"What is happening!?" Sarah, the High Elder of the Noan River Sect asked in a surprised voice. Her arms were trembling as she watched the scene playing out in the shallow pool made of the sap of the Ashen Heart Tree.
That boy with ashen hair had done something. The moment the Guardian was about to return all of the competitors to the Abyss Sect, terrifying ripples started spreading from the boy's body. The roots in the ceiling started to twist, as if contorting in pain. The pool of sap turned black and all the connection to the Hellblaze Secret World was lost.
"Borgin, what is the meaning of this?" Leonard, the young High Elder of the Roaring Mountain Sect asked in a fit of rage. His lips were trembling and his face was reddening as he raised his hands to hold onto the hilt of the saber that hung from his waist.
A commotion broke out amidst the Elders and High Elders present. Sarah furrowed her brows but didn't speak. She directed a cold glance to Richard Layn, that was not far from her. He had a surprised look on his face as he stared blankly at the black pool of sap in the center of the room.
This made Sarah's frown deepen. She had known Richard for a very long time and she could tell that his surprise was genuine. She then looked at Lars Borgin, that strangely showed no expression at all on his face. He had his eyes closed, as if pondering something.
"Leonard, stand down! I am sure Sect Master Borgin has an explanation for this." Baldwin, the High Elder of the Southern Fire Sect said in an authoritative manner.
Leonard, however, didn't seem to mind him one bit. He gripped the hilt of his saber with even greater strength as a fierce anger blazed in his eyes.
A terrifying pressure suddenly fell on the room, forcing them all to their knees. The ground beneath their feet cracked as all of them tried to fight back against the pressure, but it was turning increasingly stronger.
The weaker Elders all had pale faces as they completely gave out to the horrifying strength, lying motionlessly on the ground while blood trickled down their lips. The High Elder didn't have it much better, as they all were trembling due to the sheer strength they were exerting to fight back.
Sarah made an incredible effort to raise her head, looking straight at Lars Borgin. He had finally opened his eyes, and a savage light shone on them. A piercing trill echoed in the room as he violently drew the crimson sword on his back. He did not spare a glance to any of the Elders and High Elders on the ground before shooting out of the room like a hurricane.
Even if he had left, the overwhelming pressure was still weighing down on them, making any movement excruciatingly slow and painful.
It was only after a few minutes that the pressure finally disappeared, allowing them all to move again. The High Elders all slowly stood up. Sarah looked incredibly feeble. Her silver hair was a mess, her blue clothes were ragged and her breathing was rough.
The other High Elders didn't look much better. Veronica, the High Elder of the Storm Peak Sect cut out a rather sorry figure. Baldwin seemed to have suffered the least, given that other than his disorderly clothes it looked like only his face was slightly paler.
Leonard looked utterly miserable. Blood trickled down the corner of his lips and his eyes were bloodshot. His clothes were damp with sweat and covered in dirt. Nevertheless, the rage he showed had only increased, which was completely reasonable.
This was an unprecedented matter to most of them. They had never been so thoroughly helpless against someone before. They might not compare to the strength of the Protectors and Sect Masters of their own sects, but they all were strong enough to stand above everyone else.
Suffering such humiliation was not an easy thing for them to accept. Not even the ones above them dared to so such thing, much less people from other sects. This could certainly lead to trouble between the sects. Lars Borgin, however, didn't seem to mind it one bit.
"Richard, what is going on?" Sarah asked in a weak voice as she slowly recovered from the shock.
"I truly have no idea. This is as much of a surprise to us as it is to you." Richard said with a helpless expression. He too had suffered from Borgin's outburst of power, as did all the other members of the Abyss Sect.
Borgin hadn't spared even his own subordinates. It was as if at that moment all that mattered to him was to raise his aura to the limits before he shot out of the room. Sarah could only guess that he went into the Hellblaze Secret World to intervene.
"I don't think you are lying, Richard." She said lightly shaking her head before sending him a cold, penetrating glance. "But is this a surprise to all of the members Abyss Sect or just for you?"
Richard couldn't answer that question, so he stood in silence. Even if he didn't speak, his silence was all the answer Sarah needed.
The High Elders slowly helped the weaker Elders to stand up, taking out medicinal pills to aid in their recovery. Such matters were very delicate, and solving them would certainly be complicated.
"Do you think this is good enough of an excuse?" Leonard asked in a harsh tone. "First, one of your young cultivators somehow managed to isolate himself and all competitors from our eyes. Then, without any explanation, your Sect Master attacks us before running away!"
Richard did not speak, for he could not retort. His expression turned increasingly ugly as Leonard eyes turned fiercer. With the corner of his eyes, Richard managed to see a few of the Elders of the other sects nodding their heads, even if the other High Elders did not show an explicit approval of his words.
"Five years ago, your sect suddenly announced that it would cancel the Hellblaze Trials until further notice, without giving the other Sacred Sects any proper explanation at all. Then, a few months ago, you announce that the Trials will be held again, also without any explanation." Leonard's words were extremely biting, mostly because they were the truth. "Now this happens. I can't help but think this is something you all had planned before, even if I don't know your goal with such actions."
He slowly walked over to Richard in an imposing manner, not minding his tone at all. "Does the Abyss Sect thinks nothing of us? Do you all take us for stupid people that you can use for your own interests?"
"If that were the truth, and this was somehow planned out, would Sect Master harm us, the members of his own sect, like that?" Richard did not take a step back to avoid Leonard. His expression was solemn as he held his ground, directly facing Leonard. "I don't know what is happening, but from the Sect Master's reaction you can clearly see that this was not within his expectations."
Sarah's expression eased a little. Even if his argument was not exactly solid, it stood to reason. Furthermore, they all had seen the expression on Borgin's face as he left the room.
Baldwin stood silent, quietly watching the High Elders arguing without voicing his thoughts. Likewise, Veronica was quiet. Her expression, however, was incomparably ugly. Sarah couldn't figure out why, but Veronica's expression was so exaggerated that made it her shiver.
Leonard also didn't speak further. He never took his hands out of the hilt of his saber, but he slowly walked away from Richard.
At that moment, however, a blinding light flashed in the room.
A crisp sound echoed as if something had shattered. Leonard looked utterly baffled as he slowly raised his right hand, making his sleeve slide down and reveal his wrist. A thin silver chain was wrapped around his wrist, adorned with ten blood-red beads that looked like marbles.
As everyone saw these beads, their expressions turned incredibly serious. Richard's face paled, as did the faces of the other members of the Abyss Sect. They all knew what those blood-red beads were.
One of the beads started cracking, slowly falling apart. The room was deadly silent, so they all could hear as the fragments of the bead falling into the floor, one by one. It was incredibly clear, even if light, sound. Like the chimes of a bell, all of the pieces of the bead fell to the ground, leaving only nine hanging from the chain in Leonard's wrist.
"Drace…" Leonard said in a stupefied voice as he powerlessly looked at the red fragments on the floor.
No one spoke a word. Baldwin's expression turned incredibly grave, as he turned his head to face Richard. His muscles were clearly tensing as if he was preparing to fight.
Sarah too, slowly backed away, silently placing her aged fingers over a ring on her left hand, ready to take action.
Veronica's eyes darted around the room, carefully looking at the expressions each one of the present were making. She and the Elder of the Storm Peak Sect slowly backed away, side by side. Veronica's expression turned even uglier, and Sarah could see a hint of suspicion in it.
Leonard slowly turned to face Richard again. The crisp sound of scrapping metal echoed through the room as he drew his saber in an unbearable and almost deliberate slow pace, as if trying to engrave the sound in the minds of each one of them. His eyes showed no anger anymore, and his expression was blank.
All that one would feel from him was a freezing intent to kill.
With a clear sound, the saber was finally released from its sheath, covering the room in an ominous purple glow as the blade glowed with a flickering light.
Sarah felt cold sweat running down her back as she watched Leonard. She silently prayed for the safety of the members of the Noan River Sect, because now she was sure they were in danger.
The Abyss Sect members all slowly gathered, not saying a word. Richard slowly rubbed the ring on his left hand, making a long and slender silver spear appear in front of him. He grasped it with a firm flick of his wrist, facing Leonard with serious eyes.
Even though Richard did not want to fight, he knew there was no hope anymore. Leonard had been suspicious of them from the beginning, and now there was no more room for explanations or negotiations.
Words were of no use anymore. Everyone present knew what those blood-red beads were. All of the High Elders present had a chain identical to the one Leonard had wrapped around their wrists, all of them with ten beads.
The moment the bead shattered, all chances of negotiations and peaceful interactions had fallen through.
The moment the bead shattered, a disciple had died in the Hellblaze Secret World.
"What is going on!?" Amon shouted in surprise as wave after wave of spatial distortion rippled from his body. Even if he was shouting with all he had, his voice could barely be heard beyond the incessant roaring that had taken over the ears of all that were present.
"There is something on your shoulder causing this!" Lya said in an urgent voice. "The distortions are too strong, I can't stop them!"
The shadows slithering from his body had completely encased the hall, imprisoning the fifty competitors in pure darkness.
"Who dares!" An enraged roar echoed directly in their minds as the Guardian did not hide his anger at all. It was enough to make many of the competitors curl up in fear, trembling in the pitch-black hall as that savage roar made their consciousness tremble.
Another wave rippled, throwing the disciples still standing to the ground. Low grunts could be heard as most of them were caught by surprise, expelling the air from their lungs due to the unexpected impact.
"Use your divine sense to perceive your surroundings!" Amon could faintly make up Jake's voice as silence took over the hall.
No other wave rippled, but the darkness still remained. Amon spread his divine sense, seeing himself standing alone. He carefully inspected his body, but couldn't feel anything wrong at all.
What the hell was happening?
"Jake, what is the meaning of this?" Reynard's angry voice echoed in the hall, taking many by surprise. Reynard was walking with heavy steps toward the Abyss Sect disciples, his new light-blue crystalline sword in hand. "What are you people of the Abyss Sect up to?"
"None of you move!" The Guardian roared as a silent pressure fell on every one of them, tightly holding them in place. The pressure was so strong Amon felt his bones creaking. He could barely breathe, much less speak. The Guardian seemed to be extremely enraged.
Nevertheless, it was too late. Reynard had already spoken what he needed too.
Despite the pressure, Reynard managed to smile lightly. It was time for the seeds he had planted in the Trial of the Heart to start germinating.
The Guardian carefully scrutinized the bodies of every one of the competitors, but he couldn't find anything abnormal. Not even Amon had anything strange in his body. This made the Guardian worried beyond reason.
As he tried probing their bodies again, he suddenly had a bad feeling. He extended his senses outwards, trying to peer past the hall. The shadows, however, blocked his divine sense. Still, the Guardian could vaguely sense that the shadows in one of the walls were starting to churn.
A blinding light flashed in the hall, and a beam of silver light shot out into that wall, opening a hole in the shadows. The Guardian could only observe in astonishment as something shone in Amon's shoulder, sending the beam of light into the wall.
It was a small medallion that was about the size of a toenail, and barely put any weight into Amon's shoulder. Both Amon and the Guardian were taken by surprise because somehow neither of them could feel the medallion with their divine sense.
"It is that medallion!" Lya screamed in Amon's head. To be precise, neither Lya nor the Guardian could see the medallion. They were nothing but pure souls, and depended on their divine sense to perceive the world.
While Amon could clearly see it with his eyes, Lya and the Guardian could only faintly make its shape thanks to the light that covered it. The medallion to them was like a black hole in the middle of that light.
The Guardian tried using his divine sense to crush it into powder, but his divine sense simply passed through it, as if it was an illusion.
"Kid, quickly destroy that thing!" The Guardian ordered Amon, as he released the pressure. Amon ripped the medallion from his shoulders in a hurry. He threw it to the ground, drawing Windhowler and smashing the crude sword towards the medallion.
However, before the blade could reach the medallion it was forcefully deflected by something. No matter how much strength Amon put into his arms, the sword would not give way. There was some kind of shield in the medallion.
Lya could feel the strength of that shield, and that made her desperate. She knew that even if she used her full strength she wouldn't be able to breach it.
This made both Lya and the Guardian feel dread. Whoever had planned this was many steps ahead of them.
The medallion shuddered, letting out a loud hum as the beam of light turned even brighter. At that moment, the wall hit by the light started to ripple.
The Guardian sensed something wrong. The Hellblaze Secret World itself started trembling. He could faintly feel that something was approaching, and the dimension itself was reacting.
The Hellblaze Gateway had been activated, and it was opening a spatial tunnel directly into the hall.
For the first time in millennia, the Guardian felt fear. He was completely lost. The enemy had sealed all of his routes of escape, had blocked all of his methods. The Guardian was nothing more than a cornered beast, and he didn't know what the other party wanted.
It gave Reynard Stark a grave look. Somehow, that arrogant man knew of the Vermillion Token. He even knew that it had been taken out. He was the prime suspect, even if that medallion had been on Amon Kressler's body.
"Lya, help me breach this seal so I can send the kids away!" The Guardian bellowed, mustering all of its strength to rip space apart and unleash a blow on the shadows.
Lya didn't hesitate to show herself, holding Brightmoon in her hands. The blade shone with a divine light as a thick layer of Qi formed around it, undulating until it distorted into the form of an extremely sharp edge.
The other disciples all had their eyes open wide as they looked at the scene, not understand in the least what was going on.
"Now!" The Guardian shouted, releasing all of his strength.
The shadows started to ripple violently as a black line perfectly divided them in half. Space turned still for a moment, and, as if it was nothing but a painting that had been torn, one of the halves that line divined started to fall down.
Looking at the scene made Amon feel dizzy. He felt that part of him was also falling down, just like the scene in front of him. The bending of the Natural Laws of Space was too much for someone at his level to handle.
At that moment, Lya, struck. Brightmoon descended, and a wave of bright Sword Qi flew towards the line the Guardian drew in space, cutting through the wind with a piercing whistle.
The wave of Sword Qi made contact with the line, and the frozen space started to shatter. It fragmented in countless pieces; each containing a part of was supposed to be the wall covered in shadows. The pieces flew about, turning upside down and rotating, like pieces of a glass mural. Between the pieces, there was nothing. The pieces were surrounded by a colorless void. It was nothing but utter emptiness that surrounded the broken space.
Amon held his head, trying hard to hold back the urge to vomit. He was feeling as disoriented as when he first entered the spatial tunnel that lead to the Hellblaze Secret World.
"It is working!" Lya said with contained relief. Somehow, she managed to see something beyond the broken space and knew that what they were doing was effective.
"Again!" The Guardian shouted, preparing another strike.
The hall quaked madly, and the shadows churned. The fragments of space seemed to have been swept by a gust of wind as they suddenly gathered together, being blown away by the Guardian's attack.
Lya raised Brightmoon again, unleashing a second strike. The wave of Sword Qi was even stronger than before. Like the attack of the Guardian, that wave of Sword Qi seemed to tear space apart, leaving a line of emptiness through its trajectory.
Suddenly, Lya turned her head with a surprised expression on her face. Amon felt a wind blowing on his face. A very cold, heartless wind.
A thin wave of light whistle through the air, hitting Lya's Sword Qi at a blinding speed and deflecting it away. The wave of light dispersed, but Amon could feel an inherent, frightening sharpness from it.
As Amon was dumbfounded, Lya's attack missed, hitting an undamaged wall and being absorbed by the shadows.
The medallion that had been emitting the beam of light shuddered once, exploding in a flash of silver light and disappearing. Its use was over.
"Who are you supposed to be?" A grave, cold voice echoed through the hall.
Amon felt a shiver running down his spine. That voice was slightly more aged, somewhat graver and somehow a lot colder than what he remembered. However, there was no way he would not recognize it.
With a pale face, he slowly turned around.
The wall that had been hit by the beam of light had disappeared, giving way to a wide circle filled with glowing silver light. It was the entrance, or exit, of a spatial tunnel.
Standing in front of it was a single man.
He had a hair as dark as the night reaching his shoulder. A pair of ravenous black eyes so cold that made one shiver could be seen in a pale face with sharp features.
Clad from head to toe in black, the man stood straight with a sword in hand. To Amon's surprise, he could not recognize the sword. It had a straight blade that seemed to glow with a poisonous green light, and an intricate, curved guard made of gold. A single red gem was embedded in the pommel, giving off and eery glow.
Even if Amon could not recognize the sword, there was no way he could not recognize the man wielding it.
Standing in front of the newly opened spatial tunnel was the former Fifth Protector of the Abyss Sect. The husband of Rebecca Skoller and father of Amon Kressler.
Lloyd Kressler, the Dark Gale, had arrived.