Lya had Lloyd Kressler's undivided attention. His brows were slightly furrowed and his gaze gave one shivers. His black clothes were fluttering wildly as the air surrounding him seemed to move around his body at a dangerous speed. It was as if a hurricane was slowly starting to form around him.
"Lloyd!" The Guardian shouted, not hiding the rage in his voice. At this point, his composure was long gone. Things were already getting out of hand and the Guardian would have to do everything in its power to salvage the little bit he could of the situation.
Lloyd completely ignored the Guardian, still looking at Lya with furrowed brows. To him, her presence was an unexpected variable in a plan that was running smoothly until then.
"Who are you?" He asked a second time with an emotionless voice. With a flick of his wrist, the green sword in his hand moved, sending a sharp wave of Sword Qi in Lya's direction.
Lya didn't bother answering, nor dodging. The Sword Qi slashed through her, making her figure distort for a moment before stabilizing again.
"Indeed. Nothing more than a soul." Lloyd said, squinting his eyes as he carefully looked at Brightmoon in Lya's hands. His eyes stopped at the red jewel embedded in the sword's guard, and a mocking smile made its way to his blank face. "It never ceases to surprise me how much the Soul Cultivators enjoy having pets around."
Lya still did not utter a word, but a faint light covered Brightmoon again. Her expression was solemn, and she made a great effort to not show her surprise. Lloyd had used Sword Qi twice and knew about Soul Cultivators. He clearly learned it from someone.
The thought made Lya even more worried. Maybe Nemeus was right. If Dale was the one behind all of this, then the current situation was even graver than what she first thought, because now she didn't know how much Lloyd Kressler had learned, and whatever he wanted from the Hellblaze Secret World suddenly turned even more difficult for her to guess.
"Well, it doesn't matter. You are in my way." A fierce wind howled in the hall and the air surrounding Lloyd started moving faster, raising dust and gravel from the floor.
A silent pressure crept up the competitors, adding up to the restraints the Guardian had set on them before. Some couldn't take it, and directly lost consciousness.
"Lya, hold him back! I need to send the children away!" The Guardian said directly in her mind, with an alarmed voice. Without wasting time, he dragged all of the competitors closer to the breach he and Lya were opening in the wall, trying to keep them as far away as possible from harm.
Lya did not answer, but directly moved in Lloyd's direction as she raised Brightmoon. A thick vortex of Qi formed around the blade, gathering and solidifying around it, turning so bright that Amon had to take his eyes away from it.
Lloyd still had the mocking smile on his face as he watched Lya coming in his direction, showing no fear at all. A layer of light formed around his green sword, albeit not as bright as the one on Brightmoon as he prepared to receive Lya's strike.
Brightmoon descended, aiming for Lloyd's head. He watched the sword coming for him with surprising detachment, as if the sword was not aiming at him at all. He did not move an inch, calmly watching as the opposing sword came closer to him, splitting everything in its path to take his life.
Seeing this made Lya unnerved rather than pleased. She put even more strength in the strike, trying to suddenly accelerate the sword before Lloyd could do something. At that moment, however, her expression shifted into one of utter astonishment.
Lloyd finally moved, stirring the wind with him. The air gathering around him had moved to his sword in a split-second, and before Lya could react, Lloyd had stabbed in her direction at a mind-numbing speed. The target of the stab, however, was not Lya's projection.
With an alarmed expression, Lya suddenly shifted Brightmoon's path, missing Lloyd.
A wave of berserk Sword Qi shot out from Brightmoon, obliterating the floor by Lloyd's feet and colliding with a wall, making the shadows squirm before dispersing. However, neither Amon nor Lya could be bothered with the sudden change of direction of the strike.
At that very moment, sparks were flying from Brightmoon's guard as Lloyd's sword scraped against it, making a hair-raising screech echo through the hall. That poisonous-green blade left a clear and long scratch on the iron sword, barely missing the red jewel embedded on the guard.
Lya's face paled as she watched Lloyd with astonishment. Before she could say something, however, another stab came at her with blinding speed. Lya hurriedly retreated, creating distance between her and Lloyd.
"I am surprised. I didn't expect you to be able to react so fast." Lloyd said, never wiping away the mocking smile from his face. "Still, I don't think close quarters combat will be the best choice for you. Even if it is the best way to try to hold me back, my hand might slip and you will end up in pieces."
Lya's expression couldn't be more serious. Lloyd's attainments in swordsmanship had surprised her greatly. He was clearly at his peak condition and his ability was nothing to scoff at. Lya, on the other hand, had four hundred years of isolation slowly rusting her skills away. The biggest problem, however, was that he was directly aiming at the Soulstone.
She looked at him for a moment, trying to scrutinize his expression. Her gaze slowly fell onto the sword in his hands, and at the inconspicuous red jewel embedded in the pommel.
A terrifying aura exploded from her, completely taking over all of the Qi in their surroundings. Lloyd frowned when he sensed that, trying to fight back with his divine sense, but his struggles were useless. Lya's soul was much stronger than his.
He could only try to protect himself as the elements crashed down on him, pressing his body from all sides, trying to crush his bones and stop his breathing. His movements turned sluggish, and before he could do anything, Brightmoon was pressing against his neck.
The polished iron blade had already penetrated his skin, making blood slowly seep down his neck before disappearing in the darkness of his clothes. He looked at Lya with unwavering eyes that glinted with hate.
"Who sent you?" Lya asked with a dark expression.
"Take a guess." Lloyd said in a mocking tone. He still had that annoying smile on his face, as if looking down on Lya's attempt to get information.
Brightmoon sank further into his neck, making even more blood flow. Lloyd didn't make a sound, still looking at Lya with those unyielding eyes. This made her greatly displeased.
"I find it strange that whoever sent you would even think that a weakling like you would be enough to defeat Hati." Lya whispered in a venomous voice. She didn't bother with Lloyd as her gaze fell on the red jewel on his sword.
She sent a wisp of her divine sense to probe into the red jewel, but to her surprise, something blocked her. As Lya tried forcing her way in, a terrifying force pushed her back, making her alarmed.
If the divine sense she had used to probe the jewel was a river, the opposing force was actually an ocean!
"Hati, be careful! Lloyd is not alone!" Lya shouted as she realized what was going on.
The Guardian was solely focused on forcefully creating a breach on the spatial seal that had locked the hall. Hearing Lya's words, he suddenly turned around, only to see specs of light gathering in front of Lloyd, eventually forming into the figure of a woman.
"Too bad, Lloyd, you lose. Although I can't say it was your fault." A beautiful voice suddenly echoed through the hall.
That melodious, coquettish voice gave Amon shivers, making him and the surrounding cultivators enter in a daze. That voice was far too charming. It gently tickled his ears, making its way into his mind, subtly calming him and making him relax.
A sudden warmth slowly spread through his body, making him feel very comfortable. He couldn't even feel the restraints the Guardian had placed on him anymore. His body felt incredibly light and relaxed, almost as if he was floating.
He wanted to close his eyes and immerse himself in such sensations, but he somehow forced himself to look at the new figure that had appeared between Lya and Lloyd.
It was a woman that had long, flowing green hair that reached her waist. It sparkled with a faint light, like grass covered in morning dew. Her beautiful amber eyes glimmered with an intoxicating light, enough to entrap the minds of any man that dared to directly look at them.
"It really was you." The woman said with a charming smile, waving her hand dismissively as she looked at Lya.
A formless wave of divine sense swept through the hall, throwing all of the Qi in disarray. The pressure on Lloyd suddenly disappeared, and Lya's face paled as her divine sense was forcefully pushed back.
Like Lloyd before her, she tried to struggle, but the foreign divine sense had taken over the entire hall. It was incredibly stable and incredibly resilient. As Lya desperately tried to fight back, it started to slowly enclose around her, encroaching her soul and intercepting her attempts of regaining control. The difference was overwhelming.
As Lya froze in place, her figure started to crumble. Having lost control over Qi, Lya couldn't maintain her projection anymore. The strange woman made sure to let Lya sense what was happening in the hall, but not be able to do a thing besides that.
Lloyd slowly rose from the ground, throwing Brigthmoon away as if it was trash. He absent-mindedly wiped the blood trickling down the wound on his neck and after a few moments, the long gash stopped bleeding and slowly started to close.
The competitors fell to the ground as the restraints the Guardian had placed on them were undone. Nevertheless, all they did was stay unmoving on the floor, still dazed by the woman's voice.
Amon's mind was trembling and his limbs were numb, but he somehow managed to raise his upper body and look worriedly at Brightmoon that had been thrown to the corner.
The green-haired woman scoffed, locking eyes with Amon and giving a bewitching smile. She started walking in his direction, never taking her intoxicating eyes from him.
Her long and pale legs peeked out of a green dress that clung tightly to her body, looking especially tight on her plentiful chest. Every movement her body made as she slowly walked in the Amon's direction was enthralling. Somehow, her movements looked at the same time very natural and very calculated.
Amon shuddered. The numbness disappeared and his body felt limp as a strange prickling started affecting his mind. There was a strange buzz ringing in his ears, disrupting his thoughts and making him confused as the woman approached. He lost the little control he had over his body and fell powerlessly to the ground again.
Looking at the woman, the Guardian was taken aback. That woman was far stronger than even he was. He was as helpless as Lya in front of her soul's strength. He had lived for thousands of years, and had experienced more than a human could even imagine being possible, yet, somehow, that woman overpowered him.
Very few beings would be capable of such a feat. He focused his divine sense, carefully probing the red jewel in Lloyd's sword. The Guardian was sure he had never seen that woman before, but the aura she gave him was very familiar.
The woman smiled as she felt his intentions. Surprisingly, she didn't stop him at all.
As he carefully analyzed her aura, feeling incredibly anxious.
"Oura?" The Guardian asked in shock after a name finally appeared in his mind.
"Oh, you recognized me? I am so happy, Hati!" The woman said with a bewitching smile as she continued to get closer. She seemed to slide through the floor as her waist waved charmingly with each step she took.
"It's you!?" Lya asked in astonishment. Oura, however, completely disregarded her, further enclosing Lya's soul with her divine sense.
The Guardian did not waste time pondering what had happened with Oura or how she was there. Her presence meant she was an enemy, and that was all he had to know to act accordingly.
He ignored her, focusing again on the damaged wall beyond the broken space, trying to muster all of his strength to somehow wrestle away the control of a portion of Qi. At that moment, however, Oura's voice made its way to his ears.
"So rude. So many centuries since we met and you can't even properly greet an old friend." Oura said, while putting up an exaggerated expression of betrayal. She then turned to the many youths that had been gathered in a corner, still immobilized. She had a strange look in her eyes as she looked at them. "I feel like maybe I should get to know those kids better if that is the case. After all, you do know how much I hate feeling lonely."
The Guardian stopped. His rage was starting to boil due to the veiled threat, but he ultimately gave up on his efforts. There was not much he could do against her, especially in the current scenario, where weak cultivators were involved.
"Now, that is better." Oura said in a pleased voice, making the Guardian even angrier. She then looked at Amon, slowly reaching out with a pale hand to him.
"This one in particular… This kid seems very interesting." She said with excited eyes, like a girl looking at a new doll.
"Maybe I'll make him my new toy." She licked her red lips enticingly. Amon, however, felt a shiver running down his spine. Beyond his limp body and his muddy consciousness, his instincts were screaming at him that the woman was dangerous.
"Don't you dare, you old snake!" Lya shouted in Oura's mind, infuriated. Despite being completely helpless, she couldn't hold back her outburst.
"So he is indeed the one that you chose. Still as emotional as ever, Lya." Oura made a cunning smile, but her eyes expressed nothing but coldness as she turned to look at Brightmoon lying on the floor. "By the way, the next time you speak without permission I will rip you apart piece by piece, even if it incurs Master's rage."
The Guardian was silent. The events that took place showed that there were traitors infiltrated in the competitors of the Hellblaze Trials. Certainly, the same could be applied to the Sacred Sects themselves. It was not surprising that someone had gotten wind of Amon's sudden rise, even if it seemed insignificant at first.
The main point, however, was that Lloyd was involved. His son's sudden change would certainly reach the ears of the one pulling the strings. They would know about him the best. If such a hopeless kid suddenly showed amazing progress, they would look into it, even if on a whim.
If that person, then, heard about him returning from the Scavenging with a certain sword, and even selling a pair of danasian steel daggers to the sect to buy cultivation manuals and sword techniques… If that person knew about the events of the past, then it wouldn't be too hard to have certain suspicions, especially if that person was Dale Loray.
"What do you want Oura?" The Guardian asked in a cautious voice. Even if Amon and Lya were part of her objective, Lloyd had stolen the Hellblaze Gateway years before the last Scavenging, and abducting Amon and Lya would have been reasonably simple to do, considering their outcast condition and the spies infiltrated in the sect.
No, their prime objective lied in the Hellblaze Secret World from the start. They had thoroughly prepared to act and had only waited for an opportunity. An opportunity that Nemeus, Lya, Borgin and the Guardian himself had provided when they decided to host the Trials in a bid to get information about the enemy.
"I doubt you can guess, dear. But don't worry, you will find out soon." Oura said in a playful tone. Her divine sense was carefully sweeping through every inch of the hall in search of something.
The Guardian had been thoroughly defeated. After centuries, he was finally feeling the bitter taste of defeat once again. The situation had escaped from his grasp, and he was incapable of changing it. He had utterly and completely failed.
"Heh, a hidden layer in space. Arthur surely didn't play around when making this place." Oura's eyes shone with satisfaction as her divine sense locked on a particular location in the center of the hall.
"Wait, don't!" The Guardian suddenly shouted in terror as he realized what Oura wanted. His words were cut short when Oura waved her hands and space broke in the middle of the hall.
However, instead of showing emptiness between the fragments of shattered space, the fragments revealed a small enclosure, as if they were hiding a box. Inside it, a red jewel the size of a fist glowed with a scarlet light.
"Found you!" Oura said with a charming smile, raising her hands. A boundless stream of divine sense enveloped the jewel, sealing the entity in it from the outside world.
Being contained in the dark-red space inside the Soulstone, Hati's soul struggled fiercely. It struck wildly with its divine sense against Oura's consciousness, trying to break free. Like a caged animal, Hati desperately fought against his bindings, unwilling to be taken away.
"Hehe, you foolish dog. What in this place could possibly be more precious than you?" Oura transmitted her voice inside the jewel as a mocking smile made its way into her lips.
"Hati!" Lya screamed, desperate. She too, started struggling against Oura's domain with all her might, even if she knew it was useless.
"Shut up." Oura said in an annoyed voice, waving her hand again. Another stream of divine sense covered Brightmoon, silencing Lya.
Amon started squirming on the ground, trying to recover control over his body. Sweat covered his back as he grunted due to the effort. He was finding it incredibly difficult to gather his thoughts, and seeing his futile efforts made Oura smile even more.
"To manage to fight back against my charm, your will is really something, dear. I am sure Master will be very pleased with this." She tenderly looked at him, before turning to Lloyd. "You take the sword; I'll be taking the kid with us."
For the first time since he arrived, Lloyd looked at his son. His gaze was as cold and indifferent as Amon remembered. Amon himself, however, was different. There was no confusion, desperation or pain in his eyes like the last time.
The look his son gave him made Lloyd greatly displeased, even somewhat angry. Because in those golden eyes of his son, he saw nothing but hate and defiance.
"I don't remember master ever mentioning this." Lloyd said to Oura.
"There was no need to mention. Master wasn't sure and this doesn't really concern you." Oura said in a dismissive tone.
Lloyd didn't bother refuting her. Even if Amon was his son, he thought nothing of it. Oura saying that the matter didn't concern him meant that Oura's interest in Amon didn't stem from his relationship with Lloyd.
"Oh, since we are already here, we might as well take everything." Oura suddenly changed the subject, waving her hands again.
Another layer of space shattered, revealing a golden glow. Beyond the broken space, walls covered in gold supported innumerable rows of bottles and scrolls of all sizes and colors that shone with a blinding light. Deeper into the trove, silver racks held all kinds of weapons.
Oura's eyes glinted with greed as she saw this. This was an impressive collection, amassed with the efforts of all of the Five Sacred Sects. Even if most of its treasures were mediocre, a reasonable number of them were impressive.
Leaving them behind would be a pity. Also, taking them away would serve another purpose.
Lloyd quietly sheathed the green sword and reached into his clothes. He recovered a small metal bracelet, which he threw to Oura without ceremony.
Then he walked to Brightmoon, grasping the iron sword without a hint of care.
With a light smile, Oura made the bracelet float in front of her. She extended her hands, projecting her divine sense into the trove. Like snakes, strands of her divine sense coiled around the many treasures inside before retracting back to Oura.
The bracelet flickered with a silvery light as treasure after treasure touched it and disappeared. When the trove was completely emptied, Oura gave a satisfied smile.
She then gave a glance to the fallen cultivators. Besides Amon, all of them were on the ground, still in a daze.
"Don't forget what you have to do." She said in a low voice as she looked at the fallen cultivators before extending her hands to Amon.
The hall violently quaked as a deafening sound echoed. The walls trembled, and the shadows covering them started to distort. The wall Lya and the Guardian had damaged started shaking, and the spatial fragments surrounding it slowly stopped floating, being locked in place.
"It looks like those two made more damage to the seal than expected." Oura frowned. Lloyd simply unsheathed the sparkling green sword by his waist.
Running away was not an option. Lars Borgin and Nemeus couldn't be left alone with the competitors, or they would certainly spoil their plans. Their only chance was staying behind to hold Borgin and Nemeus back.
A wisp of divine sense coiled around the powerless Amon, dragging him closer to Lloyd alongside the bracelet and the Soulstone as Oura's figure dispersed.
Another heavy impact sounded. Gravel and dust started falling from the ceiling, covering the immobile cultivators as the damaged wall started crumbling.
Beyond his muddy consciousness, Amon could faintly hear an earth-shaking roar in the distance.
The damaged wall crumbled completely, exploding in pieces and sending fragments of gold and scarlet crystal raining through the hall. A sudden heat wave assaulted all of the present, making breathing difficult. Amon felt as if he had been thrown into the Trial of the Will again as fire blazed into the hall. Dark-red flames emerged from the newly made breach, swallowing the viscous shadows that covered the hall.
A nauseating sizzling sound echoed as the shadows were burnt to a crisp by the hellish fire, and a small figure appeared amidst the flames.
His brown hair was a mess, and his clear eyes showed a rarely seen seriousness. Wild flames flickered at his feet, and his sheer presence made a terrifying pressure crash down on Amon, pressing him against the broken floor.
Every step the man took made the tiles of the floor crack and sink into the ground. His small figure looked impressively gigantic as he gazed at Lloyd with cold eyes, his back as straight as a javelin. In his right hand, he held a crimson sword covered in hellish black flames. The blade seemed somewhat blurry as it vibrated and hummed with a low sound, as if it was growling.
Looking at the newcomer, Lloyd couldn't help but smile again.
The green sword in his hands glowed as Lloyd waved it around. The silent pressure weighing down on the hall didn't seem to affect him at all. A gentle wind spiraled around him, making his dark clothes flutter and his black hair sway.
"It's been a while, Lars." He said, not hiding the mockery in his voice.