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The Noble Darkness 1

Inside a shaggy tent in the middle of a forest, a bandaged Rohan was starting to regain consciousness.

"Argh, w-where am I?"

He sits up and holds his head, wincing in pain as he recalls the incident that transpired which led to his current condition.

Rohan clenched his trembling fists, releasing his aura in a fit of rage.

He planned on having his brother return to Cronoa with him so he could face his crimes.

"That mad man is loose out there and it's all my fault."

Rohan managed to eventually calm down a bit as his aura disappeared.

"Caww!!"

He hears the cawing of a bird from outside the tent and decides to check it out.

As he steps outside the tent he sees a rainbow-colored bird flying towards him and spots an old man trailing not too far behind.

"Huhuhu. It seems the youngin has finally awakened, Ada."

"Woah!"

Ace and co. have completed their first trial in the Aquarius crypt and await the final test.

They were currently walking in a vast hall that depicts numerous hieroglyphics.

"I've never seen anything like this!"

Maggie's eyes shone brightly as she admires and caresses the pictures on the walls.

Any historian would pay a fortune just to witness the sight in front of Maggie.

"This is paradise!" She exclaims as she continues to caress the wall.

"If you are finished geeking out, we have a crypt to clear."

Maggie ignored Reginald's comment and began to sketch the hieroglyphics on her journal as they continued walking through the long corridor.

"Huff. huff. This damn place goes on forever!"

The crew has been walking through the corridor for several hours now and there has been no sign of any end.

"Food, so hungry. " Conroy cried out from the back of Vorus.

"Hey! how come you get a piggyback ride from the big guy?"

"Water, so thirsty." Conroy didn't pay heed to the thief as he cries out on the back of the bulky man.

Reginald scoffs at his teammate as he wipes off the sweat from his face.

"Stay strong my peers, we shall emerge victorious over this trial of endurance."

Everyone except for Ace and Vorus was barely able to catch their breath. How long have they been treading through the long corridor, and how much longer do they have to walk was all they could think about.

"Here you go."

Maggie gave Conroy the water bottle she brought with her before entering the crypt as he chugs it down feeling a bit refreshed in the process.

"Thank you, Lady Maggie, you're a lifesaver."

She blushes a bit as she offers to share the remaining water with the others.

"Nah, I'm good Mags, thanks."

"Same here, this is nothing haha!"

Ace and Vorus seemed to show no sign of fatigue due to their intensive training.

'We have been walking none stop for over four hours and these two look like they could do this all day without breaking so much as a sweat.'

"Now you see why I call them monsters?"

Maggie chuckles over Reginald's comment as he hands her the empty water bottle.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome." She replied with a smile on her face as she puts the bottle away in her backpack.

She brought out her journal and pen once again and began sketching the pictures and symbols on the walls.

"Do you plan on keeping that up till you collapse?"

She didn't pay heed to his remark and simply continued to copy the pictures.

This went on for a while until...

"Ahaa!!!"

"What is it Mags?"

"Come check this out." They all gathered around her as she places her journal on the floor and takes a picture of a page.

"This was the first picture I sketched when we got here."

She then goes on to flip a couple of pages and finally stops to proceed with her explanation.

"This one was copied after our third hour here. notice anything."

Their eyes widened upon examining the two pictures.

"They are the same."

"We have been walking in circles."

"To be precise, this is our second time passing through here. This place is just an endless corridor that goes in a circle and it takes four hours to completely go round it."

"So we have gone around here once. It still doesn't change the fact that we have no way to go."

"Y-you m-m-mean we are stuck here!?" Conroy began to tremble and starts to chew on his fingernails.

"No, it only means that the second trial was not a test of endurance," Vorus assured Conroy.

"We've just gotta figure out a way out of here." Ace says with a smirk as he pats the trembling archer's shoulder.

"And if there's no door here, we just have to make our own."

He channels his aura and strikes the wall with Killswitch.

"No damage."

"Ack, what is this wall made of?"

"No way." Reginal widens his eyes as he touches the wall.

"It's Fellium, all of it."

"A fellium that thick will be impossible to break! we're stuck forever!"

"Can it Mc Shaky pants!" Reginal scolds the archer as he turned his attention towards Ace.

"Can your Seismic sense search for weak points?"

Ace nods his head and places his hand on the wall. Taking a deep breath, he activates his seismic sense.

"Mags, do you have a marker?"

She pulled out a marker and hands it to Ace.

He walks over to a section of the wall and draws an X on it.

"There, that's where its weakest"

"Now what Sir Ace?"

"Now, we strike it with a coordinated attack, let's give it everything we've got."

"Roger!" They all said in unison.

Maggie, who had experienced firsthand how destructive her clanmates could get, took a few steps back to avoid getting caught up in the attack.

Vorus and Conroy summoned their relics whilst Reginal unsheaths his sword.

"Ready!" They all took their positions

"We're all going to use range attacks and remember, we have to time it right."

Even though they were going to strike the weak part of the wall, it doesn't change the fact that Fellium is the hardest substance in the world and as such, they would need to time their attacks and strike the spot at the very same time if they plan on breaking through.

"Attack!"

"Blue Boomerang!"

Vorus spins his hammer at an incredible pace while charging its electricity and then flings the hammer.

"Sun purge!"

Conroy fires his signature move.

"Shooter's Fencing First Form: Pierce

Reginald compressed his aura and released a powerful stream.

"Here goes everything!" Ace summoned his shadow daggers and held them in an "X" position.

"Shadow arts: X black!."

The four attacks each struck the x spot of the wall almost at the same time resulting in a loud explosion.

"Did we do it?"

The debris began to clear as a man-sized hole could be seen on the spot that the "X" was drawn.

"Alright!"

The team cut their celebration short as they recall that their test is not over.

They nodded at one another and squeezed their way through the hole.

Vorus had a hard time going through and had to be pushed by Reginald and Conroy from behind while Ace tries to pull him in from the other side.

"Seriously big guy, you have got to dial it down on the horses."

Reginald mocks him as he makes his way through the hole right after Conroy.

They found themselves in a dark room as the entrance they created to get here disappears.

"T-the hole! I-its gone!" Conroy cried as he tugs Ace's sleeves and holds onto them tightly. "What do we do now?"

"Easy, we do what we've been doing ever since we got here. We push forward and take out anything that gets in our way."

Ace reassured the frightened Archer.

Soon after, a beam of light struck the floor and Ciel appeared.

"Greetings once again adventurers. You have made it to the final part of your test."

He spreads his arms apart and the torches that were placed around the darkroom lit up in flames illuminating the darkness in the process.

Much to their amazement, the room was revealed to be a throne room with thousands of treasures, jewelry, golden objects, and coins splattered around the floor.

Reginald's eyes shone brightly as his jaw dropped and he began to drool.

"Regi my boy, you've hit a jackpot."

Ciel made his way to the throne and sits on it as a young boy appears holding a large golden jug filled with wine.

"The second test of the crypt's test of mind was split into two, a test of intellect and a test of observations. You have passed the test of intellect by finding your way here."

"Alright, now that just leaves the last part!"

Ace exclaims feeling more excited by the second as they are a few steps close to successfully raiding their first zodiac crypt.

"Precisely young adventurer, the last test is but a simple question."

"Phew." Conroy and Reginald sighed in relief while Ace pouted.

"Grr, don't tell me you were expecting more action after all that we've been through?"

Maggie asks the ex-assassin as he turned his face away from her.

"Are you not tired from fighting all those relic beasts and then having to walk for over four hours with no rest? I for one am exhausted and hungry!"

He sits down on the floor and folds his arms signaling that he won't say a thing.

"What's the question, keeper Ciel?" Conroy asks, his eyes beaming with life and energy.

"In due time adventurers. For now, help yourselves with some wine." He gestures upon the boy to serve them as he graciously fills each of them a cup and hands it to them.

Meanwhile...

"Being saved by one of the seven saints was crazy enough, but what's even crazier was that you're familiar with Ace and the rest of Aegis."

Rohan and Shuntal were sitting by a campfire and helping themselves to a boar that Ada killed.

"Huhuhu, we live in a small world, that we do."

Shuntal replies as he pets Ada who was sitting on his lap.

"BAlong the route leading to the Capital of Cronoa, a carriage was passing through.

"You truly plan on going against your own family, brother?"

"I lost my brother the day you let your hatred for relics turn into an obsession."

Rohan was driving the carriage with his brother tied and seated behind him.

"I plan on conveying the truth to the king, that it was you who shared letters with the enemy and framed Rhea."

He carefully maneuvers through the bumpy road.

"I will bring you to justice, that shall be my repent-"

Just as he was about to finish, an arrow flew in their direction.

'Tsk. Ambush!?'

He avoided most of the arrows that aimed for them.

Eventually, he couldn't dodge an exploding arrow that sent them crashing into a tree.

Rohan burst his head as his vision got blurry. He could see the silhouette of a woman standing in front of them with a dozen archers behind her.

He sneered at the sight of the woman untying his brother as they all looked down at him.

"What do we do with him, commander?"

The woman was none other than Kira.

After their defeat at the hands of Ace. Kira and some of the soldiers managed to escape while the others were captured and imprisoned in Kondo.

She had been keeping tabs on Khan's whereabouts including where he was kept hostage.

"Let him bleed out." Rohan was steadily losing consciousness as he could barely move.

"Forgive me for speaking out, but commander, he's you-"

"He said it himself." Rada Khan hanged the cape that was handed to him by one of the soldiers around his back and turned around.

"He's not my brother."

The vision of the swordsman faded as he watches his brother get on a carriage and rode off with his 'followers'.

"Since all parties are ready, the challenge may commence."

Ciel, the guardian of the Aquarius crypt struck the ground with his rod vanishing in the process leaving the participants to themselves.

One by one, the groups all jump into the portal.

"Let's go, guys!"

Ace leaps into the portal followed by Vorus and Conroy.

"Don't slow us down, four-eyes." Reginald sneers at their new teammate as he jumps as well.

"Tsk. It's official, I'm murdering that bastard." Maggie followed from behind.

There were currently eight different groups participating in the challenge including Aegis.

They had all passed through the portal and were now in what seemed like an aquarium with infinite space.

The other groups were already familiar with this part of the challenge.

On the other hand...

"Woah!" Ace's eyes shone brightly as he touches the glass container which seemed to go on forever.

"So many sea creatures."

"They would make a mean seafood salad," Vorus says as he wipes off the drool in his mouth.

"Seriously do you only ever think of food and fighting?"

"Hahaha. What can I say? A man needs to eat well to fight well."

Reginald couldn't help but facepalm after hearing that.

"Of course, that'll be your comeback."

Maggie, on the other hand, pulled out a book and began to write in it.

"Watchu doing?"

Ace stood right behind her trying to get a closer look at what she was writing.

She slams the book and puts it away.

"Oh, that was my journal. I use it to record my experiences."

'Although everyone finds it weird.'

"Cool! that means you'll be recording our adventures from now on." Ace looked on to her with beaming eyes.

"Y-you don't find this stupid?"

She recalled being made fun of and ridiculed by the other participants whenever she would bring out her journal.

"Nah. Isn't that something that makes you happy?"

She pauses and then smiles.

"Yes, I'd love to write about our adventures together."

Her meeting with Ace was but a coincidence. She only wanted to use them to reach her goal, but she's getting fond of each member of the clan.

"Oi! Four eyes!"

"Tsk! A vein popped on her forehead."

'What's this bastard going to say now?'

"Given that you're useless in combat, why don't hide behind any of these monsters?" He sheepishly pointed at Ace and Vorus.

"For the hundredth time since I joined you guys, it's Maggie! Not four-eyes."

Everyone in the clan was nice to her, except Reginald.

'What's his problem?'

Just then, Ciel appears once again.

"Let the first trial begin!" As soon as he finished, he struck his staff against the ground once again and rebeasts began to appear from out of thin air.

"There's so many of them!" Conroy was shaking as he hid behind Vorus.

The rebeasts that appeared included selkies, scyllas, and several other mythical creatures that duel in waters.

The majority of the rebeasts included humanoid forms of Lotan, a legendary sea serpent.

They were numbered in the hundreds.

"There are two trials to this crypt. The first is the test of might, each participant is to defeat a hundred of these relic beasts in five minutes order to proceed to the next challenge."

"What!" Reginald and Conroy exclaimed in unison as they all jaw dropped with the latter shaking even more excessively.

Ace and Vorus on the other hand looked excited to finally get some action.

Ciel disappeared. "I wish you good luck."

As soon as he leaves, the other groups scrambled and began to attack the monsters. There was no struggle in finding targets since the monsters will respawn over a short period so there was an unlimited amount of time.

Maggie looked on as rebeast fell one by one. Some were burnt and sliced while others were being crushed and beheaded.

'How am I supposed to kill a hundred of these things?' She had a dreaded look on her face as she turned to the others.

"Uhm, hurry up you guy!" She looked on at her new teammates as they all surrounded her.

"I'm weak, there's no way I can kill a hundred of these things, I'll only slow you down."

But neither of them moved an inch.

"Tsk, didn't I tell you to hide behind these two and shut up?"

"We came here as a team. We're not abandoning you."

"Yeah, there has to be something that we're not getting, Lady Maggie."

Reginald seemed to be pondering as he watches the slaughter of the rebeasts continue.

"Taking out a hundred of these guys is possible for us, but it's the time limit that's the problem."

"And Ciel says we each have to get a hundred."

"Or did he?" Maggie interjected looking as if an invincible light bulb was over her head.

"Why would he make sure we're all grouped before sending us here only to separate us again?"

That was the case.

Ciel emphasized that solo raiders are not allowed and everyone had to belong to a group of at least four members to participate in the challenge.

Then why would he demand they each kill a hundred of the rebeasts the minute they got through the portal?

"The answer was... He didn't!" Reginald snapped his finger upon catching what Maggie was trying to say.

"What if by participants he meant the parties in the raid?" Maggie concluded.

"That will mean we only have to kill a hundred of them together."

"That does make more sense. I'm guessing the reason nobody was able to pass the challenge thus far was that the moment the first trial began, the parties separated to take out a hundred on their own."

"It wasn't just a trail of might. It was to test the bonds of the groups."

"Only true clans could pass this trial and not just any group or party formed at the last minute."

"Well, what are we waiting for? Vorus, you head first and tank, take out anyone that crosses your range of attack."

"Yes!" He summons the Warhammer, Mjolnir.

"Conroy, you stay behind with Maggie. Shoot any rebeast that passes through."

"Rodger that!" He also summons his relic and takes his position.

"Regi, you're with me. We'll launch a relentless attack and cover for Vorus."

"Ay, ay captain." He quickly draws his sword and the three of them charged into the midst of rebeasts.

"Wait isn't that Mjolnir?"

"As in, the A-rank relic belonging to Nature's hunter Vorus?"

"He's here!?"

"And with that strange kid from earlier."

"No way. I knew he looked familiar."

One of them pulled out his phone depicting the image of Ace striking Rada Khan.

"H-he's the guy who beat Rada Khan!?"

"What! Someone like him is here? That will only mean one thing."

"They're the Aegis clan."

"Thunder mash!"

"Sun purge!"

"Kill switch!"

"Pierce!"

Bodies scattered all over the place as the rebeasts didn't stand a chance against the assault of the team.

Maggie was awed at the sight of seeing them move like a well-oiled machine.

'They really know how to work as a team.'

She couldn't help but admire her teammates as they crushed and decimated their targets.

It wasn't long until the timer sounded and Ciel appeared once again.

"Congratulations Aegis for clearing the first trial. You may proceed for the second trial."

The team was excited over successfully passing their first trial.

"Brint it on!" Ace exclaims as the five were teleported leaving behind the other participants.

"This was their first time in here and they've already cleared the first trial."

"I am so posting about this when I get home! I met Aegis."

"Tsk, those bastards!" Rex was covered in flames and overtaken by the feeling of rage and embarrassment as he recalls the words of Reginald before they entered the crypt.

"We're completing this challenge in a single run, unlike some of you posers here."

The flames around him got hotter as he walked towards the exit of the crypt. It wasn't just bad enough that he failed to pass the trail once again.

But he got upstaged by the very people he mocked before taking the challenge.

"This is not over!"ut what's someone like you doing in Cronoa?"

"Let's just say, I've come for a meeting."

The two sat down all night and traded stories, mostly of the little time they spent with Ace. Unbeknownst to either of them, their encounter would bring about a major change in the world.

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