While Liang Chen was finishing up his business inside the city, the business taking place within Moonset city was also starting to finish up. The Zun twins were looking at the brown-haired and blue-eyed man's outstretched hand, the slightly bleak smile on his face instilling a strange sense of closeness in them. But even with that sense of closeness, Zun Zhao, his face messy with tears and snot, didn't forget to hold his crying sister close and question the man in front of them.
"Strength...What strength is it? And how will we get it?"
What a shame it was that the Zun twins were simply too young, they had experienced too little and were thus too naive. They didn't even question if this man was friendly or not, the dying words of their Young Master and the sense of closeness was enough to lure them in, not once did they think that something was strange.
"It is the strength to save whoever you want, to kill whoever you want. It can be any element you desire, you just have to decide what form you want your wrath to take. But sadly enough, it is a very painful process, you may even die, that is why the Young Master didn't tell you two about it before. But it is the ONLY way for normal kids like you to gain the strength you desire."
The man spoke softly and caringly, but he viciously emphasized his words, driving the already despairing right into the corner. And just like previously his words seeped into their hearts and soul like a beautiful dream, neither of them doubting or questioning them, doubting him and his goals. Zun Zhao felt a soft tremble run through his chest as the man spoke, but looking down at the crying sister in his arms and remembering the words of his Big Brother Chen, he made his decision.
"I...I want you to give me power, I can bear anything if you promise me that I can protect Zhi and hurt those who hurt the Young Master! But you can't give Zhi the power, she isn't allowed to get hurt!"
He was the brother, and just like Big Brother Chen had been capable of protecting them, now it was his time to take up the role of protector. But what sort of protector would he be if he allowed his sister to get hurt, to experience pain that might kill her? Zun Zhi raised her face after Zun Zhao finished speaking, she had never seen her brother with such a rigid, almost chilly, expression in his eyes. But the man simply smiled, taking hold of Zun Zhao's hand.
"What a good brother, protecting your family is the greatest of goals. Don't worry, I promise you that as long as you withstand the surgery, you will gain such power that no one from this Sphere will get to kill your sister."
A soft and gratified smile, filled with such warmth that the Zun twins felt like they were looking at their parents. But whether or not it was because they were too naive to think deeper about it, or because of the strange charm in the man's words, neither of the children noticed the almost sinister undertones in his words. The man closed his hand around Zun Zhao's hand, space around them closing in a similar manner, all three vanishing from the city so that they could move from one tragedy to another.
The brown-haired man was taking away the Zun twins, but they weren't the only ones he interacted with. He had several tens of other bodies moving about within the other cities that they were acting against right now. And all the while, he also had one body sitting within the void, observing the hundreds of screen that floated in front of him and the two others. The orange-haired youth surrounded by the translucent bubble slid his gaze away from the screen that had featured the Zun twins, nodding his head slightly.
"He had good eyes, he would have made a good soldier. If we win, I'd like to request that you recreate him, there should be enough space for that if we get to add this Sphere onto ours."
No matter where you came from, talent would always be something that would be appreciated. But in the same vein, determination and a willingness to endure were equally appreciated, even if it manifested within an enemy. The brown-haired man acknowledged the request with a nod of his head, but the grey-eyed teen stood up from his seat before the older man could say anything.
"Something's not right."
The teen's eyebrows were furrowed slightly, his gaze sweeping the surroundings in a vigilant manner. The two other men immediately grew a bit more vigilant as well, the teen may be immature and arrogant, but he was still the ruler of the void, if he said something was wrong while within the void then something was definitely awry.
A handful of seconds after the teen spoke up, the sand-covered wasteland around them started to quiver faintly, something that sounded like a subdued whimper ringing out through the air. All three of them had stood up now, their senses spreading out as far as they could within this unhabitable land. But the one that had his expression change first wasn't the brown-haired man who seemed to be the leader, nor was it the teen that had the exalted role of ruler of the void. No, it was the green-eyed youth, a long green spear flickering with green flames appearing in his grasp.
As if his words were a signal, the quivering of the land around them reached a violent crescendo before abruptly stopping, even the subdued whimpering fading away. At the same time as the disturbance came to an end, a crack appeared in the sky above them, sliding apart as it formed a grinning maw. And as if the sky itself was speaking to them, a voice reminiscent of a beast finding its prey came out from the crack.
"Long Yao and Tian Shen, no wonder I smelled something tasty. Well well, aren't you two far from home, far from safety? But hiding in the void huh, it seems like you've learned a few new tricks since last time."
The echo of footsteps followed the voice, a youthful man walking out from the crack in the sky. The youth had snow-white hair that hung down to his waist, all of it tied up into a neat ponytail, but a few strands of hair still hung down over his pitch-black eyes, the contrast only making them stand out more. He was clad in a tight-fitting sky-blue robe, and the corners of his lips were curved up with unmistakable excitement.
"...Huang Ying... You shouldn't have found us this quickly, were you keeping an eye on something in one of the affected cities?"
The orange-haired and green-eyed youth holding the spear, Long Yao, had his expression sink a bit further when he saw the youth step out from the crack. The energy within his body started to roil and surge, but the opposing youth, Huang Ying, only looked down upon him.
"You've actually found the guts to use my name, even when you've only bothered to send a piddly little avatar? I hope that means you've increased your skills sufficiently, it really would be too boring otherwise. What about you, Tian Shen? This'll be the first time I get to hunt you, so I hope that the avatar you brought over is strong enough, don't disappoint me."
The brown-haired man, Tian Shen, stood next to Long Yao and looked at Huang Ying with a raised head, studying him with a somewhat curious gaze. His Sphere had a bit of information about all the rulers within this Sphere of Existence, but that didn't mean that he had personally met every single one of them. And this Huang Ying was one of those he hadn't met, despite the fact that he participated in the previous Sphere War. He wanted to say something, but the teen that had been ignored so far was the one that flared up first.
"Jormungandr! I was hoping that I could get to exchange a few moves with one of the leaders sooner rather than later, you've come at the perfect time! I am Kongxu Zhuren, and I will take back what you took from us!"
The green-haired and grey-eyed teen's lips cracked apart to reveal his sharp teeth as he roared, Zhuren's entire body bursting with power and an intense desire to fight. He was the ruler of the void, born to control it and oversee it, and the man in front of him was the person responsible for ruining the beauty of said void.
His legs tensed up slightly, all the land within the surrounding few hundred kilometres sending out a surge of power that rushed into his body to support him. He kicked off and shot into the air, arriving in front of Jormungandr almost instantly and lashing out with his fist, the energy around it so condensed that it had turned into a subdued pale-grey light.
The clenched fist smashed into Jormungandr's left chest, the unleashed energy smashing him into the ground and distorting the crack that he had stepped out from. A thick cloud of dust and sand was thrown into the air, Zhuren's entire face distorted by his desire to beat down Jormungandr. But Long Yao didn't look as confident as Zhuren, exchanging a few quick sentences with Tian Shen.
"What a fool, going ahead and firing him up... My Lord, it is best that we prepare ourselves to fight. We'll lose these avatars so I'm afraid I'll have to trouble you to create new ones, but we should be able to at least weaken him somewhat."
"We're guaranteed to lose them? It seems like you think quite highly of him, to the point that he'll even hamper our escape?"
"Yes. I was the one who had to fight him the last time, so I can guarantee you that these avatars will not be enough to fight him. If I had my true body and weapons here then I would be able to fight him, but with just this, I'm afraid that it won't be enough, even if we include everyone."
Long Yao didn't have a single positive thought about the situation, and Tian Shen trusted his general. The two had fought side by side for countless years so he knew how experienced his general was, if he said that these avatars would be lost then that was practically guaranteed to happen.
The two turned their gaze towards the plume of dust that rose up from where Jormungandr had landed, but neither of them charged at it. Tian Shen trusted his general so he waited, and Long Yao knew that it was exactly this moment where things would be the most dangerous, because now Jormungandr had not only been fired up, but also disappointed. And sure enough, his displeased voice rang out from within the plume of dust.
"That's it? I let you get in a free hit but this is the best that you could muster? You've got the law of the void and were supported by it, but even that was barely enough for you to break through the concept? And as for taking back what I took, I'm pretty sure I planted a good amount of new trees and plants."
The dust slowly started to settle, revealing Jormungandr standing in a crater with his neck craned slightly. The entire left side of his chest was bare after the attack, his skin and flesh flaking away to reveal his bones and organs. But a strange scene occurred whenever the flaking was about to go beyond his chest, the flesh around the wound would wriggle like it was filled with maggots, thousands of tiny crimson eyes and maws seeping out and covering the wound, forming new flesh and skin.
Zhuren's distorted expression sank slightly when he saw the scene, Jormungandr didn't even seem like he was feeling any pain, he just looked disappointed and bored. He also reacted quite strongly to the end of his sentence, sneering in disgust.
"I've torn them all out, we don't need your pity or charity, I spit on them. We are the Void, we will take what is ours with our own hands. If we can't even do that then we don't deserve a single thing."
Zhuren had already lived for a bit by the time that Jormungandr sought out Liang Chen and got his help in opening a sufficiently large portal to the void. As a result, he knew how horrid of a state the void he had been born into was, and the scattered records left behind by his ancestors made it very clear who the source of that horrid state was.
There was no way he could accept the plants that had been brought in by Jormungandr, they were a blemish. He sneered in violent disgust, seemingly only a second away from spitting on him, but Jormungandr didn't even seem like he cared about Zhuren's actions.
"Hee~, no wonder you haven't been accepted by the void, you're just a brat with his head showed up his own arse."
Jormungandr's chest continued to flake away and then reform, the pace of the disintegration quickly growing slower as the law of the void that had been pushed into his body disappeared. He still hadn't moved from his position, the only emotion visible on his face was boredom, a stark contrast to the flaring up Zhuren.
"Accepted? I am the soul of the Void! I am its ruler and lord, I was born accepted by it!"
He was a Voidborn Ruler, he could practically be called the crystalization of the void. He was born to command it and control it, he was born to treat the void as just an extension of his body. To say that he wasn't accepted by it was the same as saying that his very birth had been a mistake. The void around Zhuren started to thrum with power in tune with his emotions, but Jormungandr still didn't budge, shaking his head disappointedly.
"You say that, but you were only able to borrow power from a tiny little piece of the void. Chen Daoge was much stronger than you, he had perfectly merged with the entire void, it was his body and power. And he understood his role as the ruler of the void, he certainly didn't have a vision as narrow as yours. You taking over his role is just a joke, he'd be ashamed to know that you were the one born to follow in his footsteps."
Chen Daoge, it was Jormungandr's battle with him that caused the current state of the void, he was a true monster that could proudly bear the title of a void ruler. Zhuren knew who Chen Daoge was, the records spoke extensively about him since he was the previous Voidborn Ruler. And as the inheriting Voidborn Ruler, Zhuren had nothing but respect for his predecessor.
"You... You don't get to talk about the Ancestor! You have no right to do so!"
Zhuren had gathered up so much power from the surrounding void that it spilt out from his mouth as he roared, it was as if he was lighting up from within. It was an amount of energy that could cause even Sovereign Gods to tremble like mice, but Jormungandr simply shook his head disinterestedly.
"Whatever you say. You got in one free hit, so I'm sure you'll be fine with taking one from me, right? Don't go dying now."
Jormungandr finally moved after he spoke, raising his right arm and holding his hand towards Zhuren as if he wanted to grasp him. And then, just as Zhuren was starting to feel a sense of foreboding, Jormungandr clenched his hand.
Metal spikes appeared around Zhuren without warning, stabbing into him and branching out, propagating without pause as they tore through him. Zhuren's Qi immediately burst forth and ate away at the metal, the spikes flaking away like they were getting peeled. But the flakes ignited before they could vanish, turning into a resplendent crimson blaze that engulfed him from within.
His energy gushed out again, but the fire was being put out so slowly that it was hardly worth mentioning. Even worse, it didn't even seem like the fire was latching onto him or raging around within him, it simply seemed as if he himself had become the fire. He drew in even more power from the surrounding void to quench the flames, but the fire morphed strangely just as they were about to be overwhelmed.
The luminous blaze darkened and hardened, turning into earth that was covered in small plants. The roots of the plants embedded themselves into Zhuren's body, eating away at the energy and lifeforce in his body and facilitating their own growth. The plants grew larger while Zhuren felt his own power wane, traces of panic flashing in his pupils.
One of the roots that was burrowing through his body suddenly grew greatly, growing so large that it pierced through his body and dug into the wasteland beneath him. It tensed slightly, Zhuren's body getting pulled down so fiercely that he smashed into the sand-covered earth.
The layer of plant-covered earth that was growing on and inside him only started to grow larger, it wouldn't take long before he would become one with the earth. But just as he was about to detonate every last ounce of power within him to repel it, Jormungandr waved his hand and caused the earth to disappear.
"What, you couldn't even handle that? Have you not even conceptualized the void into yourself yet? Are you even trying to understand the law and how to use it?"
Disappointment and boredom were the only emotions in Jormungandr's voice, there wasn't the slightest hint of interest directed towards Zhuren. Just one move of his hand was all it took to bring him down, the shame of this realization hung so heavy in Zhuren's head that he could feel it pound against his skull.
"Don't you lecture me! If you're here to fight, then fight, don't spout so much dribble!"
This was the greatest shame he had ever experienced, the resistance he had offered could barely even be considered that. Even worse was that the opponent hadn't even finished his attack, he had cancelled it prematurely, as if Zhuren simply wasn't worthy of mustering up his final resistance. And as if to make it worse, Jormungandr shook his head and dismissively waved his hand, not even bothering to spare Zhuren another glance.
"I am here to fight, but not you. Come on, just look at you, there wouldn't be an ounce of fun in fighting you, you wouldn't even be able to make a mouse feel alive. Just fuck off, come back when you've gotten closer to Chen Daoge's level, then you may actually be a fun fight."
Jormungandr's gaze turned towards Long Yao and Tian Shen, both of who had yet to move. Long Yao had already tensed his entire body, he was familiar with Jormungandr so he knew that this little side squabble wasn't enough to make his attention waver, he had definitely been focused on them from the very start. But while he wanted to just shoo Zhuren away, how could the ruler of the void just allow himself to suffer such shame?
"...I'll admit it, I'm not your match yet. But unlike you, I'm not alone here. Did you really think that we hadn't prepared for any unforeseen circumstances? Come!"
Zhuren's energy burst out and merged with the surrounding void as he roared, three circular gates appearing a good distance away from him. One person appeared within each gate, the gate turning into a bubble that surrounded them and protected them from the Void. This was the privilege of a void ruler, he could allow even normal people to visit the void.
But these three people clearly weren't normal, not even the void energy surrounding them was able to entirely isolate the energy radiating from their bodies. All three people also had a thick layer of energy circulating around them, galaxies and planets visible within the energy. Zhuren swept back his hair wildly, his face once again distorting with an intense desire to break down the man in front of him.
"I've read your records, Jormungandr! You are definitely a freakishly strong Universal Heart, you've even made that sinful mockery of an Ascended Law, your disgusting Prime Law of Gluttony. But like you probably forced out of the comrade of mine you caught earlier, even the kings in this Sphere are fed up with you, we've got plenty of Universal Hearts to fight against you!"
Jormungandr was probably the man he had studied the closest within the records, he was the personal enemy of every Voidborn so he wanted to know as much as possible. He was strong, despairingly so, but he primarily fought alone so Zhuren had already prepared several other Universal Hearts as assurance. Even better was the fact that they came from the same Sphere as Jormungandr, their death wouldn't bring much harm to his own or Tian Shen's side.
Jormungandr looked at the three people that had arrived, his gaze sweeping over them and causing their spines to tingle slightly. He didn't recognize any of them so he guessed that they became Universal Hearts rather recently, that or they had hidden for far too long in anticipation of this day. But what a shame, he had a keen eye for people. A single glance was enough to tell him that these people were boring, there was no fun to be found in fighting them.
His eyes flashed slightly, something that looked like a multitude of minuscule crimson eyes surfacing within his pupils. The land around them started to quiver again, the subdued whimpering surfacing in the wind again as Jormungandr raised his right arm.
And as he raised his arm, what looked like sticky black mud rose up from the wasteland around him, it seeped out from between the sand as if gravity didn't exist. And before anyone had the chance to react, the black mud shot into the sky, forming a gargantuan black serpent whose entire body was covered in crimson eyes and crooked maws that looked like they were giggling maniacally.
The semi-solid serpent formed around where the three Universal Hearts had been standing, continuing to rise into the sky until it practically turned into a pillar that connected the earth with the dome of the sky. Its tail then finally left the earth, the creature's body stretching across the sky before it fell apart, turning into black drops that rained down upon the earth.
The mud-like serpent had fallen apart into rain, but the three Universal Hearts were nowhere to be seen, even the faintest trace of their energy had vanished. Zhuren couldn't help but look on dumbly, raising his head to see Jormungandr licking his lips once.
"Well? Anything else?"
Zhuren's mind had never raced like this before, he had been born as a flawless ruler, the void itself fawned upon him. Even Tian Shen and his men had to treat him well since he was the ruler of the void. So this, this was the first time he had ever experienced anything like this, something so demoralizing and soul-crushing. Jormungandr saw that Zhuren was so dumbfounded that he could barely speak, sneering in disdain while glancing at the spot where the three Universal Hearts once stood.
"What, you think that they can fight just because they're Universal Hearts? We fought for our titles and land, do you really think you can compare us to those weaklings that had it handed to them because they were liked enough?"
Universal Hearts, truthfully, they were the peak of existence. There would occasionally be someone who could take over entire multiverses or entire Sphere's of Existence, but they were as rare as Voidborn Rulers so they couldn't be counted. And yet, Jormungandr didn't even pay them any mind, he seemed to treat them and the universes they had brought along as just another snack.
Zhuren felt his heart drop to the pit of his stomach as Jormungandr looked at him, now he was finally starting to understand why Long Yao had previously told him that he was far from ready to duke it out with Azatoth. He was strong already, true, but that strength was nothing in front of someone like Jormungandr, he would have to work much harder if he wanted to match up to them.
His legs trembled slightly as he looked at Jormungandr, but he already knew what he had to do, what sort of humiliating act he had to engage in. And so, he turned around and he fled, he tore through the void and vanished, taking with him enough indignation and anger to fuel several aeons of determination. But Jormungandr didn't pay him any mind, his head tilting as he directed his gaze towards Long Yao and Tian Shen.
"What a boring man, couldn't even serve as an appetizer. Now then, I do hope that the main course will be tastier, I'm getting oh-so hungry."
Long Yao took half a step forward the moment Jormungandr's gaze was directed towards them, both his hands grasping his spear as the strange green flame flickered on the spearhead. Tian Shen stood half a step behind him, but he had yet to bring out any weapon, he simply allowed his gaze to roam across Jormungandr's body.
"You were quite vicious there. They even went out of their way to bring along their universes, you could have at least hesitated before you ate them all. Do you perhaps not feel anything when you think about the untold number of people that died there?"
The layer of energy surrounding the three Universal Hearts hadn't been something common, it was the universes they ruled. By bringing them along they could truly exert all their might, all the power of their universe would be at their fingertips at every moment, the faith of all the beings living in them just waiting to be used. But all of that had been extinguished in a single moment that didn't even give them the chance to react, and the only response Jormungandr could muster was a disinterested, almost carefree shake of his head.
"What point is there in feeling anything towards people who couldn't even muster up the determination to resist a bit of control? If they're gonna resign themselves to their fate then they may as well just be sent on their way to the next life, maybe they can become something worthwhile then."
Tian Shen's eyebrow couldn't help but rise slightly when Jormungandr dismissed it so easily. He personally didn't care much about the lives in this Sphere of Existence since they weren't his children yet, and caring about them now meant having to abandon the children he was already in charge of. But this man was Jormungandr, and the three universes that had just ceased to exist belonged to his own Sphere, it was tantamount to weakening his own Sphere.
"But that's enough talking, my teeth are starting to itch."
Jormungandr spoke up again before Tian Shen or Long Yao could say anything, his lips curving up to reveal his sharp canines. His aura started to rise uncontrollably, like a wild beast that had finally found some prey it could gorge itself on.
His hand opened slightly, a weapon appearing in his grasp. The weapon was a two-headed spear, one head on each end of the spear. Both ends were almost half a metre long, far too large to be called a spearhead. The weapon could only be described as sinister, a pitch-black body and two crimson blades. Its mere presence seemed to distort the world, as if the weapon itself was trying to be the only thing remaining in existence.
Long Yao reacted the moment he saw the weapon, his words catching in his throat as one of the sinister red blades was pointed directly at his throat.
"Longinus, the God Devouring Spear. It took your head last time if I recall, have you managed to cultivate a new main body since?"
If Liang Chen had been here, while he may not have recognized the weapon, he would at least recognize the name. Back when he first became a member of the Storm Wolf sect and acquired the Chaos King technique, it had been given to him by someone only known as Elder Chaotic. And Elder Chaotic was the spirit residing within something that looked like a rock, which he had been told came from something known as Longinus, the God Devourer.
"That thing should have already broken, it fell apart right here in the void so you shouldn't have been able to reforge it."
Long Yao's expression had darkened considerably as he looked at the weapon. His earlier thoughts had all been based around the fact that Jormungandr didn't have a proper weapon, it had been shattered during the battle against Chen Daoge. A Jormungandr without his weapon and one with his weapon, he didn't even need to think about which one was more dangerous.
"It didn't fall apart, I just left one of the parts here to show sufficient respect towards Chen Daoge. As for the small bits and pieces that separated from the weapon, they don't matter much, they can come back when they've grown a bit."
Jormungandr really didn't mind telling the opposing party this information, it wasn't like they could do anything with it even if they had it. Long Yao wiped away his darkened expression and tightened his grasp on his weapon, it would pain him if they had to lose two avatars without even weakening the opponent. But Tian Shen was still exceedingly calm, nodding his head in apparent understanding.
"I see, I have learned quite a bit now that I've got the chance to meet you personally. Thank you for teaching me that you can't form a proper understanding if you only have written reports and images of someone. I will update the risk-rating I had for you, and it would appear that it would be wise to pre-emptively do so for the others as well so that I can err on the side of caution."
He thought that he had already rated them highly, they had after all beaten them in the previous Sphere War. But now that he had personally gotten to meet someone other than Asmodai or Hades, he had to admit that he had unconsciously viewed them too lowly. After all, this Sphere already had someone like Asmodai and Hades, it wouldn't really spit out more people like them, right? But from the looks of it, against all odds and logic, it had done just that.
"No, don't you dare speak such boring words, I've just barely gotten started."
Jormungandr's expression sank slightly as he spoke, already guessing at what Tian Shen was planning. He slid his hand a bit forward, the two-headed spear suddenly splitting in two, the two parts turning into small blades thanks to the unusually large spearheads. His hand swept out like a flash, launching one of the blades directly at Tian Shen.
Long Yao reacted the moment Jormungandr acted, stepping to the side and swiping his spear upwards. The spear smashed into the underside of the blade and launched it into the sky, the wasteland beneath Long Yao's feet coming alive with verdant green flames that caused the bubble around him to tremble faintly.
But by the time the flames washed forward like a tidal wave, Jormungandr had already vanished. Long Yao's pupils shrank fiercely, his instincts causing him to raise his head in a sharp motion. And indeed, Jormungandr had somehow appeared above him, right where the blade that had been launched into the sky was.
Long Yao gathered all his might and stabbed his spear towards the sky, the tidal wave of verdant flames turning into lush plants and vines that rose up with his spear. But once again, Jormungandr grabbed one of the two blades and flung it out, the weapon easily piercing through the ascending plants.
It missed Tian Shen by a bit and pierced into the earth behind him, Jormungandr once again vanishing and appearing directly by the blade. He was already in a crouching position as he appeared, his body mid-spin as the other blade he was holding headed directly for Tian Shen's neck. But even so, Tian Shen simply stood there, a somewhat pretentious smile present on his face.
"It can't be helped, you can't please everyone after all. But you are welcome to visit my Sphere, I'll accept your challenge anytime at that point. But what a shame, your Sphere's Balance-holder isn't suited for that sort of tracking, so do you even have a way of dropping by?"
Jormungandr's blade passed through Tian Shen's neck without resistance, severing his head from the rest of his body. But both parts dispersed, disintegrating into a spectacle of dancing lights that soon faded. Jormungandr's expression sank somewhat angrily as he looked at the lights, his pupils sliding sideways just in time to see Long Yao end the life of his own avatar, dispersing into a similar gathering of dancing lights.
"Son of a fucking... Just you wait, you can run all you want now, but don't think that we'll forever be unable to reach your Sphere, we've already got our own little voidling walking in the proper direction. I'll get a good taste of the lot of you before long."