The boundless North Sea, north of Nephrite Major.
Tall wave upon tall wave crashed upon black reefs.
A sweet, lilting song twirled around the waves, accompanying their continual rise and fall. It came from a charming young girl sitting on top of a reef, swinging her bare calves in concert with the waves and her voice.
Not far from her was an awe-inspiring stronghold, towering by the seaside. Its deep-navy walls seemed cast in iron, holding strong and sturdy even against the strongest waves. An enormous formation slowly circulated within the stronghold, creating an invisible barrier that spanned the entire coastline.
Suddenly, a soldier with a shrimp’s head and human body popped out from the depths of the turquoise sea, carefully scanning the stronghold with its outgrown eyes.
“The seaside stronghold is empty! The million-strong Dusk Phalanx has left!” Disbelief shone out of the shrimp soldier’s goggling eyes. It dove into the sea with a flip, leaving a splash on the water’s surface.
“Reporting in! Reporting to the admiral, all Dusk soldiers have left the seaside stronghold! It’s completely empty!” The soldier’s declaration caused an uproar in the North Sea.
The depths of the North Sea, within an enormous trench.
A monster spirit with a shark’s head and strongly-built human body sat atop a coral throne. He perked up in disbelief when he heard the shrimp.
“The seaside stronghold is empty?” He stared at the shrimp with its deathly-pale shark eyes. “Are you certain?”
“This subordinate is certain of what I saw!” the soldier hurriedly replied. “The stronghold is empty of even the Dusk banners! Moreover, there is no trace of any soldier within a two hundred and fifty kilometer radius!”
The shrimp was a scout of the North Sea monster spirits and had special reconnaissance skills.
“Reporting in!” In came a monster resembling a seabird that landed before the admiral, a large air bubble around it. “Reporting to the admiral, inland scouts say that the soldiers stationed in the seaside stronghold are currently attacking the Skandha Range! The stronghold is defenseless. Please give the order, admiral!”
“What? Dusk soldiers are attacking the Skandha Range? That’s right, Zhao Fengyang is about to pass on the throne. Zhao Changkong won’t be able to keep Skandha Range under control....” The admiral shot to his feet. Thick layers of light surrounded his giant body as he morphed into a three-hundred-meter black shark. “Officers! Gather the army and charge the stronghold with me!”
A storm gathered atop the North Sea.
From the vast expanse of the ocean sprang banners and the sound of war drums. Countless monsters swarmed out of the water, walking on waves to approach the shore. Thunderclouds loomed and swiftly converged over the stronghold like giant mountain ranges.
“Hahaha! The stronghold really is empty!” A gigantic black shark soared into the clouds, its giant fins propelling its body through the air like wings. His form flitted in and out of view with the clouds.
“Children, take the stronghold and break the grand formation!” A thunderous roar echoed from the shark’s mouth.
An ocean of banners rippled as an answering chorus of war drums threatened to shake the very skies. A dark mass of sea monster spirits rushed out of the water and charged the stronghold.
The seaside fortress was able to exert a chokehold on the North Sea because of the grand formation within it. It created a giant barrier that covered the entire coastline within the confines of the province, preventing the sea monsters from coming ashore.
Only by breaking through the stronghold and destroying the formation could the sea monsters make their way inland.
“I was going to quietly slaughter a few cities to refine an origin sphere, but it seems that won’t be necessary anymore.” Perched on a smooth reef, a girl in grey cocked her head at the countless sea monsters and muttered to herself, “Did Lu Yun see through my intentions and send me here instead?” The girl gathered a drop of blood in her hands. “Why trouble yourself this way? The current Dusk Province is so poor that it can’t even raise immortals. What will you do after invading the province? Eat dirt?”
With a push, a flood of crimson light exploded from her hands.
“Heh heh, the Dusk Lord?” The giant willow snorted mockingly at the man in golden armor. “My position depends on the apathy of His Majesty the Celestial Emperor. He could kill me with a single finger snap if he wished.”
The dark violet willow widened its eyes. “You aren’t from the Nephrite court, are you? There are nine courts in the world of immortals and none of them are pushovers. No matter who ends up acquiring the ancient lord’s heritage in the end, the biggest beneficiary will be the Nephrite Court!”
The man in gold paused.
Long, thin branches of dark violet swept toward him. With a snort, the goateed old man took a step forward. Reflected light flickered around him, knocking the branches back.
“An otherkind that pursues the dao. Your true form is a type of equipment, isn't it?” 
The giant willow’s expression tightened and a mirror emerged before the old man to guard the man in gold.
The man burst into hearty laughter. “You don't know the half of it, Dusk Lord. His Majesty is going to pass down his position so that he may pursue that inexplicable realm. Crown Prince Changkong will take his place and be the new celestial emperor.
“His Majesty’s goal is an elusive one that will take tens of thousands of years to reach. In fact—” The man in gold didn’t finish his sentence. In fact, the celestial emperor might get lost in that realm and never emerge from closed door cultivation!
A number of heavyweights had attempted the same thing over the past hundred thousand years, but so far no one had succeeded.
The willow fell into deep thought.
“You’ve allowed the celestial emperor to walk all over you for too long, Your Lordship,” agreed the old turtle. “Given your power, It will be easy for you to gain a foothold in Dusk Province and name yourself king. High-level immortals don’t dare set foot into the province. The heritage of the ancient lord will be yours for the taking.
“With the Lu Clan on your side to grasp the province in a pincer move, the Nephrite Court wouldn’t dare challenge you! The governor might have a powerful zombie, but there are many things that can counter zombies.”
“Surrender those from the Lu Clan in thirty breaths, or everyone in the Skandha Range will perish with them,” the voice outside commanded again.
“Ha! You’re just a true immortal. How dare you proclaim that you will conquer the Skandha Range?!” the giant willow roared gutturally. “Kill, my children!”
Its black trunk exuded a dark violet light as branches hurtled out from its body. Countless monster spirits charged out of the Skandha Range with reckless abandon.
“I knew the old tree spirit wouldn’t stay put.” An immortal in black armor atop a black cloud smirked coldly when he saw the willow tree emerging from the Skandha Range. “His Majesty the Celestial Emperor is soon to step down. Zhao Changkong is simply too useless to keep a tight rein over these volatile factors. The governor is wise to destroy the Skandha Range beforehand to avoid future unrest. Men, form up!”
In the next instant, the million heavenly soldiers roared in unison. The giant banner of the Dusk Phalanx slowly unfurled in the air as a black light emitted from their bodies, creating a strange formation.
The pattern of a snake and a turtle coiling around each other formed in the air—it was the Black Tortoise, the guardian of the north.
The tortoise image crushed the countless willow branches with a single stomp.
“The Skandha Range has hidden the Lu traitors and attacked the Dusk Phalanx. Their crimes shall not be forgiven. Kill with no mercy!” the true immortal howled and manifested a black longsword. Where he pointed the blade, so the million soldiers charged.
“The Heavenly Formation of the Black Tortoise! Are you crazy, Yuchi Hanxing?! How dare you deploy all of the soldiers from the seaside stronghold?! Aren’t you worried that the sea monsters will take advantage of this opportunity to invade?!” the old turtle shrieked to high heavens. The Dusk Phalanx was in charge of guarding the seaside stronghold and preventing the evil spirits from the Dusk Tomb from arising.
But Yuchi Hanxing, commander of the Dusk Phalanx, had sent out the entirety of the army to attack the Skandha Range! The Skandha Range was powerful, but it couldn’t defend against a million soldiers.
The willow branches were crushed in a split second, and the mountain ranges themselves were even pulverized to fine powder. Countless otherkind cultivators held themselves still and bowed their heads before the Black Tortoise image manifested by the heavenly formation.
The man in gold and the goateed old man stared with mouths agape. Was this the true power of the Nephrite Court?
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