Making his way down a long passage deep beneath the earth, Joshua arrived at a great hall at the end. Bright golden light from glow-stones clearly illuminated every detail of his surroundings. Towering over the center of the hall was an enormous hand-carved statue of a serpent entwined around a hammer. Its very presence inspired the feeling of dread.
This was neither the first nor even the second time that Joshua had been here.
In truth, ever since helping Vale Dani to make her way back, the warrior made time virtually every week to visit this enormous subterranean cavern beneath the graveyard, in order to perform maintenance on the various unclaimed Divine Armaments.
Although he called it 'maintenance,' the truth was that the only thing he did here was check to see if the magical enchantments which kept everything in order were still functioning. Joshua did have a few levels in the Blacksmith profession and was able to craft the most rudimentary magical equipment, but something on the level of complexity of the living alchemy in a Divine Armament—only a legendary alchemist or master craftsperson could perform anything that could actually be called maintenance of such artifacts. The most Joshua himself could do was examine them from their outward appearances.
However, today Joshua had come for a different purpose than usual.
He was here to awaken a second Divine Armament for himself.
His boots rang on the stone floor as Joshua made his way solemnly across the hall.
There were four chambers around the hall, each containing equipment shaped with both forge and alchemy, every piece exhibiting the highest quality of craftsmanship. Take for example the first room to the left: created in the western mountains, a flange crystal workbench which any smith could use to work on even top-notch Legendary-tier equipment. At the side, an elemental furnace which could not only heat up the materials used in forging but also provide stable energy of any element for the alchemical apparatus nearby.
Paying little heed to these accouterments (which an aspiring master alchemist would have gone crazy for), Joshua hurried straight ahead, towards a tunnel steeped in silence and shadow, which led to the warrior's goal.
The blade-sealing chamber of Divine Armaments.
It was a long walk through the tunnel, with no source of illumination anywhere except ahead in the distance, but at the speed, Joshua was going, it wasn't too long before he broke out into the light.
Standing at the entrance to the blade-sealing chamber, Joshua lifted his gaze to the single enormous chunk of glow-stone overhead, and couldn't help but pause for a while. The warrior seemed to be thinking about something, but after a while, he shook his head and stepped inside.
Entering the chamber, the sharp metallic tang of steel assailed his sense of smell, but Joshua ignored it, looking about in this gloomy underground chamber beneath the church cemetery. There were hundreds of weapons of every variety stuck into the ground here, and he earnestly sought among them to find the one that he had come here for.
He soon found it—a greataxe, half-buried in the ground.
Joshua walked over to the massive weapon.
It was solid-black, a double-bladed great axe with a long haft. With two heavy, curved blades and a sharp spear-head at its tip, its design was simple enough – without any needless embellishments, a serious affair at first sight. The metal haft and blades had been forged as a single piece, the surface now dotted with rust. Along the edges of the jet-black axe-blades, conduits snaked through the metal in veins of darkened gold, as if tracing paths of flame.
Coming to stand before it, Joshua raised his left hand. With a soft chuckle, he said to himself, "Not quite the same as the last time."
The mark of the Divine Armament pact was still. Compared to three months ago, when he'd entered the pact with Ying, this was somewhat different. The pact, inscribed into the warrior's left hand, displayed no sign of being activated.
This was to be expected.
Through his inherited memories, Joshua knew that entering into a pact with a single Divine Armament, for most warriors, was already a tremendous burden. The energy conduits within their bodies were unable to withstand the overwhelming power supplied by multiple Divine Armaments, so in order to keep what precious few masters there were from collapsing beneath the strain of their own weapons, after they'd entered into a pact with their first one, all Divine Armaments were determined from creation to cease their automatic resonance through the pact, terminating all autonomous functions of this nature.
If one should truly desire to enter a pact with another Divine Armament, the one who acted in the role of Master would have to initiate it themself, expressing a sense of 'need'—a need for the assistance of the Divine Armaments.
That was the reason why Joshua then reached out with his left hand to clasp the long haft of the black greataxe.
"Oh, Divine Armament," he intoned steadily, the warrior's crimson eyes locked upon the weapon in his hand, his voice reverberating around the whole chamber, "Answer my call."
"I, Joshua van Radcliffe, acting head of the Radcliffe family, as Master, beseech you for your aid—I need you to become my strength."
With every word that he spoke, Joshua could feel the back of his hand gradually becoming warmer, the temperature rising continuously until it felt as though his hand was being consumed by a blazing fire. A symbol swiftly appeared upon the back of his hand, like a tattoo—a long-hafted greataxe, entwined by a serpent.
There was a rumble, and then a mighty gale arose out of nowhere.
In this sudden magical wind, the other weapons stuck in the ground trembled violently—war-hammers, spears, swords or flails alike, all rattled and shook on their own, producing a clarion rhythm. Within this storm of sound, Joshua seemed to hear numerous muffled voices.
"A second one…"
"To think… to think there would be somebody who wishes to enter into a pact with a second Divine Armament…"
"Stop this right now! It's too dangerous—one slip, and you'll be dead!"
"Go for it! Young man, you can do it!"
"Don't continue any further, just let it go. Think of your own well-being."
In this cacophony of voices, there was surprise, warning, encouragement, and doubt. Joshua spared no attention for any of them, in silence feeling the Divine Armament pact smoldering upon the back of his hand, power pulsing through his body, and then he took hold of the greataxe and drew it, little by little, out of the ground below.
There was the crisp sound of steel grinding against stone, and a golden light shone down from above. In the instant when the warrior pulled free the greataxe from its solid granite sheath, revealing its curved blades in their entirety, the magic in the air began to seethe urgently. Without a moment's hesitation, Joshua channeled his Combat Aura into the weapon he held in his hand, letting it wash through every inch of the greataxe, branding it as his own.
Power blazed like fire within his flesh and blood. As Joshua and the Divine Armament transferred energy back-and-forth between each other, the rust that speckled the greataxe began to flake off and fall away, while the golden conduits started to glow. Primed with the warrior's Combat Aura, the black greataxe began to radiate an extra-ordinary aura of its own. Harsh beams of light flared from its surface, while a profound sense of gravity descended upon the room. Selfishly, it drew every last bit of mana from its surroundings into itself, its solid black color giving way to a complex network of interwoven black and golden lines—perhaps intended as a symbol of death and victory.
And then, as Joshua looked on, the gathered mana scattered in coruscating rays, unfathomable power warping the boundaries of the physical dimension. A figure, slim and slight, took form in the blinding radiance and stepped forth. The haft of the greataxe, which the warrior had been clutching tightly, was now a long and delicate hand, the wrist bearing the same tattoo of a serpent-entwined axe.
"It's nice to meet you, Master."
The light slowly faded away. The bright young voice had come from right in front of Joshua, its owner apparently the slender figure who now stood before him.
The young man had a head of shoulder-length black hair, which stuck out every which way and badly needed a combing. He carried himself with a slightly effeminate air, and his eyes were like golden suns. Especially when compared to Joshua's own intimidating stature, the young man seemed dainty and diminutive, so that he had to crane his head to look up at the warrior.
Clad in a black shirt inlaid with gold trim, the young man now wore an amiable smile on his face. He retrieved his hand from Joshua's grip, and then bowed politely. "Ling Akron, the Dragon Cleaver: in fulfillment of your request and expectations, in deference to the Radcliffe family bloodline and our ancient pact, I hereby offer my loyalty to you."
Head lowered and eyes shut, he went on to offer the warrior gracious words of praise. "Your might leaves me in awe, master. Since your house was first founded, you are the first of your bloodline to successfully enter into a pact with multiple Divine Armaments. I feel truly privileged to be a part of this honor."
"Ling, is it? A good name."
Feeling an increase in pressure upon his body that was sudden, but still, within the limits of his endurance, Joshua's expression was one of good humor. He regarded the youth before him, extended his left hand, and said with sincerity, "Being able to enter into a pact with you, I see that as a blessing as well."
Hearing the warrior's words, and seeing the hand being held out to him, Ling blinked his eyes, then suddenly realized what he should do next. He let out a little laugh, and then he moved forward, pressing his forehead against the warrior's hand.
Feeling his wrist being pushed up alongside this strange new sensation, Joshua nodded gently, and then, together with the young man before him, they earnestly shouted as one, "Attention: The pact has been made!"
Their two voices, bolstered by pact and bloodline, seemed to take on an ethereal quality. "In honor of the ancient pact, I place mine life in thy hands. Mine blade exists only for thy glory. May this oath be passed down from one generation to the next, never to be forsworn!"
At this point, the surrounding Divine Armaments had all ceased their muffled cries, and gone were the voices full of doubt and warning. Following the warrior's successful new pact, they resonated, quivered, and vibrated deep within their steel, as though chanting and serenading their praise for the scene before them.
Never once in the blade-sealing chamber had such a scene taken place before.
A pact—a pact for a second Divine Armament—had succeeded, just like that.
As the pact was sealed, Ling's expression shifted faintly. He felt an immense surge of power from his new master, immeasurable in scale, enough to easily overwhelm a typical person's capacity to withstand it. The only reaction the dark-haired, golden-eyed youth made to this was a soft grunt, and then his expression returned to normal.
It wasn't too small to escape Joshua's notice, and so he couldn't help inquiring, "Is there anything troubling you?"
Ling gave a modest little laugh. Although he did appear a little uncomfortable, on the whole, he still seemed to be alright. The young man replied lightly, "The feedback of power from Master was truly considerable, but this body had already undergone special enhancement so that such a level of power was still within my ability to contain."
Just then, a system display of his attributes popped up.
[Name: Ling Acroll]
[Race: Divine Armament—Racial Ability: Divine Armament Transformation, resonates with the Master who formed a Pact with him and transforms himself into a weapon.]
[Divine Armament Transformation Level 1: Lasts for 1 hour. Cooldown 24 hours. Transforms into weapon form, providing the Master with half of Ling's own health and one-fifth of her attributes.]
[Humble and benevolent. Although young, perhaps a passable butler?]
This is entirely different from Ying's starting attributes!
Looking through the attributes panel, this thought flashed past Joshua's mind. He considered the quiet young man waiting before him, and sighed internally.
Although Ying's current attributes overall were comparable to Ling's, that was only after accompanying him through countless battles. Meanwhile, Ling was this powerful right from the get-go. It was very odd.
Since he had his doubts, he might as well ask directly.
After hearing the warrior's questions, Ling paused for a while. He scratched his cheek with a finger, and then thoughtfully replied, "A Divine Armament's starting attributes are largely determined by their Master's own ability, as well as the level of synchronization with them. There are many reasons which could explain why I'm stronger than my elder sister, but this would be the main factor." The young man was naturally aware of his sister's condition, and he softly added, "It was because I resonated more strongly with Master, right from the start, hence the elders instilled me with more legacy memories, and it's also why I was specially upgraded quite a bit… in truth, it's like this for most Divine Armaments—after creation, they are placed in the blade-sealing chamber, and only those with the greatest synchronization will have the chance to be enhanced and to enter into a pact."
Having said this much, Ling looked uncertain. "In fact, at the time when you made a pact with my sister, I thought it a little strange, because I was clearly resonating more strongly with you. How did you come to choose her instead… of course, such was Master's decision, and far be it for me to question. It was just a little different from what I was used to, so I felt it was kind of unusual, that's all…"
Now that he knew the reason, Joshua couldn't help shaking his head in laughter.
All this had been caused by his transition. Originally, Joshua had a better synchronization rate with Ling, so he'd been selected as next-in-line to become his Divine Armament, and the young man before him had therefore received various special upgrades. However, the warrior had transitioned in half-way, and there must have been a mistake somewhere so that he'd made the pact with Ying instead, who hadn't yet been upgraded at all.
Ling had a complete archive of memories, whereas Ying's knowledge was such that she hadn't even received updates on the simplest information. Just from this point alone, one could tell that the young man had spoken true.
Joshua couldn't help shaking his head in exasperation as he thought about it. "So it seems, from the beginning, it was you whom I was supposed to make a pact with… I guess I've kept you waiting."
It seems his transition had affected a great many things. If not for the trouble Ying had encountered, this Divine Armament here could have been stuck in the ground for quite a while…
"It's no big deal." Ling shook his head, his golden eyes serene. "A weapon exists to fulfill their master's needs. You have need of me, and I sensed it, so I formed a pact with you. Sooner or later is irrelevant—all that matters is that you require me."
"Such a good, understanding child." The warrior smiled as he turned away, making for the entrance of the blade-sealing chamber.
"I am your weapon, after all." The young man shrugged his shoulders, and then hurried after Joshua, leaving the chamber behind.