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CHAPTER 29

HELL'S WAYS

[Bisected Defender Plate – Soul Armor]

Level: 65

Defense: 850

Strength: +60

Regeneration: +50%

Soul Strength: +10% (Upgradable)

Unique: Soul Armor – can link up to (3) other pieces of gear and increase their stats by 20%.

Special effect: Cannot be fully destroyed.

Special Effect: <Amplified Reflect> - reflects 60% of incoming attacks. Can instead store the damage instead.

Special Effect: <Ring Burst> - consume stored damage and inflict Soul Attack to selected targets within 4m.

Special Effect: <Bisected Soul Set: 1/4>

Each additional set piece will add additional Special Effect. They are selected randomly based on materials used during the crafting.

Note: A masterpiece crafted by an Adept Blacksmith. Due to perfect circumstances, this piece of armor formed a Basic Soul. By upgrading the armor piece through re-forging process, it is possible to elevate sentience, increase the maximum amount of <Set Pieces> and add additional effects.

Looking over the stats, Lino felt somewhat stumped and at a loss for words. Although he expected it to be on the up-and-up of things considering it was a Soul Armor, he was still given quite a shock. Not only were all the arrays he fiddled with and inscribed onto armor perfectly combined, the armor could actually be used as a core to form a Set! Naturally, other pieces would be of lower quality, but they would in turn strengthen the core piece further. In addition, there was a rather substantial increase to the strength of the wearer and a decent boost in regeneration which, when combined with <Empyrean Writ’s>, would probably shock anyone into silence. One thing Lino didn’t expect was the additional boost to Soul Strength; the latter was available only to Soul Realm cultivators, and it primarily increased the range of their Divine Sense, resistance to mental attacks, illusionary formations and such, as well as increased the potency of soul attacks. While 10% increase seems rather marginal, it would effectively double Lino’s mental facilities once he ascends to Soul Realm. There was even a chance of increasing the armor’s sentience, which Lino found absolutely astounding. Uh, I probably need to keep this a secret from everyone other than Ella and Eggor… otherwise I might die.

Although the armor lacked the ascribed rank as it was a Soul Armor piece, Lino was more than certain that it was at least of Legendary grade just judging by its special effects. Legendary-grade crafts were a rare commodity even in the world of cultivators, where each piece could spark a conflict between not only loose cultivators, but even ranked sects. Though lacking as one of the final defensive lines of a ranked sect, it is still considered quite a treasure. Stroking his lower chin, he nearly burst out into conceited laughter. Even if he was completely untalented when it came to cultivation – as he relied entirely on the method itself for such a quick progress – it appeared as though he wasn’t that shabby when it came to crafting.

“Hm, Ella left this morning,” he mumbled softly as he stored the armor into his void world. “And that guy left somewhere saying he’ll be back in two days. I’m too exhausted to start crafting another pieces for the time being,” and he also lacked designs. “And I’m yet to figure out the path of [Celestial Rod]. Oh!” he exclaimed as he quickly took out a familiar, metallic plate with strange inscriptions. “Should I go and try sell this?” [Celestial Plate] may not be a combative item, but it was rather queer, and Lino knew that many-a-curious people would be interested in it. However, his spirits quickly damped as he had nowhere to sell it within a Bridge Village. The village itself wasn’t militant, mainly focusing on crafting and mining, and most of the contracts with the capital had to do with offensive weapons and armors, which [Celestial Plate] certainly wasn’t. “Eh, I can wait until we go to the Capital,” Lino said as he stored the plate back into the void world. “Ah, Ella told me she left some more books for me. Let’s do that until that bastard comes back.”

**

A large mountain piercing the clouds was covered in lush green from top to bottom; along the elongating, rugged path were many lakes and flatlands and crisscrossing rivers, and mountain’s width could hardly be described as a natural phenomenon. Up the mountain, one would stumble across several villages and even smaller towns, and three hegemonies – cities governed by Lords. However, the part of the mountain which pierced the clouds didn’t belong to any of them, nor did they have the privilege of ever ascending that high. Above the clouds, the mountain suddenly stretched outwardly like a crown, with four spire-like pikes erected high upwardly even further into the sky. The inner part was sunken, like the crown’s hollow parts, while edges almost appeared chiseled in their design, perfectly symmetrical. The entire sunken part of the mountain covered nearly twenty kilometers, and was home to a massive, spiraling spire that had countless angled and sharp-looking towers breaking off its central structure. At the very top was a massive set of petal-shaped platforms, forming a gigantic, white rose. The entire spire was a mix of white and red hue, but the two never mingled together, as though cleanly separated by a higher force. Surrounding the spire were four massive lakes, over which countless, crisscrossing wooden bridges were built, connecting smaller settlements around the spire to each other, and to the spire itself. Architecture on the outer edge was rather simple, mainly consisting of solitary, squared houses made of brick with flat roofs. The further in one ventured, the more lavish the buildings got, going from being made from brick to being made from heavy stone, until the very innermost ring surrounding the spire which had several dozen structure built entirely of white marble stone, strange, maroon red stone and refined and recolored black granite. Each building was at least thirty meters tall, with several straight spires and countless patterned decorations on their façades.

The road leading up the main, spiraling spire was empty, surrounded by swaying grass and countless flowers, procuring a rather serene and tranquil scenery. Discarding the dirt pavement, the upwardly spiraling road rounding the spire was made entirely of precious, white and red crystals, making it seem almost as if there were liquids within eternally dancing, but never mingling. The spire was separated into seven clear layers, and the higher one went up, the less thorn-like structures there were. Currently, on a first layer, surrounded by serene beauty and effusive charm, Lu Hao and Yan Hao were standing in front of a protruding, thorn-like building. Although Lu Hao had come to the Dying Roses’ headquarters two times before, it was his first time ascending the famed Undying Rose, building which even Seven Holy Grounds of Mankind coined as one of the world’s architectural miracles. On the other hand, it was Yan Hao’s first time within the Main Sect, as well as his first time ascending the spiral, which gave him a rather large shock. The layer they were on had a disc-like floor, with several buildings made entirely either of white or red materials of all sorts blooming from the ground. However, all of the important figures of the Undying Rose building lived within the ‘Thorns’, and it was no exception for the first layer. As the two were lost in their own thoughts, a simple door they were standing in front of opened, revealing a set of stairs leading upward to the central part of the building. Taking a deep breath, Lu Hao was the first one to step while pulling Yan Hao to follow him.

After ascending the stairs, they emerged in a rather simple-looking yet beautiful room. There were no external decorations brought in; the sculptures of various kinds of beasts were seemingly spilling over from the wall, white and red in color, while even the seating chairs and a low table were chiseled out of the floor itself. On the other side of the room was another door, but they knew they could not go inside, and simply chose to sit down on one of the chairs, cross-legged. After waiting for a few minutes, the door opposite of them opened, and through it walked a rather modest-looking middle-aged man. He had clean and styled black hair, supported in a bun by pins, and well-groomed black beard spreading through his low and sharp jaw. His eyes were rather narrow, like eagles, and his black pupils emitted charm that one is hard-pressed to find in the secular world. Though his body didn’t appear to be anything special, Lu Hao knew that beneath that seemingly loose and simple white robes rested a body of a man that could level the entire Umbra Kingdom – and all its inhabitants – with a flick of his fingers.

“Lu Hao greets Great Uncle!” Lu Hao exclaimed solemnly as he kowtowed three times. Following his lead, Yan Hao did the same.

“Ho ho, looks like you haven’t really forgotten your origins.” the man smiled amiably as he stroked his beard, sitting down opposite of them. With a wave of his hand, a tea set with steaming cups suddenly appeared in front of the three from the thin air. “Sister keeps clawing at me for sending you away; you really ought to visit more often, Lu.”

“Ha ha, I ask Uncle to forgive me,” Lu Hao laughed lightly. “I burdened you with my Mother’s quacking.”

“Hmm, don’t worry about it; I was burdened by her quacking long before you were born, brat,” the man laughed as he picked the cup of tea and drank a sip. “This is?”

“He’s my adopted nephew as well as my direct disciple,” Lu Hao pointed to Yan Hao and explained. “Though he’s lacking in talent, I hope Uncle can offer a pointer or two.”

“Hm, not bad, not bad,” the man nodded lightly as he scrutinized Yan Hao; feeling the former’s gaze, Yan Hao felt all hairs on his body stand up, as though all his secrets – including his thoughts – were revealed to the man. “He’s an ambitious young lad, unyielding, but not abstinently proud to die for stupidity. If you guide him well, he might make something of himself just yet.”

“Ah, Great Uncle overpraises me!” feeling the Lu Hao’s poke, Yan Hao quickly exclaimed as his cheeks flushed slightly red in embarrassment.

“Ha ha, don’t mind it,” the middle-aged man waved his hand lightly while turning toward Lu Hao. “What about Shi?” the moment he mentioned the name, the middle-aged man’s smiling expression weakened somewhat as it grew bitter.

“… ah, Master couldn’t come back, unfortunately,” Lu Hao shook his head lightly. “It has to do with our own arrival here.”

“Oh? Something’s happened? Did that Clan you mention finally declare a war?” the middle-aged man asked, seemingly somewhat surprised.

“No; unfortunately, it is much worse,” seeing his nephew’s grave expression, the middle-aged man also grew serious. “Endo Clan is wiped out.”

“Hm? Who did it?”

“… a few months ago,” Lu Hao slowly began, taking a deep breath. “One of our high-rank informers from within told us that Endo Clan Patriarch’s daughter was actually a Demon – or rather, he suspected she was.” hearing this, the middle-aged man’s expression suddenly darkened as his eyes flashed in strange, cold glint, completely contradictory to his usually smiling face. “He told us that he heard how Patriarch brought an egg from the Capital, and how when she was born, her veins were apparently black and pulsating. Because the details were so specific, we knew it was probably true; though the Endo Clan was probably aware of the Demons, I can’t imagine them knowing the exact details to fabricate such story unless they’ve witnessed it. We intended to immediately eliminate the threat and didn’t report it as we believed it was just a Low-tier Demon.”

“… it wasn’t?” sensing the underlying meaning, the middle-aged man asked.

“No,” Lu Hao shook his head. “Eventually, our plan failed. However, Master stumbled upon a young cultivator and informed him of the truth of the matter. We aren’t certain how, but the young cultivator managed to kill the Demon; however, immediately after, Demonification occurred, corrupting over a hundred people.”

“High-tiered Demon?!” the middle-aged man exclaimed softly. “Although a threat, I don’t think you’d come here simply because of a single High-tiered Demon.”

“Master and I directly went out ourselves to help the Kingdom’s army deal with them, and stumbled upon the strange signs.” Lu Hao elaborated further. “Rather than following their instinct, the Demonized people would engage in guerrilla warfare, often retreating when their circumstances were unfavorable. We also realized that the nearer we came to the Capital, the thinner Qi got; we suspected it was merely a natural formation, but after closer examination, we understood that it was being subverted. All of this pointed us to two realizations: there was a Portal being constructed somewhere in the Capital, and it has been under construction for a while, and there is definitely at least one Great Demon behind the scenes. Master suspected that the Great Demon is at least at Purity Realm, and we simply have no means to deal with it, which is why I came here.”

“…” the middle-aged man turned to silence as his brows knitted together. “This is strange,” he spoke after a few moments, sighing lightly. “Usually, when Demons invade trying to subvert Qi, they go to the places with high density. Rather than sending incubated children, they send over fully grown ones as to quicken the process. According to you, the High-tier Demon was brought back from the capital in its incubated form. If there is one, there must be another. And if there is a Portal, with surrounding Qi being subverted to the point where it can be sensed, it is at least 60% completed. All of this simply sounds… impossible.”

“Indeed,” Lu Hao nodded gravely. “Even in high density areas of Qi, it would take at least a decade for a Portal to reach the point where its subversion of Qi could be sensed by people under Purity Realm. I seek guidance, Great Uncle.”

“… although I would like to go there myself, that’s impossible unfortunately,” the middle-aged man sighed lightly. “Even walking in there, I would cause Qi to implode. I’ve recently accepted three new disciples, two of which have already ascended to Purity Realm, while the third is a Peak Mystic Realm. I’ll directly assign them under you. Although it sounds ludicrous, this is starting to remind me of the Godfiend Crusade two thousand years ago. Even if there’s an inkling of such catastrophe repeating, we must squash it before it has a chance to. Do you have any plans on how to handle it?”

“The Kingdom will soon host the Annual Festival and it will be a good opportunity to gain clean access to the Capital. As we’re uncertain of the details, it’s probably best we don’t rush headlong.”

“Hm, good idea,” the middle-aged man nodded. “If the Portal somehow reaches 80% by the time you get to it, immediately evacuate and come here. I’ll personally lead the Purge in that case. Oh, right. You mentioned a young cultivator? Where is he from?”

“… uh, no clue,” Lu Hao shook his head in embarrassment. “He doesn’t belong to any forces there and appears to be… loose cultivator.”

“Oh? Is that even possible?”

“It shouldn’t be,” Lu Hao replied. “What’s even odder is that he’s a Body Refiner. Although I haven’t personally clashed with him to inspect his cultivation method, from my induction, it appears to be at least of Mystic Grade, possibly higher.”

“Oh? That’s interesting,” the middle-aged man stroked his beard as he mumbled lowly. “How old is he?”

“Around fifteen, I think.” Lu Hao said. “The last time I saw traces of him, it appeared he was Level 40.”

“Not bad, not bad. Considering the circumstances there, he seems like a great budding.”

“… hm, the odd part is that he seems to have cultivated for less than two years at that point.”

“…” the middle-aged man’s expression suddenly darkened as he thought about something but he quickly shook his head. “I’m thinking too much…”

“Uncle?”

“Ah, it’s nothing,” he said. “If you meet him, try to invite him to join us. When do you plan on departing?”

“As quickly as possible,” Lu Hao said. “I also want to ask a personal favor from the Uncle.”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry, your dear disciple can stay here,” the middle-aged man laughed lightly. “I suspected that by the time you come back, he’d have surpassed you already.”

“Lu Hao thanks the Great Uncle!”

“Yan Hao thanks the Great Uncle!”

“Don’t stand on the ceremony,” the middle-aged man said. “I’ve already informed my three disciples and they’re on their way over. I’ll personally send you guys the closest I can to the Umbra Kingdom. Remember: always be careful. Don’t play the hero if it will lead to your deaths.”

“Lu Hao will heed Great Uncle’s advice!”

“Hm, good,” the man nodded, smiling lightly. “I’ll be expecting good news.”

The only reason Lu Hao and Yan Hao were able to quickly rush over to the Main Sect was due to the teleportation formation residing right outside the Umbra Kingdom. Otherwise, with their average speed, it would probably take them roughly 6 years to reach this place without ever even resting for a second. With Wei Hao – Lu Hao’s Great Uncle, Core Disciple Hall Master as well as the Main Sect’s youngest Elder figure – promising to send them back near the Umbra Kingdom, it meant that their worries were alleviated, otherwise resources required to make a trip back through the teleportation formation would be almost impossible to bear.

The Dying Roses Sect within the Umbra Kingdom was just one of the hundreds of branch sects scattered around the world, usually tasked with either spreading the influence of the Main Sect or pulling in extraordinary talents. Dying Roses Main Sect occupied high position in the world’s hierarchy, as it was actually one of the Sacred Ground Sects. The Sect had incredibly long history, dating back all the way to the previous era – Cultivation Era. However, because they rarely instigated conflicts and entered the struggle for power, they never vied for the position of one of the Seven Holy Grounds of mankind. It was one of their principal rules, and they were mostly focused on dealing with mankind’s external enemies – primarily Devils from the Hell. One could say that they were the pioneering force when it came to defending against invaders, and had long since took it upon themselves to helm the position of a leader without much dissatisfaction from others. Lu Hao felt rather reassured as with the addition of two Purity Realm cultivators and a peak Mystic Realm cultivator he was more confident in dealing with whatever would be thrown his way.

Currently, within the Umbra Kingdom’s Capital, deep beneath the palace, in a massive underground clearing, an eternally spinning, circular flash of light was beaming in bloody red, residual Qi spilling over eating away at the world’s Qi bit by bit. The atmosphere was heavy and were any mortal to be placed here, they wouldn’t last even a breath before choking and dying on spot. Besides the portal that was a centralized portion of the opening, there were two symmetrical altars depicting a same, three-horned Devil with massive wings and hooves for feet. Suddenly, the Portal flashed in brilliant crimson as a shadow spilled over like water, landing in front of it on the already corroded ground. The figure was almost two meters tall, with dazzling crimson hair flowing freely like blood. Its skin was a mix of black and red, and it had three eyes, one atop the forehead currently closed while the other pair burned in heavy maroon. The figure was bare chested and had simple loin cloth covering from his waist down to his knees. Unlike humans, his feet were hooves and legs gave of metallic sheen, appearing slightly thin when compared to his muscular torso and arms. A few moments later, a rugged breathing could be heard as a figure darted from upward and landed in front of the two-horned Devil, kneeling while shaking.

“G-great Lord… Y-your Servant is-is late… please… punish me!” the figure clothed entirely in black with only a pair of emerald-green eyes revealed spoke in a shaky and frightened voice.

“Rise.” the two-horned Devil spoke in a calm and even, yet harshly commanding, tone. “Hm, not bad. I could probably sustain myself for roughly four breaths while fighting here, thirty or so while idle. Nobody realized that the Portal has been completed?”

“N-no, Great Lord,” though he was pardoned, the black-clothed figure didn’t dare rise from his knees or even rise his lowered head to look at the two-horned Devil in the eyes. “At most, some hidden forces and spies would suspect that it is halfway completed.”

“Looks like Exalted One’s Formation is functioning marvelously,” the two-horned Devil said in a worshiping tone. “As expected. What is the status of the corrupted?”

“All according to the Great Lord’s plans.”

“You can put the little one as a figurehead after the initial phase is done,” the two-horned Devil said. “As for the other two… humph, they think they can get free lunch from Us? Exalted One has warned me that we will hit a few obstacles during the initial phase; though I can’t say for certain to what degree, He said that if we do our best, it would be no trouble to complete the initial plans. Send those two to investigate any possible retaliation and if need be force them to exterminate any opposition.”

“It will be as the Great Lord decrees.”

“Hm, not bad, you’ve already reached the Purity Realm in a few years,” the two-horned Devil said, nodding his head lightly. “Looks like it wasn’t a mistake to send you over. Any important issues to report?”

“I am ashamed to say, but a tiny branch of Dying Roses Sect evaded our eyes until recently,” the black-clothed man said, a clear hint of bitterness in his voice. “By the time this lowly one got the wind of it, they relocated. There is a great chance that they will be informing their Main Sect soon.”

“… humph, those inbred dogs,” the two-horned Devil spoke harshly, his voice full of killing intent. “Their last campaign over to our home costed us a lot. It is high time we repaid the favor. Don’t worry about them. At most, they’ll send a few Purity Realm puppies. If they dare make a stir, just activate the talisman and I’ll rush over. Exalted One has been planning this operation for hundreds of years, and my territory won’t be the one to screw things up.”

“This lowly one is reassured with Great Lord’s promise!”

“Oh, right,” the two-horned Devil said suddenly as though he remembered something. “Exalted One was informed by the Revered Origin Ancestor that someone has begun cultivating the last Writ - <Empyrean Writ>. Though it is probably someone from the Great Descent as they’re the only ones who’ve been vying for the last Writ over the past millions of years, it may not necessarily be so. Exalted One has asked everyone to keep an eye out just in case.”

“Ah! This lowly one understands!” the black-clothed man’s eyes flashed with deep surprise as he said. “It’s just…”

“Speak!”

“This lowly one has only ever heard of the <Empyrean Writ>,” the black-clothed man spoke carefully. “But has never learned how to recognize its Bearer.”

“Hm, it’s understandable you hadn’t,” the two-horned Devil said with a sigh. “Even We only have a few clues We’ve deciphered from the Ancient Texts. Though most other signs are uncertain, one is definite: it is the only Writ which is yet to submit to the Gaia’s Qi, meaning that its bearer would cultivate Qi of Entropy. It should be easy for you to recognize it as its roots reject both the Gaia’s Qi and Devil God’s Qi.”

“Ah, this lowly one understands! Thank You, Great Lord, for clearing it up!”

“Don’t worry about it,” the two-horned Devil said as he turned around, preparing to walk back through the Portal. “No force will allow Writ’s Bearer to grow unless the Writ submits to Gaia. Even if we do find the Bearer by accident, we needn’t lift a finger except informing humans and watch them slaughter each other. That will be all. Keep me informed.”

“Yes!”

A mere flash later, and the two-horned Devil disappeared back through the portal. Black-clothed man only got up after a few minutes of kneeling, completely wet from head to toe due to fright. After all, the two-horned Devil wasn’t just an ordinary Devil; he was one of the most feared Devil Variants, Godfiend. Though he was just recently ascended one, he was still a genuine Godfiend – a being comparable to a human’s Deus Imperium cultivator, a being in human world akin to a god, one at least at 1250 Level.

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beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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