“Where is Ryu?” Tae anxiously grabbed the hands of her cousin.
It took some time for The Selection participants to leave the Small Realm much like it had taken some time for them all to enter.
However, it had already been some time and Ryu was nowhere to be seen. Taedra felt an uncomfortable feeling in her chest as a result, all stemming from guilt.
By now, everyone knew that Ryu was the target of the Zu Clan. They had practically flipped the whole of the Mortal Qi Small Realm upside down in an attempt to find him. Yet, they hadn’t found so much as a single hair of his, let alone capturing him to seek revenge.
Currently, they had all gathered on the peak of Mortal Qi Mountain. A portion had been flattened out to place a reinforced martial platform. Unlike other events, The Selection was held in secret away from the public eye, likely to hide the underhanded actions of the Core Region from scrutiny. However, there were still projections of these events. This was likely so that if anything out of their control occurred, the feed could always be cut and an ‘explanation’ could be given later.
It would have been quite a beautiful sight, being so high in the skies, had Tae not felt as though this was all the fault of their Loom Clan.
Had they not contracted Ryu, he would have never been forced to battle Connecting Heaven Realm experts so far above him in strength. Then, his corpse puppets would have never been exposed.
What made her most uncomfortable was the fact Lucien and members of the Zu Clan seemed to be standing quite close to each other now, whereas in the past, they had no such relationship. If they did, Lucien’s Clan would have long since made use of the Zu Clan to pressure them.
Unfortunately, the problems didn’t end there. It seemed the Basteel Clan was also involved, likely because they finally found a good opportunity to seek revenge the matter surrounding the Bloodied Steed.
Two Half-Step Sixth Order Clans and a single Sixth Order Clan all seeking revenge against a single young man of the mere Qi Refinement Realm? Where was their pride?!
Matheus’ face darkened at Tae’s question, a deep complexity swirling in his pupils. He didn’t regret his decision back then, but this didn’t mean he didn’t feel a bit guilty.
“He… Should be fine.” Matheus said with a bit of hesitation. Considering Ryu’s score had begun to climb again after his two-month disappearance, Matheus believed that he was at the very least alive. He didn’t see a reason for anyone to fake such a thing.
Tae sighed a slight breath of relief. “That’s good… He shouldn’t come here.”
Thanks to Matheus’ words, she believed that Ryu had run away. She had no idea why the Zu Clan, Basteel Clan and Lucien were waiting here as though they were certain he would come, but it seemed they were too arrogant in their assessment.
Did they believe that Ryu would be quaking in fear and feel he had no choice but to hand himself in?
Though Tae thought this, she couldn’t help but feel a slight disappointment. It was the intelligent move to not come to this place… but it still somehow left a bitter taste she disliked herself for having.
‘Stupid Tae. If he comes here, it means nothing but his death. At least this way he can seek revenge another day when he’s stronger. Plus, Cousin Matheus should be able to handle this…’
What she didn’t know was that Matheus was racking his own brain. If he went all out, winning this tournament would be easy. But he obviously couldn’t do so.
‘It’ll be fine.’ He thought with a frown. ‘I have other methods…’
Across the martial platform, a completely different conversation was taking place. Just as Tae was observing them, they too were observing her. Seeing her relieved expression, some of them began to feel skeptical.
“Are you certain that he will come? He can’t be a fool, right?” Lucien was the one who asked this question, directing it toward a Zu Clan Elder.
“Our Zu Clan is quite good at understanding people.” The elder said nonchalantly. “His clash with City Lord Loom is all the proof you need of his arrogance and bravado. If what you say about his crippled cultivation is true, it’s even more likely that he’ll come here.”
Lucien and an elder of the Basteel Clan frowned, unable to understand this logic. So, the Zu Clan Elder continued, sweeping her long white hair behind her ear.
“It’s simple psychoanalysis. An individual like him is prideful to his core. If he suddenly lost all of his potential and future prospects, he wouldn’t choose to die in a barren hole of the martial world. He would prefer to go out in a blaze of fire… I believe you yourself have seen this truth.”
Lucien involuntarily trembled when he thought back to Ryu’s disregard for his own life. It was true… Back then he had thought he would die but still chose to do so with his head held high.
“I still think we should have kept his grandfather alive, then.” The gruff Basteel Clan elder stroked his disorderly beard. “At the very least, it would increase the chances of him appearing.”
“No…” A sinister flash resonated through the female elder’s silver eyes. “… That ant’s corpse is far more useful to us. The dignity of the Zu Clan must never be trampled upon. Begin!”
The Basteel Clan’s elder snapped his fingers. A moment later, a burly cultivator trudged forward with a wooden pole about two feet in diameter and three meters tall. One side of the wooden pole was wrapped in a brown sack, obscuring what was underneath. The other side was sharpened for ease of staking.
With a grunt, the burly cultivator raised his arms and violently thrust the pole down. Once he was finished, he bent his back backward, rubbing it with a hand.
‘Damn, how can a person be so heavy.’
After recollecting him, he pulled on the ropes holding the brown sack in place, finally revealing what was beneath.
Tae blinked in shock, gasping beside herself.
“… Who is that?” She whispered, suddenly feeling a terrible premonition.
The scene before her was simply too disgusting.
A middle-aged man was strapped naked to the pole, his body filled with ghastly, curdling wounds that released a foul smell.
For a cultivator to suffer infected wounds like this, it couldn’t have possibly been due to normal circumstances. There was only one answer: poison!
The man’s eyes were open, but what must have once been beautiful deep brown eyes had decidedly greyed.
His mouth was open, unable to be closed, continuously leaking a green tinged droll. His tongue was simply too swollen, filled with hives that had become the nesting grounds for disgusting white worms.
Tae covered her mouth, her eyes involuntarily watering.
“How… Why does he seem alive but dead…”
It didn’t make sense. How could a dead man still produce drool? Why was a dead man still bleeding?
Matheus’ visage darkened even more considerably than before.
“His soul… was shattered and dissipated. He is worse than dead… It’s an even worse fate than becoming a corpse puppet.”
“You all may be confused by this scene.” The Zu Clan Elder stepped forward. She should have been a city collapsing beauty, with gorgeous curves and long slender legs that only barely peeked out of the slit of her long black dress, but there was something decidedly sinister about her that made them all avert their gazes.
“A few months ago, the corpse of our long-lost Zu Clan Elder was finally found. We of the Zu Clan had put a lot of effort into finding the perpetrator, searching for a long year already. So, one can imagine how devastated we were to find that our beloved Elder, my very own Junior Brother, had become a corpse puppet pawn of this so-called Throne Ryu.”
The horrible feeling swelling in Tae’s chest grew. Her eyes reddened uncontrollably.
“We of the Zu Clan are a peaceful people, but we will not take humiliation lying down. Since Throne Ryu has killed an innocent of ours, we’ve killed his grandfather!”
Not only the Clans present, but those spectating The Selection from afar also gasped in shock.
Tae stumbled backward, clutching her chest. From their talk that night, Tae knew how much Ryu loved his family. Everything he was doing was for them. For one to die like this…
“So, I have a message for this Throne Ryu. If you do not appear this day and atone for your crimes personally, the Zu Clan will venture to your Higher Mortal Plane and slaughter those you call family. For any who manage to survive, we’ll enslave them and force them into a life of servitude.”
Higher Mortal Plane? Many looked around confused. How could a Throne of their Immortal Plane come from such a backwater place?
“We’ll force their children and their children’s children into an endless cycle of torture and horror, and we’ll be sure to teach them all that all of their pain and suffering was because of a single coward who didn’t dare to take responsibility fo --.”
At that moment, an aura so cold that the mountain peak was descended into a snowy hell appeared.
No one knew how, but a young man with his face obscured by a black and brown grime manifested before the stake and the ghastly corpse. He too seemed to waft a foul, but not a single person was thinking of this reality.
His piercing eyes were completely expressionless as he stared at the corpse. His breathing was steady, his body didn’t tremble, but the piercing aura only seemed to grow.
‘No!’ Tae screamed in her mind. ‘Why… Why would you appear…’
Ryu reached forward and closed his grandfather’s eyelids. There was a dull pain in his chest he couldn’t control when he noticed they resisted, but he closed them, nonetheless.
His hand moved again, this time piercing his grandfather’s heart with a sharp qi. Like this, the once mighty Amell Tor had finally come to rest.