Yao Jun swiped his interspatial ring and pulled out the communication orb that they could use to contact the Thousand Arms Master, tossing it to Sirius so that he could handle it. He had already tried to sink his mind into the orb, but the array that covered this hidden space seemed to obstruct the item's connection with the outside world so he wasn't able to contact the other side.
"Right. Don't disappoint me, Thousand Arms."
Yao Jun couldn't help but mutter to himself after Sirius caught the small orb. He was the one who had made the decision, and he had come to terms with the fact that he had to take risks and bets. But actually doing so still felt a bit off to him, he had never been one to rely on luck or others after all. But he had already set his foot into that mire so it was already too late to retreat, striding forward was his only option.
Yao Jun once again tapped into the energy gathered around the four planets in his chest, directing it towards one of the three locks that sealed up the area. They were inside the array so finding the locks was much easier than it would be to find them from the outside, just a quick glance was enough to tell him their location.
His energy sank into the first lock and pried it open, the array that covered the separate space whirring to life. And as the array whirred to life again, the entire land around Yao Jun and the others started to crumble. The entire space around them started to fall apart slowly, the broken chunks of space and earth turning into pure energy.
The energy meandered around aimlessly for a bit before a very faint resonating sensation came from within Yao Jun's chest. The energy was drawn in by the resonating sensation, drawn to the Evolution Heart that Yao Jun had absorbed earlier. The energy didn't settle in the space around the four planets but instead started to roam around his entire body, his veins bulging slightly as his flesh and muscles tightened up. Yao Jun clenched his hand slightly, the corners of his mouth unknowingly curving up slightly.
"Yeah, a man of your word, that's good."
Yao Jun hadn't forgotten the warning that the Thousand Arms Master had given them when he first told them about the way to open the array. There would be a vast surge of energy at the end, and if one of their enemies got a hold of it then they would be able to decimate everyone present. And sensing the energy that was coursing through him now, forcing his muscles into high gear, those words had certainly not been an empty warning.
It was like doping, a temporary boost that might vanish at any second, a final layer of protection for the inheritor that acquired his Evolution Heart. It may just be temporary, but for a moment, Yao Jun would be able to control all the energy that it had taken to maintain both the array and this hidden space. He had just opened one of the three locks, but the energy gathering within his body was already extremely close to what he used to have at his peak, opening the final two would certainly push him far beyond even that.
"Get ready, we'll probably be besieged the moment we're out."
Lang Kong was sitting only a few metres away from the shore, a few of the drooping branches from the closest weeping willow hanging down in front of his face. His silver hair was swept back neatly and tied up into a thick braid so that it didn't get in his way. His eyes would occasionally sweep across the lake and its surroundings, observing the other people that had gathered while waiting for their quarry.
But other than these momentary sweeping glances, his attention was fully focused on the lake, his right eye occasionally flashing with a dull grey light. One such flicker of light had just blazed through his right eye when the green-haired and red-eyed Zang Jue Qin appeared at the side of the tree, casually leaning against the trunk while nibbling on an apple.
"Seen anything yet?"
Zang Qin mimicked Lang Kong and let her gaze wander across the lake and its surroundings, but just like Lang Kong, she didn't look like she actually cared about the people that had gathered. Lang Kong rubbed his right eye gently, he didn't even bother glancing at the new arrival.
"I thought you left."
Yao Jun had already holed up inside the array for several months, it was to the point that the second stage of the tournament had already begun. With how desperate people were to gather points, quite a few had already left the area, it would be a shame to waste too much time here since Yao Jun was likely going to absorb the treasure in the lake.
But of course, the rumours that had spread were far too tantalizing, so it was inevitable that some people would remain, and that some new people would arrive after hearing the news. Zang Qin had indeed left earlier, she hadn't said what she was planning or where she was going, and Lang Kong hadn't bothered to ask, the two weren't exactly close friends after all.
"I did. Got a bit bored so I came back."
Zang Qin simply shrugged her shoulders leisurely. Her carefree and unconstrained expression had yet to shift even once, to the point where she gave others the impression that nothing that happened around her mattered in the slightest. Lang Kong was evidently quite used to her lackadaisical atmosphere, only shaking his head lightly.
"How pointless, it's not like you would benefit from whatever is supposed to be sealed in the lake, even if the rumours are true."
He uttered the words casually, but they could be considered a rather extreme boast, or accusation to be more accurate. But Zang Qin simply smirked in a cryptic manner, her gaze settling on the calm lake ahead of them.
"Didn't say that I came back because I was interested in whatever's hidden beneath the lake. I'm more interested in the little kid that's drawn so much of your attention. Well, seeing as he dared to sneak in and steal food from the tiger's mouth, he's gutsy, he definitely deserves that."
The rumour that had spread about this lake, that it contained a treasure that could help you break into the Empyrean Ruler realm, had spread far and wide. And most of the people that had been drawn in by the rumour were obviously Sovereign Gods, several of them even at the very peak of said realm.
But even so, Yao Jun had dared to sneak directly into their midst and jump into the array, forcing it to close behind him. And seeing as he was able to close the array behind him, it was obvious that he was at least a bit knowledgeable about it, he might even have been the one to open it in the first place. It was a risky move, one that could result in instant death if he was just the slightest bit unlucky. But he still went through with it, so he at least deserved to be called gutsy.
Lang Kong had nothing to say about what Zang Qin wanted to call Yao Jun, his right eye once again gleaming with a grey light as he circled back to her earlier question.
"...There's nothing yet, it's all still dark."
Lang Kong rubbed his eye once more after the grey light faded, his expression somewhat shadowed. He wasn't getting the result he desired, so he couldn't help but feel uneasy, anxiety wriggling at the back of his mind like a worm.
"Is there a need to look so glum about it, ain't that the better outcome?"
Zang Qin on the other hand saw things differently from him. She knew what he meant when he said that it was all dark, but to her, that darkness was much more desirable than a settled conclusion. But that was just how life was, different eyes looked at the same scene in a different way.
"It technically isn't good or bad, it's just uncertain, too many possible paths. But that's exactly why it should be considered bad, too many things to prepare for, too many ways it can go wrong."
Control and certainty, these were things that Lang Kong had to admit that he was perhaps a bit too fond of. It was even more so when it concerned things related to his closest kin, such as his younger brother. So how could he not worry when someone looking to kill his brother was entirely shrouded in darkness for the moment, even in a situation where the only future possible for him should be death?
"I really wonder how he survived... That hit should have bee...RETREAT!"
Lang Kong had just started muttering to himself when his right eye suddenly throbbed violently, his sclera and pupil turning completely grey in colour for a single second. He sprung up mid-sentence and stepped back, his body shifting backwards through space and hardening every inch of space in his wake.
Zang Qin followed him, quietly appearing next to the spot where he arrived after shifting through space. And just as she finished following him, the peaceful lake ahead of them exploded. The mirror-like water burst outwards violently, what few drops didn't turn into steam tearing open large gashes in space.
With the lake exploding, the various groups gathered around it obviously also burst into activity. No one bothered to ask questions or discern the situation, they simply took aim at the general centre of the lake and launched their attacks.
The sounds of their attacks tore through the air and blotted out everything else, it was like standing in the midst of a thundercloud as it released everything it had. But as the attacks tore through the rising steam, some of them getting swallowed by the spatial gashes, a sound like glass shattering boomed out, drowning even the deafening sound of the attacks.
And what followed the shattering sound was the disappearance of all the incoming attacks, they just quietly vanished as if they had been sucked in by a massive maw. The steam rose a bit higher and then started to freeze, falling to the earth as tiny chunks of ice that quietly pierced into the land and sank so deep that they vanished from sight.
And with the mist turning into ice and returning to the earth, the source of the shattering sound was finally laid bare. The entire lake had vanished, even the surrounding few kilometres of land had been blown aside, turning the entire area into a widespread but shallow crater. And standing at the centre of the crater was a figure that Lang Kong felt was uncomfortably familiar.
Yao Jun stood there clad in a deep blue robe that fluttered despite the fact that there was no wind. His black hair was also drifting wildly, seemingly alight with flames as dark as his hair, a faint kernel of white hidden within their depths.
But what drew the most attention was the space around him, or rather, the fact that it was currently in the process of falling apart. Chunks of space around him had already broken off to reveal blotches of either dark spots or multicoloured lights, it was as if space itself was revolting against his presence. But the pieces that continuously broke away from the surrounding space didn't even get to fly away or fall to the ground, they simply dissolved as if they were being digested.
There were probably well over 300 people still gathered around what remained of the lake, they were the ones that had survived the initial attack. But even so, as if natural, Yao Jun's head tilted, his and Lang Kong's eyes interlocking.
And as the two looked at each other, despite guessing that this state was only achievable through some temporary doping, Lang Kong couldn't help but think that the earlier darkness may indeed have been preferable. But he squashed that thought the moment it appeared, his gaze turning as solemn as could be.
This was beyond anything he had ever seen, any guess he could have possibly made. Negligence wasn't something he could afford here, the existence in front of him was far too dangerous for that, it posed far too great a risk to his brother. The veins on his temples suddenly bulged violently as his Qi started to seethe and roil, his mind touching upon the two sources of unique energy that he hid in his body.
His right eye turned fully grey again and his left eye turned completely silver in colour, his shoulder-blades protruding slightly as tufts of silver fur started to emerge on his neck. He had to pull out all the stops here, had to stop Yao Jun here.
"I won't let you go any further than this, Yao Jun. This WILL be the end of the line."