The night came and went by in a flash. Shin sat on the battlements throughout, wondering how the Payirci continued to float, even with all that weight pile up inside of it. Emma and Ella had asked him to at least get some shut-eye before the new dawn approached, but their advice had fallen on deaf ear. No, even if Shin took their advice, the youth seriously doubted in his ability to fall into the Garden of Hypnos.
He was so close. They were so close to Junius. How could he sleep? So Shin continued to wait. His eyes never leaving the floating tower. At times, he would converse with the sentries that stood watch over the forts. Other times, Shin would scrutinise every corner of the Payirci, hoping to get even a single clue which might help in his final assault against it. And well, though he didn’t find anything of use, this sleepless night did prove to be fruitful as Commander Martha personally visited him to deliver the good news.
Once the White Knights had secured the middle sections of the Payirci, Shin and his team were given the green light to enter the foreign structure with their guards. Many raised voices about the safety of the Payirci, but eventually, if the young geniuses wanted to grow, they had to be exposed to a certain degree of danger. Who knows? Maybe their short trip into the relic of Spirit Immortal Dream might bring more benefits than drawbacks?
That added news only served to keep Shin’s young blood boiling even more and to keep his heart and soul going for more hours to come. He couldn’t wait for the dawn to approach, and he couldn’t wait to enter the Payirci. Once Junius was caught, one of his major objectives would have been fulfilled. A goal that he had worked so hard for over the past six years. Shin wasn’t going to squander this opportunity.
And just as Commander Martha had said, early the next day, when the sun was still hiding under the horizon and the moon still fading away, Commander Martha had ordered a full-on assault into the Payirci. Using Cikai Mirrors, the Alliance Army was consistently able to monitor the conditions that the White Knights were facing. For the most part, the ascension up the tower was going swimmingly. There were slight hiccups where a bunch of Tier 5 and 6 Spirit Beasts would block the road the peak, but it was nothing that the White Knights couldn’t handle. After all, they were led by at least one Rank 70 Spirit Emperor and a plethora of Spirit Kings and Lords.
Commander Martha watched the Cikai Mirrors furiously, hoping to catch even the slightest sign of trouble. They were still in phase one of reclaiming the Payirci, and everything had to go smoothly for the next mission to commence. Bit by bit, the White Knights within climbed through the early and middle segments of the tower and were on the precipice of reaching the final stretch. Now, the Umbras had been upgraded, with Tier 6 and 7 Spirit Beasts being the norm.
The battles became more ferocious as blood started to spill on the side of the humans. Commander Martha was even tempted to order the withdrawal of her troops, just in case something unexpected happened. However, ultimately, she decided to keep her faith. It was a hard thing to watch, seeing her beloved friends and comrades getting injured through a virtual monitor. But Commander continued to grit her teeth and pray. Fortunately, after three long-drawn hours, the White Knights had already climbed up all the way to the last ten floors of the Payirci.
For some reason, after the White Knights broke through the middle segments, the Umbras stopped chasing after them, giving the wounded and fatigued warriors a comfortable place to rest. Though they didn’t know why the Payirci behaved that way, Commander Martha would be damned if she didn’t take advantage of it.
Finally, with the White Knights almost at the apex, it was the Alliance Army’s turn to move in. Securing the escape routes, the Alliance Army killed off any Umbras that dared to spawn and ensured that there was safe passage for the White Knights, should things go awry. She had even sent a few Spirit Kings disguised as mere foot soldiers, just in case of an enemy attack. It took the White Knights one full hour to rejuvenate their strengths and for the Alliance Army to secure the area.
All while Shin watched from safety.
“When are we going in?” Natasha gripped on her Starlight Katana, hopping about in place. Her fingers were tingling, and her soul bubbling out in excitement. They were promised a place in the onslaught against the Black Masks. As long as she was concerned, the sooner they got in, the better.
“Soon.” Danroy lazily replied. He looked around and saw Commander Martha biting on her fingernails while alternating her gaze between the Cikai Mirrors and the Payirci. It was probably a matter of time that they would be tapped in to help the Alliance Army. “Just prepare yourself. Use the restroom if you have to. Once we enter the Payirci, who knows how long we would remain inside?”
“You underestimate me, Dan.” The swordmaiden succinctly replied. “I was born ready to take down those scum that plagues our lands.”
“That’s good to hear.” The fat man gave a wry smile. His team was already set. If they were to move into the Payirci right this moment, Danroy was certain that Suji and Natasha would trailblaze their way through the Umbras and take down a Black Mask or two. However, the other team that they were partnering with, on the other hand…
Shin was standing right in front of everyone, with the Spear of Aiglos already summoned out. Isadore and Kanari stood right by his side, and their eyes were filled with uncertainty about the things to come. Shizen and Elrin were sitting back, lazing about as per usual, while the twins hadn’t looked Shin in the eye even once now. Evidently, something went wrong last night, but Danroy didn’t know what. However, it was not his business to go in between another team, so he remained silent. Fortunately, the order that would break the silence finally came.
“Commander’s orders. You’re joining the next batch of soldiers that are marching into the Payirci. You have five minutes to prepare.” One officer read out the transcript that had been sent out to him and hurriedly made his way to the next area.
Natasha and Suji leapt up from the comfy chairs like panthers ready to pounce. It was finally time to put their skills into action.
“Let’s go,” Suji commanded. There wasn’t even a need for a bathroom break or a short warmup. The team had been prepared from the very second they arose. Bolting straight towards the frontlines where the next battalion was ready to depart, the youngsters hyped themselves up for the eventual trip. Though, one pudgy young man stood behind, watching over Shin’s team with a gaze of worry.
“Are you guys okay?” Danroy asked.
“Yeah… Just give us a minute. We’ll be there soon.” Isadore replied in place of the dazed Shin.
Elrin, Shizen, Emma and Ella all closed in the significant gaps that separated them from the vanguard trio. Even a blind man could tell that they were wary of Shin’s reactions. The man’s fists were clenched up, his fingernails digging deep into his palms, forcing out the crimson liquid of life within his body. His superhuman healing potential allowed the wounds to fade away quickly, but there were still marks on his pure white ice spear.
“Shin…” Kanari wanted to say something, but Shin raised his right arm in defiance.
“Six years… I have waited six years for this.” Shin’s voice echoed out. It was soft, but the words penetrated deep into the young heroes’ souls. They were all brave warriors, brave cultivators in their own right, but not one of them could match the heroic spirit that had been cultivating in Shin’s soul. Junius was now a cornered rat. His Payirci was just hours away from being seized, and there was no route of escape for any of the Black Masks. If they did attempt to run, the three Spirit Venerates waiting outside would decimate them before they could even count to three. So, it really was the end of an era for Junius. Today, by hook or by crook, the Blade of Death would come into the Alliance’s hands.
“I have cried so much. Bled so much. Worked so much… All for this moment.” Shin turned around. His team visibly gulped when they saw the glistening azure pupils that lay dormant within his sockets. At this moment, they felt that Shin had undergone a considerable change. It was as if… He had become a legendary hero of old. Never relenting, never wavering. Shin had his mind set on one prize and one prize only…
“Junius is mine.”
Shin entered the Payirci with his team and all of the guards that protected them. Meijing Bingying, Xunyu Huanyuan and Elder Baobiao followed Shin to defend him. Kanari had her own guards from Spion. Elrin had a few Spirit Kings brought over by the Zedcris Conglomerate while Isadore’s secret defenders all remained in the shadows. It was perhaps the most overqualified team to keep watch over the lower floors, but no one was complaining. The Spirit Lords, Kings, Emperors and even Spirit Venerate all spread out their forces while keeping watch as Shin and his team killed off as many Umbras as they possibly could.
Sending the water elements into a complete frenzy, Shin decimated the moist and humid dungeon walls with his strikes. Dozens of Umbras fell with his Spears of Sparta while his Mines of the Ocean cleaned up the corpses. At certain times, it would be a one-man show due to how effective Shin was within the Payirci. Unexpected given that Kanari was the only Spirit Spectre in the group.
Well, Kanari was severely limited by her ability to create fire, in fear of setting the entire cramped floors into a pit of fiery doom, so it only made sense that Shin was the one to wreak havoc throughout. Suji watched over the whole scene with a certain degree of derision, scoffing every time Shin did something massive. However, he wasn’t one to be looked down upon either. His lightning was capable of charring bodies and wiping out entire floors on his own. Just as Kanari was restricted with her fires, Suji was as well with his lightning. That was the bane of those with overwhelmingly powerful abilities.
Piercing the Spear of Aiglos through the heart of another bird-like Umbra, Shin looked up at the ceiling, and his mind started to wander.
‘Has the White Knights met the Black Masks yet? Have they arrested Junius already?’
And his queries weren’t limited to himself, the other brave warriors on the first floor too looked up in hopes of finishing the Payirci quickly. The best case scenario was that the Alliance arrests the Black Masks and takes them into custody while preserving this priceless relic. However, from what the Alliance knew of the Black Masks, there was no way that they would hand over the Payirci that easily. If the vanguard White Knight team managed to climb all the way up to the apex, Commander Martha had her suspicions that the Payirci would self-detonate, bringing all those inside down with them. That’s why she allowed Shin and Junius’ team to only remain on the first floor, where the exit was just a few metres away.
“Guys… Don’t you feel that there’s something amiss?” Shizen shuffled his fingers around his knuckles as he stepped forward, hunchbacked and fearful.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know… It just feels so fuzzy now…”
“Fuzzy?” Those who knew Shizen knew that he was perhaps the most acutely sensitive person in Shin’s team. The fact that he felt something was wrong, it could only mean one thing…
“Guys, huddle up!” Shin hollered out, keeping his Spear of Aiglos tucked in. Hearing their leader’s orders, the youngsters all halted their attacks against the Umbras and retreated to Shin’s side. Even Suji, Natasha and Danroy felt something was odd and jumped to their location. Shin then turned to the only person that could protect them, the Spirit Venerate bearing the Obsidian Xuanwu, Elder Baobiao. However, when he turned his back around, the Elder was nowhere to be seen. No, all of the guards that the youngsters had brought all seemingly disappeared in a puff of smoke.
“What’s going on?!” Elrin resisted the urge to scream.
“We’re probably under some sort of illusion.” Being the only Mind-Element user within the team, Kanari gave out her hypothesis. “The mind elements are going haywire now… It’s frightening… Whoever is behind this attack must be powerful.” Kanari warned while casting her Spiritual Body Enhancement. At the same time, she unleashed her Aurora domain, in hopes of protecting those who were weaker in their group.
“Guys! Look!” Emma cried out, pointing her index finger straight into the distance. A semicircle door of light, highly reminiscent to that of a portal of fable, called out to those who laid their eyes on it. Shin felt himself being drawn to the unknown door as if it had a magnetic pull, though he didn’t know why.
No… He did know. Shin just didn’t want to admit it.
“Guys, I’m going in.”
“Wait! That’s far too dangerous!” Emma shrieked. “We should wait here until the illusion runs out! We shouldn’t risk our lives going into something we have no clue about.”
“No… I can feel it.” Shin shook his head. “What I seek. What we seek lies through those doors.”
“…” There was no rebuttal. There was no need for consideration. Why would there a door leading to a mysterious place appear right on the first floor, and it only made its presence known when Shin stepped foot in the Payirci? The answer was quite evident.
Shin had been chasing him for six years now. Through those doors, lay his prize. Was he about to give up? Absolutely not.
“I’m going.” Shin didn’t care if his friends followed him or not. He was going to fulfil his destiny and rewrite the wrongs that had been inflicted onto him so many moons ago. But alas… Would Shin’s team just leave him be? Though unwilling, they all traced Shin’s footsteps into the gate of light. Even Suji, Natasha and Danroy joined in on the party.
The portal led them into a chamber of pure stone and rock. There were ominous carvings on the wall and hundreds of hand-crafted sculptures, each one designed in the shape of a distinct mythical beast. Hundreds of swinging flames from the ceiling gave the dark chambers its light. The air was crisp, and the smell was mild. It was as if Shin and the group had entered a regularly maintained laboratory of a famous scientist. However, just one look at the central throne in the room would change that opinion in a heartbeat.
The gravel stairway climbed eight metres high each step embedded with their own ancient hieroglyphics. At the very peak of the stairwell, an aristocratic throne made with the most luxurious of obsidian dominated the room with its presence. And that wasn’t all, at the very peak of the chambers, at a height where no man could touch, there was a massive orb of glowing plasma, embedded halfway through the walls.
They were all spectacles in their own right, but the only thing that Shin’s mind was focused on was that one person seated on the throne. His viridian hair hasn’t faded one bit, and his sharp toned features were aspects that any man would die for. On his right hand, a large odachi danced its tip around the solid stone floor while the gem within its handle glistened playfully.
Even now, after everything that he had been through, the man still wore a joyful expression when he laid his eyes on Shin. Though, the same couldn’t be said about Shin. Spinning the Spear of Aiglos around, Shin peaked his mana while calling out dozens of his trusted water tendrils and spheres.
It was finally time… It was finally, time for Shin to settle this.