Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Starfall Year 839, twenty ninth of March. The Salt Sea Plains, the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds.
The Salt Sea Plains was a barren place and with nothing special about it. In that ancient battle, a single calamity-class spell had struck the huge building that once stood here, completely destroying the [Hainamut Divination Hub] while its shockwaves melted everything, which finally cooled and became a plain filled covered in toxic crystal salts. Indeed, the ‘Hainamut Division Hub’ which collected Multiversal information to process and predict futures did not saw that coming.
Details of the past battle notwithstanding, the Salt Sea Plains was now changing radically. When the Mycroft civilization redeveloped the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds more than a year ago, several Legends had decomposed the toxic substances by their own hands. The Nature’s Magister, working alongside the Elven Queen, had cast a blessing of Nature Divinity, allowing special plants that could survive in the highly acidic surroundings to sprout in those lands.
A year had since passed. Emerald hues reflected from the crystal began to spread across the plains—when that growth rate is taken into account, it would be decades when the plants fill the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds.
However, there was a greater secret hidden behind the greenery.
Right beneath those lively plants and three kilometers beneath their roots, that was an extraordinary artificial subterranean cavity. A perfect semi-sphere, it had a level surface and a magnificently arched dome: layers of green stems and roots kept the cavity that had a vast five-kilometer radius aloft, with many canes hanging off the dome of plants that built a sturdy pillar comparable to steel.
It was the base wherein the Nature’s Magister altered the environment of the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds, a large Nature’s domain deep below—in the other words, the cavity was her ‘body’.
“Be careful, and don’t snap a single stem or branch.”
Through Nature Power, Joshua was led into the cavity, where he heard Galanoud’s rather humorous voice. “It’ll be painful for me.”
“I’ll be careful.” The man replied solemnly, a response the Nature’s Magister found rather dull. Her will then conversed idly with the warrior for a while, before retuning to her true form on Mycroft.
Meanwhile, Joshua headed to the center of the underground dome, toward a huge wooden research center.
He quickly entered the building, and saw many elven scholars hurriedly pacing around the various laboratories and archives, never noticing Joshua’s arrival. The warrior hence simply headed to the Second Practical Lab in the middle, opening the doors without pause and asking those inside forthrightly, “What’s the result?”
Everyone inside had already been informed of his arrival, and as such was not surprised. There, both William the Mind Lord and Stanley the Psionic Legend were staring at a soul’s model that was levitating at the center of the room and quietly discussing technical issues, while a black-haired youth, Unnamed of Simboa was reading one analysis report after another in front of the model.
Being one of Joshua’s employees at present, Unnamed was the first to look up at his call, and nodded before shaking his head. “Not good.”
“Is there really no solution?” Joshua could not help frowning and moved in front of the soul model. “The Guardians of the Archives are really facing such a serious problem?”
The faint silhouette of the soul model placed in the center of the room did not have the appearance of typical humans. Each of its parts had presented all types of alterations, with some growth, some withering and partial bloating, causing other portions of the soul to be utterly nullified as well.
“Their soul has definitely warped and mutated irreversibly…”
Unnamed looked up from the reports. The strenuous work he had continued for weeks had made him physically tired, although his gaze was spirited. He did not spare any moment for idle conservation, passing the report in his hand directly to Joshua instead. “It’s hard to imagine that someone would later their own soul and physique into such terrible state—I even thought that the Soul Puppets were the worst.”
“Furthermore, Soul Puppets are forced alterations—these people acted on their own accord, a truly astonishing degree of resolve and ruthlessness.”
“That being said, treatment is not impossible.”
The First Practical Lab was established to plan and carry out alterations to the environment of the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds. The Second Practical Lab that was built later, for rescue of treatment of the Guardians.
More than half a year ago, after the main body of the Black Fog had been jointly sealed by Mycroft’s gods and Legends, they had discovered an entrance to a demiplane on the accretion disk of the blackhole hanging over World Zero One. After considerable effort, they finally moved the Archives back to the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds, using it as a ‘moon’ for the plane.
And after Archives had been opened, the procession who had been prepared to welcome their compatriots after a thousand years discovered in shock that the Guardians of the Archives had resolutely altered themselves in terrible, warped manners, all in order to survive the extra hostile environment at the edge of a black hole. It partially maintained their rational and inherited knowledge, placing all emphasis on ‘surviving’ and only just—there was no doubt that those alterations had almost left them inhuman.
To save those compatriots that have given so much, every major faction did not have any disagreement in jointly treating theme and reverse those alterations, thereby reverting the Guardians into normal humans. However, that task had a huge obstacle from the very start—the alterations that had continued over a thousand years had made the warped soul and physical form a constant. They were ‘born this way’ instead of being altered post-birth, and now, even the Legends could hardly guarantee that they could be rescued while maintaining the existing will of the Guardians’ descendants.
Unnamed, or ‘Lothram’ the former Unnamed Technician had been an advanced maintenance worker for the Soul Puppets who also studied much soul studies text in Simboa. After learning Mycroft’s own studies of the soul and the undead thanks to Joshua’s support after more than half year, he was now considered an authority on the subject, which was why he has been invited by the Second Practical Lab as a technical consultant for the rescue effort.
Joshua could not help being interested as Unnamed—whom others called Lothram—gave his report. “How, specifically?”
William, who had been communicating spiritually and psionically with Stanley in a corner stopped their exchange and cut into the heart of the matter. With William being more acquainted with Joshua, he stepped forward and pointed toward the soul model. “To be frank, such an augmented alteration that is carried out along with the soul is very frightening. It’s essentially a most extreme ‘Desecration Curse’ that warped the target’s body, and that vigor is truly shocking—look, even the core of the soul had been eroded.”
After William, Stantley the Legendary Psion, an aged person with a prim and grim expression as well as an imposing air continued albeit with a frown. “That’s why we believe that we need you to work with us, and perform simultaneous surgeries on both body and soul. Through the connection of the two, we could reanimate their physicality and their souls’ regenerating capacity at once, nurturing it into a complete soul.”
Unnamed nodded beside them. “But that’s just the start. After generally restoring the soul, it would remain vulnerable, and therefore we have to swap a new body for them to preserve it. Their original bodies are simply too terrible and inhospitable for a human soul.”
“I myself would suggest per my special that we construct a puppet body. While flesh and blood holds vigor, it’s unstable… I hate that technology, but it does have its advantages.”
As the conversation continued, the trio diverged to various aspects of the soul. Shaking his head, Joshua interrupted, “You three are the experts. I won’t be discussing about the actual treatment, but I’ll keep one of my clones in the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds over the next few days. Call me when you need me.”
With that, he turned toward the warped humanoid on the other side of the soul model, ignoring the others’ thanks.
It was the modelling of the Archive Guardians’ present body state: a clump of meat that appeared human, but was without bone.
A thousand years ago, the Unified Archives was blasted away from its world.
To adapt to total darkness, abnormal gravity, extreme radiation and lacking resources, the surviving Guardians had altered their own body and soul most radically. They used what amounted to curses, as well as actual curses to reshape their bodies and warp their own souls, inscribing all knowledge they require into their blood and soul as well as their descendants’ memories, so that they would always maintain that knowledge to preserve the very existence of the Archives and prevent any harm from coming to it.
That was also why their physical form had become a mud creature without fix form, since they did not need bones as support in the low-gravity environment, and did not require substantial amounts of minerals. Their skins were filled with cysts, nerve nodes, unusual tendrils and bacterium, leaving no resemblance of being human. In that state, they had even forgotten common concepts such as ‘walk’, ‘see’, ‘hear’ or ‘eat’ since they had no feet, eyes, ears or mouth.
Squirming, they would float around before tethering themselves to the ground, and would rely upon energy sensory and spiritual link to study the world, drawing nutrients from the bed of bacterium on their skin cysts or crevices.
A form that was warped, grotesque and repulsive.
And so profound.
“If we didn’t have a solution, we would have been helpless.”
Joshua spoke quietly as he stared at the grotesque and profound form. “But since we found it, we must administer it as best as we could—that’s one of the few things we could do for them, who had been protectors of our civilization’s legacy.”
After that, Joshua left the underground cavity.
The laboratory located inside the Nature’s Magister could simulate various natural environment through Nature Power, allowing various practical experiment which was a dream for most adepts. The Nature’s Magister herself also often use the attribute of her own power to refine herself, although it was a shame that her abilities was unsuitable to fight in otherworlds. Galanoud was most powerful in her own turf, and the only way that disadvantage could barely be reversed was by creating a vast Nature’s Domain like the subterranean cavity here.
Joshua hence left the ‘body’ of the Nature’s Magister, walking past the path of vines as if he was a normal human, without any deliberate acceleration.
He looked up as he walked, leveling a rather murky gaze at the flat top of the path.
Starfall Year 839. It was another new year, with much significance having occurred.
Shelter Alpha was extracted by the gods out of the main body of the Black Fog, and was now placed at the center of the dimensional region where the Black Fog once stayed. The primordial life within was given heavy protection as well: it was a rare laboratory where the genesis of a world with elevated mana levels as well as the birth and evolution of life could be studied, a sanctuary for life and source of precious research and data.
The Black Fog had rebuilt Shelter Alpha into what was essentially a new world. The concentrated energies from the Great Mana Tide had sped up the fusion and development of primitive organic bodies, with microorganism identical to the the forebears of the Shelter civilization beginning to appear.
The Black Fog could not create their maker’s civilization, and as such recreated every aspect of their maker’s race.
Starting out as a microorganism until it final assumed their maker’s form, the Black Fog had arranged for everything—beneath the shell of wanton annihilation, a newborn world filled with hope was being nurtured.
In the meantime, Joshua would station a clone there for the foreseeable future. Whatever happens, he could quickly shift his main consciousness, awakening nearby Shelter Alpha.
As for the Black Fog…
According to Nostradamus’s observation and projection, there might still be some pockets of Black Fog scattered around the Multiverse after their main body had been sealed. They might have been dispatched to scout faraway reaches or had been defeated and sealed by other civilizations, but one way another, those Black Fog would continue roaming the Void and threaten various worlds and civilizations. His suggestion was to take the initiative and search for those remnants and wiped them all out.
Still, after studying the fundamental programming and construct of the Black Fog’s main body, it was discovered that the spawn forms would have a hard time surviving independently following the loss of the main body’s data vault and energy reserves. Having no personal construct for energy storage, the spawn forms could not move freely unless they were inside a magical world or were at the edge of the Void Vortex. They require frequent recharging, and most importantly, they did not have the function of mitosis—losing part of themselves was permanent, and as such, no high-level threat procedures were implemented.
Moreover, if any spawn was to mutate into a new main body, they could never grow to the present main body’s level without a data vault.
Apart from that, the Imperial External Exploration Department launched two more expeditions with better fortunes this time. Both journeys that spanned eighteen worlds were safe and had nothing noteworthy, with two of those worlds found to be worlds with primitive life: one had early amphibious lifeforms that had just moved on to land, while another evolved into creatures with giant appendages and roamed the world.
Still, there was no value in colonization since those worlds were too primitive—save for the considerable tastiness of those creatures with giant appendages. In other words, it was inhospitable, but murlocs might just favor it, or at least because Joshua had noted a distinct twitch in the Murloc High Priest’s expression at the time. It was surprising that the Golden Dragon King appeared thoughtful then as well… perhaps it enjoyed the taste of burnt crab?
On another note, Joshua also confirmed something: the current Empress, or Israel’s consort, was considered a niece of the incumbent Golden Dragon King. However, that was not too surprising—in an idle conversation with the Fairy Queen, the warrior unexpectedly learned that the entire Diamond Dynasty are direct descendants of a former Fairy Queen, meaning that the fairies’ mark remained manifested in the soul of the Imperial Family, or at least in spirit.
‘Bloodlines in fantasy worlds are such a mess,’ Joshua thought then, ‘ could my family have been the only normal, human one?’
Stepping out of the path to the underground cavity and into the forests of the Salt Sea Plains, Joshua did not return home at once. Recently, Ying and Ling had led the student council of Winter Fort Academy to organize a winter sports day, and they were also refereeing the live combat assessment for the first semester of the year, along with managing miscellaneous matters.
A few days ago, Zero-Three had also been invited by Vahina, Nostradamus, Barbarossa, and others to the Unified Archives. She would use her special form to accelerate the deciphering of various encrypted data, which in turn would occupy most of her processing capacity.
If the warrior would return home now, he would at most be having meals and strolling around with Black and Light, although those two playful brats would have already run off in his absence to find Ivan or Lisa’s party for missions, or just fool around. Joshua, who believed himself to be no demon, would not interrupt their entertainment. Therefore, he planned to settle the debt after the fun and games and add to their training quota.
Thus, Joshua was left with a feeling as if he had nowhere to go. But in that very moment, a shapeless spirit, an indescribable will appeared from the other side of the Void. Only Joshua himself could see and sense it, as it gradually formed the image of giant silver python.
Karlis the Steel Python appeared beside Joshua, slowly coiling itself on the warrior’s shoulder and asked curiously, “What are you thinking, friend?”
“I had intended to seek you out when you enter the Void, but upon noticing that you are here spacing out, I came on my own accord.”
Noticing the entity, Joshua did not stop the Steel Python’s rather humane and affectionate movements and merely strolled along the gray-white crystallizations of the Salt Sea.
It was after some considerable time that the warrior finally spoke quietly, “Karlis, I have a question.”
“Hmm? Ask away.” Karlis shook its head nonchalantly. “I would certainly answer if I am able.”
Joshua’s looked straight ahead over the vast and flat plains without peeking sideways at all, before he asked flatly, “Did you ever hate us?”
The question was clearly not what the Steel Python expected. It could not help blanking out for a moment, repeating the question. “You?”
“Yes. The Sage, Glorious Era Mycroft, us, Starfall Era Mycroft.”
Not one to hide his opinion, this occasion was no exception for Joshua. He trampled over pieces of salt crystals, and continued quietly, “To be exact, do you hate and resent the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds which brought the Evil Gods here, and the Mycroft civilization that created the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds and the Door to Finality?”
A long silence followed. Only the sounds of sand grains breaking beneath Joshua’s feet could be heard.
A wind blew past them, kicking up infinite dirt as Karlis finally broke the extended the silence.
“Hate… Resentment… Such human words.” It murmured softly and pensively. “Having watched civilization for some time, I consider myself a World Will that understands humanity.
“But how do I put this—you might well not understand.”
Karlis glanced sideways to level his gaze as Joshua turned to it as well, and continued with an unusually somber tone, “You, as well as the successors of the Sage and the Glorious Era may not know about them, or perhaps understand them partially. On the other hand, being from the same era, I knew many things about him.
“He aided and saved many worlds,” Karlis said, putting solemnness and weight behind each word. It also appeared to be reminiscing, and its gaze was rather scattered. “Joshua, the Sage had been doing all he could to help the worlds around his own, just like what you’re doing now.
“That being said, this galaxy wasn’t as dim then as it was now. It was flourishing: worlds filled with life communicating and forming rapports—there were troublesome worlds as well, but the Sage peacefully journey across worlds, helping worlds in trouble.
“He had experienced a beautiful life at the time, making meaningful friendships as much as he encountered troublesome and dangerous foes.
“He did not fight the Chaos and Evil Gods on just one occasion. He had rescued a great many worlds on many occasions even without anyone else’s knowledge. However, he thought nothing of it, believing that it was something anyone else would do, something that could not be more mundane.”
There was now somberness in the Steel Python’s voice. Its coils tightened, and it closed its eyes. “Even his creation of the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds was to better aid other worlds… he had given all his strength to help all civilization across all Multiverse.
“Was he evil? Of course not. The Sage is the most perfect, most sacred, kindest, and most powerful being I had seen in my long life. He seemed to exist just to save the dark Multiverse, born to embody endless compassion and world authority, and there was no selfishness in his power. Any who intend to denounce him in morality either held dark motives, or have such a dark heart that they simply could not see such pure light.”
Joshua listened quietly to Karlis. He had now stopped right in the middle of the Salt Sea Plains. It was a flat surface looking to every direction from here, a vast, borderless plains. There was no path and no direction from where the warrior stood—even the boundary between sky and land had vanished.
Meanwhile, Karlis continued.
“Of course, even though I have spoken such kind words of flattery in the glory of the Sage… doesn’t mean I don’t hate.”
It opened its eyes, the crimson serpentine pupils glinting in a radiance that seemed to burn. “Naturally, I do hate.”
“The people of Karlis were my children,” the Steel Python said quietly in dismay. “I will always remember their extinction, and regardless of how many times the Sage had helped me, that single mistake is enough for me to see him as my enemy.”
Upon hearing those words, Joshua’s hands relaxed and then clenched slightly. He looked up, but his gaze and expression were impassive, and there was no telling what he was thinking.
Karlis had looked up beside Joshua as well, and after another moment of silence, it murmured, “But…
“But, Joshua, you who reignited my Flame.
“Did you know? No matter how much hate is carved into one’s bone, it is mere dust, an insignificant ripple in the Multiverse. The more you witness the rise and fall of civilizations, the birth and death of worlds, the more you would understand that.
“To cling on to something like that, to cling on to that dust-like hate, and thus hold malicious intentions toward everything around, to deny, to destroy, to desire the end of all things in madness—is that any different from Evil Gods, then?
“Clinging means never to be free, never to progress forward and avenge the Evil Gods that destroyed my Children.”
The Steel Python slithered to the warrior’s arm, lifting it and lowering itself to look into Joshua’s eyes.
“You who reignited my Flame,” Karlis, the World Will said earnestly and serenely, “you don’t have to be confused over such a thing. You don’t have to care if it was self-blame or hate in my heart, nor do you have to care what I think of the Sage and the Glorious Era.
“You just have to keep going forward, strengthening yourself and do what you’re doing now: help troubled worlds, lay waste to the schemes of Chaos—and that is enough.
“I will help you with all my power. We will help you with all our powers. All profound wills would be watching you like how they watched the Sage all those years ago, bearing witness as you tread your own path.”
Karlis’s head gradually approached Joshua’s forehead. It no longer spoke, but a mild, profound yet peaceful will extended toward Joshua.
This is a pact that needs no words, a promise that needs no language.
Forehead touched forehead. A light with no color began to rise at the heart of the Salt Sea Plains.
Kill all Evil Gods
Wipe out all Chaos
Reigniter of the Flame. Carry out this pact you made with Steel and Fire—set all darkness and evil a flame and become a light to the despairing Multiverse.
Like a torch, shine for us, illuminating the way ahead.
The inconspicuous light dimmed.
Joshua and Karlis’s foreheads parted.
The warrior said softly and looked toward the edge of the world, and put Karlis on his shoulder.
It was a pure spiritual body that clearly had no mass, but it remained very cumbersome.
Its weight was without compare, as if the karma of an entire world had been placed within it.
But that sensation was not unfamiliar, for many worlds remained behind the warrior.
Karlis, Illgner, the Bloodmoon Abyss… Illusions after illusions appeared and vanished.
Grandia, Kronos, Simboa… threads of causality intertwined.
It turned into long chain and a cumbersome stone, dragged forward by Joshua, with not telling how much time had passed until today. And now, it was the addition of one Shelter Civilization and Black Fog—it affects nothing, for the warrior’s objective never once changed.
He knew very well what kind of land and path his feel treaded upon.
“Listen well. I did not decide to cull all Evil Gods because of you.”
“I go because I want to.”
Joshua spoke flatly, drawing a quiet laughter from Karlis as he strode forward.
That single step had nothing to do with any karma, regret, burdens or responsibility. Joshua took it for himself only, and would continue walking until an unknown end.
He would do certain things.
And those things would change the world.
What would the result be?
That was a story for later.