Shin didn’t have the time to think about the two Spirit Spectres he killed. Whether he wanted to bask in the glory of beating two Vaishyas or taking a timeout to catch a breath, Shin was ripped from any options as the Umbras continued to attack relentlessly. The Tier 6 Minotaur was being kept at bay, but just barely, by the valiant efforts of the three weapon-type Spirit Adepts. All while the twin Ice Fairies and the Freak of the Dundlewoods killed off the weaker Umbras while Elrin gave her support.
A stream of water spiked up from the floor and slowly chilled into a gorgeously deadly spear, with an indestructible tip. Shin brought out three orbs of water, each one densely packed with high quantities of his mana and spun them around his body. He was battered and blue, but that wasn’t an excuse to stop swinging his weapon. There was still a fight to be won, and it had to be done quickly. The youngsters weren’t invincible or more importantly, they weren’t immune to fatigue. If the battle waged on for an hour longer, there would be no geniuses from the Imperius Academy anymore.
“How are you holding up?” Shin jumped with the Spear of Aiglos in his hand, aiding Isadore’s front in pushing the Minotaur back.
“Not good.” The silver-haired elfin grimly replied. “It may be an Umbra, but a Minotaur is still a Tier 6 Spirit Beast. We don’t have the firepower to completely annihilate it. And it doesn’t help that all of its injuries are being healed by that stupid core in the centre of the throne.” Isadore’s eyes shifted to the intolerable object that continued to pulsate with plasma within its core.
“It regenerates using the Paradise Heart?”
“Paradise my ass! It’s more like a hellish nightmare!” The young man spat, his pale white face reddened by the blood vessels being popped within his body.
“Have you tried attacking the Paradise Heart directly? To cut the Umbra from its core?”
“You think I haven’t tried?! The Minotaur is far too agile and powerful! Not to mention, there are countless more Umbras blocking our path forward! Any attacks that we throw at the core would just be negated or rendered ineffective through excessive defences!” Isadore recounted his experience with the Paradise Heart. Simply put, reaching the Paradise Heart was easier said than done.
“…” Shin squinted. He knew that it would be hard to take on the Paradise Heart when there were so many defences mounted to protect it. After all, it was the nucleus of the Payirci. They may have bypassed the hardest hurdles, which was finding the chambers and bypassing the thousands of trials and tribulations one would typically have to make to reach this stage, but it didn’t mean that their job of taking it down was easy.
“How about this? You and I will hold back the Minotaur for a few seconds. Let Suji and Natasha ready their strongest attacks to strike at the Paradise Heart. Their pure offensive spiritual abilities are stronger than any of ours.” Shin suggested.
Isadore agreed that Shin’s plan was a great one, but once he caught sight of his friend’s hands trembling, the young man replied with his own rebuttal. “Are you sure that you’re up for the task? I don’t think that you can sustain a fight with a Minotaur after killing two Vaishyas.”
“It doesn’t matter.” The black-haired boy shook his head. His expression was placid, and his emotions were calm. Shin’s body may be failing him, but it didn’t stop his resolve. “If we don’t do this, we’re all going to lose anyway. So we might as well try it.”
“Hah… There’s my leader.” It was hard to dispute with Shin when he brings forth his most heroic front. “I’ll take its upper body, you try and damage its bottom. I’ll relay your plan to Natasha and Suji.”
Isadore flew through the dusty air with his massive spear in hand, piercing through any attacks that the Minotaur threw at him. The young elf-like boy was like a speedy bunny, hopping from platform to platform. Whispers flowed out of his mouth to the two other young prodigies, and they all turned to look at Shin. Natasha immediately nodded and leapt backwards, out of range of the powerful Tier 6 Spirit Beast. Suji, on the other hand, wore an unwilling expression. However, even he knew that it wasn’t the time nor place to be nitpicking. His Purple Dragon Crescent Blade sparked into life with coils of purple lightning giving rise to a draconic roar that could only be heard by the clap of the heavens.
“Elrin! Boost us!” Shin yelled. There was no time for elaborate explanations, so the youth showed his intent through his actions. Gallons of mana-imbued water were being generated by Shin, creating a flash flood within the compounds of the chamber. Shin licked his lips while he felt the effects of Sacramental Boost rejuvenate his weakened body. Isadore felt the same. However, Elrin had gone one step further by giving him ‘False Armament’ as well. The already agile boy had turned more nimble than a cat, speeding through the upper body of the Minotaur as if he were a roach that could never be brushed off.
Likewise, Shin got to work with the lower part of the Tier 6 Spirit Beast. Tens of water tendrils emerged from the Arcane River that Shin had cast, attempting to bind the Minotaur in its place. At the same time, two rapidly spinning whirlpools sealed the beast’s movements like a bear trap, giving the two spearmasters a little time to play around while Suji and Natasha readied their ultimate moves.
Rapid movements and excellent spearmanship sliced through the thick flesh and the hide of the Spirit Beast, splashing crimson blood all about the chilling cold floor. Shin chuckled internally. Looks like the high-tiered Umbras weren’t just a chunk of cold dark mana like the weaker ones that Shin fought earlier on. Fortunately for them, it meant that the Payirci had a limited supply of Tier 6 Spirit Beasts and above, limiting the Paradise Heart’s capability to create any more of them.
The Minotaur roared. Rather than being bound, the Spirit Beast was pissed off. He kicked the restraints that sealed his movements in one fell swoop and strengthened itself using more darkness mana that was being released by the Paradise Heart. Shin knew that Isadore’s quick attacks weren’t enough to curb the anger that the Minotaur had, so he willed for twenty-three water pillars to enclose the Spirit Beast.
‘Shape-Style Technique, Cage of Sorrows!’ Shin declared while hundreds of water tendrils sped out from the pillars and slapped the Minotaur on its face. Isadore used Shin’s created water as platforms to launch himself in haphazard directions. The Umbra continued to bellow out in anger, swinging its one-handed axe around like a maniac, hoping to land even one hit on the pesky silver-haired ant that spun wildly around him.
Isadore smiled. His movements weren’t sluggish in the slightest bit and in some areas, far surpassed that of Minotaur. Somersaulting like a circus acrobat, Isadore continued to taunt the Umbra while Shin viciously attacked the bottom half of the Minotaur. Though, their playful act wasn’t going to last for long.
The Minotaur roared out once more, this time displacing all of its mana into its voice. The Cage of Sorrows enveloping the Spirit Beast was instantly destroyed, giving Isadore next to no place to stand on. Before the young man could react, the flying knee of the Umbra had already reached just three metres away from Isadore. Knowing that there was nothing that he could do, Isadore spun his spear around to hopefully block the impact using his shaft, but he knew that the impact by the Tier 6 Spirit Beast would break his bones.
Fortunately for him, before the knee of the Minotaur broke through his defences, a leafy vine encircled the youth at his waist, pulling him far away from the skies and into the safety of the verdant roots that had covered the concrete ground.
“Thanks, Shizen! You saved me!” Isadore declared his gratitude.
“No problem! We’re almost done with the Shudras and Umbras on our side anyway.” Shizen replied, slightly arching his head in the opposite direction. Danroy, Ella and Emma lived up to their names as prodigies of Imperius Academy by bringing down as many foes as they possibly could, given the limited time that they had.
Bodies of fallen Umbras disappeared while Shudras struggled to stand after the whippings that the youngsters had given them. Of course, the main reason why the Black Masks were fighting a losing battle was due to the impact that the Freak of the Dundlewoods and the Heiress of the Zedcris Conglomerate had. Their supportive abilities, especially Shizen’s ability to control the battlefield using his Adivinar Tree’s mana-draining vines, continued to deplete the forces of the Black Masks, and at the same time, ensure the safety of his comrades. Not to mention, Danroy had the defensive capabilities rivalling that of a seasoned shield-bearing Paladin Tank and managed to defend against hundreds of attacks that flowed their way.
“Suji! Natasha! Are you done?!” Shin barked out. They needed to attack the Paradise Heart and to do it quickly before the Minotaur regained its bearings.
“YES!!!” Both of them screamed back, their Spirit glowing with massive amounts of mana, ready to launch at any given time.
“Go now! I’ll blind the Minotaur!” Shin was now facing the Tier 6 Spirit Beast alone. However, he didn’t give in. Instead, he brought out everything that he had. Hundreds of water spears, thousands of water bubbles and millions of arcane raindrops, all to displace the Minotaur for a few added seconds.
Against other Spirit Adepts and perhaps a small minority of Spirit Spectres, Shin’s attacks may have some effect. However, against the Tier 6 Minotaur whose might be equal to that of the Instructor’s, Shin couldn’t even pierce through its hide. The water spears he created faded into oblivion and his strongest water-created attack, Meteor Shower, was nothing more than raindrops to the Minotaur. Shin was unfazed. He leapt up into the air, forcing the Tier 6 Spirit Beast’s eyes to focus straight at him. Learning from the deceased Craig, Shin coated the Spear of Aiglos with spiralling water. Holding his favoured Spear like a javelin, the Prince of Water aimed right between the two blackened pupils that the Minotaur had, hoping that it was a weak point that he could exploit.
There wasn’t any yelping or moans like Shin anticipated. Instead, the Minotaur remained utterly intact, unstained by even the slightest of blemishes. His attack was useless. Physically that is. Though, it had already served its purpose.
Suji and Natasha took advantage of the brief moment that the Minotaur looked away to throw everything that they had accumulated for the past few seconds, straight at the Paradise Heart. A luminous crescent charged out from Natasha’s Starlight Blade, and Suji launched a tremendous concentrated beam of lightning. Both attacks were the best that the two Spirit Adepts could accomplish and were nearly as lethal as Kanari’s own Lunar Beam.
‘Hit it!’ Shin thought, his fingers trembling in anticipation. They needed to destroy the Paradise Heart if they wanted any hope of escaping from the chambers.
A loud clamour, one not inferior to that of a thunderstorm, stunned the inhabitants of the chamber, forcing them to stop their fighting. Thick dust and smoke gushed out from the top of the obsidian throne, keeping the Paradise Heart out of sight at all times. It was somewhat jarring, having to wait for the dust to settle before the young heroes could get their answer. However, after a few seconds, the group got their revelation…
Instead of witnessing the shattered shards of the Paradise Heart, all they saw was a dense force field, one that defied all common sense, blocking the prized nucleus of the Payirci. At its centre, a two-metre-long hiltless odachi and a glittering jewel shone brightly. And finally, a viridian-haired young man stood in silence, basking in the limelight and the gasps that were being issued out by the youngsters.
“Junius?” Shin jolted. He turned back and saw Kanari flying straight at him with a deep frown. Evidently, she was pissed off that Junius had taken off just like that.
“You alright?” Shin asked the young maiden.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Kanari nodded. “Sorry, I wasn’t able to hold him back. He just disappeared from my vision. I wasn’t able to track him.”
“No, all that matters is that you’re safe.” Shin comforted Kanari by stroking her head twice. Though he didn’t do it for long. There was still a menace that had to be taken care of.
“You guys are quite the annoying bunch.” Junius declared within his barrier. “I look away for just one second, and you kill my two subordinates and attempt to take out the Paradise Heart. I really can’t catch a break.”
“Hmph! If you had the balls, you’d face us without hiding behind that barrier!” Natasha hollered back, her Starlight Katana continuously swinging in the air.
“Oh, I have every intention to.” The Vaishya snorted. He spun his odachi around once and sent a tremendous amount of mana into its jewel. Piercing the blade through the top of the throne, Junius allowed the Paradise Heart to be enveloped by the protection of the barrier, all while a small hole enabled him to walk out unobstructed.
Closing his eyes, Junius raised his right hand into the air. Darkness congregated within the palms of his outreached hand, creating a thin obsidian hiltless katana. An ominous dark aura pulsated out of the blade while Junius himself seemingly grew more powerful. For the first time since the parted six years ago, Shin was laying his eyes on his elder brother’s Spirit once more.
Junius’s smug expression was replaced with burning fury. Junius had been playing nice and had even toyed with the idea of giving the youngsters salvation lest Shin hates when he drags the Awter Clan heir back. However, all of that had been thrown out of the window. Junius was now no longer the kind elder brother that thought of the wellbeing of Shin.
Junius was now…
The Blade of Death.