Defiance of the Fall-Chapter 1214: Ghost and Bone

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Chapter 1214: Ghost and Bone

Zac's mind was a mess as he looked at the mountainous fist. It contained blinding amounts of Dao and conviction, putting him under far greater strain than any of the training devices in the Halls of Heroes. The threat to his path was nowhere near the immediate physical peril. He'd witnessed the destruction caused by a battle between Divine Monarchs in Twilight Harbor, but this attack was significantly stronger.

The hidden attacker was likely a First- or Second-step Autarch. It might not be much compared to the power of Be'Zi or Iz's guardian, but it far eclipsed the Havarok General who'd tried to stop the Eventide Asura's Dao Defense. That frontier Autarch had been wounded from forcing his way to the harbor in time while this was a full-powered strike by someone with far greater foundations.

The still-trapped Yphelion five miles away could be considered point-blank range for an Autarch, not to mention Zac, who was right beneath it. Death was certain if so much as the fist's shadow grazed him.

Zac couldn't rouse any other feelings than despair and regret at that moment. He'd known he was tempting fate by plotting a scheme based on chaos and gathering fate, but this was too much. He hadn't even started the real plan, yet variables, one deadlier than another, kept popping up. There was no point in looking for a counter. Zac couldn't hold onto any thoughts when exposed to the Autarch's path, and the fist was faster than lightning.

The pagoda lit up with golden splendor, raising a grand wall of Dharmic Karma to block the attack. It couldn't even resist the bloodthirsty punch for a fraction of a second. Then, an enormous finger was all Zac could see. Hymns were silenced, Karma was crushed, and fate pressed down on the whole region. And yet, Zac didn't feel a thing.

Boundless destruction and berserk power surrounded him. Zac couldn't tell whether he was inside the fist or if it somehow split to avoid harming him. It was as though he'd fallen into a training bath designed for a Templar Cardinal, and not so much as a thread of energy or Dao touched him. The fist had become Life and Death's arbiter. Whatever it wanted dead would be destroyed, and whatever received a pardon would live.

The attack came and went in a flash. At the very least, it should have caused Spatial Tears that spread for hundreds of miles in every direction. Just as likely, it should have collapsed space entirely, causing a semi-permanent fracture like those you'd find in the Million Gates Territory. In lieu of common sense, the attack didn't leave so much as a mark on space or any of his companions. Neither was there any trace of the brutal force contained in the attack.

It would have been easy to chalk the whole thing up as a powerful illusion. Zac knew they would have been wrong if he did. There was one significant change to the surroundings; not a smudge remained of the Sangha. The golem, pagoda, and elementals were gone, as was the Karmic seal on the region. It by no means meant they were out of the woods. The sealing brand didn't come from the Sangha.

Zac was still under lock and key, where the restriction was an absolute suppression of his energy and Dao. It hadn't managed to spread to his human side, but the seal had a spatial component. It was most likely a measure to deal with escape treasures, and the Shrine of Kanba had inadvertently become a prison.

Only the Void remained unbound. The seal had suppressed his Draugr bloodline, but he still felt a connection to his Void Emperor talents and nodes. He could use [Force of the Void] to activate skills or take out treasures from his Spatial Ring. He could also target the brand with [Void Mountain] and [Void Zone].

To what end? The restriction was more powerful than the Orom's prison seal, and even a blind man could have figured out the Autarch's affiliation. The Autarch was here for him, and they could kill him a thousand times before he could do anything about it.

"Greetings, esteemed Lords!" Kator said with a deep bow. "My apologies about the unexpected company."

"The Sangha has always been impossible to predict," a voice sounding like a chorus of a thousand souls answered.

Space bent, and an unfamiliar Izh'Rak Reaver stepped out from a crack no wider than a strand of hair on the [Epiclesis Bell]. His overbearing aura was a perfect match to the fist, and his Warbones shimmered with an ethereal glow that made Zac's soul shudder. Zac's guess it was a treasure or Miracle Bone that shielded him from the bell's madness was quickly proven wrong.

The glow separated from the Reaver, turning into a complex fractal made from Mental Energy and Miasma. It was actually an Eidolon whose aura wasn't far beneath the Reaver's. The fluctuations were also a perfect match to the seal that trapped Zac.

Zac knew since he saw the fist that the White Sky Phalanx had managed to send an Autarch into the Zurbor sector. That was terrifying enough on its own, and the fact that there was a spectral Autarch at his side carried deadly implications.

The Eidolon was likely the reason the [Epiclesis Bell] had remained unmoving since it descended. It was trapped like him. There was a barely discernible film of miasmic spirituality that covered every inch of the bell, including the five array bands. Zac hadn't noticed it before because of the chaotic manner it appeared in.

The bell shook with minute tremors. It was struggling to break free, and Zac inwardly cheered it on with every fiber of his being. As paradoxical as it sounded, he needed the bell's assistance to create an opening.

By coincidence or fate, the [Epiclesis Bell] actually shook off the restraints. A deep toll filled with twisted jubilation rang in the darkness, and Zac was suddenly immensely thankful that the Yphelion was quite a distance away.

"You have to assist me!" the Eidolon urged as it grew.

The Eidolon reached over five miles in an instant, resembling the maw of a Beast Emperor as it bit down on the bell. Its actions released no aura like the Reaver's attack. It looked like it imploded onto the bell. The next moment, the Eidolon crystallized.

Zac couldn't tell whether it was a skill or if the ghost had turned into a mountain-sized amethyst. Its insides were hollow, and Zac could vaguely spot the bell trapped within, looking no larger than a dot. There were Spatial Dao no weaker than the Orom's affecting the space within.

The crystal's interiors were no smaller than an E-grade world, and its walls were strong enough to trap all energy fluctuations. Zac was quickly forced to avert his gaze. The complex patterns covering the crystal's surface were too much, and he feared thoughts would fully seize up if his eyes lingered any longer.

Zac didn't so much as breathe, hoping his presence would be forgotten as they dealt with the heretical bell. It was futile, of course. He felt an immensely powerful consciousness lock onto him, and a stream of brutal energy dug into Zac's body. It far eclipsed the Killing Intent at the Centurion Lighthouse. The B-grade Reaver wasn't necessarily stronger than that ancient Autarch who took out the fortress, but he was alive and well.

Stolen story; please report.

Fighting back with the Void would be no different than using an egg to smash a rock. Zac could tell he'd run out of Void Energy ten times over before he could exhaust the invading energy. Just that small tendril held more energy than his Cosmic Core, and it was guarded by Daos beyond Earthly Daos. Thankfully, the control was no less precise than the fist strike from before.

The energy sliver completed a cursory scan before leaving without causing any damage. Zac even felt a bit better than before. The tendril had subtly adjusted the Eidolon's brand, releasing the physical seal. Of course, it was only a small gesture of goodwill after confirming there were no threats in his body. With his energy and Soul Aperture locked down, Zac was still not much stronger than an F-grade cultivator.

"Not bad. Kid, we'll talk later."

A gargantuan cage made from bone sprung from below, trapping the crystal, Zac, and even the Yphelion in the distance. Its bars split and fused, giving the cage the appearance of a line of closely planted trees whose branches had been entwined. A dense canopy formed a ceiling far, far above. An eerie silence rolled out as the Reaver stepped into the crystal to unleash a series of attacks on the bell.

The intense silence was not physical. It was a silence of Dao, similar to his [Void Zone], though relying on completely different concepts. The whole cage had been hidden from the Heavens, like a lower plain where the only Dao available was the Reaver's own.

The gaps between the cage's bars were hundreds of meters wide, more than large enough for the Yphelion to squeeze through. However, his Late D-grade vessel had replaced one seal with another. Zac could feel a similar brand through his control link, and he suspected even those trapped within had been targeted. Otherwise, it wouldn't have remained so silent.

It was for the best. The gaps in the cage weren't actual weaknesses. He couldn't see or sense any barrier, but one had to be there for the area to be uncoupled with the cosmos. Zac didn't hold out much hope he could pass through the barrier when using [Void Mountain], so how would the Yphelion replicate the feat?

"You did well, Draugr."

Kator had moved to his side, and his teasing posture indicated he was here to gloat as much as stand guard. Zac tried to figure out the best way to deal with their situation. He wasn't completely out of options. So long as he could call down the System, he had a chance of borrowing its strength to intimidate the Autarchs. Unfortunately, any tricks were useless when faced with such an utter, unbridgeable disparity in strength.

Eluding Kator's watch was enough of a headache, and that paled before the Autarchs themselves. He was already in their range, and they could or cripple kill him with a thought before he could fuse with the remnants. He needed to create a window or distraction before making his move. Until then, he might as well gather some information.

"It looks like I underestimated you yet again," Zac sighed.

"You cultivation maniacs are often simple that way. The more you despise someone, the more you'll underestimate them."

"I thought I had my guard up, but I didn't expect you'd figure out a way to sneak people into Zurbor using the bell. Or that you'd be crazy enough to bring in Autarchs under the System's nose. Just what are you people thinking?"

"We're struggling for supremacy, just like we're supposed to," Kator shrugged. "The Ruthless Heavens have always been impartial that way. It'll look the other way if you pay the price or overcome its restrictions through ingenuity."

"Is that so?"

Zac wasn't convinced. He'd assumed the pressure of fate he'd briefly sensed during the attack was related to the bell's descent or the Sangha's demise. Seeing how securely the region was sealed off now, another explanation seemed just as likely. The bone cage was way overdoing it if it was only meant to confine Zac and his subordinates while they dealt with the [Epiclesis Bell].

Their entry was not as sanctioned as Kator wanted to make it seem, and the System wouldn't be nearly as accommodating if the Autarchs started to throw their weight around. Zac could see the battle raging within the spatial crystal, but he couldn't sense a whiff of the tremendous powers that were being unleashed. They were being extremely careful.

It was only a theory as of yet, but it might be the key to getting away in one piece. After all, there was no way the appearance of two non-Draugr Autarchs after losing contact with Tavza and Laz was a good thing, if the seal wasn't clue enough. A plot was brewing.

"The System might look the other way, but you're putting the mission at risk. And colluding with Eidolon? You're breaking the terms set in the Writ."

"We're breaking nothing, Draugr. The agreement encourages sending any and all reinforcements into the sealed sectors. We even informed you of our goal of bringing seniors into the Zurbor Sector to assist. The Writ only disallows the other branches of the Empire from interfering. General Eimal is uncoupled. She has been fighting for the White Sky Phalanx for over three million years, so her presence is within bounds."

Zac looked at the crystallized Eidolon with surprise. While not unprecedented, it was very rare for the Divine Races to join other camps. Between the status of an outsider and the suspicion of being a spy, it was usually better to stay home even if you faced suppression from some opposing faction within the race. Furthermore, the Eidolon was undoubtedly the most cohesive among the divine races of the Undead Empire, a natural consequence of them being part of a Hivemind.

It wasn't difficult to understand what the term uncoupled meant. This Autarch had severed her connection with her Hivemind, striking it out on her own as an individual. Zac didn't even know that was possible, but he didn't suspect Kator's words in this regard. Whatever they were plotting, they weren't ready to completely fall out with the Primo just yet.

"You might not have broken the letter of the agreement, but you're clearly breaking its spirit. Who knows what effect bringing in Autarchs will have on fate? There is no way the Primo has sanctioned your actions. Are you betraying the Empire?"

"Betraying? We're here fighting for its future. The Eternal 108 were unavailable, and time was of the essence. We simply picked the route we felt held the most promise," Kator snickered, cocking his head at Zac. "You don't seem surprised? Did Tavza manage to send you a message? Is that why she ended up in such a wretched state?"

"Weren't you responsible for that?" Zac countered, his eyes thin with suspicion. It was getting increasingly difficult to figure out the Reaver's thoughts. "I didn't need some warning to put two and two together. I just didn't expect things to fall apart this early. Has something changed?"

"What do I know? I'm just following orders. I only found out about this part a few days ago." Kator patted Zac's shoulder. "You don't need to be too worried. Our agreement holds for now. The Divine Alliance has no intention of interrupting our quest. On the contrary, we'll do our best to help you achieve your goals in the Imperial Graveyard."

"Raising a pig to the slaughter?" Zac snorted.

Kator might be telling the truth about not being killed today. However, the White Sky Phalanx was also aware that his reward for finding the Foreign Gods was his final Flamebearer piece. After that, his future was a big question mark. His importance for the trial might be considered a threat rather than an asset if civil war had broken out, especially if they suspected what the Primo sought in the Hollow Court.

"Your words. But hey, anything can happen. Just sit back and relax. We'll deal with everything from here. The Lords will drag out the entity and throw it at the barrier for us." 𝑓𝑟𝑒𝑒𝔀𝓮𝘣𝘯𝘰𝘷𝑒𝓵.𝒸𝑜𝘮

Zac said nothing, reluctantly biding his time. Every second brought his camp closer to its doom, but it was still too early to make a move. The Eidolon could undoubtedly sense his every action through the brand, and the two Autarchs had a clear advantage. All attempts to escape had been foiled, and the bell was covered in cracks and dents. Only one of its five formations remained intact after the Reaver's battering.

Still, the [Epiclesis Bell] had put up a fight with a ferocity far surpassing Zac's expectations, to the point he felt the intervention might have been a blessing in disguise. The bell had been hiding its true strength. Or perhaps, the entity dared use more of its strength thanks to the sealed environment. In either case, its unexpected power meant his original plan might have been flawed.

His opportunity was fast approaching. No matter the risks, he'd stake everything when the final seal on the entity snapped, and the chaos reached a crescendo.

A deep hum threw Zac's last-ditch plan out the window. Two lotus flowers had appeared where the pagoda once stood. They were translucent and lacked even a speck of energy, seeming like a dream or an echo of the past. And yet, the flowers were utterly, irrevocably true. Five threads of fate poured into the flowers. Four came from where the elementals fell and entered the left lotus. A thicker stream came from the golem's resting place, entering the other.

The illusion became real, the past connected to the present, and the flowers bloomed. A Buddhist warrior emerged from each lotus, their strength nearly on par with the Reaver's. They clasped their hands, and a world was born.

'Namo Buddhaya.'