Zhuo Fan spread his wings among the clouds and hovered like a god towering above the ants. In his hand, he was clutching a still-beating heart which was dripping blood.
But the owner of this heart had long met his end and was no more than a stiff corpse, never again able to find peace from the horrors he endured.
The onlookers raised their heads in shock but witnessing the majesty of Zhuo Fan, they even forgot to breathe. Fear was almost palpable among the Hell Valley’s guards.
In just a single blow, the notorious Insidious Demon, the number one sage of Hell Valley, You Guiqi died.
Xie Tianyang was in denial of what he witnessed, even Jian Suifeng was swept by fear as he gazed upon the youth hovering in the sky.
“A true monster!” Jian Suifeng muttered.
Zhuo Fan simply relaxed his grip and the heart dropped down to the ground with a splat.
But this casual action seized everyone’s hearts.
As Zhuo Fan’s cold stare roamed among the people, they lowered their heads in fear; horrified that the demon would set his gaze on them.
Zhuo Fan, however, only laughed, “That guy must’ve run off to his house. He actually slipped away again.”
He suddenly swooped down, alarming the people into scattering. But he went by Xue Ningxiang and held her.
Xue Ningxiang let out a short cry before being carried into the clouds. They both then disappeared in a lightning flash.
In a clearing outside Blue Expanse City, lightning sparked, revealing Xue Ningxiang and Zhuo Fan landing. As he eased her onto the ground, she looked at him in puzzlement.
Zhuo Fan had a faint smile, “I said that I will take you out of the city, and I have. Now, I have fulfilled my promise.”
“Is this the outside world?”
Xue Ningxiang darted her eyes around and breathed in, a smile playing on her lips, “This is the first time I’m walking outside the city.”
“I’m finally out!”
Xue Ningxiang laughed and blushed, “Thank you, big brother Zhuo!”
“It’s nothing. We shook on it, didn’t we?” Zhuo Fan said, “Ning’er, this might be the right time to say goodbye.”
“You’re leaving?” Xue Ningxiang jerked her head up, her eyes fixed on Zhuo Fan, “Where to?”
He sighed as he said, “I don’t know. There are still so many things I need to do.”
The most pressing matters were finding the Lightning Canyon, Heavenly Emperor’s remnant, and searching for experts to strengthen the Luo clan. Despite having no clue where to start on any of them, he had to keep looking.
Xue Ningxiang saw his mind was set and spoke softly, “Big brother Zhuo, c-can I come with you?”
“No!” Zhuo Fan denied, “With your strength, you will be in too much danger.”
Xue Ningxiang lowered her head in defeat. She knew she’d be just a burden to him if she went.
Zhuo Fan tousled her head with a smile, “And you still have your clan to look after. Xue clan offended Hell Valley and needs to find someone that can protect it. The Sword Marquise Abode is a good choice. From Xie Tianyang’s sharp mouth, he must be quite high placed. If he vouches for you, Sword Marquise Abode is sure to take you in.”
Xue Ningxiang raised her head then nodded.
Now was the time to look for a safe place for her clan. It would be too cruel of her, and selfish, to go with Zhuo Fan and leave her father and brothers in danger.
She was embarrassed but still felt reluctant to part with him.
“Ha-ha-ha, bye, little sister!”
Zhuo Fan ruffled her head one last time and left with a smile. Tears formed in Xue Ningxiang’s eyes as she shouted, “Big brother Zhuo, when will we see each other again?”
“When the Thunder Ring flashes!”
Zhuo Fan waved as he walked away, the Thunder Ring on his and Xue Ningxiang’s fingers flashing…
In another area, Jian Suifeng was looking down on You Guiqi’s corpse, the enemy who robbed him of his three fingers. He recalled You Guiqi’s wretched death and his mood livened.
“Oh, You Guiqi, what a tragedy befell you, one of the great men of Tianyu Empire!”
Jian Suifeng found that the Hell Valley guards Zhuo Fan routed were now scrambling away from this place, abandoning even their elder’s body.
Only a cold wind blew over the white hairs on You Guiqi’s body which was lying there on the cold and hard ruble. His eyes were wide, despited losing their light.
Xie Tianyang was still looking at the sky, in Zhuo Fan’s direction, but then spoke in a sour tone, “Damn bastard, good for you killing You Guiqi, but what are you playing at taking Ning’er?”
“Tianyang, help the others down, we’ll rush to Sword Marquise Abode to heal them. The Xue clan will become Sword Marquise Abode’s vassal clan.” Jian Suifeng indicated towards the crucified Xue clansmen.
Xie Tianyang jumped and smiled, “That’s my intention. Eighth elder, who knew we thought alike? I was also going to save Ning’er’s clan.”
“Humph, who is like minded with a brat?”
Jian Suifeng snorted, “You’ve seen what that little monster is capable of. Only time will tell how far his strength will reach. Since he went out of his way to save these people, it won’t hurt to earn his favor. We might even become friends in the future. And in case we stand on opposite sides, we can use these people as hostages to deal with him.”
Xie Tianyang only smiled wryly at his elder’s reasoning.
[Humph, so you’re not saving Xue clan because of me but because of that prick Zhuo Fan. Just who is a Sword Marquise Abode’s core disciple here anyway?]
[If this gets out, my name will be dragged through the mud!]
Although secretly cursing, he still went to work. Since this was his aim all along, to help Xue Ningxiang.
Yet none was the wiser as half a mile out, You Ming was curled up in shivers.
His fear of Zhuo Fan grew out of proportion, to such a scale that he might never overcome this heart demon.
[Bastard, this is the third time! What did I ever do to you? Everywhere I go, you come killing! Last time you killed two elders and this time you killed my master.]
You Ming cursed Zhuo Fan to high heavens. But when Zhuo Fan’s cold face resurfaced in his mind, shivers wreaked his body…
A month later, in the Emperor’s gardens of the Imperial capital.
Two old men were playing chess beneath a pavilion. One of them was dressed in a golden gown and had white temples and cloudy eyes, he was the Emperor of Tianyu Empire.
The other elderly had a long beard, white hair, and exuded an imposing aura. Whenever a guard looked his way, their eyes were filled with respect.
Among the melodious chirping of the garden birds, the chess pieces being moved made for a calming rhythm.
Suddenly, a wail broke the blissful peace, “Lord Father, something big just happened…”
A two hundred kilo round ball of flesh rolled next to the emperor. He shook the very earth he stepped on and threw the chess match into a mess.
Rubbing his forehead, the emperor smiled dejectedly at the other man, who only smiled understandingly.
“Cong’er, didn’t I tell you to face all events with calm? And haven’t you noticed that I am playing chess with Mr. Sima?”
“Y-yes, I know my wrongs.” Yuwen Cong rushed a bow to the emperor and the elderly, then wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Speak, what is the matter?”
The emperor held on to another chess piece, not minding his son.
Yuwen Cong forced his excitement down and said in a grave tone, “Reporting to Lord Father, Hell Valley’s Seventh elder was killed a month ago!”
The chess piece in the emperor’s hand clanked on the board and he looked at the frowning Mr. Sima.
“Who did it?” The emperor then turned his hardened face towards Yuwen Cong.
Seeing no one around, Yuwen Cong whispered, “It is someone from the clan we are currently endorsing, Luo clan’s steward, Zhuo Fan. A month ago, something got into him that he killed the seventh elder of Hell Valley in Blue Expanse City under everyone’s eyes. It was also revealed that he was the one who killed Hell Valley’s two other elders in Windgaze City and used Veiled Dragon Pavilion as a patsy.”
“What? A brat killed Hell Valley’s three elders, their precious You Guiqi included? What guts!” Mr. Sima said to the emperor, “Your Majesty, how should we handle it?”
The emperor evoked a faint smile and kept playing chess, “If it only involved the seven houses, it would’ve posed a headache. But as matters stand, You Wanshan won’t have the cheek to complain to me. Don’t let them snuff out the Luo clan. This pearl of mine is about to reveal it’s splendor, ha-ha-ha…”
The emperor slammed the chess piece with delight.
Yuwen Cong looked long at the emperor then bowed and left.
Prime minister’s residence in the Imperial Capital.
Prime Minister Zhuge Changfeng laid on a rocking chair with half-closed eyes, swaying gently. Suddenly, a black shadow whispered in his ear.
Zhuge Changfeng flashed his eyes open in shock, then sighed, “The balance between the seven houses is now askew. I will need to make ample preparations for the aftermath.”
And he resumed his previous state, gently swaying on the rocking chair.
High Priest’s residence in Imperial Capital.
A white-haired elder was reading through some information delivered by one of his men. As he read through, a frown appeared on his forehead and he signaled his men to withdraw.
With shaking steps deigning his old appearance, the elder walked into the observatory and looked up towards the sea of stars, “The star of war is near and turmoil is on our doorsteps. A spark is enough to light this powder keg! The ruler is about to change, I only hope the people can weather the storm.”
Veiled Dragon Pavilion’s headquarters.
Pavilion Lord Long Yifey and some elders were in a meeting, but two young people were also present, Long Jie and Long Kui. Because of their efforts and brilliant conduct, seven days ago, Long Yifey officially allowed them to participate in the elder council, pleasing the two to no end.
“Recently, Xiao Kui and Xiao Jie have displayed impeccable conduct. I propose to send them to cultivate under the Grand Elder and learn the house’s profound ranked martial art.”
Long Yifey smiled looking at the two and spoke with pride.
Third elder commented with a hardened look, “These two kids progressed well, however, they are only average by contrast with the other houses’ genius disciples.”
“How? Third elder, don’t underestimate us. We are on the verge of breaking through to the Bone Tempering Stage.” Long Kui protested while Long Jie was in accord, “Third elder is right. I heard rumors that Sword Marquise Abode’s Xie Tianyang became a Bone Tempering expert three years prior. We are still far behind him.”
“Xiao Jie is so modest! You will do great deeds in the future!”
Godeye Long Jiu nodded with satisfaction, a black crow perched on his shoulder; the Soul Devouring Crow he got from Zhuo Fan. Looking at the bird, Long Jiu couldn’t help his expression softening.
“If you two brats were half a man my brother Zhuo is, you’d be training our passed down profound ranked martial art by now.”
“Humph, Uncle Jiu, why bring him into this?” Long Kui always became irritated whenever she heard Zhuo Fan’s name, “He is cocky, brash, and doesn’t want to join Veiled Dragon Pavilion. Even if he has a smidgen of talent, that doesn’t make his rise guaranteed. We will undoubtedly surpass him.”
A man suddenly barged in while shouting, “Urgent report, Pavilion Lord!”
Third elder waved him away after taking the report and read it. The next moment, his hand froze and the paper drifted to the floor.
“What’s wrong, third elder?”
Long Jiu picked up the paper in worry, never having seen third elder so spooked. But the contents left his sole eye in tears.
“Good brother, I owe you again.”
“What is all this about?” Long Yifey was inquisitive like the rest of the people present and took the paper.
His brows shook and his voice betrayed his excitement, “Hell Valley’s You Guiqi was killed by Zhuo Fan in Blue Expanse City!”
Everyone was dumbstruck.
Who hadn’t heard of You Guiqi? He was the greatest headache of everyone, especially for Long Jiu, who had his eye stolen in You Guiqi’s ploy.
Yet this dreadful man was killed by Zhuo Fan. Their shock was understandable. Even Long Jie and Long Kui had heard of You Guiqi’s infamy, after all, he was a man feared by all elders of the Veiled Dragon Pavilion.
They instantly felt how far behind Zhuo Fan had left them.
“Ha-ha-ha, well done!” Long Yifey burst in laughter, “I was right in my decision. This kid is a dragon among men. Increase our support to the Luo clan and send some men to safeguard their clan. I’m sure we all can agree on that.”
It was a unanimous decision. Not even the elders who were against Long Yifey proposing an alliance with Zhuo Fan showed any complaint.
After all, none of them here could do what Zhuo Fan did, sending that You Guiqi to his grave.
And the Veiled Dragon Pavilion was just the beginning. The continent’s clans soon came to know of this affair. Among the shocks and cries of joy, Zhuo Fan’s name was etched in the minds of many clan leaders.