The skies were as blue as can be, bearing white milky clouds which resembled that of cotton candy. Some clouds were so large that it covered half of a man’s vision, blocking out the blazing white sphere above. Make no mistake, the sun may be covered by clouds, but its light continued to stun the world into submission on this early summer morning. Birds flew up from their nests, decorating the skies with a little bit of life. Their chirps acted as sonorous songs that told the time. Which was convenient for the army assembled right before the Payirci.
It was two hours after mid-noon. Thousands of men had left their positions in the encampment and their watchtowers to join in the march. Commander Martha had pushed into the ten-kilometre radius and sent legions of warriors to push back the Umbras. As she had envisioned, the combined might of the Alliance forces were too much for the weak Spirit Beasts to bear and they drove all the way back to within a two-kilometre radius of the floating tower.
Tasting victory, her men continued to mow down every Umbra that they saw, no matter how small or large it was. Riding in on their Pegasus, the White Knights rained down havoc from above, while the foot soldiers thinned out the numbers accordingly. There was nothing that the Black Masks could do. Even if they wished to assist the Umbras, the elite White Knights flying above would swoop down and decimate their forces within minutes. They couldn’t even use the World Serpent’s power to resist the attacks, as at least five Spirit Venerates were waiting outside, courtesy of the Alliance and the Highgarden Duchy. Essentially, for the Black Masks, the only thing that they could do was to wait for the Alliance to barge into the Payirci and hope for the best.
But Commander Martha wasn’t going to give the criminal syndicate that mercy. After pushing the Umbras back into an acceptable range, she ordered her forces to hold their grounds and to quickly create makeshift forts that could hold up against an impromptu siege. They had the advantage when it came to their numbers and quality of forces. What the Black Masks had the edge in was the unpredictability of the Payirci. Thus, Commander Martha had made the wise decision not to play with the Black Masks in their game. Yes, it was imperative for the White Knights to launch an attack to ascend the Payirci, but they didn’t have to rush it.
By creating a temporary fort surrounding the floating tower, the army could take their time to replenish resources while killing as many Umbras as they possibly could while small elite teams of White Knights scouted the foreign structure. There was no need for Commander Martha to put all her eggs in one basket. She could afford to wait it out. Furthermore, having her soldiers kill hordes of Umbras was good for combat training.
Shin and his team were watching warriors slice down a menacing swarm of killer dog-sized bees from the safety of the earthen fort with approving expressions. The forts behaved like walls of a prison that kept the Umbras and Black Masks in, enabling the ‘jailors’ to bring down their prisoners numbers through brute force alone. Standing right by them, numerous archers and long-range ballistae fired out deadly projectiles to assist in the ground troops’ defence. Elemental energies kept the warm summer morning cool and breezy as each explosion sent shockwaves throughout the reinforced forts.
Legions of warriors dropped down from their positions to replace those who had been fatigued while dozens of arrows whizzed by. It was common practice for the soldiers to attack in waves. That way, those who had been in the frontlines could have a chance to replenish their strengths while the pressure being mounted on the Umbras continued to pile on. Though not everyone shared Commander Martha’s sentiment.
At the centre of the beast horde, a sinewy young man rode his lightning mare into battle, burning the flesh of all of the Umbras. Shin didn’t even understand how their blackened skin could get even more charred, but Suji showed him that anything was possible when the lightning element was involved. Each swing of his Purple Dragon Crescent Blade sent thunderbolts flying all over the battleground, and each time his prized stallion rode into a pack of Umbras, their skins would moult while their eyes would melt.
It was almost fitting. The Son of War riding a lightning horse raining down terror wherever he went. Now, Shin understood why the Lasgeor family was known for only their military exploits. The Purple Dragon Crescent Blade was unquestionably most suited for riding into the battlefield.
The only question was, how long could Suji keep this up? He had been swinging and hacking for almost a half hour now, and there were no signs of him slipping up. Furthermore, his auxiliary teammates were supplying him with mana while Danroy and Natasha protected his flanks. It was as if Suji could continue on for hours without tiring, something rare to see for someone of his mana pool and flashy techniques.
“When is he going to stop.” Shizen made a complaint, his smooth and silky complexion riddled with wrinkles as he frowned. “We’re supposed to take his place, but he just keeps on going!”
Just like the soldiers before them, the seven young heroes were assigned to replace their classmates when they were exhausted. Due to a certain maiden’s clinginess, the team had arrived at the battlegrounds a little later than their compatriots, forcing them to play second fiddle and watch Suji wreak havoc on the floor. Though, Kanari wasn’t feeling any regret. If anything she was giddily whispering intricate details to her fellow young maidens at a corner, bringing all of their faces into a tomato blush.
Usually, Shin only had to deal with the reverent gazes that were shot his way from the regular soldiers of the army. Now, he also had to resist the urge to smack those three coltish smiles that the other girls had. It was a challenge, yes, but Shin ultimately tuned them out as he huddled up with Isadore and Shizen, all while seeking the counsel of Meijing Bingying, Xunyu Huanyuan and Elder Baobiao.
“What are Commander Martha’s plans for the afternoon?” Shin asked.
Xunyu Huanyuan opened up a notebook and flipped to the page he bookmarked. “The Alliance will build thick walls to keep the Umbras in. At the same time, all units are to push the Spirit Beasts back into the Payirci. Quite a simple plan if you ask me.” The young man repeated what he read, word-for-word. “Nonetheless, it’s quite impressive for the Alliance to build so many forts in this little time. Now, all that’s left is for us to push the Umbras back into the Payirci.”
“Why don’t the Spirit Emperors and Venerates strike?” From the corner of his eye, Shin could see a variety of well-dressed men and women, folding their arms and watching the battle unfold. They all possessed a certain air of dignity, one that could only be obtained through years of hard work and experience. Whether it was Spirit Venerate Kikyo or Commander Martha, they were all-powerful beings that could effortlessly bring thousands of Spirit Beasts to heel.
“They’re saving their strength.” Meijing Bingying interjected. “Once the Umbras are pushed in, those above the Spirit King realm would pool their powers together in the hopes of crashing down the Payirci with one strike. It might prove fruitless, but Commander Martha believes that it’s worth a shot.”
The cold maiden raised her head to stare at the floating tower. Before, she believed that the Black Masks were a problem for the Terre Continent to handle. Yes, there have been some attempts by the syndicate to invade the Lantis Archipelago, but the inferior galleys and piss-poor oceanic beasts were no match for the greatest navy the world has ever seen. However, Bingying’s opinion changed when the Payirci was introduced to the world. Not many people knew of this in the present day, but the Lantis Republic had once invested in Spirit Immortal Dream when she had created her own country.
As a once in a million years genius, the ideas that Spirit Immortal Dream had were as maniacal as they were fantastical. She spoke of floating towers that could house an infinite amount of Spirit Beasts, resounding lasers that could obliterate the strongest of walls within a matter of seconds and even creating an energy source that could power a billion homes from now until the end of time. At the time, they seemed to be the crazy ramblings of a mad scientist, but after Spirit Immortal Dream had proven herself time and time again, the Lantis Republic decided to become her first investor.
Before Spirit Immortal Dream went crazy and murdered all of her people, that transaction paid off massively for the Lantis Republic. First, all of their vessels had been upgraded into a more modern fleet. Now powered by aether, their ships didn’t need to rely on the rocky waves and unpredictable winds anymore. They were even equipped with state-of-the-art cannons and harpoons. There were even talks of making a submersible ship that could move unnoticed by the human eye. Through Spirit Immortal Dream’s help, the Lantis Republic had undeniably solidified their place as the world’s top navy.
So those in the Lantis Republic, particularly those belonging to the Eight Ancient Clans, knew how miraculous artefacts that Spirit Immortal Dream designed are. The Payirci was once an outlandish concept that Spirit Immortal Dream had. Yet, the Black Masks had made it into reality. Now, even those in the Lantis Republic should be panicking. Who knew what other artefacts the Black Masks and the Allfather had in store?
“Shin, let’s attack them!” The adrenaline flowed to Meijing Bingying’s head. She didn’t want to be relegated to the sidelines anymore. Her place was down there, in the middle of the battlefield.
“But our orders are to replace Suji when he comes back!” The young man rebutted, his eyes shifting from Commander Martha’s position and his own.
“Are you her subordinate?” A loud response came flying back. “You’re an heir of the great Longyu Clan! The Prince of Water and the Black-Haired Tyrant! If you really want to fight, just go down there and wipe the floor with those bird-brained monsters!”
‘Aren’t you giving me an order as well?!’ Shin debunked Meijing Bingying’s word mentally as his brows arched downwards. ‘But she makes a good point… Suji has been going at it for quite some time now, and his mana pool should be exhausted soon. Forcing him to come back up is not an option, so I guess assisting him would be the next best thing.’
Shin stretched his right shoulder and got onto the platform of the fort. A wry smile crept up Isadore’s face when he saw that resolute expression of his friend’s. How many times has the elfen man seen that? There was no need to share words. Just like Shin, Isadore got up onto the same platform with a loaned spear.
Before anyone could ask him what his plan was, the young man took the leap of faith, stunning Meijing Bingying and his fellow companions that were still chattering away. Isadore followed suit right after. They were about thirty metres up from the ground, but the young heroes didn’t care about breaking bones or wounding flesh. Shin created two water bubbles to act as a cushion for their descent while dozens of spiralling water spheres, laced with a silver hue graced the dry air of the battlefield.
“Flow-Style Technique, Arcane River.” As Shin made his landing, the water spheres turned into voids that vomited out gallons of astral water, cleaning up the crimson-red waterlogged soil and replacing it with the tears of the divine goddess.
The sudden appearance of a river filled with angelic sparkles confused every being on the ground, friend and foe alike. But that didn’t stop Shin from casting his next ability. Using the mana-infused water he splattered around, the Prince of Water created dozens of water golems with swords and hammers as hands. At the same time, in various locations littered behind the Alliance forces vanguard, small pools of healing water dug deep into the ground. It took some time, but the water began to boil and released a foggy mist which rejuvenated all that stood near it, bringing back their lost strength and power and allowing the valiant warriors to fight yet another battle.
Not stopping there, Shin spread his arm out wide, creating a thick spear of water, which gradually crystallised into something much more sinister looking. Spinning the Spear of Aiglos around like a windmill, the temperature surrounding Shin dipped drastically as the water-elements began to heed his call. Hundreds of ice arrows appeared overhead and dashed out immediately, piercing any Umbras that tried to push forward in resistance.
The side of Meijing Bingying’s lips crept upwards when she watched her teachings being placed into practical use. Unsheathing her Spectral Reaver Blade, the young maiden laughed as she leapt down to assist her mentee. Finally coming to their senses, the rest of Shin’s team followed suit with their own Spirits being called out. Kanari merged with her Kumiho while Ella and Shizen dropped down together on vines, creating their own unique duo combination. Only Elrin and Emma stood back because their high vantage point would prove to be much more beneficial to the team as compared to the middle of the flat rocky plains.
Shin’s flashy entrance didn’t go unnoticed. Suji glanced back and snorted derisively. They should have waited back in camp, the man thought. Though he was angered, Suji didn’t dare to slack on his duties. The Guandao in his hands continued to dance and electrocute any that stood in his way. Suji really looked indomitable. His savagery was far beyond his years, and the seemingly inexhaustible mana pool continued to impress all of his peers. Nonetheless, after a half hour of endless bouts, there was bound to be a few cracks shown in his defence.
For a split second, a Praying Mantis Umbra managed to thread the needle and move in close to the sinewy young man while he was busy engaging three other beasts. Suji wanted to react, but the Umbra was far too quick. A praying mantis was known for its explosive speed after all. The only thing that the muscular man could do was defend with a swing of his Guandao.
But the anticipated attack never landed. Before the blades of the praying mantis could reach Suji, ten vicious spears pierced through the Umbra’s body, sending flying far away from the succulent flesh of the toned young man. Shin flew forward using the Dance of the Valkyrie and landed right before his classmate’s eyes.
“Are you alright?” Offering a hand, Shin asked the man.
“I didn’t need your help!” Suji scoffed and slapped Shin’s hand away. Taking a few seconds to compose himself, the muscular juggernaught spun his lightning Guandao around before turning to Shin. “Our bet still stands! I’ll definitely beat more Spirit Beasts than you!” The veins in his muscles began to pop as the young man barged into battle once more. Hacking down yet another praying mantis Umbra, Suji continued to wreak havoc like a berserker on a mission.
“Hehe, Suji really is quite proud.” Isadore caught up and opened with an obvious observation. “So, Shin. Are you going to let him win again?”
“Not this time…” Shin shook his head. Staring up at the tall levitating tower, the youth wondered if Junius was up there somewhere, glancing down at him from his lofty throne. If he did, then Shin ought to put on a show, just to lure that asshole out into the open.
“I’m going to go all out…”