The cavemen were extremely weak, but the sudden collapse of the cavern was Arreck’s true problem. Without anyone noticing, a massive crack appeared in the sheet of ice overhead, and the roof caved in with a thunderous rumble. Numerous soldiers were crushed by the falling chunks of ice.
The mages around Arreck conjured a green protective barrier around them. Several tons of ice pressed down against the barrier, causing the shield to crack. The ghastly faces of the mages turned even paler than usual. Fortunately for them, Shitaht had no desire to completely wreck his home, or else they would have been buried by the snowfall. Shitaht weaved through the erratic ice formations with ease. Frost dragons could easily blend in with their icy recesses, an innate ability passed down by their ancestors. As long as they were in snowy regions, it was nearly impossible for humans to detect them.
He stalked silently towards Arreck, fully intending on ripping the duke to shreds. At that moment, two Black Knights turned around, red eyes flashing as they saw Shitaht.
“Who’s there!” Both Black Knights shouted in unison.
Startled, Shitaht lunged forward, ramming into the pair with his wings. Their armor plates caved inwards from the pressure as the knights were sent flying into a wall. Shitaht grabbed both knights before scurrying away into hiding once more. Due to the rain of giant ice chunks, no one noticed the two Black Knights being taken out.
Arreck’s mages expended a lot of energy to halt the collapse of the cavern, and they began working on clearing a path immediately after. The former duke scanned his troops, realizing that he had lost at least three hundred men,as well as some of the Dead Knights. His heart sank as the realization sunk in.
“Ptui!” Devard spat out a mouthful of snow. He walked towards Arreck, cautiously eyeing the walls as he did. Despite possessing superhuman strength and Elemental Powers, he knew that he would be powerless to prevent his fate should the walls of ice decide to swallow them.
“This must be the work of those cavemen.” The female knight beside Arreck gritted her teeth. Sylvia’s face had been sliced by an icicle when protecting her lord. Blood ran down her face, giving her a terrifying visage.
Devard nodded. Everyone had not considered if the true masters of that place had never left at all. They had undeniably felt the dragon’s mighty pressure even though they were miles away. No one else could imitate that brand of aura .
“At least they’ve retreated.” Devard’s voice was full of uncertainty.
Arreck turned to look at the newly-formed tunnel. The cavemen were nowhere to be seen. It was normal for dragons to command a band of underlings, just like Black Dragons and gnomes. Red Dragons and Kobolds(狗头人) could often be found together, Silver Dragons often accepted the servitude of elves, and Gold Dragons preferred the company of faeries. Thus, it was not unusual for the Frost Dragon to have a few cavemen as its underlings.
Arreck remained silent for a few more moments. After confirming that there were no irregularities, he said, “March on.”
What the duke did not know was that Shitaht too had been startled by them. He could not have imagined that the Black Knights were so perceptive, almost causing him to reveal himself. After that scare, Shitaht decided to give up on ambushing the enemy, instead he would hide away in a safe location and find out what Arreck was doing here.
Shitaht felt like this was a game between him and the humans, but he knew that safety was still his priority. This has nothing to do with courage, it’s about wisdom. He tried to reassure himself.
For the rest of the trip, he silently followed the humans as they traversed deeper into the ice hallway. Despite the lengthy trip, Shitaht felt not the slightest of boredom. On the contrary, his interest in the trespassers only grew.
Soon, Arreck arrived at Shitaht’s nest.
He cautiously stepped into the icy cavern. The room was very spacious, populated by ice structures that formed naturally through the course of many centuries. The thin sheet of ice fog around was made apparent by the blue glow of the ice. Arreck rested his eyes upon a pillar of ice in the middle of the cavern. At the heart of the ice pillar laid a glowing gemstone --- the Ash Gem(灰宝石). Even in the absence of light, it emitted a mystical shine, as if it were a sun resting in a womb.
Arreck looked on in silence, the light from the gemstone casting long shadows over his face. Despite his grim expression, he was thoroughly impressed by the size of the gem. It was as tall as a human. He surmised that this gem must be artificially created, as it was impossible for a gem of this size to form naturally.
The duke looked towards his mages. Even though no one had ever seen the Heart of the Dragon, the mages could clearly feel the flow of pure magical energy from the gem. One of the mages, his voice trembling, said, “M-my lord, that might actually be the Heart of the Dragon.”
Arreck nodded, but he had already suspected that much. He had already entered the Peak Golden Realm for quite some time, thus his senses had also improved. He could feel the power emitting from the gem, a destructive wave of energy being held back that could explode outwards at any time.
Historical records stated that the Heart of the Dragon was a bottomless source of energy, which was exactly what Arreck and his men were staring at.
Seeing that their lord had already nodded, the mages set out to work. They immediately used their magic to scan the cavern for any traps. While it was unlikely for the proud Dragon tribe to set up traps, it was still better to play it safe than make assumptions. After all, there were always exceptions to every rule.
Just as expected, the mages reported that there were no signs of any traps, even on the ice pillar in which the gemstone laid.
Arreck’s face relaxed slightly, but it did not seem any less intimidating. He turned to issue an order to his Black Knights. “Go and retrieve the Heart. Be careful not to damage it. I’m sure all of you know how important it is to me.”
The Black Knights nodded their heads. Led by a captain, a dozen Black Knights walked towards the ice pillar, only for the unthinkable to happen. In front of everyone’s eyes, each and every Black Knight who ventured forward disappeared without a trace, even the captain, who had already gone through Elemental Activation.
Everyone was shocked silent, to the point where a single needle hitting the floor could be heard.
A squadron of Elemetal Awakeners, including an expert with Elemental Activation, had been wiped out without any struggle. The mages could not help rubbing their eyes, wondering if their eyes were playing tricks on them.
Arreck glared at his mages furiously, and asked, “What is the meaning of this?”
The mages looked towards each other. It was obvious that this was a trap, but they had already scanned the entire area, and their magic showed that the vicinity was completely safe. They could do naught but stare at their lord, tongue-tied.
A look of disappointment on his face, Arreck turned to a group of his soldiers and commanded, “You lot, go there.”
The group of soldiers went pale, but they could not betray their lord, so they nervously walked over to the pillar, all the while muttering under their breaths. The soldiers shuffled forward as slowly as they could, while Arreck looked on anxiously.
However, nothing happened to the soldiers when they reached the ice pillar. The soldiers stood perfectly fine, as if the previous incident with the Black Knights never happened.
Arreck frowned. He turned to another group of Black Knights and commanded them to go towards the ice pillar again.
The Black Knights were much more disciplined than the soldiers. They gave a small bow, and immediately marched to where the soldiers stood. However, thirty feet away from the Heart, the same thing happened once more. The Black Knights, as well as the soldiers from before, vanished without a trace.
Everyone was stunned. While it was understandable for the soldiers to be treated as sacrificial pawns, it was a different matter with the Black Knights. With the maneuver that Arreck had just pulled, as well as the collapse just now, nearly a third of the Black Knights had been incapacitated. If the Privy Council(枢密院) were to ask of this incident, not even the duke would be able to escape unharmed.
Nearly a hundred Elemental Awakeners gone just like that. It was a hard loss to accept, even for Arreck. Stone-faced, he scanned the surroundings carefully, as if realizing something. He shouted, “Who is it! Come out right now!”
The duke’s voice reverberated throughout the cavern, but it received no response. Shitaht, who was watching from beneath the ice layer, could not stop rolling on the ground in laughter. A muffled hissing that was his laughter escaped from his mouth. If anyone were to come across him right now, they would only see a white mass rolling around on the ground, unable to recognize the dragon before them.