“What of Liu Meng?” The simple mention of Liu Meng’s name hit Li Yiming like a hammer. The smoke around him began bulging chaotically, as if he had last control of it.
This was a question that Li Yiming had managed to avoid thinking about until now. If the entire world was to die, then what of Liu Meng? Would she have to die as well? Was she only an evil that needed to be cleansed from the Earth?
Li Yiming reached out with his hand, confused as he was caught in a spiral of emotions and reminiscences.
“Do you like long hair?”
“Are you paying for the food today?”
“Let me tell you a secret…”
“I have my own special move…”
“Tell him that I love him…”
One after the other, the scenes of Liu Meng’s smiling, all the way until the fateful moment she decided to sacrifice everything for his sake flashed past his mind.
Li Yiming suddenly emitted a savage roar. The five demons carved onto his armors opened their eyes and mouth simultaneously, showing their fangs and producing an ear-piercing screech.
By the time Li Yiming finished his outburst, his eyes were no longer bloodshot. He looked behind him in shock as five streams of black liquid gushed toward his armor once more.
“You, a dead object, dare control me?” Li Yiming roared in anger.
The moment Li Yiming wavered and showed confusion at the mention of Liu Meng, the armor decided to take action and protect Li Yiming from such weak emotions. To its shock, it had an opposite effect on Li Yiming, as he became enraged at feeling his own fate being toyed with by an outsider once again, and a piece of armor of all things.
Bloodthirsty as ever, Li Yiming was adamant about controlling his own fate. In his fury, he let out an exasperated roar and clasped his own chest plate in an attempt to remove the armor piece.
“Nobody will control me!” Li Yiming attempted to pull out the armor with all of his strength. As the chosen master, however, the death aura which resided within him created such a strong attraction with the demonic armor, such that it overpowered even Li Yiming’s efforts. Five giant tornados appeared behind his back, siphoning all of the black mist in the proximity.
“Then I’ll destroy you!” Li Yiming was burning with rage. Having lost his reason completely, he took out his silver staff and stabbed at his own chest. Right as the staff was about to plunge into his own flesh, it froze in place, unwilling to hurt its own master.
“Arrrghhh!” Li Yiming let out a frantic cry as his eyes became bloodshot once more, and multiple bolts of thunder were called upon in an attempt to get rid of the armor.
The sudden turnaround surprised everyone present. None had imagined that a simple question would turn the tide of the combat completely. All had their eyes set on Li Yiming other than Tian Yan, who stared at Stargaze during the whole time. More precisely, she was staring at the right hand that she was carefully hiding behind her back.
“Submit or perish!” Li Yiming repeated his command. His eyes turned purple as he called upon the full extent of his thunder powers. Li Yiming in his current folly knew no moderation or restraint, and getting rid of the armor was his newfound obsession.
“Thunderous Strike!” Li Yiming opened his arms wide and used his strongest technique. By depleting all of his powers at once, he unleashed a devastating attack on himself. The clouds in the sky suddenly cleared out, and a purple fissure was seen cracking within the skies.
“Heaven’s Punishment?” Li Huaibei’s face went pale.
Even Stargaze, who normally had a calm demeanor, shifted in countenance. After all, it had been a year since Heaven’s Laws had been dormant, and there had been no direct intervention from the Heavens during that period of time.
The fissure gradually opened up, but instead of a giant eyeball emerging out of it, there was nothing on the other side of the chasm.
“My destiny is mine, and mine alone!” The purple radiance in Li Yiming’s eyes glowed brighter than ever. He bit his tongue, and the drops of blood that seeped out flew toward his left eye, causing it to burst and project a string of glyphs toward the chasm.
“What is he…” Sai Gao could not believe what he was seeing.
A chime was heard in the heads of all of the guardians as the giant eye finally appeared on the other side of the fissure. It sent out a bolt of lightning with colors ranging from red to black, surrounded by halos of white light.
The bolt of thunder struck Li Yiming, blinding everyone around. A ray of white light was then shot out of Li Yiming’s body, forcefully ejecting Bai Ze out.
As the light gradually waned down, the guardians exchanged glances with their mouths agape, incredulous that someone had managed to reproduce Heaven’s Punishment. Li Yiming then fell down to the ground, weakened, but free from the influence of the black smoke.
“Kill him! Kill him! The demonic armor is going to recover soon and possess him once more. If that happens, it’s over for all of us!” Bai Ze urged with a low voice, as the strike had also depleted her strength.
“Kill him?” Sai Gao froze. She knew that if Li Yiming was to die, Bai Ze would surely perish as well.
Li Huaibei, however, swiftly turned his sword and shot it toward Li Yiming. Despite knowing full well Bai Ze’s fate if Li Yiming was to die, he decided that the man in front of him was far too dangerous and had to be eliminated for the sake of the world.
“No!” Tian Yan’s scream came, but it was too late.
Li Huaibei froze in shock and terror as he felt his sword pierce through flesh. Horrified gasps from the spectating guardians ensued.
“Why?” Li Huaibei asked with a trembling voice; he had just driven his sword through Stargaze’s heart.
“Someone has to die today, but it’s not him.” Stargaze smiled.
“You don’t need to do this to stop me.” Li Huaibei clenched the hilt of his sword, not understanding Stargaze’s action.
“It’s because of this…” Stargaze slowly extended her right hand. A small flame was burning in her palm, its flame dancing about.
“The Lantern of Souls?” Bai Ze said.
“I knew that this day would come the moment I saw the stone tablet. I have burned my soul, so I will die today. But I’ve learned another technique over the last year. I shall gift you the entirety of my power.” Stargaze laid her left hand on Li Huaibei’s chest.
“You wouldn’t have agreed to it had I told you about it, so I had to do it this way. I’m so sorry… Please, carry on our wish…” A small orb of light then entered Li Huaibei’s body through Stargaze’s hand. Her body recoiled violently and she was sent flying back. Blood splashed down from the wound she sustained and she aged at a visible rate, her sable hair turning white in seconds.
“Why?” Li Huaibei caught Stargaze. He did not understand the meaning of Stargaze’s words, nor what the “Lantern of Souls” was, but he knew that he had lost yet another friend. He had already lost all of his old teammates and the love of his life in Eden. A year ago, he lost many he considered to be his teachers. Now, he was about to lose yet another dear friend, who had become a sage before him and supported him for the longest time. The weight of the world was now to be carried solely by him, and it was a path down which only loneliness could accompany him.
“My job is done. I’ll leave the rest up to you…” Stargaze stared at the extinguishing flame on her right hand and said in a relieved voice as if she was finally free from her burdens.
“Boss!” An agonizing cry was heard. It was Qian Mian, who had rushed from the crowd. To his dismay, Stargaze had already closed her eyes for the last time.
“Li Yiming!” Li Huaibei let out a furious roar and turned toward Li Yiming, around whom the black mist had already started gathering again. He reached out with his hand, and Li Yiming was sucked towards Li Huaibei.
“I don’t care about what happened to you, but you will die today!” Li Huaibei spoke the final sentence and thrust his sword toward Li Yiming’s throat.
The sword was stopped once again in midair, this time by a hand that emerged out of the fissure.
“Let go!” A voice was heard.
Li Huaibei looked at rather delicate fingers of the hand, which had white, silky skin. And yet his sword could not even leave a mark on it.
“Let him go!” The voice repeated. Li Huaibei’s sword suddenly emitted white vapor, and the blade of the sword slowly turned red.
As Li Huaibei released his weapon and backed away, a figure dressed in black walked out of the widening fissure. Liu Meng emerged, looking like she had just fallen from the Heavens.
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