A low thud was heard coming from underground, shaking the ground, and shrieks of panic were heard from the crowd.
“Is that an earthquake?” Sai Gao asked as he was about to finish checking in, catching Shao Xian right as she was about to fall to the ground. He exchanged a glance with Fu Bo and both of them looked at the mountain peak in the distance.
“It's coming from beneath the mountain.” Sai Gao concluded after focusing for a moment with his eyes closed.
“Let’s get out of here first.” Fu Bo frowned and led the way out of the hotel.
Outside of the hotel, chaos reigned in the streets. The small town at the foot of the mountain was usually calm, with its serenity only slightly disrupted by the many tourists. However, the streets were now full of people running around in a panic, desperately seeking refuge from the tremors.
Although there was a lack of high-rise buildings, there was an abundance of billboards, which made for disastrous consequences. Wu Jia was helping Chen Quan walk toward a bathroom, and despite the precarious situation they found themselves in, she could not help but wonder about Li Yiming’s relation with Chen Quan.
‘So he answered the call and said he was going to come right away? Who is this Chen Quan guy? Is he a close friend?’
A loud crack was heard.
Wu Jia looked up in horror, only to see an old billboard losing its support and falling down. She was already struggling with dragging Chen Quan along with her, and, in the panic of the moment, she froze still. Chen Quan normally would have been able to save himself and Wu Jia, but he was almost on the verge of passing out from the wounds he had suffered.
Right as Wu Jia was about to meet her fate, her own shadow emerged from the ground, forming a giant claw and stopping the billboard.
“What…?” Wu Jia could not believe her eyes.
Chen Quan also froze in fear, as the shadow which just saved his life reminded him of the two black specters he had encountered underground.
“What are you doing? Run!” An angry roar was heard as Ying Mei rushed toward the two.
Wu Jia finally snapped out of it and dragged Chen Quan out of the way.
A loud thud was heard as the billboard finally fell to the ground.
“Let’s get to somewhere safe.” Ying Mei helped Chen Quan stand up. She was regretting her rash decision, but she could not afford to let Wu Jia and Chen Quan die.
“We need to go! Quick!” Ying Mei yelled at Tian Yan, who stood still, deaf to her call. It was as if a spell has been cast on her, as Tian Yan continued to stare to the side, her limbs shaking slightly.
“Yan’er? Yan’er?” Ying Mei called again. She turned her head and saw three people who stood out in the panicking crowd, standing still and looking back at her. One was a handsome, well-built man who seemed amused. The other was a beautiful young woman. The third person was a young man whose existence seemed hard to discern, as if he was invisible.
The ground rumbled a second time, sending a ripple throughout the town. It was even stronger than the first, and, this time, even the glaciers resting atop the mountain awoke from their eternal slumber and began their descent down the slopes.
The town was panic-stricken as ever, and Tian Yan nearly fell to the ground.
“Yan’er?” Ying Mei cried out, letting go of Chen Quan and rushing to go help Tian Yan. However, before she could even get close to her, the young man from the trio was already there.
“Why… Why are you here?” Fu Bo put his hand around Tian Yan’s wrist, at a loss of what to say.
“I came here for you,” Tian Yan said with abashedly. Even amid the apocalypse, she was completely engrossed by Fu Bo.
“It's very dangerous here.”
“Bad things will happen here.”
“This isn’t the time for this, you lovebirds,” Sai Gao interrupted the two.
“Let's head to somewhere safe first,” Ying Mei said. She finally found the person that she had been looking for all along, the only thing she did not expect was for him to look so plain.
“It’s too late.” Sai Gao frowned.
Following Sai Gao’s sentence, a fissure formed on the ground, and black smoke slowly seeped out of it.
“This is… the aura of death?” Sai Gao’s countenance shifted, and he erected a yellow barrier around himself and his friends.
The tremors ceased as soon as the fissure appeared, with its length continuing to expand over the ground. As soon as the black smoke came into contact with a living person, their flesh immediately melted, leaving nothing behind but a white skeleton.
“Ahhh!” Wu Jia shrieked at the horrifying scene.
Sai Gao turned around in surprise when he heard the yell, and stared at Ying Mei as if to question her. Upon seeing Ying Mei’s staying silent, Sai Gao pointed his finger in Wu Jia’s direction, and she fell to the ground, limp.
‘What? He doesn’t know her?’ Ying Mei had believed that Sai Gao had connections with Wu Jia all along, but judging from his eyes, she knew that he was not faking it.
“You people…” Chen Quan struggled to help Wu Jia up.
“It’s better for her to take a nap. Do you want one as well?” Sai Gao had seen Chen Quan in the Lianyun domain, but was not sure why the latter had shown up in a place like this.
“What happened?” Shao Xian asked, despite feeling terrified.
“There’s something vile underground. That black smoke is death itself, you’ll die if you come into contact with it,” Tian Yan said with a calm voice, her head buried in Fu Bo’s chest.
“This is what you saw?” Sai Gao asked Fu Bo.
Fu Bo frowned and shook his head; he had seen Mount Mu, but not the upcoming apocalypse. Otherwise, he would have advised against bringing Shao Xian.
“What is below us, exactly?” Ying Mei released her shadow and searched underground, but could not find anything before her shadow was being eaten away by the black smoke.
“It’s a gate to the Realm of Ghosts!” Li Yiming appeared with a flash of purple light.
“Li Yiming?” Everyone exclaimed in unison.
* * *
“It’s been confirmed. There are four of them.” Pan Junwei looked at the screen rather nervously.
“Is it really that bad?” The president sat on the other end of the desk, looking at Pan Junwei with his typical authoritative stare.
“The gates to the Realm of Ghosts will open, and our world will be changed forever. Wu Yun said so.” Pan Junwei took a deep breath.
“What's the worst-case scenario?”
“The ghosts rush out of the gates, and no one is spared.”
“How much will it cover?”
“Can we stop it?”
“It's going to be hard with the resources we have…” Pan Junwei took out a cigarette, but could not find his lighter and ended up splitting the cigarette in two out of frustration.
The president, who kept his composure, took out a refined lighter from his drawer and passed it to Pan Junwei.
“How dare he!” Pan Junwei roared in anger as he took the lighter.
“What is it?”
“Yun Yiyuan attacked the laboratory and took all of our experimental data!” Pan Junwei spat out.
“Shit!” The president could no longer hold back his anger.
“What about the others?” The president asked as he reigned in his fury.
Pan Junwei also took a deep breath and filtered through the reports he had received. “Our satellites have captured a fast-moving object fifteen minutes ago… It’s Li Yiming! He’s headed for Mount Mu.”
“Oh? So Pure Water Herb Hall is doing their part?” The president asked with a smile as he looked at Mount Mu on the map, which was marked with a red circle.
“No… It’s strange. It doesn’t seem like the organization is being mobilized.”
“What about the Star Alliance?”
* * *
“How long are you going to wait?” Li Huaibei, who was usually calm and elegant, punched through the wall, leaving a gaping hole.
Qian Mian stared at the screen in front of him with bloodshot eyes. He had received news about the gates opening even before Pan Junwei, but with Stargaze’s pending orders, he hesitated.
A sound was heard as Qian Mian received a notification.
“We’ve found Tian Yan,” Qian Mian said.
Li Huaibei’s expression remained hardened, as Tian Yan was the least of his concerns right now.
“She’s with Ying Mei, at Mount Mu…”
“Mount Mu?” Li Huaibei’s attention was piqued.
“Li Yiming is probably there by now,” Qian Mian said.
“Li Yiming…” Li Huaibei’s agitation finally somewhat subsided.
“Qian Mian, no one is going to be spared in the upcoming battles. Think about the reasons you created this organization in the first place.” Li Huaibei left one last sentence before leaping out of the gaping hole in the wall, landing on his sword and flying off into the distance.
“To protect the world… Guard the Way…” Qian Mian collapsed on the sofa.
“All combat personnel, gather near the Northern Sea, Li Huaibei will be the interim commander for this operation.” Qian Mian finally sat up with determination and gave the order.
* * *
“What should we do?” Fang Shui’er was hesitant when she heard the news. She still did not know what Li Yiming’s intentions were, but she knew very well that her role was to ensure the smooth sailing of the operations, not to decide what they were.
“The Star Alliance has made their move.”
“The authorities are starting to muster volunteers.”
“The shockwaves under Mount Mu have reached level twelve.”
“The marshes in the South have disappeared. The black smoke is spreading to the cities nearby.”
Fang Shui’er countenance sank as dire news kept flowing in. Her cell phone suddenly chimed, and she found a terse text message.
“They won’t be able to hold.”
“Tell the non-combat personnel to gather in Hangzhou and find shelter. As for the guardians, tell them to gather in Feng City and to wait for orders.” Fang Shui’er said with determination as her countenance gradually hardened.
* * *
“We can’t afford to wait. We need to inject the serum.” The president said, knowing that it was a battle that was going to decide humanity’s future.
“The Star Alliance is gathering its forces in the North! Pure Water Herb Hall is headed to the South!”
“Can they hold?” The president was pleased at hearing the good news, but he lacked the knowledge for making an accurate assessment of the capabilities of guardians.
The Star Alliance has existed for a long time. They should be fine. As for Pure Water Herb Hall, although they’re a new organization, they’ve been developing rapidly, and I’ve heard that Fang Shui’er is a sage, so they should be able to handle it.”
“What about Mount Mu then?”
“Li Yiming… If he went there alone, then he probably knows what he’s doing…” Pan Junwei frowned.
“Alright. We will focus our forces on the Eastern Sea then!” The president exclaimed as he pointed at the circle on the rightmost side of the map.
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