“Where did they go?!” A sharp shriek deafened the emptied first floor of the Payirci, bringing all movement to a halt.
Just a second ago, Meijing Bingying could see Shin, Kanari and the rest of the youngsters grinding down as many Umbras as they possibly could. Yet, in just a blink of an eye, the Umbras, as well as the young heroes all disappeared from sight as if they weren’t even there in the first place. Bingying leapt forward with her Spectral Reaver Blade sparkling with all its icy glory. It was the fury of a Spirit Spectre that had just lost her beloved younger brother, but alas, there was nothing that Bingying could vent it on.
“Illusion?” Elder Baobiao’s face arched into a deep frown. His eyebrows were knitted together, and his wrinkles became ever more prominent. He was a Spirit Venerate, a pretty good one at that. There weren’t many things that could fool his eye and yet… This happened. The elderly man started to feel enraged, but there was a hint of awe in his fearful voice.
“There’s someone that can create such a strong illusion among the Black Masks? My god…”
“Elder Baobiao! What are we going to do?” Meijing Bingying hollered out in complete fear. Her eyes were trembling, and a seemingly bottomless pit had formed within her stomach. Their mission was to keep Shin safe until he returned to the Lantis Republic, and yet, they allowed the boy to disappear right before their eyes.
Likewise, the other guards were panicking. Those that disappeared were all prodigies and talents slated to inherit the continent. Especially the guards from Spion, who needed to protect Kanari and Isadore from any form of harm. They needed to find the group as soon as possible, lest any sort of damage befalls upon them.
“We find them, of course!” Elder Baobiao’s face shuffled around, giving life to an expression that he had buried away decades ago. “They mustn’t have gotten too far! Search every nook and cranny of the first floor! Huanyuan, you go out and get Jingyu Qiang here! His destructive capabilities are needed for us to break through any walls here!”
“Yes, sir!” Immediately obliging, the young teen leapt straight at the exit, not wanting to waste any time. Now, every second was golden. If they were just a minute late, who knew what the consequences would be?
Meijing Bingying looked at the floor where Shin used to stand, and a flurry of melancholy hit her soul. She felt as if her heart was being wrenched from her body, and her blood had run cold. Nothing must happen to Shin!
‘Please be safe!’
Shin, Kanari, Isadore stood together on one side, while Suji, Natasha and Danroy held the left flank. Shizen and Ella took the middle ground like they always did and Elrin and Emma stood right at the backlines. It was the standard formation for the seven young heroes, just that three additional youngsters were joining the mix. So, why were they standing in such a combative position? The answer was quite evident.
Junius sat upon the obsidian throne, with the Vaishyas Craig and Susan standing by his side. At the foot of the throne, dozens of Shudras wielded their arms ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. They weren’t severely outnumbered but who knew what contraptions the Payirci would have. They did just got duped by an immense illusion that fooled a Spirit Venerate after all. Thus, Shin broke the ice.
“How did you do it?”
“Do what?” Junius playfully replied, his cheekbones raised and lips twitching.
“Don’t play dumb! The illusion! The door! How is it that all of the White Knights, hundreds of the best men and women the Alliance has to offer! How did you fool all of them?”
“Hehe… Your inquisitive nature still remains the same, Shin.” Junius continued to chuckle. There was no urgency in his words, and neither was there any fear. In Shin’s books, that hinted to one thing. Junius was absolutely confident of his ability to keep Shin and his team in this chamber.
“It’s quite simple, actually. What do you think a Payirci is?”
“…” The youth went quiet. How could he answer? Not even Commander Martha or the Blacksmith’s League President Ingram knew much of the Payirci, let alone Shin.
“Haha, from that face, I can tell that you don’t know.” Junius removed himself from the throne and stepped down the steps, the two Vaishyas following his every move. “Let me educate you, my precious little brother.”
Suji, Natasha and Danroy turned to Shin, their brain stuttering for a minute, not knowing of the words to say. Shin hadn’t bothered to explain his relationship with Junius to anyone other than his immediate circle of friends. Thus, the revelation came as a complete surprise to his classmates of five years. Shin completely ignored those stares as his eyes were still fixated on the descending Junius, who was loosely holding on to his Legendary-Grade Odachi.
“Spirit Immortal Dream once had this vision. A place where war was eliminated and children would never grow up knowing what’s it like to have lost both parents to carnage. However, humans are weird creatures. We call ourselves sentient beings, but ultimately, we’re animals at heart. We have basic animalistic instincts. We hunger, we lust, we fear, we greed… So no matter how much we grow as a civilisation, the world would still embroil itself with war.” Junius looked up at the ceiling, his hands behind his back.
Shin didn’t understand why Junius was going off on such a tangent, but he played the fool. The more he explained, the more Shin would come to understand the Black Masks and their motivations.
“So Spirit Immortal Dream had this wonderful idea. What if… What if there was a place where human could vent all of their primal needs. Thus, she tried to make a Utopia, a heaven on earth, you might say, where every single structure was built with the sole purpose of denying war from its borders. That was the true motivations behind the Land of Dreams. And well, there was one structure, one invention that she really needed to add so that the need to go to war would be relinquished.”
“Exactly.” Junius smiled. “If humans had a place to fight, if they had a place to conquer, there wouldn’t be a need for them to duke it out with other humans on the battlefield. Here, everything is being controlled by the Paradise Heart. A place where humans can grow without overly risking their lives. Brave warriors won’t die and leave orphans behind. And also…”
Junius snapped his fingers. A garden of flowers, each one coloured with a different hue that would attract an assortment of bees, appeared right before the group’s eyes. It was completely surreal. The bedrock that hadn’t had the slightest of cracks were now blossoming with floras. Shin looked up at the plasma orb that was embedded in the monolith wall and saw that it was glimmering twice as much as before. With squinted eyes, he looked back at Junius.
“It’s a place where dreams come true.”
‘I see… So that’s the core, the central nervous system of the Payirci…’ Shin thought. Looking around, he could tell that the brighter members of their group all shared the same sentiment. Junius was no fool. He knew that his blatant display would draw suspicion, but he didn’t bother to hide it anyway. In fact…
“The Paradise Heart. It’s an invention that Spirit Immortal Dream never publicised. Bringing together a variety of aether rocks, she was able to force a fission reaction to create a concentrated form of plasma. It just so happens that this Payirci holds a little more mind-elements than the others, so tricking your Spirit Venerate bodyguard wasn’t as difficult as it sounds.”
“This one?!” Isadore jerked violently, his face as white as chalk. The grip on his spear soon faded out as his fingers spasmed, forcing him to drop the weapon entirely. “There’s more of these towers?”
“Did you honestly think that the Allfather would fight against the combined might of the Alliance without the appropriate resources? Know your place, you brat.” Junius scoffed and waved his hand at the silver-haired youth. His expression was completely different from the gentle and tender one he gave to Shin.
“Shin, I’ll ask you one last time. Ella, Emma, you guys too… Come with me, and I’ll spare your friends. I’ll have you know, once you enter the Chambers of the Paradise Heart, there’s no escaping unless I personally let you out. So… What’s it going to be?” Junius raised his extensive odachi in their air while the Black Masks following him all summoned out their Spirits. Craig had already merged with his monkey Spirit while Susan had attached her Temporal Chains onto his body. They weren’t messing around like the last time Junius met Shin at the waterfall.
Shin would be lying if he said that he wasn’t tempted by the offer. After all, his friend’s were risking their lives for the sake of him. However, before Shin could even issue a response, he caught the eyes of all of his comrades. They were burning with an intense fire, ready to hop straight into battle. Even Suji, Danroy and Natasha were feeling it. It was as if they were possessed after being underestimated by a mere Vaishya.
Sighing, Shin said: “Guys… I’m sorry for dragging you into this.”
“No worries.” Isadore chuckled. Now that there were no Alliance members around, Isadore could finally summon out his silver spear, without fearing that someone would recognise his Spirit. “We’ve been doing this forever after all.”
“The Blade of Death is mine, Shin!” Natasha, the warmongering swordmaiden screamed out, her face flushed and Starlight Blade pumped with mana.
“Hmph! Who does he think he is? Spare my life?” Suji argued with disdain. “Natasha, I’m going to kill him, don’t get in my way.”
Shin wanted to laugh, but he knew that it wasn’t the time nor the place. He cast his Spiritual Body Enhancement and summoned out a dozen water golems as well as bringing out the healing mist for his team to rest in. At that moment, a soft touch grasped his roughened skin, bringing all his attention back to the ruby-eyed maiden that always stood by his side.
“Let’s avenge Ariel,” Kanari whispered.
“You’re right…” Shin felt the burden on his heart being lightened. There was no need for him to shoulder everything anymore. He had comrades that he could trust now. Swinging the Spear of Aiglos around, Shin spiked his mana and brought out even more of his created water to threaten the Black Masks that stood before him. Unlike the last time he met Junius, this was a fight that he could most definitely win.
“I see that you want to do things the hard way.” A cloud of sadness drifted out from Junius’ mouth. He didn’t want to resort to force. If Shin were to get injured during the scuffle, how was he to answer to the Awter Clan members back home? However, if Shin wasn’t going to listen, Junius wasn’t going to hold back.
“Capture my younger siblings. Kill the rest.” With that order, Junius immediately jumped straight down the stairs and charged straight at Shin. The last time they met one another, Shin managed to escape due to his poor management and fluctuating emotions. However, this time, Junius was wholly focused on the goal at hand. This time… He was the feared Blade of Death.
Shin was barely able to ready his battle stance before Junius was already just inches away from his face. The odachi swung in a huge arc and landed right on Shin’s spear. Heavy… That was all that Shin could think about. Without even knowing, his arms gave way, and the odachi completed its powerful stroke, sending Shin flying off in the other direction.
“You!” Kanari was the first to react. Already in her Spiritual Body Enhancement form, she pivoted her ankles and sent a roundhouse kick flying at Junius. However, just as she was about to land a clean hit, a fist coated with a black wind came flying over. Kanari reacted quickly by changing the direction of her kick, colliding it with the bastard’s punch.
“You’re fierce.” Craig gave a word of praise. “Maybe we could have some fun before I send you to the nether realm.”
“Fuck you,” Kanari spat. An intense rage burned in her heart as the Aurora domain become more prominent within the chambers. Taking one cursory look at the monkey man, Kanari knew that he was being supported by the auxiliary Vaishya that stood a few metres back. Taking on a Spirit Spectre that was being supported by another Spirit Spectre wasn’t always a good idea. So, to fight fire with fire… “Elrin! Boost me!”
“Here!” The white-haired maiden did her usual and sent out dozens of gorgeous pearls and gave Kanari ‘Sacramental Boost’ and ‘False Armaments’. At the same time, she protected herself with ‘Eternity Paladin’. Shizen once again used his Adivinar Tree to its maximum potential covering the hard rock ground with fresh verdant roots and vines.
“Hoh… I guess I’ll need to call backup…” Junius laughed at the futile resistance and snapped his fingers once again.
The Paradise Heart instantly turned dark for a moment as if an entire thunderstorm and been trapped within the compounds of the orb. The very next second, twenty blobs of dark matter fell out from the globe and reforged itself from the ground up. A three-metre-tall butterfly, imbued with the darkness element from one pile of goo and from another a five-metre-long serpent.
However, the one monster that stood far and above all of the others was that one humanoid creature that wielded a one-handed axe and stood as tall as a house. Created with the legs of a horse, a body of a man and the head of a bull, the Umbra instantly forced the youngsters to take one step back to reassess their situation.
“A minotaur? Tier 6?” Emma shrieked. A Tier 6 Spirit Beast was as powerful as a Rank 50 Spirit Lord. That was the rank that their Instructor back on Frie Mountain was at!
Shin gritted his teeth and glared right at Junius, who still carried the smile of a jester. If the Paradise Heart could keep churning out Tier 6 Spirit Beasts like it was nothing, the young heroes were bound to lose this fight!
“Like I said, Shin… You’re coming with me.”