The early noon sky, draped with gorgeous sky blues and milky white clouds towered over the heavens, bringing endless radiant light to the lonesome lands below. Blades of grass swished from side to side while heavy winds whistled past the canyons. The birds sang in unison as the cicadas jumped merrily from leaf to leaf. It was the perfect summer day for a nice picnic under the sun. Or the ideal time to launch a raid that would end in vast amounts of death and destruction.
Standing by around the Crypts of the First Men, the White Knights and soldiers from the Alliance ensured that the region was so secure that not even a mouse could escape. There was Rank 50 Spirit Lords stationed at every corner and Rank 60 Spirit Kings were evenly distributed to react to any form of trouble. Thousands of seasoned warriors placed on their heavy equipment and wielded their sharpened weapons in wait of the eventual battle that would ensue. Members from the Kori Federation held the north and west of the crypts. Lantis Republic Alliance members held the east. And finally, Himmel Empire members were dispatched to guard the south.
Though they were all battle-ready, those on the outskirts of the crypts were to prevent an escape, instead of directly confronting the Black Masks that laid within. The actual force of the expeditions were the heroic White Knights that possessed a few Spirit Kings and Spirit Lords in their cell. Like a released arrow, the White Knights were to barge straight into the dilapidated crypts and smoke out any Black Masks that laid within. They were also in charge of seizing any documents that may pertain to the Allfather and the Black Masks’ plan. It was a high achievement to accomplish, but that was their bread and butter. The White Knights were all professionals, specially trained to take down Black Masks at astonishing rates.
However, that left the forces outside with a unique dilemma. Shin, his group and Suji’s own cell were stationed in the south, to help clean up anything that comes out from the crypts. But how could they clean up anything if nothing appears? Their adrenaline was pumping, and their faces were left battle-hungry, yet for a good half hour now, there hasn’t been any movements from the crypts, even though the White Knights had entered ages ago. As youngsters with an incessant drive to perform, the two teams began to feel rather listless.
“It’s taking them quite some time…” Isadore complained while taking a seat on a nearby boulder. In his hand, a makeshift Spiritual Armament Spear that he had ‘stolen’ from the encampment. Though the Spirit of Himmel was a rather unknown Spirit and only nerds that studied Spirits would be able to identify it, it didn’t make sense for Isadore to advertise his Spirit in such an open battle. “I wonder if they made it to the core.”
“I doubt it,” replied Shin. His eyes never left the exit of the tomb, carefully scrutinising every detail. The first thing that he could see was the high and broken gates. Pillars were halved with green moss growing all around its cracks, while the ceilings had long been devastated by the erosion of time. Watching the worn down rocks that fell from the ancient structure made Shin feel like he was looking through the monocle of time.
“The Crypts of the First Men has existed since the first major civilisation of human history. It’s hundreds of thousands of years old. I’m sure that there many broken down pathways and hidden chambers that the Black Masks must have used to prevent anyone from finding them. Breaking through those blockades while being wary of traps must have taken them some time.” Shin explained his rationale.
“That makes sense.” The silver-haired young man agreed. Isadore then turned around to observe his surroundings and the young men and women that surrounded them. As usual, the seven young heroes were banded together, each one covering the other’s position. However, unlike typical days, Kanari wasn’t standing in the frontlines alongside Shin or Isadore. Instead, she was far back with the three other girls, who usually protected the rear.
Ella and Emma were chuckling while whispering gossip into Elrin’s ears, forcing Kanari’s face to endlessly turn more crimson. If she was like a tomato before, now her complexion was akin to that of a boiled octopus. Anymore and Isadore would suspect that the girl would explode in embarrassment. On the other hand, Shizen was still resting under the shade, waiting for his time to arrive and wholly ignorant of the circumstances that surrounded him.
“Did something happen between you and Kanari? Why isn’t she standing with us as usual?” Isadore mindlessly asked.
“N-nothing happened…” At his bosom friend’s sudden words, Shin blushed and looked away, drawing even more suspicion from Isadore.
“Oh, I highly doubt that.” The young man glanced over his shoulder, only to see Kanari’s flustered eyes circling between Shin and the three young maidens that were grinning from ear to ear. Only a fool would believe that nothing had happened between the two. However, since Shin wasn’t willing to open up that can of worms, there was nothing that Isadore could do.
‘Well, I can always ask Emma later.’ Isadore thought to himself before tuning out all of the gossips in his head and changing the subject to something more relevant to their current situation. At the corner of his eye, Isadore spotted another group of young cultivators, each more stunning than the last. Although they weren’t as diverse and powerful as the seven young heroes, that group wasn’t one to be scoffed with.
“It’s surprising to see Suji, Danroy and Natasha here.”
“I know. I’d thought that they went further west, and in the end, they still ended up fighting with us.” Shin turned around to meet Suji in the eye once more. “Oh, by the way, we should go easy on the clearing to conserve our energies. We shouldn’t be wasting too much mana in the early fights.”
“Is that so…” Isadore could read Shin like a book. Just by the constant shuffling of his eyes and increased speed of his speech, the silver-haired elf-like man knew that his friend had harboured different thoughts. “Don’t kid me, Shin. What’s your real reason?”
“Hah… Suji laid down a one-sided bet with me. He wants the two groups to compete to see who does the most damage to the Black Masks.” The young man dropped his shoulders and recounted his prior experience with Suji. “Honestly, all I want is to be better friends with everyone. I don’t want to have enemies surrounding me!”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly consider Suji, an enemy.” Isadore turned to the sinewy young man, who had his entire pupils dilated while he glared in Shin’s directions. His grip on the Purple Dragon Crescent Blade increased exponentially as coils of lightning flowed about, menacingly obliterating the poor pebbles beneath his feet. Suji couldn’t wait for the assault to begin so that he’ll have the opportunity to finally prove his worth. “Okay, maybe he’s a little hostile, but you shouldn’t be too bothered. There’s nothing that the Lasgeor Family can do to you so I wouldn’t be worried.”
“Hah… Perhaps.” Shin shrugged and turned his attention back to the dark crevice that leads deep into the Crypts of the First Men. Over the past twenty-four hours, he had been bombarded with new distractions that had altered him from the path he had initially been started on. Why was he here? Why did he train so hard and take missions in such perilous locations? Wasn’t it just for this moment?
‘Just a few more hours before Junius falls under the White Knights grasp… When that happens, I’ll be sure to bring him to your grave, Sister Lily!!!’
That was the promise that Shin had made to his deceased sister and Junius ex-lover. Once Junius was brought to justice, Shin would bring him to the graves of those he killed and make him account for his sins. Though Shin wasn’t sure if Frie Mountain was willing to accept him in, he too wanted to visit Ariel’s and those who had fallen in the Black Masks vengeance, to make Junius account for his sins.
Pushing out all of the distractions that had muddled his head for the past few hours, Shin composed himself and observed as the White Knights continued their descent into the Crypts of the First Men. Maybe, just maybe… Junius would retreat in his direction, giving Shin the perfect opportunity to arrest his brother all for himself.
However, the time never came. First, it was an hour. Next, it was two. And before he knew it, Shin had been on standby for over three hours. The troops on the outside were starting to become restless, and clanking of metal grinding against one another could be heard.
“They’re still not out?” Isadore continued to wonder. By now, even if there weren’t any success, a messenger would be sent to the surface to communicate their progress. Yet, there wasn’t a single soul in sight. “Do you think something might have happened to them?”
“There are over forty individuals inside of the Crypts, with their weakest member being a Rank 50 Spirit Lord and their strongest being a bunch of Spirit Emperors. There aren’t many forces in the world that could match that kind of firepower. Even if there was, there’s no way that they could trap that many White Knights inside of the structure.” Shin explained. “They’re probably fighting hard and cleaning up as we speak.”
“I understand the logic but…”
Before Isadore could complete his sentence, a tremendously loud tremor dominated the land, shaking anything and everything that set foot on the earth. The initial explosion was at an intensity not inferior to that of a Primordial Lion’s Roar, sending shockwaves tunnelling throughout the empty land. Fortunately, there weren’t any trees nearby, else the entire troop would be forced to evade the falling flora while looking out for any escaping enemies.
Shin’s eyes never left the dark passage of the crypts. He knew that in this brief moment of mayhem, the Black Masks would be sure to exploit the break in the Alliance’s defences to make an escape. Just as he anticipated, many shadows being to form within the depths of the crypt and galloped their way out of the exit.
“READY YOURSELVES!!!” Shin barked. Creating the Spear of Aiglos again, Shin summoned out numerous water golems to help facilitate in the capture of the retreating Black Masks. At his orders, the seven young heroes all summoned out their Spirits and got into the battle positions. Even the lazy Shizen had his Adivinar Tree brought out, ready to pounce at any given moment.
“Wait… Isn’t that the Commander?!” Before Shin could charge forward, Isadore’s superior eyes picked up a golden glint in the darkness. Holding his hand up, Isadore continued to observe the shadows as they continued their ascent into the light only to scream out at the end. “It’s the White Knights! They’re retreating!!!”
“They are?!” Taking into account Isadore’s words, Shin lowered the Spear of Aiglos and jumped forward to receive the White Knights. The brave men and women that had led the charge down into the crypts were now covered in vast amounts of dust, fading the lustre of their metallic armours. Many had been lightly wounded with numerous bruises while some had their body crisscrossed with deep wounds.
“Commander! What happened?! Why are you running away?!”
“Change of plans! Everyone must regroup! Relay the order! Everyone leaves right now! There’s something down there that’s going to destroy the area!” The golden-armoured White Knight barked, all while holding onto an ally that had fallen. “This place isn’t safe anymore! Retreat now!!!”
The Commander left her comrade with a nearby medic and wanted to immediately fly to the other three flanks, in hopes of saving as many of her soldiers as she could. However, before she could even lift her two feet out of the ground, another tremor thundered through the lands as cracks formed from the deep trenches of the region. At the same time, a flying messenger bolted forward from the east, bearing important news.
“Commander! The eastern front is getting sieged by thousands of oceanic Spirit Beasts!!!” The officer hollered out. “The Lantis Republic forces requests for assistance!”
“Damn it!!! Retreat! Tell them all to retreat! I’ll be right there to assist them in a moment!!!”
Another earthquake torrented through the lands and forced hundreds of soldiers onto their knees. Billions of sand particles dominated the airways and continued to wreak havoc among the thousands of troops. Crackles of immense thunder and endless lightning bolts dominated the skies as an enormous updraft crossed the terrain.
Immediately seeking cover, Shin and the other seven heroes watched in horror as the earth beneath the crypts split in two. The rocky surface of the tombs soon got turned into dust as the structures that stood for thousands of years fell into oblivion. Forced to continually retreat, Shin and the Alliance members couldn’t stop the carnage as dozens of their comrades fell into the opened chasm.
“ALL TO SAFETY!!! NOW!!!” The Commander continued to scream at the top of her lungs. There was no possible way to retreat in an orderly manner now. Soldiers disregarded their training and scrambled straight to safety like gazelles stampeding in the Serengeti.
It took the land a full three minutes to calm down as the winds slowed and the earth came to a halt. By some miracle, over ninety percent of the Alliance’s forces had survived the sudden explosion of nature and were now gazing down into a deep dark ravine that resembled that of an endless void.
“Is it over?” Shin thought out loud. From the safety of his group, Shin peered deep into the chasm below. There wasn’t any spiritual energy and neither was there any life. There was nothing but darkness and dread.
A low resonant ring sounded through every living being’s soul, forcing every single spectator to retreat kilometres away from the broken hole that was once the Crypts of the First Men. Sensing danger, Meijing Bingying, Xunyu Huanyuan and Elder Baobiao immediately emerged from their hidden location and gathered Shin and his mates into a barrier that the Spirit Venerate created. An immense turtle shell enveloped the youths as a colossal structure emerged from the depths of the void, unintentionally creating a sandstorm that blinded the Alliance’s forces.
When the dust settled, all of the Alliance’s eyes were firmly attached to that completely blackened construction that dominated the airspace of the region. Towering over at almost a kilometre in height, the colossal tower was shaped like an inverted pin. Sharp at the bottom, blunt at the top. Coils of dark lightning circled the tower with its ends coated in a magnificent obsidian energy barrier. The thousands of oceanic Spirit Beasts all ignored the cries of the fallen and jumped straight into an opening in the tower, instantly disappearing within its chambers.
“What’s… that?!” Elrin screamed. And who could blame her? Even the golden armoured White Knight Commander wished to holler out with everything that she had. No one has ever experienced such a phenomenon before, and they were still unclear if it was capable of harming them.
Shin was no exception. However, instead of feeling fear and angst, the young man was feeling anger and frustration.
‘Was this what you were referring to, Junius?! Is this the trump card that the Allfather and the Black Masks have?!’ Shin was screaming internally. He had thought that Junius would be in his hands by the end of the day and that the White Knights were more than sufficient to take on the Black Masks that he had trapped. Yet, that was far from the case. With this tower in their hands, it was now the Black Masks that had the upper hand.
Shin had worked hard to get close to Junius. He had spent thousands of man-hours. Years of blood, sweat and tears. Just to get close to Junius and to get him to answer for his crimes. Yet, when Shin was so close to the finish line. When Junius was just a hand’s reach away… Just like that… The dawn… The light that he had worked so hard to grow… Just vanished.