BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!!
Thunderous claps echoed through the barren valleys of the Land of Dreams as an orangey hue carpeted the azure sky. Wildfires the size of entire towns enveloped the woods that surrounded the young valley, killing any living beings that dared to call it home.
“Ma’am! The attack has been successful! All Spirit Beasts within the valley have been terminated!” An officer ran over to the commander and gave him a firm salute. “We have spotted some men retreating from the vicinity, and a trail has been sent!”
“Good! Do not rest until the last Black Mask is captured! We still have thousands more Spirit Beasts to blow up!” The commander applauded the officer’s report with a valiant smile.
Ever since the tragedy in the Main Hub, every single soldier in the Second Army had chased after the Black Masks with a vengeance. No one wanted a repeat of the tragedy. Treating the criminal syndicate as cancer that had to be removed, the Himmel Empire’s Second Army charged forward with everything that they had. Should even one portion of the Spirit Beasts roam free, tremendous damage would have been inflicted upon the innocents of the land, and no warrior could sleep well knowing that their families might be in harm’s way.
Cultivators that had massive wide-area destructive abilities were sent to the front lines to thoroughly eliminate any Spirit Beasts that they came across. Not even caring about the destruction of the environment, the Second Army slashed and burned their way into the borders of the Kori Federation.
It has been two weeks since the beginning of the war against the Black Masks, and the Himmel Empire had taken down at least ten thousand Spirit Beasts in the most savage slaughter in recent history. Throughout their advance, the Second Army managed to capture a few prisoners from the Black Mask syndicate, even though they were mostly low-levelled Dalits that followed the Allfather religiously.
However, their operation wasn’t without its rewards. While the majority of those they rounded up were small fish, there were a few whales that weren’t able to hide from the net. Capturing some Kshatriyas and even one Brahmin during their hack and slash, the Second Army was hoping to gruesomely interrogate their captives as hard as they possibly could, to gain any new information about how the syndicate operated.
Unfortunately, almost all of the Black Masks that were in the Shudra level or above had a portion of the Allfather’s mana hidden within them, and since they would rather die than to betray their benefactor, every single one of the high-level captives chose to self detonate. The phenomena had caused quite a conundrum for the upper echelons of the Second Army. If they were fighting in a conventional war, the Second Army would have multiple methods of interrogating their prisoners.
For one, they could torture their captives till the brink of collapse, or they could promise immunity and gifts for those that were willing to talk. However, before the Second Army could even attempt even one of those tactics, the Allfather’s mana within the Black Masks all detonated, bringing their lives to an abrupt halt.
“Lieutenant General Myron! Urgent news! We found the main cluster!” While the head commander was busy reading her reports, a scout officer rushed into the tent and repeated the contents of the note that he was holding. “Initial estimates say that the cluster has at least ten thousand Spirit Beasts, and it could possibly be double the amount!”
“Is that true?!” Slamming her palms on the table, Lieutenant General Myron screamed out in jubilation.
As the commander of the top field corps in the Second Army, Lieutenant General Myron was a legend of the land. Spending over a hundred years of her life in the military, to call her a veteran would be an understatement. Capable of leading a field corps of fifty thousand soldiers was the least outstanding of her abilities. Some say that if she reached the Spirit Venerate realm, she would be a real contender for the Field Marshal position that had been dominated by Ridan Bitterdawn for the past dozens of years. Hence, her deployment almost guaranteed the success of the whole operation.
Over the past two weeks, the Second Army and the Kori Federation’s forces launched a joint assault on the Black Masks in the Land of Dreams. Those from the Himmel Empire was responsible for clearing out the south and east of the Land of Dreams while the Kori Federation secured their borders. Based on early intelligence, the joint force believed that the bulk of the Black Masks’ might be congregated in the west of the Land of Dreams. Hence, with forces closing in on both ends, the joint force believed that they would be able to completely wipe out the threat of the Black Masks in a two-way pincer attack.
And on paper, the strategy seemed to be working.
“We are waiting for the confirmation on the Kori Federation’s side, but we estimate it to be at least seventy percent accurate!”
Lieutenant General Myron knitted her brows and fell back on her chair “Seventy, huh… That’s a bit lower than I expected. If we overcommit there, we might lose out on striking the main force. Does the Field Marshal know?”
The Second Army had been annihilating every single trace of the Black Masks that they had come across. Nonetheless, the hits were mainly small clusters of Spirit Beasts that were left behind by the horde. To put it simply, the Second Army had only taken out the crusts of the pizza. If they wanted a sweet victory, they had to go for the meat.
“Yes, ma’am! I have sent my fastest rider to relay the news to him back at the Main Hub! He should be receiving the news right about now!”
‘That’s too slow… If we wait any longer, the horde might move…’ Biting on her nails, the Lieutenant General felt her mind race at the speed of light. ‘It’s a high risk, high reward play to go for the cluster now. If there are about twenty thousand Spirit Beasts, sending out thirty thousand men should be sufficient. If I leave the remaining twenty thousand here to react to changes, we should be fine.’
“Where’s Colonel Tychris?!”
“He’s in the rear. Should I call for him?”
“Yes, tell him to bring over the reports of all the ammunition that we have. Also, order the first and second division to go on standby. The third division will remain in the camp while we pursue the beast horde.”
Hearing the Lieutenant General’s words, the intelligence officer dropped his jaw. Even if Myron was known to be a decisive commander, taking such an immediate approach without consulting the Field Marshal was rash, to say the least.
“Are we going for them with the men we have?”
Myron’s mouth twitched in annoyance. “Are you doubting my orders, Major?”
“N-No! I wouldn’t dare! My apologies!!!” Immediately dropping his head in fear, the officer immediately retreated to execute his superior’s orders. Even if he had his doubts, defying a Lieutenant General’s orders, not to mention one that had a near perfect track record, was akin to throwing his career away.
‘Hah… Well, it’s not like I don’t get your doubts… There isn’t enough information to legitimately launch an attack.’ Only when the Lieutenant General was alone in her tent, did she drop her facade and glanced up at the ceiling. It wasn’t proper protocol to launch such a large scale operation without the consent of the Field Marshal. Furthermore, the intelligence that was gathered had a number of holes in it. It was much wiser to wait a day or two before launching an assault on the unknown grounds. However…
‘But something’s telling me that this is the right move.’ Lieutenant General Myron wasn’t a rookie in the military. She naturally knew of all the right procedures to follow. Nonetheless, at times, following the protocol wasn’t the best course of action. Whenever her intuition spiked, Lieutenant General Myron would almost always comply, even if it meant getting in trouble with the higher-ups.
‘Let’s just hope that I’m right…’
Once the orders were set in stone, it didn’t take long for the field corps to gather and march upon the foreign land. Taking thirty thousand men and advancing them through rough and unfamiliar terrain was a hurdle that no mere commander could accomplish. Not to mention, they had to do it covertly to avoid alarming the men that led the beast horde. However, the Lieutenant General wasn’t a run-off-the-mill commander. A task like this was merely child’s play to her, and the thirty thousand soldiers reached their destination in a mere six hours.
“Ma’am! All men are in their positions! We’re ready to move at your order!” A colonel came and reported. “We have sights on the beasts! Looks like your bet had paid off.” The colonel smiled as he was once again impressed by the aptitude that his commander had when it came to the battlefield.
“…” Myron ignored the blatant compliment and continued to stare at the beast horde with suspicious eyes. Even though she had called the right move, she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that she had in her chest. Her intuition was screaming at her that something was amiss, but she just couldn’t put her finger on what it was.
“Yeah… Prepare the long-range attacks. We are going to blast them with all that we have.”
Happily skipping back to his division, the colonel ordered his men to prepare to attack. Since they had a superior vision and positioning, the plan was exceedingly simple. The cultivators with large-scale spiritual abilities would send everything that they had flying at the poor souls in the region and the archers would support them with long-range attacks. Once the cultivators’ mana has been depleted, the infantry and ground troops would charge forward and eliminate or capture any survivors.
It was a strategy with proven effects and a relatively high success rate. Lieutenant General Myron had even used this move with excellent results in the past. However, something just wasn’t the same…
‘Whatever, I’ll personally deal with it when the time comes.’
Instead of scurrying behind the main lines as all commanders do, Myron summoned out her battle staff and brought out a wave of resplendent light. Being a master at close-quarter combat, the Lieutenant General was fully expecting to take on the leader of the beast horde, be it a Tier 9 Spirit Beast or a Rank 80 Spirit Venerate. She may be a realm below them, but the veteran fighter was confident of taking on almost any foe that may come her way.
“Ma’am! We’re ready to fire!”
“…” Myron took one final look at the beast horde, which seemed oblivious to the overwhelming spiritual energy that was being gathered overhead. Repeating what they always did, the beasts remained calm even in the face of certain death.
“Tsk, FIRE!!!” Releasing the flare that she had prepared for this very moment, Myron ordered the complete annihilation of the beast horde.
BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOOOOOOOOMMM!!!
Just like the scene in the valley, crimson light overflowed the terrain, striking fear in military men’s hearts. No matter how powerful a cultivator was, there was no way that they could remain unfazed by the combined attacks of thousands of Spirit Users. Instantly incinerating the field, there was no doubt in the soldiers’ minds that they had given a massive blow to their dastardly enemies.
Well, only the lower-ranked soldiers thought this way. For those with higher cultivation levels, their eagle eyes widened in complete shock.
“This is!” Myron finally understood why she had an uneasy feeling all the while. “STOP!!! STOP!!! Stop the bombardment!”
Myron barked out her orders and raised her golden battle staff. “My knights! Gather before me!”
Calling for her own personal elite force to congregate at her location, Myron waited for the bombardment to halt before flying straight at the beast horde.
“Ma’am… This is…”
“Yeah… We’ve been duped.” The Lieutenant General’s face turned grim as she observed the ‘Spirit Beasts’ that were all around her. Unaffected by the destructive force that her field corps had delivered upon them, the ‘Spirit Beasts’ continued on their business. Some were sleeping in the shade, some were licking their own genitals, and some were rolling about like a sloth. When Myron attempted to touch one of the ‘Spirit Beasts’, her hand slipped right through, stunning everyone of her knights.
“These are all holograms…” Myron explained weakly. “To think that the Black Masks had this capability! If they have this technique, they’re sure to elude us with every turn from now on!”
“Ma’am… Look at that.”
Following the finger of her trusted knight, Myron found a deep crevice that led to a tunnel that disappeared into the darkness. Even a moron could guess what that crevice meant.
“We’re too late… They already escaped.” Myron dug her nails deep into her palms. “I want this location to be secured by the hour! Go back and inform the Field Marshal of this incident! Also, find out what’s causing this illusion!”
After giving a firm salute, the knights quickly dispersed to carry out their superior’s orders, leaving Myron entirely alone with the deep crevice.
‘Black Masks… We have underestimated you too much…’