A blinding light erupted and roaring white flames bloomed like a hellish flower as the shabby house was torn apart by the explosion. The stars were obfuscated by the brightness of the flames, and all the shadows in the area disappeared. For a moment, a white sun shone in the Outer Sect of the Abyss Sect, casting the night away.
As fast as the sun rose, however, it set. The blinding light died down, and as ruble and dirt rained down on the remains of the house, only fickle flames remained, dancing unpredictably as the flickered, casting light and shadows on the two figures facing each other in what was once a small room. They were both kneeling, looking utterly exhausted.
A faint mist was spreading from one of the figures, slowly turning the area into a blur. A disturbing sizzle echoed as the reminiscent flames slowly died down and the mist expanded outwards. The scorching heat that had taken over the area was rapidly overwhelmed by a biting coldness.
Eventually, the mist thickened, and a faint drizzle started to fall from the sky, drenching the two figures that didn't move. The pitter-pattering of the rain soon stopped, leaving only silence.
One of the figures slowly stood up, holding a saber in hand. His black clothes were slowly covered in a layer of white frost as the water drenching them froze. With annoyance, Lawrence Meyer violently waved a hand, as if striking the air. Glistening shards of ice fell like snow on the ground at the figure's feet as the layer of frost broke apart and slid down from the clothes.
The other figure also slowly stood up, albeit with clear difficulty. Rebecca's white clothes dried down as a cloud of steam formed around her. A thin streak of blood escaped through her lips, and she couldn't hide the pain she was feeling. Supporting her body with the sword Raven, she slowly straightened her back. Lawrence's eyes gleamed with a fierce light as he saw her managing to stay on her feet.
Horrendously scarred shins could be seen beneath Rebecca's white gown. Not a single inch of skin seemed to be free of any kind of mark or scar. Lawrence realized Rebecca's legs were slightly deformed, and it was clear the bones had been broken being recognition once. Even after putting them in place, the healing process was not perfect. Rebecca lacked proper medical care, after all. Her leg muscles were also horribly atrophied, and there was barely any flesh between the deformed bones and the scarred skin.
"You could walk?" He asked in a chilling voice.
"Not really. This is the same as what your son did with his right arm." Rebecca said, wiping the blood on her lips with a shriveled hand and trying to find her balance.
"From the theory alone you managed to pull it off?" Lawrence couldn't quite believe it.
"At our level, it is not something hard." Rebecca said dismissively. "Even if Natasha didn't get the chance to help me, the theory she came up with was more than enough."
Lawrence stood in silence for some time. A frown slowly appeared on his face as looked at Rebecca.
"Since when?" Lawrence he finally asked as his expression darkened.
"Since the start." Rebecca answered, shaking her shoulders.
It was not a lie but was also not the truth. At most she could move for no more than a few minutes at a time, no matter what she tried. Horrible headaches would assault her after a while due to the straining that properly controlling her legs with Qi alone would bring. She had to support her upper body, as well as somehow relearn how to walk by controlling every single strand of Qi that remained in the broken meridians in her legs. It was in no way an easy feat, and the deep wounds that did not properly heal would take their toll.
A mind-numbing pain would course through her crippled legs at every step she took even if she was well rested, which only turned the process even harder. Not only that, but a single mistake could stimulate her damaged Elemental Core, and her body would not be able to withstand the incoming energy.
After months of trying, Rebecca finally arrived at the conclusion that it was useless. She would never be able to properly walk again, at least not without Natasha's help, and Lars Borgin and Lawrence Meyer were making sure that such a thing would be impossible. Adding to that, even if she managed to regain her ability to walk by some miracle, she didn't know what measures the Abyss Sect would take to deal with her. She knew better than anyone the position she was in, and she knew what could happen if someone believed she was making a full recovery.
She could only accept the fact that the best for both her and Amon would be to give up, and that broke her heart day after day. A crippled Rebecca Skoller might be burdensome, but one that could walk would be dangerous.
Lawrence's blank expression slowly morphed into one of rage, and Rebecca sneered inwardly. He had bought her bluff, and seeing him lose his cool was a small victory she would enjoy. Her satisfaction didn't last long, however.
She suddenly felt a surge of blazing energy coursing through her body. It spread from her dantian to all of her meridians, smoothly flowing through her arms and chest, but burning through the flesh when it reached her abdomen and legs. With damaged meridians, the energy could not circulate properly, and it would either accumulate and eventually explode or flow through her flesh and burn it.
Rebecca knew very well what the best option was, so she could only endure the pain and make her best efforts to not show it in her expressions and not let her legs tremble. A metallic taste invaded her mouth as she felt blood surging through her throat. With a fierce expression on her face, she managed to avoid coughing blood and painfully forced herself to swallow it back.
"I knew we should have gotten rid of you and your son the moment you gave us a chance." Lawrence spoke as his expression darkened even more. His cold eyes turned murderous as he spoke with pure hatred in his voice. "Lars Borgin was very hesitant in doing so for some reason, but I always knew that we should have killed you at the time."
"As if you could." Rebecca answered with a smile full of scorn. She made no effort to hide the derision in her eyes as she faced Lawrence. "If I remember well, at the time you had your tail between your legs, shivering in fear of my husband coming to finish what he started the day he left the sect."
As Rebecca slowly professed her words, Lawrence's expression turned completely blank. The tension he had shown before eased completely, his frown disappeared and his pursed lips relaxed. His eyes, however, turned increasingly sharper at each word that left Rebecca's mouth.
Once she was done, Lawrence simply waved his hand. The ground beneath his feet froze, and a layer of ice slowly covered everything around them within a radius of a hundred meters. Even if Lawrence could expand his influence more, he chose to condense the frost Qi he had in a smaller area, making it denser.
Rebecca took a deep breath, and let the energy leaking from her dantian freely move through her meridians in order to resist the cold. She could almost feel pity for the Elemental Core Elders that were still lurking silently on the sidelines, trembling like leaves in a storm as the chilling cold assaulted them.
"Let's see how long you can last." Lawrence said as a forced smile broke his emotionless expression. "I wonder if you will run out of energy or burn yourself to death first. It should be an interesting sight to watch."
Rebecca made an effort not to frown, but she knew Lawrence was right. With him covering the area in frost Qi, there was no way for her to properly replenish her Qi. Even if she could, the strain would eventually destroy her body from the inside out.
She finally completely straightened her back, pulling Raven from the ground and looking at Lawrence with nothing but seriousness in her green eyes. Her body was still somewhat slanted as if she didn't find her balance yet, but somehow Lawrence couldn't help but feel a bit of awe seeing her.
That desire to fight to the end, that unwillingness to accept death. Those kind of people were the ones he liked to fight with the most. The fire that blazed in their eyes, the energy and resolve they seemed to take out of nowhere as they struggled…
Few things gave Lawrence more satisfaction than to put out such flames.
Rebecca stood silently as Lawrence slowly walked over. She held Raven tightly with her right hand, and the pitch-black sword was soon covered in torrid white flames. White stream billowed out from the sword as the heat clashed with the cold.
Lawrence's smile slowly widened as he watched the scene. The saber in his hands started making clinging noises nonstop. It was only then that he realized his hands were trembling with excitement.
He would slowly enjoy driving Rebecca to a corner, and he would enjoy even more imagining how Lloyd Kressler would react when he knew what had happened to her and her son.
It would be an empty victory. A dull one. Nothing but a childish move, but Lawrence didn't mind. A victory over Lloyd Kressler was a victory nonetheless. If this ruse could make Lloyd knit his brows for even a second, it would have been worth it.
Because Lawrence Meyer really hated Lloyd Kressler.
Amon was turning more and more nervous as the spirit vessel streaked through the air with its maximum speed. A terrible feeling was spreading through his chest, and he felt something slowly clenching at his heart.
The last time he felt like that was right before entering the Hellblaze Secret World, and he was afraid that his feeling would be proven right yet again. All he could do was hope he was wrong, and try to reach his mother as fast as possible.
Lya quietly watched Amon turning more and more restless, and she couldn't help but feel the same. Fear was slowly creeping up her mind, making her tense. If something happened to Rebecca Skoller, she wouldn't know how to react. She knew better than anyone that it had been her fault.
Far to the north, a horrendous explosion rang. Amon's eyes widened as he saw that terrifying flash of white light pierce the skies. His expression darkened, and he turned to look at Lya.
No words were needed, for she knew what he wanted to say. She gritted her teeth, and her blue eyes shook with worry. She forced Qi into the spirit vessel's core array, increasing the speed even more. The vessel would not last for long under such conditions, but she could only hope it was enough to reach Rebecca in time.
The spirit vessel started to sway up and down, as it almost fell apart due to the energy overload. The sound of the wind howling at Amon's ears was almost deafening, but he somehow couldn't hear it. He felt his body numb and his senses fading. He could only hear the sounds of his increasingly fast heartbeats.
Another explosion rang, even fiercer than before. A second sun rose from the ground, much closer than the first one. Amon hurriedly raised his arms, protecting his face as a horrifying heat reached him. His hair stood on end, and he could feel his skin prickling as it turned red. Lya hurriedly waved her arms, casting a protective shield around him to ward off the heat.
A blast of air hit the spirit vessel, almost throwing it off course. The blazing sun was like a beacon in the north, and Amon was now sure of its location.
The world went silent again as the second sun was eventually swallowed by the darkness of the night, and the stars shone again in the sky.
Amon's golden eyes slowly turned cold, and he reached to his back, unsheathing Windhowler. His hands were trembling, and the sword shook in his grip. Lya however, felt no fear coming from him. She could only feel nervousness and a rapidly increasing animosity.
"Come on, Rebecca." Lawrence complained. Flicking his wrist and waving his saber. The fresh blood that covered it flew to the ground, freezing as soon as it hit the layer of ice below Lawrence's feet. "If you were at your peak you might have given me some trouble, but this is just too disappointing."
Rebecca didn't bother answering him, trying to keep her calm despite being kneeling on the ground in clear defeat. A deep gash could be seen going from her left shoulder to her waist. Blood freely flowed from it as her chest heaved up and down. She was barely supporting herself with Raven, and her hands were starting to slip from the grip.
She gritted her teeth fiercely, forcing herself to stand up. She somehow managed to stand on her feet, but she was clearly about to fall down again.
"Guess that surprise blast was all you had in you, wasn't it?" Lawrence asked with a mocking smile on his face. "Is the pain really that much? I can't imagine how it would be to feel my insides being burned each time I used my Qi. I think I would prefer death."
Seeing his expression, Rebecca couldn't help but frown with disgust. Lawrence was indeed very similar to Lloyd. It enervated her to no end.
"So you say, but haven't you been dealing with injuries of your own all those years?" She asked in a cold voice. "Don't think I didn't notice it."
"You don't have to worry." Lawrence rebuked dismissively. Despite his tone, however, Rebecca could see the corner of his lips twitching. "Even if it is annoying, it is still not enough to shake my position in the Abyss Sect. Even injured, none of the other Protectors would stand a chance against me."
"You are really annoying. Your tone, your stance, your attitude… You remind me too much of Lloyd." Rebecca said with a disgusted voice, turning her eyes away. Her left hand was closed tightly on a fist, and an explosive flow of Qi was slowly coursing through her arm from her dantian.
"Enough of this." Lawrence's smile faded away. "You win, Rebecca. You will get what you want."
He slowly approached her, letting the tip of his saber scrape against the ice covering the ground. His steps were unhurried, and he started putting strength in the saber, making the ear-piercing sound the saber was making even louder.
Every step he took, Rebecca's grip turned stronger. Soon, her left hand was trembling due to the strength she was exerting, and she could feel the object she was holding digging deep inside her palm. The skin in her arm was slowly reddening, and the pain in her abdomen was turning unbearable. She held herself back from screaming in pain as Lawrence stopped in front of her at arm's reach.
"You know, I will really enjoy showing your corpse to your son." Lawrence said, looking at her expression carefully, waiting to see her reaction. "I wonder what face he will make when he sees what will be left of you."
"Fuck you, Lawrence." Rebecca answered.
Then, looking at Lawrence, she smiled.
She opened her left hand, showing a small necklace. A green jewel was attached to it, and a small dot of blue light seemed to be floating inside, flickering gently. It was the last gift her husband had given her, and now she was going to make full use of it.
Lawrence's eyes widened when he saw the necklace and Rebecca's smile. She felt her arm burning as she injected all of the remaining energy she had into the jewel at once. Not even her own body could withstand that amount of energy, even if it was flowing through intact meridians. Still, it was enough. The blue light turned red, and the necklace suddenly heated up. A light crack echoed, and Rebecca closed her eyes.
The red light flashed, and the jewel exploded. A terrifying burst of energy was released at once, completely unrestrained. The accumulation of more than half a decade of Qi that Rebecca had stored in the jewel had been suddenly set ablaze by her own fire Qi.
Lawrence watched in horror as that mass of energy suddenly expanded in front of his eyes, and he hastily raised his hand to protect himself. A bright light took over his vision, and for a moment, the world ceased to exist.
Lawrence coughed violently as he opened his eyes. It took him a moment to make sense of his surroundings. As soon as he recovered the least bit of consciousness, however, a fierce pain assaulted him, making him want to writhe on the ground and scream.
He gritted his teeth, and slowly raised his head. His black clothes were in shambles, and every inch of his body seemed to be bruised. Breathing hurt him tremendously, and he figured he had at least a few broken ribs.
He tried moving his arm to stand up, but an even fiercer pain made him gasp. He lowered his gaze, looking in shock at the right side of his body. His hand and arm were still whole, but his skin was mostly gone, and the flesh was charred horrendously. The few patches of skin that remained were either covered in horrifying blisters or shriveled being recognition. His fingers were all broken, twisted in strange directions and in an even worse state than the rest of his arm.
His leg was in an equally terrible state, if not worse.
Lawrence turned his head but felt his head spin. He felt the right side of his face throbbing, and a sharp pain almost made him pass out again. He slowly moved his left hand with the intention of touching his face, but ultimately hesitated. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know the real state his face was in.
If he had not hastily protected himself, the right half of his body would have been blown away, and he would be certainly dead.
He made an effort to sit down, looking around. He heard grunts coming from afar, and with a swipe of his divine sense, he confirmed the three Elders he brought were still alive, even if injured.
He somehow managed to get up, supporting his body with his left leg and the saber that had fallen by his side. He was in a rather pitiful state, completely unbecoming of his status and the image he carefully cultivated over the years.
As he tried to start to move, a soft grunt caught his attention. He looked at the source of the noise, and a flash of gold caught his attention. The pain in his body immediately numbed, and his left hand started trembling with rage.
"Damn you!" Lawrence screamed with a hoarse voice, limping in Rebecca's direction, dragging his saber with his left hand behind him.
At that moment, however, he stopped in place and hurriedly turned his head. From the skies, a black blur was streaking right into his direction.
Lawrence couldn't waste time thinking or trying to identify what it was, he could only follow his instincts and kick the ground with his left leg, jumping with all his might to the side. In the blink of an eye, the blur swept past him.
Time seemed to slow down as Lawrence recognized it as a spirit vessel. He watched in shock as the spirit vessel barely missed him, flying for a few more meters before crashing violently against the ground.
A blast of air hit him like a hammer, making him writhe in pain. A cloud of dust rose as the ground quaked due to the impact, and Lawrence nearly lost his balance.
His eyes turned cold as his instincts kicked in and he gathered his thoughts. A light breeze blew on his back, and he immediately twisted his body, avoiding a sneak attack. With a gust of wind, something brushed past him.
Lawrence raised his head, meeting a pair of golden eyes that glared at him with nothing but sheer hatred.
Following the golden eyes, a sword covered in a sharp edge of light howled through the air, making its way to his neck.