Lino felt all hairs on his body stand up as he frantically ran forward, immediately activating the effects of his Primal Spirit of Wind – Li. His speed didn’t skyrocket immediately, but increased over the span of few seconds. Auras that were closing in behind him grew distant for a moment, but Lino knew that he was far from being in a safe position. Half a mile in front of him was a deep shrubbery followed by a thick forest. He had no clue what it’s called or where it led to, but being in the open with seven of the chasers was equal to a suicide. Hundred meters or so before reaching the forest, Lino suddenly took a gigantic leap, drawing a beautiful arc through the sky as he rose up to nearly twenty meters in the air.
He couldn’t sustain his incredible speed even with the increased physique after reaching Level 30 and undergoing the First Evolution. Rather than burning out immediately, he decided to cancel his massive speed halfway through to save up on stamina. His arc crusaded him over the treetops for nearly fifty meters after entering the border of the forest before he finally started losing momentum. By his estimates, he had put nearly a mile of distance between him and the pursuers, but he knew it wasn’t enough. He landed forcibly onto a thick branch of a tree, breaking it in the process and plummeting down onto the ground. However, as his falling speed decreased, he was able to forcibly stabilize himself and burst forward once again, dancing in-between the trees.
His legs hurt like hell, and he even felt that a few bones were broken, but he didn’t dare halt even for a second. He immediately urged <Empyrean Writ> to regenerate his legs, ignoring even his relatively-recovered wrist. The forest he entered with Aeala in tow was truly thick, to the point that even sunlight didn’t manage to pierce its way through. After running for nearly thirty seconds, however, his heart froze for a moment. Despite his definitely inhumane speed of running – considering the unfavorable terrain – the seven auras were actually gaining on him. While it appeared minuscule, he knew that the gap would only decrease over time, as he could only sustain his current speed for a most five minutes before depleting his stamina entirely. He didn’t dare gamble on the fact that the seven who were chasing him would run out of gas before he did, as he had absolutely no clue what kind of changes they underwent after the ‘transformation’. Another great disadvantage he was facing was the fact that he lacked any knowledge about the current place. He only knew that he was near the Second Mountain in the Umbra Mountain Range, but, beyond that, he didn’t even know which direction he was running in.
His mind continuously worked like mad to come up with ideas that would allow him to escape, but it was all for naught. He didn’t have a single martial art – or even item – that could aid him right now. In addition, he was even unable to activate the Primal Spirit of Wind as he wasn’t on the flatland. In the end, his choices plummeted to only a single one: fight. Direct confrontation was out of question. Even before their ‘transformation’, just a single out of seven of his pursuers were enough to spit him to death, to say nothing now. If, by chance, he was to confront the Patriarch directly, he probably wouldn’t even know how he died. He still had nine Magic Darts encased in poison within the [Celestial Rod], but he gathered that they were probably on the lookout for such attacks after what happened with Vyeala. At most, he theorized, he’d be able to kill four of them, excluding the Patriarch himself. Although Aeala didn’t understand the circumstances as well as Lino, his crazed expression told her enough. She, in the end, has yet to recover from the shock the massive, black shadow inflicted on her heart. Unlike Lino, she was just an ordinary person. The only reason she even knew of cultivators was because she was born in the Clan of them.
Yet again, she was forced to reassess the youth that was bravely carrying her on his shoulder. After witnessing how he crafted a massive shield in such a short span of time, she felt the gamble she took was worth it. However, after seeing him absolutely decimate people she believed to be gods, she was left in the utter state of shock. She realized that she hadn’t taken a gamble, but rather more of a surefire way of escape. Even after he had killed Vyeala stealthily, he didn’t seem panicked and looked rather confident in his escape. It was only after the black shadow emerged from the Vyeala’s corpse and suddenly scattered in the black shower that his expression changed. Aeala felt it when the Patriarch’s three swords landed onto Lino’s shield. Although she didn’t even suffer a shockwave from the attack as Lino used his own body to protect her, just the passing wind created quite a few gashes on her skin. Yet, the boy in front of her who couldn’t be older than sixteen bore the brunt of it, having enough awareness not to become overwhelmed but rather immediately recover and continue running. Even now, there wasn’t an expression of dismay on his face, just a form of crazed resoluteness that stirred even her heart that she believed had turned frozen long, long time ago.
Lino, on the other hand, finally steeled his heart and grit his teeth as he lowered his speed somewhat. Besides conserving stamina, he also had to take action soon if he wanted to have a chance of surviving. The longer the chase went on, the lower his chances would be. If he had known beforehand, he’d have started guerrilla warfare against the seven the moment they entered the woods but, alas, it was too late to regret. At the moment, he had three tools that could aid him: the shield, the necklace and the rod. The first could at most block one more attack before being completely destroyed. The second could block 3 attacks directly, while the rod could kill four – five if he was lucky. Naturally, he had to properly used all three tools if he wanted to have a chance.
A mere minute later, Lino felt that the seven had reached the hundred meters mark behind him. Muscles on his calves suddenly bulged as he sprung upward nearly fifty meters into the sky, shifting around midair as he summoned one sword after another from the necklace, sending them flying with careless abandon. He didn’t hope to even injure them with the attacks as the swords were not of the greatest quality, but he needed distraction. One sword after another fell from the sky like rain, bursting trees apart on their way and kicking up a minor dust storm. Lino was still descending when he noticed several explosions which sent his swords either flying back into the sky or into smithereens. Eighty meters… seventy meters… at the sixty meters mark, he felt Patriarch’s Divine Sense wash over him. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, at the moment he landed, he gripped the [Celestial Rod] and let loose all nine Magic Darts at the five of six Prime Elders. Because of the dust, and the fact that the darts themselves were almost impossible to spot with naked eye, the darts moved incredibly stealthily, crossing the distance of sixty meters in less than a breath of time.
Without even waiting to see the results, Lino resolutely turned around and ran. Luckily, there was a small patch of clear land, roughly four hundred meters long, allowing him to increase his speed to gain some distance. After re-entering the forest, his frowned face suddenly relaxed as a faint smile appeared. Aeala was slightly startled seeing it; up to now, she didn’t dare utter a word from fear of distracting him, but she almost gave in and asked why he was smiling, barely holding back.
The reason for the smile was rather simple: Lino was truly lucky, as he had managed to actually kill five of the six Prime Elders. Besides the fact that only two auras were on his tail right now, his Level also increased to 33. Because of that, small portion of his wounds were healed quickly, and his exhaustive state recovered somewhat. While he was far from his peak condition, it was better than nothing. Still, it was only just the beginning. If it were only the six Prime Elders that were chasing him, Lino would be 100% certain that he’d be able to kill them all, but that wasn’t the case. In the end, the greatest headache was still the only Soul Realm cultivator – Patriarch Varick. Because of the Divine Sense of the Soul Realm cultivators, it was almost impossible for Lino sneak in an attack, much less one that would threaten the Patriarch’s life. In addition, he was out of Magic Darts, so he’d have to kill the remaining two pursuers in the straightforward fashion, which he wasn’t looking forward to.
After running for roughly two hundred more meters, he began slowing down in anticipation. The crazed expression returned on his face as his lips curled up in a rather devious-looking grin. He looked like a maddened murderer who was locked up for decades finally being given a chance to unleash hell upon the world once more. Lino’s heart beat crazily, while <Empyrean Writ> resonated with it, circulating even faster. Incomparable power filled every fiber of his being as he felt his body lighten like a feather, while strength filled his muscles to brim. This was definitely not Lino’s personality; he was always more of a shrewd person, one who’d take the beating ten thousand times, waiting for the opportunity to retaliate. If it were past him, he’d have run with reckless abandon, not even humoring the thought of fighting back. However, something inside of him snapped. As though a thread that was loosely connecting his sanity had finally disappeared, incomparable desire for battle, blood and death gushed into his very soul. All his senses heightened considerably, while the bits of fear he felt deep inside his heart disappeared completely. It wasn’t as though he was overwhelmed by sheer madness; on contrary, he felt that his mind was never clearer than it was right at this very moment. At the same time, it’s not as though he suddenly became someone who can directly contend against two massive powerhouses that were chasing him. The only thing which truly changed was his state of mind, and clarity through which he was able to process his thoughts much quicker than before.
In didn’t take long before the two pursuers caught up to him. Both had extremely crazed expressions as veins pulsated throughout their entire bodies, deep black and purple in color. The pupils of their eyes were dyed in deep maroon, surrounded with pitch-black darkness akin to that of an abyss. Both their bodies had grown to nearly three meters in height, far surpassing what a human was capable of. Even the tallest human in records barely reached two-and-a-half meters and, even then, the only thing he felt was pain as his bones were unable to properly support him. On the other hand, the two before Lino seemed full of vigor and life. Lino’s brows creased for a moment as he tightened the grip on Aeala before drawing out a sword from his necklace. He only had nine more swords stored inside, and he wagered that, if he didn’t completely run out of them or even die, he’d have one or two at most remaining after this battle.
No words were exchanged between the two parties; as soon as the Patriarch and the last remaining Elder – First Elder Rayel – entered twenty-meter radius around Lino, six swords abruptly appeared above their heads, shimmering in dark, black Qi. Both signaled with their fingers at the same time as the six swords screeched like mad, rotating in circles as to gain momentum before discharging toward Lino. The latter was well aware of the incredible force the swords possessed and had no intention of facing them directly. He abruptly spun and shifted his body sideways before erupting with massive force, leaping nearly ten meters in a single jolt, evading the six strikes. He immediately retaliated by sending two swords flying – both toward the First Elder – but it did nothing as the latter simply swiped his fingers gently, disintegrating the swords midflight. Such sight shocked Lino for a moment; that Qi was definitely not normal. Attribute Qi? Lino thought as he once again evaded the six swords by a leap. Ella mentioned that it’s incomparably rare, and that only geniuses have them. These two definitely aren’t geniuses… could it be the work of that black shadow?
No matter what, though, his task of killing the two suddenly increased in difficulty, and not by a small margin. According to Lino’s observation, the Qi had an attribute similar to decay, as it simply overwhelmed any matter it touched and turned it into nothingness within a short span of time. If he were to come directly in contact with it, he had no doubts that he’d die within seconds. For convenience’s sake, before the third interval of attacks arrived, he chose to test the Glog Primal Spirit on Patriarch Varick.
[Varick Endo – Human – Level 78 – Soul Realm Mortal]
Titles: Patriarch of the Clan, ???, ???, ???
Occupations: Patriarch, ???, ???, ???
Martial Arts: ???, ???, ???, ???
Unfortunately, the inspection didn’t tell him anything other than what he already knew. All the ‘???’ simply caused his eyes to sting slightly. Taking a deep breath, he refocused his senses onto the battle; to his surprise, no new swords came flying. Rather, the Patriarch and the First Elder stood side by side, each holding a sword in one of their hands, staring intently at Lino. Their gaze felt piercing, as though they could see into the depths of his soul. Yet, at the same time, it seemed slightly maddening and crazed, as though overwhelmed by something primal. The black veins on their bodies pulsated with strong force as Lino felt Qi around the two stir unnaturally; there was a faint presence of rejection, as if the two were battling back against the world Qi’s invading nature, refusing to let it in. The world was quickly submerged into the silence as the three entered a strange stand-off. Leaves were gently ruffled by a breeze, but not much else was happening around them. Lino didn’t dare relax even a single part of his body from fear it would be the last mistake he ever made. He held the sword in his hand valiantly, prepared at any moment to use his three trump cards. Yet, the two didn’t attack even after a whole minute passed. Refocusing onto their eyes, Lino noticed that, beneath that redness and strange craze, there appeared to be a faint glimmer of sanity, battling to perch out. However, all attempts failed. After a quick thought, Lino theorized that whatever invaded their bodies also corroded their mental states, and the two were now trying to regain the control over themselves, but it appeared futile. He used the short break given to him to take a breather and carefully looking at his surroundings, hoping to find something he could use. However, besides the trees and tall grass, there was nothing else. Not even a slope or a cave.
“… w-w-why did, did you kill, kill her?” a somber, low, dull voice came out of Patriarch’s mouth, unlike one full of valor he displayed previously.
“…” Lino frowned for a moment as he looked at the Patriarch’s ever-changing expression; from brutal madness to heart-breaking agony and sorrow. “Hmm… I’m not too sure myself,” Lino replied honestly. “Maybe, because she was a Demon?”
No reply came, as Patriarch had finally lost the battle. Whatever was within him finally took over, perhaps grasping the slip in mentality provided by Lino’s sharp words. Cursing at himself for providing the enemy with an opportunity, Lino gripped the handle of the iron sword tightly, feeling his palms growing sweaty. A moment later, both the Patriarch and First Elder moved; one aimed from Lino’s left and one from the right, as both worked in coordination to limit his escape paths. Lino knew that he couldn’t prolong the battle; he needed to quickly take care of at least one of the two. Gritting his teeth in determination, he braved his heart and summoned the half-cracked shield from the necklace. As he couldn’t externalize Qi and levitate the shield in the air to protect him, he could only throw it directly not at the Patriarch who was closing in from his left, but onto the First Elder. Without waiting to see the results, his leg muscles bulged once again as he bolted sideways, leaping slightly into the air as to move directly behind the shield.
Midway through his leap, he suddenly relaxed the arm which held Aeala and threw the woman as gently as he could to the side. He was no longer able to protect her; perhaps, the best way to protect her was to actually throw her out of the battle directly. If he was confident in one thing, it was the endurance of his body. Even if he took a direct hit from the Patriarch, he was confident he could survive as long as he wasn’t struck at any of his vitals. As for why he didn’t want to use the effects of the necklace, he didn’t wish to utilize two of his three trump cards just to kill the weaker Elder; he was certain that, if he wanted to have the chance to kill the Patriarch, he’d need both the rod and the necklace to do their part.
While Aeala was still flying sideways, releasing a stiffened scream, cracks on the shield spread further apart in the web-like fashion as the Elder swept the sword he was holding in a downward motion; incredibly, the whole of the blade was coated in thick, black Qi, but it seemed to have no effect on the sword while it spilled over onto the shield’s surface, quickly corroding it. Having already made the peace with the fact that the shield won’t be surviving, Lino stopped his heart’s bleeding forcefully as he used the shield’s shadow to approach the Elder’s blindside. While still occupied with the pieces of the shattered shield which showered outward in hundreds, Elder failed to notice a small silhouette approach from his left. Without hesitation, Lino burst out in all of his strength, pouring Qi into the sword and triggering the Tri-Spirit Flames.
However, it wasn’t enough; at the very last second, the Elder seemed to have sensed the attack and bent his body sideways, avoiding a direct pierce through his lungs. Lino’s sword perched directly into the Elder’s back, but it didn’t hit any vital organs, failing to kill the latter. Clicking his tongue, he immediately let go of the sword as he summoned yet another, shifting his body sideways by force and welcoming Patriarch’s strike head on. The moment their swords clashed, Lino knew he made a terrible mistake. As though it was bread, his sword cracked without any suspense. Just before Patriarch’s sword lodged itself into Lino’s skull, the latter managed to bend his body in an unnatural way due to the Ye, Primal Spirit of Water. Pushing his body’s condition to the absolute possible peak, Patriarch’s sword struck at Lino’s left shoulder, leaving a gash which reached deep, revealing the shimmering, white bone amidst the torn muscles and gore. Lino held back a scream of pain as he abruptly spun on the ground, summoning another sword in the motion and using all of his strength to send it flying. The sword whizzed past the Patriarch’s ear before directly splicing First Elder’s head in two.
He didn’t have time to stand in ovation over his achievement, though, as Patriarch Varick had already struck once more. Lino knew that it wasn’t a decisive moment, so he still refused to activate either of his two remaining trump cards. Summoning out yet another sword, rather than blocking the strike directly, he tried to strike the incoming sword’s blade from the side and divert its trajectory as much as possible. In the end, though, the sword still landed on the right side of his chest, opening a massive gash which ran from his collarbone down to his abdomen. His body was flung backward like a kite due to sword’s explosive force while some of his guts flew out in sporadic fashion like rain, splattering crimson over the ground. Without batting an eye, the Patriarch pressed on soullessly and wordlessly.
On the other side, Lino felt pain akin to nothing he ever felt before; just the ugly feeling of his organs falling directly out of him caused him to nearly vomit. Yet, atop of that was the blood-churning pain. It hurt. His heartbeat quickened. Louder. Louder. Quicker. Thumph. Thumph. It seemed as though the quicker his heart beat, the quicker the pain pulsated through every inch of his body. His entire nerve system nearly got overwhelmed with shock, ready to turn his mind blank. Yet, Lino knew he couldn’t allow that. If he were to close his eyes, he’d die. If he were to land helplessly onto the ground, he’d die. If he were to scream out, he’d die. If he were to cower now, he’d die. Yet, his body didn’t listen. No matter how much he tried circulating <Empyrean Writ>, it hardly eased the pain. The vomit-inducing feeling of having a gaping hole spliced across his front side caused a stir in his mind. He wondered yet how he was alive. He should have died immediately with such a wound. Quickly biting his tongue to resolutely vanquish such useless thoughts, he realized that there was merely a ten-meter gap between him and the Patriarch. Lino was still in flight, unable to turn his body in any way, while Patriarch was already preparing his next strike. If I don’t do it now, I’ll die!! I’ll seriously die!!
Cold sweat broke out from his pores, mixing with deep, scarlet-dyed blood which had already covered every inch of his tattered clothing. Just before the Patriarch’s sword shoved him into the shadow of death, he activated the necklace’s effect. Although he was protected from the damage, the sheer force of impact didn’t leave him even an inch of breathing room as he was knocked flying even further up, faster. A quick glint of surprise flashed past the Patriarch’s reddened eyes, but it didn’t matter as he already entered a motion of striking yet again. Lino gritted his teeth and waited. After all, he could scarcely move a muscle, let alone try and dodge while still midflight. Another sword strike landed; however, rather than to send him flying through the sky again, it sent him spiraling downward like a bird with sliced wings. He crashed heavily into the ground, causing the earth to shake and trees to tremble, creating a three-meters deep and five-meters wide crater. He lied listlessly on the ground, his face upturned toward the sky, arm and legs spread with all his bones broken. Yet, one of his palms firmly held onto a small object resembling a sword’s handle without the blade.
He gasped for breath, yet even breathing induced nothing more but pain. It rang on and on, cruising through his veins like river. He’d realized: this was worse than death. Worse than torture. He was a plaything. A broken doll. A watch whose gears didn’t spin. A clock tower without a clock. A butcher without a knife. A body without a soul to move it. Patriarch landed twenty odd meters away from Lino and slowly began walking in the boy’s direction, an expression of utter disdain on the man’s face. Lino waited. Each footstep echoed out into the surrounding silence. Those were the footsteps of a Grim Reaper, Lino realized, who had come to harvest his life. He’d come so far only to die? Of course not. Had he been so weak-willed, he’d have died in the orphanage. He’d have died when Sister Roa stole his food for nearly two years straight, forcing him to eat everything and anything, eventually even stealing leather boots and such oddities. Had he been so weak in mind, he’d have died when he turned eight, during the harshest winter recorded in the past hundred years, where temperatures reached 50 below zero. He scarcely wore anything, but was forced to leave the already thin walls of the orphanage to search for food, not only for himself, but kids younger than him. That winter, eighteen kids died. But, he survived. Had he been so weak-willed, he’d have never accepted the grace given to him by Eggor and Ella. He would have never taken the reaching hand, grasping the thick, warm fingers tightly from fear of ever being let go. Had his heart been so weak as to give in so easily, he would have forgotten what it meant to smile. What it meant to feel joy, happiness and warmth. In the end, he’s yet to repay the favors given to him; he’s yet to repay the love, the warmth, the meals, the guidance, all the things which finally made him feel like a proper human being. While gasping for breath, bleeding profusely, and making sure none of his broken rib-cages pierced his lungs or heart directly, Lino gripped the [Celestial Rod] and, using nothing but firm will and even firmer heart, aimed at the approaching Patriarch. At the fifteen- meter mark, he struck.
The small rod suddenly shook, elongating in a beautiful, flat line. Last bit of Qi within Lino’s body was drained as it triggered one of rod’s form, that of extending spear. The shaft remained of similar make as the rod’s original form, while a thin, silver blade grew as a tip. The spear itself elongated to over fifty meters before stopping. Ten meters before the halfway point, droplets of black blood trickled down the shaft’s glistening surface. Approaching footsteps halted. World yet again was submerged into silence. A mere moment later, the spear disappeared as Lino’s eyes closed at last, his consciousness fading. His entire body remained unmoving in that crater.
Fifteen meters away from him, the Patriarch’s body remained standing for a few seconds more, the crazed expression in his eyes fading as black, stiffening smoke burst out from the pores of his skin. Wretched screams of agony bellowed out from his soul, not his own. As his body plopped over, he fell onto the knees before lying down flat onto the ground, life in his eyes slowly fading. With last bit of strength, he looked around and saw the sitting, trembling Aeala who stared at the whole scene with shellshocked expression.
“… s-should he, he live,” the Patriarch urged the last of his Qi to halt his dying moment. “P-pass on… on my gra-gratitude…” his voice slowly grew weaker. “M-my hatred… and… and my w-warning…” Patriarch Varick, a man who saw himself destined to usher the Endo Clan into the era of prosperity, smiled blissfully as he felt his body growing cold quickly. “It… it has o-only… begun…”
And thus, one of the strongest men within Umbra Kingdom fell, his fate to forever remain unknown within the annals of history. Meanwhile, trembling Aeala was jolted awake from her shock as the Patriarch breathed his last. Gathering the last bit of her wit, she spun up onto her feet and raced over toward Lino. However, the moment she saw the state of his body, her insides churned as she shafted her head sideways and let her innards out. He was beyond unrecognizable. Rather, were it not for the faint movement of his chest, Aeala had no doubts he’d look exactly like corpse… one mutilated through endless torture. Every inch of his body was covered in thick, red blood, and he appeared more like a mutated animal rather than a person. Yet, she couldn’t sit and do nothing. Comparing the states of the two, she felt her already frozen heart thaw somewhat. She, who’s yet to even receive a scratch, and him, battered, beaten, scarred beyond recognition… was it even a fair comparison? Certainly not. She slowly crawled over and loomed over his body, closely inspecting his wounds. She was scarcely knowledgeable in the medicine, and no matter how much she thought, she was unable to come up with an idea. The only thing she could think of was to find a source of water and wash him. Perhaps add some alcohol on his wounds. But, to do that, she couldn’t leave him here as she went off to find a river or a stream or a lake. Yet, she was afraid to even touch him from fear of breaking him. In the end, though, what else could she do? As gently as she could, she placed both her arms beneath his back, one on his lower back and one on his neck. In the end, his legs and head remained the least hurt parts of his entire body. She made sure to firmly hold his chest in a frozen position, without allowing any sway even when she felt her arms throb.
Leaving the Elder’s and Patriarch’s corpses, she slowly began trotting over the thick forest in search of at least a somewhat secluded place if not a cave to hide him. She had to save him. That was the only thought, the only resolve she had at the moment. She felt that if she didn’t save him, something inside of her would break, something which wouldn’t allow her to live another day peacefully.
Meanwhile, atop a slightly raised cliff some half a mile away and two miles up, a young boy with frosty atmosphere stared at the thick forest beneath him, his lips curled up in a slight smile. Behind the boy was a strange animal; a mix between a tiger and a dragonfly. The animal was twice as large as an average person, and was currently peacefully lying on the ground, its thick, furred head rested on its front paws while a pair of translucent, cicada wings laid glued to the sides of its body.
“… interesting…” the boy muttered softly as he averted the gaze from the forest, looking up toward the sky. “Will you live? Will you die? Either way… good luck…” the boy mumbled before he walked over toward the strange animal, slapping its head. The animal growled in displeasure yet it obediently lowered its head as it met the boy’s frosty gaze. The latter climbed atop the animal’s back upon which the pair of cicada wings fluttered for a moment before the animal sprinted forth and leapt off the cliff, amazingly taking off to the sky at great speed, leaving behind only blurry afterimages.