Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Two minutes later, Joshua and Nostradamus both stood in front of the laboratory platform, closely observing the black serpent that was soaked in nutrient fluids and was on its last breaths.
The snake itself, placed spirally in a tube that kept it alive, was over seventeen meters long. While seventeen meters was not large for magical beasts on Mycroft, it was unlike typical enchanted pythons. These black snakes had no scales: while their skins appeared scaly it was actually a singular body, and those ‘scales’ were countless primitive runes that were protruding when observed through magnified vision.
Apart from that, there are many other little differences the black serpent showed in comparison to real snakes. For example, its serrated teeth that resembled that of sharks, its skeleton structure and so forth resembled primitive ‘Old World Sea Dragons’ instead of snakes, but it was unnecessary to prove every contrast since there was not much of a correlation.
“The method is quite crude.”
Reaching into the nutrient fluids, Joshua grabbed the black python with a single hand while stroking his chin with the other. “Who caught it?” He asked, slightly puzzled. “Beating up a precious specimen to such a state… Living bodies before death would see the loss of massive energy, and many of its attributes would be missed.”
Studying every single part of the black serpent from head to tail, Joshua found nothing apart from the discreet presence of Divine Earth Power. The animal had neither mana core nor supernatural organs, and was essentially a normal, misshapen python apart from a rather developed brain. The natural runes on its skin had the ability to absorb light and store energy, and the most significant attribute of the animal itself was that it was a creature hosting divine power. Even if it was an iota of that power, it was an absolute difference like that between clouds and dirt, and as such was absolutely not a normal magical beast.
“Those apprentices of yours, the First Party of Winter Fort Academy,” Nostradamus replied with a level voice, having studied the black serpent repetitively before Joshua returned and therefore did not interfere. “They discovered another path to that subterranean realm and incidentally ran into a bunch of this snakes. According to them, they lived in clusters and controlled the earth and water elements, with their leader having an ability similar to Mystic Eyes of Petrification, and were rather troubling Silver-tier monsters.”
“Furthermore, they said that the snakes taste fine. They had also kept this particular specimen alive as a tribute to you, their master.”
“Really? Able to use magic and having Mystic Eyes, one can’t be too careful then… Really, it’s impressive that they could handle Silver monsters that lived in groups.”
In return, Joshua briefly paused before laughing shortly, and put the black snake back into the nutrient fluids. “Not bad, to actually remember me after battle.”
If that was the case, the unusual aspect could be explained as well: that faint iota of Divine Earth Strength was exactly the reason the black snake could use earth and water magic. As the black snake dies, its divine powers would diminish, the supernatural power that provides strength thereby vanishing as well, thus making it appear normal.
However, it was truly odd… How did these black serpents that lived beneath the surface host Divine Earth Strength? They were no extraordinarily powerful divine creatures either, but simple monsters that were a little similar to primitive Old-World Dragons.
“I examine that iota of Divine Earth Strength carefully. It appeared not to be inborn.”
Nostradamus suddenly spoke, walking to Joshua’s side as he looked down at the serpent that was soaked in pale-yellow nutrient fluids. “Joshua, are you aware of the theory known as ‘Mana Infestation’?” The elderly mage asked. “I find that this particular case is similar to ‘Divine Power Infestation’.”
“I do.” Joshua nodded in realization as he understood the old mage. “So, you’re saying that they are not creations of divine powers, buts simply inhabited an area close to a source of divine powers by coincidence?”
“Exactly.” Nostradamus nodded.
The theory of Mana Infestation was founded from the research mages conducted with the Dark Forest. They noticed that ordinary forests around the Dark Forest would be assimilated by the mana spreading from the Dark Forest, a classical phenomenon of infestation like how clear water would be dyed by ink. There were also many other obvious examples as well: magical wolves of wind-elements that lived on plains would slowly turn into frost wolves of ice-elements when they migrated to the North, as the local element concentration infested the magical beast and converted it.
Another more radical example would be that even rats that lived around deposits of magical crystals could become ‘Moonrats’ that could cast spells and showed intelligence. In other words, powerful supernatural powers would unwittingly ‘infest’ or ‘pollute’ creatures around them, giving them attributes similar to their own.
Joshua knew that very well since Ancient Dragons were the finest example of Mana Infestation. Their presence alone would change the attribute of everything within a certain region, with the Ancient Dragon of Kronos even able to revive a world with its own strength, turning all life in that world into its blood descendants.
If mana alone could cause such phenomenon, what else could happen when it came to divine power? With a stable divine source similar to mana crystal deposits, black serpents that could manipulate earth and water notwithstanding, nurturing a Titan would be nothing unusual…
Both Joshua and Nostradamus exclaimed that word at once, looking at each other and muttering with a deep voice.
“If there really is residual divine power of the Mother Goddess left beneath ground, these black serpents won’t be the only thing down there!”
“And the seal over ‘that’ had become shaky due to the Great Mana Tide, and the Mother Goddess is its progeny ultimately… We definitely can’t be careless!”
The reigniting of Mycroft’s Flame was something worth rejoicing for the world, but it unquestionably would have strengthened the Steel Python that was the world itself. Now, it was much more active than it had been in the preexistence, and could even spread its voice to other words… To put it in another way, it was very likely that it used its own voice as pretext even as it hatched some plan!
And as a matter of coincidence, Joshua now could hear Zero-One’s rather urgent communications.
Being father and son under a certain point of view, Joshua shared a Steel Strength link with Zero-One similar to the one he shared with Syndicate the balrog. They could ignore time and distance and convey information in real time, and now, the Steel Elemental — under encouragement from the Drakonid girl — had decided to tell the warrior about its recent troubles.
“An unusual voice appearing in your mind?”
Joshua sensed an unusual danger and urgency upon hearing those very words, recalling the noise that could faintly be heard in Redwood City but which source could not be found. Perhaps, Zero-One had encountered the same thing he did… Or more correctly, Karlis the Steel Python, Zero-One and himself had all actually heard the same voice! However, Karlis being a World Will, while Zero-One being not powerful enough but remained a pure Steel Elemental, was perhaps the reason they could hear that voice clearer than he did.
“Mycroft the Steel Python… What is it planning?”
The black snake in the laboratory was no longer important. It was probably a black snake that lived in subterranean reaches since ancient times and was the ancestors of most present-day marine Old World Dragons, having no value apart from being delicious. Joshua and Nostradamus hence left the lab together and arrived outside Winter Fort Academy, the warrior looking up to the skies above as if his gaze could pierce the Void.
Spreading information to other worlds in the Multiverse, and within Mycroft itself to beings of certain attributes, along with transforming creatures through Divine Power Infestation… Mycroft the Steel Python was undoubtedly preparing for something monumental. If not for Joshua being a wielder of Steel Strength, having Zero-One as well as apprentices who liked to dig holes and were lucky enough to encounter those divine black serpents, he would not be able to react so quickly to the ominous movements.
“It’s time to come up with a countermeasure,” Joshua said to himself, and then nodded thoughtfully as if having come up with something.
Nonetheless, he never expected that the voice which troubled Karlis the Steel Python did not spread to nearby dimensions as he imagined… It had spread further into the distance, the cries, curses, and despair of a world piercing the Void, the Abyss, arriving at the unfathomable depths of the Multiverse.
The Valley of Tears Fortress, the Sixth Abyss.
In the heart of the fort forged in black steel, white bone, yellow sand, and obsidian was a hall filled in magma. A burning crimson gold throne stood aloft amidst the rolling magma, with two rolls of black, fearsome statues standing beside it.
A huge phantom, constituted of magma and searing gases, devoid of any solid form while resembling a specter sat upon the throne. It supported its own head with one hand, as if dwelling in deep thought.
But soon, as the dimensions behind its throne rippled slightly, the huge phantom appeared to hear something and straightened itself.
“…Do you hear it?”
It muttered quietly as if speaking to another presence, although there were no signs of other life around the magma, only layers of dimensional ripples. Then after a long silence, the massive phantom shook its head slowly and then nodded. “They have awakened… The Sixth Abyss should be spare the blade for the moment.”
“But if there is a chance…”
Another long silence. But even after the dimensional ripples around it calmed, the huge phantom remained seated on its throne. It stared at the churning magma before it, as if falling into endless thought.
The blood moon of the Bloodmoon Abyss.
The borderless ocean accumulated from viscous sanguine substances cascaded with a wave that spread from within itself. As if filled with vigor, pure white light emanated from the depths of the blood-colored moon, displaying its purest of illumination and heat to the shattered continents around it.
A massive cluster of light that bore a remarkable resemblance to a planet’s core was slowly shrinking at the very heart of the blood moon. It was its movements that the colossal blood moon stirred and cascaded in massive ripples. One could vaguely make out a human silhouette that was being nurtured in the cluster of light, curling like a baby within as if slumbering.
But suddenly, as if hearing a sound, that silhouette throbbed, opening its eyes and looked at its surrounding environment doubtfully… Finally, it turned, and looked toward the other end of the Void.
In that spot, a holy seal was flickering in pure-white light. The might of that holy light separated two worlds so utterly that even the breath of Rot from the Abyss could not even slip through, and yet, at this very moment a sound that would permit no sweet slumber was wafting from that place.
The massive human silhouette of light shook its head dazedly.
Then, it returned to slumber once more.
Above the Toxic Sea, the Sleeping Dragon Abyss
The floating islands created by the three Legendary dragon kings had reached up to thousands, with each dragon now being given a single small island, shared with their mate if they had one. Life was difficult in that world filled with toxic gases, but everything was finally on the right track.
But at the heart of all those floating islands—the three central islands where the Dragon Kings rested, the holy radiance of Pentashade descended: split into three, entering the dwelling of the kings.
In a brief few minutes, a tremendous echo resounded, the light seemingly coming into conflict with the dragon kings.
The ordinary Pentashades felt immeasurable fear, retreating into their lairs in silence and not daring to interfere with the clashes of those profound beings… After some time, with a brief grunt, the Pentshade light reassembled and advanced toward the Void without looking back. Meanwhile, the floating islands of the three Dragon Kings were swaying as if about to fall, and yet not one of them appeared. Though their presence lingered and appeared unharmed, they appeared to be considering something, unable to spare time or attention to their own dwelling.
The dragons could feel the faint sigh swirling around the skies of their Abyss.
The faint voice swept across the stars and the worlds. Some heard it, others did not. Some tried to respond but had not the strength, others who had the strength were uninterested.
In the world of Kronos, the Ancient Dragon of lighting circled the skies. It overlooked the Drakonid civilization that developed rapidly and flourished under the discreet guidance from several mage observers who came from Mycroft, its massive draconic gaze glinting in satisfaction. It could vaguely hear that voice, but such a faint sound that vanished as quickly as it came could not catch its attention.
Even if it heard it, nothing could get it to leave that little world and the Drakonids.
Further away, the voice slowly diminished, no longer oscillating.
Just as the voice spread, two men stood over the skies of the Northern Ural Plains around the Ural Mountain in the world of Mycroft.
Chilling winds bellowed, the air current that could force wails from raptors striking the two men’s clothes and flapping against their sleeves. The light of the dusk sun was slowly dimming, before finally sinking below the horizon.
“Joshua, do you really know what you are doing?”
One of them, a middle-aged man who appeared to be a mage appeared to be dissuading the other, a black-haired man. His brow tightly furrowed and his gaze filled with worry, the mage held an unassuming tome with black-covers, the light of mana swirling around his body.
“Of course I do, Nostradamus.”
The black-haired who was questioned held nothing in hand. Starlight appearing behind him, Joshua looked down at the Northern Ural Plains below him: he saw wind-elements roaring at lower altitudes, the hot and humid air from the south being obstructed by the mountains, the mana of the entire world cycling and changing beneath a profound force as if the clouds above or the falling rain, forming the special Northern environments and ecosystems.
Every corner of this world was unique. Even the mana from those plains and swamps seemed identical to one another remarkably, and the creatures and plants in each locale were certainly different—but that was why Nature was mysterious. The world altered life just as life altered the world. In this massive plain are the lairs of countless beasts, their existence changing the natural path of mana, adapting it so that it became a habitat suitable for their survival, turning the North into a region similar to other frozen lands and yet was fundamentally different.
All things are special.
Therefore, there was no longer any need for a Will that reigned over all things.
His back to the starry skies, Joshua stared coldly at the land with his crimson eyes. Hours ago, from the moment he had arrived here and unleashed his full might, all beasts and magical creature living across the Northern Ural Plains—even the Old World Dragons that lurked below ground—fled their nests, fearfully running to the edge of the grasslands. Then, under suppression or guidance from students of the Winter Fort Academy, gathered at a temporary settlement.
He knew that there was no longer any moving creature in this land, the lively grasslands now nothing but a blanket of green.
—It was time to act.
Over the clouds, the warrior, having clasped his hands behind him and stayed motionless like a statue, began to move. He extended his right hand and aimed it at the ground, and, as Nostradamus looked on helplessly beside him, he released the restraint he applied on his own body, augmenting his strength without ceasing instead.
The peaceful skies started to move abruptly. The winds no longer shifted according to air pressure, and the clouds no longer followed the winds. As if veins of tides were appearing out of thin air over the Northern atmosphere, warped vortex visible to the naked eye, endless elements, air, and even vapors began to gather around Joshua, compressed and finally becoming the warrior’s skin, a part of a serenely wafting silver luster.
The radiance of Steel flickered.
That distortion was rapidly expanding in the skies, spreading from high above down to the ground—and in that very moment, a great earthquake struck the Northern Ural Plains with a dull rumble, with the earth’s surface shattering while boulders protruded. Infinite dust and pebbles quaked above ground, finally levitating as if losing all weight… plants swirled, dwarfish shrubs uprooted even as rivers rose into the air like waterfalls, crumbling into endless water spheres of varying sizes, reflecting silver light from the stars.
“Heavens… What is that power…”
“The earth’s crust has been flipped—look, the entire stone layer has split!”
“Light… Light is bent!”
On the ground, the many adventurers and students who were witnessing the sight uttered irrepressible exclamations of shock. They saw soil rise into the air like reversed rain, clouds turning into swirling spirals that devoured all that came to them. They saw the rocky layers beneath the earth being severed under a mysterious power, but the split parts did not pause where they were, rising instead into the air and approaching Joshua’s position.
They even saw the bright light of the stars and moon faintly bending before they could touch their Liege, their Dean. Around Joshua, light no longer moved in straight lines, instead revolving in unorthodox arcs, shaping into an atypical halo behind his body.
For the first time, the warrior was unleashing his full might in the physical realm, causing heaven and earth to tremble.
Encircled in silver-white vapors, Joshua triggered Steel Strength in human form for the first time. He looked on as the lands across the Northern Ural Plains was peeled like onions by layers, the thick soil vanishing at the wild velocity of dozens meter per second or rising into the air before being consumed by his Steel Strength.
Exhaling once, Joshua’s outstretched right hand swiped down. Extreme mass rippled at once, with a huge crevice tearing across the entire plain with that very motion. Soil, stone, and river were severed like a pudding, and as a profound might came crashing over the land, cutting out a deep valley.
An ancient breath started to spread from the crevice within the valley.
“That’s not necessary!” Nostradamus could not help exclaiming beside the warrior, attempting to stop him verbally since he could not do it physically. “We can venture deep underground — we don’t have to make such a fuss!”
“It is very necessary.”
Joshua did not heed his friend’s complaints, speaking with a calm voice that was immeasurably determined. “We are creatures living above ground, the land below is not our home turf. It has a way of obstructing our subterranean studies, just as Syndicate’s spiritual sweep had been blocked.”
As he spoke, the warrior reached out with both hands and made a motion as if pushing a door. At once, the narrowly long valley crumpled and expanded, with infinite stone and pebbles bursting into the skies, a huge crevice now left at the center of the plains as if it was torn apart by a giant.
However, it left people in astonishment that such a terrific change of landscape affected nobody around it. As if it all happened in a separate space, even the students and adventurers looking on nearby sensed no tremors.
In the air, the countless stones and dust clouds whirled with a vortex, as silver Steel Strength shroud moved like a celestial cloud. Standing dead center of the vortex, Joshua withdrew both hands and watched the result of his actions: there was now a vast, hollow rift valley deep beneath the ground, directed downwards over thousands of meters even as countless dust and stone rose into the air like pillars of smoke.
“If they hide underground,” Joshua said serenely, “then I shall flip heaven and earth.”