Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Even if all five expedition members did not understand what the voice that reached deep into their spirit was saying, they realized at once something was awry.
There are five signs of extreme danger during otherworld explorations: sinister, shattered wreckages; conspicuously majestic ancient ruins; energy signatures rapidly shifting; sceneries or objects that promptly multiplies or vanish; and last but not least, a spiritual voice without any distinct source.
Leaving the former four aside—when it came to a presence that could force its way through an intelligent being’s defensive self-awareness and directly pour information into its subject’s mind, it could either have profoundly researched into heart and soul or very several class above the explorers. There are no countermeasures if they ever encountered it, and such situations are mostly adverse, while not even the soul could be saved.
“Careful, this must be some automated defensive measures of ancient ruins!”
When that unknown presence had mentioned ‘activating automated defensive measures’, Priest at once reacted with a bellow and decisively turned to sprint away.
But now, violent energy flow was gathering at the peak of the unknown mountain like a vortex. Every energy adrift in the air were at once empty into a vacuum, and Priest quickly felt the armor on his body losing all momentum, its engine dying and the energy pool bled away. Now, not only was it unable to provide Priest with additional power, it became a heavy burden as well—that was why he instantly activated the ejection sequence, borrowing the armor’s sheer mechanical force to bounce himself away and escape the metal region at top speed.
Ka, ka, ka, ka!
With four continuous sounds of the ejection mechanism ringing, the other four members of the Elite Party also left their armor. All five need no exchanges as they promptly turned, dashing towards five entirely different directions to reduce the chance of being wiped out.
But could they really escape so easily?
“—executing comprehensive purging protocols.”
Even as it spoke, the unknown presence calling itself ‘Hub Accrafa’ attacked unhurriedly. In the very next instant, amidst faint and undetectable dimensional ripples, the party who had run off a few thousand meters away in seconds instantly returned to their starting point. All five humans, out of their enchanted armor were heaped together as if a rubbish pile—a human pile in this particular case—their gazes at a loss.
‘How… how are they back here again?’
Just as Priest quickly understood that it was probably some profound teleportation spell, the attack of Hub Accrafa was already prepared.
On the mountain peak, surging energies solidified between breaths. A dark blue pulse ray materialized in the sky as if a nova, surrounded by energy radiation of ten thousand different colors, shining even more dazzlingly than a cut gem.
Nonetheless, powerful mana rays that could vaporize all existence was hidden beneath that beautiful light.
“Crap. My shield isn’t here… still, always had to try this.”
At present, Priest still had no intention of giving up resisting. He was on top of the human pile, and the first to rise at once. Standing in a parrying stance before his teammates, he directed aura to form an aura shield in front of his body as fast as he could, even if he was aware that having no physical shield, his aura would never block that blow that had gathered all energies across several kilometers however powerful it was.
“This is it, I had a good life…”
Behind Priest, Mage appeared to be seeing his whole life flashing past his eyes. He had thought of buffing his team leader with a few spells, but his magical power was at once drained and broken by the surging ray inside the energy vacuum zone, preventing any spell from being cast.
“Damn it. I’ve even already thought of some cool words for my grave—now I can’t use it!” Alchemist, at the bottommost of the human pile, was unable to muster any strength in the beast organs across his entire body due to the lack of mana. “And I wanted to buried above a cliff, surrounded by the seas on three sides…”
“Am I really going to be burnt into ash with a Crow Mouth and a self-mutilating lunatic?” Clergy, who was stuck beneath Rider was in utter despair, but burst out in rage at once at the thought of his terrible demise.
“No way!” He howled, and exploded with a power far surpassing early Gold tiers, breaking through the boundaries and temporarily Ascending! Holy Light thus cascaded, combining with Priest’s aura and forming a pale-golden crystalline shield.
Meanwhile, Rider, who had been sent flying by Clergy’s abrupt burst of power, was mumbling in the air vaguely, “I think we could still salvage the situation…”
Nevertheless, just as everything was left in a chaotic mess and the five-man cell was about to meet the terrible pulse nova, the magical light that had gathered in the air suddenly dimmed, and the destructive ray that was about to be discharged vanished in its entirety. Even the energy drain tide that had unceremoniously plundered every iota of energy in the environment ended instantly.
Hence, everyone in the Elite party stared blankly at the summit. Having been prepared for death and burning the last sparks of their own lives as they went, the attack or perhaps demise they waited for never came. Be that as it may, they could still a voice—cold, hard and devoid of emotion, as if a machine.
“Energy convergence complete. Target locked. Commencing purge-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e—& amp; lt:error! & amp; gt; & amp; amp; lt; error! & amp; gt; & amp; amp; lt; error! & amp; gt; & amp; amp; lt; indexing central main processor… address ineffective! >—forced bypass of attack acknowledgment process—failed—& amp; lt; target error & amp; gt;. Target identified non-Chaotic, unable to execute purge.”
“Hub Accrafa observation system reactivated. Commencing second scanning and positioning task.”
As the spiritual voice that was unintelligible if one did not listen attentively rapidly ended, a wave of formless ripples began to sweep toward the five expedition members. All of them intended to block, but none worked: aura, magic and Holy Light simply could not block the seemingly mild ripples, and could only allow it to sweep across their entire bodies.
“Targets identified as ‘mixed-blood humans’… base bloodline match is 99.7%—within normal range of deviation. Chaos being unconfirmed. Removing ‘hostile’ label, Level Four Clearance provided, pausing ‘extermination sequence’, commencing ‘inquiry sequence’.”
“Target identified as ‘Embedded Beast Form’… Human 27.15%, elf 18.85%, Hydra 12.45%, Tarrasque 14.6%, unknown superior dragonfly species 10.25%…. Identified as native Mycroft creature, removing ‘hostile label’, ‘pet’ clearance provided, pausing ‘extermination sequence’.”
Everyone could at once hear the cold voice saying different words in their minds, but soon, the cold voice appeared to fall into some unusual logical error once more, thereby entering another infinite loop.
“…What’s going on?”
Even Priest, with his mental composure, was at a loss. He was standing in front of his team, having prepared for death. After all, the world they were in has a very special energy wave or some extremely special barrier that could block all communication signals—not even the Empire’s officially assigned signal transmitter or the Restoration Beam given by Liege Radcliffe himself could link to the outside… in other words, if they were in danger this time, they would not be saved by a certain bystander Legendary champion. Priest’s most optimistic idea is for the Soul Pool Sphere to preserve their souls, and wait for the Empire’s rescue team to eventually rebuild their physical body.
After all, no matter how slow the Imperial officials could be, they would never not notice losing contact with their team.
“I’m guessing… an error?”
Mage, leaning on his scepter as he stood, speaking with a rather unsettled voice. “It is an ancient creation that had been buried beneath the ground after all—it would be weird if it did not malfunction after so long…”
Nonetheless, the expedition party did not think about grabbing the chance to flee. Leaving aside the fact that they were bound by magic and would most likely be teleported back, they were mostly scared of exciting the ancient civilization creation that was clearly showing anomalies—if it shot a death ray the next time without a word, all five of them would be reduced to ash.
That was why an extraordinary sight appeared at the ridge of the unknown mountain—the ground that had been filled with moss, bushes, along with five humans that did not even dared to move, while veins of spiritual communications composed entirely of ‘& amp; lt; Error & amp; amp; gt; and & amp; amp; lt; target does not exist & amp; gt;’, sweeping across dozens of kilometers.
Meanwhile, only Alchemist had yet to completely regain focus since he was still troubled by what he heard.
“I say, what’s with that ‘Embedded Beast Form’ and pet clearance?!” He exclaimed angrily. “I am obviously half-human, half-elf! At most, I’ve swapped a little blood and organs!”
Just as everyone were left nervously indecisive, unsure if they should prudently stay where they were and refrain from exciting the ancient relic intelligence or grab their chance to flee, the intelligence appeared to have ended the extended error cycle and recover its normal ability to interact.
“Announcement: dear citizens of the Glorious Era, Hub Accrafa is currently declining entry for all citizens with clearance level below five. Starting from < timing error >, Dimensional Hub Accrafa is now in an emergency lockdown phase, and all teleportation, transit, logistics and courier sequences will be temporarily halted. The lockdown time would last until < timing error >. Thanks for your cooperation, citizens.”
The voice which had been rather cold, stiff and completely mechanical at the start soon turned, becoming the soft, sweet and young feminine voice. The unknown spiritual voice had changed so quickly that all of the Elite Party members could not at once realize what it was saying.
Then, seconds later, Priest’s eyes widened as he understood what it was saying. “I get it!” He whispered, inhaling sharply.
He listened to the familiar yet affectionate voice speaking Mycroft Basic that appeared in the depths of his mind albeit with some accent issues, and at once thought of the environment around them that was completely similar to Mycroft. Priest recalled certain things his mentor mentioned in passing—matters regarding the Black Fog, the Final Battle in the previous Era, and finally realized what was going on!
However, before he could turn in excitement to explain the truth of it all to his teammates, as well as why their teleportation failed, that sweet female announcer’s voice of Hub Accrafa spoke again.
“Greetings, dear citizens of the Glorious Era Union. Your clearance does not allow entry to < location error > zone, if you would not leave before < timing error >, we will carry out certain unsavory measures.
“< timing error >.”
In an instant, without any time to wait or prepare, a formless repulsive force abruptly burst out, and the Elite Party, along with their enchanted armor and the wreckage of their flying car were all sent flying like a soccer ball into the distance. Since they were standing close to each other, they were not blasted away in different directions, instead sent collectively to the dense forests several kilometers away.
As they soared through the air, Priest forced his eyes opoen amidst the buffeting winds and saw a powerful light ejecting out of the inside of the mountain. It pierced the clouds, forming a straight, white pure beam that stood amidst heaven and earth.
While the beam shone, the outer layer of the once imposing mountain began to crumble by inches—soon, meters, and later dozens of meters of stone began to split into dense lines of fissures, while the blinding magical radiance streamed out of the gaps, filling them as if water.
Then came the collapse.
Millions of tons of thick stone that had solidified over millennia peeled out of the massive metal building as if loose clothing. The land was shaking violently, and it was no isolated event. Faraway, veins of sacred beams were standing aloft as well, pillaring the world just as countless towering mountains broke down, revealing their true form that had hidden for a long, inestimable period.
Priest did not keep watch until the end because his team had fallen into the forest. Their bodies broke through the dense trees as if a stone, falling heavily on soft humus, crashing a huge crater as ash and ground filled the skies.
The five members of the Elite Party would have been heavily injured in the fall if they were not Gold-tier champions. In fact, Priest and the others were unscathed—all of them quickly gone up amidst chaotic grumbling, and then checked up on each other.
“What is that thing?!”
After looking around them to find neither beasts nor enemies, and that all of them were uninjured apart from suffering a great fright, Clergy was left confused if he should be delighted, dead or angry after being scared into temporary Ascension. He clenched his crystal ball so hard that the others worry if his strength would break it, while his expression was a mix between joy and worry. “There’s nothing normal going on since we’ve teleported into this world!”
The others were complaining as well to vent their irritation and fear—even if they were expedition members who display absolute composure in psyche, even men of steel could not resist from banter.
“I think I know where we generally are.”
When everyone was done with their complaining, having vented enough and stopped talking to collect their minds, Priest began, “I believe we should be inside a hidden ‘Glorious Relic’.”
Glorious Relic was a concept suggested by many scholars as information about the Glorious Era became widespread at present. It refers to all ruins, wreckage and buildings left from the Glorious Era, which naturally includes the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds, a small demiplane, not to mention the symbiological legacies such as the Unified Archives.
Everyone understood Priest at once at the very term. Mage stroked the magic crystal embedded on his scepter and calmed slightly, and soon agreed with Priest’s opinion. “Indeed. Come to think of it, most of the details made it evident… We should have realized from the very fact that the forest around use is identical to our home.”
“That’s right. This is the edge of the galaxy, and nobody could have created a forest so similar apart from the Glorious Era.” Alchemist nodded, no longer making a fuss over his clearance level being ‘pet’. “But what about those elves?”
“They’re probably people that have wandered here accidentally.” Priest said flatly, turning towards the direction of Hub Accrafa, his brow tightened. “When that ancient intelligence made its announcement, it had mentioned that it was a ‘dimensional hub’ for teleportation, transit, logistics and courier… the last two is a bit difficult to understand, but ‘teleportation’ explains why we couldn’t return to the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds after activating the ‘Return Beacon’.”
Everyone else promptly understood everything at that.
In the Glorious Era, before the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds was completed, there were undoubtedly other dimensional hubs established to form different teleportation networks. Then, after the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds was completed, they would most certainly have been brought into its jurisdiction. Perhaps, the true form of the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds might not even be that demiplane near Mycroft, but an infinitely advanced dimensional system of the entire Glorious Era civilizations!
“Come to think of it, we’ve actually did return within the borders of ‘Mycroft’ that the Multiverse Sacrificial Grounds controls. The Return Beacon is not mistaken—our teleportation was successful!”
Even Rider, the one amongst them who was not quite smart about such things understood what happened. “Because this place might have been a Glorious Era colony!” He exclaimed between laughter and tears, “it’s just that it’s half a galaxy away from home.
“That’s not necessarily the case.”
Priest shook his head in return, sighing, and pointed at the nine distinct ‘moons’ in the skies. “Would you put colonies here? Only lunatics would do that!” He retorted helplessly. “I suspect that, like us, the elves got here by accident!”
Then, even before Clergy could ask ‘what about those elves’, Priest had quickly explained, “I heard my mentor—the Liege mentioning it before: towards the end of the Glorious Era, many private adventurers had reported to the government union before departing to other places in the galaxy for exploration or colonization. Elves numbered the most amongst them, having navigated Solar Ships that roamed the Void with the power of the sun.”
“Countless elven colonials had already made their homes in many worlds, but after the Final Battle, no one could contract them. I suspect that the elves we encountered are descendants of those colonials, and it was by an accident that they arrived here, just like how the Unified Archives floated across the Void or how our teleportation was interdicted. Still, those are mere guess, but it explains why they were dressed so… primitively.”
Although the expedition team mostly understood why they ended up in that place, there still many facts left unexplained… Such as what was that unusual barrier that blocked all signals? Why did it exist to separate what was within and without? And why were there nine Behemoths hanging in the skies, and how did they die?
Why did this mysterious world at the edge of the galaxy exist? For what purpose did the Glorious Era place the dimensional hub—and perhaps more than one, from what they could tell from the beam in the skies—there?
There were many questions, and answers were hardly available. Priest ruminated alone for some time but could not come up with a thing.
“By the way, that means we’ve face two ‘Extreme Threats’ this time.” Clergy said, trying to make the situation jovial. “A grand ancient ruin, a mysterious voice in your head—it’s certainly as its names suggest, a genuine danger!”
The five greatest Extreme Threats that the expedition face were sinister, shattered wreckages; conspicuously majestic ancient ruins; energy signatures rapidly shifting; sceneries or objects that promptly multiplies or vanish; and last but not least, a spiritual voice without any distinct source. What each respectively meant was a ‘an area with clear huge threat’, ‘an obvious ruin that had existed all along but was extremely dangerous’, ‘inestimably hazardous environmental shift’, ‘abnormal spatiality” as well as ‘an unknown presence with absolute power that could threaten the lives of explorer’. Once such threats were encountered it was basically death or injury, an experience that past adventurers learned through blood and tears.
“At least none of us are dead—that’s a great fortune.”
Priest rose up, calling them to enter formation and issuing determined commands. “Most of the energy in our enchanted armor has been drained away by that hub, but we’ve also brought enough backup power… Moreover, most of our supplies is inside the storage holds of the armor, which is why our first objective is to find—”
Priest quieted at once and quickly hid behind a tree while staying vigilant. An arrow had just darted in front of him, stabbing into a nearby tree. The other four members of the team also quickly hid as well, staying alert for other stealthy arrows… but soon realized that it was not very useful.
A primitive elven warsong was now resounding from all directions, and closing in on them rapidly.
With hiding behind trees becoming dangerous, the five of them formed a circle with their backs to each other. As they watch countless shadows dancing between the branches, they could clearly sense at least eight hundred elves encircling their position, with two hundred Silver-tiers and four Gold-tiers amongst them.
“…Isn’t that their entire population?!”
Mage exclaimed in shock, feeling the pressure similar to the time when his team stood against waves of beasts. “Just for us few? For what—we did nothing! Are these elves mad?!”
“And I’ve said nothing!” Rider hurriedly insisted. “I’ve been quiet since just now!”
Nevertheless, no matter how shocked or bewildering, the fact remained that right after they had escaped Hub Accrafa, they were encircled by a legion of primitive elves.
“Charge?” Alchemist said with a low voice, drawing bottles of potion from his hip. “It’s a bit late, but not too late.”
“Hold on.” Priest narrowed his eyes, noticing quickly that there was no considerable hostility in the elves around them. “Just be careful,” he said quietly, clenching a fist. “They can’t hold us—we’ll see how this plays out.”
Priest and the others were curious why the elves at the front did not attack them at once… they simply aimed their arrows on them, seemingly waiting for continuation.
Soon, someone arrived.
Priest could sense the four Gold-tier elves were heading to their location, their pace heavy and forceful as they approached by every step. But just as the dense foliage parted, the Gold-tier, deer-antler crowned elf appeared before them, and both sides leveled their gazes at each other.
The elf, in his middle-age and a rather tired expression appeared stunned. He stared at the Elite Party who were now wearing some simple leather armor in place of their enchanted armor, his brow tightening as he muttered to himself in a voice thick with elven accent. “You… are not Chaos aberrations?”
There was a hint of puzzlement in the elf’s tired voice, but no one answered him.
The gazes of the five Elite Party members instantly turned from a relaxed alertness to immeasurable solemnness. Priest, at the fore, was actually gripping both of his fists subconsciously, appearing intent on charging at the very next moment.
Everyone’s gazes were focused on the elf’s left arm.
There was a black, squirming scar upon it like a shadow. It would have been easily ignored if not observed carefully, taken as some natural birthmark or even some mana circuit. After all, did elven druids not favored marking their entire bodies with unusual magical patterns?
Nevertheless, the party from the External Exploration Department who trained under a Liege who fights the Chaos would never overlook it.
The scent, viscosity and evil appeared alive. It was corrupting the surrounding atmosphere and the flesh of the elf with the deer-antler crown… and yet it was neither creature nor virus. Not only did it have no signs of life, it callously destroyed everything that existed around it.
It was the quiet wail of nothingness, the prelude to destruction.
It was the scent of Chaos.