Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The Lava Inferno, the Sixth Level of the Abyss.
In the world without a sun, dark clouds filled with toxic dust surged over the sanguine sky. Within this plane that had long perished, the sun was extinguished, the stars and moon were without light, leaving only the scarlet of lava.
The world was stale and hot but not dry, with huge hot steam mixed in liquefied metals shooting out from below ground intermittently. They rose into air and compounded with the ever-present toxic clouds before turning into acid rain that could corrode everything as it fell upon the land and subsequently assembling into lakes of concentrated acid that exist for a few hours.
Even so, it was a rare world that, apart from the Nether River, provided water.
In the Black Sea Plains within the Lava Inferno, shuffling sounds of footsteps started to resound beside an acid lake that had just formed from recent rain. Then, innumerable creatures started to promptly appear over the empty land just as their muffled wails resounded beside the lake.
Legend had it that the Black Sea Plains was definitely an ocean two thousand years ago, that what cascaded over that cratered plain was not too thin smog but sea water that was almost drinkable. However, many Demon Generals had fought in the war between the Sixth Abyss and another Abyssal Plane, causing that large ocean to evaporate into the air while the steam seeped into the ground, before being shot out from beneath ground from time to time.
However, whatever the truth may have been, life always needs to propagate however difficult it got.
On the gray, decaying earth, shambling sounds of scraping shells crawled out of thousands of tunnels as densely packed Abyssal Worms crawled out into the earth to enjoy the acidic air they were long denied. It was such a hideous spectacle—tens of thousands of fat gray-white maggots squirmed, writhed and clustered together and would definitely have knocked out any person with trypophobia at once. Still, the chaos did not last long. In seconds, with unusual flute—or horn—sounds, the worms began to rush frantically towards the nearby acid lake as if hearing a command.
Not too far away, an insectoid demon that resembled a praying mantis with six legs creeped out from beneath ground as well. Slowly lowering the bone flute in its hand, it stared silently as the worms impatiently rolled inside the acid, with many simply dissolving within, but amidst the there were always those that had grown shells and internal organs that could endure the erosive acid through swift mutation. They happily absorbed the water within the lake, and used the corpses of their own species to grow, harden and pupate, finally becoming dark red larval objects that floated about over the lake.
The success rate of this hatching session isn’t too bad, the insectoid demon thought as it witnessed the sight. A hundred and twenty thousand worms should incubate into almost a hundred demon eggs. Looks like the quality of this batch of worms was quite high.
Even as the thought ran through its mind, the insectoid used its ferocious mandibles to bite down on the flute, emitting music imbued with mana to chase away any abyssal beasts or monsters that intend to approach. As a herder, its duty was to drive the Abyssal Worms while being alert to any beast in the surroundings since the demon eggs were supplements that could promote their ascension.
Since there were pure soul shards in those demon eggs.
In various legends and records, demons always bore the appearance of plunderers and destroyers of souls. They occasionally invade a world and utterly destroy it, stealing all souls and resources within. While that may be the case, they would suppress their nature of chaos and evil most of the time and patiently make deals with worlds that they could not assault, trading souls with beings that thirst for demonic power.
Most middling or lower demons would never be aware of the underlying reason, nor would the powerful Archdemons understood the logic within. However, as a lackey that was closest to a demon lord, the insectoid demon ‘Anson the Herder’ was aware of the truth of it all.
The basis for everything remained in the reality that the Abyss was a perished world.
What was it that made a world considered dead? The collapse of the elements, the dispersion of Steel Strength? It was a definitive as such worlds would turn into dust and be claimed by the Void, there were also worlds that still possessed element circulation and silent but existent Steel Strength. Then what identified such a world as having perished?
The Cycle of Souls within the world has ended—that was the cause.
Souls appear alongside newborn life and die as life propagated and died, the cycle would gradually become robust. The insubstantial and invisible energy would course around that world, forming a monumental system which would strengthen with each generation of newborn souls, allowing an easier grasp of the mysteries behind magic and aura. As long as the apocalypse did not descend the cycle would keep becoming stronger—it was a sign that the world was ‘living’ after all, the flames that symbolize the collective consciousness of life and civilization.
It was also the power of flames and represented the Steel Strength of the world itself, shaping the sequence that was called existence.
Destroying most life on a world in an instant would weaken the cycle, dimming the flames or even dousing it. Not only would damaged Cycle of Souls not spawn new souls nor empower them, but it would also subjugate the birth of new souls, making those infants naturally crippled or throw them into a vegetative state. There was no future unless those living in such a world incessantly plunder souls from other worlds.
That was also why the Abyss would not stop raiding other worlds, even declaring bloody wars amongst each other. In a realm where the existing container of souls was constant, it was only through infinite robbing to strengthen self that their own world would be maintained.
Herder Anson’s work was therefore to turn the soul shards into endless Abyssal Worms and herd them. These creatures that were at the lowest level of the demonic food chain would autonomously devour the soul shards within their dead kin and ascend without stopping. Inside of those demon eggs were shards that could maintain the sentiency of an imp, while hundreds of imps’ soul shards could fuse into a complete soul that supports a middle-tier demon sentiency. And in that process that they devoured and robbed each other, the demons would gain in cruelty and ferocity, becoming the best soldiers when Abyssal Lords assault other worlds.
Such was the order and cycle in the Abyss. Rob others, or die.
Naturally, herder Anson thought, its insectoid demonic heart unable to suppress the rising grudge, full souls assembled from soul shards would never be as complete from those gained from deals or other methods. Only souls brimming in hate and rage were raw materials that could evolve into Archdemons such as theBalrog . However much it, a mere herder insect demon attained the trust of its lord, it would never learn the enclosed procedure.
If it could just learn that mystery… Perhaps it could become a lord too.
While the demonic heart of the insectoid demon writhed rebelliously and treacherously—a special aspect of demonkind—a violent roar that resembled magma explosion suddenly echoed in its soul.
The voice was so sharp and containing such profound power that the insectoid immediately put down the flute in its hand and knelt, all six limbs on the ground while silently waiting for the owner of the voice—[Archdemon Kalo], its lord, a Rotfied that had Monarch-class potential to issue its next command.
Was my personal procurement of some demon eggs discovered after all?
Demonic thoughts never went on roundabout trips, but although the Insectoid Demon’s thinking was immediately sensed by the Archdemon Kalo, not only did the Rotfiend Lord that was famous for its tyranny and savagery not punish its lackey, it did not shift topics and instead continued bellowing its command with its ruthless voice.
“Leave that acid lake at once—abandon that cluster of demon eggs! Leave, now!”
Anson was stunned for a moment.
A herder insectoid demon specialized on incubating could raise the percentage of worms hatched, which was a great treasure for most demon lords. Indeed, those lords would not sanction any potentially mortal punishment even if they snatched off some of those eggs—provided that they did not overdo it, and at most tear part of their souls and have them vomit the souls that they had stolen. However, not being punished at all was inconceivable for the insectoid demon, for it knew how stingy and petty its own lord was.
Of course, the inconceivable has to be kept aside. Anson quickly rose and followed its orders, abandoning the pupas and quickly creeping underground. Its specialized exoskeleton and sharp body form allowed it to rapidly move and tunnel in subterranean regions, allowing it to reach hundreds of meters below ground in an instant, whereas the opening of its tunnel was soon buried in the soil too.
Even if demons could lack combat ability and intelligence, they must be adept at hiding and fleeing—those that were not skillful in those two aspects when they were still in their Imp forms would have been ended up as Archdemon snacks early on. Anson’s ability to dig hundreds of meters below ground in one go was considered an elite move even amongst the innumerable races in the Multiverse, allowing it to escape pursuit on innumerable occasions.
And soon, the earth trembled.
Looking from the dark skies of the Lava Inferno, there was a huge pillar of smoke rising by the edge of the Black Sea Plains that moved urgently. All manner of Abyssal beast and magical creature bolted in all directions. Despite the fact that those cunning and feral monsters would have tried to get one or two bites even against a dragon, they were now running away pitifully like a dog with its tail between its legs.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
As the rapid pace resounded, the creature that moved in front of the giant pillar of smoke was soon visible. However, unusually, the first thing that came into view was a human-shaped balrog that was about five meters tall.
It could be discerned from the balrog’s size that its ability had almost reached the pinnacle for archdemons, and equivalent to Supreme-tier in the mortal realm. Its body was spraying flames above thousands of degrees—enough to melt metals and vaporize stone. And yet it was running so swiftly now, the flames over its body pressed down before its body by the buffeting winds and dragged behind, creating an extended trail of flames.
It looked unwell—never once would any balrog run like that above ground. They had always lived within abyssal volcanoes or scorching toxic soups, absorbing natural energies to go. Rarely did they hunt for food either, and once they approach ascension they would simply head to other regions when they require a new skeletal frame to support its body.
What could make a Balrog, an Archdemon, run so wretchedly? Even as the wild imps or middling demons that wandered the close by plains ran, they felt doubtful within.
Soon, however, the doubts were allayed—in the smoke pillar behind the balrog, a giant silhouette was materializing amidst the dust, displaying its tremendous and savage body.
Red-gold draconic eyes that at once resembled magma and smelted metals towered as if capable of penetrating corners of the horizon. Layers of crystalline ink-black shells that resembled scales covered its body while scarlet fire element fog encircled its spiked wings and limbs, allowing it to kick up terrific explosions with every step it made, causing smoke to climb and swirl towards the clouds.
It was a powerful black dragon. Before its chest was a streak of golden crystallized core, flashing in dazzling light as if the sun, with its existence alone causing the immeasurably heated Abyss to be hotter by least thirty degrees.
The black dragon followed behind the black dragon. Its speed could overtake that Balrog at any moment but it contentedly followed the demon, afraid of overtaking it. The fire elements that encircled the black dragon’s body and the trail of flames behind the Balrog complemented each other, ignited blankets of fire over the land that strong acid and combustible materials in the surroundings, spreading as if a fiery nova.
Deep below ground, Anson the Herder nervously curled itself, its six limbs wrapping before its chest and making it appear a ball. Then, the herder’s substantial spiritual strength that could simultaneously control tens of thousands of abyssal worms simultaneously prudently reached out, observing the movements in the outside world.
It was promptly shocked when it saw that balrog that was running crazily—that unfamiliar balrog’s ability was considerable and did not dull in comparison to its Rotfiend Lord. Against the balrog that had no flesh body, the rotfiend could only unleash one-tenth of its ability. Furthermore, in terms of hypostasis ranking alone, the demon of blaze incarnated from flames and toxic was far higher than the rotfiend that constituted of concentrated acid over its body. In short, the former was an utter superior of the latter.
No wonder my Lord would want me to hide quickly, it thought quietly.
A newly arrived balrog could assuredly break the lord structure over the Black Sea Plains, especially since the master of this Abyssal Level had led its core army to invade another level. At this time, none would come to regulate the discord—the outcome was the guaranteed demise of one amongst the original demon lords that held the Black Sea Plains as the balrog inherits the domain, or combining to kill the stranger.
Soon, however, the ferocious black dragon caused its brain to stop thinking briefly.
Black dragon with enchanted blood? Those Pentashade dragon demons that recently came to live in the Abyss? Was it chasing after that balrog?
Unlikely. Though that black dragon had ability, it was far inferior to the balrog. Difference in physical size was not much to balrogs, and it did not appear to be in a chase.
Instead, it appeared as if it was leading the way.
But, for who?
The insectoid demon subconsciously lifted its head, intending to keep using its external spiritual abilities to sense that extraordinary combo.
Then, Anson somehow stared straight towards the black dragon’s head.
A figure wearing a black and sinister full-body armor was standing between that black dragon’s horns. He did not have any reins—not that he needed one—and simply stood aloft against the buffeting winds, allowing the air currents that ran at three-hundred kilometers per hour to freely bombard his armor.
Then, as if sensing someone was spying at himself, he lowered his head and looked below ground towards where the insectoid demon was.
And below ground, Anson’s whole body froze, its hideous limbs shuddering wildly and uncontrollably.
Ten million sounds echoed around its ears just like the hisses of ten million perished spirits. It was in that moment that the insectoid demon seemed to see a pair of scarlet eyes.
And then, darkness spread.
Meanwhile, in the distance.
At the center of an underground fort beneath the Black Sea Plains, a giant human-shaped demon spread itself over a gray stone armchair. Its body was churning with black air bubbles, making it reminiscent of a black water elemental. As it exuded pained bellow, countless air bubbles that contained sound waves steamed and rose from its body core, unleashing a multitude of incredible wails that would make others cover their ears.
After almost five minutes, the powerful demon slowly rose from its seed, the stone chair beneath it almost completely eroded by its uncontrollable body just now.
“Anson’s dead…” It muttered to itself after a long silence. “What on earth, how did it die? Where did that psychical shock come from just before its death… I’ve never heard of balrog being born with psychic shock abilities.”
Nevertheless, the demon’s fear lasted for a brief moment. Soon, the rotfiend’s heart was immediately ignited with irrepressible lust for destruction—its precious herder was dead, and it was a great loss equivalent to losing an arm. It flung its arms that constituted of concentrated acid as it bellowed, rampantly destroying the interior of the huge hall where it resided. Only when it finally calmed a little after a long time, it summoned several fearful middling demons that were outside the hall that was now filled with craters, issuing its commands with a chilling tone.
“Assemble my army,” it said thus. “Inform the other lords around that the balrog is too dangerous.”
“We must first remove the foreigner before civil strife.”
Receiving their orders, regiments of demonic troops subservient to the [Rotting Fort] began to assemble slowly, while armies of other demon lords too departed in the direction of the Black Sea Plains.
Towards where the balrog and black dragon was moving.
At the same time, Joshua who had only glimpsed away for a moment out of curiosity threw the fact that he was spied upon away from his mind. He did not care that others peeked—or more specifically, his high-profile movements were intended to attract peeking from the start.
When they came to the Abyss, all they thought about was being cautious, cautious and even more cautious, striving to conceal their own identity from being known by others and the demons.
It was certainly a right move. Even Joshua would have done that if it was a long adventure into the Abyss—slaughtering throughout the journey was ultimately too tiring and boring, there was no way to enjoy the fun of adventure.
But now things were different. He was here for nothing else than to look at the current situation of the Abyss while looking for the two missing Legendary mages. There was no need to be discreet at the moment.
Standing over Black, Joshua watched as the sights flew past beside him, and could not stop exuding a crazed smile unique to joyrides while the mount beneath his feet moved rapidly. Indeed, the man was reminiscing some experience he had with joyriding a long time ago, but unlike the preexistence, a colossal Abyssal plain was here now, allowing him to rampantly speed around.
The logic of being conspicuous was simple. The more conspicuous he was, the more attention demonic attention he would gather. Powerful demons would thus challenge him, weak demons would thus avoid him, and his name would spread across the entire Abyss even before the Lord of this Abyssal Level made a move. That way, the two Legendary mages who hid within this Abyss would learn about his arrival and how troublesome their disappearance was, and simply follow him back.
He shall fight if a Legendary-tier Demon General or Abyssal Lord acted; he could not ask for more. If he was encircled, he would grab the Book of Eibon and teleport back anytime. At worst, he would simply return for a few more times since the energy used was the abyssal grimoire’s anyway—he could waste it as much as he liked.
At the thought, Joshua patted the dragon horn beside him. “Shoot a few fire breaths like fireworks,” he said, “make it as obvious as possible.”
With a low bellow, Black quickly grasp its master’s meaning. The dragon hence brewed while it ran wildly, and soon, the black dragon lifted its head and shot a bundle of blazing golden flames towards the sky. As the warrior simply pointed with a finger, the flames formed a rather obvious emblem over the sky of the Lava Inferno where blackness and red jumbled.
It showed a sturdy arm grasping a sharp sword, wrapped around by chains.
The Hands Bearing Swords Coat of Arms, the family crest of the Radcliffes.
It glittered luminously over the skies, flaunting its presence like a sun.
Just like its master.