Defiance of the Fall-Chapter 1213: Invitation

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Chapter 1213: Invitation

A bloody atmosphere filled the room when weapons appeared and auras were unleashed. Kruta faced off against one of Kator's subordinates and was joined by two of Zac's sealbearers. Catheya did the same, the rules of the commandments working in their favor. Kator made the first move, so protecting themselves broke no oath.

Ogras had already disappeared into the shadows, while Joanna radiated a monstrous Killing Intent as she placed herself at Kator's back. Swirls of bloody conviction danced around her spear, and Zac could feel an echo of the skill she'd used to save him in the Halls of Service. Kator appeared oblivious or uncaring about the explosive situation he'd caused, his three crystalline eyes staring into Zac's.

"I can honestly say I have no idea how they found us," Zac said, resisting the urge to test the spiritual extermination of his upgraded [Void Mountain] against Kator's warbones.

Zac wasn't lying. He was hiding certain aspects of his plan from others. This wasn't one of them. The pagoda's appearance had struck at their brittle cooperation at a critical juncture, playing right into Kator's previous accusations. If it had been anyone except the Sangha, Zac would have assumed this was all part of Kator's schemes.

Not to mention the irreconcilable differences, the Sangha had powerful and mysterious means. If anyone could track them down, it was them. Even then, Zac hadn't expected such a forceful and poorly-timed response after ignoring him for two full years.

It seemed completely outside their normal mode of operation, where they manipulated events and people until their goals were met. You could even argue their blockade assisted the Kan'Tanu, which should be completely unacceptable to them. Whether you leaned toward the Sangha being benevolent or sinister, they were undoubtedly an orthodox faction. Some branches of the Sangha did nothing but deal with heretical factions.

"Amitabha, benefactors," a rumbling voice spread through the Yphelion. "This poor monk hopes to invite almsgiver Atwood for a talk. If young master could come out and grace us with his presence?"

A swirl of Dharmic light appeared in the middle of the bridge. It created a screen that matched Jaol's recording, except that the pagoda's gates had already opened. The previous speaker was actually a large metal golem wearing a golden kasaya. It emitted a soothing aura of Karma and Nature. It momentarily felt like the embodiment of Cosmos, but Zac quickly shook the feeling.

The golem was powerful. Very powerful. The profound aura it emitted couldn't possibly belong to a contender of the trial. It was clearly a Monarch, likely a Late or Peak Monarch suppressed by the System, like Iz's guardian and Brigadier Toss. And the gate exerted a pull that grew stronger by the second. The invitation was clearly not voluntary.

The golem's appearance was both concerning and confusing, not just because he'd never seen a golemoid monk before. Why had a Monarch stepped out for matters that should be dealt with by the younger generation? They should be aware there were no Monarchs aboard the Yphelion since they managed to seal the ship so perfectly.

Even Kator seemed at a loss and put Zac down. Just intercepting them was pushing the bounds of the unwritten rules for the battle over seals. Had law and order crumbled along with Zecia's frontlines? Or did the Sangha feel their mission was such a threat to their plans that they chose this route?

Their situation wasn't unsalvageable, at least. His plan relied on raising a storm of fate, and not even the Sangha should be able to divine the future when Chaos was involved. If they played things right, their cage would become fuel to the fire.

"Damn it, why now?" Kator growled, clearly not sharing Zac's outlook.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing."

"Not bad?" Kator spat. "We have a ship full of sealbearers, and these sanctimonious bastards are going all out. You've either made a deal with the Sangha, or they're no longer playing by the rules."

"Why would I screw up the plan at this juncture? If I wanted to work with these people, I'd have them meet up with me after we entered the Imperial Graveyard. We still have options. Having a talk with the monk won't hurt," Zac said with exasperation as he made a few signs.

"Now, here?" Kator said, glancing at the waiting golem. 𝘧𝘳𝓮𝓮𝓌𝘦𝓫𝓷𝘰𝘷ℯ𝑙.𝓬ℴ𝘮

"What choice do we have?"

"Will it work?"

"No idea," Zac admitted. "Then again, I didn't really have any idea before, either."

The bridge was locked in a tense standoff for a few seconds before a rumble emerged from Kator's body—a laugh. "Fine! I'll play along, Draugr! But that monk is not simple. One minute. That's it."


There was nothing else to say. Zac took out a sinister-looking array disk, and Kator exploded into action. He turned into a grey streak that stormed through the Dharmic gate with such force it broke down behind him.

"Gather up! We're going!" Zac roared, and a circle of sealbearers formed around him.

Zac activated [Void Zone] and the array disk. It was the lure to attract the [Epiclesis Bell]. The sign he'd made was to start the mission early while Kator dealt with the monk. The Reaver wasn't strong enough to defeat a Monarch, at least not a powerful one like the golem. However, he was the only one strong enough to stall him while they performed the sacrifice.

Rounds of testing had let them perfect the Crown of Despair's method of sacrifice, and they'd found that the [Court Cycle Token] was the perfect fuel. It was immune to [Void Zone], allowing him to fuel the sacrifice while hiding from the Heavens. At least, that was the idea.

A powerful consciousness locked onto Zac the second he activated the array, and he was forcibly pulled away within seconds of fueling the Array Disk. Space twisted, and Zac was suddenly floating in outer space, the Yphelion more than five miles away. He'd even moved further than Kator, who looked like a roiling wave of violence approaching the monk.


Zac said nothing, only glancing at the disk in his hand. Its pace of gathering fate had slowed down after he'd been dragged away from the sealbearers, but it was still running. Kator growled with annoyance as he took a protective position.

"Esteemed monks, may I ask why you've stopped our journey? Zachary Atwood isn't here, I'm afraid," Zac said, hoping to buy a few extra seconds.

"Blessings, blessings," the golem sighed, its attention clearly on the Array Disk in Zac's hands. "The call of fate has brought us together. We had no choice but to impose on benefactor's time. Without balance, there can only be suffering."

Zac imperceptibly frowned as he looked at the unfamiliar golem and the pagoda behind it. He had neither seen its race nor did he recognize its aura. And yet, there was a familiarity that triggered a powerful sense of danger. Entering Void State only amplified the feeling. And while nothing changed about the golem and its temple, his heart told him he wasn't seeing the truth.

Something was wrong, making Zac leery of making any sudden moves.

"Is that so?" Zac said, looking around. "Where's Sacred Insight?"

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"Benefactor is mistaken. While we are here for you, our purpose is unrelated to the pillar's ascent."

"What?" Zac blurted, and even Kator's body language spoke of confusion.

"Benefactor's providence is blinding, illuminating fate and future," the golem said with a bow. "This poor monk believes benefactor's Karma holds great promise to become an instrument for great merit, bringing salvation to countless lives."

"I'm doing my best, but you're blocking our path," Zac said, glancing at the Array Disk. It was still far from activating, and it would take even longer for the bell to arrive.

"Alas. Suffering brought by ignorance is no better than suffering brought by greed. This poor monk can see the light in benefactor's heart, and this one urges you to turn back from the sea of regret before it's too late. We sincerely invite benefactor to find his path on the Fourth Mountain."

"And if I'm not willing to join your side?" Zac said.

"For the sake of the Cosmos, we can only sin. Almsgiver will understand the necessity of our actions after seeing the truth."

"When did you parasites start to abduct people?" Kator scoffed. "I didn't think your corruption had come this far. Maybe it's to be expected. There has to be a price to pay for feasting on the rotting flesh of your fallen God for so many Eras. For hiding your sins from the Heavens."

"What can a Yin creature understand of Buddha's boundless Love and sacrifice? Your existence is a blight on the Samsara, and your influence can only lead the benefactor down the wrong path. I shall purify you before we continue this discussion."

"Good! I was growing tired of your nonsense!" Kator laughed as a flanged mace grew from his hand.

Space strained when Kator unleashed his battle form, and Zac had to move away to protect the disk from his brutal aura. The Reaver activated his Miracle Bones from the get-go, except for the final ability he used right at the end. The power the Reaver exuded approached that of some of the weaker Monarchs Zac had seen, only lacking that additional pressure of carrying the weight of a world.

It looked like Kator had stepped out from the river of time as he advanced on the monk. His right arm turned into a blur, after which he slowed down almost to a crawl. A cascading wave of explosions rushed toward the golem. At the same time, a swamp covering more than a mile spread out from his location. It was a temporal quagmire, which seemed empowered by Kator putting himself under a similar temporal restriction.

Even the radiant lights coming from the pagoda slowed down when they were swallowed. The only thing unaffected were the attacks Kator launched in lightning-quick bursts of acceleration. Explosions and swamp were joined by an enormous eye made from bone, and Kator gained the aura of an unstoppable general.

The display of multiple skills and Miracle Bones being combined into a terrifying assault wasn't enough to give Zac any sense of safety. The domain had slowed down the golem, but it somehow seemed like that was the monk's natural state. The golem was still in perfect harmony with the cosmos and unrestricted by any oppression. The golem didn't lift a finger to deal with Kator. Instead, a six-armed deva formed behind its back, each hand rebuffing Kator's skills with a mudra.

Neither had gone all out, yet Zac could tell Kator's estimate of one minute was highly optimistic. The hidden threat remained, and the golem hadn't even made use of the immense Dharmic energy surrounding the pagoda. Zac was even a bit surprised Kator dared to keep going with the deck so stacked against him. Did the Reaver have such confidence in his ability to generate enough fate for the sacrificial array?

The [Court Cycle Token] wasn't fast enough, and it looked like it would run out of infusions before the lure had grown strong enough to overcome the bell's reservations. Was it time? Zac hesitated, ultimately deciding to trust the heart he'd worked so hard to temper over the past days. Something would go very wrong if he fueled the sacrificial array with an atavistic breakthrough right now.

Zac took out another box, which generated a powerful swirl of providence that spread for hundreds of meters. Hidden streams of Dharma were pulled out of the air, adding to a growing storm of fate with the Array Disk. Even some lights from the pagoda became part of the sacrifice.

The box opened, and the pagoda's lights pounced like they'd found prey. Its gates swung open, and Zac looked on with incomprehension when four elementals emerged. Their auras put them solidly in Late D-grade, yet they were clearly young enough to contend for seals. That wasn't the confusing part, and neither was it the fact they traveled with a golem guardian. Elementals and golemoid species often had strong bonds out of necessity since they were a small minority in a Multiverse dominated by flesh-and-blood humanoids.

The incomprehensible part was that Zac had read about this specific race of elementals just two weeks earlier. They were Silzurians, a subordinate race of the Centigrade Pryer. There were no indications of the Pryer being in cahoots with the Sangha. If anything, they were opponents. The information crystal mentioned the Pryer had tried to seize an Utmost Authority multiple times.

The Centigrade Pryer's goal was likely to leverage the Left Imperial Palace into another attempt, which meant the Sangha should be their biggest competition. So why did the Silzurians emit the Dharmic aura of monks, just like the golem? Worse, Zac got the same feeling of wrongness and danger from the D-grade elementals as the C-grade golem, even when their auras were significantly weaker than Kator's.

Zac's danger sense told him they weren't a big threat, yet something deeper screamed of mortal peril. Even the golem moved after Zac took out the Fate Treasure. He placed his hands together, a sea spread out from his feet. It enveloped Kator's swamp and continued toward Zac. It felt bottomless, endless, and able to take on all the sorrows of the world. Just looking at it scattered Zac's thoughts, like they were sinking to the depths.

A fierce rejection from his bloodline quickly snapped him out of it, and a roar indicated Kator had overcome it as well. [Void Mountain] infused Zac's body, and he channeled the talent down his leg. The waters that had reached his knees shattered, their spiritual nature extinguished by the Void. More water poured in to fill the blanks. Zac had already risen enough to avoid the ocean at that point, and the Fate Treasure had already been reduced to a hollow husk by the sacrificial array.

There was still no sign of the bell, and the elementals were almost upon him. Zac gritted his teeth and grabbed the bead necklace hanging down his chest. The [Lucky Beads] resisted being removed, which only furthered Zac's desire to destroy them. They could very well be the reason for his position being exposed, and they were the best fuel for the array anyhow.

The Elementals were already upon him at that point. Zac's danger sense was still quiet, though that was only because they targeted the disk rather than him. Fighting back wasn't an option. Just releasing his aura risked damaging the array in his hands. He could only dodge.

He had only broken through hours ago, but circumstances didn't give him the chance to ease into his new power. [Void Mountain] formed a connection with [Spiritual Void], and large amounts of Void Life poured into his body, joining Abyssal Death and unrelenting Conflict.

They fused, giving Zac a glimpse of true Inexorability. He took a step forward, effortlessly escaping the elemental's encirclement. He only left the shards of broken beads and a tail of fate in his wake. Zac could feel the storm growing. The array was approaching critical mass, and there was more than enough fate to go around. Zac wouldn't even need to feed it much longer; he just needed to keep it safe.

The temporal quagmire exploded, prompting a deafening scream of danger. The golem couldn't sit still after seeing the elementals fail to deal with Zac and unleashed an earthshattering palm strike. Kator's aura exploded with boundless bloodthirst, and a twisted monstrosity made of bone appeared to block the golden palm. Its tail lashed out at the elementals while dozens of arms lunged at the Monarch in an unhinged barrage of violence.

Kator had bought a few more seconds by going all out. Zac followed up on his end, five more beads in one go. The flood of fate made the whole array disk groan, and cracks appeared across its surface. It was enough.

Space buckled, and a tremendous pressure subdued even the glowing pagoda. The [Epiclesis Bell] emerged in a storm of blades. The significant cracks and structural damage Zac had seen had been fixed by years of sacrifice. They had been replaced by multiple new scars. Some likely came from the natives, whose factions were used as bait. Some seemed even newer, and the chaotic air around the bell indicated something had happened on the other side.

Zac exhaled in relief upon seeing the bell, but his joy became the chink from which madness sprouted. The Heart-protecting arrays and treasures were all installed aboard the Yphelion. They were supposed to lessen the bell's influence, allowing him to deal with the next step with an open mind.

A smile tugged at Zac's mouth, and a twitching hand closed in on his chest. However, his latest training had borne fruit. This time, he didn't need the earth to escape or Captain Dorsin's vessel to avoid mutilating himself. There was still a core of clarity in the joyful madness generated by the [Epiclesis Bell]. It wasn't enough to stop his actions, but it didn't matter.

He only needed to take out the Splinter of Oblivion from his spatial ring before he ripped his heart out. Time would stop, and nothingness would sweep the madness away. Then, Zac froze. The madness was gone, but so was his freedom. A powerful brand had appeared out of nowhere, locking down his Daos and Miasma.

There was no time to register what had just happened, let alone come up with a new plan. A bone fist the size of a mountain crashed down from above, each finger far larger than the pagoda. Kator's malevolent beast and the golem's vajra looked like ants before its descent. Zac would have gasped if he hadn't been rendered immobile. It was impossible to mistake the strength behind the incoming strike.

A genuine Autarch had descended, one wholly unaffected by any of the System's restrictions.