The moment Auselia canceled the Divine Skill, the giant snake in the Soul Realm disappeared immediately.
Link detected the changes in the situation and brought everyone back to the Physical Realm.
He happened to see the badly-beaten Nana lying at the spot where he landed. He then saw Auselia lying on the ground around 150 feet away with a penetrative wound right through her skull.
Strangely, there was no black crystal-like brilliance around Auselia this time around. The black aura that permanently shrouded her body previously had also disappeared. The wound on her forehead did not seem to be regenerating as well. She lay lifelessly on the ground and seemed to have died for good.
The Dark Serpent which she had always kept close to her had disappeared as well.
Felina had also woken up. Upon seeing this scene, she weakly said, "There is a legend in the dragon clan that each Divine Gear possess a spirit that will choose its own master. If it happens to find its current master unsuitable, it will abandon them without any hesitation."
Kanorse then said, "You are saying that the Divine Gear had lost faith in her after she was defeated by a magic puppet?"
It seemed to be the only explanation.
Link then walked towards Nana's remains. The Divine Gear truly had fearsome power. Nana's body was completely fragmented, and the only body part still intact was her head. Even this part did not escape completely unscathed. There were many cracks on the head as the pair of clear eyes stared back lifelessly at Link.
"She saved us." Annie walked up with a pained expression on her face.
Link felt regret and gratefulness in his heart as he put away these remains into his dimensional pendant. He then turned to his remaining teammates and said, "It seems like we are safe for now. However, we cannot stay here for long. Let's leave."
Everyone was heavily injured and supported each other along the way. Link was also left with not many Mana Points. He merely cast a Level-4 Traceless spell to cover up their presence before they slowly trudged towards the South.
There were no accidents along the way. When the group finally met a scout from MI3 in the forest a day later, everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
A message then appeared in Link's field of vision.
Step 4 of Skeletal Fort Mission Escape: Completed
Reward 1: 200 Omni Points (Given 60 days later)
Reward 2: Level-7 Glyph of Soul (Given 60 days later)
This was extremely good news to Link, apart from the fact that he had to wait 60 days before his reward would arrive.
The scouts escorted him along the way, and the group emerged from the Dark Forest a day later. A huge war fortress greeted them the moment they walked out of the lush overgrowth.
They were reaching the Ice Peak Fortress.
As Link watched the drawbridge slowly being lowered at the entrance, his heart was filled with the euphoria of escaping from that situation alive.
As he turned to look at Kanorse, Kanorse felt his gaze upon him and returned the glance with a smile. He then laughed, "Magician, you still owe me a sword."
Link smiled before saying, "You will have to first tell the King to settle your payment. I can offer to craft a tailored sword for you, but the price of it would definitely be well above 10000 gold coins."
Kanorse then smiled bitterly and said, "That's really steep...How about I give my life in exchange for the sword?"
"I'll welcome that any day." Link smiled.
Both of them then laughed heartily.
Felina, who was standing beside them also turned around and said, "Master Link, come to the Dragon Valley when you have the time. The issue with the Divine Gear is not yet settled. We need your input."
Link thought for a moment before replying, "Make it a month later. I will need some time to rest after returning to the South."
He was also thinking about repairing Nana. This magic puppet was way too powerful. It would be a waste not to repair it.
Felina nodded in understanding. She had been pushed to the brink of death several times throughout this mission to the Skeletal Fort. Even her Dragon Claw weapon was utterly destroyed. She was also completely exhausted from the mission and would not be able to return to her full power without a good amount of rest.
At that moment, the drawbridge was finally lowered. Behind the bridge, Duke Abel, some senior officers, as well as Magician Marco were already standing in wait. When they saw the returning group, they walked forward in big strides.
Duke Abel searched the returned group quickly, and his face softened the moment he saw his daughter. He then walked up to Link and bowed respectfully before saying, "Master, thank you for the hard work."
Link then returned a Magician's bow and replied, "I'm just doing my job. Sir Duke, I have many findings to report from this mission. I will write a detailed military report in due time."
"Please enter!" Duke Abel said excitedly. This was first-hand information in dealing with the Dark Elves. Furthermore, it would be coming from an extremely wise Magician. The reference value of this information would be huge!
As the group entered the fortress, the sight of the Dawn Swordsman caused cheers and smiles to break out from the crowd.
As for the Red Dragon Warrior, none of the human Warriors displayed any signs of disgust or fear when she walked past. They simply stared at her curiously. As long as the Dawn Swordsman was still alive, it would not matter even if the sky was falling apart, much less the appearance of a peculiar Warrior.
As Link observed the scene, he could not help but be impressed by Kanorse's status in the military. He was simply reveled as the God of War. It was no wonder Duke Abel would insist on sending a rescue team even under such difficult circumstances.
As they reached the command hall in the center of the fortress, Link wasted no time and reported all his findings from this mission to the North in great detail. He described the incidents with the ghouls, the Skeletal Fort, the Divine Gear and its wielder, Auselia meticulously. He then introduced Felina to wrap up his entire report.
Link made an extremely objective report, including an estimate of every opponent's strength. When he was done with his speech, the entire command hall fell silent.
Everyone was shocked by two things.
Firstly, they had finally realized how the Dark Elves were able to create a lifeform as terrifying as the ghouls. To think that they would have harnessed the help of a Divine Gear! This was terrifying enough! Secondly, they were equally surprised that Magician Link was able to rescue Kanorse from the hands of Auselia, the wielder of the Divine Gear. They not only escaped her relentless pursuit but also defeated her using the help of Link's magic puppet.
This was equivalent to a mortal attaining victory in a challenge against the gods. If not for the fact that Link was standing right in front of them, no one would believe it!
From this perspective, the Divine Gear would not be that terrifying. After all, it had already been defeated.
After a while, Duke Abel said, "Master, according to what you said, the Divine Gear's location is now unknown. What do you think is the most possible thing that happened?"
Although the person standing in front of him was not even 20 years old, Duke Abel adopted an extremely respectful tone, almost being too humble. This was because Link's battle achievements were simply too outstanding to ignore.
Link had been thinking about this along the way and had his rough predictions. He said, "I feel that the Divine Gear's disappearance would only be temporary. The threat is still at large. It will probably choose the second wielder after a while, and after this painful lesson, the second wielder will be someone wiser and more experienced. It would be terrifying to go up against such a Dark Elf. The Dark Forest is already not safe. I suggest to give up on the Ice Peak Fortress and retreat to Orida Fortress in the South.
One of the Mid-Level Officer was dissatisfied with Link's suggestion. From a Warrior's point of view, destroying the Divine Gear was the only way to completely eradicate the threat. "But this would not resolve the root of the problem; we should destroy-"
Before he could complete his sentence, Duke Abel shot him a stern glance before bellowing, "Silence until Master is finished!"
The Officer's face paled, and he immediately swallowed his words.
Link then continued, "I need everyone to recognize two facts. Firstly, it is impossible to destroy a Divine Gear. Secondly, it is not possible for the Divine Gear to stay in this world forever. It is depleting its energy every second and minute it exists, even as we speak."
As he reached this point, he looked across the hall and made sure that his words were taken seriously. He then continued, "The kingdom has operated the iron-walled line of defense with Orida Fortress as the strongholds for 300 years. It is extremely strong and sturdy. Based on my observations, we need to hold on for at most a year before the Divine Gear would be expelled from Firuman. The advantage the Dark Elves have will then automatically disintegrate into nothingness. I feel that this strategy will be the safest in the current circumstances."
Everyone in the hall fell into deep thought.
Link made it extremely clear that his strategy was indeed one that was the safest at the moment. No one would dare to claim total victory over a Divine Gear. As long as one made the slightest mistake, the entire Norton Kingdom might fall into the terror of the abyss.
A voice broke the silence. It was Kanorse. He stood up and said, "I have personally witnessed the power of the Divine Gear. Hence, I agree with Master Link's strategy. The Ice Peak Fortress is a temporary Fortress. The anti-magic properties of the castle walls and the detection range of the surveillance eyes are miles away from those that we have at the Orida Fortress. It will be difficult to hold our defense in this area."
Annie then followed up, "I feel that retreating is the best option as well."
Everyone in the hall broke out in fits of discussion. Ten minutes later, Duke Abel knocked his hand lightly on the table to halt the discussion and said, "I will consider this carefully. We have 10000 soldiers in the Ice Peak Fortress. It is impossible to organize a retreat immediately. We will need to arrange this in waves. Furthermore, the final decision lies with the king."
Although he merely said that he would consider this option, Duke Abel was already completely convinced. He had no confidence in facing against the Divine Gear.
At this point, the military report meeting was adjourned, and Link followed Magician Marco to the Mage Tower after biding his goodbyes.
On the way, Magician Marco said, "Master, we have carefully studied the ghouls. The Sacred Silver that you have brought seemed extremely effective. However, I feel that there are still rooms for improvement."
Link nodded his head and said, "I am not an expert in alchemy, but I will be staying here for another two days or so before making a trip to East Cove Higher Magic Academy. We can discuss how to deal with these wretched beings in this time."
The Dark Serpent possessed a Soul Devouring Divine spell. The army would not be safe even if they were to retreat to the Orida Fortress. He had to discuss a strategy to deal with this spell with the Master Magicians of the East Cove Higher Magic Academy.
Marco was elated and replied, "That would be perfect."
Two days earlier, north of the Dark Forest.
Half an hour after Link left, a white-haired, white-eyed old man clad in a black robe arrived at the battlefield.
He was Magician Aymons.
Looking at Auselia's body, he sighed and said, "You are a great disappointment to the Dark Lady. The Divine Gear is tied closely to the fate of our race. It is not something that you use just to vent your anger. Please, be at ease."
He then squatted down and gently closed Auselia's eyes, which were wide open. Aymons then stood up and spoke to the surrounding woods, "Come out Dark Serpent."
With the sound of rustling leaves, a huge snake appeared from the overgrowth.
Aymons stretched out his hand. The giant snake then bumped into Aymons' arm before turning into a whip. Aymons then held this whip as he walked slowly into the depths of the forest. He then added, "This time around, I will definitely find you a better candidate. What do you think about my disciple Lawndale?"
Sssss. The whip first nodded before shaking its head.
Aymons then sighed, "He is indeed the best candidate. However, once he becomes the wielder of the Divine Gear, his lifespan would be shortened to only half a year. That would be a waste. Let me think...how about Muddafi?"
The whip shook its head once again.
"Muddafi won't do as well...This is difficult. Why not let me pick some volunteers, and you can choose one yourself?"
Ssss. The whip nodded its head lightly in agreement.
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