“We can actually cross the entire ridge like this!” Zax exclaimed.
“It used to be the easiest way to travel from one village or tribe to another, preferable than leaving the comfort interior of the mountains and crisscrossing their rough terrain”.
For the past six days, the duo traversed the ridge through the excavated tunnels in the mountains. The experience reminded Zax of New Earth and despite the risk of encountering wraiths and the lack of Sun Stones to illuminate the surrounding, it still aroused a soothing feeling in his heart.
Fengar walked at the front, holding a torch. He could use his aura, even just a bit of mist energy, to light the dark tunnel, but both he and Zax refuted the idea. Apart from wraiths, they also head to stay on guard from other experts. Furthermore, experts on their level had superior eyesight anyway.
“Stop”. Fengar halted abruptly and whispered.
They reached the end of a tunnel, the entrance to a cave that was a former residential area inside the current mountain they passed through.
The entire space could accommodate a quarter of a medium size village or tribe, yet at the moment, it was completely vacant.
Squatting and pointing with his fingers, Fengar said in a low voice. “Wraiths”.
For a fraction of a second Zax turned stiff. Raising his vigilance to its peak, he stepped forward, stretched his neck and watched the direction Fengar pointed at.
“These creatures… are wraiths?” The light from the torch reached far enough to make them and Zax was strangely surprised as he skimmed the seven transparent beings that exuded a foreboding air. ‘They rather look like they came out of a bad horror story’. Suffice to say that he was not overwhelmed by the ghastly appearance of the wraiths. Nonetheless, he still did not dare to belittle them.
“Indeed”. Fengar confirmed and proceeded to say in an agitated tone. “And according to my knowledge, having dark spheres in their heads isn’t part of their characteristics”.
“You mean…” Zax averted his gaze back to the short man, staring at him as if he understands.
“Hmm”. Fengar rigidly nodded as his hands were shaking from the emergence of zealous ideas, which he tried to no avail to repress. “I suspect that these things are the dark attribute’s essence”.
Gazing at the shining black bulb that each wraith had in its head, Zax wondered what makes these dark attribute’s essences so special in comparison to other types of dark attribute’s essence.
‘Do so many experts believe these dark attribute’s essences are able to unlock the pathway to Immortality because God Demirva created them?’
It could only be that.
“Should we try to harvest one of them?” He had to consider Fengar’s opinion at the chance that messing with the wraiths, even during their slumber, will end up implicating him.
Fengar stood up and cleaned the dust that stuck to the back of his shirt from leaning on the tunnel’s wall. “We are outnumbered. Furthermore, a wraith’s soul attack can threaten first level Martial Mortal. Who knows what the might of damned seven can topple”. His better judgment seemed to prevail and he reluctantly negated the idea.
‘First level Martial Mortal…’ Zax believed that in his best the gap between his physical strength and the mist energy of first level Martial Mortal is not that wide. As for the comparison in souls’ power, due to the uniqueness of his soul and how it came through with extraordinary growth in strength and ability with every breakthrough, there might be an even smaller gap. Then again, ‘Seven are really too much to even make a test out of this attempt’. He unwillingly admitted to himself.
“Then, are we proceeding to the tunnel on the other side of this former residential area or retract our steps?” Zax asked, in his voice a hint of disappointment. The allure of the dark bulbs was hard to discount.
The number of tunnels to different location inside the ridge was in the hundreds, but according to Fengar, only ten or so led all the way across it.
“No. I prefer to avoid meeting others. Even if we would have the upper strength, if someone will force us to a fight, we run the risk of waking up wraiths. That aside, quite a lot of experts cautiously tarried behind instead of entering the ridge. By rushing soon after you got fit enough to move, I assess that we are ahead of most people and prefer to stay like that”.
“Well, this can also be considered as an opportunity for us to determine how close we can get to wraiths. Just make sure to not convey any malicious intent”.
“Obviously”. Fengar snorted at Zax’s remark. “Or to be more accurate, keep that advice to yourself. Don’t think I cannot see your eagerness to start, even with one arm”.
Not waiting for Zax to confirm or deny, Fengar raised the torch and prepared to enter the cave. Just as he was about to step in, a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him back.
“What the heck, Zax-” Before he could finish the sentence, Zax released Fengar’s shoulder and covered his loud mouth.
Zax did not give a verbal response; his mind was completely occupied by the sudden fearfulness that invaded his sea of consciousness.
It was a trivial fluctuation, barely distinct, a sort of a vibe and a reaction to what could be classified as a remote beacon.
‘What is that?!’ At first it was unrecognizable, but then it dawn on him. ‘A residue of a terrifying soul attack!’
It lost all of its aggressive properties, which is why Fengar did not feel it. As for Zax, he could hardly believe it himself.
Unless he use his Soul Sense, it is impossible for him to detect things beyond the range of his other five senses. At this occurrence, not only did he restrict his soul from emitting the tiniest undulation, he also had the Linder Seed’s barrier around it. With that in mind, how then was he still capable of feeling a soul attack that seemed to take place kilometers from his position?
‘Fengar had no reaction to it, was his soul too weak to sense it or too engrossed with the wraiths?’ The former was more probable, though a bit insulting. ‘How fierce that soul attack was and what monster caused it?!’ Zax kept thinking as his eyes landed on the seven distant figures. He suspected but lost the confidence to validate.
“Move aside!” Fengar released himself from Zax’s grip. “Have you gone insane?!”
“Quiet, look”. Zax hurriedly said.
Though he was discontent with youngster’s sudden crudeness, Fengar noticed the change in his temperament and followed his gaze.
As the seven wraiths entered his line of sight, Fengar’s angry expression paled and his body shivered.
He prayed in heart that his eyes were deceiving him as he stared at the wraiths, wanting to be certain that the slight movement he saw was in his imagination. Nevertheless, as the wraiths kept showing signs of awakening, Fengar regrettably realized that his eyes were fine.
“For f**k sake, what woke them up?” Fengar nearly went mad, the last thing right now he thought of doing was restrain his mouth. “To hell with it, we are leaving, Zax, now”. He ordered, wanting to shout, yet managed to swallow his voice.
Similarly, Zax also felt the urge to leave. Seven conscious, furious wraiths were six more than he bargained for.
As the two turned halfway back, seven shrilling screams reverberated from the cave. Both Zax and Fengar instantly averted their attention to the wraiths, worried that they were spotted, however, what they actually saw left them bewildered.
After awakening, the seven wraiths were a little muddleheaded. It took several seconds before they fully became cognizant. Their empty eye sockets glowed with eerie blackness and the shiny black bulbs in their heads started to slowly change color and intensify in brightness, as if they were white dwarfs.
A wraith moved in great speed, its bony hand pierced the head of the wraith next to it, which did not resist, and destroyed the spherical dark attribute’s essence along with the inert wraith, disintegrating it.
The remaining four wraiths began to move, as well, trying to strike at each other’s dark attribute’s essence. They acted almost as if destroying the dark attribute’s essence in the white dwarf state was an urgent matter, even if it will cost them their existence.
Another bulb was destroyed, another wraith disintegrated.
“Did we inhale some poisonous gas or something?” Fengar muttered. “Tell me that you see the wraiths assaulting one another!”
Zax was just as stunned as Fengar. The only reasons he remained silence what because a multitude of thoughts flashed in his mind, trying to comprehend what was happening.
The wraiths woke up by the same soul attack he sensed a moment ago, that much if figured out. But why would they attack each other, specifically aim for the dark attribute’s essences?!
“Could it be…?” Zax said in a low voice that barely made its way to Fengar’s ears.
“What?” Fengar impatiently asked, unsure if Zax grasped something.
“They are not mindlessly attacking, their goal is to destroy the dark attribute’s essences, prevent anyone from obtaining them!”
Zax’s assumption was spot on. Although the wraiths were shells of sorrow, anger and pain, they still possessed a fighting instinct. When encountering someone who is trespassing the ridge, they will fight, mostly attack, and defend themselves, if need be.
Observing the skirmish from a corner at the end of the tunnel, neither Fengar nor Zax saw a single wraith defending itself.
Soon, the number of wraiths dwindled to a sole survival. When there was no one left to kill, it raised a spear shaped hand above its head and impaled.
The hand penetrated the skull, but when it clashed against the white dwarf, only a crisp sound echoed. The wraith failed to destroy its dark attribute’s essence.
“You were right, they really went mad!” Fengar rubbed the back of his neck, not necessarily certain if there is meaning in worrying anymore. “He isn’t giving up!”
The wraith incessantly bashed its spear hand against the bulb, getting crazier every time the tips of its bony fingers failed to break it.
“Let’s attack him”. Zax said in a hoarse voice that caught Fengar by surprise. In a bizarre change of attitude his eyes locked on the wailing wraith like a predator watching his prey.
‘That’s it!’ Zax had a spark of insight. ‘How absurd! If this group of wraiths was smaller and we struck while in their slumber, it would have been a grave mistake!’
At last it made sense to him.
Why would it be important for the wraiths to destroy the dark attribute’s essence?
Why did they care only after they awakened?
Because the white dwarf state of the dark attribute’s essence was, should be, the legendary one mentioned in the Demirva Ridge’s folktale and as such, for reason only God Demirva can probably answer, the wraiths were bidden to eliminate it.
Because it only appears, transforms, refines after the wraith’s slumber is being disturbed and they are in the process of waking up!
Lastly, why the last remaining wraith could not destroy its dark attribute’s essence?
Zax could only speculate that being created from the exact same source of dark attribute and soul remnants annulled the effectiveness of the wraith’s attack at its supposed Core.
In other words, it could not perform suicide like a regular cultivator – a partly correct assumption. Wraiths could end their existence in an act of suicide. During the Event, when their Core was exposed, although more dangerous they were also more vulnerable. But in the white dwarf state, wraiths had deeper integration with their Cores and so could not harm them without assistance.
“This is the real opportunity to harvest the dark attribute’s essence!” Zax summarized.
He dashed into the cave deceivingly.
Engaging in constant efforts to destroy the bulb in its head, the wraith was slow to react to the intruder.
Zax knew that soul attacks, be they techniques or formation, would only work against the specter like creature. He channeled a series of Soul Binding formations through his left palm, to the hood that was part of and covered the wraith’s skull.
The twenty formations rendered the wraith immobilized, though it took less than a blink of an eye for them to shatter in succession.
There was not a moment to waste. Zax’s left palm sunk through the ethereal hood, reaching to the white dwarf of a dark attribute’s essence.
Before his fingers closed on the dark attribute’s essence, the wraith utilized a devastating eruption of soul energy. The eight Soul Binding formations still intact were blasted and the formidable soul energy proceeded to attack Zax.
It was similar to a turbulent tide; nothing could hinder its progression. It gushed into Zax’s sea of consciousness.
The tide slammed against the Linder Seed’s barrier. The barrier shook and fissures formed on it.
The second collision contained less force and right after it, the wraith’s soul attack dissipated while the fissures on the barrier grew more worrisome.
Zax felt a small headache from the two impacts. He heaved a deep sigh. Overall, he did not suffer any loses.
Zax retreated right as a bony hand slashed at him.
The wraith screeched, it seemed fervent, desiring slaughter, wanting to murder yet unable to move, as if an invisible force held it in its place.
‘Again!’ Zax commanded himself. His hand clenched to a fist, his pupils contracted and every hair on his body became erect.
As he made his move, Fengar who lingered behind at the first assault, arrived to provide support. The expression of the short but bulky man was complicated. On one hand, from Zax’s behavior he knew that his young companion definitely made a discovery that was worth challenging the wraith for. On the second hand, after watching the initial bout, it was evident to him that much less than the creature’s soul, he can just narrowly keep up with its speed.
“I’ll be the bait. Get it before it gets me!” Fengar gnashed his teeth.
“Mm!” Zax nodded with the same predatory look.
Seeing the two besieging, the wraith advanced a meter toward the closest Fengar and again appeared to be halt by something.
It screeched and flew away, escaping quickly to the tunnel at the other side of the cave.
Neither of the two expected the wraith to escape. Its action caused their killing intent to waver.
Zax recovered and chased, enthusiastically motivated by his revelation.
Fengar ran after, stimulated by the peculiar and its godsends, mildly apprehensive by the adversary ahead.
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