After he returned to Xuanyuan Lake, Tianming visited Xuanyuan Muxue's residence and got Ying Huo treated by Xuanyuan Yu. Xuanyuan Yucheng and Beigong Qianyu, as well as the other friends he made during the Number One Summit, were there too.
"Tianming, you really are insane. After you went to the Kilostar Domain, you far outpaced us, and even killed ghoul kings."
"One word: hyper badass!"
"That's two words, haha!"
They had thought that Tianming would be harder to get along with after he had grown even stronger, but they didn't expect there would be barely any change. After talking to them about his experiences for a bit, it was time to leave, so he had Xuanyuan Muxue send him off. He wanted to give her the ultimate tribulation manna that could make a lifebound beast reach nine hundred and ninety-nine stars privately, after all.
The blizzard had long stopped, but the snow remained piled up. They walked side by side across the snowy landscape and eventually reached the entrance.
"This here is for you," Tianming said as he took out Frosty Mercurius from his spatial ring.
"What is it?" When she stopped, her hair fluttered in the wind and she tucked it behind her ear.
"It's what I promised you. Ultimate tribulation manna."
"I heard your lifebound beasts now have nine hundred and ninety-nine stars. Is that true?"
"Yeah." He handed her the manna. "You’re the best friend I've made here in the Archaion Sect. Please take this. All four of my lifebound beasts already used one, so I no longer have a use for it."
"You could've gotten so much treasure if you sold this instead."
"Aren't you underestimating me a little? Given my status now, there's no treasure that can possibly catch my eye."
"You were pretty straightforward with me before, so don't even start being all polite and hesitant with me."
"Alright, thank you. You're such a fine gentleman, Tianming." She carefully received the manna. It was something so precious it could even change her fate. Even just holding it made her feel a little lightheaded.
"Praise me too much and it’ll go to my head," he said, then took out a seventh-grade tribulation manna. "Take this too. Use it as a buffer for your beast's first evolution. I worry that it won't be able to take the ultimate tribulation manna from the get-go."
Having received something even more precious, she didn't hesitate to take the seventh-level tribulation manna. "I'll accompany you for the rest of the stretch then."
They headed toward Soulburn Hall and made their way across the frozen surface of Xuanyuan Lake.
"I heard that the five divine realms mobilized the full extent of their forces and are officially going to start the war within a few days."
"That's right, but don't worry. Taiji Peak Lake is protected within the Ninefold Formation, so it won't be breached that easily."
"I'm not too worried about this place. Instead, I'm more concerned about the hundred and eight cities in the realm. If our enemies use the savage method of killing people and beasts and making them into puppets to be used in a siege, the whole of Archaion will fall. If they do that, we'll have no choice but to leave the sect and protect the citizens of the realm," she said with a slight downcast look.
Apart from Taiji Peak Lake, which was where the realm’s governance was centered, there were a hundred and eight other cities, each one the population center of their respective areas. During wartime, most of the citizens in each area were moved to the cities, each of which was equivalent to a small sect. They were stationed with members of the Archaion Army, as well as their own garrison, and had defensive formations, though they weren't comparable with Taiji Peak Lake's.
Over the past hundred thousand years, few conflicts had involved the common folk, being centered mostly around the sects and their members. Even if a city was taken, they would usually only pillage resources and wouldn’t kill unnecessarily, targeting only soldiers. Civilians usually just surrendered and were left alone. Yet, when Nonahall had started their expedition into Kilostar Domain, they were also massacring everyone in cities—whether they be soldiers or civilians—turning them into undead puppets to boost their might and numbers.
"In other words, they've cast away their humanity for the sake of their greed and victory. If it weren’t for the fact that you dealt a heavy blow to them in the Kilostar Domain, they might even go much further than that." Xuanyuan Muxue was unquestionably worried about the divine realm. This was the home she had grown up in, and she would defend it to her death.
"I bet what happened in the Kilostar Domain will only serve to inflame their anger even further. Those heartless crooks will only retaliate even harsher. You'll see how cruel they can be."
"Tianming, there's something I really don't understand. How can they be so cruel and callous toward fellow humans like themselves? Is humanity evil by nature? Is there not a single kind soul among those in the Nonahall Divine Realm?" That was a really gloomy thought for her to ponder.
"Evil definitely exists, and there are many evil people in this world. They trample on others for the sake of obtaining power and force others to submit their riches and beauties to them. They even sell their own souls and cast away the dao in their hearts to derive power from others' suffering. They can only feel secure by gaining enough power. But that’s a path of no return. I'm not saying that everyone in the Nonahall Divine Realm is like that. However, I've seen many of them who don’t have any bottom line and will inflict any kind of cruelty. I'm sure there are kind folks among them who still remain pure and just even amidst all the filth, but those people usually don't tend to survive, so they rarely come to power. Muxue, would you believe it if I told you that killing with abandon is rather addictive?"
Nobody was born evil. However, most people were shaped by their environment, and an evil environment begot evil people.
"I guess that's true. I heard that most people in the Nonahall Divine Realm don't think what they're doing is cruel. Apparently they consider it a good quality to have."
Tianming fell into deep thought. After a while, he said, "Muxue, this time around, they tried to dangle killing Her Eminence as bait and were really intent on swallowing up our entire realm. Part of that was due to their core instinct. However, they haven't used such cruel methods in the past ten thousand years. I'm guessing there must be some kind of reason, besides their nature, that’s making the ghoul kings resort to such crazy measures like these."
"What could it be?"
Tianming pointed above. Looking up, they could see the five-colored light shooting out from Heaven Caudron toward the grey star's formation. "Yesterday, I told the elders at Tribulation Peak that the enemy's motives are definitely related to the Heaven Cauldron. Don't tell anyone else about it, though."
"Alright, I know. Looks like this whole thing goes far deeper." Having newfound resolve, she took out Frosty Mercurius and handed it to Tianming. "Friend, I'm giving this back to you."
"I'm worried I'll waste it."
"What do you mean?"
"My brother and I asked our mother for permission to head out to the city at the border three days from now."
"What’ll you be doing there?"
"We’re members of the Archaic House of Xuanyuan. If someone is needed to stop the advance of those demons, we’re willing to take up the task and go to the front lines. We've been in the sect for almost twenty years and have enjoyed the best resources and nurturing the sect has to offer. So, we can't hide away in Taiji Peak Lake. I need to do my part, too. If someone has to die, let it be me so that the innocent can live," she said matter-of-factly, backdropped by the silent night.
"You're still too young, Muxue. It's not yet time for you to bear these burdens," Tianming said after a long pause.
"I'm not young anymore. If I don't do this, I'll regret it for life. Tianming, you're not the only one who wants to be a hero. We do, too. You can’t dissuade me, and my mother has already agreed to it."
"You have my respect."
During a time of crisis, even young folks like them felt the need to grow up and help shoulder the burden. The Xuanyuan house had propagated for more than two hundred millennia, and every single one of them had inherited the undying spirit of their founding ancestor from all those years ago.
"Take it. There's little chance I'll survive, so giving it to me would only be a huge waste. This is something capable of making a sect master," she said, her hand that held the manna still shaking. Even though it was an undisputed treasure, it wasn't something she was fated to have.
"It'll really go to waste. I'm not worthy of it." The border would be the first place to take the brunt of the enemy offense, after all.
"Take it," he said, pressing her fingers against Frosty Mercurius. "How many will be going to the border with you?"
"Around hundreds of second-origin tribulation elders, five thousand first-origin tribulation elders and twenty thousand normal tribulation elders. Those of us who are samsarans can join the normal tribulation elders."
"You and who else?"
"My big brother, Sister Qianyu, and a few more from our house. You're acquainted with all of them."
"Alright. I'll join you at the frontlines, then."
"No. You’re the imperial son. You can't go, right? Your status is paramount."
"If I say I can, I can."
The building at the tallest point of the Nonahall Ghost Sect at Specter Mountains was called the Nineghoul Skypalace. That was where the ghoul kings convened to discuss matters of the sect, as well as host honored guests.
Today, the palace was far rowdier than usual. It was normal that the first and second ghoul kings weren't there to discuss matters with the other seven, and while today was no different, there were a few other guests there with them.Previous Chapter Next Chapter