Shin watched the infinitely tall tower hover in place as everything that was surrounding it came to a standstill. No one dared to move a single finger lest the structure suddenly attacked them. The golden-armoured Commander had to pinch her own two legs from running off in the opposite direction to help her eastern counterparts fight off the invasion from the oceanic Spirit Beasts. Each time Shin moved, he swore that he could feel a pair of eyes staring right at him, even though the dark tower had no windows and no doors. Though, at the foot of the tower, there was one oddly vast entrance, wide enough to cater an entire army marching through with ease.
Watching as the Spirit Beasts poured into the foreign structure like water from a running tap filling a beaker, Shin turned to the only person who wasn’t fazed by the dark tower. In fact, he was biting his fingernails with his brows knitted together.
“Elder Baobiao! Do you know what’s that?”
“…” The elderly man with a dragon’s white beard dropped his gaze for a brief moment. However, after contemplating it for a while, the elderly man finally heaved out a deep sigh before saying: “Although I can’t be sure, that seems to resemble that of an artefact from the age of Spirit Immortal Dream called the Payirci.”
“The Payirci?” Even Meijing Bingying joined in the mix. Everyone wanted to know what was that structure that the Black Masks had so many gathered around the Spirit Venerate. “What’s that?”
“To be honest, I’m not an expert on that subject…” Elder Baobiao shook his head as well. Nonetheless, the elderly man still decided to spill as much as he possibly could, in hopes of pulling up the morale of the troop. “Legend has it that the Payirci is an artefact conceived by Spirit Immortal Dream, long before she ascended into the heavens. She wanted to create the perfect environment where young cultivators could train without the dangers of war. So she created a blueprint that uses Aether to charge a floating tower made from precious metals that could house thousands of Spirit Beasts at one go. In theory, it could even create new ‘fake’ Spirit Beasts that could regenerate once killed. However, it was always in the blueprint phase. No one actually went out to make such an expensive structure.”
“A training field?” Meijing Bingying remarked.
“That’s right. The Payirci was initially conceptualised to be a simple training field. However, what’s before us now isn’t any mere safe haven for cultivators to train…” Elder Baobiao looked up at the kilometre-long tower, gritting his teeth and clenching his fists. “That structure is a place for thousands to die. The Allfather and the Black Masks must have modified the master plans. I don’t know how they did it since the plans were destroyed when Spirit Immortal Dream ascended, but what’s before us is definitely a variant of the Payirci that I had heard legends about in my youth.”
“A Payirci…” Shin took one step forward to examine the magnificent obsidian tower once more. Hovering a few metres above ground level, if Shin wanted to, he could easily make his way through the suspiciously large entrance, which seemed to welcome anyone regardless of their size. “Wait! Elder Baobiao! Didn’t you say that it could potentially create new Spirit Beasts that would regenerate even if they were killed?”
“That’s right.” The Spirit Venerate grimly agreed. “However, that was just in theory, and there was no proof to validate that claim. If there really was a structure that could infinitely produce Spirit Beasts, wouldn’t the world be claimed by the Black Masks just like that?”
As Elder Baobiao said those words, Shin remembered what Junius had said to him yesterday, when he believed that Shin would fall under his own palms.
‘Come with me, Shin! I can shelter you from the dangers of the world! I can convince the Allfather to not use the orphans and you in his master plan! I can save you!!!’
Thinking back to his fallen brother’s words, Shin began to connect the dots. If the Allfather wanted to send the world into ruin, creating an infinite amount of Spirit Beasts was most definitely the way to go. Right now, the most pressing disadvantage that the Black Masks had was their numbers. They may have a handful of Spirit Beasts, but any good army would be capable of mowing down their numbers in open combat. No matter how powerful the Allfather and the Black Masks were, they couldn’t outmatch the combined might of the three superpowers.
However, if they had an infinite supply of Spirit Beasts…
“Something’s amiss…” Shin’s mind started to wander, hoping to find hints in his memory that would help him solve the enigma that was the Allfather. Yet, no matter how much he thought about it, Shin was still unable to come up with a suitable answer.
“Elder Baobiao! Is it possible for you to land a strike on the tower?” At that moment, the White Knight Commander came forward with a resonant cry. “If you could destroy its defences, we would have a much better time trying to invade the structure!”
The White Knights wouldn’t give in, even after this unknown variable had popped up. Since they had the assistance of a Spirit Venerate, perhaps they could weaken the Payirci enough so that a ground invasion became viable. After all, the majority of Spirit Beasts that came from the ocean and the remaining Black Masks in the area were all congregated in that one spot. If Elder Baobiao could destroy even half of its defences, it would deal a heavy blow to the Black Masks within.
“Child, my speciality is defence, not offence.” As a member of the Heigui Clan, who awakened the Obsidian Xuanwu, Elder Baobiao wasn’t known for being particularly potent with his offensive power. When it came to protecting himself and others, there wasn’t many Spirit Venerates that could hold a candle to him. However, the opposite was also true. When it came to offence, his power wasn’t capable of touching the toes of many of his peers. “My own power might not be sufficient to take it down.”
“Please! We need as much firepower as we can get! Your Xuanwu’s Yawn should provide enough damage to take it down.”
“Hoho, you even know of my Xuanwu’s Yawn?” Elder Baobiao stroked his beard, genuinely shocked that someone had knowledge of his own powers. He had kept a rather low profile in the Lantis Republic and the days of him roaming about in the world had become ancient news.
“That’s right! Please, Elder Baobiao!” The White Knight Commander begged. Though she was a Spirit Emperor and had her own arsenal of abilities, a Spirit Venerate that had crossed his mortality twice would vastly outstrip her when it came to mana regeneration and spiritual energy manipulation. Even if he wasn’t the most powerful offensive Spirit Venerate, Elder Baobiao could still out damage her with ease.
“Fine… All of you get back.” Finally relenting, the Spirit Venerate walked five metres ahead of everyone and unleashed an even greater barrier to protect those behind him. The attack that he was about to unleash held tremendous amounts of power and without ample protection, those below the Spirit Spectre realm would unquestionably get blown back by the after effects.
Gathering a dense amount of spiritual energy, a phantom of a serpent’s head started to form. As Elder Baobiao continue to congregate his mana unhindered, a colossal figure bolted out from the end of the serpent’s head. One obsidian shell with four meaty legs descended upon the earth bringing fear and dread to those who witnessed it. Shin, Kanari as a host of other Spirit Adepts felt the need to bend the knee in respect of the divine being’s arrival, while those with lesser willpower had already grovelled on the floor.
“Sister Bingying… That is…”
“An avatar. A spiritual ability that only those with the mana pool of a Spirit Emperor could manage.” The Pearl in the East explained. “Using his Obsidian Xuanwu Avatar, Elder Baobiao could increase his offence and defence tenfold, as well as use his avatar to physically attack his enemies. Watch and learn Shin. When you’re about to reach the Spirit Emperor realm, I’m sure the elders in the Republic would be teaching you this ability.”
Keeping silent as the Obsidian Xuanwu Avatar continued to grow in size, Shin could feel his entire soul being awed by every single particle that was released by the avatar. The elements all around were singing in joy as the spiritual energies of the world rushed into Elder Baobiao’s body as if he were a whirlpool of death that sucked anything and everything into his grasp. At its peak, the Obsidian Xuanwu Avatar finally took its ultimate shape. A complete twenty-metre giant with thick muscles and a near-impregnable shell. Its elongated serpent’s neck and dragon-like head were so realistic that Shin almost felt the need to turn in the other direction to bolt away. Though he had never seen a real Xuanwu before, Shin had no doubt that the avatar would give the mythical beast a run for its money.
Ignoring the stares that were directed at him, Elder Baobiao raised his two arms straight at the Payirci, leading the head of the avatar to point in the same direction. The sharp jaws of the Xuanwu immediately dropped, bringing forth a deep ball of light that congregated into that single point. The mana being supplied to it was so formidable that many outside of the barrier that Elder Baobiao had created found it hard to breathe. However, the Spirit Venerate didn’t care what others felt. He had one task, and he was about to complete it.
A low ringing buzz reverberated through the decrepit land as the ball of light within the Obsidian Xuanwu Avatar became more massive with every passing second. Soon, concentrated mana sphere became too heavy for the avatar to bear and Elder Baobiao unleashed it with a vengeance.
From Shin’s perspective, the ball of light raced towards the tower at a blinding speed and in just a split second, the entire sphere detonated as it touched the obsidian barrier of the Payirci. The explosion doubled in size with every passing second, and it was akin to seeing a second sun appear within the rocky plains. Blinded by the light, Shin and those within the barrier all turned around to help their sockets recover, though some continued to gaze upon the dazzling explosion, not willing to miss a single thing.
‘What an ability!!!’ Shin screamed out mentally. In all his years’ training in the Capital, he had never seen a Spirit Venerate go all out. Yes, he had seen Lady Seph use her miraculous healing abilities thousands, if not millions of times, but since his master didn’t possess any potent offensive abilities, his view on Spirit Venerates’ attacks was severely limited. Until now that is…
The explosion caused by the Xuanwu’s Yawn sent shockwaves all about the region, so much so that Latina and Natalie back in base camp could feel the rumbles of the earth. Large amounts of dust and dirt flew rampant in the land, blocking the view of everyone who stood near the Payirci. However, for those with superior eyesight, looking past the clouds was as simple as squinting their eyes.
“N-No… way…” Isadore dropped his jaw while glancing through the dust particles. Bit by bit, the air began to clear, revealing a completely intact black tower, pristine as can be, wholly unfazed by the momentous attack that Elder Baobiao had dealt with it. “How is that possible?!”
“…” The Spirit Venerate furrowed his brows and released the avatar that he had created. He didn’t hold back one bit. That Xuanwu’s Yawn was the best attack that he could create, and yet, the Payirci didn’t even have a single crack on its body.
“What is that thing made of?!”
As if it was angered that someone had attempted to destroy it, the Payirci shook violently, and dark, foggy smoke bellowed out from the wide entrances at its bottom. The smoke continued on for a long while before the already wide openings increased in size even further. From the darkness of the Payirci, thousands of shadows jumped out in complete fury and charged straight for the Alliance forces that surrounded them.
“Spirit Beasts?! No, there’s something different about them!!!” Shin’s pupils began to dilate as he watched the monsters barge their way towards them. Instead of being an assortment of colours, they were all dyed the same unanimous black. Their eyes had turned completely red, and it was as if they were hypnotised by hell’s demons. They weren’t the ordinary Spirit Beasts that roamed the land. They were something much more sinister…
“All men, retreat back to base to regroup! Help your peers to run back! Engage to protect!” Knowing that they had lost, the White Knight Commander ordered everyone to return back to recalibrate their strengths and even call for reinforcements if need be. At the same time, she flew straight to the eastern front, whose forces seemed to have been punished the most by the oceanic Spirit Beast invasion.
“Guys, you heard her!” At that moment, Shin forgot whatever woes that he had. Kanari’s kiss? Junius’ triumph? Suji’s bet? All of that didn’t matter now. What’s important was that they helped whoever was in need to escape the onslaught of the dark Spirit Beasts.
Hearing his command, all of the seven young heroes summoned out their Spirits and entered their battle stances. Even Kanari, who had been avoiding Shin like the plague since this morning, threw away her embarrassment and flew forward to stand side-by-side with her leader, where she should have been this entire time.
“Alright then… Let’s do this!!!”