Book 7, Chapter 176

Entering The Shrine

The flickering candle on the desk slowly burnt down as Richard finished reading the last of the papal diaries. These shabby notebooks had recorded a bitter battle between two gods that had lasted hundreds of years.

Despite the constant warfare and threat from the legends of the plane, the pantheon of Norland was actually much more stable than the one in Faelor. The rapid expansion ensured that most people with great power wouldn’t even consider becoming a deity, and the gods in general performed their duties and stayed out of the way. The divine wars in Faelor were primal and miserable, with both sides doing whatever they could to achieve victory.

Having finished reading, Richard finally realised just why Runai hadn’t managed to get in over all this time. It seemed like the shrine was a self-controlled area, and the stronger the people sent in to die, the more powerful the attack from the starlight was and the more life force the formation had to replenish itself with. Runai had thus made the mistake of thinking the only way to get in was to overpower the laws of the Lady of the Night, which was impossible for an existing deity to accomplish.

Unfortunately, the goddess didn’t have anything similar to the blessing of truth that would allow her to look behind the cycle. Richard had realised the path of laws himself, and it was actually a possibility in his case, but unlike Runai he had also realised that sending in a large number of inferior beings would be the key to it all.

Over the next two days, he ordered his drones to expand the tunnel leading towards the shrine while he made an inventory of everything he had acquired from the cathedral. It was midnight three days later that the astral chrysalis brought the full army of worms to the city, transporting more than 50,000 with its back now completely white. Behind the chrysalis were a number of wasps, transporting 40,000 more in total.

By this time, the workers had already dug out an enormous courtyard adjacent to the shrine that would be able to accommodate all of the worms. While the total number was impressive, comparable to the population of a big city, the volume they occupied was minimal.

The vicinity of the shrine was occupied solely by the broodmother’s drones; the knights of the Dukedom were forbidden from nearing the area. Taking a look at the lofty pillars, Richard quietly sent out the order in his mind and had the worms start crawling forward.

A wave of white surged up the stairs into the shrine, activating the defences immediately and covering them in starlight. The astral motes started to latch onto them one by one and kill them off, but even as the frontlines stopped moving the rest of the drones crawled over and beyond. The starlight rained down endlessly, but the same was true for the wave of creatures.

Feeling the energy reserves of the shrine starting to drop, Richard soon ordered the rest of the worms that were still in the courtyard to flow into the shrine as well. Only a few minutes later, less than 10,000 larvae were left in the courtyard while corpses piled up ten metres high on the stairs.

A small crackle eventually rang out from atop the portico, the central statue of the Lady of the Night starting to break apart as her black crystal eyes shattered to pieces. The entire shrine started fading, the starlight disappearing completely. Although only 2,000 worms were left, Richard had easily destroyed the system that had stumped Runai for centuries.

Runai could have used about 10,000 of her worshippers to accomplish the same thing, and from his experience with the blood curse Richard knew that she would easily find it in herself to do so, but she just couldn’t see the possibility. The Lady of the Night had exploited that perfectly in her defence.

Once the central defences were broken, Richard sent the remaining worms into the shrine and had them crawl through every corner to check for any leftover traps. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any secondary measures, but then again the starlight was already enough to stop a god for centuries.

Richard walked through the great hall of the shrine and past a door to enter the central section, observing the many niches in the wall with sword-bearing knights within. These knights had obviously been here for centuries on end, but their bodies hadn’t decayed at all, even having rosy complexions. If not for his ability to detect that their bodies were soulless, even Richard could have thought they were deep in hibernation.

Walking up to one of these knights, he observed her carefully. Insight and some physical contact showed that the skin was soft and all internal functions were intact, but this body was just a hollow shell. There seemed to be no secrets within, but he quickly realised why that was.

Pouring a tiny amount of life force into the knight revealed that these knights converted all the energy absorbed by the motes of starlight into the divine power of the Lady of the Night. The process almost resembled a prayer; these weren’t morbid statues or decorations, but the core of the entire shrine’s defence.

Richard had thought of combining living beings into magic arrays before, but that line of thought hadn’t led anywhere. Any such attempts would place an enormous burden on the target creature, and in almost all cases it was just more efficient to add a few units to the magic array to achieve the same effect. Following the knights one by one, he realised that the Lady of the Night had managed to accomplish this task; these knights were absolute fanatics that were willing to guard this underground shrine unto their death.

No matter how cruel this method was, the entire system was a genius idea. Even as a saint runemaster who used the souls of deceased legends, Richard couldn’t help but be amazed by it all. Regardless of whatever else was within the shrine, this system alone would make the effort worthwhile.

Continuing through the shrine, he found a large cluster of dozens of halls of various sizes, each with complete facilities. It was at this point that he realised this wasn’t just a shrine, but a full church complex with everything supporting it within. There was enough equipment to arm thousands of paladins and tens of thousands of warriors, and there was even an enormous library with books about history, magic, and the divine.

Richard took a book at random and flipped through it for a while; a lot of missing Faelorian history from before the time of the astral beasts could be answered by these records. Any historian or theologist would give up everything for the chance, but it was all quite valuable for him as well. Some of the books detailed information about godhood, chronicling the process of deities lighting their godfires when they were still mortal as well as secret divine wars that the mortal world never learnt of. There was even information about the golden era where a number of legendary beings had been born.

The Lady of the night had managed to become an intermediate deity while her counterpart had never managed to achieve even a similar level. This church alone was proving that she was a genius in many fields, so her private library was all the more valuable.

Faelor had been shut off for a long time, and just when they were about to open up the astral beasts had attacked and set the entire plane back by centuries if not more. Their divine wars were primal and chaotic, and these books gave Richard a glimpse of that side that he had never come across before. It allowed him to obtain a deeper understanding of the entire plane and its laws.

It was only then that he realised just what Nasia meant by trying to observe the laws of Norland through the basic training of footsoldiers. He wasn’t anywhere near that level yet, but as he read through the records it felt like they were only inches away from directly describing the laws of the plane.

News soon started trickling in from the worms and other drones about the results of their exploration. Weapons, armour, divine and magic spell scrolls, rare materials… the church had it all, more than enough to revive a full sect. This was obviously a last haven that the Lady of the Night had prepared purely for the eventuality that there would be an attempt on her life. All gods could look into the future somewhat; perhaps she had predicted this well in advance of Runai’s ambush.

Not in any rush, Richard silently flipped through all of the books in the library as his drones continued to search. An entire day passed as he absorbed everything he could, only ended by a message that one of the drones had found the entrance to the basement.

Arriving at the entrance, he saw a steep stairway leading downstairs. The end was shrouded in a darkness that even his sight couldn’t pierce, leaving him unable to tell how long they were at all.

However, stood at the entrance, he could feel a faint aura that couldn’t be detected by normal senses. The blessing of truth almost went out of control, screaming at him that there was concentrated divinity downstairs.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: WQ

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA