauty from a distance, unsure if they were worthy to breathe the same air as her.
“Why do you look like that?!”
“It’s the side-effect of my ability… To survive that brutal attack, I had to use my greatest self-enhancement spiritual ability that reverts me back to my body’s peak condition. In this mode, my abilities would be twice as effective, and all my physical, mental and physiological reactions would be greatly enhanced. The bad thing about that ability is that I would turn into my younger self and would stay in this body for the next twenty-four hours…”
Turning back to take a look at the decimated land that was once the base of the Black Masks, Lady Seph gave out a huge sigh. Adorably pouting her lips, the beautiful woman sniffled in dejection. Although she hated to use this ability, if she hadn’t used it, she would have suffered a similar fate to those who remained unconscious in the cave.
“Bad thing you say…”
At the esteemed healer’s words, Commander Alwig didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. It was every woman’s dream to remain young forever, and Lady Seph had a spiritual ability that could do just that. However, instead of continuously using it, she scoffed at the idea that she would revert back to her prime years and even found it a burden.
“Alwig… What have you recovered?”
Oblivious to the blonde knight’s thoughts, Lady Seph started to question him on his haul.
“Nothing much. Other than the Tlachlo Lanterns, I managed to salvage one box of paper messages. I wanted to move some of the sleeping Black Masks, but that mana surge came before I could do so. Speaking of which, what was that?”
“Something bad… Something really, really bad… Alwig, we need to return to the Keep immediately. Now that whatever it was has blown up this base, I’m sure it would expedite its plans.”
“W-What is it?”
Gulping down a mouthful of saliva, the Spirit King clenched his fists and asked the young, beautiful woman.
“I don’t know. But if it could strike that much fear into me, one could only imagine the terror it would cause once unleashed into this world. This Black Masks syndicate is not as simple as a regular criminal organisation. If that thing that I met is leading them, they are strong enough to fight head to head with either one of the three major powers!”
Putting forth an ominous prediction, Lady Seph gritted her teeth in annoyance. She was not ignorant. The only reason she survived that encounter was because the entity she faced did not possess its full capabilities. Most likely, every single Black Mask base had a black orb just like the one she came face to face with. If she met the true existence that created that sphere, it was highly possible that she would have been crushed like a house fly without her having a chance to react.
“I-Is that so…”
Stuttering, Commander Alwig felt a chill run up his spine. If a fearless and seasoned Spirit User such as Lady Seph had so much to say about the enemy, it meant that the threat that they were facing was much more complicated than they first imagined.
“Let’s meet up with Shin and the rest first. We have to hurry!”