Chapter 931 The Reckoning (8)
Anger, panic, disbelief, and other emotions together created a mask of such indescribable grotesquery on Nie Renlong’s face as he glared at Li Mu with the venom of a viper, completely devoid of any guilt or compassion.
“Kill me, you say?” he sneered. “I might not be certain that I’d be able to kill you, Li Zhiyuan. But that does not mean that my life is a fruit ripe for the plucking. Last I checked, I’m not alone. There are the champions of the Great Five here. Do you think you’ll be able to defeat everyone here?”
Li Mu would have burst out laughing if it was not to maintain his dignity and decorum.
“See for yourself,” he pointed towards Nie Renlong’s back.
Nie Renlong spun around. To his surprise, everyone from the Great Five coalition, including the Champion of the Western Wilderness, had retreated more than a hundred meters away from him and were staring at him with gazes and stares fraught with wariness, suspicion, and spurn like they were trying to distance themselves from him.
Angered and shocked, he growled at them, “What is the meaning of this?! We’re supposed to attack together!”
That only served to drive the coalition’s Cultivators to retreat even further away.
“Treachery, duplicity, and ambush…” The Champion of the Western Wilderness broke his silence with a voice as steely and cold as iron. “A filthy thing of your ilk does not deserve to be one of us, Nie Renlong. This is your mess, so you will deal with it yourself.”
“What did you say?!” Nie Renlong glowered, “I did all this for the good and peace of Molderad! To slay and eradicate Evil! That is why I’ve been patient! Can’t you see what I’ve been doing?! Or do you mean to say that you’re submitting yourselves to this evil monster Li Zhiyuan?!”
Yet all the screams and bellows he gave could barely do anything to sway the coalition.
“Can’t you see it?” Li Mu called with pity and contempt, “These people will do nothing to help you. The moment they realize what a slimy and filthy creature you are, they desert you. But the bigger reason is that I have regained my full strength. Mere sycophants and bullies that prey on the weak and helpless, they are. Do you think they would even help you in your hour of need?”
Nie Renlong’s disbelief and rage morphed into sorrow.
What a poetic irony that a twist could occur just when he thought victory was at hand.
He had been so noble and so passionate when he was trying to defend Li Zhiyuan against the mob of the Great Five coalition earlier. Yet as soon as he revealed his true self, everyone shunned him like a leper.
“On guard,” Li Mu said quietly.
Li Mu attacked. His saber tore out of its sheathe, firing a blast of light that wiped the entire sky into a sheet of gleaming nickel.
The Dragon of Arcusstone let loose a thunderous roar. Radiating a blood-red effluvium, his Mana surged, a raging tempest that was growing stronger and more violent. In mere seconds, his presence and aura exceeded beyond Class XII and still rising.
Even the Champion of the Western Wilderness balked with horror, his face a shade of red and blue.
“Is this the real power of the Dragon of Arcusstone?!”
“How… How terrible and wicked!”
“So, what now, Li Zhiyuan? Do you still think you hold all the cards?” Nie Renlong howled with maniacal laughter, a rabid hyena cackling with malicious glee. Rancor blazed in his eyes like a scarlet glow as if nothing would please him more than killing. “This power, this strength…” He hissed, “I wanted to reserve this power for the use of breaking through spheres of this world… But you’ve forced my hand, Li Zhiyuan and now, you have become a nuisance that I have to deal with first. I’ll kill you, then I’ll reinitiate my plans and bide my time again. In another five hundred years, I shall ascend. Now, die!”
He thrust his weapon forward.
Both sword and saber clashed, like gods and demons at war.
“You’re impervious to my poison?!”
The Lord of Venom was clutching the wound on his chest. Blood was seeping out of the stab wound and so was his life, slowly trickling away. He stared at Lu Chuan with resentment and frustration.
The venom of his creation that he had always prided himself on could kill even a Class XII champion. Yet the Grand Master of the Creed of Divinity, a puny figure in the scope of all things in Molderad with barely any respect and dignity to wield, could endure his venom and yet still survive. The Lord of Venom had always held him in the same regard as an insect; he viewed the rise of the Creed of Divinity as the accomplishment of Li Zhiyuan and no one else’s and definitely not the hard work of a simpleton like Lu Chuan.
Yet their fight today had turned out to be a major miscalculation; Lu Chuan’s power was way beyond what everyone expected. What was more terrifying to the Lord of Venom was Lu Chuan’s invincibility towards poison which practically halved whatever damage the Lord of Venom could deal to his opponent.
“I’m no genius like Brother Zhiyuan. He could teach me all the best combat techniques in the world, and I’d still be a fool. But somehow, he has a breathing technique that fits me the most. Ten years; that’s how long I’ve been training it. Never would I anticipate that I’d be able to do something like this. Is this a combat technique or is this really a craft of the gods?!”
Lu Chuan’s face was beaming with surprised delight at his success in defeating the Lord of Venom.
Then his expression broke into one of dawning comprehension.
“Is this what Brother Zhiyuan meant by ‘better late than never’? That how Nature always works in the most wondrous of ways?”
He really couldn’t believe what he had just done.
He thought at first that holding back the Lord of Venom was all he would be doing. For the past ten years as Grand Master of the Creed, there was little chance for him to test how far he had progressed, and reaching Class XII was certainly the last thing he expected to achieve. Even that was not all; the consummation of the new breathing discipline also resulted in him gaining a physique that was impervious to any damage—water, fire, or even poison—an Indestructible Physique.
“What monster is Li Zhiyuan really is…”
With those last words, the Lord of Venom crashed to the ground on his back.
So fell the Lord of Venom, once the most powerful person of the Western Wilderness of Molderad.
“Is that what Li Zhiyuan taught you?”
Zhu Lingfeng murmured quietly as he gazed at his broken sword, transfixed as if he was struggling to believe that his weapon could actually be broken.
He had just lost to a young fledgling who had barely made a name for himself.
“Very well. I accept my defeat. I am powerless to destroy that ley line and hence I will take my leave,” said Zhu Lingfeng, ignominiously tossing aside his broken sword and was about to turn and leave
“You seem to be laboring under the delusion that you’re free to leave,” Shen Jia observed dryly.
“What?” Zhu Lingfeng spun on his heels abruptly and demanded loudly, “Do you think you’re going to make me stay?!”
“The Creed of Divinity might be just a militant order of humble beginnings,” said Shen Jia, “But this is not a place where you can come and go as you wish, Grand Master Zhu. You’ve lost the duel, so leave behind some spoils as compensation for this slight.”
Zhu Lingfeng darted a scathing glare of pure venom at the young Shen Jia.
“Weak. How weak.”
Li Mu’s stroke easily shattered what confidence and pride Nie Renlong thought he had.
All it took were just three strokes in total.
When Nie Renlong unleashed the entirety of his powers. The raging ferocity and the insatiable malice he displayed looked as if he was as powerful as a god that could destroy Molderad itself. The champions and Cultivators of the Great Five coalition all thought that for once, a person who could perhaps defeat Li Zhiyuan had finally appeared.
But Li Zhiyuan’s first stroke cleaved through his burgeoning aura, the second smashed his weapon, and the third demolished his resolve.
Three strokes to hand his opponent a crushing defeat.
As powerful as a god that could destroy the continent? All that power obviously meant nothing to Li Zhiyuan.
Handsome and dashing, Li Zhiyuan remained as sublime and divine as a true god, forever enduring and unconquerable.
He placed the blade of his weapon on Nie Renlong’s throat.
Defeated and beaten, Nie Renlong’s face was the color of chalk, his teeth chattering with mounting panic.
“I-I…” The Grand Master of Arcusstone gasped, utterly at a complete loss for words.
“Is there such thing in this world?! A body that would grow stronger whenever it is defeated?!” gasped the Patriarch of the Central Truth Sanctuary with a mouth of froth and blood.
He had lost.
Lost to a younger Cultivator called Yan Nanfei.
Being younger did not make him any less dangerous and Yan Nanfei wielded power beyond the Patriarch’s comprehension.
“This is the Will of Heavens, I believe,” muttered the elderly Taoist priest. Blood mottled his snowy-white beard. “From this day hence, the Central Truth Sanctuary shall never step foot into the Northern Steppes unbidden ever again. Any presence of the Creed of Divinity into the Central regions may come and go freely, and I shall withdraw myself from the Jianghu.”
The duel wasn’t easy at all; Yan Nanfei’s robes too had bloodstains and he had expended much of his Mana. He saluted to the Patriarch, saying, “Safe travels, sir.”
The latter morphed into a flash of light and vanished.
Yan Nanfei lowered himself and sat down on the ground to recuperate.
Minutes later, he got up and soared into the air, streaking in the direction of where the rest of the ley lines were.
“Hahahaha, looks like you’re nowhere near your student’s prowess, Yundao!”
Zheng, also known as the Unassuming Crofter in the Jianghu, ripped out a tiny stiletto knife from inside his smoke pipe and thrust it at Yundao with the viciousness of a venomous serpent.
Blood from Yundao’s wounds was dyeing his robes with splotches of red.
Refusing to answer, he kept his focus on swinging his weapon as furiously as he could at his foe.
“Quaint technique. Pity that you need do more than just that to defeat me.”
The Unassuming Crofter thrust his weapon with blinding speed, raining blows down on Yundao without mercy, and the precision of every single stroke he dealt demonstrated his impeccable finesse.
The air whistled with the coming of two figures.
It was Lu Chuan and Yan Nanfei, one arriving closely after another.
The old farmer definitely wasn’t happy at all to see them.
“Allow us, sir!” said Yan Nanfei.
“Let us help you, sir,” Lu Chuan said, “There’s no need to trouble yourself with the likes of him!”
Knowing that Yundao was at his limits, they expressed their willingness to help simultaneously.
Zheng dialed back his attacks and withdrew.
But Yundao wasn’t going to give up just yet. He swung his weapon again and again relentlessly, each and every one of his strokes crisp and direct as he bellowed, “Don’t worry, Zheng! This is between you and me! Defeat me, and I give you my word: no one in the Creed of Divinity will hinder your flight!”
“Your word,” Zheng readied himself to lunged, his countenance as hard as stone.
“My word,” Yundao assented.
“Impressive, Yundao,” The Unassuming Crofter renewed his attack with no more reservation, “Despite all these years, you haven’t changed. Let’s see if I can kill you, then we shall see if Li Zhiyuan has any respect for the promise you’ve made.”
Defeating Yundao was his only way of escaping alive.
Or else, he would have to contend with the two younger and yet more superior opponents in Lu Chuan and Yan Nanfei, whom he would never be able to defeat.
Meanwhile, Yan Nanfei and Lu Chuan were at a complete loss for what to do.
As Li Zhiyuan’s mentor, Yundao was the most respected senior in the Creed of Divinity and the last thing they could do was go against his promise to make this fight between him and Zheng a fair one. Lu Chuan and Yan Nanfei could hardly barge in and do as they liked, especially since Li Zhiyuan was known to be extremely deferent and obedient to the wishes of his mentor.
But what could Lu Chuan and Yan Nanfei do aside from sitting on their own hands and watching?
Yundao could never defeat Zheng. That much was manifestly clear.
“I’ve lost. Do as you will,” Nie Renlong muttered, his face teeming with bitterness and resentment
“Who are you?” Li Mu asked.
“Not the true Nie Renlong, of course,” answered the imposter. “Ten years ago, when he retook control of Arcusstone, he was already a dead man. I used his husk as a disguise to get near you. All these years, I thought I’ve learned enough about you. To think that you’ve hidden your strength with such care…”
“You’re that being in the sea of blood ten years ago, aren’t you?” Li Mu uttered with mild surprise at the revelation. “That would explain why the one with the trident earlier appeared so weak. I had my suspicions the moment I wondered why your powers had not grown earlier… Although I daresay the real you haven’t improved much as well… Now tell me about breaking through the confines of this world’s sphere. Maybe I can spare your life.”
“In your dreams,” the imposter snorted with frost.
As soon as he finished, a destructive force erupted from within him.
Despite his best efforts, Li Mu couldn’t contain the explosion.
Nie Renlong had self-detonated himself in a final moment of defiance.
Mana swirled in the air as the last of the imposter Nie Renlong’s aura and presence ebbed away like dust in the wind.
“Was I really wrong?”
Li Mu could feel that the wicked demonic being with the trident really was gone. Every trace of the being no longer was in this world; a wick that had burned until its very end with nothing to remind anyone that it was ever present before.
At long last, the crusade to decimate the Creed of Divinity had finally come to an ignoble end.
The Champion of the Western Wilderness and the rest of the Great Five coalition all trembled with fear. They had been so confident and so certain of their victory. No one could be strong and powerful enough to resist the entire collective might of the whole continent, they said. The founder of the Cult of the Orient was a prime example. But again and again, Li Zhiyuan had defeated, trampled over, and crushed whatever the coalition had thrown at him, including the “Sage” figure who purportedly wielded “powers and strength unsurpassed by any”, while displaying his omnipotence that had finally quashed what hopes and ambition of conquering him and the Creed of Divinity.
Only now did the entire coalition realize that their so-called “crusade to slay the evil monster Li Zhiyuan” was nothing more than child’s play in the eyes of the Aspect of Vengeance himself. His power and might could easily devastate them all with the ease of a goliath killing an ant.
Such laughable naivety and ignorance.
None of them had expected that such omnipotence existed.
None of them had known that such invincibility could be real.
For once since the Great Five coalition took form, despair and despondency swept across the rank and file, gnawing away at what resolve and will to continue fighting. All everyone wanted was to leave. To turn around and head back from whence they came and never set eyes on this god-like entity ever again and hope that this was all just a bad nightmare.
But Li Mu cared not for them. A wolf doesn’t lose sleep over the cares of sheep, he always believed.
He and the rest of the Creed of Divinity retinue retreated back to the stronghold.
Behind them, the hundreds of thousands of Cultivators and champions that formed up the bulk of the Great Five coalition all watched helplessly as Li Mu and the others made it back to the summit of Mount Divinity, a peak of such unscalable heights that all one could do was to dream of conquering, strive to do so, agonize to do so, and ultimately fail in doing. No one spoke and no one even tried to. All that pervaded the entire coalition were anguish, misery, and defeat.
Li Mu did not even look back. There was no need to and that stung very hard, especially to the Champion of the Western Wilderness and the rest of the coalition’s champions and they knew why. They were mere specks of dust in the eyes of Li Zhiyuan.
At the back slopes of Mount Divinity.
Li Mu managed to arrive in time to see Yundao. He held his mentor in his arms.
Yundao might have been Li Zhiyuan’s teacher, but he has been close to Li Mu too, caring for the latter as a father would. The fact that Yundao had already been found and brought back to the Creed was intentionally kept from Nie Renlong showed that Lu Chuan and Li Mu had long suspected him for quite some time, to say nothing of the spies who have been prowling the halls and corridors of the Creed’s stronghold.
Yundao was not badly wounded, but with his Mana fully expended, he had overexerted himself like an engine being forced to run on a dry tank which not only depleted every drop of fuel in the system but also caused irreparable damage to the engine itself. Yundao was the same.
His time was ending fast, and this could very well be his final moment of clarity.
When Li Mu found him at last, it was too late. He was too old and too late for any substantial improvements. Yan Nanfei, Shen Jia, and the rest each experienced essential improvements by leaps and bounds after being taught by Li Zhiyuan himself. But even if Li Mu were to instruct Yundao on all the deadliest moves and techniques he knew, nothing would help to increase Yundao’s strength and power. Hence, trying to take on Zheng, the Unassuming Crofter and once a leader of the older generation of the Great Five coalition, had been a fool’s errand right from the start.
But it was Li Mu’s Endless Waves technique—a technique from the Zhenwu Boxing discipline that Li Mu had imparted to Yundao not long ago—which had done the trick, allowing Yundao to slay the Unassuming Crofter and exact his long-awaited vengeance. The technique allowed its user to stack up to one thousand times the usual amount of power in one single burst—a one-hit-kill technique that could flip the tables in one fell swoop.
But such devastating power did not come without a price; for the use of this technique, the backlash of the technique was not one his age could easily sustain, and now, he was teetering on the brink of death for using it.
“I’m afraid this is my end… I only have one last request… Listen, Zhiyuan… I need to ask you… Don’t lie to me… Give me the truth…” Yundao gasped feebly.
“I’ll do anything, Teacher,” Li Mu nodded.
Yundao peered at Lu Chuan, Yan Nanfei, and the others; everyone understood that as a cue they should give Li Mu and his mentor some privacy.
After everyone had left, Yundao looked hard at Li Mu. “Who are you, really?” he spoke strenuously.
Li Mu nearly jumped.
“I know my student,” Yundao smiled weakly, “Zhiyuan doesn’t have your flair and gifts. He’s a good boy and he’s talented, but he’s nothing compared to yours. But I only want to know this… Where is he? Is he still alive? Or…”
Li Mu could see that he really did care a lot for Li Zhiyuan.
The real Li Zhiyuan.
Li Mu paused for one split-second, then he nodded frankly.
“So… I was right… I knew it… He doesn’t have such incredible gifts as yours…” Yundao lamented morosely, the gleam of anticipation and hope ebbing from his eyes.
“He was already gone by the time I came here,” explained Li Mu, “Hence, I could only borrow his body.”
Yundao spasmed painfully as he succumbed to a fit of coughs. “I know. I believe you… I’ve been watching you and I’m sure you’re not evil or wicked… You’ve done what Zhiyuan aspired to do… You realized his dreams and ambitions… He would thank you if he knows about this… Perhaps, I might be meeting him soon…”
As soon as he finished.
Ascetic Yundao, one of the Creed of Divinity’s best, was no more.
Li Mu could only sigh. Yundao’s life had been marred by hardships and challenges. Lu Ye knew bits and pieces of the rivalry and animosity he and Zheng shared, although he did not wish to pry. But he was consoled by the fact that Yundao at least passed on with the knowledge that he had avenged himself, his student Li Zhiyuan, and the deaths of the Creed’s brotherhood by killing Zheng with his own hands.
Wan Sanqian came back to rejoin Li Mu with a bloodied Shen Jia holding on to him for balance. The latter had been the one leading the Creed of Divinity retinue during the Battle of Dawncrest by pretending to be Lu Chuan.
Li Mu studied Shen Jia and frowned, “What happened to you?”
Shen Jia giggled sheepishly—a demeanor he reserved only for his sister and mentor—and said, “Zhu Lingfeng intruded on our grounds. So, I made him pay for this slight. In the end, he left behind an arm, albeit grudgingly.”
“And in return, you almost got yourself killed,” scowled Li Mu, “I told you to just stop him.”
Shen Jia chuckled again as a form of response.
“All right, off you go to get yourself looked at,” said Li Mu.
Shen Jia bobbed his head. “Does that mean that the Creed of Divinity is now the most powerful entity in Molderad, Teacher?” he asked again.
That earned him a glare from his teacher, who, despite his annoyance, proffered no objections to that notion.
Shen Jia just couldn’t rein in that brash and impulsive temperament of his.
Grand Master of the Cult of the Orient Lan Ruhai arrived moments later, holding aloft the head of his rival Nan Yi. The demise of the Grand Master of the Cult of the Vengeful marked the end of the hostilities between both cults.
And with it, the end of the great crusade—a conclusion that has ushered in a new age.
In the main sanctuary of the Creed of Divinity stronghold, the acolytes were all celebrating in uproarious merriment and jubilation at their victory.
The sword of Damocles that had been hanging over their heads was finally gone. With or without the enchantment that guarded Mount Divinity, no one and nothing would dare to defy the Creed of Divinity ever again.
With the age of the Great Five now a relic of the past, a new dawn has arrived at Molderad.
A new page which was now known as the age of the Creed of Divinity.
The air wafted with music and the aroma of good food and wine.
Night dawned as the Creed of Divinity celebrated the end of the war with extreme exultation and delirium.
Bonfires raged like fiery manifestations of the spiking mood of the rave, illuminating the entirety of the stronghold enough that it looked like day.
The Great Five coalition of more than hundreds of thousands of warriors still encircled the foot of the mountain, but so long as the Aspect of Vengeance was around, there was nothing to be worried about.
Li Mu did not join the festivities.
Instead, he rounded up the core members of the Creed of Divinity for a meeting in the main audience hall. He needed to make some arrangements because he could feel a strange call. It must have begun, Li Mu realized. His time here was coming to an end.
Hence, before his departure, he needed to set his affairs here in order.
There was no sleep for everyone who met him that night.
Dawn came at last.
And so ended the entire night-long of discussion. Li Mu and everyone stepped out of the main audience hall and halted at the top of the steps leading inside.
The morning breeze caressed their faces with its light, chilly touch.
But they did not fail to pick up the acrid tang of blood still palpable in the morning winds.
“Is this a sign that you’re going to leave, Teacher?” Shen Jia asked suddenly.
“Why do you ask?” Li Mu responded by way of a question without looking at him.
“Those instructions you’ve left us, Brother,” interjected Lu Chuan. “It’s obvious that you’ll be away for a long, long time. But where else on this continent you would be going to that would require such a grave meeting? You spoke as if you are not going to come back. Does that mean you’re going to ascend, Brother?”
Li Mu maintained his gaze into the distant skies and did not turn back. “Indeed,” he answered at length, “And I don’t know what lies ahead. Whether would I be able to come back here or not.”
Lu Chuan held back his urge to satisfy his curiosity and apprehension.
If Li Zhiyuan’s mentor Yundao could notice something amiss, naturally, so would Lu Chuan. But the latter knew better than to ask. He did not even need to. He could see with his own eyes what this imposter had been doing. Since he realized that the reborn Li Zhiyuan was not the same Li Zhiyuan from his childhood, he had been watching and observing, and to date, everything that this imposter Li Zhiyuan had been doing for the Creed had been above reproach. Every single thing he did was for the good of the Creed. Even if the world believed that this imposter had come as a harbinger of death and destruction on Molderad, Lu Chuan never believed in all that before. In fact, he would rather believe that the imposter Li Zhiyuan was every bit his fellow Creed of Divinity brother as the real one.
Although his heart told him otherwise. They would never be the same.
The twilight of dusk slowly gave way to light.
The first rays of the sun could almost be seen over the mountains in the distance.
At there the peaks met the skies overhead, plumes of fiery-red clouds lined the horizons.
“It is said that clouds like that only appear after a night of endless carnage…” murmured Li Mu to himself, recalling a legend he heard on Earth. “For that red is the red from the blood of the fallen…”
His expression froze.
“A pity that my cuirass is not yet complete, or I could have dealt with you easily enough myself.”
Those were the exact words that the being told him ten years ago when Li Mu nearly defeated it.
“But where is this cuirass now? Why didn’t that being use his cuirass even during the final showdown?
“Did he not finish his cuirass in the ten years that had elapsed?
“He started this war. He set off the tinderbox that sparked this war. That means his preparations are ready and that must include this cuirass that he spoke of.”
A strange and heavy sense of premonition conceived in Li Mu’s mind, overwhelming his body and soul rapidly.
He looked to the faraway horizons now a sheet of scarlet red bordered by the silhouette of mountain peaks in the distance.
That redness in the skies. There was no mistaking it. Blood must have been spilled the night before. A huge amount of blood.
“No. He’s not dead yet. He’s still alive!”
The truth dawned upon Li Mu at last.
Without a word, he shot up into the sky, flying away from Mount Divinity.
He flew straight to where the Great Five coalition was encamped, only to find a sea of blood almost the length and breadth of a lake. Scores of dead bodies floated on its surface like flotsam. Then he found a face. A familiar one replete with disbelief and rage. The face of the late Champion of the Western Wilderness.
They were all dead.
The hundreds of thousands of warriors who had been present to witness the Battle of Dawncrest were all slaughtered in one single night.