Book 6, Chapter 24

The Depths Of Pain

“He’s not saying everything,” Io whispered softly with a shrug.

Nyra leaned over and hissed, “Stop being annoying again!”

“Annoying?” the battle priest frowned, “How can I be annoying?”

“You’ve already sold your soul and dignity once,” she whispered, “Why not give them up completely? Shame doesn’t win you anything.”

Io was angry, but he visibly deflated at her words, “But… But there’s no meaning in that!”

Nyra suddenly smiled, “For you. So you’re never going to compete with me over such things.”

Io’s face flashed with disgust in the face of Nyra’s mysterious smile, “You’re being creepy again!”

“Ha, if I can get some offerings I’d do much more!” Nyra said softly.

Io’s brows locked together as he murmured to himself. Richard truly had misrepresented the Eternal Dragon’s stance on these things. The saying had been reproduced correctly, but not completely; the part he left out stated thus: Faith is the flame that warms one’s soul. It is indispensable to existence. The true value of faith is when it is not exercised blindly.

This was the philosophy that had arisen in Norland after the Eternal Dragon and other extraplanar gods made themselves known, and it could be surmised in a famous quote, “When your sword points me at the enemy, you are my Lord. When it points at my kin, you are no longer a god.”

Faith is a rather brittle thing. Once it is shaken, it is difficult to rebuild. Richard was actually persuading everyone to abandon their beliefs completely, to concentrate on studying the gods from a neutral perspective. It didn’t take too long to agree— after all, nobody would continue to serve a god that condemned them to hellish suffering— it was just that Ptolemy and the rest could not fathom the concept of considering the gods to be nothing less than omnipotent.

This was also why Richard was looking forward to how they would do. Be it Ptolemy, Bruno, or any of the other prisoners present, they were all amongst the grandest of characters outside in the rest of Faelor. If not for that, they would not have possessed the strength of will to maintain their independence in the Valley of Darkness. Once such people who could touch the glory of divinity gave up on the concept of faith, they would show true promise in the task of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the pantheon.

Richard looked at the dozens of prisoners who would soon be working under his hand, “I’d suggest you wear something warmer. The journey will be quite long, and the weather outside isn’t nearly as gentle as in here.”

“Will we be going by horse?” Ptolemy asked.

“No, I’ve prepared some… special mounts for you. They aren’t comfortable, but they’ll get you where you need to go quickly. We can’t afford to keep you here for much time.” Just as Richard finished his words, a loud buzz rang out as hundreds of worker drones flew over and landed in front of the survivors.

“Truly not comfortable…” Ptolemy said with a little hesitation before taking the lead, climbing onto one of the drones’ backs. The two antennae that would normally aid in finding directions rolled back and wrapped themselves around his body, holding him tight. Accompanied by seven or eight others, it took off into the sky. The rest followed quickly.

“Do I have to be held like this?” one of the old men asked, in response to which the drone let go and grabbed him by the waist. He flailed around for a moment, but before he could respond properly it took off.

“NO, BEFORE WAS BETTER! GO BACK! LET ME DOWN, YOU DAMNED BUG!” the fierce screams rang out in the distance as the swarm of workers flew towards the Crimson Dukedom.

Looking at the black cloud recede into the horizon, Richard turned to Flowsand and the rest, “Alright, let’s have a look at what’s under the Church of Pain. It seems like it would be something nice.”

By this time, the Church of Pain had lost a third of its volume. The worker drones were constantly pulling out black bricks from the top, flying over to near the astral chrysalis and dumping their loads for it to pick up. Unfortunately, there were far too many bricks for a single trip.

The doors of pain had collapsed as well, but the faces upon them were still wriggling as they tried to escape. Nyra stepped right on top of these faces as they walked across, her boots seemingly filled with a strange power as they caused the things to writhe in even greater pain. Some even started biting into the faces next to them, expressions warped with anguish.

Seeing Richard’s questioning gaze, she hurried to explain, “These things aren’t true souls. They are just a part of the cursed demigod, playthings it used for fun.”

He was still a little uncomfortable with her actions, but he just nodded and continued forward.

This time, there was no enchantment to hide the hall from sight. A group of workers flew past with mud and stone as the group entered, and they could see even more digging into an already-large pit in the centre of the hall. There seemed to be a dark pool here, the liquid jet black and constantly radiating a dark mist. Richard almost gasped in surprise as his eyes lit aglow to find an enormous section of a skeleton within that was nearly a hundred metres long. There were intricate lines all over the bones, making them look like beautiful decorations, but one could feel an indescribable energy radiating out from within. This energy was constantly absorbed by the black pool and turned into the dark power that Richard had first felt bubbling up from the earth.

This skeleton was clearly the source power of the Valley of Darkness and the demigods within.

“What is this?” Richard asked Flowsand. He was knowledgeable about a lot of things, but this skeleton was not one of them.

“It’s a waste of divine grace!” Flowsand frowned, stepping forward as she took out the Book of Time and pointed it at the skeleton in the black pool. Pale gold light flowed out as timeforce flew through the water, a figure slowly forming on the page. Flowsand’s eyes lit up; the more grace identifying something consumed, the more valuable it was.

Eventually, the Book of Time revealed a small stick figure. It only consisted of a few strokes, but Flowsand could recognise the fierce aura they emitted anywhere. She raised her head and smiled, “The remains of an astral beast. It should be one of the three that invaded Faelor all those years ago.

“This pool is called a root of corruption. It can absorb the energy of the skeleton and transform it into the power of darkness and pain that bred the demigods.”

“Root of corruption? Where have I heard that before…” Richard thought over it for a while, “That’s right, these things can refine pain essence! A single unit is worth more than a spider crystal!”

“Get the bones out first, or we’ll have to deal with more demigods sooner or later.”

Richard nodded and sent out a mental order, having a large number of drones fly towards the root of corruption. They immediately started sputtering white smoke the moment they made contact, tweeting sharply because of the danger, but unafraid of pain and death as they were a large group gathered together and dove in.

The huge skeleton began to move, slowly at first but with increasing speed. Eventually it was pulled completely out of the water, and another set of drones joined in to assist. The astral chrysalis that had been loading up on the black bricks immediately regurgitated them all and flew over, its tendrils stretching out as it slowly wrapped around the massive broken skeleton that was many times its own size. It slowly floated up into the sky, waiting until it was several kilometres above ground before starting to fly towards Bluewater.

There was nearly no chance of the chrysalis even being found so high up, but Richard still had all two hundred of the winged serpents escort it back. Able to constantly extract the energy of the void, this skeleton was an unending source of mana. Its value could be seen in just how large-scaled of an operation the Valley of Darkness had become.

Richard could already envision hundreds of uses for the thing. It could be combined with the worm nest to reduce the burden on the broodmother even further, increasing her daily output, and she could even analyse its properties to bring her that much closer to being able to create legendary creatures. Of course, that wasn’t even close to the greatest benefit. He could work on deciphering the laws of the astral beast’s existence, taking a further step in his own personal growth. Of course it would take centuries or maybe even millennia given his current strength, but his power was constantly growing.

He could even work on designing new runes based on the intricate structure of the bones. Such a rune, if it truly managed to simulate the laws of the astral beast, would be no weaker than a grade 5 rune! If that was integrated with the power of laws… No such thing had ever been seen in Norland before. So far as he knew, the only comparable existence was the incomplete Deepblue Aria.

Just as he started to lose himself in his fantasies, Richard noticed the surface of the black pool burst apart as a number of worker drones flew out from within. Most of them fell dead the moment they stepped out of the water, revealing only three in the centre that had been protected from the dark energy. Each of the three had a palm-sized dark crystal held between its antennae.

Pain essence!

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: OMA

Edited By: Theo