Book 6, Chapter 15

The First(2)

It didn’t take long to find Rib, a tall skeletal lich comprised of the broken bones of various creatures. He had set up a laboratory a little further into the valley, containing dozens of cauldrons alongside hundreds of vials and beakers. 

Richard frowned immediately. This lich was undoubtedly undead, something that should be at odds with every god in existence. Even the God of Death would not tolerate the existence of undead creatures in the world, especially in the backyard of a member of the pantheon. In the view of a deity, the undead were creatures that took away the source of their own power, the soul.

Any religion had both reward and punishment, and places like this valley were the direct antithesis of a church building. However, both were also core existences to the church; for there to be undead within was a frightful revelation.

All five people looked at Rib silently. Richard and the priestesses were wondering about the subversion of theology, but Waterflower was concerned with something else. Rib’s cauldrons were being heated by raging fires, and the fuel was the prisoners they had been seeing so far. Those burning in the fire had their mouths open wide in silent screams, struggling endlessly but unable to climb out from the flames. The flames had burnt away their eyes, ears, mouth, and nose, leaving only a grotesque caricature of humanity behind. Those still boiling within the pots were in equal pain as they were slowly dissolved into roiling green liquid.

Waterflower started to radiate killing intent, causing the lich to finally notice Richard’s presence. Green soul flames started jumping around in the hollow eye sockets as the creature felt Waterflower’s sheer power, “I… My end seems to have come.”

“Tell me why you’re here, and I just might let you survive in a way,” Richard said softly.

Zendrall would undoubtedly be interested in this lich’s abilities. Richard hadn’t brought along the necromancer just in case it crossed Neian’s bottom line— even if the god didn’t have the power to overcome his forces in the mortal world, that Flowsand had also warned him that he wasn’t yet ready to take on the gods— but looking at the Valley of Darkness it felt like that wouldn’t have been a problem at all. Necromancers were much better at dealing with the undead than priests.

“You won’t ask me what I’m doing?” Rib asked, tone conveying interest.

Richard smiled, “What’s the point? Is it that hard to tell you’re condensing the essence of fear and pain and sending it to the heart of the valley?”

Rib’s jaw went completely unhinged, “How did you know?”

“I asked you why you’re here,” Richard reiterated.

The flames in Rib’s eyes flashed once more, “I… cannot—”

Richard had already waved his hand, prompting Io to send a golden glow straight into Rib’s eyes. The holy flames erupted in an instant, burning the skeleton down into a pile of ash.

……

The Valley of Darkness was far larger than Richard had imagined, with dozens of times as many prisoners as one could reasonably expect. Even if everyone could live for hundreds of years, there was no way Neian had accumulated so many prisoners in his time. The place had villages and towns of its own, alongside vast open fields and mines. There were clusters of black plants growing in the wild, their twisted branches spiralling upwards. Prisoners constantly poured in and out of the mines, their baskets filling up with the black soil that looked like coal.

The group even saw multiple workshops along the way. The prisoners poured the black soil they excavated into moulds, flattening them with a hammer and burning them within a large kiln that was also fuelled by other prisoners. The opened moulds revealed black that were further processed in other workshops, extracting pink crystals and leaving the bricks with a shiny metallic lustre. It was evident that the crystals were the most important part of the process.

The black bricks were then transported to towns closer to the centre of the Valley of Darkness. Richard intercepted one such shipment, having Io kill the undead warrior guarding it before unpacking the bricks and looking through them. These black bars were smooth as mirrors, able to clearly reflect their surroundings, but strangely enough it distorted the face of anyone looking down. When Richard saw himself screaming in pain, he was taken aback for a moment before he realised what was happening.

Another activation of Analytic revealed the composition of the bricks, containing the same condensed power of fear and resentment that the lich’s cauldrons did. This was a pure soul energy that could affect even those of strong will. Richard looked at the black brick in his hand and then around at the mountain walls, “This place, it looks like…”

“The Hells,” Nyra completed for him, “You can see such scenes commonly amongst many of the minor levels, there are so many places that one cannot even count them all.”

Richard shot a glance at her, but he didn’t ask why she was so familiar with the place.

Be it in the workshops, the mines, or the villages, the prisoners were almost completely numb. They didn’t even respond to Richard’s presence, not even if he went over and asked questions himself. He didn’t know how long they had been here, but it was clear that the constant death and resurrection had broken them within in a way that could not be fixed. There was no news about Bruno or Essien until Io decided to light one up in divine flames as a warning, but even with the attention of the crowd they barely got some information about Bruno and none at all about Essien.

While they were passing by a village, Richard chanced upon the birth of a new life. A woman that looked anywhere between seventy and eighty years of age was screaming in the village square, with dozens of prisoners and two overseers watching on from the sidelines. Nobody reacted when Richard’s group snuck into the crowd, enraptured by the painful screams.

Richard felt his heart twist as the baby cried for the first time. It was wrapped up in black energy, and the small face twisted in sheer agony but one couldn’t hear any sounds. However, the screams radiated pure spiritual energy that even jolted his soul, every single cry a sharp needle that injected pure despair. This child’s soul was powerful by nature, but it was immersed in the deepest of pain from its birth. For many devils and other vile creatures, such cries were considered a delicacy.

The prisoners and overseers grew ecstatic at the birth. The child evidently had strong vitality, which meant it could be put through work and pain for a long time. Perhaps despair would become an instinct before it could even grow up. One of the overseers stepped forward to pick up the baby, while another rushed over to the woman who had just given birth. She was dying, but that release was not allowed in the Valley of Darkness.

The men and women in the crowd seemed to have been given a silent order. Without any emotions at all, they started to breed like beasts right in the public. Richard frowned, trying to cut off the painful screams from his mind as he turned to Nyra, “Is this how devils work too?”

“No, the devils torture other creatures that they find. They normally tempt those of other planes into sacrificing their souls, feeding off the despair at the realisation of what those weak beings did. I have only seen a handful of places in the myriad planes that can birth new souls and extract their pain immediately. Those are places you do not want to go to.”

This time, Richard told Io to target both the baby and the overseer. A ten-metre-tall pillar of flames ignited in the centre of the square, the golden blaze turning the baby and its holder to dust. The baby’s cries grew even more piercing in the process, breaking through Richard’s shield to impact his soul once more, but fortunately it wasn’t long before the screams died out. All that was left was a sheet of white ash. That which belonged to the overseer was quickly absorbed by the ground, but the baby’s still left a pale white mark behind.

Feeling the pinpricks to his soul disappear, Richard finally sighed with relief, “Fina— eh?”

He immediately noticed a fragment of law floating up from the baby’s ashes. Without any time to wonder why, he immediately delved into his soul world and reeled in the fragment. Now capable of storing it within his soul sea, he locked it away so he could study it in the future.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: OMA

Edited By: Theo