Although the Merit Stele allowed them to summon who they could afford to, it was both a lengthy and uncertain process.
Lengthy because the summoning wasn't automatic, its speed depending on the number of sacrifices provided. Uncertain because the summoning was by itself the reward. Nothing guaranteed that whoever was summoned would fulfill the summoners' wishes. On the contrary, if summoned without warning, Higher Realm Devas and Demons were very likely to obliterate the summoners.
For that reason, using a substantial amount of merit, Anatol first spent several years to establish a dialogue with his chosen houses, and negotiate their support. Only after receiving their agreement did he start the ritual.
But following the first confrontation, even he was starting to doubt their ability to endure until the reinforcements' arrivals.
Led by Krann and the ten Quasi-Paramount Knights, as if bound by one mind, the infernal battalion battered the giant from left to right, not leaving it any room for a proper counterattack.
*BOOM* *BOOM* *BOOM*
The collision between the two forces rent the atmosphere, forming dozens of space cracks all around, and threatening to rip out a space vortex to swallow them all.
The Quasi-Paramount Knights released a succession of irresistible strikes on the Celestial Giant, sending it flying backward, and causing Anatol and his elders to spurt large mouthfuls of blood. At this rate, to say nothing of the forty-five minutes they needed, they wouldn't even be able to endure five!
An abysmal gap stood between the two forces, and for the first time in tens of thousands of years, Anatol didn't doubt that no road to victory lied ahead. And if even he thought this way, there was no need to mention the elders.
He cursed while struggling to maintain balance. Since an offensive stance could yield no result, Anatol led the Celestial Giant back into the barrier, using it as a nucleus to power the defensive formation and enhance the barrier's resilience.
Seeing this, Krann shook his head.
"Quasi-Paramount Knights and Knight Generals, combine your laws in one strike. Knight Commanders, support them with the full depth of your infernal energies!"
Krann ordered. The laws he mentioned were nothing more than seventh circle spells, or divine laws as most usually referred to them. Be it fire, water, nature, light, or any other, each attribute only had one seventh circle spell called: The Law.
It didn't exist on any parchment or grimoire but stemmed from the spellcaster's understanding of the attribute. By comprehending at least ten percent of the attribute's underlying principles, one could unleash its Law, and release it under any chosen form.
Fire Laws, Lightning Laws, Darkness and Blood Laws rose into the sky alongside dozens of magical circles. Guided by Krann's chakram and the Infernal Knight cooperation, those incompatible laws overlapped in an organic whole, becoming a transcendent force that threatened to obliterate all that stood in its way.
Witnessing this amalgam of laws empowered by large reserves of infernal forces, the church elders were scared witless. And feeling their floundering hearts, Krann decided to strike.
"Our Lord isn't asking for your lives. He merely requests your surrender. As long as you abandon this foolish resistance, all will be spared!
But if you persist in seeking damnation, you can't blame us for your gruesome fate!"
Krann exclaimed, his words filled the elders with complicated thoughts. Among them, the sun spirits were the most passionate and less practical. Paragon, dream and moon spirits were, in general, clear-headed individuals that wouldn't court destruction for a last show of splendor.
Faced with an opportunity to survive, why would they seek death? And as their hesitation rose, the Celestial Giant weakened. Sensing this, Krann sneered while Anatol despaired. Perhaps before the blow descended, those death-dreading wastes would turn coat and waste all previous efforts.
"Everyone don't be confused b-…"
Anatol began, but before he could finish his words, the amalgam of laws turned into a multicolor scythe that descended upon them all!
As it did, it tore a large space gash that would have certainly swallowed any non-Sage that stood in the vicinity!
The barrier collapsed, and seeing death approach at such a rapid pace, the paragon, dream and moon spirit elders all chose the road to survival and broke their connection to the Celestial Giant! Thus, leaving the sun spirits alone to shoulder the blow!
"We surrender, we surrender!"
They proclaimed at such a rapid pace that Krann wondered if their buttocks weren't being roasted by a hidden fire!
Anatol spat, but before he could make a move, the scythe struck the Celestial Giant, splitting it into two halves that soon vanished in light particles.
With the giant's collapse, the Wirth elders all experienced massive backlash and flew backward with blood erupting from all their orifices!
And seeing the pathetic display of this so-called supreme force, Krann sighed.
"How unsightly. To think that this motley crew even dares look down on the secular world. Pathetic. Feeding master's soul is their only worth.
Begin the collection!"
Krann ordered. With the barrier broken and the opposition crushed, the infernal battalion faced no resistance.
First, they sealed the cultivation bases of the surrendering elders and trapped them in space treasures. And witnessing this, Anatol knew he only had one choice left.
"Wirth elders, with me! Burn your lifeforce and fly toward the Merit Stele!"
He ordered in a mental message. And by the time Krann's battalion trapped the twenty-seven surrendering elders, Anatol and the remaining nine had already appeared before the Merit Stele.
There, his wife, who oversaw the ritual, awaited. And as soon as their eyes met, they didn't need a word to understand the choice and resolve in one another's eyes.
Anatol then turned toward his house's elders.
"Are you willing to degenerate into the dogs of that decadent beast?"
He directly asked.
"A gentleman can be killed but cannot be humiliated. Although we've fallen into this world, our ancestors hailed from the Celestial Realm. With our illustrious ancestry, how could we be willing to surrender to this barbaric creature?
We are not willing!"
They replied in a heartbeat, pulling an approving nod from Anatol.
"Then you know what to do."
Understanding the meaning of Anatol's words, together, the Wirth elders stood before the towering Merit Stele and held one another's hand.
Anatol and his wife stood before them and did the same.
"Lord Surya, you heard my people's will! Through this stele, we offer you our lives and souls, beseech you to complete the summoning, and not let your staunch servants' sacrifice be in vain!"
Anatol proclaimed before turning toward his wife to exchange that one last loving glance.
"My lady, it was my pleasure to be your husband. My only regret is that we shan't have another life to be a couple again."
"Husband, even if our souls scatter, our ashes and dust shall be bound for eternity."
She replied with a radiant smile. And hearing this, Anatol felt all weights scattering from his heart and shoulders.
Then, alongside his wife and the Wirth elders…he self-destructed!
Dazzling, golden light erupted from their bodies as they burst in an earthshaking explosion!
Left unchecked such an eruption of divine power should have wiped off everything across hundreds of thousands of miles into nothingness. However, the merit stele absorbed it all, preventing the tiniest bit of noise from spreading to the outside.
And feeling the presence of all those experts vanishing out of the blue, Krann's face contorted into a frown.
And indeed…Heaven's Gate slow opening stopped. And as if kicked by a hidden force, the gate flew open, releasing a blinding light vortex that heralded the arrival of the Celestial Realm's reinforcement!
Feeling the dreadful auras that spread from the gates, Krann didn't hesitate.
He ordered, and in tandem, the Knight Commanders that were collecting the Celestial Church's remnant stopped dead in their tracks. The Quasi-Paramount Knights that were shooting toward the Wirth elders also stopped and backpedaled!
And at their fastest pace, all rushed back toward the Anti Divine Screen! By the time they vanished, a golden ray was spreading toward the spot they previously occupied. And had they remained to shoulder it, the casualties would have been difficult to estimate!
"What a pity.
Oh well, at the very least, this might not be a total annoyance."
A voice echoed, bringing alongside it hundreds of figures that emerged from the gate to officially step on the Ancient Crystal World!