A wave of pain spread across Zac's body, shocking him awake from his trance-like state. He still felt under the influence of his skill though as the world was drowned in a metallic luster. He took a steadying breath as he looked around, and he finally spotted the remains of Harbinger.
However, Zac's brows rose when he realized that he actually hadn't gained any Cosmic Energy so far, and he pushed his exhausted body to walk over to the Zhix assassin. He was full of vigilance that it might release a final desperate attack, but he quickly realized that Harbinger was in no position to do so.
Cracks spread across the insectoid's remaining body parts before they crumbled to dust like his body was made from burnt-out wood rather than flesh and blood. There was also no energy remaining in its body according to [Cosmic Gaze]. The fact that the Zhix was still living was a miracle. There was no way that it would have the power to attack in this state.
“You sacrificed most of your life-force to keep me trapped so long. Even if you succeeded you wouldn’t live much longer,” Zac said with a hoarse voice. “All this for some insane cultivator that happened to visit your world thousands of years ago?”
“I… don’t care… about him,” the crumbling head actually managed to say with a whisper. “All… for… father.”
Harbinger died the next moment, and Zac felt a tremendous surge of Cosmic Energy entering his body. This was by far the greatest amount of energy he had ever gained from a single kill, with the possible exception of the Dragon. However, he was both level capped and unconscious that time around, so it didn't really count.
Cracking open the next node shouldn't be an issue with this much energy, even if he barely had worked on it so far. However, Zac wasn’t as interested in a single node compared to the other things that were going on in his body, so he just trapped the energy before moving on.
This was the first time he had activated his [Cyclic Strike] to summon a bronze flash since his battle with the dragon, and he was a bit shocked how well things went, all things considered. There was no need to maim himself and almost no difficulty at all to summon the bronze flash, and he somehow even managed to shoot it out of his hands.
It really seemed that the forcibly redrawn pathways on his shoulders did exactly what he had hoped.
However, even if the result was good there were undeniably some problems with how things went. First of all, he quickly lost control over the remnants' energies and he ended up using everything instead of just a portion. His soul was completely drained of the energy that had been slowly siphoned off the Splinter and it would probably take weeks before he could even launch a weaker bronze flash.
He had also completely blacked out there for a second when the infused energies passed a certain threshold. He had felt a sharp stab in his soul and only woke up after he had finished the attack. However, he had not only launched the strike but even healed himself with help of the Shard of Creation while unconscious, and there were fragmented memories of his actions.
Perhaps it would be more apt to say that he had entered some sort of auto-pilot or trance-like state, but it made him wonder if it was actually himself or the Remnants that was behind the wheel. In any case, it proved that he needed to keep grinding at the Soul Strengthening Array. He had been able to use his mind to slow down the flow of energy a little bit when activating [Cyclic Strike], proving he might be able to freely control it in the future.
“Are… you okay?” a hesitant voice asked from the side, dragging Zac out of his thoughts.
Zac looked over, only to feel a searing pain on his shoulder. A couple of hairline cracks had appeared out of nowhere just as some sort of fractal pathway disappeared, looking just like the ones that consumed the remains of Harbinger. Fear surged in Zac's chest, but he slowly calmed down when he realized that it didn't seem as though the cracks would spread any further.
Was this a side-effect from unleashing a bronze flash of this magnitude? Was his body perhaps unable to bear the Dao of Oblivion, even if it was just a shadow of a corner of that high-tiered Dao?
In fact, his attack couldn’t really be called a flash any longer. It was a proper sphere of unadulterated destruction. It had disintegrated everything within a one-meter diameter. That was enough to pretty much kill any humanoid of normal size. Better yet, Zac doubted that there were too many things on Earth that could block those kinds of scary energies.
Space itself broke apart and was destroyed, how was some defensive talisman going to protect against that?
“I’m fine,” Zac eventually answered, though that wasn’t entirely true.
The cracks on his shoulders wasn't the only thing ailing him. Zac felt weak all over, like he hadn't only overtaxed his mind but also his body. He still had an ample amount of Cosmic Energy remaining, but his mental energy was almost drained clean.
“What… Was that?” Thea eventually asked as she kept her distance from Zac. “My mind has never screamed of danger like that before, not even when I was on the brink of dying. And I wasn't even the target.”
“I guess you could say it was pure annihilation,” Zac sighed. “Don’t think about it too much. It involves some things that I can't talk about. Just considerer it one of my hidden cards.”
“Some card,” Thea muttered as she looked down at the tragic remains of Harbinger.
Harbinger's face had cracked in two and collapsed into its skull, making it seem as though the head was just a broken sculpture. Zac sighed as he looked at the odd scene. Some card indeed. Only he knew there were still too many issues to resolve before it could really be called a hidden card though.
Apart from his lacking control, there was one more fundamental weakness to his Annihilation Sphere; it took too long to charge up. Who would let Zac stand still for a few seconds while he radiated that terrifying aura? He got lucky with Harbinger since he was willing to die to complete his strike, but most people didn’t have that conviction.
They would either strike him from a distance or run for their lives if they encountered an attack imbued with oblivion. They wouldn't be trapped in a spatial lock like Thea or Harbinger. That meant he needed to learn how to create an opening so that he could get a chance to shoot out the blast without obstruction or interruption.
“Annihilation… Even its Cosmos Sack is gone,” Thea muttered from the side.
Zac swore in surprise and hurried over to the corpse, no longer caring about the long-term implications of his situation.
It was true. There was simply nothing left between the insectoid's lower thighs and shoulders. Not even a scrap remained, meaning anything Harbinger carried on its belt or back was gone.
“OPEN IT!” Inevitability screamed as the air around her wailed from her unbridled bloodlust.
“We can’t, Lady Inevitability! There’s a-“ an elder cried, but it didn’t get any further before it was turned to meat paste from a lashing.
Over one hundred corpses were already strewn around her, but it did nothing to stymie the fury that was building in her chest. She had hoped to unleash it on her brother's killer, but these people were useless. She couldn’t hold it in any longer, and she released a roar filled with her fury and madness.
The whole chamber quaked and cracks spread along the walls, but Inevitability didn’t care as she let the anger consume her. It rose with wave after wave until she barely remembered her name, it was all made inconsequential by the fiery wrath. Crackling sounds echoed out in the subterranean chamber as her skin ruptured and fell apart, but a new layer had already grown beneath it.
It was different from before. The skin was harder yet flexible, and there were streaks of red hidden right beneath the surface. Inevitability's remaining sliver of sanity knew it was a good thing, and she kept delving deeper and deeper into her madness as her power skyrocketed.
She felt she was filled with boundless power, and dozens of chains appeared around her, wildly flailing about in a mad dance of exuberance. Harbinger was almost completely forgotten as she drank the sweet nectar of strength.
Some of the already damaged walls couldn’t take it any longer and collapsed and screams echoed out across the hive. However, the screams ended as abruptly as they came as the chains seemed to have a life of their own. They shot forward like a pack of frenzied beasts the moment they found something living.
Of course, it was Inevitability that was giving free rein to her bloodlust. It felt like a bottomless abyss, but each kill filled it a little bit. The moment the abyss had turned into a sea of blood she would be made whole.
The calm voice was like a bucket of cold water that ripped Inevitability back to reality. She found herself standing in the middle of the ruins of her Hive, over ten layers turned to rubble. Thousands of corpses and hacked-off body parts were strewn across the area, and a putrid stench made her nose curl.
What bad luck that she had damaged the air vents as well.
But most importantly she saw that the Teleportation Array had just activated, and Void’s Disciple had emerged. He was clearly furious, but he still seemed distracted by something as his gaze was trained on her.
“This is unexpected,” Void’s Disciple said as he looked her up and down, and Inevitability felt her heartbeat speed up.
But the gaze of her father-husband wasn’t enough to make her forget what had happened just now.
“They killed him,” Inevitability said with grit teeth. “How could those abominations accomplish something like that?! We need to rip them to pieces.”
“Your brother should have been able to kill at least a few dozen Anointed before safely escaping. His survivability is even higher than yours,” Void’s Disciple slowly said with his brows furrowed. “Something must have gone wrong. Did he encounter the remaining zealots or the Super Brother-Man?”
He raised his hand the next moment and a screen of light appeared, showing a grainy image of a human whose face covered in weird markings. In front of him were just a head and a pitch-black spear. The man standing above her brother's remains looked a bit different, but how couldn’t Inevitability recognize that cursed man?
“It’s him! The human! I’LL KILL HIM!” Inevitability screamed as the red streaks across her body lit up.
“We might have a chance if we hurry,” Void’s Disciple muttered as his body exploded with power.
The Teleportation Array lit up the next moment, but it flickered ominously. Void's Disciple kept infusing more and more power, but he was suddenly pushed back by a spatial storm and a couple of shallow wounds appeared on his face.
“Is it my fault? Did I damage it?” Inevitability asked with worry.
“No. I am unable to force my way through the disturbance,” Void’s Disciple grunted. “I have just touched the edge of the Dao of Space, it is not enough.”
A killing intent that could easily match her own exploded out the next moment as Void’s Disciple roared in fury and frustration, his face twisted into a mask of madness and murder. Inevitability’s eyes lit up at the sight. This was the true face of Void’s Disciple, and she was now the only one to have seen that visage and lived to tell the tale.
Void’s Disciple punched down at the Teleportation Array the next moment, and it actually cracked.
Inevitability’s eyes widened even further as she knew just how sturdy the things provided by the System were. She had attacked the Teleportation Arrays multiple times before out of boredom and curiosity, but she had not even been able to leave a mark.
The second stage of Void Disciple’s [Void Crusher] was unleashed the next moment as thousands of spatial rifts shot out across the area. They dug into the earth or passed straight through a few of the lucky survivors, cutting anything into pieces until they formed a spherical pattern hundreds of meters wide.
“It looks like the Heavens doesn’t want to provide today,” Void’s Disciple sighed, his face once more turning expressionless. “But we will have our chance inside the Mystic Realm. Harbinger’s death at least came with some good. Your anger reached a high enough level to awaken your implanted bloodline.“
“Is that what this is?” Inevitability blurted as she looked down at her hands, a ruthless grin spreading across her face.
This was exactly what she needed to exact her revenge.
“You need to enter the machine once more. That way you will be able to stabilize it and stop your body from rejecting it,” Void’s Disciple nodded.
Inevitability blanched when she thought back to that contraption that had tortured her in the darkness for weeks, but she knew better than to argue with her master. He might have outwardly calmed down, but she knew better than anyone that the fires were still burning beneath the surface. To question him now was to ask for death.
“Let’s go,” Void’s Disciple said as he ripped open a tunnel in space. “This place will not last much longer.”
The two stepped through the mid-range gate, leaving the wounded where they were. However, they only needed to suffer for a few seconds before the remaining spatial rifts congealed into a singular point.
The next moment the whole Hive imploded, leaving nothing but a perfectly spherical crater behind.