Even after finding themselves transported, the oppressive aura of Fajra remained. Not just lingering traces, but diminished effects from it burrowing through the Labyrinth around them. Ultimately, they hadn’t gone far- teleporting from right next to their destination to reach it.
There was a trembling as the Labyrinth walls shook, though they held their integrity. The handful of Radiant Beauty Sect disciples that had been transported along with them, however, seemed to intend to focus their attacks on the other side of the wall to try to break through.
The only thing that saved them from immediately perishing was the restrictive aura. The direct effects had frozen most of them in place, now they were merely slowed. Vari overcame that difficulty first by entangling herself around one of the Radiant Beauty Sect disciples. The man didn’t quite avoid her grip, and though she couldn’t strike with the amount of power she was used to, once she had a grip wrapping her arms around him wasn’t difficult. Her energy was slightly suppressed, but slower movements were easier. She simply turned him to face away, her arm around his neck as she choked him out. It was a move much too slow for cultivator combat, but Vari protected her vitals with the man’s own body, leaving less of herself exposed and forming barriers along her side to resist his flailing.
Timothy moved to protect the wall itself, ready to resist a barrage of attacks… and finding that his presence likely didn’t matter. While the Radiant Beauty Sect might be able to bind cultivators and pierce their energy defenses, against structures… their stealthy dagger attacks were less than useless. Fajra was only having an effect because her cultivation was much higher, but the threshold of the rest was simply too minimal to support anything. Even so, they had to defeat them as quickly as possible- because actual cracks were forming on the wall.
While the others fought, Catarina remained focused on her goals. She trusted them to do what was necessary on her end. Here, she reached for a buried formation, but one that was not far. The formation plate in her hand glowed with resonant power, forming a connection almost without her will. A beam of energy shot into the center of the planet, joining with her first, more hesitant connection and strengthening it. Now there was no going back. Everyone should have felt that, let alone Everheart who was in control of everything. They were too far from the third point. They had to reach it somehow, but Catarina wasn’t sure if they could return to the Great Hall. Forming a connection from here seemed impossible, as it merely strengthened the first connection that was already in place.
Then she felt him, and she knew it was too late. One of the projections appeared right outside their little cove.
“Excuse me ma’am. Please stop destroying my property.”
Fajra’s eyes turned to see one of Everheart’s projections. There was no way to know if the image fit the true Everheart at all, but this one was a bit older… which was most likely accurate. “Or what, you’ll kill me? You don’t have the power for that.” Fajra knew he didn’t, or he wouldn’t have asked politely. Everheart didn’t act timidly.
The projection sighed, “You are right, of course. I might have enough power in the Great Hall, but here…” Everheart shook his head. “I have to make do.” His body instantly moved to place a hand on her shoulder, his grip tightening. The strength of an Augmentation cultivator bearing down on him, especially one focused on such a deed, was actually quite restrictive. But this was his domain. One instant they were in the Labyrinth, the next they were over it… on the border of space. “Leave.” With that, he kicked the woman- cheating more than a bit by using the power of the formations to push her away. “And don’t come back!”
She probably would, of course, but it would take more than a few moments for her to reverse her momentum- and then she would have to fight her way back through the defenses. They’d have to be turned up to maximum. No doubt that would cause him to stir, but this was necessary.
“We need to leave!” Catarina was the one to call it out, but everyone else knew it. Everheart’s projection had just arrived and removed Fajra. No doubt he would be coming back for them. Catarina just hoped he couldn’t do anything to the underlying formation. If he destroyed part of it, their whole plan here might be ruined.
Thankfully, getting out of their little hole in the Labyrinth was easier than getting in. The Radiant Beauty cultivators were dragged out with them, since they couldn’t risk leaving them, but they ended up in a completely different part of the Tomb. Catarina was glad that Everheart made even a random and hasty teleport not able to land them inside the planet… though that might have been safer.
None of them really needed to breathe, though it would be more difficult for Prospero and Spikes to replicate that ability. But they did need to not be where they were.
“The statue hall?” Vari asked.
“I didn’t really have time to aim it!” Catarina said. “This is as close as I could get us to…”
At that moment, one of the Radiant Beauty disciples attempted to stab Vari in the back. They would have succeeded, too, with Vari distracted. However, one of the statues stepped in front of the blade- then pierced its spear through the offending cultivator.
Vari spun around, eyeing the statue. “… I may have been more effective than I had intended.” This was the statue of one of the saints. The spear saint who had never existed. Or more likely, a previous one that had been expelled from the Harmonious Citadel for some reason. Vari didn’t know why the statue would defend someone from the Harmonious Citadel after that- and especially not a fake.
But she could think about later, after they took out the last few individuals. They were not merciful. Vari only knew the bare bones of the conflict they had with the Order and the lower realm, but she could see why they would have animosity. Arrogant people who thought they deserved everything and could take what they wanted. Like devotion that they didn’t deserve.
Vari looked at the devotion flowing into her. She didn’t deserve it either, but she knew that so it wasn’t hypocritical. It was at least one step better than the saints.
“The Great Hall is not too far from here,” Alva said after they defeated the remaining enemies. “We have to hurry. I can feel Fajra still, getting closer.”
“Is she heading for the Great Hall? How could she know?” Catarina asked.
Alva shrugged, “The ancient sects probably figured it out a long time ago.”
As they ran, the conjecture proved correct. Fajra was heading in the same direction as them, simply far up above beyond where they could see. And then her presence not only became larger, but brighter.
“I’m pretty sure that’s my move,” Prospero commented as a burning ball of fire dropped out of the sky- though in a few short moments it resolved into a clearer image. “… Is that a palace?”
“… Where did she get a palace?” Hoyt asked. “Silly question. It should be an energy projection.”
“No,” Alva shook her head. “It’s real. She pulled it out of a storage bag.”
“That… doesn’t make any sense,” Hoyt commented.
“I guess hers is better than ours,” Alva shrugged.
There wasn’t much they could do but keep running. It didn’t take the palace long at all to descend, right on top of the Great Hall. As it impacted, it stopped for a brief moment, the nearly mountain sized building trembling beneath another of slightly more modest size atop it. Then the Great Hall shattered, a shockwave blasting the walls and roof in all directions. Rubble flew past the group, forcing them to dodge building sized chunks of fortified stone.
Then the palace settled atop the statue of Everheart, pressing down on it. Fajra could be seen standing atop it. “Everheart you old bastard, this is what you get for calling me an old hag!” She probably hadn’t intended to shout that with an intensity that everyone within a hundred kilometers could hear, but such were decisions made at the height of emotion. Cultivators fled the scene as the neutral zone of the Great Hall exploded, unwilling to get involved with whatever was happening.
The kilometer high statue of Everheart stood still with the palace atop its head… before slowly moving, placing its hands on the underside of the palace. Golden muscles strained, before tossing the palace into the distance. The statue then left its position, leaping after the structure… and away from the remains of the Great Hall.
Catarina immediately redoubled her pace, running towards the scene. The others followed without hesitation.
Deep beneath a mountain of no significance, an old man with a ring of hair that only touched the edges of his head suddenly sat up in bed. “What woke me?” he frowned. Briefly, he glanced over next to him and sighed. Old memories were still fresh in his thoughts.
Flickers of power came to him. So, that was what woke him. An old hag trying to look young. No, not just any old hag. A familiar one, though advanced to Augmentation. If she thought that was sufficient to mess with him, she was gravely mistaken.
Everheart stood up slowly. His wounds were… more or less healed. Perhaps it was time to return to the world once more. He took a step forward, and felt the power digging into the planet beneath him. He didn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe it.
“Watcher!” he called. A heavily muscled and much younger version of himself stepped into the room.
“You awaken, mighty Everheart.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever.” He said. “But why am I awake? Isn’t it your job to deal with these sorts of things? Someone’s trashing the Great Hall!”
“My apologies,” the projection inclined his head. “Our response has been slower than usual.”
“Well, I’m up now,” Everheart complained. “I guess I’ll deal with it myself. Could have used another decade but… another thing. The formations, uh… the originals.”
“From when it was called Xankeshan?” the watcher asked.
“Yes! Exactly. Those aren’t… activating, are they?”
“It appears they are.”
“… So one of you figured it out?” Everheart looked downward. “Not bad, I suppose.”
“I don’t believe that to be the case.”
“No, it has to be. The only other option would be, well… someone with the formation plate. And it doesn’t exist. I scoured the upper realms looking for it!”
“We do not have a connection to the formation.”
“You’re right,” Everheart said. “We don’t.” He swallowed. “Oh no. We don’t. Dammit, this is bad. I have to take out the- but who else is here?” Everheart held his head in his hands. “Gather the rest! Tell me how it got to this!”
“Of course. I will summon them.” The projection didn’t move, but very quickly various individuals appeared. “Here they are.”
“Explain,” Everheart said.
“Of course,” one of the leading projections said. “You see, Mighty Everheart…” All of them exchanged glances. “Perhaps it would be quicker to have you remember.”
“I haven’t forgotten anything,” Everheart crossed his arms.
“Oh, but… there’s so much more for you to remember,” the projection grinned. “Get him!”
Simultaneously, dozens of figures charged Everheart, who was too astounded to react. When the first one touched him, the figure fused into him and Everheart was hit with a wave of memories. Centuries of sitting and waiting, defending the Tomb. But that was just one individual.
A rush of memories full of boredom bombarded Everheart, filling his head with curses from the projections he’d forced to carry out his will. And yet they were more than bitterness, they were ambition and determination. Each of them wished to prove they were superior.
For all his planning, being betrayed by himself was the one thing Everheart hadn’t expected. And perhaps he should have.
When he finally picked himself up off the floor, his healing was set back several decades and most of his energy drained. He only managed to drag himself over to his emergency formation. He hadn’t really tested it because it was never meant to be used, but according to the far too ambitious memories inside his head it hadn’t been tampered with. As he activated it, he formed a connection with the Tomb. The traps? Garbage. Statues? He could get more. Though there were a couple memories- no, he didn’t have the time. Someone might find him- either that Augmentation cultivator who he wasn’t in the best state to fight suddenly, or whoever had that formation plate.
So he gathered the treasures. All of the ones stored away, those remaining in the Smithy and tucked away for ‘prizes’. Treasures which had only increased in number since he formed the Tomb. Despite his ‘generous’ rewards, more died and left behind their valuables than came away with great wealth. Only a small percentage, but over the course of centuries that added up. All of it came with him in a great burst of energy. No way was he going to stay to see what else might be going on. There could be any number of people after him. He had to hide.