Hei and Honghuo were walking back to the place where they left the patriarch and the young lady when Hei noticed that his business partner was still visible.
“You should probably switch back to audio-only mode.”
“Ah! Right, I forgot.”
She promptly disappeared, and Hei decided to check on Honghuo’s status.
“How is your condition?”
“Me? I’m pretty good. Actually, I feel like I’m close to breaking through to the minute realm if we’re talking about accumulation. I still need to iron out a few details when it comes to comprehension, though.”
This was good news. If Honghuo could break through to the minute realm, then the next stage of the plan would become easier.
After a while, they arrived.
Immediately, Hei noticed a hidden presence in a building to his left. This was someone who was in Hei’s active radius.
From the looks of it, this person was waiting to strike, so Hei prepared himself to counter. He also sent a message over to Honghuo advising him to stay on his guard.
[Don’t make any sudden movements and don’t respond to me. Just walk as usual. There’s someone hiding to the left. Be prepared for a sneak attack.]
Hei knew that his own messages were all but undetectable for other people, but the same didn’t necessarily hold true for Honghuo. In order to prevent the enemy from discovering that they were aware of the situation, Hei instructed Honghuo not to respond.
So, the two continued walking at a steady pace.
Assuming that the Zhu Clan wasn’t incompetent, Hei decided to spread his spiritual perception to detect any other hidden people. And sure enough, he counted a total of 8 hidden presences all spread out, but with fairly unobstructed paths to Hei and Honghuo.
[There are eight people in total. Three to the front and five behind us.]
As he was predicting their movement paths, Hei heard his business partner.
“It looks like the old man woke up.”
The reason his business partner was still able to communicate with him in private unlike Honghuo, was that it was through the communication jades Hei had created. When he wanted the communications to be private, it seemed the natural qi lent some assistance.
The jades themselves already had such a feature, but it required a direct physical connection in order to relay the messages privately, unlike what was happening now with the jade floating in the air.
As for her words, Hei already noticed the patriarch up and about. This wasn’t too much of a concern. After all, he had already taken his spirit roots. The only reason he was still free to move around was that he still held some use.
Hei assumed that he wouldn’t be able to extract information from that fellow using his usual methods, so some creativity was required. Not capturing him was part of that.
Other than the patriarch, the only other person standing there was the young lady. Hei could detect a trace of sadness in her eyes as she approached.
When she arrived, Hei felt a hint of anger coming from her as she looked at Honghuo, and Honghuo also noticed it. He turned to Heihuo, who shook his head, signalling that the young lady wasn’t involved in the destruction of his clan.
That being the case, no matter how awkward it seemed, Honghuo decided to shoot his shot.
He held his hand out to the young lady.
“It’s nice to meet you, miss.”
As he extended his arm, the young lady immediately pulled out her sword from her spatial ring to defend herself. It wouldn’t be surprising for demonic cultivators to appear friendly at first, only to turn around and stab you in the back.
“… Well, that was abrupt.”
Honghuo retracted his hand and moved it to the back of his head. Now that he thought about it, there was no real reason for her to not be defensive around him.
The young lady didn’t relax her defence at all and had her sword pointed at Honghuo, cautious for any sudden movements.
She spoke to the masked one using her qi.
“Earlier, you said you wouldn’t let me come to any harm?”
“Then would you be willing to have a conversation with me in private? I’m acting as a representative of the Zhu Clan. We don’t wish to fight with you. And there is something you haven’t been told yet.”
“There isn’t much to discuss. I don’t think words will be enough to resolve this situation.”
“I’m sure that once you know the truth, you will see things differently.”
Hei didn’t respond for a while, causing the young lady to become nervous. Things wouldn’t be good if he wasn’t willing to speak with her.
On the other side, Hei was wondering what kind of plan this was. They were obviously trying to separate him from Honghuo. But what good would that do? No matter how many of those fellows showed up, he wouldn’t have much trouble. They should have also known that.
Honghuo was a different case, but even then, if things went bad, he could just step in and help Honghuo.
Seeing the nervousness in the young lady’s face, he got the feeling that she would get in trouble if he didn’t do as she asked. If that was the case, then this was also a problem he had brought to her.
“Alright. I’ll speak with you.”
He also sent a message to Honghuo.
[I’m going with this young lady, prepare yourself for an ambush. If things get too hard for you, I’ll step in.]
Honghuo wanted to respond. How was he supposed to deal with eight enemies? He had a hard enough time with just four! And then there was this whole ‘going off’ thing. When had they developed such a relationship? This world was simply unfair.
He wondered if purchasing a metal mask would be a good investment.
After hearing the masked one’s response, the young lady was relieved. She put away her sword and led the way until they were a good distance from anyone else.
When they arrived, she turned around to face Hei and that was when a large disturbance occurred where Honghuo was. All of a sudden, various formations lit up on the ground beneath him and 8 elders all rushed in to face him.
Having already known that this would happen, Honghuo wasn’t caught completely off guard, but it was all he could do to defend himself, and even that wasn’t fully effective. He started suffering minor injuries almost immediately.
The patriarch watched the whole thing with a calm expression.
Hei turned to face the direction of the action, but the young lady grabbed his sleeve.
“Please hear me out!”
Hei turned back to her.
Having received Hei’s acknowledgement, the young lady let go of his sleeve and looked into the pitch-black openings that his eyes should have been behind.
“That boy has been deceiving you.”
“In what way?”
“He must have told you that our Zhu Clan destroyed his clan. Is that correct?”
Hei nodded his head.
“But did he tell you that it was a clan of demonic cultivators? Our Zhu Clan is a righteous clan and wouldn’t do something so drastic without a good reason.”
As she was speaking, Hei was keeping a lookout for Honghuo’s condition. As long as he deemed it too dangerous, he would step in. He had already analysed the formations on the ground.
As he had been doing so, he didn’t quite catch all of the young lady’s words, but he got the gist of it. She was saying that the Zhu Clan wasn’t evil.
But of course, he never cared about whether the Zhu Clan was evil or not.
The young lady’s eyes lit up due to the fact that Hei didn’t seem to be doubting her words.
“And I’m sure you don’t support the wicked actions of demonic cultivators.”
The young lady was happy to hear this. It seemed things would work out after all.
She smiled as she spoke her final point.
“That’s why there is no need for you to keep helping him with his evil. Our elders are going to dispose of him so that he won’t be able to take advantage of kind people like you anymore.”
The reason Hei hadn’t refuted her points was that he could tell that she was speaking the truth. She wasn’t trying to manipulate him at all. She truly believed that Honghuo’s clan was a clan of demonic cultivators.
The problem was, Honghuo truly believed that his clan wasn’t a clan of demonic cultivators.
With these two contradictory claims from two people who both believed what they were saying, Hei had no way to discern the truth.
Fortunately for him, the truth of that matter wasn’t important.
“I don’t know if his clan was a clan of demonic cultivators or not, but that doesn’t matter.”
The young lady was confused by Hei’s words.
“I’m not here to help that boy with his revenge. It just so happens that we both have issues with the Zhu Clan, so we are cooperating for the time being.”
Hearing his words, the young lady took a few steps back, the shock evident in her eyes.
“You have your own reason to be here?”
She shook her head in denial.
“That shouldn’t be. What could have happened? It’s not something like you being offended by us, is it? I’m sure we could offer you an appropriate apology.”
From her perspective, there couldn’t be any major problems caused by the Zhu Clan. Most of their actions were for the betterment of the surrounding area. The only ones who would have issues with them would be bad people.
But this person didn’t seem to be bad at all. Even now, he didn’t seem emotionally attached to what he was saying.
“Your Zhu Clan has been kidnapping and trafficking women. Some of those women have some relation with me, so I came to free any that were being held here, as well as capture the kidnappers.”
The young lady was thoroughly confused by his words. There was no way the Zhu Clan would do such a thing.
“That’s not possible. There must be a misunderstanding. I can assure y-”
Her words were cut off by the sudden change that took place.
Black flames started spreading across the ground and before she knew it, they were climbing up her body.
She looked at the masked one in shock. Didn’t he say he wouldn’t be harming the innocent? Had she angered him in some way?
She remembered the words of the elders.
[He fired red and black flames at people. And depending on these red black flames, he either dealt with them himself, or he left the other fellow to battle them and moved elsewhere.]
[The people he killed were reduced to nothing. Not even ashes remained.]
Was that what was to become of her? Perhaps what her acquaintances from other clans had told her was true. That this world wasn’t one where righteous people could thrive.
At least it wasn’t painful.
This was what she thought in her final moments. As she stared at that metal mask, seeing the black flames take over her vision. And then there was nothing.
But that nothing quickly turned into the sounds of chatter, and then back to nothing.
After a short while, an interesting scene appeared before her eyes. A large number of women, at least 100, were staring at her. Most of them had shabby clothing, but some were wearing luxurious outfits. Some were even wearing strange animal costumes.
Even with their different styles of dress, they all had one thing in common. And that was that they were all holding bread in their hands.
While still dazed, she heard someone speak.
“Only one this time? I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.”
“It’s probably good. It means they all had places to return to.”
“That, or they were already gone by the time they got there.”
“Don’t be so negative.”
“Is it being negative, or is it realistic?”
“Either way, we have a new sister now. Let’s let her feel welcome.”
The women nearby all moved towards the young lady.
“We were all in the same position as you, and we know that it’s scary to think of what’s to come, but our saviour has assured us that he will take us somewhere safe.”
“That’s right. There’s no need to be afraid anymore.”
“Mm. Our lives begin anew.”
“Forget all of that. You need to try this bread. It will literally melt your troubles away.”
Someone handed the young lady a piece of bread and encouraged her to eat it. And she wasn’t the only one.
“If there’s anything good that came out of all this, it’s that I was able to try this bread once before I died.”
“No kidding. How are we supposed to go back to normal food after this?”
“Do you think he’s willing to give us the recipe?”
Someone slapped her head.
“Why can’t you understand the concept of overreaching? Just be grateful that you got to try it.”
Despite the terrible situation these women had been forced into, witnessing the kindness of their saviour and having each other as support allowed them to make the best of it.
The young lady was left in this atmosphere completely confused.
Watching all of this and knowing that these women would be able to explain the situation better than he could, Hei decided to leave it to them and went over to assist Honghuo.
When he got close, the elders noticed that the young lady was missing.
Obviously, there could be only one reason for this.
“You scoundrel! We were trying to negotiate, and yet you attacked our younger generation!”
“What happened to sparing the innocent? You won’t get away with this!”
When Honghuo heard this, he knew that help had arrived. He just thought it was a shame that a peerless beauty had breathed her last this day. How could Heihuo be so vicious?
Hei ignored their words. Instead, he focused on the battle formations on the ground.
This was an interesting use of layered formations, similar to what he had done to create the formations surrounding the Zhu Clan’s residence and the city.
This particular set-up was one for enhancing the power of sword skills. To avoid letting the enemy also take advantage of this, they used smaller formations on their weapons themselves, such that the formations would only affect the skills that used those weapons.
After taking a good look, Hei started to approach the formation.
At this point, the elders were distracted from Honghuo and split into two groups. Two to hold Honghuo off, and six to face off against Hei. They knew this new opponent was far more dangerous than the one they were facing, but inside the battle formations, they wouldn’t be completely helpless, even when faced with the patriarch.
As Hei got to within a few meters of the battle formation, he stopped walking.
The elders believed he was cautious of the formation but didn’t relax their guard because of it. They knew this fellow was full of sneaky tricks, so much so, that he was able to put the patriarch at a disadvantage.
Hei stood there for a while, seemingly doing nothing at all.
The elders’ tensions grew and they became restless waiting for his next move. The patriarch just watched with the same calm expression.
After finishing his mental preparations, Hei raised his arm, and from it, he sent out a string of black flames, which moved around leaving a trail in the air.
At first, no one knew what this was, but as the structure it drew became more detailed, they could tell that it was a formation diagram.
That was what they thought, but it wasn’t merely a diagram. Once it was complete, it would become a fully functional formation.
Some of the elders more experienced with formations noticed that it was quite familiar.
“Doesn’t that remind you of the battle formations?”
“… Now that you mention it. But it’s different in several places.”
“What’s the meaning of this?”
They didn’t have to wait too long before Hei was finished.
Once the formation was complete, he lowered it to the ground and pulled out Onyx.
“What is that fellow doing? Does he believe copying the appearance of the formations will let him make his own?”
“He couldn’t even copy it correctly if that was his intent. A complete amateur.”
The elders couldn’t help but voice their thoughts. Never could they imagine that the black string was a form of condensed qi, that could function not only as the material for the circulation paths but also the formation’s power source.
Hei bent his knees and held Onyx as if he were sheathed on his left side.
After a moment of focusing, he pulled Onyx out of his imaginary sheath, then swung him horizontally, completing his sword move.
Visually speaking, nothing happened.
“Hahaha. What was that? Was that an attack?”
“Do you think you’re intimidating people with your-”
Before these words could be fully spoken, the elders noticed something strange.
The formations on their swords had stopped glowing. A sign that there was something wrong with the battle formations.
As they looked down to monitor the formations, their eyes were pried open.
The formations were nowhere to be seen. And, in fact, the ground they were standing on was also different. At some point, its surface had become molten lava.
All of a sudden, a blast of scorching heat rushed up from the ground, threatening to roast them alive. Fortunately for them, they realised the severity of the situation fast enough to protect themselves with their qi.
But their troubles weren’t over yet.
Some of them noticed red flames crawling all over their bodies and others saw black flames doing much the same.
Before they could take the time to examine them, they heard a voice. The voice of the boy they had been dealing with earlier.
The temperature in the area suddenly shot up tremendously, and those with red flames were engulfed by red flames. The difference between the two was night and day.
The first set of red flames were cold and harmless. Almost cuddly in the way they moved.
But the second set. Well, no one lived long enough to give their thoughts.
In the blink of an eye, three elders disappeared.
And as if that wasn’t enough, from the other fellow, the one with the mask, black flames seeped out and grabbed two more elders, removing them from the face of the world, leaving the last three scared out of their wits.