By dawn the storm had gradually passed.
Zax and Fengar, after entering Demirva Ridge, kept running in the open till first rays of light.
Any person, whether a cultivator or a regular human being, could feel the foreboding atmosphere of the ridge. Most disturbing was the absence of any type of life, not even the tiniest insect or even plants could be seen.
“Luckily we haven’t met slumbering wraiths or other cultivators. If possible, I rather let someone be the first to validate the folktale. At that point, stealing the dark attribute’s essence would be much safer than harvesting it ourselves”.
Fengar sat in front of Zax, at the other side of the tunnel they rested in, figuring that under clear sky and sunlight many others will begin to move, mostly the impatient.
According to Fengar, the tunnel led inside the mountain they were staying at. As it so happened, the pitiable former inhabitants of Demirva Ridge were living all over the place. Back then, settlements could be found on any part inside and outside a mountain. Today, after the catastrophe of the ridge, other than the wraiths, only the excavated living areas left to indicate that once beasts and humans used to live here. Not even ashes remained.
After getting the short explanation, Zax closed his eyes to concentrate on recuperating his last bit of missing strength that he currently can muster.
The plan was to stay in the tunnel until after sunset or someone troublesome finding them, so when Zax decided that he cannot do more for his body except from letting it to continue recover on its own, particularly his right arm, he reminisced the insights to the Advanced phase of the bodily maneuvers he acquired in the fight against Cattelin.
‘It’s indistinct, but I can tell it is right there’. Zax calmly examined his experiences in the harsh fight, specifically his control of the fifth step of Kinetic Force and the effect on his body in alignment with the repetitive usage of it. ‘There are seven steps to the Kinetic Force. The sixth and seventh, Grandmaster said that only at the Advanced phase of the bodily maneuvers I will be able to utilize them. That unlike the initial steps, the last two don’t demand a strong body to withstand them, but a profound understanding, especially the seventh step… at the moment, even Grandmaster can only strive to perceive a mere notion of its concept’.
Zax contemplated over and over. Sometimes thinking that focusing on the steps of Kinetic Force maybe does not have anything to do with the bodily maneuvers’ Advanced phase, and sometimes believing that they are actually the catalyst to the next breakthrough.
Each new realization brought about a minuscule, yet better understanding or helped deduce flaws on this path he treading.
‘It… won’t be long!’
Yarnus was a renowned mercenary and a cultivator at the Beginner phase of the third Core Master level. In his party of five that chose to participate in the assignment of the High Rankers’ trials, he was the second weakest but had the sharpest mind. As such, it was agreed upon that he will be the acting leader of the party.
“We have been lurking around these parts of the ridge for nearly two days, Yarnus, when are we going to reap those dark attribute’s essences?” A plump, middle aged woman with a bowl haircut asked anxiously.
“Relax, Tulip, even Martial Mortals won’t move hastily in the ridge. Besides, no one has reason to look for us”. Yarnus tapped his companion’s shoulder.
“I don’t care about other experts, but this group of wraith irritates the hell out of me”. Another person said, a tall, lean man with a metallic stick in his hand. “Why can’t we get their dark attribute’s essences and leave the ridge?” He asked as his eyes, as well as the eyes of everyone else in the party, but Yarnus, stared covetously and fervently at the anomalous dark spheres in the heads of each of the mildly transparent, demonic looking skeleton black wraiths.
There were overall three wraiths out in the open. Not exactly congregating, but in a triangular formation, no more far apart from one another than eight meters. Their appearances were mostly the same. All looked like floating monstrous dark gray, almost black, human’s size skeletons. Each of the three was shrouded by a mantle that seemingly were parts of their bodies.
The wraiths exuded a corrosive, sickening atmosphere that spread far and wide and was the reason why nothing could grow in the ridge.
The thing which captured the desire of Yarnus’s party of five, and basically all other cultivators who made their way to the ridge, were spherical dark bulbs that shone through the wraiths’ resting skulls. Those bulbs were believed to be, by Yarnus and the rest, the legendary dark attribute’s essence God Demirva personally used to create the wraiths. They thought so since this was not their first time in the ridge. Moreover, even if they have not seen before the damnable wraiths, there was no apt mercenary in the Western Continent who was not familiar with their external characteristics.
“Forget it, everyone, it’s still too early. We will wait couple more hours and then go get the goodies”. Yarnus convincingly said to his companions.
The other four shifted their gazes from the wraiths, back to their small encampment. There was still the issue of only three wraiths to their five, yet they all decided to put it aside for now, after all…
In addition to being sharp, Yarnus was also very crafty and a little bit lucky. Before they left the Tensen Crow clan for the assignment, his contact in the clan and inside woman in the Mercenary Association, divulged to him the matter of the folktale and the Mercenary Association’s intentions.
Learning about it all, Yarnus was not indignant. On the contrary, he was very much delighted. He immediately informed his long time companions of this valuable opportunity that suddenly manifested within the assignment. It took some convincing, but eventually he got everyone on board.
The plan was to be the first to enter Demirva Ridge, fast enough before the Mercenary Association, and possibly the five powers, would arrive. Then, after being the forerunner by a large margin, a paid off acquaintance who does not partake in the High Rankers’ trials would spread the news about the impending event and the conspiracy of the Mercenary Association.
The idea of this plan was to increase the tension for all those that are participating in the assignment or belong to an outside group, driving them to be more vigilant so Yarnus and his party will have the time to find a safe opportunity to harvest the dark attribute’s essence. Also, in case the worst will occur and the wraiths will start to wake up, hopefully, they would be attracted by the cluster of cultivators behind the leading party.
Several hours later.
“Okay, I won’t prolong the wait anymore, everyone”. Yarnus exited from his tent and summoned it back to his spatial ring as is.
“At long last”. A bulky, bearded fellow commented, dragging his huge physique from another tent.
“Being the first to respond, Haanar, are you perhaps interested in also being the first to try and get a dark attribute’s essence?” An old man, sitting on a rock and carefully observing the slumbering three wraiths, taunted.
Haaner rubbed the back of his neck, foolishly smiling, not daring to take the honor.
“Shocking…” Tulip snorted at Hannar.
The five gathered and Yarnus stepped forward.
“Everyone, take a Linder Seed, even if you used one a short while ago”.
No one complained and although it was a bit wasteful, the four obeyed Yarnus.
“Old Vilindel, you are the most proficient among all five us in matters of the soul. If everyone agrees, for being the first the harvest a dark attribute’s essence, if you’ll succeed, no one will fight with you over it”. Yarnus turned to the old man cultivator in the party, Vilindel, and offered him the same chance he just taunted Haanar with, only in a sincere and serious tone.
His words were not taken as a joke by the other four and Vilindel closed his eyes as he considered.
“This is not just any dark attribute’s essence, everybody knows”. Vilindel opened. “Are you all really willing to forgo one out of the three, even if it would be the sole one harvested?”
There was a high probability for the unexpected to happen, however, due to his old age and limited potential, Vilindel was content with taking the risk so long as the others comply with his inquiry.
“If someone isn’t willing, you can be the first to harvest”. Yarnus backed Vilindel. They could not afford being greedy or give false words in this highly sensitive situation and he suspected that some of his companions required a reminder.
“If old Vilindel succeeds, let me be the first to congratulate you”. The tall, lean man said.
“Since I already rejected the chance after old Vilindel offered, allow me to be the second, after Li, to congratulate”. Haanar simply did not have the face to oppose.
“Then I’ll be the third”. Tulip said.
“It’s settled. Old Vilindel, we will split to three groups. Li and me, Tulip and Haanar will each guard from the other two wraiths, give you enough time to escape if your wraith will awaken. But it will only be for a short instant, so be prepared!”
Vilindel nodded. The rest also showed readiness.
The three slumbering wraiths statically hovered ten or so centimeters above the ground and revealed no reaction when the five encompassed them.
After the groups of two reached handful meters behind two of the wraiths, Vilindel began to move.
He predetermined the method with which he will pick the blob of dark attribute’s essence and pulled it out of the wraith.
Soul energy flowing through his entire body was another layer of protection, other than the shielding of the Linder Seed. Since the wraiths were constructed out of dark attribute and remnants of souls, regardless how they will strike or where they will hit, it would be a soul attack. Thus, it was best to place soul energy in every part of the body, if only for a moment of preservation.
Lifting the palms of his hands to the wraith’s temple, Vilindel meticulously controlled the wisps of soul energy drifting in his sea of consciousness, outside the Linder Seed’s barrier. Creating two types of soul formation, he had to make sure they will not be sensed by the keen sensitivity of the wraith.
One formation remained in his sea of consciousness as the second and last layer of protection he could use before the durability of the tube like barrier will be tested.
The second formation was divided to six lesser parts and a nucleus. While the nucleus also maintained its position in Vilindel’s sea of consciousness, the lesser parts streamed to the index, middle and index fingers of both hands.
Six fingers steadily piercing the transparent skull, the moment they were in, Vilindel could not helped himself and inhaled deeply as his face brimming with worship.
He has not made contact with the dark attribute’s essence, yet the bulb’s compressed aura was perceivable and it was nothing like any dark attribute’s essence he ever felt before.
Of all the attributes, dark attribute’s essence was the most common in Ercas Mir and Vilindel owed his current achievements to a dark attribute’s fruit he discovered decades ago.
‘This is anything of the sort!’ He thought in admiration. ‘It is so much beyond… EVERYTHING that classifying it as an “attribute” would be nothing short than blasphemy!’
His heart was pounding.
‘If I can just take it for myself… breaking through the last hurdle and becoming Martial Mortal will finally be a reality! And if it’s exactly like the folktale tells, then maybe… the legendary realm of Immortality will also be in my grasp! Huhuhuhu, at that point, age and talent will not be a factor anymore; I will have all the time in the world to compensate for either and for both!’
The bulb’s aura was intoxicating and Vilindel eagerly succumbed to its prestige.
As the palms of his hands approached, nearer and nearer, the other four had cold sweat dripping down their backs.
Vilindel inserted his six fingers to the bulb, with accordance to the soul formation’s utilization method and his instead of excitement, his expression turned ashen.
Black light shone through the hollowed eye sockets of the slumbering wraith. Jaw cracking open, the wraith released a shrilling scream.
The other wraiths also awakened with black light in their empty eyes and the Vilindel’s four companions were about to initiate four deterring soul attacks, followed by their escaping techniques.
Before anyone was fast enough to react, the bulb inside the screaming wraith’s skull exploded along with the rest of its body.
The explosion did nothing to the environment, did not even slightly shake Vilindel’s posture. The old man remained motionless, with his hands and six finger still stretched, only now toward an empty space.
Tulip fell, face forward to the ground.
Haanar met the same fate.
Li was the third.
Vilindel’s body was the last to lose it balance.
Yarnus suspended as soul attacks, his complexion awful. ‘Luckily! Luckily! Luckily! Luckily!’ He chanted nonstop in his mind.
The Linder Seed’s barrier collapsed right after the wraith exploded, as the blast was a dreadful soul attack!
‘I- If- If I did not have and use the high quality Linder Seed, I definitely would have been a goner right now!’
He had only one in his position, a Linder Seed with seventy percent potency more than the norm.
The rest of his party, though, only had the useless, common Linder Seeds. The blast brought down their souls and spirits along with the tube like barrier.
‘Eh?! Where did-’
One of the remaining wraiths vanished from his ling of sight, appearing behind his back and slashed at his sea of consciousness, destroying his soul and spirit.
When he was alive, Yarnus was a very sharp, very much crafty person and a little bit, just a little bit lucky.
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