The roar thundered within the entirety of the Celestial Church, hacking at the eardrums of the non-Sages, and causing blood to trickle down their earlobes.
Alongside the thirty-six Celestial Elders, Anatol rose in shock and spread his divine sense toward the outside. There, the most formidable gathering he'd ever witnessed in tens of thousands of years of existence hovered.
"Infernal Knights…Infernal Knights. Three-hundred Knight Commanders, sixty Knight Generals, ten Quasi-Paramount Knights. Tarnation…tarnation."
Anatol muttered in a stupor. Due to the Restoration path's unique characteristics, Infernal Knights were usually stronger than their average counterparts at the same level. Worse, those standing before him boasted auras that stood leagues above the average Infernal Knight. As if they'd been bathing in rivers of God-Blood across centuries.
Faced with such a startling demonic fore, Anatol was forced to admit, that even if he deployed the headquarters' full strength, the Celestial Church's victory odds were shallow…to say the least.
Where did such mastodons suddenly come from?
"Activate the headquarters' defensive formations."
Anatol ordered, and immediately, the Celestial Protectors took position across the various corners of the Celestial Church to trigger the defensive formations. At the same time, Anatol took command of the central formation; then, with the elders by his side, shot toward the invaders.
The Celestial Church's headquarters was a massive floating domain stretching across tens of thousands of miles, with the several houses each occupying an area and forming a circle around the central cathedral where all turned into church disciples. Besides the formations, a perpetual barrier surrounded the domain, preventing a direct assault.
But today, feeling the horrifying demonic energies assailing their headquarters, from disciples to elders, none trusted in the safety of the barrier.
In dozens of light beams, Anatol and the Celestial Elders dropped before the barrier's edge, their eyes locking on the hundreds of Infernal Knights that stood on the outside. Although they'd already sensed the force beforehand, witnessing it at such close proximity filled their hearts with a greater sense of gravity.
"When did such a force appear, and how did we offend them? Even the Hidden Forest can't possibly conceal that many experts!
The great elder exclaimed, speaking the words that rang within his peers' mind and filled their hearts with incomprehension.
"The timing is questionable. When we're at the critical juncture of completing the summoning ritual, when Heaven's Gate is about to open and bring forth our backups, they suddenly appear? No. I'm afraid we've been backstabbed.
One of our owns must have leaked the situation."
Anatol analyzed while his eyes locked on the man leading this dreadful battalion.
"As for where they hail from…look at their leader. Isn't that obvious?"
When the elders heard this, their eyes followed Anatol's and locked on the leading man. It was a handsome and suave looking man in his late twenties with a finely trimmed circle beard.
Though his appearance didn't echo with anyone they knew, seeing the short, slicked-back jade hairs, the golden eyes and red prism mark on the man's forehead, the elders were immediately reminded of the incarnation of their nightmares.
The Profane Prince and now August Jade Emperor, Konrad.
Their eyes widened in disbelief.
"He can't possibly be…one of his relatives…right?"
The great elder stammered, attempting to reassure himself. But Anatol shook his head.
"Peak-stage Crossed Tribulation Saint cultivation base, but the pressure and intensity don't lose out to the average Divine Blood Rank expert. This is the Ancient Crystal World. Besides the people of that anomaly, who could possibly showcase such monstrous abilities.
Among those fiends, he's by far not the strongest. And yet, they stand behind him in an orderly fashion, revealing his status as their leader. You tell me, where else can we find such a peculiar sight?"
Anatol sighed, realizing his oversight. Across those ten years, he'd dispatched several low-level disciples to sneak into the Jade Dynasty and check its development. And though startled by its meteoric rise and the legions of Saints it bred, after ten years, the known top experts were still at the Saint-level.
Therefore, for the Celestial Church's leaders, Konrad was the only threat. The sole variable. Never did they expect that in the shadows, an even more dreadful force lied. And now, Anatol didn't doubt that even before the war a decade ago, Konrad had been training this force, only waiting to accumulate enough strength before unleashing it on the world.
But even then, he wasn't deterred.
"In open warfare, we can only get slaughtered. But this is the Celestial Church's headquarters. Sieging it, you are asking for destruction!"
Anatol roared back, and alongside the elders, stretched out his hands. Gold, blue, grey and magenta light pillars rose from various corners of the Celestial Church to pierce the sky.
The light pillars merged, and from the sky descended a white light armored giant, tall of one-thousand meters.
Light strands rose from the middle of the elders and Anatol's forehead to connect them to the armored giant. The giant raised his hands, in the right, a gigantic sword appeared, and around the left, a white shield formed. At the same time, a bow and quiver appeared on the giant's back.
Within that giant, Anatol and his elders were united in one mind, ready to meet the invader with the full-might of the headquarters.
And the startling pressure they released, surpassed a Divine Ascension expert such as Berken.
But before this force, Krann sneered.
"Remember, our Lord wants them alive!"
He proclaimed, and the hundreds of smiling Infernal Knights nodded in approval.
"Yes, legion commander!"
They replied in tandem, then stretched out their hands, summoning their various infernal armaments. Their battle-power rose to a new level. At the same time, Krann waved his hand, summoning a silver chakram from which dozens of silver light chains emerged and connected to the battalion.
Silver flames burst from their forms, not only heightening their battle-power but making it overlap in a mightier whole.
The chakram was a Sublime Formation Tool Konrad exchanged from the system. As the name implied, it was embedded with a formation that could be triggered at will as long as enough Divine Power was provided. And seeing their foes' already dreadful strength rise to new heights, the elders despaired. Still, Anatol didn't flounder.
He only wanted one thing: Time. As long as they could hold out until the gate opened, the Celestial Church would be the final winner.
And indeed, as the opposing forces readied to meet in battle, a loud grating sound echoed from Heaven's Gate, announcing the beginning of its opening to the Celestial Realm, and the impending arrival of the promised Devas.