A disgusting taste of mud and gravel filled Junius’ taste buds. There was even a hint of iron, a taste that he was most familiar with, mixed inside of his mouth. Junius’ trembling eyelids flickered up and down as he got up from the rubble and filth that covered his body. He sat down. A pungent earthy smell dominated the air and filled Junius’ lungs, which were aching wildly.
‘W-What… Just happened.’ Like a patient who was in shock, Junius felt a little amnesiac. He couldn’t remember what he was doing just moments prior, and neither could he understand why he was on the ground. The Obsidian Water Blade that he summoned had retreated back into his body, seemingly in fear of something much more terrifying than itself, and his two-metre-long odachi was sprawled out just a few metres away. Its gem had lost a tremendous amount of its lustre, leaving only a tainted mark of half-assed mana.
‘I was… I was fighting Shin.’ Slowly, the images started to flow back into his memory. ‘I was fighting Shin, and I wounded two… No three people… Then he created some mist to hide in. After that…’ Junius continued to piece together what transpired, all while punching his cranium to quell the devastating headache he was experiencing. ‘Then… A white light? Was it light? Light burst out from the mist and pierced through the Minotaur and the barrier, hitting the Paradise Heart… THE PARADISE HEART!!!’
Junius eyes bulged out, and he turned around amidst the ashes and rubble. It was all coming back to him. The final seconds that led to the eventual attack that blurred out the visions in his mind. He turned around once and found nothing. Those wobbly legs of his were unable to support his weight and Junius fell down repeatedly. Though, he didn’t lose faith. Junius kept pushing through the dust, hoping to find the one thing that he was tasked to protect by the Allfather. He lacked any mana, and his mind wasn’t in any shape to make rational decisions. Nonetheless, Junius continued to search. And then…
He saw it.
“No…” A rare word of fear, mixed with a dose of denial flowed out of Junius’ mouth.
The Paradise Heart. The plasma orb that controlled the entire Payirci, the floating tower that resisted four Spirit Venerates attacks and created heaps of Umbras for the Alliance Army to fight and conquer, had been shattered beyond recognition. Broken shards from the sphere landed all about the floors of the chambers while none of the mana being stored within remained intact. The Umbras, including the Tier 6 Minotaur, had faded out of existence and returned back into the abyss, where it belonged.
Shin’s one attack, a beam strike from a Spirit Adept, had taken down one of the most enigmatic structures of the modern world and brought the Black Masks to its knees. Junius didn’t have the mental capacity to fathom such a strike. He continued to kneel, his gaze never leaving the fractured remains of the Paradise Heart.
All of a sudden, a crack formed on the reinforced ceiling of the chambers before a tall silhouette dived down like a falcon. The blue-haired man took one look around before finding the person responsible for guarding this room and instantly teleported to him, grabbing him up with one tug.
“Junius! What happened?!” Ao, the World Serpent, cried out, his calm face distorted into one of shock. He had been tasked with holding off the entire Alliance before they could climb up the Payirci and find the hidden and reinforced room that housed the Paradise Heart. It was a perfect plan. Junius could capture his younger siblings while the Alliance would go bonkers and take more risks in the hopes of reclaiming the young geniuses.
Yet, never in his wildest dreams would Ao expect the Paradise Heart to be destroyed from within. Now that there was no protection, all of the Spirit Venerates were soon alerted to the presence of the once-secret chambers, and the Alliance would be here at any second now.
“Shin… He destroyed the Paradise Heart.”
“He what?!” Ao dropped Junius. “What do you mean, he destroyed the Paradise Heart?! Weren’t you protecting it?!”
“I-I-I don’t know…” Junius was just as clueless as the World Serpent. Rattled and bruised, there was no way for the Vaishya to coherently voice out his thoughts. Ao understood that and turned Junius’ body around and gave him a princess carry.
“You’re still trying to care for your younger brother?! Even at a time like this?!” The World Serpent was just a few sentences away from killing Junius once and for all, to atone for his crimes. His single-mindedness was an admirable trait when it was used to better the syndicate that is. However, that devotion had now turned to bite the Black Masks in the ass. “Leave him! He destroyed the Payirci, he made you fail your mission twice, and he’s not willing to leave with you! Why are you still so stubborn?!”
Junius hung his head down, unsure of how to reply the Noble Beast. Shin has done nothing but make Junius suffer in the Black Masks syndicate. Junius’ first failure in the organisation was due to Shin. His second failure was likewise due to Shin. Junius now had to face the wrath of the Allfather for destroying a Payirci ahead of schedule. Why? Because of Shin. However, Junius still kept his chin high. His goal never faltered, and his eyes were always on the prize. So why was he so stubborn?
“Because he’s my brother…” Junius replied, still battered and blue. It would be in Ao’s best interest to drop Junius right now and smash his head like an egg. However, instead of doing that, the World Serpent just sighed, shaking his head in complete frustration.
“Fucking humans…” The Tier 9 Spirit Beast cursed and turned his back away from the exit. If he rushed, Ao could potentially nab Shin before the Spirit Venerates rushed in. Furthermore, Shin was just lying down still, in the middle of his sobbing comrades, that lacked the power to resist the World Serpent’s attacks. He could do this.
Alas, what could go wrong, would go wrong.
Before Ao could make his final approach, a golden string pierced out of Shin’s Spirit Core, while dense amounts of golden spiritual energies torrented out like an everflowing river. The golden string wrapped Shin up in a cocoon while its other half rapidly spun around, creating an effeminate humanoid shape. A dense spiritual pressure descended upon those inside the now-decrepit chambers, forcing all to halt their actions instantly. For both the Black Masks and the youngsters seated around Shin, they were on high alert. No one knew the identity of the golden string, and it may as well be yet another enemy. However, just a few seconds later, a familiar adenoidal voice reassured Shin’s comrades to drop their arms.
A golden ghost bearing the facial features of Lady Seph stood on the stone cold concrete ground. Her translucent body stroked the broad forehead of her disciple as mana continued to pour into the young boy, rejuvenating all of his split mana circuits and fried internal organs.
‘A Spirit Venerate? How could a Spirit Venerate come out from a child’s body?’ Ao was intrigued. He had never heard of such an amazing spiritual ability, even with his long years roaming through the earth.
“Lady Seph?! How did that bitch get here?!” Junius was the first one to recognise the face that stole Shin from the Awter Clan. Lady Seph’s golden phantom twitched its brows and stood up with a death glare that could kill a thousand warriors. Releasing all of the spiritual pressure that she had, Lady Seph’s mouth moved once.
Sending out her intent, Lady Seph forced Junius’ mouth to be sealed tight. It has been a while since she used her Words of the Angel. For some odd reason, Lady Seph remembered that the first time she ever used that ability in front of Shin was to cure Junius’ crippled legs. In hindsight, after living through the past ten years, it would have been wiser to have just let the young man remain a cripple for the rest of his life.
“…” Though the World Serpent wasn’t under the effects of the Words of the Angel, Ao remained silent as well. He couldn’t comprehend how a Spirit Venerate could rise up from a Spirit Adept’s body and retain all of her abilities with no loss of efficiency. The World Serpent wanted to inquire, but he wasn’t given the luxury.
Before Ao could even open his mouth, the four Spirit Venerates that had been desperately searching for the missing youths finally found their way into the broken down chambers. Elder Baobiao instantly jumped down and cast a defensive barrier while the three Spirit Venerates sent by the Alliance, Jingyu Qiang, Gundla Barak and Duke Cyanjaw, raised their Spirits in preparations to fight against the Tier 9 Spirit Beast.
“Looks like your brother is well-defended, Junius.” Ao shrugged his shoulders. He could attempt to steal Shin away from the five Spirit Venerates that defended him, but then Junius would be exposed instantly, and that was a risk that he absolutely couldn’t take. “Sorry about that, we’ll just have to go.”
“…” Junius wanted to protest, but his mouth was tied shut. All he could do was flail his hands around like a spoilt baby.
“Where do you think you’re going?!” Shouted Duke Cyanjaw, his Rinfermar Gauntlets beaming with tremendous anger. His two feet barged forward like a bear’s charge, ready to claim some blood.
Ao wasn’t amused though. The two crystal clear pupils of his glowed with reptilian wrath as a dense spiritual pressure descended upon the masses. The Spirit Venerates instantly halted their steps, and Elder Baobiao had even intensified his barrier, protecting the poor youngsters from any harm.
‘A Peak Tier 9 Spirit Beast!’ All of them uniformly decided. Such a vile presence could only be present in a Spirit Beast that bathes in death and destruction. Not to mention, the two ominous vertical pupils that Ao had are dead giveaways that he wasn’t human. If the Spirit Venerates wanted to act, with all the debris falling down from the crumbling Payirci, the death toll to the Alliance Army that was retreating would be catastrophic.
“Let us meet again.” No one knew who the World Serpent was talking to. Before they could clarify anything, a torrential gush of hurricane wind pushed all the Spirit Venerates away, giving Ao the perfect opportunity to escape with Junius in his arms.
“Fuck!” Gundla Barak from the Kori Federation cursed out, kicking his heel into the broken down platform. The Blade of Death, one of the primary causes for the tragedy in the Land of Dreams and the person responsible for orchestrating the most humiliating defeat in the Kori Federation, had just waltzed away scot-free.
“Fuck indeed…” Duke Cyanjaw hung his mouth down, and his eyes were enlargened as long as they could stretch. “What was that monster? Did the Black Masks have such a powerful beast under its command?”
“That must have been the World Serpent.” Jingyu Qiang, the Spirit Venerate from the Lantis Republic replied. “It was responsible for the murder of the Dalgeom Sect’s Spirit Emperor Wangu. There have been reports that it was on the verge of becoming a Primordial Beast. Our Saint from the Shenshe Clan has been chasing it down, but it has always eluded her. To think that it has been acting as the guardian of the Blade of Death…”
“The World Serpent…” The two Spirit Venerates thought to themselves and paced closer to the escape hole which Ao used. They were tempted to give chase, but ever since the Paradise Heart had been destroyed, the Payirci that the Black Masks used had started to crumble. Saving the remaining Alliance troops was of paramount importance at this juncture. And of course…
The Spirit Venerates witnessed the collapsed Prince of Water, who was still being treated by the phantom of his teacher. Kanari and the twin’s tears continued to fall while they touched the cold face of their loved one, desperately trying to bring some warmth with their touch.
“Is Shin going to be okay?” Kanari asked the blonde healer, her tears still flowing down like a waterfall.
Lady Seph’s phantom looked at the crying maiden, her eyes sparkling with a distinct interest. Kanari has never shown such an outpour of emotions before. Something must have happened in their journeys, the two-century-year-old woman thought. “Don’t worry. I have been researching how to treat Shin’s injuries by the shard’s backlash the moment after he used it the first time. I know how to treat him, but it’ll take time, and preferably a more conducive environment.”
Lady Seph looked around the tower that was being broken down and scoffed in derision. This was hardly a place for healing!
“Right! We should get the injured out of here!” Elder Baobiao agreed. At this point, he was praying for Saint Longyu Tian’s leniency when meting out his eventual punishment for failing to protect Shin.
“Yes…” Jingyu Qiang looked at the escape hole and turned back to the unconscious Prince of Water. It was evident which task had a higher priority.