Hell Beckons (VIII)
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Reynard slowly opened his eyes when the strange feeling of the spatial transference disappeared. Nevertheless, he was completely aware of his surroundings, since he never retracted his divine sense in the first place.

Using his eyes would lead him to have nausea and dizziness while he traversed the spatial passageway, but using his divine sense would not. It was a somewhat bizarre feeling. The sense of movement was still there, but since he was completely aware of what was happening in a wide area around him, he didn't feel lost or confused at all by the changes occurring on his surroundings.

He was lying on his back, and, above him, a multitude of pale leaves was glimmering with a dim silvery light in the gloom that covered Hell's Keeper City. They seemed to be gently swaying in a weak breeze, even though Reynard could feel nothing at all. Taking a closer look, it was more of a shuddering than a swaying, as if the tree itself was trembling.

Above the tree, Reynard could barely make the bloody light of the twilight through the leaves. The Hellblaze Secret World was certainly something else. Although he was sure he had spent at least a few days there, only a few hours had passed in the outside world.

From the little he understood about the subject, it made sense. Time would not necessarily flow the same way in different spaces. It would be the same as assuming that the currents of all rivers had the same speed or direction.

Dismissing his thoughts, he promptly stood up, looking around. Dozens of cultivators were on the floor in the major plaza of Hell's Keeper City. They were in strange positions as if they were nothing more than ragdolls thrown to the ground. Subtle groans could be heard as they held their heads, trying to get a hold of themselves.

Reynard looked closely, but he couldn't find Amon Kressler. The corner of his lips twitched slightly. The way Oura had given him special attention meant he was somewhat important, even if he was not the prime objective. Furthermore, there was a chance he had the Vermillion Token on him, even if it was only a gut feeling Reynard had.

What made Reynard more displeased, however, was that they had returned to the Abyss Sect. Making a move would be harder now. He could only count on Leonard to hold the Elders back for as long as he could.

A smile showed in his expression. It was a fierce, unrestrained smile. Still, Reynard only gave himself the luxury to smile for a moment. In the blink of an eye, it was gone, as if it had never been there in the first place. In its place, Reynard's expression was as gloomy as the lighting in the city.

"Jake, you owe us an explanation!" Reynard said, enraged. His expression distorted into a mass of anger, and his aura shot up menacingly. The cultivators had started to get back on their feet, and many froze when they heard Reynard words.

"I owe you an explanation?" Jake faced Reynard with furrowed brows. What was he supposed to say? Although his master had not explained to him anything regarding the sudden opening of the Hellblaze Secret World, he could figure out most of the situation. There was no way he could share the truth with them.

"I am as lost as you are." He finally said, lightly shaking his head. From the corner of his eyes, he could see a lot of brows furrowing at his words.

Anna kept her silence. It was impossible to imagine what she was thinking behind her misty veil. She silently raised a hand, signaling the disciples of the Noan River Sect to gather and keep quiet. They would only coldly observe without taking sides for now.

Anna didn't know exactly how to feel. As much as she hated Reynard, she couldn't help but lean to his side regarding this matter. The recent happenings were indeed far too strange, far too dangerous to be ignored.

The Southern Flame Sect disciples had long gathered, slowly stepping back at Alden's orders. Anna almost forgot how that big brute could be cool-headed in moments of need.

The Storm Peak Sect disciples seemed lost, but they still managed to group together, showing confusion as their gazes changed back and forth between Reynard and Jake.

"Don't make me laugh!" Reynard immediately dismissed his answer, waving his hands violently. His tone was full of indignancy as he pointed his finger at Jake, his voice turning louder at each word. "Wasn't that man your Fifth Protector? Isn't that kid that brought in all those shadows a part of your sect?"

"You saw Amon's expression when that happened as well as I did! We all saw it! He clearly didn't know what was going on!" Jake retorted without hesitation. It was the truth, Amon's face had been as pale as paper, and he was clearly surprised and scared of what was happening. Either that was genuine surprise or he was an incredible actor.

"Then have him come and explain himself!" Reynard said with a sneer. The corner of his lips twitched as he made real effort to hold back his smile. Jake was making his job far too easy.

"Where is he?" Reynard asked in a serious tone, looking at each cultivator as if searching for Amon.

Slowly, the other cultivators too started looking around, searching for him.

"…" Jake silently gritted his teeth without answering the question. The first thing he had done when he came to himself was to confirm the state of all the members of the Abyss Sect. He naturally knew that Amon was missing, and Reynard certainly knew it too.

"Where is he, Jake?" Reynard asked again, in a louder voice. The cultivators quieted down again. They had looked around too, so they knew the answer already.

"I don't know." Jake answered after a long pause, still gritting his teeth. His voice was very weak, almost as if he was speaking to himself.

At that moment, Reynard knew he had already won. Still, it was not enough. He needed to completely convince the others, or at least plant doubts enough in their minds. Oura had certainly made his job easier, and even Amon, after disappearing had unknowingly helped Reynard with his mission.

"Are you covering for him or did you let a potential traitor run away?" Reynard asked in a grave voice. His dark eyes shone with ferocity, and his expression had an unprecedented seriousness. "I also don't see the Abyss Sect's spirit vessel."

"I…" Jake couldn't find words to defend himself or his sect from Reynard's questions. There was no way Jake could find reasonable explanations for any of those questions, especially regarding Amon and the missing spirit vessel. Everything pointed out that he had run away.

He took a deep breath. He had to make a tough decision.

"Covering for a traitor? You saw with your own eyes, our Sect Master got involved in that fight to protect us!" He finally said, taking a step forward. First, he had to salvage the Abyss Sect's reputation and solidify its position as an innocent party in this.

Daniel's eyes widened when he heard Jake's words. He had discarded any thoughts of defending Amon from that accusation. That was the same as saying Amon was indeed a traitor.

Daniel took a step forward, but Jake raised a hand to stop him. Daniel looked at his brother's eyes and saw nothing but decisiveness in them.

"Jake…" Daniel called in low, but alarmed voice. He couldn't hide the disappointment in his eyes.

"Don't speak. This is for the sect." Jake said, avoiding Daniel's gaze. He couldn't bear the look his brother was giving him. "We can think on how to prove his innocence later."

"And how exactly are you going to do that?" Daniel asked, turning livid. If Jake was going to let the assumption of Amon being a traitor grow just so he could salvage the Abyss Sect's name, then proving his innocence later would be many times more difficult, as it would yet again put the Abyss Sect in a delicate position.

"If he was here in the first place this matter could have been already solved!" Jake retorted with a cold voice.

Daniel couldn't find the words he wanted to say to deny him. That was the truth. Amon had run away, leaving them behind without being able to prove his innocence.

"Not to mention that strange woman that seemed to be with him." Jake added, raising his eyes to look at Daniel. "Looks like he has his fair share of secrets, Daniel. We can't let our emotions take over our actions or words right now. The first thing we need to do is hold our ground against Reynard and then slowly move forward in search of the truth. Even if he is indeed innocent, and I believe so too, he has a lot of explaining to do."

Jake had avoided mentioning the woman accompanying Amon that clearly seemed to know the Guardian. Using her as proof of the Abyss Sect's innocence would only bring up more questions that he couldn't answer.

"Having fun discussing the excuses you are going to give?" Reynard interrupted their conversation with a sharp tone.

"What excuses do I need to give? Our Sect Master taking part in the fight should be proof enough the Abyss Sect is not responsible for this." Jake said with a cold voice.

His words made many of the cultivators exchange strange looks. It was indeed strange that Lars Borgin had appeared to fight against the invaders. Maybe the Abyss Sect truly was not the perpetrator.

"Do truly you think so?" Reynard asked, not hiding the scorn in his voice at all. "Yes, your Sect Master appeared to fight your Fifth Protector, but I didn't see him landing a single blow, nor receiving one back! Not to mention that strange green-haired woman conveniently trying to put everyone in a daze so we couldn't see what was happening and neither fight back!"

"There is also the fact that your sect simply decided to hold the Trials out of the blue, after declaring they were canceled for a few decades." Reynard continued, taking a step forward in an incredibly aggressive manner. "Do you see yourselves as the owners of the Hellblaze Trials? Would the Trials exist without the remaining Sacred Sects?"

"What was the reason for canceling the Trials in the first place? Did the Abyss Sect, by any chance, knew that this could happen?" Reynard took a brief pause, letting his words sink in. "If that was the case, why reorganize them?"

Jake had a deep frown on his face, unable to retort at all. He could not find suitable words to use. Mostly because, to make things worse, he knew Reynard was probably right. The thought alone made him secretly shiver.

"You either brought us into a trap or used us in a trap you set up for someone else!" Reynard concluded his train of thought with a savage remark.

"Not only that, your sect either stole all of the treasures in the Hellblaze Secret World or you lost them through sheer incompetence!" Reynard laid down the final cards he had in his hands. It was time to give the finishing blow.

"Silence!" Joshua suddenly shouted, trying to jump forward. His face was as red as his hair, and he couldn't hide his animosity in the least. Daniel promptly held him back. His expression was somewhat pale, and he had a deep frown on his face.

"What motive would we have for that? Do you think this was just an elaborated ruse to try and get everything inside the Hellblaze Secret World for us? Do we think we are in such a desperate situation?" Jake ignored Joshua's outburst and asked slowly as he faced Reynard, his expression shifting from calmness to sheer rage.

"Yes, I actually do! Not only is your sect waning, but you have also even been robbing corpses to barely maintain yourselves over the years! If that does not reek of desperation, I don't know what does!" Reynard did not hold back at all. "You are known as the Sect of Scraps, after all. Apparently, it is not for show!"

An uncomfortable silence took over the major plaza. The cultivators exchanged awkward glances, but no one said a word. The Sect of Scraps. A name they all had heard, and most had used.

Although all the Sacred Sects had been on the decline, the Abyss Sect's fall from grace had been too accentuated, and their stance regarding the Scavenging had been doubtful, to say the least. Reynard bringing this up, even if disrespectful, also made sense. If the Abyss Sect took over the Hellblaze Secret World's treasures, they would be able to recover at least part of the lost influence, and most likely stall their decline for a few decades at least.

"Not only that, your Fifth Protector was involved!" Reynard pointed out again.

"Lloyd Kressler is a traitor! He left the sect five years ago!" Jake shouted, livid. His hands were trembling in rage and his face was turning red. By his side, Karen quietly grasped his hand, trying to calm him down.

"If that is the case, then how did he get into the Hellblaze Secret World?" Reynard continued his barrage of questions, making sure to destroy each one of Jake's defenses. "Why didn't your sect keep an eye on his family? Why did his son take part in the Trials? Wasn't his son the one that started all of this mess?"

"How do you know he is Lloyd's son?" Jake asked, squinting his eyes.

"Are you stupid? Didn't we all thoroughly studied the information on our competitors?" Reynard promptly dismissed any doubts Jake might try to cast over him. "If you didn't, then you are even more of an idiot than I thought."

"Now tell me, what sect gives that kind of liberty to traitors or their families? This was either planned a long time ago or yet again it was your incompetence!" Jake could feel every word of his hitting his face like a slap. Reynard's momentum was unstoppable, and he didn't seem to be done.

"Are you people stupid or do you think we all are?" Reynard had a disgusted look on his face as he looked at Jake. His eyes, however, shone with a fierce glint behind that mask he was using in his act. It was a subtle glint, so subtle Jake couldn't catch it in his desperation to defend himself and his sect.

"How the hell do you want me to answer that?" Jake shouted. He had completely lost his composure.

"With the truth!" Reynard's demand was simple. It was almost too simple. At that moment, he knew the conversation was already over. Reynard knew it had been decided even before it started, but that simple request had finally put an end to it. What came after didn't matter anymore.

That short sentence had sealed the Abyss Sect's fate as being completely at fault in the eyes of all the present. Even if they meant it or not, they were responsible for the disaster that had occurred.

"I do not speak for the sect!" Jake shouted, exasperated. What could he do? No matter what he said, Reynard had a retort. Worst of all, his questions and the picture he was painting started making a twisted kind of sense. The situation was turning graver at an alarming pace.

"Then what kind of inheriting disciple are you?" Reynard asked, not hiding the scorn in his eyes. He then kept quiet, asking no more questions. There was no need to.

This was not an attack to the Abyss Sect, to Lars Borgin or to Amon. This was a direct offense to Jake Meyer.

Indeed, what kind of inheriting disciple was he?

He had given up on a member of his own sect in order to try to protect the rest, but he had utterly failed. His master had barely told him anything at all about the situation regarding the Hellblaze Trials, and the end result was that Jake couldn't deflect any of Reynard's arguments.

Not only that, but Jake had tried to avoid responsibility in a bid to stop Reynard's unrelenting strikes. He had only worsened the situation. Reynard had full control from the very beginning, and Jake had unknowingly played along to his plan.

Karen's slender fingers tightened the grip around Jake's hand. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling her warmth as he tried to accept his defeat and think of a way to remedy the situation.

Throughout the one-sided discussion, the expression on the cultivators present had slowly changed. From confusion and fear, the expressions of those outside of the Abyss Sect turned twisted with anger and incredulity.

The Abyss Sect member's expression shifted into a sheer rage for being suspected, but that rage soon numbed into a wordless shock. Even some of them had started thinking Reynard might be right. There was no doubt at all on who had won the argument, so naturally, the Abyss Sect was in a horrible position.

"Is silence all you have to give us?" A boy dressed in blue asked, taking a step forward and separating from the ranks of the Noan River Sect.

"Eli, that is enough." Anna said in a sharp, hostile voice. The boy looked at her for a moment. He opened his mouth to rebuke her, but in the end, he shook his head and turned quiet.

"Enough?" Another voice broke the silence. It was a boy from the Roaring Mountain Sect, that looked at Anna with nothing but disdain in his face. "Our inheritance is lost. Do you know how many artifacts we lost thanks to the Abyss Sect? How much of our rightful inheritance was taken away from us?"

"Not to mention the risks we were put through." The boy looked at Jake with hostile eyes and an expression full of despise. "You make us go through all of this and silence is all that we got?"

"Big words coming from a nobody like you." Joshua said, glaring at the boy and struggling against Daniel. Daniel's hold over him tightened, but it was useless. Joshua was much stronger than he was.

"If you didn't notice, we were as endangered as any of you!" Joshua shouted, hitting his own chest wildly. "Our lives were at risk too! I refuse to take the blame for what a random kid plotted with his father!"

"Joshua!" Karen called with an alarmed voice. She blinked her eyes in confusion, trying to understand what was going on. She had never seen him losing his cool like this. What had gotten into him?

"Well, that kid is nowhere to be seen, so I will demand an answer from you!" The boy continued, almost screaming. His tone was extremely forceful as he pointed his finger at the Abyss Sect disciples. "As Reynard said, you were either plotting this from the start or are simply too incompetent to be a part of the Sacred Sects!"

To Anna's surprise, Reynard made no effort at all to silence that Roaring Mountain Sect disciple. He simply stood by the side, his arms crossed as he silently watched.

"Say that again, Drace!" Joshua challenged the boy, patting his Bottomless Pouch and pulling his short spear from it.

"Or what? Are you going to strike me?" Drace asked, his tone as forceful as ever. He too patted his Bottomless Pouch, retrieving a silver sword that he held in his right hand. "I actually would want to see that. I want to see how you people fare fighting instead of robbing corpses."

Something in Joshua's eyes changed at that moment. Jake didn't know what it was, but it alarmed him greatly. He jumped forward, trying to stand in front of him and hold him back. He should have had enough time. He had acted first, and he was faster than Joshua. He had always been.

Still, to his surprise, it was not what happened. Joshua seemed to turn into a blur, immediately shaking off Daniel and shooting forward at an unbelievable speed. It was far too fast. Faster than Jake could even imagine someone at their level could move. He desperately extended his hands, trying to grab Joshua before he got completely out of reach, but he only brushed against Joshua, ultimately grasping nothing but air.

Drace looked at Joshua coming at him, spear in hand, with disdain in his eyes. He took a defensive stance, preparing to parry the incoming stab aimed at his chest.

Joshua's strike was incredibly fast, but also very straightforward. A normal disciple wouldn't be able to parry it, but Drace was not a normal disciple. He looked at Joshua with a bit of pity in his eyes.

It had been too easy taunting him into attacking. It had been too easy predicting the path of his spear. It would be too easy blocking it, deflecting the strike to his left and using the momentum to increase the speed of his sword, beheading Joshua with a fluid motion.

As Drace moved his right arm to seal Joshua's fate, his face suddenly paled. His arm was not moving.

He turned his head in surprise, looking in horror at his own arm. It was immobile as if Drace hadn't even tried to move it yet. A disgusting numbness was spreading through it, and Drace could feel a slight pressure constricting his arm as he forcefully tried to move it, like countless strands had been tangled around it, holding it in place.

He turned his head to Joshua in fright. The red-haired boy had a fierce smile on his face as he looked at Drace with scorn. The tip of his spear could be barely seen in the gloom of the major plaza, but it turned increasingly clear in Drace's eyes, as it came closer to his chest.

With a nauseating sound, the spear penetrated his skin, digging through his muscles and breaking his ribs as it made its way to his heart. Drace looked in horror as the spear sank into his flesh, completely burying the spearhead in his chest the until the shaft hit his sternum, fracturing what was left of the ribs in the spear's path.

He opened his mouth, trying to speak, but only a torrent of blood came in place of words, pouring out of his mouth and spilling into the floor, dirtying his feet. Drace slowly turned his head to his right, looking at Reynard.

Reynard still had the same cold eyes as ever, and his expression was blank. His arms were still crossed, as if he couldn't react in the split second Joshua took to leave the Abyss Sect's ranks and strike him.

Nevertheless, Reynard met his gaze, and Drace realized the truth. The numbness in his arm disappeared as the countless strands of Qi that had bound it in place were released.

"Clang!"

Drace's sword fell into the floor with a metallic clang, sounding like a bell. In the completely silent plaza, full of horrified cultivators that were trying to understand what had just happened, its sound was deafening.

Drace's eyes lost all light as he still faced Reynard, incredulous at what had happened.

Puchi!

Joshua violently released his spear from Drace's chest, and his body fell violently to the floor. Blood gushed from the hole in his chest, tainting Drace's yellow clothes and forming a pool beneath him.

The bloodied spear looked very sinister in Joshua's hands as he pointed it to the cultivators of the other sects with a savage expression on his face.

"Anyone else wants to speak nonsense?"

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