The First Protector quietly took her hand off Daniel's back and lightly shook her head as she heard Jake sobbing. He was a cultivator and, more than that, an inheriting disciple. He should know better than anyone how things worked in their world.
Such a display was proof that he was human, but also proof of his immaturity. Death was unavoidable in the path they trod. If one did not steel his heart to it, the suffering it brought would never stop. Being an immortal might mean that one would be far from death's reach, but the journey to immortality inevitably meant having death as a companion.
The First Protector raised her head, thinking. She had no idea how things had reached that point, but something made her restless. Sect Master Borgin was nowhere to be seen, and nor was any Elder at all. There had been too many coincidences.
A spirit beast outbreak in the north that required two Protectors and most of the High Elders to act had dealt an almost crippling blow to the Abyss Sect's reaction time to any crisis. Even worse, had she not interrupted her reclusion due to the emergency signal the Third Elder had sent, she would never have made it on time to save Jake's life.
Even so, she arrived too late to salvage the situation that led to this. As a result, the Abyss Sect had suffered enormous losses, and how the surviving disciples would fare from now on was unknown.
She raised her eyes, to the midst of the Roaring Mountain Sect disciples. There, a red-haired boy was lying on the ground with a short spear by his side. The First Protector's brows furrowed as she swept her gaze through the battlefield carefully. From Drace's body to the unmoving Reynard that was covered in sweat due to his resistance to her illusion. A picture slowly started to form on her head, but its implications were even above what she could deal with alone.
She suddenly heard the rustling of leaves and hurriedly turned her eyes to the Ashen Heart Tree. There was no wind that would blow in the Hell's Keeper City, yet the branches of the tree were restless as if a fierce gale was blowing at them. The enormous silvery leaves waved nonstop, and slowly the branches of the tree started to darken.
The hellish red curtain of light in the trunk of the tree, the gateway to the Hellblaze Secret World, started flickering nonstop. The First Protector's eyes widened as she saw the scene. The Ashen Heart Tree was inexorably linked to the Hellblaze Secret World. If it was acting like that, maybe the secret world itself was turning unstable.
She hastily stood up, leaving Jake's side and making her way to the Ashen Heart Tree, trying to figure out what exactly was happening. As she approached, however…
The ground of the major plaza quaked and, with a deafening explosion, rocks, gravel and debris flew everywhere as a huge hole appeared in the middle of the plaza, almost swallowing the Storm Peak Sect disciples that hastily retreated.
"Anna!" An aged voice shouted as a woman dressed in blue and with silvery hair made her way from underground, followed closely by a man with a shaved head dressed in red.
The woman looked in horror at the scene in the major plaza and hastily moved to the remains of the ice dome near the Ashen Heart Tree. The bald man rushed to the side of the Southern Flame disciples sprawled on the floor, and let out a breath of relief as he saw no one was hurt.
Next, a woman in green robes shot out of the hole, rushing to the side of the Storm Peak disciples. She wasted no time with formalities or assessing the situation. With a wave of her hand, the silver spirit vessel of the Storm Peak Sect flew over.
Following the faster High Elders, the accompanying Elders of the Sacred Sects soon emerged, hastily approaching the members from their sects.
As the ten disciples and the Elder climbed onboard, Veronica, the High Elder of the Storm Peak Sect, turned her head and looked at the Abyss Sect's First Protector for but a moment. Without a word, she too jumped atop the spirit vessel. With a rumble, it rose from the ground in a sudden movement, blowing dust everywhere as it turned into a blur and sped off into the distance.
Sarah was left speechless, but could not waste time with trivialities. She lightly waved her hand, dispersing the pressure that was binding the Noan River disciples down with a deep frown on her aged face.
"What happened?" Sarah asked as soon as she confirmed all of the Noan River disciples were safe.
"Well, the Abyss Sect-" Eli took a step forward as he started talking. Before he could even finish a sentence, however, a fierce coldness enveloped him. His face paled as he looked at the source of the cold. Anna Hale had her head turned to his direction, and he didn't need to see her face to guess the expression she had. He promptly shut his mouth, taking a step back.
"Someone invaded the Hellblaze Secret World." Anna spoke in her usual cold voice, trying to be as clear and a brief as possible. "They stole all of the contents of the vault and are currently engaged in a fight with the Abyss Sect's Sect Master."
"And what happened here?" Sarah's expression darkened instantly as she heard Anna's report.
"The Roaring Mountain Sect and the Abyss Sect had a falling out. Joshua, from the Abyss Sect, made the first move." Anna explained simply, not showing any emotion.
"The details can wait. We are leaving." Sarah closed her eyes for a moment. She half expected a situation like this when a disciple of the Roaring Mountain Sect died, but the situation was even worse than what she predicted. This matter would be completely out of her hands.
"Wait!" An angry voice suddenly interrupted her. From the gaping hole in the major plaza, a man dressed in gold slowly appeared. His hair was a mess and he had a fierce expression on his face. On his right hand, a saber covered in blood gave him a terrifying appearance. From the gaps of the bloodstains in the saber, an eerie purple light shone, given the saber an even more horrendous appearance.
He gave a cursory glance through the plaza, and his eyes locked into the sorrowful Jake Meyer. His expression turned blank for a moment before he saw Reynard, who was still frozen in place, and a strange glint flashed in his eyes.
"Are you really going to leave just like that?" Leonard asked as his face distorted into a mask of hatred. "The Abyss Sect set us up, put all of the disciples we brought at risk and you are simply going to leave without demanding an explanation?"
"This is not a matter we can deal with, Leonard. It will be up for our Sect Masters to decide how to act." Baldwin answered. His teeth were gritted and his muscles were tensed. He was clearly unwilling to say those words.
"This is far from enough!" Leonard said as he turned into a blur, appearing in the midst of the Roaring Mountain Sect disciples.
"Who is responsible for this?" He asked in a sharp, authoritative voice. A Roaring Mountain disciple quietly pointed to the ground by Leonard's feet.
Leonard slowly lowered his gaze with a chilling look in his eyes. By his feet, a red-haired youth was slowly trying to stand up. His clothes were in tatters and his body was full of bruises and lacerations. He was clearly not a member of the Roaring Mountain Sect.
"Here, I will help you." Leonard said with a murderous expression as he grabbed the boy by the neck, raising him in the air with one hand.
Joshua started gasping for breath as his face slowly turned as red as his hair and he tried to pull away from the iron-like grip that was slowly crushing his neck. His feet dangled uselessly in the air as his hands powerlessly hit the arm holding him above the ground.
"Put the boy down." The First Protector demanded in a cold voice.
"Don't worry, I won't kill him. I will just make him pass out and take him away to deal with in the Roaring Mountain Sect." Leonard said with a strange smile on his face. "I will be sure to be really thorough with the punishment."
"This is your last warning. Put him down." The First Protector's voice was enough to send a chill down the spines of even the High Elders of the other Sacred Sects, but Leonard didn't budge.
Seeing this, a gentle breeze started sweeping past the First Protector, making her clothes flutter and slowly ascending from the tip of her toes to her neck. Seeing the veiled threat, Leonard's face turned grim. Even he had no real way to counter the First Protector's illusions if she went all out.
"Fine." Leonard said with gritted teeth. His eyes suddenly locked into the Ashen Heart Tree, and a fierce light shone in his eyes. "Have it your way."
His arm moved like lighting, throwing the already helpless Joshua in the air as if he was nothing more than a doll. The First Protector promptly raised her hands, trying to stop Joshua's fall. As the Qi gathered at her command, the air rippled. Just as the Qi was about to reach Joshua, however, It suddenly froze in place.
The First Protector's eyes widened as she realized someone had wrestled away her control over the Qi. She could only helplessly watch as Joshua flew through the air in a precise arc, landing on the flickering curtain of light and disappearing from her sight.
"Let's go." Leonard said, pointing a finger at Reynard and finally releasing him from his constraints.
As the illusion was suddenly broken, Reynard took a moment to recover. His legs almost gave in and he nearly lost his balance. His expression darkened as he fiercely stomped the ground, making the ground below him ripple and help him recover.
Leonard brought the Roaring Mountain Sect's spirit vessel to their side, carefully picking up Drace's body as he jumped on board. One by one, the disciples joined him.
Reynard was the last one to climb onboard. He slowly turned around as the spirit vessel rose, its pulsating purple glow casting ominous shadows on his face. He looked at the First Protector's face with a ferocious expression. She quietly sustained his gaze with a blank face, not showing the anger nor the disdain she felt.
"I'll rip those eyes out of your face the next time we meet." Reynard said with a blank expression as the purple spirit vessel slowly turned away.
"Your Abyss Sect can just wait for the outcome of this ridiculous stunt." Baldwin declared as he saw the Roaring Mountain Sect's spirit vessel disappearing from sight. He looked at the Ashen Heart Tree with a frown.
It was unknown what was happening inside, but he wasn't willing to abandon the youths of his sect to try to retrieve the treasures. For starters, he didn't know if this was all an act and Lars Borgin was the mastermind behind it. Entering the Hellblaze Secret World would mean taking an unnecessary risk.
Baldwin looked at Sarah, and from her expression, he knew she had similar thoughts. This was no time to make a gamble, not when they were potentially in enemy territory. He gave a sigh, shaking his head.
"I do hope you are ready for the consequences." Sarah said as she looked at the First Protector with a serious expression. "Considering its history, losing the Abyss Sect would be a tragedy. As shameful as it would be, let's hope the Abyss Sect will only lose its place among the Sacred Sects."
With that, she turned around to leave, joining the Noan River Sect members in their glistening spirit vessel. The First Protector could not find the words she needed to say. The Abyss Sect would face an unprecedented crisis.
The First Protector quietly watched as the remaining spirit vessels rose from the ground and left as she tried to stabilize the still uncared disciples of the Abyss Sect. She couldn't help but feel worried. She could only hope Lars Borgin would return soon so they could start taking the proper measures as soon as possible.
Her expression slowly darkened. Lars Borgin's situation was unknown, and she couldn't enter the Hellblaze Secret World until the Medical Pavilion staff arrived and took over the wounded disciples. Worst of all, the Second Protector was not answering her voice transmissions and her emergency signals. Either Lawrence Meyer was not receiving them or he was willingly ignoring them.
Ignoring the fact that he was a Protector of the Abyss Sect, what could such a man consider more important than the son he was so proud of?
The First Protector swept the major plaza with her divine sense, finally noticing a crucial detail: there were only eight disciples of the Abyss Sect present, including the dead. Joshua had been thrown into the Hellblaze Secret World, so that made nine.
There was still someone missing alongside the Abyss Sect's spirit vessel.
The sun had already set, and a pale waxing moon hung in the night sky in a cruel grin. Rebecca Skoller had a terrible feeling as she contemplated the sky, and somehow she felt sorrowful. Something was weighing down her chest, and she felt a terrible sense of loss.
"Calm down." She said to herself as her chest heaved up and down and she started feeling nervous. "Everything is fine."
She tightly clenched the green necklace under the white sheets of her bed. That ominous premonition she had didn't go away, and her grip turned tighter, making the necklace almost break her skin.
Suddenly, something caught her attention, and she hurriedly turned to the door of her house. Her green eyes blazed with a strange fire as her nervous expression suddenly turned into one of sheer coldness as she probed outwards with her divine sense and realized what was happening outside.
The front door of the house creaked lightly as someone walked in, taking unhurried steps inside. The steps paused for a moment in the living room, as if the person had taken a small break to look closely to something. Rebecca's expression turned grimmer as the temperature in the house turned colder.
A white mist started blowing out of her mouth with each breath she took, and she couldn't help but tremble due to the cold.
"How embarrassing." She said in an emotionless voice, raising her eyes to the door of her room, that was now open. "To think I wouldn't even be able to keep myself warm in front of you."
"It is not surprising at all, considering you can't even circulate the Qi in your body anymore if you don't want to die. " A cold, scornful voice answered her.
"It would still be better than having to stand you." She said, looking deeply into a pair of black eyes as dark as the night. Eyes awfully similar to the ones her husband had, but also very different.
"What do you want, Lawrence?"