“Loot all materials! I want this place to be cleaned up within six hours! If I see any extra materials lying around, all of your heads will roll!”
With the Main Hub cleansed of its inhabitants, the Black Masks could finally begin the next stage of their operations. Fearing for their lives, the Dalits ran into all of the empty stores and continuously pillaged out weapons, food, and other rare materials. Being a neutral zone as well as a commercial haven, the Main Hub of the Land of Dreams contained a plethora of valuables that could be sold for a steep price on the market. Once the entire town had been thoroughly looted, the syndicate could get back a little bit of the money and resources they spent on this costly operation.
“Sir Brahmin! We have raided the embassies of the three superpowers as well as the Premier’s office!” While the Brahmin was busy barking orders at the lowly Dalits, a Shudra saluted his superior and brought him some good news. “We are in the process of moving the documents to the convoy!”
“Good! Once these idiots clear the area, we will depart for the Kori Federation immediately!!!” Beaming with joy, the Brahmin carefully tread through the blood-stained roads, that was littered with decapitated bodies. The Arachne that had led the one-sided slaughter despised consuming anything other than a human’s head. Hence, to please their mother, the Tier 9 Spirit Beast’s minions did their best to murder their prey with its head intact. As for the humans’ worthless bodies, they were treated like trash that had to be disposed of.
“Still, I can’t get over how Her Highness Murasaki deals with her prey…” A Shudra looked at the thousands of bodies on the floor and spat out in contempt. They may be on the same side, but the Black Masks had a strained relationship with the Nine Coloured Noble Beasts that the Allfather commanded.
Being Tier 9 Spirit Beasts, and the closest beings to the Allfather, they were treated like royalty inside the Black Mask syndicate. If any of the Noble Beasts wished to eat any one of its members, be it Brahmin or otherwise, no one would bat an eye. In fact, other members of the syndicate might even capture their former friend and present them on a silver platter, just to butter up to the dominant beasts.
Additionally, many of the Noble Beasts had their own disdain for humanity. Barring the peace-loving Gargantuan Treant, Midori, the rest of the Nine Coloured Noble Beasts treated mankind as their playthings. Akai the Chimaera sought out powerful cultivators to sharpen his claws, Ao the World Serpent thought of humans as ants that weren’t worth speaking to, and finally, the Arachne Murasaki only wanted to taste as many human heads as possible.
Each one of the Nine Coloured Noble Beasts had their own quirks, and no one from the Black Masks could even hope to contest against them. After all, they were the Allfather’s greatest strengths.
“Careful… If Her Highness hears that, she would have you decapitated as well.” The head Brahmin of the operation warned his subordinate. He shared the same disgust that his underling had, but he would never voice it out in a million years.
“She’s treating herself to a free-flow buffet outside of the town as we speak. I’m sure she would be too occupied with stuffing her face instead of bothering about some gossip.”
“Suit yourself. I won’t come to your defence if she does take your head off.” The Brahmin shrugged his shoulders. He had already warned his aide. If he didn’t want to listen, there was nothing else that he could do.
“Alright, continue to loot the area. We only have six hours. Our estimates say that the Himmel Empire would bring in an entire division tomorrow. By that time, we should be one foot into Kori Federation territory.”
“Yes, Sir Brahmin!!!”
The once peaceful and serene Main Hub had finally been taken by the Black Masks. Spirit Beasts feasted on the human remains littered all around the ground while the Shudras overworked the Dalits to load as many resources as they could into their carriages. Thousands dead and an entire region overrun. By far, this was the most brutal action that the Black Mask syndicate had ever done. If this heinous deed didn’t put them on the international scale, then nothing would.
With the massacre of the Land of Dreams, the first stage of the Allfather’s Grand Plan had finally been concluded as the Black Masks announced themselves as a power that could threaten the fragile balance of the three superpowers.
While the hundreds of Dalits were busy following orders, one fragile middle-aged man broke free from the hustle and bustle, limping his way towards the most famous place in the region. The Black Masks made use of the impoverished to form an entire army of worthless throwaways that could act as disposable slaves for their cause, and thus, one missing Dalit didn’t cause any form of commotion.
The Dalit’s pupils had dilated fully as a dark mist flowed out from his pores. Clearly injured from an earlier exchange, the middle-aged man was riddled with diseases and physical traumas from yesteryears. Even if he hadn’t joined the Black Masks, his days would have been numbered, and he would have rotted away in one corner.
However, his eyes were resolute. Step by step, the man forced his way through the barricades as he finally reached his destination. Staring upon the two prominent words on the wall, the middle-aged man let out a wry smile.
“What have they done?” The man laughed to himself. “The greatest enigma that the world has ever seen, and they relegate it into a tourist attraction. Dream, the inheritors of this world sure are a stupid bunch.”
The man turned to the gorgeous portrait of the Spirit Immortal and monologed. There was no one here to listen to his rants, but he still ranted nonetheless.
“Well, it’s not like I’m any better. Five hundred years have passed, and I still don’t understand the words that you’ve left behind…” The man chuckled in self-deprecation. He called others fools when he himself wasn’t capable of comprehending the Mystery of the Dream. “Not to worry. Once my mission is completed, I’ll have all the time in the world to think about it.”
After spending one full hour talking to himself while staring at the two enigmatic words, the man finally shook his head and gave the portrait of Spirit Immortal Dream one hard look. Painted by the best artists of her time, the painting captured all of the minute details that the Spirit Immortal boasted. An enthralling beauty that spearheaded her way into the history books. A pure researcher that advanced mankind thousands of years through her discoveries and inventions. A benevolent woman that looked out for the common folk. And finally… The murderer that annihilated millions in a blink of an eye. From that one picture, the man could see all the sides of the ascended Spirit Immortal.
“Dream… Oh, Dream…”
With those final words, the man dissipated in a puff of smoke, bringing peace and quiet back to the chambers of the Spirit Immortal.
Unaware of the tragedy that had struck the Main Hub, Shin was whizzing through the skies on the back of the Gryphon that belonged to Dalgeom Sect’s Swordmaiden Yeunghi. Moving at speeds that could only be described as blindingly quick, Shin felt a little motion sick. Only a minute had passed since Madam Warulee, and he got onto the mount, and they were already doing their best to hold back their hurls. If the Gryphon continued with its pace, Shin was sure that he would barf his guts out.
“Senior! P-Please slow down!” Shin begged the Spirit Emperor.
“Hmmm? Ah, right! You’re only in the Spirit Core realm. My bad…” Yeunghi tapped on her mount’s neck, ordering it to half its speed. However, even at half its maximum speed, Yeunghi’s Gryphon was still able to cruise at a much faster pace than a regular one. “I can’t slow her down anymore. Just endure it for now. We should be reaching Mort Bay in a few minutes.”
‘That fast?!’ Shin was impressed. When they first travelled to the eastern front, Shin, Isadore and Elrin needed a full morning’s trek. Yet, with this flying mount, they could arrive at Mort Bay within minutes.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, how did you find the base? When news first broke that a beast horde was coming, I flew to Mort Bay to find if there were any abnormalities. In fact, over the past month, I have been there at least twice.” The Swordmaiden asked. “How is it that you’re able to find out where their base was, while I couldn’t?”
“With all due respect, senior, but did you hide your presence as you approached the area?”
“Hmmm, now that you mention it… I didn’t really bother.”
“That might be why. We covertly investigated while you never imagined that a base of the Black Masks was parked right under your nose.” Shin theorised. For a member of the Kori Federation that didn’t believe that the Black Masks were a threat, the Swordmaiden must have thought that the location was secure after the Lantis Republic handed it over.
“So that’s why… God damn it, I’m really making blunder after blunder.” Yeunghi’s face turned red as she blamed herself. The Swordmaiden had never been fantastic at logistics or administrative duties. Her forte was with the sword, not the pen. Thus, some oversight was expected.
‘I must resolve this issue! I’ve troubled my senior brothers long enough! I can’t keep letting them clean up after me!’ Yeunghi mentally declared.
“Senior, I have a bold request. I’m not sure if you would grant it.” Now that the speed of the Gryphon had slowed down, Shin was finally able to form thoughts other than falling to his death. “If we meet a viridian-haired young man, could you leave him to me? I have some unsettled business with him.”
“Hoho, an enemy of yours?” Yeunghi glanced over her shoulder and observed the black-haired boy.
“Yes… You could say so.” Shin bit his lower lip. As much as he loathed Junius, he didn’t want the youth to die in the hands of others. If possible, Shin would want to capture Junius to make him atone for his sins, not perish under the sword of a foreign power. “I must be the one who brings him down.”
“I don’t see the issue with that. My beef is with the assholes that ruined my Mort Bay. If you want that boy, you can have him.”
“Thank you, senior…” Shin sincerely thanked the swordmaiden with a radiant smile.
True to Yeunghi’s estimates, within a few minutes, Shin could already see the familiar sea that he had trained in and the humble hut that Isadore and Elrin had stayed in.
“We’re here.” Yeunghi pulled the reins of her mount, abruptly halting the Gryphon mid-air. Taking a cursory glance of the bay, she tried to find the base with her naked eye. However, just like the last time she visited, there was nothing suspicious about the area. “Tell me, where’s the base.”
“Give me a moment…” There was no need for the Spirit Emperor to inform him. Shin’s eyes were already darting about, as he dug deep into his memory.
‘North of the hut… North of the hut…’ Shin traced back his steps of that day and firmly landed his gaze upon an unsuspecting opening. Using his index finger, Shin pointed out the location of the base.
“There it is.”
“Good. Stay here.”
Yeunghi floated up from her mount and unsheathed her favoured weapon. Shin was stunned when he first laid eyes on the mysterious blade. Instead of being made by the standard opaque metal, the blade was completely blue and allowed light to pass through it. Seemingly made out of pure ice, the weapon looked like it would break at any given moment.
“Durandal?! So she’s the Dalgeom Sect’s Pixie?!” Madam Warulee finally recognised the woman that had ferried them to Mort Bay.
The Mythic-grade weapon, Durandal, was a legacy item that was passed down from generation to generation to the cultivator that was most proficient in the Ice Fairy Sword Dance, one of the main swordplay legacies that were being taught in the Dalgeom Sect. Twenty years ago, the world was shocked when an unknown swordmaiden from the Dalgeom Sect had actually bested the previous owner of the Durandal, despite being a whole realm beneath her.
Tilted to become the future hope of the Ice Fairy Sword Dance, Yeunghi inherited Durandal with a smile on her face. Due to her swift movements and inclination to pull pranks on her opponents mid-battle, Yeunghi was given the nickname ‘Pixie’, and for the most part, she had been faithful to her name. Advancing through the ranks at an unprecedented rate, Yeunghi soon became one of the most indispensable assets of the Dalgeom Sect, all while causing headaches for the Sect Elders through her mischievous nature.
However, on this day, not a single hint of playfulness could be sensed from the Spirit Emperor. Summoning out her own sword Spirit, Yeunghi immediately merged her Spirit with Durandal, giving the Mythic-grade Spirit Armament a menacing glow.
“She can combine her Spirit with her weapon?” Shin exclaimed.
“Yeah… Its a technique that’s hard to master, and extremely risky to use.” Madam Warulee helped to answer all of Shin’s doubts. “One minor miscalculation and the Spirit and the weapon would be severely damaged. Hence there are not many who dare to use this technique. However, once executed to perfection…”
There was no need for Madam Warulee to continue her explanation. As they say, actions speak louder than words. Yeunghi raised her weapon high up into the sky and released a torrential amount of mana. Glowing in a frosty light, Durandal emitted a freezing mist, as if it was excited to finally be unleashed.
“GO TO HELL!!!” The Spirit Emperor cursed and swung Durandal in one smooth motion.
Breaking through any and all defences that the base had, Yeunghi thoroughly collapsed the cavern, freezing bits and pieces of it in the process. Parts of rocky seas had turned into an ice rink while cliffs had been obliterated. Who cared about negotiations? It was better to burn the burrows down to lure out the rabbits.
“Wow… She really is hot-headed.” Shin raised his hands to cover his face. If not, the ice bite from the cold mist would have blinded him. “Thankfully, she’s not our enemy…”
“Yeah…” Even Madam Warulee, a Spirit Emperor, was glad. In some aspects, the Pixie was much more terrifying than the Sword Tyrant. “We should retreat further back. From now on, we’re not needed in this fight.”
“Right…” Shin nodded in agreement as the duo left the Gryphon behind and flew to a much safer location.