Land of Dreams. Deus Citadel. Apex Of The Citadel. The First Day Of The Summit.
As the luminescent moon descended into the darkness of the night, a brimming orange hue arose from the horizons. Like a baby that had awoken from its sleep, the artistic golden sun scaled up the dark patch of the sky, bringing along its milky white cloud friends to grace this beautiful morning. White, fluffy birds hovered above the Citadel as cicadas chirped in blissful delight basking in the grandeur of first light.
“What a beautiful day.” Prince Koshaku remarked as he took one final sip of his breakfast coffee. Handing the silver goblet over to his attendant, the brother of the Imperial Emperor adjusted his attire before heading out of the open-window dining hall. Even though Spirit Venerates weren’t known to have physical defects, the handsome matured man had two dark rings hanging below his eyes, hinting that he had barely slept a wink.
“I concur. Isn’t it the perfect day for an alliance to be made?” Gonggong, who had been by the Prince’s side since last night, wore a brilliant smile, one almost as bright as the sun itself. “Who knows? Perhaps there will be no need for a full week of negotiations. Maybe the terms can be agreed on within the hour.”
“Don’t joke about that, Gonggong.” Field Marshal Ridan Bitterdawn chided the Imperial Eunuch. “While the Healer’s Association and the Blacksmith’s League are on our side, the Lantis Republic and Mercenary Guild are still seated on their fence. After all, they weren’t at all affected by the Black Masks.”
The Field Marshal explained. “Also, the Kori Federation may seem to be on our side, but we were, after all, enemies until just recently. Even if they do provide the resources and troops, they’ll definitely try to undercut us in the deal. No matter how it pans out, I’m sure that it’ll become an uphill battle for us.”
“Thanks for the encouragement, Ridan.” Prince Koshaku snorted.
Walking down the hallways, the representatives from the Himmel Empire were led by guides from the Blacksmith’s League straight towards the central chambers where the negotiations were being held. Deus Citadel was split into three major sections. The outskirts and inner regions were well-known, and almost everyone attending the Summit had access to these two sections. However, the third and final region, the Apex, was strictly prohibited grounds.
On regular days, only those with the ‘Elder’ position in the Blacksmith’s League would have access to this final region. Home to the control room, the barrier chamber and one of the three Exalted Forges in the whole world, the Apex of Deus Citadel was perhaps the most guarded place in the entire continent. Nonetheless, Ingram had decided to open up the Apex for the negotiations that would shape the future of the world.
Climbing into the golden elevator, the Himmel Empire representatives gaped in wonder as the lift brought them up the dazzling skyscraper, giving them a marvellous view of the world below of Deus Citadel.
After a minute had passed, the golden elevator finally came to a halt as it reached the highest floor of the building. At this height, the true beauty of the world was put on full display. Glancing out of the windows, Prince Koshaku could observe those at the ground as if he were an elementary school child doing his research on how ants moved. Looking even further, the experienced royal could even see the nearby Main Hub as well as the monuments that they had just been to yesterday.
“What a beautiful city… Do you think that we can build something like this in the Empire?” Prince Koshaku thought out loud.
“While it may not be possible for us to fully replicate Deus Citadel, we can most certainly construct skyscrapers like the Apex.” A minister replied to the Royal Prince. “If Your Highness desires it, I can propose it to the Ministry of Development.”
“Yeah, do that.” Of all the items that he had seen thus far, the hundred-storey tower that broke through the skyline had impressed him the most. If the Himmel Empire could manufacture a structure that was even half as tall as the Apex, it would undoubtedly become the grandest building that they had ever constructed.
Taking just one moment to relax, Prince Koshaku finally steeled his nerves and walked down the hallways, to the place where the future of the world laid.
“The representatives from the Himmel Empire!” The moment Prince Koshaku entered into the negotiation chamber, a member of the Blacksmith’s League announced their arrival with a dignified tone.
The negotiation chamber was one of opulence. Beautifully moulded sculptures of past heroes that the Blacksmith’s League surrounded every corner of the spherical alcove and gorgeously hand-sewn banners decorated the pristine white marble walls. At the side of the room, huge glass windows allowed vast amounts of natural sunlight to illuminate the chamber, letting those inside feel as if they were at the top of the world.
At the centre of the spherical chamber, Prince Koshaku could see an enormous round table, one that was easily the size of two large elephants placed together. Like a pizza, the round table was split into six equal slices, with five of the regions all occupied by tough-looking bureaucrats that were sent by each one of their organisations. Being part of the government as well as the chief representative for foreign affairs, Prince Koshaku could easily identify all of the men and women gathered in this room.
“Prince Koshaku! Please, take a seat!” The President of the Blacksmith’s League, Ingram Ragnar, welcomed the Royal Highness with open arms and pointed him to the Himmel Empire’s designated seats.
“Now that the Himmel Empire’s representatives are present, we can now begin the discussions!” Once Prince Koshaku and his subordinates had settled down, Ingram formally commenced the negotiations. There was no need to waste any more time.
“As you all know, the Black Masks are a criminal syndicate that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere with their beginnings coming from the Himmel Empire. Not much is known about how and when they came to be, but records show that the term Black Masks have been around for about fifty-odd years.” Ingram read out the report that had been handed to him by the Himmel Empire’s intelligence agency.
“In the beginning, the Black Masks only had a handful of Shudras, with most of their workforce consisting of low-levelled Dalits, that barely had any cultivation. The majority of them were simple thieves and ruffians that did petty crimes, and they weren’t that much of a threat. However, about a decade ago, their name became more and more prominent, with Spirit Lords and Spirit Kings joining their force. Until recently, we had assumed that the Black Masks had no more than a handful of powerful figures since only Rank 30 Shudras would commit crimes with Rank 40 Vaishyas occasionally supervising them. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case anymore.” Ingram placed down the report and looked to Prince Koshaku to continue.
“That’s right. The Black Masks aren’t the run-of-the-mill criminal syndicate that we thought they were.” The Royal Prince added. “They have control over Tier 9 Spirit Beasts, as well as hundreds of thousands of lower beasts. Through the incidents at Aldrich’s Keep, Frie Mountain, and the Land of Dreams, the Black Masks has shown what they really are. A vile organisation that massacres their way to get what they want. For us to win this war with the least amount of casualties, we have to throw everything that we can at them!”
Many nodded in agreement at Prince Koshaku’s statement. However, there were also many who wore a grim face.
“We all agree that we have to fight the Black Masks, that’s the whole purpose of the Summit.” Zhangyu Yaoguai from the Lantis Republic answered the Prince’s declaration. “The question is, how are we going to fight the war? From what I understand, the Black Masks have evaded all of your investigations thus far. You had even allowed them to escape from your retaliation force just a few weeks back!”
“We underestimated the Black Masks too much back then.” Prince Koshaku bit his lip. Lieutenant General Myron’s failure to deter the Spirit Beasts invasion into Kori Federation territory was a tremendous defeat for the Imperial Army, and bringing it up again made the Royal Prince’s face turn red in a mixture of embarrassment and anger. “They have an ability that could even make a large-scale illusion, one of the likes that could only be seen in myths!”
“I’ve heard of that.” A well-groomed red-haired man seated on the side of the Healer’s Association remarked. While he seemed to be a vigorous young man at the pinnacle of his health, if one gazed into his eyes, they would see a bottomless well of wisdom and insight. “It’s hard to believe that something could create an entire illusory army for that long a time. No Spirit User in the world could possibly pull off that feat.”
“Association Head Raphael. You’re completely right.” Prince Koshaku nodded in agreement. “We may not know of the cause, but we have our speculations, and if we’re correct, the Allfather has at least one more Tier 9 Spirit Beast in his control.”
“…” There were no voices of dissent at that hypothesis. At this point, no one dared to underestimate the Black Masks anymore.
“To answer your question, Clan Master Zhangyu, we may not know where the main force of the Black Masks is, but we have to take the first step! Thus, I propose that we make a central intelligence force to help investigate the whereabouts of the Black Masks. Next, the three superpowers are to standby at least ten per cent of their military troops for random deployment.”
“Just hold on for one second!” Zhangyu Yaoguai raised his hand to interrupt the man. “From what I gather, the Black Masks are unique to your Terre Continent, right? Why should the Lantis Republic send forces inland to fight?”
“Didn’t you just read the reports? The Black Masks have at least five Tier 9 Spirit Beasts!” Prince Koshaku cried out. “They even have the World Serpent at their back and call! This is a war that goes beyond the Terre Continent! The Lantis Archipelago will also be detrimentally affected!”
“That we understand.” The Clan Master of the Zhangyu Clan didn’t deny the threat of the Black Masks. “However, our army just isn’t equipped for a war on land. As you may know, our military force is nearly entirely comprised of our navy. None of our brave soldiers are trained to fight inland. In fact, we might even be deadweight that would slow you down.”
“…” None of the superpowers present had a decent rebuttal. It was well-known that the Lantis Republic had the most dominant navy of all time. On water, they were practically Poseidon incarnates that would destroy any force that dared to even challenge its authority. However, compared to their navy, the Lantis Republic’s land forces was nothing but abysmal.
“Still, there’s no way that we won’t provide any support for the fight against the Black Masks. We will patrol the oceans and terminate any sea routes that the Black Masks may use. If need be, we will provide resources and aid once they are required. Lastly, for good measure, we will send ten thousand of our most elite force to participate in your crusade.”
The Lantis Republic’s stance was simple. ‘Leave the oceans to us, anything that happens on land is your problem.’ Yes, what the Black Masks did was unforgivable, and they would rain down hell upon the criminal syndicate if they were given a chance. However, there was no need for them to send ten per cent of their military force inland, especially since there were few benefits for them to protect another’s property.
“Master Yaoguai… Is that really the stance of the High Elder Council.” At this moment, the Kori Federation’s representative finally spoke out.
“Deputy Prime Minister Venus. I am the representative of the Lantis Republic.”
“I see… What a shame.” The stunning brunette woman, who was as beautiful as her name suggests, let out a despondent sigh.
In truth, both the Himmel Empire and Kori Federation had expected this sort of reply from the Lantis Republic. Always pushing a neutral stance, the island nations never liked meddling with the inhabitants of the Terre Continent. While they enjoyed trading with them, the Lantis Republic would never go out of their way to interfere with the affairs of the continent. They were rather content with the assets that they had now, and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise it.
“Ten thousand troops…” Prince Koshaku scowled. Even with a hundred thousand soldiers, the Himmel Empire wasn’t able to do much against the forces of the Black Masks. What could the Lantis Republic’s measly amount ever hope to accomplish?
“Just to inform you, we suspect that the Allfather’s dominion is in the Uncharted Wilderness. If they sailed west, they would be able to utterly decimate your eastern flanks.”
“Like I said, the Lantis Republic will take care of any naval battles. If you somehow find intelligence of a million Spirit Beasts sailing on the oceans, we will send a million troops to destroy them.”
‘As if it were that simple!’ Prince Koshaku cried out mentally. Looking at Zhangyu Yaoguai now, the royal prince couldn’t help but see his former self reflected on him. When the Black Masks first took down Aldrich’s Keep, while he was startled, Prince Koshaku didn’t think too much of it.
Their military was among the strongest that the world has ever seen and in the back of his head, he still viewed the Black Masks as a paltry criminal syndicate that somehow got lucky. However, each time they underestimated the Black Masks, the Himmel Empire had been firmly bitten in the ass. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. In light of recent events, the Himmel Empire would never treat the Black Masks the same way ever again.
“Ten thousand is too little.” Prince Koshaku’s help came from an unexpected source. The Kori Federation’s Deputy Prime Minister, who had been at odds with the Himmel Empire for the longest time, decided to put her hat in the ring. “Our Kori Federation is willing to put a million troops on standby. The Master Sects will also be providing two Spirit Emperors each. Ten thousand troops? Hmph, your ten thousand would merely be a drop in the bucket of water. A useless drop at that.”
Almost instantly, the temperature of the room dropped. Let alone a pin, if a feather fell onto the floor, the impact could be clearly heard by the nervous men and women in the room.
‘Ah… I forgot how acidic Venus’ mouth was.’ Prince Koshaku laughed internally.
While the leading representatives from each superpower in the room were intimidating males with battle-hardened faces and towering statures, the Kori Federation had deployed a pleasant-looking woman. It wasn’t because they wished to honey trap the male representatives, it was purely because that Deputy Prime Minister of theirs was absolutely the most perfect person for the job.
“Hoho… So what do you suggest then?” Zhangyu Yaoguai’s eyelids twitched as he replied. He may be called the Iron Tongue, but he was no match for the potent acid that corrodes even the diamond to dust.
Now that the gloves were off, there was no going back. Putting her elbows on the table, the Deputy Prime Minister let out a gentle smile, one that was utterly unlike her character. At that simple movement, many in the room unconsciously gulped a mouthful of saliva.
“Let’s talk numbers.”