Pain essence, the distillation of pure suffering that could only be formed in the rarest of circumstances. This was an amazing item for many mages, especially illusionists and cursemasters. Many would be willing to trade their life's earnings for just a single fragment of it. Even Demi's abilities would grow by half a fold if she had this item on hand.
The fact that an entire three pieces of pain essence had been formed showed just how long this root of corruption had been refining the astral beast's skeletal energy. The oldest piece was twice the size of the smallest, and in total the three were worth a little over four beyslace spider crystals. Even ignoring the priceless nature of the astral beast skeleton, this journey had not been in vain.
Richard placed the three pieces of pain essence into a magic sealing box, scanning through the surroundings once more. The astral chrysalis flew extremely slowly with its current weight, only sixty kilometres an hour. It would take four to five days to even transport the skeleton to the Land of Turmoil, a period of time for which he could not stay in the Valley of Darkness. The Church of Valour was certainly sending reinforcements over, and the Iron Triangle Empire's movements were difficult to predict.
Io came over and looked at the pit, his nose wrinkling as he took a whiff of the black liquid, "This pool has been around for a long time. We can definitely trade it for a top tier offering if we take it away, assuming you don't mind the buyer. The bricks are a good item too; if you use them to build a prison, mages would be locked in with no recourse. We'll be able to find buyers for them too."
"Tch. Sadly, we don't have the time."
Io put on an expression of incredulity at the idea that Richard would give up on a money-making opportunity with just a tut. Surveying the Church of Pain and the pool of dark energy that represented an opportunity to get to level 20, he immediately felt his heart tighten. Still, he just shrugged himself, "Truly a pity."
However, Richard's next words calmed him down, "Don't worry, I'm only leaving them here for now."
It was a busy night, and the sun was slow to rise in the north that morning. It was still dark at seven, but Richard's worker drones had already scoured through every hill and cavern within hundreds of metres without finding anything of value. He finally decided to leave with his shadowspears under the cover of the darkness.
Once the party left, the thousands of workers got down to their final tasks. Screams rang throughout the Valley of Darkness for ten entire minutes, followed by a loud buzz as the creatures took flight and returned towards the Land of Turmoil.
When it turned dark once more, a snow-white warhorse galloped towards the Valley of Darkness. A dignified man was sat upon the horse, twirling his thick gold moustache. He only slowed down once he reached the valley, getting off his horse and following Richard's path inside at an unhurried pace.
His neutral expression quickly turned to a frown as he found none of his overseers for miles. The towns and villages were extremely silent, the corpses of prisoners strewn all over the ground. He examined a few, only to find that all of them had similar injuries. It looked like something sharp had pierced through their chests and turned the hearts within to pulp.
He stopped looking after the fifth corpse, summoning his steed once more and galloping towards the centre of the valley. Seeing the rubble that was once the Church of Pain, his face froze for a moment in disbelief. Squinting and seeing that it was all real, he was quickly consumed by rage and grunted loudly before rushing in to take a look.
The black bricks that had been taken from the church had been thrown everywhere, with a lot of the root of corruption spilt all over the floor. The magnificent Church of Pain was only a third of its original size.
The man stopped for another moment before continuing into the rubble in silence. It was at this point that he realised the astral skeleton was gone.
The middle-aged man immediately knelt on the ground, praying silently. Moments later, the clouds rolled ominously in the sky as numerous flashes of lightning were followed by deafening peals of thunder. A powerful will descended upon the world, filling the man's eyes with a golden light. He then stood up once more, staring into the pool, "MY ASTRAL BEAST! RICHARD, YOU DARE TO STEAL MY ASTRAL BEAST!"
The middle-aged man shuddered as he looked at the empty pool, rapidly growing old with his golden hair turning white. Wrinkles appeared all over his face, but the light in his eyes still wasn't extinguished as he continued to stare at the empty pit.
This was the aftereffect of being the vessel of a god's descent. One had to pay the price of breaking the laws of the plane. The man eventually struggled, but by then it was too late. He could no longer stand, falling headfirst into the pool.
"What a useless thing!" a voice sounded as the dark energy consumed him. The will of Neian had already returned to his divine kingdom.
At this point, Richard had already returned to the borders of the Iron Triangle Empire. The party had spent three days and nights on horseback with only a few short hours of rest in between, and seeing the borders to the Crimson Dukedom only a dozen kilometres away his eyes lit up.
He slowed down his horse and turned to Flowsand, "The chrysalis is already in our borders, it should be safe for now. But, tch… The Empire's reaction was a little disappointing."
"You wanted them to try and stop us?" Flowsand asked.
"Yes, that's why I took the long path."
The priestess suddenly laughed, "You never did such senseless things before. You always put on a deadpan face and acted like a miser that calculated every piece of gold and every second. Oh, I have to take on these responsibilities, I have to fulfil these promises… So you were acting all the time, you absolute child!"
"Flowsand!" Richard felt himself blushing.
"Yes, boy?" Flowsand provoked him.
Richard just grunted and swallowed the words he wanted to say. All talk needed the capability to follow up, and even with the ursa essence he proved to be no match for this dangerous creature at night. He chose not to return the provocation, instead speaking softly, "I was sounding them out. Since they didn't send anyone to stop me this time, that means their foundation is shaken. That means I don't need to play nice, I can constantly raise my demands."
"Well, now that you say that… You might have spoken too soon."
The earth suddenly started trembling, the vibrations growing more powerful as a regiment of cavalry crested a nearby ridge. One could clearly see the imperial flag fluttering amongst the knights, a silver triangle lined with gold that represented the royal bloodline.
The one holding the flag was a powerful young man, beard doing nothing to hide his youth. His horse constantly trampled the ground with what felt like the ferocity of its owner, a typical trait this far north.
"Are you Duke Richard of the Crimson Dukedom?" he shouted from afar.
Richard did not reply, instead stopping his horse in its tracks as the fifty elite shadowspears behind him got into position. This was answered by a loud warhorn, and the youth rushed down the slope until he was only a hundred metres away. He then stopped his troops and rode further in alone, "I am Barian, the ninth prince of the Iron Triangle Empire. Even if you ignore my lineage, you will remember my name."
"Oh?" Richard smiled.
"You will not leave the Iron Triangle Empire today! Stay and meet His Majesty, removing your silly demands, or I'll turn you to a corpse!"
"Is this your father's wish?" Richard asked.
"No, this is a personal decision. These troops behind my are my own. The blood of the Empire has been passed down for countless generations, and we are still all heroes at heart!"