From the moment Joshua decided to head to the great pyramid, all the way until they arrived, the whole journey, to be honest, took hardly any effort at all, and in total barely lasted a few minutes.
The lightning velocity of the Gold-tier champion's flight surpassed the speed of sound—and with the shining cloud as a beacon, the party didn't need to worry about losing their way. Soon, they arrived before the pyramid.
Up close, it could be seen that the treads beneath this miraculous mobile fortress bore visible signs of wind erosion, while the surrounding environment had worn away at the magic and materials alike, inexorably reducing this formerly impeccable creation to its current ragged state. Although at a distance it had seemed impressive, closer examination revealed obvious cracks, smears, and stains all over.
And yet, as if in stark contrast, Joshua happened to notice that there were no such scars upon the steps of the shining silver pyramid to mark the passage of time. In fact he noticed, flying by while bearing Ling upon his back, upon the smooth surfaces of the other three sides of the pyramid were countless relief carvings. It was only due to the sheer scale of these reliefs—not to mention the complete lack of any real source of illumination in this world—that they had escaped notice from a distance earlier.
Adorning the upper-most section of these carvings were foaming waves that also resembled rolling clouds, and beneath them, the totems of countless birds of every variety. At the bottom had been carved the image of the lands and their waters in detail: mountains, cities, crowds of people and enormous ships were all in evidence, as though it was meant to depict the whole world.
Meanwhile, the crystal orb suspended at the foot of the pyramid, which was obviously meant to represent the sun—it was an accurate reflection of the current state of this world, with the sun shrouded in gloom, the heavens cloaked in shadow. At the heart of the crystal orb was a golden radiance that had all but faded away, as though the last lingering spark was in danger of winking out at any moment… and yet even so it continued to give off a faint mystical light, bearing the power of Order, still holding on somehow.
What an indescribable sight to behold… however, by all accounts , it's already been over a thousand years. How could it still be in such good shape?
Pausing in mid-air, Joshua considered this massive construction before him, thinking hard.
For such a large fortress to have escaped destruction, it must have some form of self-defense measures. Approaching it blindly could be dangerous… we ought to probe a little beforehand.
Without hesitation, he immediately conjured a ball of scarlet Combat Aura within his hand and hurled it at the pyramid. Oddly enough, it didn't seem to encounter any form of resistance along its path—it only shrank ever smaller in size until, just before coming into contact with the gleaming steel of the carved reliefs, it vanished completely.
Absorption-based defense, huh… in that case, it shouldn't pose any threat.
Engrossed in thought, Joshua nodded his head a little. He had learned much from this simple trial. It stands to reason…
Riding upon his back, Ling dithered in uncertainty for a moment, and then spoke up softly. "Master, I think… earlier when I said that I'd detected the presence of a Divine Armament—rather than the fragments buried beneath the ground, it might have been coming from here."
Saying this, he pointed towards the central region of the pyramid. "The presence is coming from within, and it's quite strong."
"From within?" Mumbling to himself for a moment, Joshua turned to address Moreila and Clyre, behind him. "Everyone, prepare for descent."
This had after all been the group's intention all along, and so in short order, the party alighted upon the bottom-most layer of the moving city.
Wrought of steel, the massive base of the pyramid was speckled all over with rust. Upon this metal platform, vast enough to hold an entire city, there were clear signs of decay – the surface was webbed with minute cracks, and marred by what had probably been the growth of moss and mildew before the world had died.
Pausing in his admiration, Joshua realized that ever since he'd touched down upon the platform, the negative conditions upon him had all suddenly disappeared. For the moment, the warrior felt as though he'd returned to the normal world, no longer needing to constantly expend his stamina just to stave off the ravages of Chaos energies.
But just as he was taking a closer look around, scanning for any clues that might possibly have been left behind, from behind him there came a resounding noise.
"Here, I've found a whole skeleton! Come take a look."
Moreila's voice, like that of any dwarf, simply boomed whenever he spoke. Though perhaps a little hoarse now with age, his words still carried easily in all directions. Joshua hurried over of course, following the old dwarf's gaze down to a gap in the steel floor, where he saw the body, its bones bleached nearly white.
Clyre had also arrived at the scene and, seeing the skeleton, she used her magic to produce three ethereal vines which ventured into the crevice to retrieve the bones, and then laid them gently before the gathered party.
Joshua knelt down to examine the bare bones, nary a scrap of clothing nor any belongings in evidence. In just a couple of seconds, he was mostly able to piece together an idea of the former owner of these bones.
Outwardly, this race had closely resembled humans, with what seemed to be about the same number and arrangement of limbs. The difference was that this specimen had a pair (or possibly several pairs) of wings, and the bones seemed more delicate. As for what lay within, based on the skeletal structure, the position and function of the creature's internal organs was likely substantially different from that of a human's. This could be easily deduced by the fact that where the rib cage should be, there was instead a single curved plate of bone.
"This skeleton, it brings to mind the legends about the times before the Age of Glory—about the honorable avian people, driven extinct by environmental change."
Clyre also seemed to recognize something. "In the druidic historical archive far to the south are stored the fossilized bones of the honorable avian people, and indeed they do resemble these bones here."
"However, this doesn't seem to help us with our current situation." Rising gently to his feet, Joshua furrowed his brow. Just as he was about to suggest that they search for other anomalies, however, Joshua's eyes suddenly caught something.
Hidden beneath the grime near where they had found the skeleton, he noticed the faint outline of writing.
Hurriedly shifting the skeleton aside, he exerted his Combat Aura to sweep over the steel surface, wiping away the grime, rust, and assorted filth. Just like that, dozens of written characters appeared clearly before Joshua's eyes. "There are words here… this iron board had topped over years ago – without closer scrutiny, we would have totally missed this."
Without saying any more, Joshua promptly scoured all the dust and rust off the board, in moments producing a gleaming and spotless slate board about three meters long and two meters wide.
"I can't read the writing." The old dwarf studied the slate for a moment, then shook his head, saying, "At a glance, it bears many similarities with the common tongue, but in actuality it is completely different."
Clyre lingered a little longer upon it, reading aloud a few words: "Even as… the crystal sun…" However, it was just those few words alone, and then the elf too shook her head. "There's a hint of resemblance with the Astral language—but nothing more than a hint."
Joshua, of course, couldn't make any sense of it at all. After all, he was only the son of a duke from some backwater village—the North was a backwater, wasn't it?—and even if one were to consider his previous life, in which he had only been a Legendary-Tier player specialized in Player-Versus-Player combat… well, how could anyone reasonably expect him to be able to decipher a language from another world?
Well, he didn't know what he didn't know – but he did have the System!
In response to Joshua's voice command, a progress bar faithfully appeared in his sight.
40%, 42%, 46%… 100%
The progress bar leaped forward at lightning speed. Barely a few minutes later, a system prompt notified him of the successful translation.
"It's not a magical language; it's just a variation on the common tongue, easily translated." Joshua read aloud the translation provided by the system:
"Even as the blazing sun burns out in the sky, we'll use the elements as our forge, and recreate a crystal sun; even as all life withers away upon the earth, we'll found a new world within this vault of steel, and nurture life anew.
"The people of Karlis will never give up. Even in the face of armageddon, we will struggle for survival upon the world's ashes."
Besides this opening proclamation—which sounded rather like an attempt at creating a galvanizing slogan—the back of the steel board was peppered with words of praise, as well as general notes about the people's history. This more or less matched what Joshua had learned from the old butler's secret missive (barring a few discrepancies, which he didn't pay too much attention to).
All in all, having essentially finished looking over this metal signboard, Joshua now had a good idea of the purpose for which the mobile fortress beneath him had been constructed.
The Karlisi (let's call them that for now) used to be an advanced race with a magical civilization based upon tremendous achievements in the alchemical arts. Their spaceships had been able to traverse the void between stars, and they visited countless planets, leaving their name upon many a world. Theoretically, their great mastery over alchemy could be sufficient to devastate the entire surface of this planet, but it might also be capable of restoring life to this world.
However, because of a sudden attack by one of the Dimension Demons, the miraculous achievements of their civilization were brought to ruin, and their culture was all but lost. Their energy-based weapons could not compare with Combat Aura techniques and gunpowder fire-arms—and so the Aragami, kin to the Dimension Demons, brought untold destruction upon them, forcing them on the defensive while dealing defeat after defeat. After the decisive battle upon the plains, they were unable to hold even their own homeworld, and had to retreat into an array of gigantic mobile strongholds, as their final means of holding back the overwhelming tides of the Dimension Demon's forces.
In the midst of this desperate war, their alchemy improved by leaps and bounds, and they were able to produce Divine Armaments ever more rapidly, while their moving fortresses continued to grow larger —which to some degree allowed them to hold their own for a little longer. For all that, due to the entire planet of Karlis being consumed by Chaos, the light of day faded away with the dying sun, plunging the world into a cruel winter, destroying all life and hope of survival, driving them to the brink of extinction… it was then that someone proposed creating new life in an artificial environment—which gave rise to the monumental pyramid which Joshua and company were presently standing upon.
There wasn't much on record about what happened next, but Joshua knew that this venture had not been successful. In that last moment, when the people of Karlis had finally found a faint spark of hope, the Dimension Demon manifested in physical form and reached out with one maleficent tentacle, finally bringing low this poisoned world and crushing the last of their resistance. Their Divine Armaments, which had after all been crafted from the Aragami's own crystals—and which, unlike Joshua's own Ying and Ling, lacked their own sentient wills —could not refuse the call of the daemon, and so turned the tide of the battle against their own creators.
"I guess that huge crystal globe should be the 'Crystal Sun' in the inscription."
Having just witnessed Joshua reading aloud the entirety of the text upon the slate, Moreila and Clyre were staring at Joshua as though he were an alien being. For his part, Joshua looked up at the enormous crystal orb at the very tip of the pyramid, still emitting a faint, flickering golden light, and he murmured, "Going by the ripples of energy coming from it now, it might perhaps have formerly been able to give off something like true sunlight… which naturally suggests that what Clyre detected is a man-made ecosystem in here."
On the back of the slate, more had been written—but it was nothing of note, no more than signboard directions. Where Joshua's party now stood seemed to have been the place where, at the time, the people of Karlis disembarked from their spaceships and distributed their people. This slate was intended to provide some background information about the stronghold, and to help the reader get their bearings.
Oblivious to Ling's admiring gaze, as well as the bewildered looks the dwarf and the elf were giving him, conveying thoughts such as 'How did he know?' and 'Is he human?' , Joshua pointed towards the crystal sun atop the pyramid before them and declared, "In order to enter the pyramid, we'll first have to approach that sun at its crest and allow ourselves to be purified in its light, so as to demonstrate that there are no seeds of Chaos within ourselves. The entrance will also be there, at the top."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Sighing deeply, and feeling his years weighing down upon him, Moreila said, "Let's go."
And so, everyone walked across the steel platform at its base, towards the steps that ran up the pyramid.
Joshua could sense that the closer they got to the gleaming silver pyramid, the stronger the power of Order. The negative effects from the gray fog were also lessened, and there was even a hidden boon arising. Yet conversely, the Combat Aura was being constrained throughout his entire body, the Order in his surroundings being strengthened to a fearsome degree—without the proper license, there seemed to be no way for him to exert it externally.
As a warrior, Moreila was still doing alright; the elven druid, however, being of what was partially considered a spellcasting class, was clearly not in as good a condition. Meanwhile, Ling, as a homunculus in human form, was being carried on Joshua's back, his expression feeble.
They progressed rapidly, and it wasn't long before they reached the pyramid's apex.
Ling and Clyre took the lead and, following Joshua's instructions, stood before the great crystal sun and uttered words of praise. Then, a few golden rays shot out from the crystal and pierced through their bodies, driving out a tremendous cloud of black mist. After that, Clyre found herself able to use her magic once more, while Ling felt his vitality restored.
Joshua and the elderly dwarf proceeded to purify their own bodies too, but strangely Joshua's body proved to contain not the slightest trace of Chaos corruption—he was perfectly clean and untouched, as though he'd never even set foot in the same world that Moreila and the others were presently in.
After they'd all been purified successfully, they arrived at the entrance mentioned on the steel board.
The dwarf tried the steel doors without success, and faced the forbidding, sealed entrance before him, saying, "What's going on? We've clearly done everything that was written on that steel board, so why isn't anything happening?"
"Actually, I sensed an energy responding from within," Clyre whispered, "But it's as if something went wrong, and the door didn't open."
Moreila tried it several more times, but he couldn't find a way past the mechanism. Blustering with rage, he said, "Just what is going on here? Even goblins could make better contraptions than these Karlisi fellows, it seems! That pack of short-stops and their mischievous inventions may sometimes be enough to drive one mad, but at the very least they do serve some small use!"
For the moment, the fact that he was not exactly towering in stature himself seemed to be lost on him completely.
"Master Moreila, if you would step aside for a moment, I'd like to give it a try."
Joshua shoved the old dwarf aside, took a deep breath, and then summoned the Combat Aura within himself, unleashing the full extent of his might!
Throwing off shockwaves of infinite, over-flowing energy, his blood rushing like a river, Joshua thrust out with both palms, striking the perfectly joined steel doors beneath the stunned gazes of all present. In that instant, there were deep resounding peals, as of massive twin bells being struck. Looking on, one could see that the warrior had inserted fingers like steel drills into the crack between the doors!
Boom! Boom boom boom!
Muscles bulging, accompanied by a screeching sound that hurt the ears, these doors—over ten meters tall, the height of a building with three or four storeys, enough to accommodate the most titanic alchemical machines—by the warrior who was dwarfed by the doors in comparison, were slowly being pulled open!
Joshua continued to exert his strength, his energy coursing in all directions, until even the air around his body was rippling visibly. With a shrill whistle and the torturous groan of contorting metal, the steel doors which had stood immobile as mountains were now being forced apart through Joshua's brute strength!
"Hoo…" With a huff, Joshua dismissed the incredible power he had just drawn forth, and his skin, which had flushed red from the vigorous circulation, resumed its usual color. With satisfaction, he looked upon the enormous doors he had just parted by force, and the way inside that now lay open before them, and nodded as he said, "I would ask, what sort of mechanism would still function perfectly after several millennia? Even if it should have still been able to, it would nonetheless be impossible in this Lightless World."
He beckoned to the others behind him, who watched him as though they were looking at a freak of nature. "Let's hurry on—time is of the essence, and we'll want to explore the interior of this pyramid as soon as we can… hopefully we'll be able to find some supplies."