The sun rose and set. Time passed, and twilight flooded the land once more.
Dark clouds coursed above, concealing all celestial bodies. A cold atmosphere surged, spreading erratically.
Ten halos formed a gigantic magical formation in the air. Meshed together like gears they turnedeach of them marked with ancient runes denoting a [meaning] in their center.
Flood, volcano, earthquake, endless night, cyclone, meteorite, drought, snowstorm, tsunami, and smog.
The names of the [Ten Plagues] gleamed at the pinnacle of the skies. The two brightest halos were [Smog] and [Endless Night]; fog formed from dusty dark clouds coursing across the skies blanketed the entire world, just as the polluted air absorbing every ray of light.
The sun, the moon, and the stars were dimmed.
Save for the thunder that crackled across the night sky, the world was silent.
Purple lightning illuminated the earth.
All that was left of towns and villages were deathly ruins; every settlement has fallen, except for the most heavily fortified city in the middle of the sea bay.
There was confusion at Central too; their highest authoritythe commander-in-chiefwas still missing. Leaderless, the elves withdrew, utilizing mountains and the underground as natural fortifications in defense.
The atmosphere in the communications room below ground was nervous. Officers were fruitlessly raising other provinces at their respective channels. However, they were fated to receive no response, and all they got were feedback from their own voices, shrill noises, and meaningless humming.
"This is Sea Bay Central, calling De Loin provinceplease respond!"
"This is Sea Bay Central, calling Babel provinceplease respond!"
"This is Sea Bay"
Slowly, every officer stopped and looked at each other, smiling bitterly. With their shaking hands, they turned the transmissions platform off.
These people had discovered a horrible truththat they may be the only ones left in this world who could still talk.
It had only been three days that the underwater volcano below Sapphire had erupted and the Apocalyptic Circle appeared, ushering legions of golems in its wake.
The world fell to the power of Chaos and millions of lives fell in an instant. Towns were demolished, civilization trampled upon, and there were no screams or wails resounding across the land.
Because those who could were dead.
Surviving elves trembled within bunkers built deep below the surface, holding their hands over their own mouths while they despaired and awaited death.
Advancing silently, the golems wiped off every living thing off the surface and headed towards a single direction. Their steps were so orderly that it would strike fear in the hearts of many; as if earthquakes, each step of the billions of magic puppets trembled the ground.
All of them headed towards the mountain range colored in radiant green.
The Mountains of Origins.
While most stayed within the last shelters, afraid of fighting or even going out, a band of elves was wandering around outside.
On the commander-in-chief's personal airship, his guards were still hovering above the ruined capital of the last elven dynasty. They were loyally waiting for the return of the man they servethe highest authority of the elven FederationVulcan Ulla Knoll.
Not long after their commander vanished into the ruins, a breeze had risen from the depths that turned golems into statues wrapped in weeds.
The elves believed that it was their commander's doing; he must have activated some ancient weaponry left behind by the Empire. It must have been left dormant due to a lack of magic, and the commander had activated it as the elements concentrated.
The ancient armament notwithstanding, as a mythical holy ground of the Illgner elves the Mountains of Origins would have its share of epic mysteries. Though they did not believe in those rumors of the curious shreds of hope remained in them; perhaps their commander had already uncovered the secrets of the place.
But before their leader could return, the guards discovered something large and alive speeding ahead in the distance. They could not make it out; the air was thick with haze.
"What was that?"
"Every golem should be entrapped"
"It's not entrapped? Isn't it a golem?"
They chattered away rapidly, with none of them having the faintest idea what the shadow concealed in the haze was. Having traveled alongside Vulcan deep into the mountains on the eve of the calamity, the guards naturally did not know what was happening in the world outside either.
Only one of them, who had always been beside the commander, had an inkling. His expression was as hesitant as his voice. "Guys, could it be that?"
"What that?" the others asked, befuddled, and pressed. "Just say it."
He shook his head but finally revealed what he thought after further probing from his comrades. "Don't you think that's a volcanic dragon?"
Joshua's group was already approaching the Mountains of Origins.
"This place is completely different from the others!"
Roland quickly noted that the area was starkly different from every other spot in Illgner. He stood atop Black's back and surveyed the environment with genuine surprise.
Compared to all the locales where all there was were gloomy fogs and withered plants, the hills here were filled with the fragrance of life. Be it the wind or the swaying trees, everything was filled with vitality. For the holy knight who had always lingered at locations corroded by Chaos, it was as like stepping out from the shade of darkness into the brilliant sun.
The blonde holy knight also realized something else was standing out. Through the holy light, he sensed that a multitude of souls was gathering from all directions towards somewhere deep inside the sierra, and Roland could not help but think of the scene he saw when he was rescuing the elves at Babel.
Though filled with resentment towards the golems, the elven souls did not linger where their owners died but had left instead, summoned by an unknown power. Now it's clear; the source of that power was within the Mountains of Origins, and just might be the "Soul of the Forests" that Joshua had mentioned.
He wasn't wrong.
Joshua could see the lights of souls that drifted across the air too. The elven spirits that wandered aimlessly were filled with discontent, helplessness, and hatred.
Just days before they were living peacefullybut every single one of them quickly fell to golems. Everything came so unexpectedly that the elves could not accept their deaths. Nevertheless, though they would have turned into earthbound spirits and vengeful spirits, they were now guided by the Soul of the Forests here.
Within the glimmering green lights of life, the vengeful spirits were cleansed of their hate. The pure souls would then enter the earth, deep below ground.
Black, following the guidance of its instincts, had streaked towards the heart of the mountain range. Within the thickets, they could almost make out huge stony remains and rocky passageways covered in moss and creepers. This was where the capital of the former elven dynasty once stood. Even if hundreds of years went by without anyone setting foot there, the ruins still retained a sense of grandeur.
They quickly arrived at the remnants of the city once burnt.
Weeds were growing rampantly, there were blackened debris and houses everywhere blanketed by ivies and shrubs that snaked up the concrete. Winds whistled across the ruins, blowing out a shrill and sad racket between the broken words.
"This is it," Joshua ordered, stopping Black in his tracks. He looked around and said, "Now, we just have to wait."
"But all that's left here are just a bunch of ruins"
Standing at the edge of Black's back, the silver-haired girl furrowed her brow as she surveyed their surroundings, finding nothing other than the remnants of a tower and a palace. Ling was looking around too, though his sharps eyes found something special.
Under a part of the ruins of the palace, there was a huge statue shaped like a tree that stood as if it pillared the sky.
"An old tree? The Soul of the Forests" Ling mumbled to himself as if comprehending something; the youth's brain had always turned faster than his sister's.
"How long are we going to wait?"
Roland couldn't help feeling irritated after ten minutes. He wasn't an impatient person, but he was anxious over the immediate peril.
Joshua merely shrugged, gazing at the air filled with the spirit lights that entered the ground in an orderly fashion. "There's no need to rush, Roland. Still plenty of time. Our friend is still dealing with something important. It's been keeping its eye on us so there's no need to hurry. Let's just wait until it makes its move."
On the airship, the elves could see clearly that Joshua and his companions had entered the Mountains of Origins. They stared as they dashed ahead and arrived at the center of the mountain range.
"It's a volcanic dragon! There are people on its back!"
"What are they doing there? Is there anyone who knows what that place is?"
The keen-eyed guards could quickly discern the identity of the half-dragon. Still, they were unable to see the people on its back clearly, and quite a few of them were also curious about where the beast was heading.
"I know where that is," said a middle-aged guardsman, who looked stronger and more mature than the younger elves.He added while frowning, "There lies the Mother Tree that the elven dynasts prayed to, a former huge shrine What's the volcanic dragon doing there? Does it believe in the Mother Tree too?"
At that, the elf laughed and shook his head. "Perhaps it's just there by chance. After all, the safest place in the world right now is the Mountains of Origins."
That just might be the case. Though most of the soldiers were quite curious about where the half-dragon was heading, others did not have much energy to spare on that matter. Their gaze was fixed upon the spot on the ruins where Joshua and his team lingered, with none of them having any intention to talk to them.
The Mountains of Origins returned to stillness. The only sound that remained was of the wind blowing through the trees, scraping them against each other.
This serenity lasted more than ten minutes, and then the land rumbled.
Every elf on the airship was in wonder as the earth moved slowlybeginning from the ruins of the great shrine, a fissure slowed cracked, splitting the mountaintop. Rocks shaped like the roots of trees could vaguely be seen underneath, they squirmed beneath the ground as they divided the land revealing a gigantic karst under the summit.
In it, an infinite number of green lights shone, floating around in the air and bringing a fresh but chilly wind.
Before the elves aboard could react, the endless number of roots moved and formed a colossal wooden hand big enough to cover half a town. It reached towards the half-dragon.
While they watched in stunned silence, the half-dragon climbed onto the hand, allowing itself and its passengers to be carried slowly into the karst!