“Great Dark, it seems that the guards are about to request your presence. They appear to have spotted something outside,” Yi Shi Ming said, appearing beside the twin of Great Earth within the Kong Prison Realm, “As per Wei Yi’s recommendation, I will temporarily decrease the strength of the connection between the prison realm and Paragon the moment that you exit, so be careful. I will undo it the moment that the safety of the realm is confirmed, or if an evacuation occurs.”
“Does it seem like that is necessary?” Great Dark asked.
“I am afraid that my vision and spiritual perception are both lacking, and that I cannot sense exactly what approaches. Furthermore, if I was to do something like that, the chances of me being discovered would be increased. That would be just as detrimental as leaving the gateway fully open,” she explained.
“Ah, I see. I shall leave, then… and you should be especially careful. If things are as she had predicted… then any unnecessary spatial activity could give us away,” he said, rising from his seat and quickly heading out of the Kong Prison Realm.
The moment that his whole body, hair included, passed through the gateway and ended up in the Planar Continents, the gateway behind him, as well as the other two passages into the spatial realm, shrank until they were just large enough to fit the single tallest person in the Ascendant’s Arbiters. The quantity of planar energy that flowed out of it decreased, and the stability of the gateways increased, making it more difficult to detect any spatial fluctuation. He glanced back at the gateway, then rushed off towards the wall where the figure had been spotted.
There, some of the guards on the walls had ducked down behind them as to not make themselves and the wall they stood on more obvious than necessary. While the wall itself could potentially blend into the sandstorm, figures standing atop it certainly wouldn’t be able to do the same without the appropriate techniques, which they did not currently possess.
He went straight to them, leaping through the air before landing quietly beside them, keeping his head down as well just in case.
“Report what you have seen… is it another lone, lost figure?” Great Dark asked.
“No, it… it is someone standing tall and strong. They haven’t seen the fortress yet, I don’t think… but they are certainly more aware of matters than that old man is. There’s still one over there, to the south east.”
Great Dark made use of the earth-type techniques that he did possess to funnel a small amount of the sandstorm around himself, obscuring his form, then looked up over the edge of the wall to see who it was that they were talking about. It took some time, especially when he did not have any significant training in scouting and had not developed his eyesight as much as some of the guards, but he was able to spot a faint figure in the distance, at the very edge of what he was able to perceive, and the descriptions that had been given did appear to match.
It was someone that wore a robe and had shoulder-length hair, although very little more than that was visible through the sands. There was a clear space around them where the sand wasn’t able to pass into, instead striking the space or outright going past it without much clear incident, but the obvious deviation in the flow of the sand made it more than obvious that some kind of barrier was at play.
From that distance, there was no way to make out whether or not that was a barrier of anchors or of a more conventional technique, not without the assistance of the Ascendant herself who was able to see the anchors clearly, but what he could determine was that it was stable and powerful.
“Prepare the defences… We don’t know how many are here, but if they have come… we will need to be prepared to combat them all at our full strength… Do not alert them yet, but the moment that something happens… We must go all out and take them down right away!” Great Dark stated, with the guards immediately nodding, “No reference to the prison realm at all, however. Do not say a single thing.”
They nodded again, although they did not need to be reminded. Every combatant within Paragon had been told, in one way or another, to keep quiet about certain matters, which naturally included the guard force. They had been provided with the means to alert the fortress to intruders and invaders in a very blatant manner if necessary, but they would not alert those outside to their presence in the sands unless they were told to. For the moment, it appeared that the forces outside weren’t acting in a manner that suggested their awareness of something so close to them, and so long as it wasn’t an act by them, then bringing their attention towards the fortress would be stupid.
As such, they waited, while Great Dark rushed back to the gateway to the Kong Prison Realm and sought out Yi Shi Ming, who stood right by the entrance to the spatial realm.
“We must call everyone, just in case… Do you have any idea where Wei Yi is?”
“I am afraid that I do not. That being said, she does still appear to be alive, and so I shall call for her if it is absolutely required. Whether or not she answers, or if she is even able to, I will make that effort,” the spatial spirit said, nodding, “I will call all capable combatants in a moment. What about the otherworldly demon with the ability to identify others?”
“I am not sure she is ready yet… We know the most likely enemy. We do not require her aid just yet… I shall go back,” he said, turning away while the spatial spirit’s head was still lowered.
Yi Shi Ming did not mind the speed with which he acted, for she also needed to hasten as much as possible. She was a non-human entity, and she could have split her form into many in order to reach everyone, but she still had her ancient memories, so she instead decided to use Wei Yi’s method to reach everyone with her spiritual will alone and communicate the current situation to them that way. It did occur to her that it was curious that a seemingly normal person had so much over her, but she felt that it was perfectly fine. There had to be someone like her for the world to change.
There were quite a few competent individuals in the Kong Prison Realm, Meng Chu and some of the Remnants included, and with some spatial realm trickery, the moment that they knew what was happening, she was able to bring them straight to the exit to the outside world, not widening the gateway just to be safe.
Since they had also considered how they would act, they did not ask questions and just rushed out.
It had been eleven days since Wei Yi had left on her ‘stupid plan’, as she had called it, and everyone who was aware of it was getting rather worried for obvious reasons. She had been the leader of the entire Ascendant’s Arbiters up to this point, and even if everyone had some experience in leadership, they had been bonded together as a result of her actions. Without her, they had to rekindle the leadership abilities that they did possess, and came together with a plan to best make use of all of their resources and abilities to put up the strongest defence that they could against the threats that would inevitably reach out to defeat them.
Over the past few days, they had further enhanced the defensive barrier around the desert fortress with as much as they were able to, with everyone from the most suitable for the task to the least suitable, that being Meng Chu and his non-existent knowledge of both inscriptions and arrays, adding anything that they could. Most of the elements were auxiliary, as to prevent any of their faults from weakening the barrier as a whole, but a few were integrated into the defences as there was no choice.
“Everyone, we must gather around the various defensive positions… Those who are most familiar with the emplacements should naturally operate them, unless it has already been deemed worthwhile to teach them how to use certain elements…” Great Dark paused to reconsider his words, then corrected himself, “Just do as we practised and prepared… They may attack from any direction, so let’s go!”
Without another word, all of them spread out right away and hastened towards their positions, with those in the highest realms heading to the innermost regions of the fortress as to be able to reinforce the defences at their very roots, while those with weaker strength would only hamper them if they were not at the outer edges, repairing and strengthening the smaller damages that might occur over there. It was a very standard strategy for the defence of a fortress, and Paragon in particular appeared to have been designed with it in mind, as the outermost portion of the ancient fortress was the strongest, where the individuals would need the most assistance, while the innermost regions were somewhat weaker while giving more room for personal additions to the defences.
When combined with all of the inscriptions and arrays set up in an enormous network, spreading out from a single central core in the middle that was made up by the stabilisation node atop which the spatial gateway was placed, this tactic was made even more preferable.
Thus, Great Dark remained beside the centre of Paragon, as to be able to watch over the core inscriptions present there, and someone like Meng Chu, a figure with a half-decent cultivation as a result of the combination of killing intent and physique energy, but still far weaker than most of the regular planar cultivators present, headed out to the edge, to the place in which he had introduced some of his own methods of protection.
In the many years that he had spent within the prison realm, he had the time to study quite a few inscriptions and arrays that did exist in that place, and he learnt the most during the last ten years or so that he had spent sealed in there due to Wei Yi’s contributions to the library of Beast’s Rest, from which he could access what he liked, when he wanted to do so. Naturally, he couldn’t match someone like Great Dark, or Great Earth before him, who had significant mastery in inscriptions that only Wei Yi had been able to surpass due to her own unique methods, but he could replicate some of their creations as to establish a few more basic shields and barriers at the periphery of the fortress.
Luo Lia Kun primarily understood talismans, having lived in the Luo District most of her years, so she wasn’t able to contribute as much to the static guard of the fortress. Instead, she prepared a great number of talismans which she both handed out to others, particularly guards that stayed near the front lines, and kept in particular spots so that they could partially replicate the defence of the Luo District. Some would be activated on their own, from movement or some particular trigger that she had set up in advance, and the rest would be up to her or the guards to make use of.
This variety was essential so that none of the invaders could trigger all of the talismans with a single sacrifice, or even a technique of the Bai, which their foes would be likely to possess.
A combination of different methods made their defence slightly less stable than a single perfect system made up of a single perfect array, like the one that generated the sandstorm and lit the lights of the fortress, but it made it far more difficult to just unravel, since any one method could only take the attackers so far.
Of course, to presume that the Great Families had only one method was foolish. According to Wei Yi, Great Dark, and the few others that had personally experienced combat with the Greats for longer than a few moments, while their arsenal did tend to be limited, they did have the ability to react to a vast list of threats and dangers that might seem impossible to handle purely with a set of point beams and their anchors. Even the youngest were over thirty years old at this point, with all of them having received plenty of training on a wide variety of matters that the normal people of Yi City could barely imagine, so they could all resolve the matter of a simple wall of inscriptions or talismans.
Meanwhile, the combination of many methods forced cooperation between groups that might be otherwise strained to some certain extent, and also required that many individual fields be woven together in ways that were hardly intuitive if it was not something that one had a lot of practise in.
In other words, if they weren’t facing a swarm of perfect clones of Wei Yi, who would likely be able to wipe them out in minutes regardless of how much they sought to prepare, the additional complexity was worth the minimal risk. Additionally, the large number of people near the outer edge when compared to the inner portion of the fortress gave far more opportunities for them to make use of any targetable attack or defence methods, permitting even the weakest to have something to contribute to the defence of Paragon from the inevitable assault.
The way in which they would be guarding the fortress had been discussed and practised before, and thus the majority of them got around to their stations in a matter of a few minutes, during which the figure standing around and occasionally taking a few steps in seemingly random directions out in the sandstorm hadn’t moved much.
Still, even a blind, deaf, and ignorant man could likely understand that this was not as simple as it seemed, and that the figure in the sands was blatantly aware of, or preparing for, something.
All of a sudden, one of the inscriptions placed beside on the central points of the fortress lit up, displaying the vague features of one of the guards at the edge, “Great Dark, there appears to be another figure wearing a similar robe without any significantly different features. The robe itself might be a different colour, but it has the same design and might even be a similar size to the one worn by that other person.”
“What about their hair? How close are they? Are they doing anything outwardly odd?” he asked back.
“Hair seems long, much longer than that of the other figure… about the same distance apart,” the guard said, pausing for a while, “They seem to be… playing with the sandstorm? They’re putting their hand into the sand, letting it wash past them. Their skin is… being torn off by it…”
“Uh, that is certainly odd… Not necessarily inconsistent with Their behaviour,” Great Dark muttered to himself before turning back to the vague figure made from light, produced by an inscription based off of the Projecting Visage inscription Wei Yi had created back on her journey to the Chao District, later providing the blueprint to Paragon as a whole, “Be ready to activate the barrier.”
The figure nodded and vanished, preparing to do just that the moment any kind of assault began. In some other situation, without the potential secrecy of their location and without the sandstorm wall around them, they might have done otherwise and had the wall up from the very beginning, but in order to not give away their location, the less energy fluctuations occurred near their location, the better it would be for them. Instead, they concluded that it was better to keep everything down and quiet, then spring them into action the moment that something necessitates such a thing.
On one hand, it would mean that one or two of the Greats might be able to charge in, if they decided to do so, but on the other, the rest could then be sealed off with the full power of the defensive network right away, not to mention that they would easily be able to ward off any kind testing strike without using it. Then, without the barrier being disturbed in the slightest, having it appear before an overly confident force would naturally be far more effective than letting them understand it prior to attacking.
For a few moments, they waited, wanting to see just what kind of attack they would need to deal with. If it was merely a force of one Great Family’s third generation, the forces that they had on hand might be sufficient to resolve all of this using the defensive matrix as a sort of crutch to get through it. On the other hand, if this was a full-on assault from numerous families and their second and possibly first generations, bringing everyone who wasn’t already in the prison realm into it then letting the fortress be obliterated might be a far safer option when compared to attempting to endure it without the aid of someone truly suited to resolving such matters.
‘How did this happen? Not too long ago, I had no clue that Da Gang had any chance of still being alive, and yet… Now my thoughts go to what she would be able to do…’ Great Dark realised, ‘Hmph. I still have more experience. I can manage things on my own, if necessary.’
He couldn’t be sure of such a thing, but he knew for a fact that he wanted it to be true. After all, if he could do nothing, and if Wei Yi was either captured, dead, or too far to arrive on time, then the Ascendant’s Arbiters would be crushed before they had a single chance to show themselves to the world and fight against the Greats. It would be utterly devastating, not only to him, but to the Ascendant herself, if she was still capable of learning about such things.
All of the defenders waited, and waited, before something else was finally seen.
“Another figure in the sands-”
“We are seeing someone else in the sandstorm, and they’re also wearing-”
“There might be two or three of them out there, we-”
A series of voices attempted to come through the modified variation of the Projecting Visage inscription all at once, clashing together and causing the things that pass through them to be muffled and distorted in peculiar ways. Nonetheless, that did nothing to change the fact that all of them carried the same message.
Even though their intentions and identities weren’t immediately revealed by their mere appearances, Great Dark knew that past a certain point, a series of coincidences had to be intentional, a warning of something greater to come. With all of those figures appearing in the sandstorm, all of them vaguely facing Paragon, and all of them clearly being up to something with their barriers and their steady, calm demeanours, according to the guards that reported their sightings, there was no more need to wait for their actions.
Whatever they were, they would not be welcomed to stride right into Paragon and take whatever it is that they want from it.
“Raise the defences, now!” Great Dark ordered to every single one of them.
All of them rushed to utilise whatever defences they had near them, activating the additional auxiliary arrays and inscriptions while Great Dark activated the central inscriptions, causing their power and energy to spread out into the web of defences that they had constructed. Planar energy surged from all around the fortress, flowing through the channels of inscriptions and into the air, manipulated by the entire network to manifest as something purposeful.
Almost in perfect synchronicity with them, the figures outside of the fortress finally made their move, each one raising one of their hands and pointing towards the walls, a number of shining points of light appearing around them.
For those that were more familiar with the Great Families, they immediately knew what would happen. Countless beams shot out of those points, surging at the sides of the fortress, passing through all of the sand that constantly flowed within the sandstorm with ease, being moments from striking the stone of Paragon when the barrier appeared.
Various shades of light collided with the dense spherical barrier that rose over the fortress, quickly bursting out of the ground and fully covering Paragon as countless inscriptions and arrays, both large and small, some in the ground and others positioned at the top of the structures within, activated all at once, surging with power that they had stored and that had been supplied to them at that very moment by the vigilant guardians amongst the Ascendant’s Arbiters. They may have been attacks from the Greats, but each beam was merely in the third realm regardless of all of their anchors, whereas the defences were up to the quality of the fourth and fifth realm on average.
Thus, the beams couldn’t pierce the barrier, not right away, but they did not stop after a few breaths.
Each one continued to cut at the barrier of light, some moving and others remaining in position as they likely sought out weaknesses within the structure that they could target.
“How many are there?” Great Dark questioned right away, activating every method of communication now that there was no reason to be concerned with whether or not they would be discovered, at the same time as he infused more of his energy into the inscription at the heart of the defence.
“We can see four of them from here!”
“Two more at this side!”
The reports flooded in, and he was soon able to conclude that there were twenty-four figures visible. Given that there were only twenty-four families in total, if one was to count the extinct Kong family and the possibly extinct Great Kong, and since a number of the third generation had already been slain, it was more reasonable to presume that only half that number of Great Families were currently participating, and that they had come with both the male and female member of the third generation.
“Activate the Brand Projectors, prepare the Fifty-Five Channel Defences for activation, and watch out for any possible faults within the barrier!” Great Dark exclaimed, foregoing his usual lengthy pauses for the sake of extreme haste and brevity, “Great Light, stop mining and get up here already! Why do you always come to like the strangest things?”
His brother offered no response as he hastened to the upper portion of Paragon, pickaxe in hand mostly because he didn’t wish to drop it randomly. If not for the speed with which the defence had to be called together and organised, and if there had been a better network of communication prepared all over the fortress’ two layers, he should have been on the surface already, assisting Great Dark with the control and support of the great inscription at the core of the defensive measures installed all over the fortress.
Among those defences were modified variations of the inscriptions first created on the way to the Chao District by Wei Yi, with the Fifty-Five Channel Defence inscriptions being scattered all over the fortress for the sake of preventing anything that might be able to get nearer to the walls from being able to advance, while the Brand Projectors were a greatly altered version of the Brand Alternator inscriptions. Whereas the original was highly automated and required little human input, this version was able to target further distances so long as an intelligent mind controlled the inscription to set down brands far further away than it otherwise would on its own.
That combined with the nature of inscriptions, in that anyone with a bit of spiritual perception and planar energy could make use of them so long as they had the knowledge of their purpose, allowed all of those in the third realm that stood near the front lines to strike with the power of the fifth and sixth realm all on their own.
Upon Great Dark’s command, those soldiers activated the inscriptions and took a few moments to assume control over them. The moment that they had it, they targeted the inscriptions at the figures in the distance and prompted their activation.
All of the Great Family members were able to stand around calmly even with the sandstorm raging on around them, and thus their postures were hardly suitable for evading the sudden appearance and activation of a series of crimson brands surging with flame, all of which emerged for a brief moment at their feet before vanishing into the air. Those brands were less random than the ones the usual Brand Alternator would conjure, since the whole process of usage was far more targeted and specific and were all based on the Ire variant of the Destruction Brand embedded into the original Brand Alternator.
Thus, crimson bolts of lightning crackled at the brands as they fell, each one directly targeting the point of the body where they would be able to do the most damage, that being the specific centre point of the body’s mass. It brought them down onto the heads of the Great Family’s third generation, colliding with the barrier of planar anchors and significantly affecting the one that they struck first.
None of the Greats targeted chose to divert their point beams away from the barrier of Paragon, and instead most of them dodged back and attempted to keep their beams on the barrier.
‘They’re clearly intending to achieve something with this, so they must believe that they have some method to pierce the dome with enough effort…’ Great Dark pondered for a moment, attempting to compare their current behaviours to what he had experienced during his own time fighting with them, “Let us push them back! Make sure to force them to move as much as possible, so that their beams cannot be maintained like they currently are!”
His voice reached the guard force in moments, but many of them had already begun to act before then, taking some initiative to ensure that the Great Families wouldn’t be able to progress with whatever plans they had. Those that did act still appreciated the command, for it ensured that they were doing the right thing when they ignited the power of the inscriptions fully.
A number of the troops took out bows, spears and whatever else they had on hand to shoot or throw something directly at the third generation members of the Great Families outside of their doors, forcing them to move to the side in order to evade them most efficiently and thus potentially disturbing their aim. It took a few moments for the arrows, spears, and various throw-able objects to be prepared, then another moment was silently agreed upon so that they could fire them all at once, in a powerful volley that would give them no choice but to move. Then, with all of those on the ready, the arrow strings tensed to their fullest and their bodies being utilised fully to transfer all of the force required into the projectiles, they attacked.
At once, countless objects filled up the sky, with some being joined by planar constructs or other forms of planar energy assistance whereas those most skilled with physique energy or those that were otherwise mostly focused on physical strength simply chose to throw bigger and heavier things.
Most of them were launched into the air, as to arc down upon their foes, but some were launched and loosed directly at the Greats, allowing them to reach them far more quickly. The weakest attacks tapped against the barrier of anchors, hitting the space beside one of them and bouncing off without much harm or good being done, but the strongest pierced the faint barrier created by the sheer pressure of the anchors and their tips struck the anchors themselves. Of course, even that much was hardly sufficient to break them, since the pressure of the anchors wasn’t a single thin veil but rather a constant field through which the attacks needed to navigate, but it still prompted them to glance up.
If the attacks that came directly at them were sufficient to touch their anchors, even if it was just barely, then there was a natural risk from the arrows, bolts, spears and… pans, of all things, coming at them from above. Whatever their strategy was, to die before it could be complete or to lose their anchors would hardly be beneficial to it.
At least, that was how their actions were interpreted by those observing them when they suddenly withdrew.
‘They’re getting away, and their beams are able to do even less to the barrier…’ Great Dark noted.
However, he kept observing, and was more wary now than when they were standing calmly near the fortress walls. From his and Wei Yi’s experience, he knew that they were proud and arrogant, and wouldn’t retreat unless they had some reason to do so, other than fear.
Thus, he pointed Great Light’s attention to the core of the inscription array and then leapt into the air, raising himself with the power of the sixth realm in order to view his surroundings with greater clarity. The modified variation of the Projecting Visage inscription was helpful in getting a rough idea of the battlefield, but it was hardly sufficient to understand the true intricacies of what usually occurred in such a place. Only his eyes would do.
His timing turned out to be perfect, for the moment that he was in the right place, he saw the lights from various solidified energy arrays igniting all around the fortress, in the depths of the sand.