Defiance of the Fall - C.1215: Hunger and Desire

Defiance of the Fall

C.1215: Hunger and Desire
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The voice was filled with patience and compassion. It was everything and everywhere, from the blade of grass to the boundless Heavens. Zac screamed as two radiant halos rewrote reality, turning the desolate space of the deadzone into a part of Buddha's kingdom. He became one with the cosmic consciousness, where time held no meaning.

Mountains rose, seas surged, and civilizations rose and fell in an endless cycle of Samsara. With each reincarnation, the world grew more complete. A thousand generations passed in the blink of an eye; Zac could no longer tell whether the world was real or not. History created context, and a pure Buddhist tradition was born. Centuries passed, and the monks reached true enlightenment.

Merit was accumulated and pooled. Holy temples were erected and reinforced by millennia of prayer. Arhats emerged, and true saints sailed through the sky. The Wheel of Samsara kept turning, and eminent monks returned to the dust. And then he appeared.

A normal monk, no stronger than an E-grade cultivator, sat beneath a tree in a minor temple. His gentle gaze was fixed on the rustling tree crown above. A leaf fell into his hand, and he saw the past, present, and future within. It first looked like the epiphany was too powerful, winking out his life's fires. It did, but what remained was pure and unblemished.

Boundless merit accrued over thousands of lifetimes had been unlocked, and the dukkha that had followed him through reincarnation was discarded. The monk's aura rose without end, his ascent creating auspicious omens that spread for thousands of miles. All beings stopped in prayer, and the whole world celebrated their first Bodhisattva's nirvanic ascent.

Bolstered by a world steeped in history and consecrated by eons of devout prayer, the Bodhisattva shed his mortal coil. His celestial form grew to the size of a mountain. He stretched out his hand to pluck a star just as he did with the leaf that triggered nirvana.

The world darkened, and the star gained a sinister purple hue. For a moment, it looked like an eye. Then it shattered, and a bone spear as large as the Bodhisattva emerged. The apocalyptic clash between the Izh'Rak Reaver's spear and the Buddha's palm snapped Zac out of the dream.

Zac's body was slick with sweat after realizing he'd been swept up in the attack of a true Heart Cultivator at the B-grade. He only slightly relaxed upon realizing there seemed to be an implicit agreement not to expose Zac and Kator to the energy outspill. Perhaps this was simply how skilled Autarchs fought. Wantonly releasing their energies and Daos wouldn't just scatter the force of their attacks. It would cause almost irreparable damage to the fabric of space. It was the same when Zac saw Iz's guardian deal with the Orom.

That didn't mean he could stick around. He'd never fought a Heart Cultivator before, but the past weeks had given him a glimpse of their terror. The paradisial world with its thousands of temples was still there, pressing against the cage's walls. He could feel it try to pull him back, making him become part of it once more.

That was how many Heart Techniques worked. The growth of the Sangha from primitive ritualism to the Buddha's ascent had never occurred. It was more apt to consider it a backstory that strengthened the attack. The more real the world was in the monk's heart, and the more it affected those around him, the more power the skill would exhibit.

The power of the B-grade Arhats was utterly terrifying. He clearly wasn't the target of their attack, and he was still a hair's breadth away from giving in to the Buddha's majestic aura. The brand that kept Zac trapped became a saving grace, resisting the intense righteousness. However, the brand was faltering, and every flicker cost a significant chunk of his Miasma.

The culprit, if you could call it that, was his Specialty Node going all out to resist a Karmic connection. Even then, Zac vaguely felt a towering mountain far, far in the distance. Zac would have thought it was one of the pillars holding up the Multiverse if he hadn't already seen the Void Mountain first-hand. It was large beyond comprehension, where continents were nothing but small outcroppings.

Zac swore, realizing what the monks were up to. It might look like they were helping him out, but they were using that to force a Karmic Link to the Fourth Mountain the golem mentioned. His Specialty Core would only delay the inevitable for a few seconds, and that was provided the Eidolon's brand didn't suddenly fail.

Whoever won, he'd lose. Zac couldn't wait any longer. He'd been waiting for a distraction, and this situation certainly qualified. However, Zac suddenly felt two sets of eyes land on him. He quickly suppressed his bloodline just before he heard the powerful voice echo from his heart.

'Amitabha, benefactor. We meet again.'

It was like a curtain had parted, and Zac's eyes widened in comprehension. He finally understood where the threat and familiarity came from when facing the elementals. The monks looked like identical twins, and their auras may as well have been one. It was the very same aura that had spied on him during his breakthrough to Middle D-grade.

Zac couldn't help but wonder if Kator's scathing remark was actually right on the money. It seemed as though the monks had been parasites hiding in the hearts of the golem and elementals. Zac wouldn't even be surprised if the hosts hadn't been Buddhists before. The Centennial Pryer's subordinates might just have been the unlucky people picked by these Arhats.

It was impossible to say whether they'd been turned into puppets or if their will was subverted by carrying B-grade Dharmic will. It was very similar to how the entity used the [Epiclesis Bell]. And when their vessels were destroyed, their true forms were forced into being. Even then, they didn't seem too worried about being exposed.

'Let us have a proper exchange after the seas have calmed.'

The monks turned back toward the Crystal, which was guarded by the Izh'Rak Reaver. He radiated a monstrous Killing Intent that unraveled the world all around, while the Eidolon seemed to target the opponent's souls. It quickly became clear that the Sangha's approach was the opposite of Undead Autarch's. It was as though they wanted the whole cosmos to witness Buddha's glory.

They held nothing back, pushing their Heart World against the bone cage, making it strain with duress. Its bars twisted under the invisible onslaught of Dharmic truth, transforming by the hundreds. The spectacle resembled Creation's unfettered transformation but was founded on the theories of the heart. The bars became the chains of ignorance that trapped the world in the wheel of Samsara. The Botthisavha's ascent meant shedding the mortal coil, breaking these very constraints.

Whole sections were demolished, creating glaring weaknesses in the Reaver's shroud. A distant rumble and a familiar pressure indicated the System was about to descend. It was at that moment Kator turned into a blur, slamming the cudgel into Zac's chest. He was unable to put up any resistance with his energy still locked, and a deadly mix of Earthly Daos left bloody lacerations across Zac's body.

Zac thoughtfully looked at the Reaver as he disappeared in a flash but quickly discarded any errant thoughts. Another door had opened after the monks closed the previous one. A deluge of Void Energy spread through his body, filling him with power. It was far from enough to deal with the faltering brand, and his personal Void wasn't strong enough to reject the Sangha's invasion.

However, it did open the door to new possibilities. Zac's human half appeared by his side, not as bound by the imposed restrictions as the first. The difference allowed him to trigger the ace he'd held onto for years, and the world was suddenly calm.

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"Little troublemaker, you're asking for too much."

Sendor smiled at the chaotic scene like he was looking at a performance. He looked the same as when they met, except for the clear difference in aura. Zac felt nothing when looking into the old Realm Spirit's eyes or at his antlers. They lacked the supreme Dao of the original. Thankfully, even the shadow of such a powerful being was enough to stabilize the situation.

"Please, senior, the sealing brand," Zac said, resisting the temporal vertigo of being placed inside Kator's time-accelerated domain.

"That I can do," Sendor nodded.

The brand and wounds on his body were gone the next moment. Even the nascent Karmic Link had been removed after Sendor rewound his state before being sealed, though he didn't get back the three-quarters of his energy pool that had been used to resist the Karmic Link. Zac knew there was no point in asking the ancient Realm Spirit to give the four rampaging Autarchs a good thrashing.

Their background had nothing to do with it. Just shielding him and dealing with the seal had noticeably weakened Sendor's projection. It was just as Zac expected. Sendor had already warned him the saving seal was not like the Edict Valsa used. The old spirit refused to go beyond the limits of what the System allowed, so the projection's aura was roughly Early C-grade.

Certainly, the C-grade wisp of a Peak Supremacy was completely different from the Monarch guardians traveling with the outsiders. This sliver of Sendor's will seemed like it could deal with Brigadier Toss with a wave of his hand. Even then, facing Autarchs was far beyond its capacity. It didn't matter. Zac had never expected Sendor's brand to do more than what he'd already accomplished, and he was already moving on to the next step of his plan.

Multiple tendrils locked onto Zac as he took out two boxes, each presence so powerful he felt a mountain was pressing down on him. His flurry of actions had caused a pause in the battle between the Sangha and undead Autarchs. They'd realized Zac was up to something, and Sendor's barrier wouldn't last long against anything more than their indirect auras.

A moment was all Zac needed. The run-down prison in Zac's mind shattered when he grabbed the fifth Shard of Creation with his human body. Simultaneously, his Draugr side welcomed Oblivion. He hadn't dared to directly remove the remnants before, fearing the Eidolon's brand was strong enough to seal them before they could activate. With the seal gone and his bodies protected from the Karmic entanglement by Sendor's protective mark, there was nothing holding him back.

'Please protect my vessel with any leftover strength you have,' Zac urged in a mental message.

The sky rumbled again, this time much closer, and time ground to a halt. Even the Autarchs were frozen in place, their gargantuan avatars staring at Zac with inscrutable expressions. Zac glared right back until his vision faded. These bastards had broken the rules by sneaking into Zurbor, causing a disaster that risked their mission and his companions. He had no idea if Vilari had survived the Reaver's battering or if his crew aboard the Yphelion had enjoyed the same protections as he.

He couldn't wait to pull down the Heavens onto their heads.

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A frantic, scattered heartbeat echoed throughout the void, each thump bleeding with the primordial Dao. For untold ages, the Heart of Oblivion hadgrown, with each cycle inching closer to that impossible threshold. All to dust. A single breath annihilated Oblivion; reality became ash with a thought.

The heart was angry but also relieved. Death was destruction, and destruction was life. Not even Oblivion could overcome the ancient Law of Balance, and every end had its beginning. Hatred. Destruction. Desire. The splinters diverged, their madness tainting every corner of the myriad planes.

Oblivion was never over.

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A crackling sound full of dejection echoed throughout the void, each snap leaking the primordial Dao. For untold ages, the Spark of Creation had left its mark on the universe, its conceptions inching ever closer to that impossible threshold. A single breath brought stillness; marvels beyond compare faded with a thought.

The spark didn't mind. Death was Creation, and Creation was life. Not even Creation could overcome the ancient Law of Balance, and every beginning had its end. f𝗿e𝗲𝘄𝗲bn𝐨𝚟𝚎l.com

Hunger. Growth. Desire. The shards flashed, their tendrils transforming every corner of the myriad planes.

Creation was never over.

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Two simultaneous visions assaulted Zac, their overlapping intensity nearly enough to end the Atavism before it began. It was never Zac's intention to undergo both at the same time. He was supposed to deal with the first and then call the bell over. The moment it appeared, he'd freeze it with the second Atavism. The Sangha and later Kator's 'Divine Alliance' had thrown those plans on their heads, and Zac was left suffering for it.

Using two bodies would lessen the strain on his body, with the shards entering his human form and splintering the undead. It was a small benefit, though it did nothing to help with the real threat he was about to face. If anything, he was in far greater danger.

There was no stream of scenes showcasing the miserable end of resisting the remnants. Now that they'd reached this point, there was no purpose. Instead, the original vision lingered, intensified, and expanded as they showed the aftermath and the birth of the immortal will.

Zac felt his mind pulled beyond its breaking point as he was forcibly integrated into two vast, opposing networks. They were tapestries formed by the remnants scattered through the Cosmos. Together, they emulated the Grand Dao, the obsession of their existence. Most dots on the network were weak and insubstantial, having only drained some unlucky stragglers to nourish themselves.

A few shone brighter, and their radiance bolstered a section with sturdier truths. Zac could even sense a familiar aura from a few lights. They were the cultivators whom he'd seen when absorbing the second and third pairs of remnants. Their auras were mottled and mixed with dozens of foreign markers, meaning the fates he'd witnessed were only one of many tragedies these clumps of remnants had caused.

Twelve marks shone like bonfires in the night on both tapestries, pushing back the darkness and becoming major nodes. Their auras were clear and unblemished. Again, Zac sensed a few familiar auras: the minstrel, the flickering flame, the Dragon King, and so on—carriers of great conviction, one and all. And yet, they'd ultimately failed to resist the ancient madness, instead becoming a major node of the tapestry.

Some auras were missing, like the inquisitor who'd sacrificed everything to slay the mad God. He was one of the few to survive the Atavism, seizing a corner of the tapestry for himself. It made him the exception to the rule. Over the endless eons, the remnants had lured countless people desperate for power, and the vast majority met a wretched end.

The day the tapestry of Oblivion was made whole, the heart would beat once more. Similarly, the Tapestry of Creation would ignite the spark, ushering in another era of Creation. They were close, and Zac was a prize that would let them take a tremendous leap forward—the number of carriers who could survive until the Atavism were too few and far in-between.

Zac knew he'd cheated his way to this stage. Collecting both pieces certainly added to his difficulties in some aspects, but it helped him in others. The remnants had restained each other as much as Zac had restrained them, and generating Chaos let him keep the remnants in a perpetually weakened state. It would have been significantly harder to have to deal with the one seal.

Only this time, the two sides were working against him. Zac could feel his mind and bodies being taken over by the ancient will of the Innate Existences. He wasn't fighting the combination of five remnants. He was currently no different from the fallen bonfires, so he was fighting the whole tapestry.

He tried to resist the creeping Obliteration of his mind and seize the tapestry's corner for himself. It felt like trying to hold back floodgates with his bare hands. Worse, the crazed drive of Creation simultaneously invaded his mind, turning his thoughts of resistance into twisted nightmares. Resisting the Creation with temperance only invited Oblivion.

He was being destroyed from both ends, and his Heart Cultivation only prolonged his suffering. Of course, he hadn't taken such drastic measures without a plan, even if Autarchs were bearing down on him. Zac had considered his Atavism from every conceivable angle and turned to the plan that best suited the situation. Like before, he needed to have the remnants fight each other to lessen his load.

It was easier said than done. He might only have one soul, but the visions were fully separated. It was like Zac was watching two separate windows, and the Dao Tapestries didn't actually touch each other. Zac furiously rallied, resisting Oblivion and Creation's delineated nature. He could feel the other half of his soul in the distance, and he pushed beyond the vision's bounds, carving a tunnel through nothingness.

The closer he came, the fiercer the resistance. Zac had no choice but to cede more and more territory of himself to lessen the load. Eventually, nothing but a core of unyielding will remained. Zac roared without a voice, piercing the curtain, and two visions became one. Tremendous explosions rocked Zac's consciousness, almost knocking him unconscious.

Zac desperately held on. He'd created the path, but the fight wasn't over. He needed to survive the upcoming clash. Opposing wills met, and mayhem ensued. Zac's mind was rocked by a blast of Chaos. Another wave followed, but the pain never arrived. A hand had appeared in the darkness, shielding his frayed will. Zac's muddled mind rapidly cleared. Or did it? Zac looked at the newcomer standing before him, unable to compute what was going on.

"Tavza? Is that you?"

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