Defiance of the Fall

Chapter 1205: Anxiety

Zac moved like the wind, burning with anxiety to wrap up his visit early. He hadn’t been lazing around with his Draugr half while his human side used the Eternal Chalice training camp. In fact, they’d been constantly switching back and forth. One side was always knocking off missions in the Mystic Realms, either alone or with Ogras.

Rava told him to finish all his quests if he wanted a vacation, and he still had over a dozen on his quest screen. Rava must have at least partly connected the training base with the System, for the missions to show up in his quest screen. Either way, it was quite convenient, with the System managing the whole mission system now that there were no clerks around.

Thirteen missions sounded daunting, but it wasn’t actually that bad. Rava helped him pick quests with high synergy, where killing one Beast King often advanced multiple quests. And many quests were already halfway done, only needing a final spurt to cash in on merit and leave the Ensolus Ruins.

Seizing the first spot on the Faith Ladder had come with a bonus of 2,500 merit—more than five times what he got from the other four trials combined. But with some facilities costing 100 merit for half an hour’s use, the stocks were rapidly dwindling. The mission rewards weren’t very lucrative individually, but he still earned between 80 and 150 merit a day.

Even that was only possible thanks to having free rein in realms that hadn’t seen humans in eons. It had quickly become apparent that the Ensolus Ruins were only the top of the iceberg. Each time he’d set off with a gaggle of missions, he’d been sent to a new city with quest monsters to grind right by the entrance.

Zac wasn’t even sure if he was visiting the same Mystic Realms since the topography looked completely different on occasion. The ruins of a whole civilization were spread across the dimensional pockets. Rava didn’t deign to give any exact numbers, but a conservative estimate put its peak population in the hundreds of billions.

The city Zac currently traversed stood out even among the grand echoes of great capitals he’d visited. It stretched further than the eye could see and had likely been one of the major hubs going by the intense D-grade energy. The Energy Density alone approached the levels of Kavista, and that was without any working City-scale Gathering Arrays.

The Dao felt slightly weak, incomplete, even. Of course, that was weak by context. The Dao easily surpassed Earth’s levels, landing somewhere between what you’d expect on a Late-to-Peak D-grade world.

The megalopolis had consumed a whole mountain range to what he called west, where some of the mountains appeared manmade. Bridges carrying whole city districts stretched between the peaks, only two having collapsed from time’s erosion. One could vaguely spot floating structures hidden among clouds, but the details eluded him.

To the east, there was an ocean-sized freshwater lake. A few broken spires pierced the waters, indicating the presence of an underwater city or sunken palaces. Zac hadn’t investigated the mountains, seas, or the islands far in the distance. Partly because there were more than enough tasks in the immediate vicinity of the hidden spatial gates. Partly because of the current rulers of the Mystic Realm.

Even now, Zac could see the tail of a Beast Emperor that had made one of the taller mountains its home. Just the tail was over a hundred meters long, and it radiated a hair-raising aura. It hadn’t moved an inch in the three days he’d been there, with the beast most likely slumbering. Similarly, he had seen something huge cause a tsunami that crashed into the shorefront.

Thankfully, C-grade beasts seemed very rare. There were no more than four sharing the boundless city, and they cared nothing about his presence. He was just another ant scurrying about. The city had been fully reclaimed by the wild, with some trees stretching hundreds of meters into the air. Neighborhoods had become territories, and the energy-dense districts went to the strongest.

It was impossible to estimate just how many beasts lived inside the city’s complex terrain, though Zac believed he could keep finding targets until he died of old age. There was no lack of Beast Kings among them, even Middle- and Late-stage beasts. Few such opponents posed much of a threat, but Zac still had to tread carefully.

Some Beast Kings lived alone, unwilling to share their Nexus Vein and Natural Treasures with others. Most had thousands of descendants to whittle down intruders. Furthermore, any battle had a very real risk of attracting neighbors, and hunting required planning and patience to avoid unnecessary risks.

Zac was currently in short supply of both. Ogras, who’d been responsible for information gathering in their joint ventures, was currently exchanging his accumulated merit for a few opportunities. Of course, Zac had ample experience of going at it alone, and smaller mistakes could be compensated for with brutality and money.

It was as if time had ground to a halt as Zac whizzed between the multilayered ruins and oversized plant life sprouting from its cracks. Soon, he spotted his target beyond a half-collapsed residence. It was a large, black centipede just having emerged from a crack in the ground. The Late Beast King had sensed his presence and it turned toward its burrow with lightning-quick speed.

No animal that had reached that level was a bloodthirsty fool lashing out at everything around it. Zac’s unfamiliar aura made it wary, making it opt for the safer option. However, its lacking experience worked against it. A pulse of utter darkness made it briefly freeze in confusion, allowing Zac to catch up. Zac had activated the secondary function of [Abyssal Drive], dragging the Beast King into the Abyss and sealing its senses.

Zac used the brief window to reach the monster before it could escape underground. The beast screeched in fury upon realizing it was do or die, and its body coiled up around Zac like a trap being sprung. Its whole body emitted an intense gravitational pressure, which almost prevented him from reactivating [Abyssal Drive] to escape the trap. The large sectioned body squeezed shut with enough force to damage space. Even Zac would have taken on some serious damage if he hadn’t moved out in time.

The centipede was incredibly quick on the uptake, its body unfurling and repositioning itself for another squeeze. Meanwhile, its domain increased with power to seal down space while an endless number of earthen spears grew from the surroundings. Its kit was clearly aimed at equal-size targets, though, and only the domain caused any trouble. Furthermore, the Beast King wasn’t the only one who excelled at restriction and suffocation.

Six unbreakable chains wound around the centipede’s body, each representing a fetter sealing its fate. The strength provided by [Inexorable Subjugation] wasn’t enough to fully subdue a trashing Beast King. Still, the suppressive effect of six chains was significantly stronger than the centipede’s powerful yet crude domain. Zac’s muscles strained as he fought against the gravitational pressure, avoiding serrated legs, spears, and squeezing pressure to reposition himself atop its head.

The thick plating protecting its skull rebuffed Zac’s fully powered strikes, but the soul-harming component of [Fatehew] was another matter. The centipede twisted and shrieked with agony. Having its soul attacked while [Fields of Despair] reduced visibility to almost zero made it completely lose sight of its surroundings, and it repeatedly crashed into neighboring buildings at full speed. It even began stabbing itself with its spears, though its plating prevented any real damage.

Zac was occasionally forced to give up his position to avoid being turned into mush against the durable buildings, but Alea’s chains effortlessly let him get back in position to keep swinging away. The centipede grew increasingly erratic and unstable as deep thuds echoed through the miasmic haze like a drum.

Soon enough, the commotion gave way to a deathly silence as the struggle stopped. The centipede’s body was shockingly durable, to the point Zac hadn’t bothered trying to corrode its carapace with [Deathmark]. In contrast, its soul defenses were frankly pathetic, allowing for a quick kill that wasted very little energy.

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You couldn’t really fault the centipede for its obvious weak spot. Beasts utilizing spiritual attacks were even rarer than Mentalists. Not to mention, such beasts were often targeted because of the threat they posed to the region, allowing the population to grow even with souls on the weaker side. This phenomenon was even more apparent in a sealed environment like a Wild Mystic Realm, where the beasts hadn’t faced the threat of cultivators with their refined skills and varied means.

Any Beast King Bloodline would have to reach a minimum threshold of Soul Strength to grasp the Daos necessary to advance, and their souls would naturally grow stronger with age. However, it wasn’t uncommon for beasts not to go much further than what was strictly necessary, which was how Vilari so easily got the Apex Hunter title.

A dense stream of a Late-stage Beast King’s Kill Energy joined the violent torrent from the raw energy bath. The centipede’s death had progressed two quests, and Zac was almost certain he’d find the resources for a third in its burrow. Zac threw the whole carapace into a spatial ring before disappearing in a streak of darkness.

Zac pushed himself to the limits, becoming a grim reaper, cleansing everything in a large circle around his base. The level of commotion he was causing would destabilize the whole region, making the capital too dangerous to visit in the short run. Zac didn’t care. There was no lack of cities to reclaim, and this one was too dangerous for most of his people to visit anyhow.

Eight hours later, he shattered a dark red crystal, and the final quest was marked as complete. The crystals were the corpses of certain energy creatures that roamed the abandoned cities. The creatures fed on the Faith Energy that seeped from below-ground, and their corpses acted as disruptors, preventing Faith Energy from gathering.

A few minutes of twists and turns led Zac to the sealed entrance of the underground base with the Spatial Gate. The real teleportation hub, which the citizens had used to teleport between cities and possibly Mystic Realms, was destroyed. Repairing the network was one of the available missions, though Zac wondered if it’d ever be finished.

It wasn’t just a matter of understanding the Dao of Space and Arrays enough to repair the arrays. You also needed to clear out the Half-step Beast Emperor that fed on the leaking Spatial Energies. The pack of spatial beasts was spread throughout the teleportation network, and they could easily provide reinforcements when necessary through their bloodline talents.

It was an unfortunate reminder that these hidden worlds far eclipsing Earth’s environment would remain untamed wilds for the foreseeable future. The two hundred people on Rava’s list were simply not enough to deal with such a massive reclamation project. Not that there was much point in driving out all the beast, anyway. Rava only let her chosen through the Spatial Gate, so there was no way to transfer his armies into the hidden realms.

That would all change the day Rava passed on, but Zac had discovered that the Eternal Servant’s definition of ‘not lasting long’ was drastically different from his. Let alone Monarchs, Rava would outlive most Supremacies of the current age. It might not be much compared to the pseudo-immortality of true Eternal Servants, but her remaining lifespan was still counted in the millions of years.

Zac activated the gate and transferred to the Halls of Service. He turned in all the quests by touching the Mission Board’s pillar, getting 187 merit in return. It was on the lower end for over two days of work, but he’d only completed the bare minimum on a few quests with dynamic rewards. He didn’t bother looking at the new mission that had replaced the old as he rushed out of the ruins and into the sandstorm.

“Lord Umbri’Zi,” the guarding Valkyries said with bowed heads when Zac emerged in the nearby station.

Zac reined in his impatience and stopped when he saw the expectant looks in their eyes. “We’ve confirmed that everything is in order. There is a risk of death or deviation, but it’s limited. I’ll have someone send over an information packet shortly. You can send in the first batch after you’ve gone over the materials.”

“We’ll arrange everything,” Tamira said with excitement.

It was impossible to completely hide the secret that a huge opportunity had appeared inside the Ensolus Ruins. All but a few sealbearers had already entered, and over 100 elites had been recalled from the battlefronts. It created a noticeable gap in their armies. It was a problem that could be temporarily countered by spending money, but any discerning eye would realize something was up.

Tamira and another ten Valkyries were among the few who caught Rava’s eyes, and they had the greatest understanding of what was hidden within the ruins. But more and more were putting together the bits and pieces. He’d already received discrete inquiries from multiple sources, from the Zhix Hive Council to the Marshall Clan. Rava didn’t seem to hold the insectoids in overly high regard, only listing Ibtep and Rhubat despite their apparent affinity with Faith Cultivation. Read Web Novels Online Free – NovelFire Novel Fire –

He’d also gotten multiple messages from Petrus, no doubt on Kator’s orders. He’d held off any deeper inquiry until now, but Zac knew the Reaver enough to know he might have to give them something. He didn’t like the idea of exposing the training camp, but Rava’s indifference to the matter did inspire some confidence. She didn’t seem the least worried about the Undead Empire or similar factions turning their attention to the ruins and the Holy Relic it held. She’d only reiterated that their deal only extended to Zac and his subordinates, not any outsiders.

Just how powerful was Rava to show such blatant disregard? Peak Autarch? Even stronger? She might be as unshakeable as Sendor inside the Ensolus Ruins. The Imperial Fate had faded, but what remained should be more than enough to terrify even Supremacies. Zac knew she wouldn’t fight for his sake, Holy Son or not, but maybe he could use the Ensolus Ruins as a sanctuary after the Left Imperial Palace.

There was no telling how things would shake out when the System’s protective blockade around Zecia was lifted. Even if the outsiders didn’t target him, there was still the Kan’Tanu to worry about. After all, there were no guarantees that the Foreign Gods could solve all their problems. But the Ensolus ruins were like an impregnable fortress. His little empire could hide out until the dust had settled, or they were strong enough to contend with the Kan’Tanu directly.

Zac had even started to wonder if this was all part of Rava’s scheme. Sending him into the Mystic Realm had given birth to these ideas, making him wonder if genuinely accepting his role of Holy Son might be for the best. If he could save all of Earth and Ensolus by joining Laondio’s cause, wouldn’t he be crazy to stubbornly refuse?

Knowing himself, he would probably be dragged into the Zenith War one way or another anyhow, provided he hadn’t already fallen by that point. And as Ogras said, being a henchman to the strongest faction wasn’t too bad a fate. It might even accelerate his progression, giving him a greater chance of catching up to Leandra and saving Kenzie.

Of course, the presumed safety and benefits were contingent on Laondio actually having a master plan and more helpers hidden through the Multiverse. If Rava was a lone crusader like his mother, he was better off staying clear. Zac shook his head and tabled the complicated mess as he appeared in his army’s main camp on Earth. After a shower and change of clothes, he appeared by the open-air teleportation station.

“Seal!” Zac roared, and dozens of formations and War Arrays sprung into life.

Soldiers poured out of the barracks, armed and ready for any potential threat. A dozen Cosmic Vessels gathered around the square, their weapon squarely pointed at the teleportation arrays. A Peak Hegemon would be ripped to shreds when faced with such a lineup, and even Monarchs would have to be careful.

“Lord Umbri’Zi!” a general exclaimed as he hurried over. “Are we initializing the plan early?”

“No, not yet,” Zac said. “I’m bringing someone over with a token, though. I figured it was a good opportunity to test our routines.”

“Of course,” the general nodded. “What protocol are we following?”

“If you see the fluctuations of a Monarch, don’t wait for my order. Immediately destroy the teleporter before they can emerge.”

“I understand,” the general said and barked a few orders into a crystal.

His System title was still only ‘Baron of Conquest,’ but he was also the sole leader of two Middle D-grade worlds. It wasn’t a problem for him to generate a couple of Teleportation Tokens per year, and he’d already set up a proper System with citizenship-granting quests for the ever-growing number of outside hires.

Zac stepped onto the teleporter and placed a box, his hands shaking slightly as he activated the array. Every second felt like an eternity until the array finally lit up. Zac’s words caught in his throat as Catheya stepped out, looking more radiant than ever. Their eyes locked, and it was as though time had stopped.

“You’re back,” Zac said with a hoarse voice and pulled her into an embrace.

“I’m home,” a content murmur appeared from his chest.

It was only much later that Catheya noticed the surroundings and grew stiff.

“What’s going on?” Catheya whispered, looking half-amused, half-mortified as she looked at Zac. “So many defenders to see me? Just what have you been up to?”

“Stand down,” Zac said and reactivated the teleporter. With a flash, they were transported to his compound.

“Some necessary precautions,” Zac smiled. “I’ve missed you.”

“Really? I wasn’t sure after you sent me away like that,” Catheya pouted playfully.

“Then I guess I’ll have to prove myself.”

“Oh? How will you—Hey!” ɪꜰ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡᴀɴᴛ ᴛᴏ ʀᴇᴀᴅ ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴄʜᴀᴘᴛᴇʀs, ᴘʟᴇᴀsᴇ ᴠɪsɪᴛ ɴovᴇl_Firᴇ.ɴet

Catheya’s pealing laughter echoed through the compound as Zac carried her to his mansion at a sprint.

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